October 10, 2010
Atalissa, Iowa
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
Morrison, Illinois
DNF
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.
Atalissa, Iowa
Morrison, Illinois