White City, Illinois
September 12, 2010
4th of 5 in +30A
In years past, some of my best finishes came in locations least suitable for my
riding style. Places like Florence, Missouri come to mind, where I won my class for
the first time in the Show-Me state, back in the day. Where the trails are more friendly
to ATV’s, racing becomes an effort, and the Fox Valley Offroad park near Wedron,
Illinois is one of those places. Even though I came within a few seconds of winning
the whole dang race here back in 2007, with Jay Hall beating me on adjusted time,
Wedron has not been kind to me lately. In fact, I have come to suck here. The creek
bed that used to give me many passing opportunities comes and goes with no
particular usefulness. The wide trails provide no real form or flow, changing
direction randomly without considering where my motorcycle would rather take me.
Gerhard “Wardy” Ward does a great job with the land with which he is blessed, but it
continues to frustrate me.
Despite this, a better day for racing would have been rare in these parts. The staging
area was full of its typical demographic of ATV riders finishing up their morning race,
junior racers flying through the woods on pint-sized bikes, and the adult motorcycle
racers gearing up for the afternoon race. On the starting line Pat McClure, one of the
+30A leaders in what I like to call the “iron-man” District 17 hare scrambles series,
where the best 18 races (out of approximately 30) count toward the title. Missing
from the +30A class was defending champ Clint Pherigo, but our class was full of
contenders for the day’s victory.
We began our race like most others at Fox Valley, sharing the starting line with
various other A classes and heading for the same hole in the trees to begin our loop
through the riding area. Fox Valley is open to the public, and the trails showed it.
Most of the woods were carved out by ATV’s, which typically results in faster, wider
trails. Here though, the trails were wide, but they twisted around every tree and
offered not more than a second or two of straight lines. The lower sections of the
course, near Buck Creek, were flat, wide and twisty; the upper portions along the
hillsides were off-camber, narrow and tricky.
Near the midpoint of the course was the motocross track, of which we used only a
long straight section with a couple of moderate jumps. I grabbed the throttle to start
down the track and found the #419 bike of Randy Southard nearby. The first jump
was somewhat of a tabletop, with the far end leveled off for the generally weak
motocross abilities of most hare scramblers. I flew across this jump and landed
beyond the backside, but backed off the throttle on the next jump, a single with a
sharper face. Randy gassed it over the jump and passed me easily. Back inside the
woods, he pulled away easily.
The course was full of challenges, such as a steep uphill with a log or two to avoid,
and off-camber singletrack running alongside the dirt road that connects the staging
area with the motocross track. But by far the toughest obstacle lay just after the
motocross track, on a steep downhill that turned sharply to the right. If not for an
angled log lying just before the sharp turn, this hill would have been only moderately
challenging. However, the log held up riders every time I passed through. And if
memory serves correctly, the alternate route around the diagonal log came with its
own series of logs, one of which dropped me solidly on the 3rd or 4th lap. When I
began to pick up my 250XC, it appeared I’d been victim of the dreaded sapling-
between-the-fender dilemma. Most experienced woods racers encounter this at
various points in their racing endeavors, and it is not pleasant. The physical
mechanics involve some sort of tip-over which causes the front wheel to slide into a
sapling. With the bike on its side, the sapling ends up lodged between the front
fender and the front tire. When you try to upright the bike, the sapling remains vertical
and prevents the motorcycle from joining it in verticality. The most common solution
is to leave the bike on its side and attempt to drag it backwards, so the sapling has
a clear escape from the motorcycle. This involves considerable effort and extra time,
but is necessary.
As it turned out, the sapling I’d encountered was willing to free itself somewhat
easily and I was back on the trail with little effort. The electronic scoring system
showed me in 3rd place at each pass through the main checkpoint. Lap times
would reveal that I was 5-10 seconds off the class leader’s pace throughout almost
every lap. During the race, I could sense that I wasn't progressing and eventually I
settled into a pace that mostly just conserved energy and kept me out of trouble.
About 90 minutes into the race, that strategy backfired with my boot caught a tree
limb on the ground. Unfortunately, it was firmly attached to a large fallen tree, and the
end of the limb would not compromise. The sharp pain was met with a sensation
that my boot was full of water. That concerned me, although we did have some
opportunities to wet our boots in a couple of creek crossings. But I didn’t like the way
it felt, so I left the course and headed back to my truck. My foot was bruised, but it
appeared to be otherwise undamaged. With that, I called it a day.
Despite the tree limb incident and a healthy layer of dust throughout much of the
course, Wardy put on another solid race on a beautiful day for racing. His electronic
scoring system should be a model for all District 17 races, and his property is a
great place for a day of play riding.
September 19, 2010
White City, Illinois
Oh, the misfortune of a Cahokia Creek Dirt Rider. The club, with its large acreage
perfectly suited for off-road motorcycling, is totally at the mercy of Mother Nature. Its
members, tantalized by wonderful soil conditions during the week, can see their
trails churned into a soupy mess by one errant rain on Saturday night. Then comes
the frantic re-routing of the course, so as not to prevent most of the racers from
finishing more than a lap or two on Sunday. So goes the life of the club.
On this particular Sunday, those dreaded rains lasted right up to the minute I arrived
at the club, spoiling what could have been trails that dreams are made of. I was
hopeful that underneath an inch or two of muck might lay dry dirt, but from the looks
of the mini-bike race in the morning, we were in for a couple hours of tough riding.
When I arrived at the club, the little bikes were up to their fenders fording the smaller
of the two creeks flowing through the property. Yep, we were in for a mudder.
Lined up behind the Pro class on the starting line, I could already see how the next
30 seconds were about to play out: flag drops, engines fire to life, and a spray of
mud-caked grass shoots into my face. On cue, the flag dropped and I ducked my
head just in time. Mud spatter covered the front of my bike, but my goggles were
clean. Next up was my row’s start. Or lack thereof, in my case. The KTM’s engine
refused all efforts to activate itself. After 30 seconds or so, I pushed the unwilling
machine over to the crowd of onlookers, just before the B classes began leaving in
I would like to say it was the first time. That by some stroke of bad luck or absent
mindedness, the fuel petcock had remained in its “Off” position. But no, I had done
this before. These are the moments one never forgets. I can still vividly recall the
last time it happened at Westphalia, Missouri back in 2004 on my KX250. It was as
embarrassing then as it was now. In fairness to myself, I will say the KTM’s attempt
at a foolproof petcock wasn't completely successful, but then again, their engineers
probably didn't anticipate the likes of me when they saddled up to the drawing board.
Once the bike and I were rolling, all of the classes had left the starting area. I was
absolutely, positively, dead last. I skated around about a half-mile of the course
before encountering any other bike, which in this case was a pair of riders struggling
up one of the few steep hills that were included in the course. As I made my way to
the far southeast corner of the property, it appeared the club members had
attempted to route the big bike classes into more difficult terrain, but most of the
riders were bypassing these sections by following a different colored set of arrows.
A couple miles into the course, I thought I should have been catching a few C riders
by now. Instead, I was still riding alone.
Eventually I did catch up to some riders. The club had made this one of the flatter
courses in recent memory, and for good reason. They could have made the trails
nearly impossible for everyone, on a day like this. As it were, it was a good day for
honing those skills that make Illinois racers above average when the rear wheel
skates randomly across hard, wet clay. I wondered if the Cahokia Creek would be
crossable today, and sure enough, it was. Or so the arrows suggested. As with the
June hare scramble, we crossed at a point south of the Illinois Highway 138 bridge,
where a large sandbar served as a makeshift staging area for riders examining their
options. For the most part, there was only one choice: straight ahead through 20
inches of flowing water, then up a bank of deep sand. As with the last time I raced
here, the sand ruts were already thick and deep. The White City area had received
some heavy rains earlier in the summer, which added some new mud to the ruts.
We followed Cahokia Creek for about a half-mile, along its west edge, and then
crossed under the IL-138 bridge. This area is always challenging, with steep hills
and off-camber trails. Even though the trails had been routed around the worst of the
hills, they were still technical and challenging. We crossed Cahokia Creek again,
then wound our way back to the other side of the bridge. The scoring area appeared,
and I asked the club members which arrows I was to follow. As expected, we were
on the arrows which led to the more difficult trails. I wondered if everyone got that
The second lap was every bit as tough as the first. A difficult hill near IL-138 caught
me off guard and I found myself sliding backwards. I attempted an alternate route
around the left, which took me within a foot or two of a concrete storm water gutter
near the highway ditch. My rear wheel spun its way into the gutter, where it turns out
that slimy green stuff growing down the center offers surprisingly little traction. I
dismounted, pushed on the handlebars, and shoved the bike back onto soil. The
next two times through here, I took the same alternate route but managed to stay out
of the gutter. I also managed to cross Cahokia Creek with only one minor incident,
which was quickly remedied by a club member who tugged on my front forks with
just enough force to unstick me from a rut. The rest of the race was a conservative
ride through treacherous terrain. The only person in my class who I got close to
(knowingly, anyway) was Ryan Duff, who got himself hung up on the same hill where
I’d been taking the alternate route near the storm water gutter. He took off just as I
arrived and I never saw him again.
The end of the race came after about 90 minutes, which was more than enough for
me. The club, usually resistant to change things up because of a little rain, actually
did a good job at flattening out the trails just enough to make the race doable for
most. It was a good chance to remember what a “mudder” feels like.