August 9, 2009
2nd of 4 in +30A
After a rough, challenging race at Glasford two weeks earlier, the WFO Promotions
race schedule put us right back at the same venue. From the previous race here, the
key differences today were the temperature (much warmer), the soil (wetter) and the
course direction (reversed). In anticipation of low-90’s heat, I hauled the KX250 with
Big Bird and its Ultimate MX Hauler, rather than drive the Sonoma, so that I might
enjoy an air conditioned ride for the whole 3 hours in each direction. The Sonoma,
sadly unqualified for our nation’s Cash for Clunkers program, has become more of a
cool weather vehicle, though still very functional as a bike hauler. But not today.
After race signup, I wished for two accessories: a pop-up awning for shade and a
comfy chair on which to relax. As I learned from Bear Grylls during his 2007 Sahara
Desert survival trip, shade is essential to avoid dehydration. Even though it’s hard to
take seriously a guy who eats monkey testicles to prove a point about survival, Mr.
Grylls is correct with this advice. I made due with the Blazer’s end gate and tinted
glass door raised as a makeshift awning. With 45 minutes to race time, the outside
temperature was now 89 degrees and rising; humidity around 75%.
I fired up the KX250’s engine after changing into race gear and took a few easy loops
around the starting area. Thus far in the racing season, we’d had no real heat or
humidity in Central Illinois. In fact, the month of July had been the coolest on record
for many areas of the state. As I’d learned from my years in St. Louis, the only way to
train for heat is to train in heat, but it’s not easy to do that if the temperature never
exceeds 85 degrees. So while I chatted with Open A rider Rick Kinkelaar on the
starting line, the sun had already begun sucking energy out of me. Fortunately, our
idle time in a field of harvested wheat was not long, and the row of AA riders ahead of
us soon exited in a cloud of dust. My row followed a minute later, first by rounding the
same ATV from last week, placed at a similar spot ahead of us. This time we would
make a left turn around the ATV, then dash for a small opening in the woods a couple
hundred yards further.
Rick and I were side-by-side as we rounded the ATV, then separated as he gained
half a bike length and pinned his KTM’s throttle. A blur of dust and flying wheat
stubble clouded my vision. The opening in the woods came quickly, at which point I
edged my front wheel into the back tire of another racer, determined to hold my
position. The first part of the course was made up of slick, somewhat off-camber
trails following the general outline of where the trees bordered the wheat field. Gone
were some of the most offending obstacles from the previous race, offset by the
moist clay that makes up much of the property. With so many sections using the
sides of hills to change elevation, the greasy hard-packed soil was a challenge to
navigate, up or down. None of the uphill climbs were particularly long – this is Illinois,
after all – but the only real option was to build all momentum at the bottom of the
climbs. Grabbing a handful of throttle during the ascension would make the rear
wheel slip out of whatever side hill rut was keeping both wheels tracking toward the
tops of hills. If that happened, riders would be rewarded with a challenging push to
get the rear tire back on track, on a day when energy conservation would be critical.
On the descents down these side hills, the same ruts had to be followed or else the
front wheel would skate towards the bottom of whatever ravine we were following.
The toughest of these hills, up or down, was situated just after the nastiest of creek
crossings near the property’s gravel entrance road. Plenty of helpful spectators
pointed out the best lines through the muck and deep ruts. This was a small stream
that even the cows wouldn't walk across unless they had to. After saturating our tires
with slime, we were pointed directly up an off-camber hillside. The elevation change
was no more than 40 feet, but with slippery tires on slippery clay and a relatively fast
ascent, it took all my concentration to keep the front wheel planted in a rut, all the way
to the top.
Previous +30A race winner Clint Pherigo caught and passed me during the first lap,
while I acclimated myself to the trails and the heat. He disappeared from sight, then
reappeared a lap later. I was able to edge myself around him in a difficult section of
rutted, off-camber hillsides, where it appeared the high temperatures were affecting
Clint’s energy level. Later in that lap I grabbed a little too much front brake and slid
out, allowing Clint around me again. Once more I would catch Clint and pass him,
only to let him back around by missing a turn inside a rerouted section. He
disappeared for quite some time while I tried to stay hydrated with sporadic gulps of
water from my Camelbak. Heat fatigue does not exactly sneak up on a person. For
me, it usually begins while I’m sitting on the starting line in the hot sun. Kick-starting
the engine, or any physical movement for that matter, seems like an undue effort.
When the race begins, I wish only to sit on my seat, no matter how rough the terrain.
Every forced effort to stand on the foot pegs is met with disgruntled legs. I do it
anyway, out of pride, and maybe a little ego too, for in this type racing and in this
region, I know I am capable of winning my class on any given race day. In the order of
life’s priorities, capturing a first-place trophy should probably rank somewhere above
ridding the lawn of Canadian Thistle and below that of, say, paying the mortgage on
time, but now it was my #1 goal. I had to catch Clint Pherigo.
A couple more slide-outs and tip-overs seemed to put that goal out of reach, but in
the second half of the last lap, Clint appeared again. With less than 10 seconds
between us, I could see glimpses of his #445 Husqvarna slicing through the trees.
But after 90 minutes of racing, I just didn't have the conditioning to close the gap. And
the gap had only been narrowed that far because of several mistakes by Clint on his
final lap, not from any outstanding riding by me. As I came to the last stretch of grass
track near the starting area, Clint’s dust was settling as he checked into the scoring
barrels for the final time. I arrived just as he was pulling away.
For the second race in a row, Clint took home the top spot in the +30A class. I
finished a close second with a much improved race from two weeks earlier. Trey
Verardo duplicated Clint’s results in the overall standings, taking home the top
honors for the day, as he did two Sundays prior. As it was, hauling the KX250 with the
fully air conditioned Blazer was my best decision of the day. Its thermometer read 92
degrees as I left the property and began my 3-hour drive home. Later that evening, I
would sleep well.
August 16, 2009
6th of 10 in Vet A
Back in my Chicago days, Roselawn was always a can’t-miss enduro, not just for its
excellent trails, but also its close proximity to my home. Home is now a couple hours
further from the Nudist Capital of Indiana, but the Summer Bummer Enduro is still a
priority on my racing schedule. This year, using my Chicago connections, I was able
to secure overnight lodging before the Sunday enduro at the home of old friends,
which made for a much shorter drive to Roselawn. On the other hand, the Edison
Park street festival and its Eagles tribute band on Saturday night helped put me an
hour behind schedule on Sunday morning. The late night out was only part of the
problem - my cell phone was the other. I either slept right through Waylon Jennings’
Dukes of Hazzard theme song, or the cell phone alarm wasn't set correctly; either
way, the 10:00 a.m. key time was far too rapidly approaching.
Fortunately, the Gas Gas and all my gear were still accounted for after a night out on
the street with my Sonoma. Around 9:00 a.m. I arrived at the familiar old grass airstrip
that served as the staging area and took the latest row available – 6. The five guys
standing in line behind me would fill out the rest of my row and also row 5.
Collectively we would be the first riders on the course, clearing out the trails for
I now had sixty minutes to prepare for the start of the enduro, which really should be
plenty of time. But it rarely is. The challenge lies in the fact that I often show up after
95% of the entrants have already registered to race. In an event like the Summer
Bummer, a two-day affair where the hardcore guys sign up for both days, the
Saturday riders had already reserved their rows for Sunday. Rare is the enduro racer
who prefers an early row in the thick brush that makes up the many miles of trails in
this part of Northwestern Indiana, so the first 10 rows or so are often made of up guys
who (like me) got stuck riding on those rows. But that was just fine, I made myself
believe. Temperatures and humidity were high today, and I’d heard reports of thick
dust. Maybe it would be better.
My race start was 10:06 CST, leaving approximately 55 minutes to departure upon
returning to my truck after signup. A construction-related traffic slowdown on I-94 had
put me in enough of a hurry to forgo a gas stop along the way to the race site, so I
backtracked to the I-65 junction to fill up my gas jug with 93 octane. By the time I
transferred fuel to my smaller gas jug that would ride on a trailer to a remote gas
stop, walked 300 yards to the gas trailer and trotted back to my truck, I realized I’d
forgotten to bring my trusty Timex Ironman digital watch. This is an important
accessory, for it allows synchronization with the official key time clock, which is
needed for programming my Watchdog enduro computer. My Timex was still
attached to my KX250, parked in my garage 185 miles away. Jeff Snedcor saved the
day by tossing me his own digital watch, already set to key time. I programmed my
computer, taped my scorecard to my fender, threw a PowerBar into my fanny pack
and began suiting up for the race.
Now that I’m on the downhill side of the Veteran class in terms of age, dressing for
races (and most other tasks, for that matter) takes longer than it used to. Some of
this comes from a little something I call consequence recognition, an unfortunate
side effect of old age that causes guys like me to buy and wear just about every kind
of protective device currently for sale in the U.S. A personal contempt for elbow
guards is all that prevents every square inch of my every major appendage from full
protection on a race course. In my early years of racing, my riding gear was simple,
my bones healed quicker, and I could be on the trail about 7 minutes after unloading
the bike. Today, not so much.
With my Watchdog computer reading 14 minutes before the start, I returned to Jeff
Snedcor’s pit area to give back his watch. His countdown timer on his Watchdog
computer showed 17 minutes to his starting time. Interesting…he had 17 minutes
until his departure time and I had 14, yet he was 11 rows behind me. Uh-oh. My
computer was wrong – my departure was actually less than 5 minutes away and I
still needed to attach a trio of Band Aids to my fingers for [generally futile] blister
prevention. I’d forgotten to input my row number into the computer, which calculated
my start time based on whatever row I’d ridden in the last enduro I competed. You
would think the Watchdog intuitive enough that changing your row number would
automatically adjust the countdown timer. But no…you must re-enter key time. Once
again, the digital watch strapped to my KX250 would have been very handy right then.
A guy parked next to me threw me his watch, which was set to his adjusted starting
time, but I needed key time. In the panic to correct my error, I was wholly incapable of
the math required to convert his row number back to key time, for that would have
involved addition and subtraction. To further complicate matters, the nice gentleman
from Michigan had offered a watch with hands instead of digits. Who brings non-
digital watch to an enduro, for Christ sake? Once again, Jeff bailed me out. I rode
over to his Yamaha and reset my Watchdog’s key time and all was good. I had 3
minutes to spare.
My race began with a long road ride to the first trails, a down-and-back route on tight
singletrack in a narrow half-mile strip of woods. At 1.32 miles, it was a good tune-up
for what was to come. With 9 months between races on the Gas Gas, I was
reacquainting myself with the big 300 and remembered how differently its engine
delivers power compared to my KX250. With absolutely no hit in the powerband, I
could ride a gear higher, like a 4-stroke. However, the clutch-dumping burst of power
that I expect out of my KX250 wasn't happening. As I exited sandy corners, I had to roll
on the throttle sooner, in order to make the engine do what was needed in these
narrow trails. The jetting which has plagued this bike ever since I owned it was still in
need of some help, although the settings worked just fine in the RPM range where I
spent 90% of my time. Only when I cracked open the throttle past the ¾’s mark did
the engine fail to fully cooperate.
I arrived one minute late at a checkpoint near the end of those first woods, then rode
a couple more miles down paved country roads to one of the longest sections of the
day. Most of these long, continuous sections of singletrack contained two checks,
one near the beginning and one near the end. Like last year, the Summer Bummer
was advertised as an enduro without the need for timekeeping devices. And like last
year, that was correct…sort of. Since most of the woods sections were the check-in,
check-out style and the Hill & Gully riders club had marked the entrances with the
mileage and the arrival time at those sections, it was possible to keep track of time
with only a stopwatch. However, my Watchdog computer took all the guesswork out of
it. Two of the inexperienced guys on my row, despite being able to key off my
computer, consistently rolled the dice and entered each section a minute or two early.
In a couple instances, this probably paid off. The first short section of trails had no
checkpoint until the end, so if I’d gone into the woods a minute sooner, I might have
zeroed the check. That wasn't a risk I was willing to take, however, so I sat back and
observed these guys ride into the second woods section early and waited patiently
for my Watchdog to tell me when it was safe to enter.
The two long test sections in the middle portion of the course included the infamous
Miller’s Woods, which is a large property with one of the longest continuous stretches
of wooded trails in the enduro. Another section was equally as long but with less
continuous woods. Its key feature was a section of sand whoops that seemed
endless. While Miller’s Woods wore me down with 10 miles of tight, sandy trails, the
whoop section pummeled me equally for about two solid miles. These deep, sandy
whoops are on either side of a drainage ditch, with just enough trees and
underbrush to conceal the opposite side of the ditch. This means you spend a mile
just trying to hang on to the handlebars and avoid catapultation from the seat, then
arrive at what you think is the merciful end of the whoops, only to cross the ditch and
do it all over again on the other side.
Somewhere after the whoops ended and the arrows pointed me back inside “real”
woods, shifting gears suddenly became a problem. The notchy-shifting transmission
of the Gas Gas has always been bothersome, but now I couldn't even locate the
shifter with my boot. I glanced down and found the shifter tip spring had broken. With
the tip now folded in, only the side edge of my boot would engage the shifter. Dan
Abney, a 250B rider on my row who had stayed close to me all day, stopped by to
offer help at the next reset. A hose clamp from my fanny pack kept the shifter tip
locked into place. I hoped it would hold until the end of the race and swore I’d never
again curse the 300’s notchy shifting – now at least I could shift. We still had two
sections left, including the longest, toughest trails of the day back at the staging area.
The hose clamp did hold up through a 4-mile woods section, the prelude to 11 miles
of continuous 1st and 2nd gear trails that would end our race. By this time I had
dropped 36 points, with most of that coming from Miller’s Woods and the other long
section with all the sand whoops. By now, I had finally learned how to ride the Gas
Gas the way it was intended: exactly like a 4-stroke. Granted, the extent of my woods
riding on 4-strokes consists of approximately 7 minutes on Matt Seller’s brief
experiment with thumpers, a KTM 450EXC, at St. Joe State Park in Missouri. The
main difference between that bike and my Gas Gas was that the 300’s motor still had
enough zip to quickly loft the 300’s front wheel over logs that appeared on the trail
without warning. On the 450, most of the time I could raise the front wheel about two
inches off the ground before smacking the tire against those impending obstacles.
But in both cases, riding a gear higher, grunting the engine through sandy corners,
and keeping it smooth was the name of the game.
The 300’s power delivery would help immensely in the final section. By some miracle
I’d made no dumb mistakes to this point – no real crashes, navigational errors or
timekeeping issues – but that run of good luck was about to end. Twice. When we
were routed back to the staging area, I ran over to my truck to drink some water,
tighten the hose clamp on my shifter, and rest for a few minutes in the 92 degree
heat. I had plenty of time to spare, so I added a Band Aid to a blister on the middle
finger of my left hand and tried to find a way to stay cool. My Watchdog indicated about
2 minutes of free time when I rolled up to the entrance to the final section. However, I
had failed to account for the fact that I’d ridden almost a half mile by heading back to
my truck. The Watchdog thought I was already a half mile down the trail, but after
adjusting my odometer I was actually about 45 seconds late. I rode like hell into the
woods, knowing there’d be a checkpoint soon after. After navigating my way around a
downed rider on a Suzuki dualsport (compete with turn signals), I arrived at the
checkpoint with about half a second to spare. Two minutes later, the gear shifter
grazed a log and the shifter tip folded in again. No worries, though. Second gear
would be just fine the rest of the way.
The final 11 miles were used for the closed-course enduro the day before, leaving
the trails well defined. Some of the classes in Saturday’s race had made as many as
4 laps through this section, so there were no real navigational surprises. Up to this
point I’d seen not a hint of wetness anywhere on the course, but now I was
occasionally passing through short stretches of moist, peat-like soil in some of the
low lying areas around the airstrip. The course made a gradual circle around the
perimeter of the staging area and crossed over dirt roads where the Sun Aura nudist
club members drive golf carts - to where or for what purposes, I have no idea. When I
first began racing here in the mid-1990’s, most of the “nudie” land was a mosquito-
infested swamp. Some years the enduro started and ended with loops through the
mud, but eventually drainage was improved and the swamp seems to have
What remained were the same tight, twisty trails. This acreage could probably have
had twice the mileage if the club had desired. All it would take is a machete and a lot
of time, for these are woods where most trails must be hand cut. Normally a course
designer wouldn't want the trails to converge too closely, to discourage the
temptation of cheating, but in these woods I could barely make out anything further
away than 25 feet in any direction. And even if another trail were within sight, cutting
across the thick underbrush would be time consuming at best, and possibly painful.
Many areas of this section were merely thickets through which a trail had been carved.
About halfway through these last 11 miles, I began catching glimpses of moderately
clothed individuals, some driving golf cars and others strolling through the woods.
One portly gentleman stood beside the trail wearing nothing but a fully inflated beach
ball. When a checkpoint appeared, so did a mass of naked people. I must say that
the wrinkly sagginess so common to these spectator groups in past races was
noticeably absent today. Some of the ladies actually appeared to be under the age of
45, and gravity had not yet overtaken their girly features. I was impressed.
With about 4 miles to go, I leaned too far into a tight turn and fell over. It was a
harmless fall, but the energy of remounting was enough to make those final miles
tiresome. I was hot, I was bonking, and I just wanted to be done with the race. A few
minutes earlier I had checked my mileage on the Watchdog and was now curious
again to see how many miles remained. With the push of a button, the handlebar-
mounted control switched to the odometer display. I glanced down and read 88 miles
(1.5 to go), then – WHACK!! -- straight into a tree. No harm done except for more
wasted energy. I finished up a few minutes later and showered myself with cold
water back at the truck. With a score of 54, I finished one point behind Tim Farrell and
took 6th place in the Vet A class.
Peak temperature was around 93 degrees that day, and I was feeling it after the race.
I drank as much as I could before my body began its objection to food and liquids, so
common when I overheat. I had no desire to wait around for the results to be posted,
but the gas trailer had not yet returned. I pulled out my comfy fold-up chair with leg
rests and cup holders, found a shady spot and took a nice little nap. I awoke to a
group of guys sorting out their gas jugs as the trailer rolled by our area. I grabbed
mine and drove straight back to Dakota. Another excellent Naked City enduro, in the