April 10, 2011
The spring of 2011 will be remembered as the inverse of the previous year, when
Northern Illinois was blessed with some of the most ideal March and April riding
conditions in my lifetime. This go-around, not a Sunday in March began with
temperatures north of 40 degrees. While the racing schedule was full of venues, my
month of March was spent waking to a thermometer consistently reading 20-
something. My motivation for racing was still in hibernation.
April improved somewhat, and I found myself driving to Prophetstown to ride for the
first time since the Ozark 100 in November. There are risks in this, of which I was fully
aware; the first of which being a lack of physical conditioning. I'd tried to be diligent in
riding my road bicycle in its trainer during the week before the race, but there's only so
much of that kind of boredom I can tolerate (even while watching whatever Netflix
delivered on that particular day). I knew my hands would be soft, too. The
Prophetstown sand can be tough on fingers and palms, but a few strategically placed
Band Aids would surely prevent blisters.
For whatever reason, I was running a bit late on this Sunday morning and arrived at
the staging area around 11:30. Not to worry, though. Bill Gusse usually runs the C
classes first, then the A's and B's around 1:00.
And wrong again.
Not only were all big-bike classes running the same race, Mr. Gusse's race itinerary
was actually ahead of schedule. For the first time in the history of amateur racing, we
were about the start a hare scramble sooner than its previously announced time of
departure. Fortunately, Mr. Gusse uses a sound system to announce all current
events, one of which was his proclamation that all big bike classes would run at the
same time, starting in about 15 minutes. I had just parked my truck and opened my
Thus began a full-on race mode. Following a dash to the sign-up trailer ("You're
signing up for the ATV race? No? Really?") and the fastest gear-up ever (all while the
starting area was nearly full of bikes), I was lined up next to a long row of motorcycles,
still in a daze. In 15 minutes, I had made myself ready to race. A few minutes later, the
flag dropped for the fast guys, and I decided to try out my E-start instead of using the
kick starter for the dead-engine start. The more powerful battery I'd installed in the off-
season worked well, and I was about 5th or 6th going into the first corner.
The sandy track was as it always is at Prophetstown, with narrow trails giving way to
fast and wide mini-highways through the woods. Three races had already been held
here in the previous 6 weeks, leaving the sand a bit choppy and rutted, but in good
shape overall, thanks to rains during the prior week. In the first lap, I stuck close to the
guy in front of me, then yielded to a guy behind me. With arm pump increasing, the
riders in front pulled away and out of sight.
After the motocross track, I began to realize another factor was in play today: heat. As
temperatures climbed into the 80s, I sensed a warmth I hadn't felt in about 7 months,
first in my legs near the exhaust pipe, and then throughout the rest of my body. This
was not your typical April 10th.
Also not normal for April 10th: clutch hand blisters, 15 minutes into the race. I knew
my soft hands would probably fall victim to some form of pain, but on the second lap?
My PalmSavers and several Band Aids weren't enough. This was serious. At the start
of the 3rd lap, about 20 minutes into the race, I was already making those certain
adjustments to my clutch technique that we all do in any situation where the normal
routine yields pain. In this case, pulling in the clutch lever about 20 times a minute,
with 3 of my 5 digits, burned every time. Every 60 seconds, a score of stings on my
thumb and palm.
By now I was doing some calculating in my head. By lap 4, the blisters would burst,
leaving a recovery time of about 2 weeks. The Sand Goblin Enduro, which I'd already
preregistered for, was to be held in 7 days. This equation led to one conclusion: quit
now, or pay for it even worse next Sunday. So I finished my third lap, pulled off the
course and loaded up the bike. When I left the staging area, my clock read 12:30. I'd
been here about an hour; raced for 30 minutes during that time. Thus began my 2011
April 17, 2011
5th of 16 in Vet A
Any experienced off-roader will confirm that the adventure of racing dirt bikes does not
begin and end within the confines of the race itself. My journey to the Sand Goblin
Enduro actually began a week earlier near Prophetstown, Illinois, where Bill Gusse's
MXC hare scramble series was in its early rounds. Prophetstown is a great place to
start a racing season, since this sandy venue is at its peak riding condition during a
time when most areas of Illinois are covered with tire-sucking muck. A full 4 months
had passed since my last ride, and I knew I needed some training for the Sand
Goblin. What better place for practice than the most Roselawn-like terrain in Illinois?
Obviously, Prophetstown wasn't the training I had hoped for. The blisters healed in
time for the Sand Goblin, but my ailing pickup truck with 197,000 miles was leaking
antifreeze at an alarming rate. The Blazer was in the midst of a repair project and not
drivable, so what to do? Well, what else...throw a gallon of Prestone in the pickup
truck and go racing!
The roadside pasture was crowded with vehicles of all types when I arrived at the
staging area. Jeff Snedecor had staked out our usual spot near the front gate, which
most riders seem not to notice but we much prefer. After the sale of my Gas Gas
300EC last year, I'd been carrying around an unused YZ front fender (compatible with
the Gasser) to various District 17 races, hoping to gift it to Jeff so he could replace his
YZ250 fender, surgically repaired for the last couple years with zip ties. Finally, he
showed at a D-17 race, and the new fender was his.
The Sand Goblin was set up as a restart format, meaning I could leave my enduro
computer at home and focus solely on riding as fast as possible through the test
sections. It also meant the Grand Kankakee Trail Riders didn't have to worry much
about slowing us down in the woods. And it couldn't have come on a better day. The
cold, rainy spring that had killed my motivation to race in March had given way to mid-
50's and partly cloudy on this day (fair-weather riding increases with age, what can I
say). The sand had soaked up the earlier rains and left the course with firm traction --
perfect conditions for an April enduro in Northwest Indiana.
My pre-entry request was granted with a row assignment of 25, which is about right
for any enduro. The Roselawn-area trails are generally not the kind where being first
to arrive is an advantage, except back when I did my first Summer Bummer in 1996
and the woods around the staging area were a consistent mess of sewage-like
sludge. A single-digit row was all that got me through the swamp when we had to
ride through it a second time. After drainage was improved in the late-1990’s, an early
row no longer offered the same advantage. Thus, my mid-pack position on the
starting grid would ensure that quite a few bikes cleared the trail ahead of me, but not
so much to make the trail choppy or overly rutted. Jeff and Super Senior Rick Mahrt
were given row 6, while the others in our mini-group, Bob Brooks and Brent Pierce,
took a much later row 49.
For Rick and Jeff and about 35 other riders, the start of the race took an interesting
turn (or lack thereof) less than a mile into the race. After passing through a field near
the staging area, the trail intersected with a road, where the arrows pointed us toward
the left. Another set of arrows on the other side of the road were also visible, pointing
straight ahead. Those arrows marked the path to the final loop of the day, which
would come several hours later. But many of the early riders spotted the straight-
ahead arrows and followed them, arriving a short distance later at a closed gate near
the edge of woods. A rider on the second row came upon this gate and made the
presumption that the club forgot to open it. Thus, he helpfully unlatched the gate and
continued to follow the arrows into the woods. Rick and Jeff were among a parade of
riders who followed the wrong arrows and rode about 10 miles of what turned out to
be excellent trails. The mistake caught many riders of all abilities and enduro
experience, including our very own D-17 enduro director (sorry, Ryan). However, after I
raced through this section later in the day, I can say that if I had to ride the same trail
twice, this was the section in which to do it.
If not for a club member directing us to proceed down the paved road, I am 100%
sure I would have followed everyone else into those woods. But luck was on my side.
So were a pair of A and AA riders, Craig Hamilton (200A) and Brian Kidner (AA) on a
sweet Husaberg 390. At the start, we took off through a 200-yard stretch of mulch
piles lined along the staging area fence line, then blazed a path through a cornfield.
The first test came a couple miles later.
In this test, as well as most others, the club's message to the riders seemed to be,
"We dare you." With a 30-mph average that nobody was going to maintain anyway,
why not run the course through the most flowing trails, where smooth sand would
entice us to charge a little hot into the berms; singletrack begged to be ridden in 4th
gear; a trio of sand whoops might turn into a mini-triple jump temptation. All this
came and went so quickly in those first 3 tests that before I knew it, we were back at
the staging area for gas.
Brian Kidner was clearly the man to keep up with, as he and his Husaberg jumped
out quickly and disappeared from sight usually within a minute of the start of each
test section. Craig Hamilton was also fast and aggressive and fun to try to stay close
to. When we arrived at the 4th test, a surprising number of riders on very early rows
were frantically checking in with the scorers and darting into the woods. One of those
riders was none other than Jeff Snedecor, who paused briefly to announce that he'd
ridden a section he wasn't supposed to. At the next gas available, he explained the
gate incident. At the beginning of the 4th test, most of these riders were now catching
up to the rest of the pack.
The challenge of the day came in the next-to-last test, where the course finally took us
through the narrow trails for which Roselawn enduros are famous. This was also
one of the longer stages of the race, made up of the less mature, "junk" woods that
no humans except deer hunters would dare venture into. These were the trails that
must be cut in by the club, or would be otherwise impossible to ride. The resulting
path through the brush and trees was laid with small logs and cut-off branches left
from the handiwork of a dedicated club. Riders gushing with confidence up to this
point would lose most of it here, as a reminder that the Roselawn terrain, flowing and
smooth and welcoming, can turn against an enduro rider as quickly as it invited him
The end of this test section took us back to the staging area for one last splash of
gas before the final 12-mile test. The Sand Booger family enduro had been run
through these trails the day before, and those riders had broken in the section very
well. At this point my energy was fading and the staging area was a welcome sight. If
there is a more enjoyable enduro anywhere in the Midwest, I have not yet found it.
|Vented jersey in April:
I like it!