Park Hills, Missouri
White City, Illinois
May 1, 2011
Park Hills, Missouri
4th of 7 in Vet A
Amateur racing can take on a life of its own, should one enjoy the competition and
camaraderie enough to make it his primary extracurricular activity. While some treat it
as an obsession, I prefer to view racing as would a wine connoisseur to a collection
of fancy Merlots and Pinots. Sure, there are some who would build wine cellars to
support their hobby, in much the same way racers buy toy haulers to support their dirt
biking. I, on the other hand, am like a guy with a knowledge and respect of wine, but
perfectly content to own a single, simple wine rack. My rack, if you will, is a GMC
Sonoma regular cab 4x4 with a long bed. The Sonoma is about as simple as it gets
for hauling motorcycles, with much the same functionality as a Kingston Slot Cube for
the wine crowd. When my envious eyes turn to the enclosed trailers and motor
homes commonly found in staging areas, I simply repeat my most basic racing
philosophy: The day I need anything more than a pickup truck or utility trailer to haul
my bikes is the day I need to rethink what amateur racing is. Otherwise, these
thoughts can develop into a malady known in some circles (mine, anyway) as Taking
Racing Too Seriously, or "TRacTS".
The 2011 Leadbelt Enduro was yet another case where the early symptoms of
TRacTS flared up, because this race is 6 hours from home and starts at 8:00 a.m. An
overnight stay close to Park Hills, Missouri is mandatory, but even crashing with old
friends in the St. Louis area still makes for an early Sunday morning (and heaven
forbid we should pay for a nearby motel room). Oh, how nice an enclosed trailer
would be...but no, the only way to combat TRacTS is to focus on making due with
current options: 1) My 3-man Walmart tent, which involves the added headache of
setup, takedown, and possibly a chilly night; or 2) My sleeping bag, spread out in the
back of my Blazer with the rear seats down. The Blazer option had worked well on a
few prior occasions; thus, it would also be just fine at St. Joe State Park.
The Park Hills area had seen more than its fair share of rain during the week (9
inches, give or take), so much that the infamous waterfall section had to be removed
from the course. But Sunday morning was a reminder of why May was one of my
favorite months when I lived in Missouri. I awoke to sunny, windless skies and
temperatures in the low 60's. The rains predicted for Saturday night passed through
as sprinkles and distant lightening, nothing more. After a moderately comfortable
night’s sleep, the signup area was alive at 6:45 a.m. Brian Jahelka greeted me at his
usual position in the electronic portion of the signup (RFID cards for scoring); later I
would chat with Jeff Henderson and Ray Osia at the rider's meeting. It was good to
be back in Missouri.
It was also good to be in the land of the Blackjack Enduro Circuit, which sanctioned
the race. AMA District 17, in a continuing quest to add events to its enduro series, had
arranged to co-sanction the Leadbelt, bringing in a few dozen riders from across the
river who might not have otherwise attended. I would have been there regardless, as
this race is one of a handful that I never miss. The terrain of the former lead mine
which used to operate here is unique and diverse and unlike anything I know in the
Midwest. A flat, sandy area is surrounded by hills covered with trees and rocks. Some
trails are fast and flowing; others slower and technical. You want mud? You got it.
Need some rocky hills? Got some of that too. It's all there if you know where to look.
And the Missouri Mudders club always knows where it's at.
My row assignment was 16, which in any Leadbelt is a pretty good spot. Races have
been hosted here for so long that most of the course is run on trails already used at
some point in time. Plus, the trees are usually spaced far enough apart that the
arrows are clearly visible. Row 16 was filled with A riders, including Brady Meador in
the AA class, Curtis Fahler in the Open A class, and John Myrin in the Senior A class.
These guys all had skills.
Near the starting line, riders several minutes ahead of me waited their turns as the
rows began departing. One friendly young guy on a YZ125 asked if I’d done many of
these races before. “A few,” I replied. “You must be pretty fast,” he suggested. “Well, I
try,” I said. He then glanced at my helmet, with its “16A” sticker applied on the right
side. “They told us we’re supposed to have the stickers on the left side of our
helmets.” Oh, to be young again.
Our first test began just outside the boundaries of the public riding area of St. Joe
State Park, where we spent some time in the sand before venturing into some very
familiar woods. Brady and Curtis took off and were out of sight quickly, while John
Myrin was more my speed. The trails through here were fast enough that I wondered
if some in the Pro class would drop any points at all. Then we found some technical
trails near the south side of the public riding area, slowing us to a more normal
Leadbelt pace. This initial section was about 8 miles long, and would ultimately be
thrown out for scoring. The slow starter that I am, I’m sure this only helped by final
score. Arm pump was my nemesis, and it was clearly affecting my performance.
The second section kept us outside the public area in a section I’d occasionally
stumble across when play riding in the park. It was just beyond the boundaries and
relatively untouched, other than during races. Its character better matched up with my
riding strengths, and I kept Brady and Curtis in my sights for some time. Once the
trails opened up, however, they gapped me quickly. Somewhere in here, a young
rider on a YZ80 struggled up a hill ahead of me and stalled his bike. I came to a stop
just behind him, just in time for his bike to fall into mine. You would think I’d be strong
enough to hold up my bike and his little YZ, but I tumbled over with him. Luckily, a club
member watched all of this from the bottom of the hill and was on hand quickly to
help out the little guy.
Despite this mishap, I managed to finish 5th-fastest through this section. However, I
made a rookie mistake before the race and was paying for it. After the Roselawn
enduro, I’d given up on the new Answer clearance-rack pants I bought during the off-
season, since they were clearly not sized for a 32-inch waist, no matter what the label
said. Instead, I grabbed a pair of KTM-orange MSR pants that had been sitting in my
closet for many years, going back to my pre-KX250 days. I tried them on to make sure
they fit, but did so without strapping on my new, bulbous Fox knee guards. Major
error. The MSR pants were clearly not designed for such large knee guards. Every
time I bent my knees, the pants were so tight that they might as well have been made
of sand paper. After the second check, I dashed back to my pickup truck to see what
could be done. All I could think of was to grab a couple of rags and duct-tape them to
the knee guards - anything to reduce the rubbing.
The third test was a relatively brief 5-miles, followed by the longest test of the day, an
11-mile path through the non-public area of the state park. Finally, near the end of
this test, my pants stretched out a bit and I noticed less rubbing against the area
opposite my knee caps. The miles flew by quickly, and soon I was back at my pickup
truck for a splash of gas. The next-to-last test contained the largest portion of sand
track, of which I surely lost time to my rivals. I chose to mount a well-used Michelin S-
12 rear tire from last year’s season, thinking there to be no reason to waste a
perfectly good tire on the rocky terrain of St. Joe State Park. Between the sand and the
sloppy trails of the 6th and final test, I wished I’d made a different choice.
In that final test, which only the A and B classes would ride, the Missouri Mudders
challenged us with the most technical, rocky terrain that the park has to offer. Most of
this was in the general area of the flat rock-bottom creeks on the Highway 32 side of
the park. The creeks, thanks to the heavy rains earlier in the week, were as deep as I’
d seen since 2006. One in particular, which was narrow enough that I could have
possibly wheelied through it, I chose to drop in my front wheel and saw it disappear
for a brief instant. The water was cold…very cold. The trails followed small ravines
and gullies where most of the odd-shaped, sharply-angled rocks had been exposed
by erosion. The higher areas were more apt to be slick and snotty and not well suited
for a rear tire with well-rounded knobs.
As I completed the last few miles of the course, the skies darkened and I hoped to be
finished before rains came. When the final checkpoint appeared, I simply rode
through the electronic scoring lane, paused a few seconds for a club member to
back up my riding number and time, and followed the arrows back to the staging
area. The RFID card under my helmet visor was all that these fully-electronic enduros
need. Back at my Blazer, my clock showed that it was not even 1:00 p.m. At 1:10, my
windshield was covered with rain drops. I had been in Missouri exactly 17 hours – far
too little time to enjoy all the dirt biking this great state has to offer. Kudos to the
Missouri Mudders for another exceptional enduro.
May 22, 2011
White City, Illinois
The amazing terrain of the Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders property lost its luster at about
11:00 on Sunday morning. Not that the steep hills and ravines themselves were at all
unappealing, nor the lush green woods and gently flowing Cahokia Creek. It was the
dang mosquitoes. Steady rains leading up to the race had left the course slightly
damp, but the warm temperatures brought out every newly hatched ‘skeeter…and
they were hungry. My scouting mission was a brief one.
Rumors of a “mud loop” had circulated in advance of the race, meaning that instead
of torturing us in the event of inclement weather, the club might lay off the 60-degree
hills. In some respects, this was true. Our row of +30 A riders was packed tightly
together for approximately 90 seconds after the start, until a rider hung himself up on
a tree root on one of those steep hills. I couldn't react in time to find a way around and
found myself stuck behind, waiting my turn on the side of the hill. A few other riders
behind me spotted better lines and flew by. Two minutes into the race, and I was
already playing catch-up.
As the trail routed itself around the east side of the property, another steep hill
greeted us. Once again, riders were hung up on tree roots, but this time I paused
long enough to plot my attack. I grabbed a handful of throttle and pointed the front
wheel into the same line as what appeared to be Pat McClure’s, now stranded on the
hillside, and then darted to the right, just as I neared his new-for-2011 Gas Gas. This
took me a bit off to the side of the hill, which is never a good thing with this kind of
steepness. If I could just maintain enough momentum, maybe I’d be able to conquer
In 2nd gear with nearly full throttle, my new Bridgestone 404 tire grabbed enough
damp dirt to propel me to the top. Why I had mounted an intermediate-terrain tire for a
potentially muddy race had pretty much everything to do with my lack of enthusiasm
(and knucklehead skill) for changing tires. In a few short weeks I knew I’d be racing
the Blue Hills Enduro, a rocky race in Wisconsin. I had no real desire to put on the ‘ol
standby for Illinois races, a Michelin S-12, just so I could change it again for the
enduro. Intermediate terrain or not, the brand new tire with its unadulterated knobs
was plenty good for White City.
The White City course is divided into uneven quadrants, with the bridge over Highway
138 being the Four Corners. All trails eventually lead to this point, but first you must
conquer the steep hills of the southeast quadrant. This is the largest area of the club
grounds and is bordered by the highway and the creek for which the club derives its
name. The club has been using the same sandy creek crossing to transfer over to
the southwest trails, which are mostly just a narrow patch of trees and sand whoops
that take riders to the highway bridge. The only rocks on any part of the course that is
not a creek crossing are located around and under the bridge crossing.
Back at Cahokia Creek, I forded the sandy creek bottom and powered my way up the
soft bank on the opposite side, then blasted through some fast, whooped trails to the
bridge crossing. At this point I had no idea where I stood in my class, but like most of
these races nowadays, I didn't really care. The While City hare scramble is just too
much fun to bother with such worries.
After navigating the rocks under the highway bridge, I entered the northwest quadrant.
This is the most technically challenging area of the club grounds and contains
certain hills where in past races, single clay-packed ruts were the only way up. To
understand just how tight the clay can be is to walk the trails after a muddy race and
marvel at the dark blue tint taken on by the clay, as well as a tire-induced polish job of
which an expert clay pot thrower would be proud. On this day, however, the toughest
hills were mostly absent. The most challenging part of this section was the re-
crossing of Cahokia Creek at the far north end of the club grounds, where the loose,
wet sand would claim at least one bike during the race. But on this first lap, the sand
was manageable and I made it through to the other side without incident.
The northeast quadrant is a combination of flat, traction-less clay and short, steep
hills. The level ground is tightly packed clay, occasionally offering faint berms around
corners, but more often resembling what you’d see in the main straightaway at a flat-
track race. When damp, the flat trails are much like frozen ground in the winter, and
today was a frozen-ground day. The trails in this section eventually took us back
under the highway bridge, where the scoring crew waited. At the scoring barrels, I
could find no signs pointing to Vet A, so I aimed my KTM towards the A-class barrels.
When I shouted out my riding number, I was met with blank stares. Wrong barrels,
apparently. I took no time to ensure I was scored, and headed back into the woods.
Lap two was an adventurous one, with the course deteriorating in certain places. One
hill in particular, in the southeast area of the club grounds, was claiming its many
victims when I arrived. My first attempt took me halfway up a well-rooted path, where
eventually my momentum slowed, my rear tire met an unfriendly tree-tuber, and my
rear tire spun helplessly. The only real action to take on such a steep slope is to let
the bike fall over, or else ride backwards down the hill. After years of practice, I can tell
you that my backwards-riding skills are about as effective as they were at my first
hare scramble in 1994. And for those who suggest that the solution is to apply both
brakes when momentum ceases and simply perch oneself on the side of the hill
while evaluating the alternatives, I can safely say, “Please take what just spewed out
of your mouth and shovel it into the manure spreader, where it belongs.” The hill was
steep and wet. That bike was about to slide down the hill, brakes or not.
So I let the bike fall over, then carefully positioned it so I could pick it up, hop on the
seat and coast down the hill for another attempt. This I did, and then picked an
entirely different line of attack. Second try: success.
The next adventure on the second lap was a rough gully crossing, which by now
contained deep, nearly impassable ruts. A helpful course worker, perched further
uphill along the gully, enthusiastically suggested that I ride up to his level and try
crossing where the ruts weren't so deep. This seemed like a good idea, based on
the approximately 7 words and 15 hand/arm gestures the gentleman used to
communicate what I needed to do. Ten seconds later, his description came into view.
It wasn't quite so appealing anymore. At this higher elevation, the gully was about 10
feet deep, with what appeared to be nearly 90-degree slopes to the bottom. Once fully
descended, the gully offered about 2 bike-lengths of space in which to gather
momentum for what would be an incredibly steep climb up the opposite wall.
“You can do it!”
Well, his words might have rang more true if I could have actually made my KTM go
down into the gully. The underside of the bike was hung up on the lip of the drop-off.
After I stepped off and gave the bike a push, we slid down to the bottom. Now I was
committed…my only option was to grab some throttle, dump the clutch and hope for
the best. I had no real illusions of success, but somehow that new Bridgestone tire
propelled me up the gully and I was on my way.
Adventure #3 on this lap was at the far north end of the property, at the second
crossing of Cahokia Creek. One unfortunate rider had buried his bike in what
appeared to be an Illinois version of quicksand. He was stranded just below the
creek bank where the trail took us across the water. I scanned the area and found
another way into the creek, just a few feet further upstream. Potential disaster
averted, thanks to the guy who showed us all where not to ride. I've been that guy
(actually, we’ve all been that guy), so I fully appreciated his contribution to my riding
At the scoring barrels, this time the crew pointed me to the correct barrels (whose
signs, coincidently, did not show any reference to “Vet A”), and they scored me – for
one lap. On my third lap, the “nemesis obstacles” were deteriorating further. I was
able to climb the tough hill with no need for backwards riding, but that nasty gully was
still not offering any alternatives. The same course worker was still present, offering
the same suggestion. By now, several other riders had tried out this alternate route,
and I was able to both descend and ascend in one continuous motion, using some
better-established lines. In a matter of seconds, I was across the gully and on my
When I next passed through the scoring barrels, I pleaded my case that this was, in
fact, my third lap. Whether they agreed, I’ll never know, because I didn’t stick around
to see my results. But the 4th and 5th laps were made a little easier when the club
rerouted the course around those two nasty obstacles of the first 3 laps. Gone was
the steep, rooted hill, as well as the deep gully crossing. The southwest crossing of
Cahokia Creek was becoming predictably soft and rutted, but plenty of club members
were on hand to point us to the best lines. After two hours of racing, the checkered
flag appeared at the scoring barrels. I was done, and satisfied. My favorite race
course in all of Illinois maintained its status.