August 14, 2011
There comes a time in a man’s racing career where he must realize
that some places are cursed. No matter your best intentions, that one
venue becomes a test full of trick questions. This year’s stumper
came halfway through the course in one of the most fun sections you
could ever hope for. But little did I know, the Hill & Gully Riders would
throw in an obstacle I've never seen before.
I began my weekend with a dilemma: add on to an almost
unbelievable stretch of 3 weeks in which I’d slept in my own bed a
total of 3 nights, or relax all day on a pleasant Sunday. The Summer
Bummer enduro wasn't a timekeeper this year, so that eliminated any
time needed to set up the enduro computer. My lights were already
mounted from my 4 days riding in Colorado ten days prior; even my
license plate was still attached to the back of my chest protector. All I
had to do was zip tie a couple of plastic parts that fell victim to some
of the 300 miles of trails around Taylor Park, change the oil, swap out
a very shredded rear tire, and throw the bike in the truck. I was going
The Summer Bummer is usually a hot affair, but on this day a light
rain moved in and dampened the Indiana countryside. Jeff Snedecor’
s unique arrangement of patio umbrellas, nicely attached to his small
trailer, kept us reasonably dry. Because of my travel schedule, I didn't
bother to pre-register for the enduro. I knew I had a decent chance of
blowing off the race and resting comfortably on the only day I’d have
available for laziness over the course of almost 4 weeks in a row. But I
was here now, ready to race, and ready to walk over to the signup
As with past Summer Bummer enduros, this was a 2-day event that
began the day before as a closed-course enduro. Most everyone else
had either pre-registered or signed up for Sunday’s race while they
were entering the Saturday event. Jeff and I arrived at the signup
table to find that the remaining open spots in the 30-row field of
entries had been whittled down to rows 1 and 2. Not good. Roselawn-
area trails often originate from tangles of an impenetrable wasteland
of underbrush. The effort to chop and saw and slice through this
mess is huge, and the club members rightfully leave those trails
alone after they’re cut and burned in by dirt bikes. With most of the
trails only ridden sparingly throughout the year, the first riders
through usually look like they were strapped to a pickup truck’s grille
and driven through a cornfield in October. I wanted none of that.
Neither did Jeff, so we combined the craftiness we've garnered over
our many collective years and decided to take a little gamble. We
could see a steady stream of trucks still arriving with motorcycles,
which meant more riders would be signing up. Once they filled up the
last of the early rows, the club would have to open a few more. Our
plan worked, and we were assigned row 34.
The club set up the first test on a portion of the trails surrounding the
staging area. This 3.6-mile section began on the southwest end of the
old grass landing strip that is now used for parking. The trails in this
area flow well enough, but cloudy skies and thick foliage made me
wish for night vision goggles. Our row included 250A runner-up
Chase Robinson, who needed a couple minutes to work out the bugs
in his riding technique before blasting away and out of sight. His
challenges were mine too, especially in the deep sand whoops. The
previous day’s race had used these trails exclusively and left every
whoop as deep and fresh as if we were in the second hour of a hare
scramble. I crossed up through one especially harsh chain of whoops
and rightfully should have found myself on the ground or impaled
against a tree. But somehow my steering damper kept me on two
wheels. Following immediately behind me, Jeff would later comment
that my rear wheel swapped 3 feet on either side of the trail, in a
period of about half a second.
About halfway through this short section, my forearms were numb
with arm pump and I found myself on the wrong side of a log. Jeff
passed by, as did Bryan Dixon and Tony Robinson, both riding in
Senior A. In these tightest of woods, I couldn’t stay aggressive with
fading wrist strength. Jeff and Chase dropped 4 points here, while the
rest of us were one minute behind.
A long road section took us to the second test, a 4.4-mile loop
through trails that refused to “flow”. At this point, the race was the
antithesis of the spring enduro here, which used some of the fastest
trails I’d seen in any of the many races I've attended at Roselawn.
After watching Chase Robinson drift out of sight, Bryan Dixon led a
healthy pace for Jeff and I to follow. Eventually Jeff gave chase to
Chase, with both dropping 3 points. I lost 4 points in this section and
Bryan and Tony were another minute behind. This section was
followed by a 5-mile test, where Chase and Jeff once again set a fast
pace, while Bryan and Tony and I all arrived at the out-check together.
The Hill & Gully Riders saved the toughest trails for the fourth section.
This was the most Bill-Gusse-like area of the course, with visibility
averaging about 20 feet. The trails could have been routed no more
than 50 feet apart and you would never have known. Even if another
bike could have been seen elsewhere on the course, only the most
heroic of efforts would have put yourself over there. Large logs
appeared around blind corners with no warning, lying at all angles to
the trail. I watched a guy teeter-totter on a log for about 30 long
seconds, me with nowhere else to go and nothing to see but the ass
ends of the bike and the rider. This was a place where logs went to
die. I launched my KTM over a particularly ugly graveyard of fallen
trees and nearly made it through with one twist of the throttle, but
instead found myself perfectly wedged between a two foot stump
behind me and a 12-inch log pushing against my front tire.
When this section finally ended, I had dropped 7 points. As is usually
the case, Jeff was a minute quicker and might have been even further
ahead without a bad rear brake. We rested at a gas stop and
searched for solutions, of which we could find none. Brake fluid went
in the master cylinder and exited just as quickly when the brake pedal
was engaged. Jeff’s day was over.
The fifth section, finally, gave us the trails we’d all been wishing for.
Even better, the light rain had mostly ended and I could see better
through my goggles. For the first couple miles I was glued to the trail
ahead of me, riding as fast and aggressively as I dared. Then strange
things started happening. A Kawasaki came out of nowhere, crossing
my path as he cruised down one of the dirt roads that weaved
throughout the property. A few minutes later, a group of 4 or 5 riders
blocked the trail, appearing to chat casually amongst themselves.
Another minute later, bikes were coming straight at me, riding the
wrong direction. After that, the trail became eerily familiar. I had
already ridden this.
I slowed to let some riders behind me catch up. We had our own
discussion and decided to continue on and hope to find the arrows we’
d missed. We never did. It seemed an infinite loop, an obstacle I’d
never faced. After another 10 minutes riding the same trail, I made an
executive decision to leave the singletrack and ride down a dirt road.
A pair of riders followed, and eventually we found ourselves at a field
lane which led to a country road. We somehow located the start of the
next test, but we’d all missed the check at the finish of these endless
woods. The racing part of our day was over.
By now, my motivation was waning and my bike was protesting. The
bolt that secures the gear shifter lever came loose, same as it had on
the final day of riding in Colorado, and then the chain jumped off the
rear sprocket. I spent several minutes putting things back together
and dropped an unrespectable 22 points. It didn't matter, though. A
road section took us back to the staging area, where I declined to ride
the last 7 miles.
Despite my misfortune in the infinite loop of the 4th section, I enjoyed
the trails as I always do at Roselawn. This area is unique, if not overly
hilly, and is usually fun no matter what the weather does in advance
of the race. For the second time in my enduro career, I’d missed a
check, both times here at Roselawn. But I was ok with that…I got the
fun I wanted.
August 28, 2011
4th of 9 in +30 A
I'm a sucker for a new racing venue. The LaSalle round of the District
17 hare scrambles series proved to be not only new (to me), but also
an easy drive and relatively close to home. I will admit, I was skeptical
about the potential riding conditions, being as Central Illinois had
seen about as much rain as the Gobi Desert for the past 2 months.
But beautiful weather and my lack of seat time this summer were too
much to keep me at home. Let the racing begin, I say!
The race site, a large open field next to a country farmstead, was
filling with trucks and trailers as I arrived. Bordering the parking area
was a huge field of grass tall enough to conceal just about any form
of wildlife native to Illinois. The morning racers weaved through an
endless maze of trails which would have been otherwise invisible to
human eyes, if not for the colorful two-wheeled machines flashing in
and out of gaps in the fescue. Dressed in sandals, a t-shirt and cargo
shorts, I steered clear of this itching, scratching mass of grassland,
but I wanted to check out the trails inside the woods. On the south
end of the property I located a freshly mowed access trail and
followed it to a small gap in the trees. A steady stream of motorcycles
blazed a trail to this opening.
Where the grass met the trees, a huge log lay across the trail,
greeting the bikes after finishing a long pass through the native
grassland. For several minutes I stood on top of the far end of the log,
close enough to feel each thump of skid plate against bark, but
mostly out of reach from out-of-control-racers. These novice riders
rolled over the log without incident, then disappeared into the woods.
I wandered along the trail and found surprisingly little dust, and also
very little singletrack. Most of the course's mileage would be earned in
the grass track.
The afternoon race would begin with a sprint through a portion of the
grass track, followed by alternating passes through woods and more
grass. On the starting line, a long row of +30A and +40A riders
focused their eyes on the first turn, silently contemplating the shotgun
blast that would signal the start. My tension in these situations has
dropped considerably, thanks to District 17 hare scrambler Pat
McClure's recommendation of a battery upgrade for the 250XC. When
I first attempted a kick-less dead engine start at Thayer, Missouri in
2009, the stock battery didn't have the amps to power up the engine
with the same quickness as my leg. After playing catch-up for the
next 2 hours, I didn't try the E-start method at a hare scramble for the
rest of the '09 season and all of 2010.
That changed in 2011. A couple more amps made a world of
difference, and my dead engine starts improved greatly. No more
feeling for top dead center, no more trying to keep leg pressure off
the kick starter so the piston wouldn't drift past top dead center, no
more back-of-the-pack starts. On this day, I was in about 5th place at
the first turn.
The route took us inside the woods for short distances and out into
the prairie for long distances. Most grass tracks are routed through
the kind of grass that riders can see over, which is important when it's
time to turn. Knee-high grass allows you to distinguish the contour of
the turns and prepare for corner speed and braking. What we had
today was not that kind of grass. It was the visual equivalent of native
Midwest prairie grasses like the kind described by my great
grandmother’s grandmother: High as a horse’s head. Yep, this stuff
was tall. At that height, I couldn’t see anything beyond the initial curve
of the trail. Any approaching turn could be suitable for a nice power
slide, or it could be a hairpin. There was just no way to tell.
On the first few laps, I had to treat every turn as a hairpin. I had no
time for overshooting turns, and I knew this type of course would
challenge me. Several riders caught and passed me in the first two
sections of grass, and I could hear the engines of several more right
behind. Most of the noise was the deep throats of 4-stroke engines,
for which the course seem to be designed. On the north end of the
property was a small EnduroCross track filled with the requisite log
piles and oversized rubber tires long ago discarded from various
types of excavating vehicles. Following those obstacles was a
motocross track with a set of doubles that I had no interest in. The
track was perfectly flat next to the jumps and nothing was there to
stop me, so like a good off-roader, I avoided the jumps altogether.
The limited woods we did get to enjoy had narrow trails laced with
tightly spaced trees and a heavy canopy. In some areas, I squinted
through shadows to see the trail ahead, then squinted again when I
burst out the woods into sunshine.
With all that grass, speeds were high and lap times quick. Every 12
minutes or so I checked into the scoring area, wondering how many
laps I would achieve in the 105-minute race. I also questioned how my
body would hold up, not having raced a hare scramble in over two
months. Even though I'd done the Summer Bummer enduro and saw
plenty of trail miles in Colorado just a few weeks earlier, that wasn’t
the same as having to be “on” for almost two hours. My body usually
knows the difference. But halfway into the race, I felt fine.
By this time, +30A race winner Travis Held was long gone. The trail
held up well, with only one soft, silty section presenting any "Oh-
boy!" challenges. After 5 or 6 laps, the grass track burned in well and
from memory (mostly) I could finally separate the sweepers from the
hairpins. Many riders had figured out the hot lines through enduro
cross track by now, and with no plans for creativity through there, I
followed those lines willingly. Course workers had stretched new
ribbon across the motocross track, forcing me to take on the double
jumps (yuck). I was cruising.
On the next-to-last lap, I came upon fellow +30A racer Randy
Southard and his Husky, both on the ground after sliding out around
a fence post turn. His mistake was just enough to put me in the top
half of our class, where I finished 4th when the race ended a couple
laps later. Easy day of racing.