April 18, 2010
Roselawn, Indiana
7th of 16 in Vet A
After a solid 6 months of riding and racing the KTM 250XC in a variety
of terrain and race venues, I decided to give my now not-so-new bike
one final test of its capabilities: a timekeeper enduro. The Sand
Goblin enduro near Roselawn, Indiana was just the right race. As
advertised, the enduro was to be about 70 miles in length and the
club promised new trails and -- get this -- hills! Anyone who's ever
ridden the spring or summer enduros at Roselawn knows how silly
that sounds the first time you hear it. Other than a man-made sand pit
a few years back, the course never deviated from its starting altitude
by more than about 20 feet.

The 2010 version of the Sand Goblin would be different, and so would
be my ride. A nice advantage of owning a KTM off-road bike is that its
designers were kind enough to do two things: 1) the front brake rotor
is pre-drilled to accept an Enduro Engineering rare earth magnet; and
2) the front brake caliper is threaded to accept my Watchdog enduro
computer sensor wire. Even more convenient, the magnet lined up
perfectly with the sensor. That part of the computer set-up was plug-n-
play. Mounting the computer module to the handlebars, however, was
a different story. The mounting brackets weren't long enough to clear
the Scotts steering damper, but an hour's worth of metal fabrication
solved that minor problem. My 250XC was enduro-ready.

After a short trip to my parent's farm and a few hours watching my
dad plant corn with a tractor that drives itself through the fields
("Look, no hands!"), I drove up to the race site on Sunday morning.
Jeff Snedecor, who I first met at the summer version of this enduro 10
years ago, was waiting near the entrance to the staging area with a
parking spot reserved for me. He revealed that in his training for the
Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon on May 1st, he'd run 20 miles on
Friday. Keep in mind, this is a guy who runs 5 or 6 miles a day, every
day, but even so, this was a 70-mile enduro. The only exercise I get
within 2 days of a race is on my couch, reaching for the remote.

Jeff's row was 3 minutes ahead of mine. Based on the speed he has
demonstrated on a dirt bike over the years, I didn't expect to see him
inside the woods. His group departed in a huge cloud of dust as bikes
carved out ruts in the Escargot section. For a change, this part of the
Midwest was experiencing a warm, dry Spring. There would be no 35-
degree temperatures today, no water-saturated fields, no seized
engine a quarter-mile from the start. There would be, however, a lot of
dust where the sun had baked the sand.

The series of endless turns which make up the Escargot has often
greeted us as the starting point of the Sand Goblin. There is nothing
particularly technical about riding in circles for a mile or so, but there
is a measure of skill involved. Unfortunately, I don’t have those skills.
But it didn't really matter. The 24 mph speed average was perfectly
doable here, despite my best efforts to prove otherwise. By the time
my row, #30, had departed, the Escargot lines were already burned in
by over 100 riders. Each group of riders leaving the starting line would
eventually meet up with previously departed groups making their
circles through the yellow caution tape, and two converging dust
clouds would briefly smudge them all from view. A strong, cool wind
would then blow the cloud southward and all would be visible again.

Halfway through the Escargot, the ruts were steadily gaining
choppiness and the stiff breeze was forcing the gritty dust into all
areas of my bike and body. We left this section soon enough, then
crossed over a country road and headed down a dirt path toward the
first woods section. With a minute or two to spare, I paused to catch
my breath at the 2.9-mile marker. The other guys on my row did no
such pause and entered the woods early. I'm not much of a gambler
when it comes to guessing where the surprise checks might be, so I
held off and went in about 15 seconds early. That's about as much
time as I'm capable of scrubbing when a check appears around a
blind corner and I have to demonstrate how slow I can ride with my
feet on the pegs (usually not slow enough).

The woods in this section were typical of what the Roselawn area has
to offer. Intervals of narrowly spaced trees were broken up with some
3rd gear trails and a few open fields. The first checkpoint came a
couple miles later, where I dropped 3 points. Guess I should have
gambled.

In springtime, it's a little easier to take a chance and go into a woods
section early, when the leafy underbrush hasn't yet taken hold. With
unclouded vision into the trees, I could usually see riders slowly
navigating the trails, cautiously lurking inside the woods until their
computers said it was go-time. That made it easier for me to enter a
little earlier than I would have. I began to notice, however, that the
"check-in" checkpoints did not seem to agree with the Watchdog. I
would enter the sections about 30 seconds early, ride slowly until I
was back on time, and then arrive at a checkpoint just as the crews
were about to flip over the #31 card. I should have been arriving just
as they were flipping the #30 card, meaning I was right on time. So
naturally I assumed that I either screwed up the programming in my
computer, or else I entered the woods 30 seconds late, not early. That
kind of boneheaded mistake, after all, would be something I was
totally capable of.

However, at the halfway point Jeff Snedecor had noticed the same
thing. We surely couldn't have both screwed up. I'd already set an
absent-minded precedent 10 years earlier, when I had to admit to Jeff
that the reason my bike wouldn't start for 15 minutes was because I'd
left a rag in the airbox. He, on the other hand, had demonstrated no
such errors in all those years, and I could tell this time discrepancy
was bugging him. I could also see that his marathon training was
having some ill effects. Jeff had fallen in a mile-long section of sand
whoops and twisted his knee. Along with sore legs from his 20-mile
training run, he could barely lift his leg to kick-start the bike. Yet he
had no intention of quitting.

The time issue was cleared up shortly after we began the second half
of the race. A handwritten sign had been placed after one of the
"check-in" checks, indicating that the checkpoint clocks were correct
from there on. Mystery solved.

The next 30 miles were clearly the highlight of the race, with almost
exclusively new trails. Certain spots in the woods had short sections
capable of some serious speeds. As trees whizzed by, I did not
always avoid them completely. In all my years of racing, I noticed
something I'd never seen before: bits of bark shooting off the trees as
my hand guards grazed their edges. These were not large trees with
old, thick bark, but smaller ones with softer edges. The effect was as
mesmerizing as the perfection of the trails. In all my years of racing
Roselawn enduros, I'd never seen such perfect dirt.

The smooth flow of the second-half trails continued until we reached
a section mostly carved into the side of a sand ridge. Every so often,
the off-camber trail would be interrupted by a sharp right hand turn,
straight up to the top of the ridge in the loosest of sand. During one of
those uphills, I witnessed the most interesting contortion ever
executed by a downed rider. A medium-sized fallen tree was partially
blocking the trail and lying about 2 feet off the ground. An unfortunate
rider had made it past the fallen tree, but apparently fell in the
process. The bike lay on its side, with the rider pinned upside down
between the bike and the tree. His head was resting against the rear
wheel; his ass wedged up under the tree. Another rider ahead of me
asked if he was ok, upon which he simply replied, "Help."  

The race ended with a long, cool ride over pavement. Back at the
Escargot field, a group of riders debated whether or not to head
straight for the final checkpoint. The end of the race was a known
control, but we doubted it would be a timed check. The road miles
had put us well ahead of schedule, but nobody was willing to risk
being early. So we sat for 10 minutes with the staging area in sight,
then coasted into the final checkpoint (it was just an observation
check). Jeff was already loaded up, walking around his trailer like a
guy 40 years older. Ten days later, he would have surgery to correct
cartilage and ligament damage in his knee. His crash, evidently, was
worse than he thought.

The overall winner, Tom DuBois, was also the Vet A champion. I
finished a distant 7th, which suggested that maybe I should be
gambling a little more in these races. Or, maybe I could just ride
faster. The KTM proved its worth as an enduro bike, and pretty much
a do-it-all bike. If there could be a perfect motorcycle for the trails of
Roselawn, it would look a lot like a 250XC.













May 16, 2010
Park Hills, Missouri
Leadbelt National Enduro
13th of 24 in Vet A
There are times when the first 20 feet of trail can be an accurate
predictor of the next 65 miles of an enduro. At the Leadbelt National,
the rutty, rooted trail just inside the tree line provided such a forecast.
The other forecast, that of the meteorological variety, had mostly
cooperated up until a few days before the enduro. But come race
time, nature proved itself up to the challenge of challenging all those
who chose to compete.

As a stop on the National Enduro Series, the Leadbelt race format
was rally-style, where riders are given a certain amount of time to
navigate the trails that lead special tests, and these tests are the only
timed sections of the enduro. The individual test times are
accumulated and the quickest guy through all the tests is the overall
winner. For the A and AA riders, six tests would determine the winner.
The B and C classes were cut off earlier, but no matter what the
distance, the course would test everyone’s skills and patience.

As I lined up on row #38, I found myself next to national rider Jordan
Brandt and local Missouri fast guy Shannon Kenworthy. Jordan was
riding for BWM’s offroad team on a dirt bike that didn’t remind me
much of a German-engineered motorcycle. Not, at least, the type
seen sport-touring across mountain roads. Like most factory
sponsored riders, Jordan sat in concentration, focused on the race in
front of him. Shannon, on the other hand, was chatty and outgoing.
We had ridden in the same class at the Ozark 100 last November,
where he soundly trounced all other A riders. He mentioned that he
hadn't ridden much this year due to smacking his head against a rock
with enough force to crack open his helmet. In the process, his
pituitary gland was no longer able to tell his testicles to produce
testosterone. So I learned two things on the starting line of the
Leadbelt National Enduro: 1) Don’t whack your head so hard as to
crack open your helmet and screw up your pituitary gland; and 2)
testosterone is, in fact, controlled by the pituitary gland. All these
years, I thought a malfunctioning pituitary gland caused
Robert
Wadlow
-like growth spurts. Who would have thought that your nuts
can’t function without a pea-sized gland at the bottom of your brain.

As our countdown approached go-time, Missouri mud specialist Aaron
Shaw appeared beside the starting line, no bike or gear in sight.
Shannon asked for an explanation and received it in the form of Aaron
raising his shirt, revealing a sizeable scar in the center of a freshly
shaved square on his gut. Crash-related, I was not sure, but it looked
painful.

Our time to leave came shortly after Aaron’s revelation, and within 50
feet of entering the woods, I could tell we were in for a tough one. A
long rut had already formed, thanks to moist conditions and over 150
riders breaking in the trail ahead of us. As with most rally-style
enduros, the route sheet showed plenty of time to reach the first
special test. That is, plenty of time under normal conditions. With the
trails as muddy as they were, I didn't waste any time.

Much of the two mile ride to the first test was through the outer edge
of the public area of the park. These ATV trails are fun on a dirt bike
and generally shed water very well. It was a good warm-up. At the
restart area, a large group of riders were gathered, pausing for
several minutes until their test times came up. Shannon Kenworthy
suggested that he would let Jordan Brandt go first into the trails, and
would then lead me through this first section. If I needed to pass, all I
had to do was give a shout and Shannon promised to let me by. “I’m
a slow starter,” he said. What he meant to say was, “I am a slow
starter when compared to the fastest guys riding today.” His “slow”
pace was all I could handle. I did manage to stay close, and
eventually Shannon let me lead.

The trails in this first test wandered in and around the public area of
the state park. Having lived for 7 years in St. Louis, the park was my
regular play riding destination. I had ridden these areas many times
and gradually put some distance on Shannon.  About 5 minutes into
the test, I had the second encounter of the day with my hero, Shane
Watts. For anyone not familiar with off-road racing, or who has been
away from the sport for the past 15 years, Mr. Watts is an Aussie who
was once the fastest guy in the world doing what I love to do on a
motorcycle. His battered body has withstood the test of time and
injuries, although he is no longer a contender for the overall win at
these races. His position on row #39, one minute behind me, gave me
6 chances (once each test) to view his riding style throughout the day.
If I were to describe that style, it would be like this: he needs no seat,
for he never sits down. No matter what the terrain or conditions,
Shane rode his KTM like the seat was electrified.

Another of Mr. Watt’s traits is a “no worries” approach to just about
everything, including the sign-up procedure. By way of a couple snafu’
s during signup, I found myself near the end of the line and was one
of the last guys to check through the transponder setup area. Shane
stood beside me, the next-to-last guy to register his transponder.

Near the end of the special test, I botched a small hill climb and
watched Shannon squeeze by. We finished the test a couple seconds
apart. This 9.5-mile test was followed by a 9.0-mile test that took us
back to the staging area. By now, singletrack was the name of the
game and the trail had become one long rut. I felt strong, despite my
lack of riding after the Roselawn enduro. The scheduled break time
between loops was more than enough for a quick snack, refueling the
bike, and sticking on a Band-Aid or two to my hands.

The next 3 special tests were a blur of muddy ruts, rocks, trees, hills,
and everything else that is St. Joe State Park. At the enduro, we got
to see all of it, including the areas normally off limits to motorcycles.
What is unique to the park, and probably the reason the National
Enduro Series puts this venue on its schedule, is the diversity of
terrain. Want rocks? Got’em. Sand whoops? Got that too. There’s
even some good ‘ol slippery clay, just like the stuff in Illinois. The only
thing missing is truly large hills, but there were enough small, steep
ones to satisfy most everyone.

The Missouri Mudders, one of the premier off-road clubs in these
parts, laid out a long sand loop around the staging area. I had seen a
large group of spectators perched up on a sand hill during my 2nd
and final pit stop of the day. Their spot on the hill overlooked the most
interesting part of the test, where riders would demonstrate their skills
in deep sand, through an endless maze of yellow caution tape stuck
to wood posts. When I came through the test, Jeff Henderson was
beside the caution tape cheering me on. I nearly gave him and Jim
“Rocket” Walker something to do besides wet their pants at the sight
of off-road maestros like Charlie Mullins, Glenn Kearny, Russell
Bobbitt, and Mike Lafferty. A gully appeared in the sand and I was
fully unprepared. The front suspension smacked the far side of the
gully and nearly brought my KTM to a split-second stop. There have
been times when I cursed the stiffer suspension of the 250XC, but
that was not one of those instances. Slightly jarred but otherwise
unaffected, I continued through the sand.

After 5 special tests and about 50 miles of trail, I would have been
happy to make like a B rider and call it a day. But I still had 11 miles
to go, for the final test that would include the highlight of the entire
race: the waterfall. However, my body was not making it easy for me
to continue. I was dead tired and my rock-hard seat had been
punishing my ass for almost 4 hours. In short, I was bonking big time.
The last special test began at the old earthen dam near the boundary
of the public area of the park. A short ride through a swamp lead to
several miles through the rockiest, most technical part of the entire
course. Naturally, the worst had been saved for last.

The only part of the 6th test I remember much about was, of course,
the waterfall. The series of ledges was engulfed in whitewater,
treacherous as ever. Each ledge I treated as a jump, hopping down
each of the 7 or 8 drop-offs. Upon review of the YouTube clips,
nobody else seemed to launch their bike off the ledges in the same
manner. Instead, they allowed their front wheels to drop down and
relied on their front suspension to handle the load. Style points,
maybe, but faster? Probably.

I limped along to the finish, dead tired and wishing I had signed up
for the B loop. I packed up and began my long drive home, only to
pull over near Arnold, Missouri to sleep for an hour. I was that tired.
But it was another fun, challenging ride, and I’d do it again in a
heartbeat. The Missouri Mudders outdid themselves once again
Roselawn, Indiana
Park Hills, Missouri
The only real wet spot
on the course,
executed as one would
expect for my riding
style.