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 racing.
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 table.
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
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
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
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.