April 18, 2010
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
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
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
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
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.
Park Hills, Missouri
|The only real wet spot
on the course, executed
as one would expect for
my riding style (click on
photos for larger view).