September 25, 2011
Geneseo, Illinois
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
Zwingle, Iowa
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 ledge.

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 considered.

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 this place.
Geneseo, Illinois
Zwingle, Iowa