April 14, 2013
3rd of 10 in +40A
Back in my B.K. (Before Kids) days, the routine of going racing was automatic. My gear bag was always packed,
I could load up the truck with my eyes closed and an early wake-up call meant nothing more than rising to a
noisy alarm clock. Fast forward to now, with a wife and a young child in the mix, and let's just say there is a little
more planning involved. When my friend Jeff Snedecor informed me that AMA District 17 hare scramble races
would now start at 10:00 a.m. for the old-guy classes, I knew my day would begin before sunrise. Stealth
departure would have to be perfected in advance, for there are three types of sleepers who react badly to
interruptions: Dogs, wives, and babies. And two out of three live in my house.
One new twist to the race routine in 2013 was a new pickup truck, this one a full-sized Ford. My faithful GMC
Sonoma had been sold a few months prior, after the transmission finally gave out. Its replacement, an F-150,
was a comparative beast, but it lacked one key element of the Sonoma: a bed as long as the motorcycle. So
now I am one of those guys who can only close the tailgate if the motorcycle is angled diagonally across the
bed. I am also one of those guys who can't load a motorcycle without a bike stand doubling as a helper step.
The F-150 makes me feel like a King of the Road while driving, and a midget outside the cab.
As a sign of our district's respect for its elders, the race schedule this year put the +40A and +50 classes in a
90-minute morning race. We mature races now share the course with the C classes and as a group, break in
the trails for the younger, faster guys who race in the afternoon. Today, however, was a day in which the
morning competitors would more than likely tear the crap out of the race course for the suffering of the
afternoon riders. Steady rains had covered much of Illinois the previous week, leaving a soft and cushy staging
area. The Junior and Women's classes began racing just after I pulled in, and already they were struggling
along off-camber hillsides near the starting line.
I found Jeff Snedecor parked a couple cars down from me, and we caught up on our activities over the winter.
Mine consisted mostly of pulling my daughter's slobbery fingers away from electrical sockets, the DVD player,
and our cat's tail. Jeff had spent most of the winter running...and running. This guy runs more in one week than
some people drive in a day. His physical fitness, and my lack thereof, would be on display later in the race.
On the front row of the starting line, I put myself between Jeff and Randy Southard, with the intention of
matching either of their paces as long as I could. Jeff and Randy often contend for class wins, so staying in
sight of them would probably lead to a good finish. When the shotgun blast sounded, I kicked the engine to life,
dumped the clutch and burst out towards a large log marking the entrance to the woods. On the way there, one
rider fell to the left of me and blocked other riders, leaving me a clear path into the woods. I fell in line behind
two other riders and began to follow them though the hills and ravines of the Marinich farm.
A long winter, followed by a late spring, made the woods all shades of brown and gray. The few interruptions of
color came in the shapes of orange arrows marking the trail, an occasional strand of yellow caution tape, and
sporadic groups of spectators lining the course. All else was a blur of monochrome trees, logs, leaves and mud.
In previous races here, thick foliage made passing difficult, but today's lack of green opened up many options.
Within a couple of minutes, I found a shortcut around a corner and put myself into second place. A few minutes
after that, the race leader stalled his Yamaha on a log, and I took over the lead. In my first race of the year,
after 5 months of inactivity, I was leading my class. Zip-lining squirrels could not have surprised me more.
Whenever I have been fortunate enough to lead a race, there's an initial "I did it!" elation which lasts for about
10 seconds. By that time I've either done something dumb and been passed already, or I decide it might be in
my best interest to maintain the lead. Usually the person I passed to take the lead is still fighting, and I have an
urgency to gap him enough that he can't see me and be motivated to try to catch me. This time, I found myself
quickly alone, unpursued by anyone within earshot. With nobody ahead of me to chase, I began mentally noting
interesting details such as new bridges built over gullies, cows roaming the trail, and frigid water in the creek
crossings. I was thinking more about what might make for an interesting race report, than what might help me
keep the lead. This was an odd place to be, out front and clearing a path for everyone on the race course.
It wouldn't last. Solitude ended about 12 minutes into the first lap, when eventual race winner Mike Tinkham
passed me after a creek crossing and disappeared quickly. The first lap ended a few minutes later near the
staging area. For these initial five miles, the trails had proved to be challenging but ridable. Trouble spots would
who on the second lap, beginning with the off-camber trails next to the staging area. Muddy ruts were already
cut in, which to the layperson might seem to be an advantage when riding along the contour of a steep hillside.
While it's true the ruts tend to keep wheels from sliding down the sides of hills, it's equally accurate that my front
tire prefers to bounce between the sides of the ruts. In fact, my front tire did everything in its power to jump out
of the ruts and slide down the hillside. Add a few choppy hill climbs, and this race course was wearing me down
I finished the second lap in second place and would hold that position for another 30 minutes or so. By the
one-hour mark, my arms were sore, my legs felt like linguine and my head throbbed from whacking a low
hanging tree. Lapped traffic had shown up near the end of lap 2 and continued as the C class riders struggled.
Near the one-mile course marker was a steeply sloped side-hill gully where the main line was clogged with stuck
riders each time I passed through. The new Michelin S-12 rear tire hooked up through a higher line across the
gully and got me through each time, but not without a fight. Failure would have sent me straight down the gully
to the C-class bottleneck. Midway through the race, I would not have had the energy to deal with it, and
thankfully I didn't have to.
On lap 4, the familiar sounding Husky WR250 of Jeff Snedecor caught up and made short work of me. My
stamina was failing, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before Jeff passed by. I did manage to keep him
in sight each time he was slowed by lappers, but eventually he gapped me and I didn't see him until the finish.
Randy Southard, after a slow start, closed in near the end of the race, but I held him off to finish in 3rd place. All
things considered, I was very satisfied.
April 21, 2013
10th of 24 in +40A
Several years ago, when restart formats become popular at enduros, I was a bit skeptical. The mental
challenge of trying to predict the location of test sections was what made the old-school "timekeeper" races
interesting. You didn't just show up and ride as fast as you could. Riding smart and knowing the rules were the
primary keys to success. Now, as the sport has evolved away from the timekeeping emphasis, enduro
preparations have simplified. With my personal life requiring more time than it used to, I like simple. I am not
saddened in the least that my $300 enduro computer mostly sits in a drawer, waiting to be used once a year at
best. The restart format means a wristwatch is about the only extra accessory I need to bring to an enduro.
As it's been for the last few years, the Sand Goblin enduro near Roselawn, Indiana was a restart-format race in
2013. Technology, as well as good friends, made this race an easy one to enter. I'd pre-entered the race a few
weeks prior and requested the same row as Jeff Snedecor, who kindly picked up my race packet before I
arrived. All I had to do was swipe my AMA card at the scoring trailer, verify my personal information, and my
entry was complete. I duct-taped my scorecard and row number to the front of my KTM, and I was read to ride.
In the old days, I'd spend half an hour programming my enduro computer and then study the route sheet like I
was about to take a college exam. Now, in restart format enduros, I barely even read the route sheet.
The Grand Kankakee Trail Riders had laid out a 61-mile course with 5 tests, all of which would be new to us.
Only the first test section had been broken in, thanks to a family enduro held the day before. With frequent
rains leading up to the race, the Roselawn sand was damp and compact and perfect for racing. Earlier in the
week the club had circulated a photo of a man-made metal bridge across one of the many drainage ditches
criss-crossing the unplanted fields. The water level in the ditch was just below the bridge, which was made of
metal pipes with questionable proportions of length and diameter. I hoped it would still be intact when it was my
turn to cross.
As our starting time arrived, Jeff and I made a decision to ride out to the beginning of the first test, rather than
stand around in the cold, windy staging area. We gambled on hopes of a starting area surrounded by trees.
When we arrived, there were trees...a quarter-mile to the south. So much for a wind break. Racers were starting
their enduro with a long sprint across an open field and then entering the woods. Jeff and I were on row 26 with
+50A rider Don Rainey, along with +40B rider Russ Alcorn and Pete Lorenz in the Open B class. When our
staring time came up, Don, Jeff and I sprinted to the woods and led our row into the trees. With spring arriving
late this year, the trails were all shades of brown and gray. Last year at this time the woods were alive with
green, making navigation of the endless curves and corners more challenging. This year, however, not a leaf
could be found.
Jeff and Don pushed forward at a strong pace and gradually disappeared from sight. With no foliage blocking
our view, we could read the trail further ahead and carry more speed into the turns. We could also see logs with
enough lead time to be prepared. At times, I found a comfortable rhythm and would occasionally see Don
through the trees, but I never closed the gap enough to challenge him. After the 8-mile test, Don finished 20
seconds ahead of me. Jeff was the first in or row to finish, 37 seconds before I arrived. What felt like a
10-minute ride was actually around 30 minutes. This was about as fun as I could have on two wheels.
After several minutes of rest, we lined up again for the second test, a 4.5-mile affair through more fast, flowing
woods. Don and I traded spots several times, while Jeff assumed his usual position at the head of our row. With
100 or more riders clearing the trails ahead of us, we had no problem staying close to the arrows. This being
the only place I've ever missed checkpoints in an enduro, I was happy to focus more on the trail ahead of me
(or on Don's rear tire) than the direction of the arrows. Don and I finished the test a bike length apart, while Jeff
put another 15-second gap between us.
The third test took us through 10-miles of some of the tightest trails of the day. After eating sand behind Jeff
and Don for most of the morning, I finally put some space between Don. Jeff remained out of reach, especially
as he knifed his Husky through an area I prefer to call "Where Trees Go to Die." Even with no green in the
woods, the underbrush was still too thick in this section to reveal any shortcuts around the logs. I had actually
led our row for a short time, until I came upon a rider struggling through a large, diagonally placed log. After
dismounting to push my way through an alternate route, Jeff executed a rhinoceros charge through the logs
and regained the lead spot in our row. He would finish the test 23 seconds ahead of me, while Don faded a bit
and arrived at the checkpoint about 40 seconds behind me.
The next stop was back at the staging area, where I refueled and grabbed a snack. I also glanced at the route
sheet to see how far we would need to ride to the next checkpoint. On more than a few occasions, I've been
lulled into a lethargy when returning to the enduro course after a long gas stop. This time, checking the route
sheet was one of the better things I did all day. We had a 5.5-mile road ride ahead of us. To stay on time, we
would need to leave about 15 minutes before our scheduled arrival. Once back on the road, a stiff headwind
chilled every square inch of me. I'd thought about ditching my riding jacket at the staging area, but thankfully I
kept it on. By the time we the checkpoint appeared, my fingers were nearly numb. Several riders apparently
didn't read the route sheet before realizing how far they needed to ride on the road, including Don Rainey. He
pulled up at the last minute and lost no time, but other riders weren't so lucky.
Jeff led us into the 4th test, the longest of the day, but almost immediately pulled over to let me lead. Later he
would tell me he felt a mysterious sting in his hand, as if a bee or wasp found his glove. I sprinted ahead, only to
be chased down by Jeff and Don within a mile or two. As we sped through tightly spaced trees, sand whoops
and berms, I found a rhythm and began a charge. Don appeared in view and I twisted the throttle, hustled the
brakes and bore down. He let me by, and I made sure he wouldn't see me again. Near the end of the test, we
entered an open area of ditch grass, where we flew as fast as we dared through choppy terrain which could
have hidden all sorts of bad things. A faster, impatient rider behind me decided to jump out into a deeply ripped
corn field. As his bike bounced in all directions, I decided that if he wanted around me that badly, he could go
ahead. A mile later, I found Jeff's rear tire but couldn't make a pass. We finished the test wheel-to-wheel. After
the race, this test would be thrown out due to some issues with the time clock.
The final test took us 10 miles through some of the best trails in the Midwest. Most of the race I'd kept my KTM
in 3rd gear and sometimes kicked it into 4th gear through the singletrack. This was good stuff. Jeff let me lead
at the start, and I ran with it. As we entered the final mile, the trail passed through a narrow section of woods
which wandered back and forth across a ridge. These woods are used in most Sand Goblin races and contain
many logs and off-camber trails. The fast guy who'd passed me in the ripped up cornfield approached me here,
and I felt the last of my energy leaving quickly. When we reached the final checkpoint, he was on my rear tire.
Jeff finished about 15 seconds behind. Finally, I'd been faster than him for a change.
Jeff and I finished 9th and 10th, respectively, in the +40A class. As usual, when I feel I'm riding exceptionally
well, so does everyone else. As I age and feel less physically prepared for racing, I at least felt encouraged that
I finished ahead of all the B-class racers. The old man still has a little something in his tank....