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
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 fast.
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....