March 21, 2010
Prophetstown, Illinois
1st of 14 in +30 class
Every winter, around mid-February, I have an annual ritual called
“Racing Opportunities”. This entails an hour or so of combing the
Internet for every conceivable off-road race that I might possibly
attend throughout the season. I've been doing this since 1999. Each
schedule includes a handful of races I never miss, regardless of
distance or circumstances, such as the Leadbelt Enduro. Others are
long shots, like the Crawfordsville, Indiana Grand National Cross
Country race. With no regular series to focus on since I moved back
to Illinois in 2005, I go wherever, whenever. The race schedule helps
point me in the right direction.

Such was the case this year, except I didn't bother with the ritual until
mid-March. I had thought about taking in the opening round of the
Missouri Hare Scrambles Championship at Lebanon, but couldn't get
motivated to drive that far for the sure punishment of a rocky course.
And, honestly, I was completely out of shape for riding. By then I’d
missed seeing Bill Gusse’s MXC opening round on his website
schedule, set for March 14th. A more glorious Sunday in March could
not have been had, and I didn't even realize the day would have been
made even better if I’d loaded up the bike and headed down to

Redemption came one week later with the MXC schedule returning to
the same venue. That race would be my season opener.
Unfortunately, winter decided to return, dropping an inch of snow on
Northern Illinois. I wasn't worried, though. A couple weeks of warm
weather had thawed the frozen tundra. Prophetstown’s sandy soil
would be just fine for racing.

Mr. Gusse’s Sunday race lineup always starts the A and B classes
well after noontime, which leaves plenty of time to scout the course.
Snow was melting off the trees so quickly that I had to pull up the
hood on my jacket to keep my head dry. The course was similar to
most of the spring races at Prophetstown, with two out-and-back
loops that converged at the small motocross track near the staging
area. The sandy terrain was moist, compacted, and perfect. In the
wider areas of the woods, Mr. Gusse had been kind enough to
smooth out the sand whoops from last Sunday's race with a track skid
steer loader. I liked what I saw.

This week’s MXC series race was jointly run with the Iowa hare
scrambles series. As such, the starting line was full - a bit too full,
especially for the Pro/A class on the front row. The motocross staring
area is somewhat limited in width, and the guys in the front-row
squeezed into every inch, and then some. The old guy classes on the
second row were at least 20 strong. Behind us were two more packed
rows. When the green flag dropped, I found myself in second place at
the first turn. A wise choice for sand, that brand new Michelin S-12
rear tire. The starting area converged into the motocross track, where
I held my spot in second place until the track ended ahead of a long,
fast section of sand whoops. These were wide enough to drive a
couple trucks through, and deep enough to kick my rear wheel side-
to-side, violently. I backed off the throttle and saw a guy on a KTM 4-
stroke pass on the left.

The whoops ended, and so began singletrack combined with arm
pump. My limited winter riding hadn't done much for my forearms,
and it showed in the first 40 minutes of the race. The lead guy on a
Honda drifted out of sight, but I held close to the KTM guy. My speed
was definitely not a full-on race pace, yet there were no challengers
behind me.

The KTM guy made a mistake in the toughest section, a short but
steep sandy hill. This same hill had bit me in previous races, but I’d
scouted out the lines on my morning walk. Now back in 2nd place, I
was mostly alone, charging through alternating singletrack and wide
trails. The earlier races had churned up the sand into well-defined
lines, some of which were already threatening to swallow my front
wheel. On a dry day in the summer, I cannot imagine how deep the
sand ruts could become. Fortunately, the Caterpillar track skid loader
had been through the wider trails and leveled out the whoops
somewhat, at least at the start of the day. As the day's races ended,
the wide trails would need another grooming.

My KTM 250XC, described by 4th place overall finisher Ryan Moss as
pretty much the perfect all-around bike, was outstanding on the
motocross track. Mr. Gusse’s track contains a couple of 5-foot jumps
which, for the right professional motocrosser, might actually be
considered doubles. For me, they were two singles which in earlier
years on the plushly-suspended KX250, had left my wrists and ankles
sore upon landing. With the 250XC, the landings were stiff, but
manageable, as were the double jumps intended for typical (i.e.
average) humans like me (i.e. short, flat, and forgiving).

Twelve minute laps passed by quickly. Eventually my arm pump
subsided, just in time for a couple thumb blisters to welcome
themselves to the racing season. The top guys in the Pro/A class
caught up to me about an hour into the race and began passing just
as I arrived at the tough, sandy hill. I squeezed by a guy struggling
on the side of the hill, then fell over in the sharp left turn that sent us
immediately back down the hill. Most guys with an electric-start bike
would simply push the magic button on be on their way in about half
a second, but that thought never crossed my mind. Instead, I picked
up the bike, rolled down the hill and bump-started the 250XC just like
I would have done with all 6 dirt bikes I’d raced previously over the
past 16 years. This electric start thing takes awhile to get used to.

About 90 minutes into the race, Ryan Moss lapped me in the second
half of the course. A few minutes later, the checkered flag appeared
at the scoring barrels. The timing was right – my thumb blisters were
just about ready to burst, and the only result of that is pain. The final
results were tallied a half-hour later and to my surprise, my name
showed up first in the +30 standings. Nice way to start the season.

April 11, 2010
‘Lil Luck Enduro
6th of 16 in Lite A
Zwingle, Iowa
As race venues go, few in the Midwest entice me like a certain
property just outside a sleepy Iowa community known as Zwingle. It's
an older terrain near the Mississippi River where previous Ice Ages did
not touch, leaving some interesting features for dirt biking. Since I
moved to Northwestern Illinois, I have not missed any races here,
including the 'Lil Luck Enduro. However, after only 4 hours of sleep
the night before, I actually considered a detour to a dual sport ride
just a few miles down the road at Leaf River, Illinois. Then I
remembered that Zwingle is awesome. So I headed toward Dubuque
and arrived in time to snatch a spot on Row #8.

The 'Lil Luck was set up as a closed-course, rally-style enduro with no
real timekeeping (sometimes referred to as a "restart" format). The
event was run as 5 laps around a 9.2-mile course for the A riders (B &
C classes did fewer laps), with one timed section per lap. A working
dairy farm set the stage for the enduro, complete with freshly spread
manure on the parking area. As I stepped into the aroma, a thought
came to mind: where are all the cows? In all my races here, I'd never
noticed a single animal of the bovine persuasion. Wherever they were
housed, their only evidence was clinging to my shoes.

The simplicity of a restart format makes these types of enduros
glorified hare scrambles, with no need for headlights, taillights,
license plates or enduro computers. Yet plenty of these accessories
were bolted onto the bikes. On my row was Iowa fast guy Gary Barber
with a Missouri motorcycle license plate stuck to his rear fender. As
we stood in line near the starting checkpoint, the four of us on Row #8
did what most guys on most rows do when there's nothing else going
on except course workers scribbling archaic writings on score cards
and guys standing next to flip cards arranged to display the row
numbers of the most recently departed riders. We engaged in what
the lay person might consider idle banter, but for enduro riders is
comparable to a pack of stray dogs sniffing out the alpha male. We
desire to establish who will enter the woods first. Sometimes this
comes in the form of inconspicuous glances at score cards, which
usually list the rider's class. Other times, we chat up the riders beside
us and casually ask what class they have entered. In some cases,
even after identifying each rider's potential speed, there is no clear
alpha male. It must be left to the woods to decide. In our case, on
Row #8, the alpha male was clear: Gary Barber. He was the sole AA
rider among us.

Even so, Gary was polite enough to suggest that he would lead, but if
I felt that he was holding me up, then I could just let him know and
he'd pull out of my way. "I'm usually a slow starter," said Gary, "but I
warm up after awhile." When our departure time arrived, I quickly
realized he couldn't have been serious. If this was his idea of a slow
start, I wouldn't be seeing much of him all day.

The course was laid out about the same as the November '09 hare
scramble, more or less a counter-clockwise route along the perimeter
of the property. The most dangerous section came about a mile in,
where two-way traffic was separated only by yellow caution tape. I
rounded a 3rd gear, sweeping right-hand curve along the edge of a
cornfield, leaning the KTM into the turn while meeting an oncoming
rider.  He was simultaneously leaning into his own sweeping right turn
from the opposite direction. Our wheels were probably no more than
18 inches apart.

After another mile of rock ledges and slippery clay, I arrived at the
restart in a cornfield near the woods. This was where the real racing
was to begin. We'd been given plenty of time to reach this checkpoint,
so I chatted with Gary while we paused for our departure time. He
encouraged me to attend the Winterset, Iowa enduro later in the year.
I recalled my first-ever class win at Winterset, where I was also the
2nd place overall finisher within all the B classes combined. That was
one of the few times a 6-hour drive had been totally worth it.

Our time to leave the checkpoint came a few minutes later, with Gary
racing to a small opening in the trees. I kept his pace for about a half
mile of trail next to a steep drop-off. Whatever was down below us to
the right, I hoped I'd never find out. Once we emerged from the
woods, the trail opened into another cornfield and zigzagged back
and forth. My 250XC was no match for Gary's wide-ratio 300XC-W. As
he would in every lap, Gary pulled away quickly. I would see him drop
back into the woods, then again on the EnduroCross course, and
from there he was out of sight. A fast rider, Mr. Barber is.

The first lap contained all the highlights of the property. Climbing rock
ledges, descending steep grades, ducking under tree was
all there. Even though I'd already scratched up my new Shoei helmet
at Prophetstown a few weeks earlier, I desperately tried to avoid
knocking it against rock walls. The course offered several
opportunities to do just that, with some very narrow chasms that were
made into trails. A section of cedar trees and their low-hanging
branches were also hard on the brain protector.

My only time-consuming mistake on the first lap came just before an
observation checkpoint at the south end of the property. We exited
the woods into a pasture, then headed for a speed-reducing chicane
in the grass. I couldn't slow the bike in time and laid it on its side. I
hoped I could slide under the ribbon marking the chicane, but it
pulled away from the metal stakes holding it in place. The thirty
seconds wasted in picking myself up and restarting the bike were the
difference between zeroing the final checkpoint and dropping one

The 18-mph speed average in the first timed check would be
gradually bumped up over the next 4 laps. Barring any major
mistakes, the 18-mph average was doable for me; however, the 24,
30, and 36 mph averages were not. On the positive side, the course
was breaking in nicely and the pace was likely to increase. With
sunny skies and temperatures in the 60's, this day was shaping up to
be excellent.

After the first lap, I had some time to grab a snack and rest for a few
minutes. In classic Stichnoth fashion, I nearly screwed up the restart
by waiting too long to begin the second lap. I thought we'd check in
again at the starting area, but when I arrived a couple minutes before
my start time, nobody was there. This meant I might have to push
hard to make it to the restart in time, when I could have coasted my
way there if I'd not spent those extra minutes lounging at my pickup
truck. However, the first few untimed miles of the course were not
terribly difficult and I still had plenty of time to spare.

With the speed average now at 24 mph, zeroing the next check was
an unlikely possibility. The handful of high-speed sections through
cornfields and pastures would not offset the slower, technical
singletrack. One of the most frustrating obstacles from the November
hare scramble was present again on the side of a hill. Every lap, a
pair of 18-inch logs appeared just after a stretch of off-camber hillside
trails. Between the logs was just enough room for a motorcycle. This
distance, if traveling downhill, would have been less of a challenge.
But scaling a hill and the two logs at the same time was another
matter entirely. My success rate here was 60% - laps 3 and 4 made
up the other 40%, which was pretty consistent with my performance
last Fall.

After dropping one point on the first lap, I lost another 4 points on the
second lap. Even though my elapsed time was a little better, the
speed average was higher. This trend would continue as the
timetable shortened on the ensuing laps. The course also
deteriorated somewhat in certain areas, especially a gully crossing in
the untimed section. I made it through the deep ruts, but not without
stepping off the bike and pushing. Reroutes and shortcuts would get
us around most of the rest of the difficult sections later in the race.

At each restart, I would follow Gary Barber through the first area of
singletrack, then watch him disappear into a cloud of dust in the open
fields. At the end of each lap, I would take a few minutes back at my
pickup truck to grab a drink and a snack, put some fuel in the KTM
and add a Band Aid wherever needed on my hands. From there, I’d
ride an easy pace to the restart, wait for my minute to come up, and
see how long I could keep up with Gary.

The 4th and 5th laps stepped up the speed average to 30 and 36
mph, respectively. At that pace, everybody dropped points. Gary and I
were the sole riders left on our row, and the field had thinned out
considerably. The final lap was made up of A and AA riders only. I
conquered the Terrible Twin logs, took the pansy route around a
tough rock ledge climb, kept my still-new helmet away from the rock
walls, and finished the race without incident.

Tim Tabor would take the overall win, while my rowmate Gary Barber
would finish 10th overall. However, the real winners were all who
showed up to race the ‘Lil Luck Enduro. Great day for riding.
Prophetstown, Illinois
Zwingle, Iowa