Zwingle, Iowa (Oct.)
Zwingle, Iowa (Nov.)
October 18th, 2009
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
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.
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