September 25, 2011
3rd of 5 in +30A
The Fall enduro season in Northern Illinois always seems to begin with a gem of a
race near Geneseo, Illinois named Silver Dollar Shootout. Located in the Mississippi
Valley hinterlands, the Silver Dollar offers the chance to ride typical Illinois trails, which
is to say weather conditions usually dictate your enjoyment. If you've never ridden an
Illinois enduro, then you've thus far missed the opportunity to hone your mud riding
skills for 4 or 5 hours on a Sunday. Today's race had the makings for a dandy of a wet
one, partly due to some precipitation leading up to the race, and also from the light
rain falling in the Geneseo area as I arrived at the staging area.
Jeff Snedecor was initiating his umbrella setup procedure when I pulled in next to his
Ford Taurus. One can learn much from Jeff's creative use of household items to foil a
gadget-prone industry of "We-make-it-easier" racing products. Pickup trucks? "Meh,"
says Jeff. Pop-up awnings? Got no use for'em, he growls. Two hand-crank patio
umbrellas mounted to a fold-up 4x8 trailer, and the reliable Taurus to pull it all, that's
all a dirt biker needs! Those well-used umbrellas were already proving their worth in
the light rain, and the flatbed trailer made for a great spot to relax.
Jeff had already signed in and claimed his row, which was filled by the time I arrived at
the registration table. The very last row was still available, so I snagged spot next to
eventual race winner Tim Tabor. An hour later, as I warmed up my KTM 250XC near
the starting line, the rear brake seemed to have no effect when I made a few runs up
and down a harvested corn field. Looking behind as I stepped on the brake pedal, the
rear wheel locked up effortlessly in the damp cornstalks and the knobby tire slid like
the field was covered in a sheet of ice. This was going to be interesting.
A few minutes later, after all the other riders had left, our row was finally given the go-
sign. I followed Tim Tabor along a tree line for about 15 seconds, then watched him
disappear. The last time I saw a guy put so much distance on the rest of the pack,
some horse named Secretariat was winning the Belmont. This first test was a
combination of woods, soggy lowlands, and grass track. Riders ahead of us had
already opened up most of the slick spots in the grass with wide slides around every
turn. The rain had eased up by now, but if you wanted to know what it's like to ride in
the snow, without actually riding in snow, this grass was it.
About a mile into the course, I saw Jeff standing in a small creek next to the trail. He'd
overshot a turn and launched himself over the creek bank. He was gone in a blur, but I
figured he would catch up to me once he got himself out of the creek. But I didn't see
him the rest of the day, for Jeff had broken his arm. "Shortest race ever!" he would later
proclaim. His day, as well as his racing season, was over.
The first test ended about 6 miles after it began. From there, we traveled down back
roads to the next test, a 4 mile trail that would take us through similar terrain. Thus far,
the course was flat, slick, and relatively fast. The soil inside the woods was much
better suited for racing than anything in the open, where the grass and corn stalks had
yet to dry out. Ahead of me, long since disappeared, continued Tim Tabor, while
following close behind was a young guy on a KTM two-stroke so quiet, I could barely
hear his engine. We checked into both of the first two tests together. As we waited for
the third test to begin, I complimented his unobtrusive machine and suggested that if I
was slowing him down, give me a yell. He politely responded that I was moving along
just fine. But I suspected he could go faster.
The third test came in an area of woods where past enduros had been staged. This
large section of woods was divided into two tests, one of which was to be for A-riders
only but had been eliminated due to the threat of bad weather. The trails were hilly and
steep, and I wasn't entirely prepared when we began a steep descent into the
lowlands. My front wheel veered off to the side, straight into grass and trees. I hoped
for no unseen logs or rocks or unfortunate introductions to trees. I came to a stop just
in front of a large tree, paused to figure out how to get back on the trail, and then
chose my route. The others on my row passed by quickly. I caught up a minute later
and finished the rest of the 5-mile test without incident.
The trail took us back to the staging area, where I fueled up and headed back out for a
repeat of the first two tests. By now, most surfaces were dried out, the trails were
broken in nicely, and the going got faster. Trees and corn fields whizzed by, and before
I knew it, we were parked at a farmstead waiting for our last test of the day. This one
was on new ground, filled with tightly spaced trees and the kind of "junk" woods I grew
up riding. With such dense trees and brush, alternative lines were scarce and
passing was a bit of a challenge. We finished the race a couple miles later.
Once again, P&G Offroad hosted a fun race with plenty of challenges for all who
participated. A sketchy course cleared up throughout the day and ended up as fun as
any of my previous races here. Good way to start the Fall enduro season.
November 6, 2011
1st of 9 in Senior A
Of all the methods of explaining to your college girlfriend why a summer-long, guys-
only backpacking trip across Europe is a good idea, the best one is probably this
popular age-old saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. After all, it works a
heck of a lot better than the real reason for that kind of trip. It’s also a big reason why
the final round of the District 22 hare scrambles series was so satisfying to me.
Before my wedding in October, I’d taken an obligatory 30-day hiatus from racing,
which is the approximate amount of time that most bones heal well enough to make it
possible to walk your bride down the aisle, out of the church and over to the open bar.
During that time, I’d missed the prime enduro season in these parts, when crops are
harvested and vast areas of land are opened to cross country racing.
Now back from the honeymoon, I was ready for racing. During my 6-week break, I’d
become old enough to race the Senior class, even though I planned to finish out the
season as a +30 Veteran. But the District 22 series was not running a Vet A class in
2011, so I stepped into the over-the-hill class and registered for Senior A.
Zwingle was alive with trucks and trailers on a hillside cornfield when I arrived in my
time-tested pickup truck, now with over 200,000 miles on the odometer. Most of the
regular Illinois riders I was used to seeing here were absent, having chosen to ride
the final round of the District 17 enduro series at Goshen, Indiana. Looking back, this
may have helped my results a bit, since the guys who are still racing into their 40s
seem to favor the more laid back atmosphere of enduros. But we still had a relatively
full class of fast old men, most from the Iowa side of the border.
After signup, I took a quick walk through the woods and found the terrain to be in a
potentially sweet range of not-to-wet, not-too-dry, where the knobs of tires do exactly
what they’re supposed to: Bite, baby bite. With a closed-course enduro held here the
previous Sunday, the trails were much better defined than most November races
would normally allow. Tree leaves had been pushed aside, leaving the singletrack
with just enough exposure to dry out any excess moisture.
That didn't prevent some slick spots, though. Shortly after our 3rd row of old-guy
classes left the starting line, our first challenge was a steep downhill descent into a
ravine. The Zwingle property is full of such treachery, and it was made worse by the
long pack of riders backed up like the Kennedy Expressway at 7:30 a.m. on a
weekday. My idea of advancing the piston to top dead center before hitting the electric
start button had not panned out in the way I expected. I was left on the starting line
trying to figure out why the battery didn't have the gumption to fire up the engine with a
holeshot-worthy burst of energy. I was stuck in that traffic jam at the first ravine, waiting
my turn to get on with the woods riding.
The 12 or so riders ahead of me soon spread out into small groups, each being led
by the slowest rider in the respective group. The first section of the course took us
through the most scenic areas of the property, with large rock walls in the low terrain
and rolling hills in the higher elevations. The climbs out of the low areas were just
tricky enough to catch a few riders off-guard, which put me ahead of a couple guys
within the first few miles of the race. But I was mostly stuck back in a pack of Senior
and Super-Senior racers.
My poor start hurt even more when I came upon a long line of riders taking turns
struggling to scale a 2-foot rock ledge. In a single file line, we waited. Minutes passed.
Each person gingerly approached the ledge with just enough momentum to raise his
front wheel over the ledge, but not enough for his rear tire to push the rest of the bike
over the top. It really wasn't that hard. I’d done it many times in previous races here.
But these 10 or so riders couldn't get over it without dismounting and pushing, one
after another. My patience was wearing thin.
You have to give credit to the mature riders in our group, however. Nobody yelled or
tried to jam their way through the narrow patch of trail that led to the ledge. When the
leaders of the B classes behind us caught up, one guy cut through the line and
kamikazed his way through an impossible route and was given some stern remarks,
especially after he took out the guy who was taking his turn pushing his way over the
After about three minutes, my turn came up and I made it over the ledge with no
problems. For a time, the riders were spread more thinly, but eventually I caught up to
a group of 3 guys riding a moderate pace. Ever so slowly, I found opportunities to
pass, and by the time the course took us to the trails on the north side of the property, I
had made my final pass and had open trail ahead.
That didn't last long, though. Another group of four appeared shortly afterwards, and I
spent another 3 or 4 miles working my way around them. Finally, just before the
Escargot section, I blitzed past the final riders in some open terrain and had clear trail
all to myself for the remainder of the first lap. Of all the guys on my row, only Super
Senior Larry Bever remained ahead.
On the second lap, with no bottlenecks and only a few random riders to pass, I turned
a much quicker lap and gained about 45 seconds on Larry. I did this despite a minor
fall when a small log threw me off the bike on the northwest side of the property,
jamming my new wedding ring up my finger. That was one risk of marriage I hadn't
While most of lap 2 was a solitary one, my third lap was mainly an exercise in passing
lapped riders. The course was, by all accounts, a challenging one, and the C riders
were wearing out. A handful of them would complete one more lap after this one, but
by now the majority were about to call it a day. The tackiness of terrain that I had
expected wasn't coming about like I had hoped. Many of the hills remained damp and
the rocks slippery. I looked forward to attacking this course just one more time.
My fourth lap was my quickest, which surprised me, considering I’d spent the previous
week doing nothing but eating and drinking. Normally this is a recipe for declining lap
times, but not today. I was 15-20 seconds faster on my final trip around the property.
Also faster on this lap was Larry Bever, who knocked off almost 2 minutes from his
previous two lap times. He came within 10 seconds of me at the finish.
Since I’d had such a poor start, I had no idea where I stood in the final results. I knew I
had passed a lot of guys on the first lap, but was still surprised that I won my class.
Zwingle has thus cemented its position within my list of favorites in the Midwest. I love
|Having some fun on the EnduroCross course