April 10, 2011
Prophetstown, Illinois
DNF
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.

Wrong.

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.

Wrong.

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 car door.

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 racing season.

April 17, 2011
Roselawn, Indiana
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 in.  

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.
Prophetstown, Illinois
Roselawn, Indiana