September 12, 2010
Wedron, Illinois
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 waves.

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 message.

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.
Wedron, Illinois
White City, Illinois