August 30, 2020
Hixton, Wisconsin
1st of 6 in +40B
As the off-road motorcycle scene has evolved over the years, so has
my connection to the sport. My own life has progressed to the point
where I’m a bit out of the loop, compared to 20 years ago when my
every other breath exhaled the delightful aroma of racing. A full
generation has both joined and exited the sport since my first race in
1994, and those leaving tend to outnumber the newcomers. Dirt
bikes, once a safe haven for youngsters in search of thrills and spills,
are now in competition with a slate of new activities where the primary
goal is to avoid emergency room visits. While today’s children race
drones and snack on Tide Pods, the average age of off-road
motorcycle racers has increased, requiring promoters to adapt to the
older bodies of participants. Hence, the Sprint Enduro. This format,
which the CMJ Raceway utilized for its event near Hixton, Wisconsin,
is perfect for older gentlemen such as myself, who lack the stamina
for traditional endurance races but still like to get out of the house
and hammer the trails.

The sprint enduro format is typically set up with two trail loops which
must be ridden a certain number of times within a certain time period,
in no particular order. Participants are timed through each loop, and
the winner is the person who completes the required loops quickest.
One loop is often designated as the “Enduro” section; the other the
“Cross” section. Trails in the Enduro section are usually the narrow
variety found in most Midwestern enduro events. The Cross trails are
more open and flowing, less technically challenging, and fast. After
each loop, riders are free to take a break, relax, or tend to their bikes.
Once they’re ready to start their next loop, they simply check in at the
starting point and sprint away.

The opportunity to rest between loops draws me to sprint enduros. At
my advanced age, regular breaks are as important as bathroom stops
along the Interstate. I learned the importance of rest three weeks
prior, at the Roselawn, Indiana Summer Bummer enduro. Its long
sections of tight trails, combined with August temperatures, made this
a difficult race. I had, at most, 20 minutes of racing within me before
needing rest. This worked poorly for 40-minute test sections. At
Hixton, the trail loops were a modest 4 miles apiece, which was
perfect for my stamina.

I knew nothing of the CMJ Raceway before setting out on the 3-hour
drive to Hixton. It was a gamble, devoting that much time to a new-to-
me venue. But helmet cameras have brought about another evolution
of our sport: endless YouTube videos of every conceivable thing that
can possibly be done on dirt bikes. I simply searched for “CMJ
Raceway” and began viewing videos of past hare scrambles there. I
saw good things on the ‘Tube and promptly signed up for the race on
Livelinks.com.

What I didn’t notice in the videos was the significant change in
elevation, top to bottom, of the CMJ property. I should have expected
as much, given the race site address on Hilltop Road. A plateau of
one of the higher hills was the staging area for the race, filled nearly
to capacity when I arrived Sunday morning. Motocross racers were
part of this crowd and were already flying around the track down in a
valley. Every 20 minutes or so I’d hear a rumble of engines bursting
from the motocross starting line, their exhaust tones muffled by
heavily wooded hills. Parked beside me was a young man in a full-
sized pickup truck pulling a 3-rail trailer, which carried a lone Yamaha
equipped with a trials tire. A pair of ratchet-style tie-downs had
compressed the front forks so fully that the tire and fender were
nearly touching. He asked for assistance unstrapping the bike, and I
gladly helped him avoid a spring-loaded disaster. Sometimes
inexperience is as visible as a highway billboard, but I hoped he
would have a great race and come back for more. Our sport needs
him, and his friends.

Another evolution of racing is the signup and payment system, which
has mostly gone electronic. Cash still changed hands when I signed
my liability waiver at the front gate, but the signup table involved only
my helmet and a quick scan of the visor-mounted ID sticker I’d picked
up at the Summer Bummer. Livelaps.com took care of the rest, and in
short order I was back at my truck admiring my new Beta 300 Race
Edition. The Italians certainly understand aesthetics, but the bike’s
overall capabilities were still undetermined. The Roselawn enduro, its
first race, suggested the bike had potential for excellence. While the
Summer Bummer tested its handling in tight woods and sand, today
would show me what the Italian Stallion could do in the hills.

Around 11:30, the sprint enduro riders gathered near the check-in
areas of the Enduro and Cross tests. Course officials suggested the
novice riders start with the Cross test; the experienced among us
should try the Enduro loop first. I followed their advice and lined up
for the Enduro loop. Every 15 seconds, riders were released into the
course. My turn came and the timing official began a five-second
countdown. I dumped the clutch and zigzagged through flat
singletrack before dropping down the first of many steep hills. Climbs
and descents would follow over loamy soil with random, scattered
rocks and many sharp turns. The Beta conquered all hills with ease,
with a combination of low-end lugging power and a sharp burst of
energy whenever the throttle was cracked open. Through the first half
of the loop I struggled to read the trail markings, but kept the bike on
course through what I could already tell would be a choppy ride later
in the day, when all riders had their chance to ride their 3 laps.

The second half of the Enduro loop crossed over to the opposite side
of Hilltop Road. Many of these trails were carved into the hillsides,
where a minor misplacement of the front tire could lead to major
problems. Even the flat trails offered their own challenges, particularly
in one unfortunate spot at the top of a hill. The trail emerged from the
depths of the property with a left turn onto a wide, grassy path. For all
appearances, this was a great opportunity to grab and handful of
throttle and blast off, but a hidden
something caused the rear tire to
kick sideways and point me off-trail towards an object resembling a
rotting tree stump. I braced for an impact which never came. The
stump was just an overgrown pile of dirt…still a potential problem, but
the Beta simply bounced back onto the trail as if the dirt had been
placed there intentionally to prevent a deep dive into the lowlands.

My first loop would end 11 minutes and 20 seconds after it started,
with a nearly clean bike. My forearms had complained loudly, just
ahead of the timing checkpoint, after which I coasted across the
parking area to rest at my truck. The Beta was sending too much
chop into my hands, but the seat, hard as a pine board at the
Summer Bummer, seemed to be softening. During a short break I
backed out each compression adjuster, front and rear, by one click
and considered my race strategy. Some riders prefer to do a certain
loop consecutively, to better keep the course in their minds. I decided
to tackle the Cross test instead, hoping the slower riders would either
be resting or moving on to the Enduro loop. With a little luck, I’d have
the Cross loop to myself.

As it were, I guessed right and had little company in the Cross test.
The trails flowed with ease, helping me feel like a racer. The thing
about those feelings, based on the past, is that most other riders were
probably having similar thoughts. They all go fast when the trails flow.
But today would be a bit different, and in the coming loops I would
start to sense that my pace just might be competitive.

My first run through the Cross test left me wanting for more. For an
off-roader, trail nirvana is
flow, and this loop was a case study for the
concept. No oddly placed turns, no trees spaced 3 inches narrower
than my handlebars, no unpleasant obstacles…just
flow. At the end
of the loop, I was tempted to jump back in line and do another loop,
and then another, but decided to take a short break and switch back
to the Enduro loop. I expected another level of choppiness on those
trails and wanted to get ahead of the crowd of riders who would make
it worse.

Lap two on the Enduro course was easier to follow, as a loamy groove
had developed through most of the loop. The turns were easier to
anticipate, some oddly placed rocks had been removed by other
riders’ tires, and I remembered how to better attack a few of the
climbs. I was feeling a confidence, an aggressiveness, that reminded
me of the days when I just knew I was having the kind of ride which
produces hardware at the end of the race. This was one of those days.

I shaved 15 seconds off my first lap time and prepared for a 3rd run
through the enduro loop. This time I knocked off another 13 seconds
from my second lap, as the course became even more familiar,
though rougher. The softer compression settings helped somewhat,
but there was no mistaking the Beta for anything but a race bike. It
was designed not for trail riding, but for trail hammering, where the
primary goal is speed. This is ok for me. All throughout my racing,
even though I was not particularly fast on a dirt bike, I always wanted
to
push to go fast. I had little desire for play riding, and nothing has
changed. On this day I would confirm that the Beta fits my style. It
goes fast when I need speed, and then allows me to be lazy when my
energy is gone….for me, the perfect formula for a perfect bike.

The last two laps on the Cross test were more of the glorious same.
Lap two was a full 31 seconds quicker than the first lap, and in my
final pass through the course, I cut another 5 seconds from my
previous Cross lap time. Rest periods are a great thing for an old
man. I was pleased with my improvement in lap times, and even more
happy to see how my finish compared to the A class riders. After
Roselawn, I had reluctantly admitted to myself that I was, at best, a
trail rider. Hixton convinced me otherwise.

I’m back.



Prophetstown, Illinois
September 13, 2020
Reminiscing of the olden days, an adventure now gone is the art of
locating the race site. A time once existed when directions came from
the back pages of the monthly AMA magazine, where upcoming
events were listed for each district. Clubs who wished for a good
turnout relied on the 125 or so characters the magazine allotted to
publicize the race and its location. A typical description would be:

“Sept 3 (S,T,Y) Glasford (D-17) Dirt Riders Inc C/O Dan Ligenfelter
309-267-1234 9:00 am 6 miles S of RT116 on Stone School Rd”.


The night before a race, I would pull out my Delorme Atlas &
Gazetteer, a large book of detailed topographic maps. This was the
kind of book, in that time period, which could only be purchased by
visiting a bookstore. The maps were available for many states and
were filled with 100 or more pages illustrating most public backroads.
This was an important navigational tool. Stone School Road was
certainly not listed on any fold-up map commonly found in glove
boxes. The detailed map gave me a general idea of where to start
looking for brightly colored arrows which would direct me to exit
Illinois Route 116. If all went well, I’d follow a series of arrows stapled
to utility poles and fence posts and eventually arrive at the staging
area. Sometimes the arrows would disappear for a long period and I’d
wonder if I missed a turn. I might decide to backtrack to the last spot I
remembered seeing an arrow, and realize I was following an alternate
set of arrows laid out for those arriving from the opposite direction. Or
maybe I’d just drive around in circles, hoping to see another vehicle
with a dirt bike and let them lead me to the race site.

The Prophetstown round of the MXC series brought back these fading
memories, as I drove past the inconspicuous field lane leading to the
staging area. In today’s era, clubs usually provide a street address or
GPS coordinates and leave it to the riders to figure out which
mapping technology will guide them. Outside of Prophetstown, the
turn into the field lane was marked by double arrows attached to an
electric utility pole, which I didn’t see. I’d raced at this location many
times in the past and quickly realized I was driving in unfamiliar
territory. One U-turn later, I was in the staging area.

The MXC hare scramble series is one of the few which allow practice
laps, and I had every intention of arriving in time to take advantage.
But family life did its thing, and there would be no practice for me.
After sign-up, I settled for a brief walking tour of the course. As usual,
the main element was sand, and lots of it. Prophetstown is typically a
spring venue, but COVID-19 apparently had some influence on the
MXC schedule in 2020. I’d never seen the property with so much
foliage.

An hour after my walk, the starting line was a bit sparse for an MXC
race. Race promoter Monte Gusse announced the old-guy “A” classes
would start on row 3, but I was the only mature A-rider to show up. I
moved ahead to the second row with the younger fast guys. I was a
bit anxious for the dead-engine start, this being my first hare scramble
with the new Beta. My entire dead-engine experience on the Beta
consisted of two practice starts in the parking lot. When the green
flag dropped, I had to admit the electric start is a clear advantage in
these situations. My past timing with kick starters was not exactly
pristine. In the seconds leading up to the flag drop, I would constantly
fiddle with the position of the kick-start lever, trying to be sure the
engine was at top dead center. I often felt that a near-eternity would
pass between the green flag dropping and my leg forcing down the
kick starter.  Nervousness seemed to affect my reaction time, but now
it was a simple press of a button and the engine fired almost
immediately. I had always felt the Beta engine surged to life more
quickly than my past e-start bikes, but I couldn’t be sure until my drag-
race to the first turn proved it.  With a little more aggression, I might
have had a remote chance for the holeshot, but I backed off a bit and
three of the other five riders on my row entered the woods ahead of
me.

A few turns later, the others behind me quickly passed when I fell
over in the deep sand. I was alone in the woods, learning the course
as I went. The trails alternated between narrow and wide, sandy and
loamy, rutted and smooth. The course contained its usual motocross
elements, which were short straightaways where speed and bravery
were the difference between legitimate hang-time and bunny hops.
The latter was more my style, and it showed as the rows behind me
steadily closed in.

My ride, the Beta 300 Race Edition, was outfitted with a unique set of
colors and graphics, making it relatively simple for an off-road
enthusiast to know those who buy these machines are racers. Or, as
in my case, they aspire to it. While the B classes caught and passed
me, my confidence from the Hixton, Wisconsin sprint enduro quickly
deteriorated into self-loathing. I was supposed to be fast on this
fancy, racy bike. Instead, the B class was showing me how to ride the
sand.

On a positive note, the new Guts Racing seat foam and cover proved
itself a worthy upgrade. The foam was firm but not harsh and the
cover maintained enough grip to keep me planted when sitting, which
was pretty much the entire race. The sand was already well churned
from the practice lap and would continue to be rearranged with each
lap. Like riding in mud, the key was to make the rear wheel spin and
let the front end slide through turns. My technique needed work.

After a tentative first lap, I arrived at the scoring lane and observed a
throwback to earlier times. The MXC series still holds dear to
scorecards duct-taped to front fenders. On my first pass through the
scoring lane, Monte Gusse marked me with a “10”, meaning we were
10 minutes into the 90-minute race. On lap 2, more riders passed me
from rows behind, furthering my breakdown in confidence. Once
again, thoughts crept into my conscious that I was an A-class outcast.
Worse yet, I could already feel some physical fatigue. I had been
rising at 5:00 in the morning, three times a week, to ride about 2
hours on my bicycle, but apparently that exercise wasn’t translating to
dirt bike racing. My legs still resisted a standing position. As the
course developed its usual deterioration into sand whoops, it was
simply impossible to sit, so the legs just had to suck it up and get with
the program.

My scorecard read “20” after lap 2, and I would continue on a 10
minute/lap pace throughout the rest of the race. On the west edge of
the property, I began dodging a large log across the trail, by way of a
side trail which probably added no more than a second or two. I had
launched my bike over the log on the first two laps, but knew I would
need to conserve energy. And by that time, photographer John Gasso
was taking shots near the log. No need to supply him with an
embarrassingly entertaining photo, so I took the easy route.

Near the end of my third lap, the top three riders in the Pro class
passed me. They rode in a tight pack, fast and smooth through a
rough, choppy course. This was another self-loathing moment. At this
pace, they would lap me at least two times….possibly three. No “A”
rider worth his salt would suffer this humiliation. The final nail in my
confidence came on lap 5, less than an hour into the race, and I was
feeling tired. Not since the Roselawn enduro had I raced this long
without a break. As a testament to the physical demands of dirt bike
racing, my fatigue was comparable to two hours, with no stops, on my
bicycle. I used to be able to do this without a second thought. Now,
my mind hinted at an early end to the race.

I quickly put an end to those thoughts. The result was a continued
push to the finish, and several crashes. I finally decided to ride with
more attention to avoiding the rough spots. On the narrowest trails,
placing the front wheel an inch or two to the right or left was the
difference between a slightly choppy ride and 8 seconds on a world
class bucking bull. I looked for those inches and found myself riding
smoother, if not faster. By now I was lapping C-riders and my lap
times were still around ten minutes.

At the end of lap 8, my cumulative time was 81 minutes. This was a
problem. All riders would continue to be sent through the scoring
barrels until the Pro class finished their final lap. Since they hadn’t
started their final lap yet, I saw no white flag. I was in for two more
laps, and more self-loathing.

By this time, my body had been flogged by sand whoops and I began
crashing at random. Silly things, really, which would not have
occurred if I’d been at full stamina. A rooty uphill section claimed me
when I failed to lift the front wheel high enough to propel the bike
forward. Loose sand took me down in an easy curve. Each time I lifted
the bike back on its wheels, I was more ready to call it a day. And
soon enough, the checkered flag appeared at the end of my 10th lap.

With no other riders in my class, I took the class win by default. But
this was no victory. These tired, old legs still needed work, and I
resolved to improve my fitness….and have more fun. It’s dirt biking!


Hixton, Wisconsin
Prophetstown, Illinois