October 18th, 2009
Zwingle, Iowa
2nd of 3 in Vet A
The warning I should have heeded came from the trail boss on the
starting line of the Zwingle hare scramble. This being the next-to-last
round of the
Iowa Enduro Rider’s Association series, my main intent
was to test a few adjustments made to the 250XC after its maiden
voyage to Missouri the previous weekend. Also, I wanted to race one
of the most interesting hare scramble courses in the Midwest. But on
the starting line, chattering my teeth in a stiff, 55-degree wind, the
words weren't fully absorbed:
Watch the off-cambers just inside the
woods – they are very slick.
What followed were many miles of off-
cambers inside the woods, all slick, some downright treacherous.

Last year’s race here was my first experience with
EnduroCross
obstacles, which were captured on camera from many different
angles. This year, the Burgquist family found a few more large rubber
tires and extra logs. The most challenging of these obstructions
would be reserved for the afternoon race, which included only the A
and B classes. Also saved just for us were several climbs and
descents into the many small canyons that make up the property. The
hour or so I had to spare before my race gave me a chance to walk
some of the course. For being as close to Illinois as the Zwingle area
is, you would never know it from the shape of the landscape. The
property was more like a typical Midwest state park, with rock walls,
small caves, elevation changes, and the kind of high ledges that can
kill with one poorly placed step. In the most scenic area of the
property, I noted to nobody in particular that if someone wanted to
design a truly A-class-only course, here would be a good spot. It
might not be
Last Man Standing, but certain areas would have the
flavor.

The separation of the various C classes in their late-morning race
made for a sparse field in the afternoon race. I counted about 40 guys
spread among 3 rows. My row was in front, with Midwest regional fast
guy Walter Luedtke beside me. His dead-engine test run was, in my
opinion, a textbook example of why the kickstarter is still king. If he
couldn't pull a holeshot with a rocket launch like that, nobody could. I
decided then and there, I’d abstain from the magic button on the
starting line and get a leg up.

Once I did, I found myself in my customary back-of-the-pack position
when we entered the EnduroCross area. A couple turns later was the
opening into the woods that would lead to those pesky off-camber
side hills of which we were warned. At the time, I was ahead of at
least two riders who’d had even worse starts, but that ended when I
slid down on a root-infested ATV trail. So much for heeding the trail
boss’ warning. However, the KTM’s electric start was beginning to
prove its worth in this situation. No need for precarious balancing of
the bike on the side of the hill while I swung my leg over the seat and
felt for the kick starter. The effort of multiple kicks due to the bike
having laid on its side and flooded the carburetor…gone. Same with
fishing for neutral when the engine won’t start with the transmission in
gear. One push of a button and I was on my way. So simple.

I gained back two spots a minute later, when I caught up to a pair of
riders struggling up a rocky incline. Last year’s race here was in
relatively dry terrain, but not so today. While the rock base prevented
deep mud ruts, it remained damp enough to make me envious of the
guys running trials tires. Through a series of ravines beside the
EnduroCross area, I came to the steep exit that would take us up to
the level of the corn field that served as the staging area. I chose the
less favorable of the two lines to the top, while one of the riders I’d
passed earlier took the slightly steeper, more direct line. His was the
faster choice, but on my next pass through here, I would wish I hadn't
seen him make it to the top ahead of me.

The course was laid out somewhat in reverse of last year, so our 10-
mile path around the large property was now in a clockwise direction.
The damp soil kept me fighting every off-camber trail, particularly the
singletrack that hadn't been used for the morning races. With only 40
riders breaking it in, the first lap was a constant search for arrows.
Elevation changed often, as we descended into the bottoms of wide
ravines, rode in and along creek beds and then climbed back out. In
these ravines were some of the most technically challenging trails I've
seen all year. I thought back to my earlier walk through parts of the
course and my observation that this terrain had some Hard Enduro
qualities. Just then, the arrows pointed me straight down a solid rock
ravine that was just a little wider than my handlebars. Reverse the
direction and you’d have one hell of a nasty climb out of the
ravine…just as I imagined would be much of the Last Man Standing.

Midway through the course were two of the most interesting obstacles
from last year’s race: the EnduroCross section and the “
Escargot”.
Other than the addition of more large tires, the EnduroCross section
was about the same, as was the Escargot and its endless circles. The
KTM was liking the fast, choppy sections, with its stiffer suspension.
Riding around the staging area, this is not a comfortable bike. But at
race speeds, it can do anything.

On the second lap, one of the downsides of owning 3 distinctly
different dirt bikes became more clear as I arrived at the steep climb
out of the ravines near the EnduroCross area. Using the steeper,
faster line shown to me by the guy who’d passed me here on the
previous lap, I extended my right foot for balance about halfway up
the hill. The 250XC sits at least an inch higher than both my KX250
and Gas Gas, which I knew full well, but that inch caught me by
surprise. My boot didn't tap the dirt when expected, and in an instant I
was leaning against a tree with no momentum, on a hillside almost
too vertical to climb on foot. With no other options than to slide back
down the hill and try again, I pushed the bike onto its side and
received some help from a kind bystander in dragging it to the
bottom. I was a little annoyed at this point. Probably let out a few
unnecessary expletives. And it got worse on my second attempt. This
was also a failure, and despite my poor attitude, the same guy helped
me once again. My third try on this same line (I was consistent, at
least), I finally conquered the hill and continued my race.

The length of the course and its technical challenges put me on pace
for 3 laps in 2 hours. The trails gradually broke in, and on my final lap
were defined enough to see my way through and around all the nasty
obstacles. However, I nearly threw it all away on the west edge of the
property, where the boundary line appeared to be a 75-foot drop from
a rocky ledge. The trail ran alongside this drop-off, where earlier I’d
made mental notes of how disappointing my day would become if I
strayed more than a foot or so off the beaten path. Naturally, I did just
that. But luckily for me, my foot peg dug into the dirt and kept my
wheels from sliding down the slope. After a minute or two of carefully
dragging the wheels back onto the trail, I was off again.

The race ended soon enough for me. I was tired, slightly beaten, and
fully challenged. Longtime fast guy Kirk Foster took the overall win,
followed by Zack Sulzburger and Walter Luedtke. The Iowa hare
scramble series will end here on November 15th, and I will make
every effort to be there. It’s that kind of place.

November 15, 2009
Zwingle, Iowa
1st of 3 in Vet A
I have a new favorite Midwest race site, and it is called Zwingle, for
the more I ride here, the more I like it. The Iowa Enduro Riders
Association finished up its hare scramble schedule for 2009 at the
Burgquist farm, same as the previous round.  Once again my KTM
made the trip, and like last month, I arrived early enough to take a
long walk through the course. With the trees now having shed their
leaves, the lay of the land inside the woods was more evident, and it
was beautiful. I scouted a few of the technical sections and found that
the hill which gave me so much trouble at the last race was now a
downhill. While ATV’s neared the end of their morning race, each one
seemingly louder than the last, I spotted an easier way out of a creek
bed on the marked trail and snapped a few photos of rock formations.

The A and B classes again had their own separate race in the
afternoon, with about the same turnout as in October. Most were
dressed in warm weather attire, courtesy of 40-degree temperatures
and a stiff breeze cutting across the cornfield staging area. With the
sun now beginning to set in the four o’clock hour, I glanced at my
watch and wondered if we’d still be racing when dusk set in. The 1:00
start time was already more than 30 minutes delayed. My riding jacket
kept me reasonably warm on the starting line, where 20 of us on the
first row made for a predictably busy start. When the green flag
dropped and we arrived at the first turn near the EnduroCross area,
clutches were dumped and throttles hit stops as we raced across a
field and into the woods. With only trace amounts of rain in the prior
couple of weeks, the bikes kicked up a dust storm, so much so that
from my customary spot near the back of the pack, I had to back off
the throttle to see straight.

The course had been changed up on the north side of the property,
compared to last month’s race. The direction was more or less in
reverse, but instead of winding our way around the north and east
edges of the property and then connecting up with the more technical
trails on the south side, we turned back around and headed towards
the west side of the property. Getting there took us straight into 2-way
traffic, with only yellow ribbon separating the oncoming bikes near the
edge of the woods. Within this initial lap, the ribbon would be taken
out as racers drifted too wide at the turns. By the second lap, nothing
was left to divide the trails. Oncoming riders screamed by while I
hoped they (and I) would stay on our respective sides.

My overall plan was to use this race to keep fit and sharp in advance
of the
Ozark 100-miler, an endurance race in Southwest Missouri the
weekend after Thanksgiving. Last year’s event was described as
“epic” and included a night portion. So of course I had to be there this
year. But for today, I just didn't feel like pushing too hard. The KTM
was working very well once again, even if the fork was a bit harsh
across high-speed runs through corn fields. I marveled at the 250XC’s
ability to turn just like a KX250, with a front brake to match. None of
my other KTM’s were so flawless. I was enjoying myself and, in turn,
pushing a little harder than I’d planned.

One of the downsides to racing without much desire to be
competitive, is that my mind tends to wander a bit. Even though every
second of racing presents the opportunity for pain, sometimes my
thoughts will stray to the point where the riding is secondary. My body
sets itself on autopilot while an internal monologue takes over,
mentally discussing such things as whether or not the average
person would like George Bush if they really got to know him. While it’
s never easy to trace the origins of such thoughts, I believe it came
from a flashback to Facebook, and a friend who is a member of a
group called “I Bet I Can Find One Million People Who Like George
Bush”, or some variation thereof. With this, I recalled my Chicago
condo days and my neighbor Mat, an FBI agent, who once told me
about a Secret Service buddy who reported that Hillary Clinton had
forbade direct eye contact with her protectors, but George and Laura
would hang out with the agents after various events and get to know
them. About the time I concluded that George was probably a likable
guy outside the Oval Office, I missed a turn and let a Kawasaki rider
pass me.

I stayed close to the Kawasaki guy, mimicked some of his airtime over
logs, and found a chance to pass him back when tree roots slowed
him down at a creek crossing. I moved ahead on tricky off-camber
trails that rose from the lowest elevation in the creek, to the highest
points on the bluffs that overlooked the ravines below. My first test of
the 250XC’s top speed came a short while later, when we flew across
a flat pasture for about a quarter-mile. The throttle remained open for
a little longer than necessary, but the KTM’s strong brakes got me
stopped in time to make a 90-degree turn into the woods. Later, when
the Kawasaki guy made one last attempt at re-passing, I decided
enough was enough and stepped up my pace in the most technical of
trails. I put some distance between him as we sliced through the
small creek bed that I’d scouted before the race. The arrows pointed
to a sharp right-hand turn to climb out of the creek, with one slick,
rocky line as the primary option. But during my walk, I’d seen that the
creek bed widened out about 30 feet further and then joined the
marked trail in a much smoother fashion. This transition was
concealed by a bend in the creek and some small trees and shrubs,
so most riders were taking the more visible rock-filled line. I went wide
around the bend in the creek and was only in earshot of the Kawaski’
s 4-stroke engine a couple more times during the rest of the race.

By this time, I’d had it in my mind that the next time we approached
the EnduroCross course, I’d find a checkered flag waiting for me.
Instead, the trail transferred me to the opposite side of the property,
same as the previous three laps. My internal George Bush debate
had apparently distracted me enough to forget where I was on the
course – in this case, barely half way through the fourth and final
10.5-mile lap, which meant I would have one more throw-down with a
dreaded pair of logs. These logs, both perpendicular to the trail, were
spaced just slightly wider than a bike length. The first, about 12
inches in diameter, was easy enough. The second, about 16 inches in
diameter, was troublesome. A spectator helped push me over the
larger log on my first lap, but I failed again on my second lap and had
to step off the bike to lift the rear wheel over the log. The third time
through was more failure, made worse by bungling the rear wheel
hoist and dropping the bike so its foot peg crunched down on the top
of my left foot.

As the logs appeared one last time, I badly wanted to clear them
without incident. It’s been a long time since a trail obstacle owned me
at every attempt during a race. Success here would boost my fragile
ego and possibly prevent the Kawasaki guy from passing me again.
On the third lap, he had caught up to me here and tailed me until my
internal distractions give him his opportunity to pass me on the fourth
lap. Even though it had taken him a few miles to make the pass, I
didn't want that to happen again on the last lap. I’d seen him enter
the Escargot section while I was halfway through the endless circles,
which meant he was only about a minute behind.

With one final chance, I conquered the pair of logs. A kind spectator
(or course worker tired of bailing out stuck riders) helped by placing a
small log at the base of the biggest log. This helped my front wheel
lift early enough to maintain momentum across the larger log, and I
was on my way like nobody’s business. I finished the lap a couple
minutes later and found the checkered flag. Thus ended two hours of
a little slice of off-road heaven in the Midwest.
Zwingle, Iowa (October)
Zwingle, Iowa (November)