October 10, 2010
1st of 2 in Vet A
Each year, to add some variety to my racing activities, I like to try out a new (to me)
racing venue. Already this year I’d entered an enduro near Hayward, Wisconsin, with
its difficult rocks and tightly spaced trees. In October, the Atalissa, Iowa hare
scramble appeared on the District 22 schedule and thus met my main criteria for a
race worth attending: a reasonable driving distance and a course advertised as a
10.5-mile loop laid out over the rolling hills of Eastern Iowa. Perfect.
A first visit to any new race site is always a bit of an adventure, since the locations
are rarely nearby any major roadway or municipality. The Atalissa event was several
miles south of Interstate 80, down a gravel road with dust so thick that the cars a
quarter-mile ahead of me were blinding my view. This place, it seemed, had not
seen rain in a long time. The staging area, like many, was set up in a large pasture
within the rolling hills we had been promised. A large Red Bull tent caught my eye,
as did the two young ladies strolling through the parking area with backpacks full of
the energy drink. Glory Be, it was all free for the taking. At the signup table, a pair of
pleasant ladies insisted, somewhat forcefully, that I not miss my opportunity to win a
discount coupon for a new Rekluse clutch, courtesy of Enduro Pilot. This, my friends,
is how you attract riders to your racing series.
With a spare hour or so before I needed to suit up for the race, I wandered the pits
and viewed the Junior class racers flying over a terrace in the pasture. In the grassy
areas, the dust was surprisingly minimal, but I wondered about conditions inside the
woods. The answer would come later, just after we lined up for the start of the
afternoon race. My class was placed on the second row, which gave us clear sight of
the dust kicked up by the Pro class after the flag dropped. They rounded a fence to
the left, then sped through rolling grass next to a ravine. The unfortunate ones in the
back of the pack had no choice but to let off the throttle.
Our row came next. As expected, the cloud left by the lead riders forced me to back
off a bit, but once inside the woods, vision was not a problem. The course was
typical of what I call “old terrain” Midwestern woods. This area of Iowa was left
untouched by the ice age that made most of Illinois flat and devoid of rocks. While
the hills weren't particularly large or steep, the ground was mostly unsuitable for crop
production and had been left mainly to cattle grazing. The open pasture was
comingled with free-flowing woods, where the trees were spaced just closely
enough to allow for somewhat technical trails, but open enough to gather a little
speed now and then. Through the first few miles, the riders were still grouped
closely together and churning up a dense cloud every time we exited the woods.
These open grassy areas were crisscrossed with cow paths, some cut into hillsides
and deepened by erosion. The arrows pointed us across some of these paths,
which at high speeds and limited visibility were treacherous. One in particular would
have been a disaster, had I not launched my 250XC across the cow-path-turned-
gully. If my front wheel had dropped down into the gap at that speed, let’s just say I
would have become an unintentional acrobat.
David Lyons, the only other rider in my class, had jumped out to an early lead in
these first few miles of the course. I didn't know Dave, but we had talked before the
race and I had made a mental note of his bike and riding gear. About 10 minutes into
the first lap, he appeared ahead of me. His line choices were similar to mine, so I
tucked in behind him for a mile or two. We descended down into a rocky creek bed
and rode through the center for a couple hundred yards, where water still flowed
enough to make the rocks slick. In an instant, Dave and his Yamaha surrendered to
the rocks and were lying down in the creek. From there, I took over the lead.
For the next two hours, I focused on riding smart and avoiding the cow paths in the
pastures and the blue Yamaha of David Lyons. Both of these I accomplished. The
terrace in the pasture near the pit area was just as fun to jump as it had looked when
the small bikes were flying over it in the morning. The woods stayed only moderately
dusty throughout the race, and I had few problems passing slower riders because of
limited vision. My only regret was my turtle-like pace in the YouTube video, near the
end of the rocky creek bed section. No matter how fast I think I am, video is always
humbling. If you ever see TV coverage of GNCC’s, ISDE, or any other event where dirt
bikers look fast on video, then they are, in reality, moving like Cap’n Kirk trying to
outrun the Klingons at Warp Factor 9.
The Atalissa course was just as advertised and one of the most fun rides of the year.
I've said before that Iowa trails are a cross between Illinois and Missouri terrain, and
this place was no different. Where the tightly spaced trees and underbrush of Illinois
often takes away any sense of “flow” on the trails, the more mature terrain of Iowa
has just the right combination of speed and technicality. My only regret was that I
missed out on a case of Red Bull, which had been given to class winners until they
ran out just before the Vet class awards. Even so, as with White City and Zwingle,
this place has made my annual “must ride” list.
October 31, 2010
Round 14 of the MXC off-road series, hosted by the Bill Gusse gang, was yet another
new-to-me race venue, this one located north of Morrison, Illinois. Some race sites
are easier to find than others, and this one was dang near impossible. Mr. Gusse’s
usual road signs pointing us in the right direction were oddly absent on this day,
thus resulting in much confusion as to just exactly where “off of IL-78” he was
referring to. After no less than 3 trips up and down the highway with no sign of road
signs, I met a motorcycle-laden pickup truck heading north and whipped a U-turn
just in time to follow him into the race site.
With time to spare, I took a walk through the woods and fields where the trails were
routed. As with many MXC races, this one had one particularly nasty obstacle in the
form of a swampy, saturated meadow in the center of the woods. An unusually dry
fall season didn't do much for this area, which was so wet that trees would barely
grow. Two options were laid out where the trail descended from high ground down
into the swamp. A longer route kept bikes elevated and dry, while a shorter route was
arrowed across the grass. Course workers on dirt bikes had passed through the
shorter route a few times and left some deep ruts. Even though the low area had
only a small amount of standing water, its grass felt like the snow-white bear rug in
my grandmother’s house. It was like walking on a giant sponge. I figured I could get
away with taking the short route on the first lap, but after that I’d probably want to stay
high and dry.
At the other end of the swamp, I ran across Travis Held, who had helped work a
check with me at the Leaf River enduro the previous Sunday. He had entered the Vet
class, and I looked forward to racing with him. An hour later, on the starting line, we
ended up together at the first turn and I followed him to the swamp. The shorter route
was pretty much destroyed by the two rows ahead of us, so we both took the long
way around. Travis fell over while setting up for an off-camber trail on the far side of
the swamp, and I passed by. He remounted quickly and was behind me when we
exited the swamp and sped across a cornfield. The property was divided by a creek
which appeared to have been dredged at some point. It now more resembled the
deep drainage ditches of my homeland, with water flowing a good 10 feet lower than
the harvested cornfield beside it. The crossing was made easy by a bridge about 30
feet long and 30 inches wide. The bridge did, however, have an uncomfortable
sideways slope which just begged for a fast approach and an uncontrollable slide
into the depths of the ditch. Anyone finding themselves on the wrong side of that
slope would have been well off knowing two things: 1) how to swim; and 2) a guy
with a winch and a long cable.
I moved cautiously across the bridge and entered the woods once again. After a half
mile of rolling hills, the arrows pointed us to a quarter-mile of open field, towards a
road bridge crossing, and then back into some fast, flowing trails. Almost as quickly
as we had started the lap, I was back at the scoring barrels. And when I say quick, I
mean 7-minute-lap quick. Not since Valders, Wisconsin in 2008 had I completed a
lap in such a short amount of time.
By now, a wardrobe malfunction that I’d noticed at the Atalissa, Iowa hare scramble
became evident once again. My Camelbak straps were slipping off my shoulders.
Each lap, the straps would slip until I reached the scoring area, then I would spend
some time in the cornfield attempting to gyrate my shoulders in a motion similar to
how my younger sister once described as the correct method for testing a brassiere
for proper fit. Eventually, the straps would slide back into position. Then at the
scoring barrels, I’d be shaking my shoulders again.
For a lap or two I “held” off Travis (get it?) until he passed me in the woods. A short
while later we came out to the open field that led to the road bridge, and I decided to
see if Travis desired a drag race. He did not, so I gunned it across the field and
barely made the turn that took us across the bridge. I was ahead of him again, then
quickly gave it back by falling in the woods. That would be the last I’d see of Travis
and his KTM thumper.
About halfway into the race, I made my way around the swamp and somehow found
myself shooting straight for a tree. During these times, when there’s nothing left to
do except brace for impact, I loosen my grip and let the bike take as much of the hit
as possible. Indeed, the bike took most of the impact. Unfortunately, my left hand
absorbed the rest of the impact. I got whacked pretty hard and quickly discovered my
clutch hand was not much use for grabbing the clutch lever. A spectator was close by
and helped me back onto the bike. Somehow I was able to get moving again, but I
knew my race was over. I limped back to the truck and called it a day.
Despite the short course and the hurtin' I put on my hand, I enjoyed this race. Now
that I know how to find it, maybe I’ll be back next year.