It was called the Cajun Classic but it could just as easily be called the 1000 Logs Enduro.
If you're the type of person who grades enduros by the amount of pain and suffering they inflict this one was a dandy. I'm writing this with hands that are covered in blisters, my body is one big, giant, blue/green bruise, and we won't even talk about the monkey butt. The race was held on the grounds of the former WW2 training base Camp Claiborne, near Forest Hill LA. The 23,000 acre area is under management by the US Forest Service and if you want to get a little bit of the history of Camp Claiborne I found this interesting link: http://www.campclaiborne.com.
Keith and I arrived late Saturday afternoon and got signed in. We saw Jim Cook and Reggie, saw some of the LA riders that came to Red River to ride back in December and we saw Norman, the Archbishop of Pain. Next we waited through a long line to get the mandatory sound check. My KTM 300 EXC registered 94db which I found a little odd since it registered 86db just a few months ago. Maybe its time for a new silencer packing but I noticed several people ahead of us were getting DQ'd, far more than normal. After the sound check we drove around looking for a place to camp and ended up finding a terrific campsite out a ways from everyone else. We set up our camp and now starving, drove the 16 miles back to Alexandria where we had a great meal and two-for-one beers at Chili's. After returning to camp we got a fire built, got our numbers applied and programmed the computers and when the work was done we enjoyed an awe inspiring night sky topped off with a meteor shower. For the first time ever at a race I went to sleep without hearing a single generator.
Sunday morning came way too soon, hastened along by the time change. Temps were in the mid-40s and I seriously considered just skipping the race and staying in my nice, warm sleeping bag for another couple of hours but Keith badgered me into riding so reluctantly I got suited up. At the rider's meeting we heard that tragically someone died on Saturday when they hit a car in the camping area. I'm not sure if was an adult or a child or what the circumstances were but our thoughts go out to the person's family and friends. It was certainly a sobering moment for everyone in attendance.
Keith and I were on row 8 along with another TSCEC regular and a couple of other guys I didn't know. I was freezing to death and was grateful to finally get underway and it was several miles before my blood warmed up and started flowing again. We all zeroed the first check handily since it was only an 18mph section but soon the SERA boys started dishing out the type of terrain they're known for. A large portion of the course was single track through trees so tight that you couldn't fall over even if you wanted to. But the thing that amazed me the most was the number of log crossings. I believe that I did more log crossing in one day yesterday than I've done in my entire life. Some were easy and some were hard. Some were perpendicular to the trail and some were at 45 degrees. Sometimes you could square them off and hit 'em straight on but others you just hit and pray to God that you can at least get the front wheel over. I did some gracefully, and I did some ugly but successful, and I did some that were just plain ugly...the kind where you sort of fling your bike over the log as you're falling down.
I had some significant biffs throughout the day and I can't recall a race where I hit the ground more. Fortunately none were of serious nature. Probably the worst of the day was where I was following a 4-stroke in a test section. We were pretty evenly matched in speed so I couldn't really press him to make a pass but finally he blew a corner and I cut under him and started on my merry way. One turn later I came upon a huge drop off about 6 feet deep and 10 feet or so across. I was going too fast to stop and too slow to jump it and ended up hitting the far side like a yard dart. The front wheel hit and compressed and the rebound sent me flying over the bars.
Another interesting aspect of the terrain that added to the crash factor was the pine needles. You can think of pine needles as long, skinny, roller bearings. Roller bearings that obscure the tree roots lying just underneath. Once I was hustling along trying to catch up on time and the front wheel went out from under me so fast that I found myself sliding down the trail on my side, both feet still on the pegs and both hands still on the grips!
Aside from the crashes I was really enjoying the race. I lost a lot of time in the first test section but zeroed all of the timekeeping sections. At the first gas I waited until the last moment to leave while Keith made some repairs to his bike. I was worried that there was a possible just after the gas and sure enough there was and I lost one minute. I hate getting what I call "stupid" points. Keith lost two minutes in that check. Fortunately it was an 18 mph section that followed and we made our time up with no drama. Again the trails on the first two loops were awesome and I was having a good race. The course was rough but when it opened up a bit you could really rock and roll and the first two loops had a good mix of really tight trees and brush and relatively open forest. The corners were all marked well but in the high speed sections it was still easy to blow through the turn yet it wasn't a problem because in most places you could run wide and join back onto the trail without ever letting off the throttle. At each of the checks I made it a point to compliment the workers on doing such a terrific job with the course. At the check out just before the second gas the check worker asked if I was riding the long course and when I told him I was he just laughed sadistically and said "Have fun!". Hmmmm. I thought to myself that didn't sound too promising.
Loop 3 was just for the long course riders and we were hardly out of sight of the gas stop when the *really* tight trees started. And they just went on and on and on. Almost all enduros will give you a test section of tight trees but it usually ends after the check out of the test. Not here. They just kept going. These trees were so tight that I could have parked my bike and walked through it faster. Almost all of them were less than handlebar width and because of the tight turns you couldn't simply wiggle your way through at speed because you'd hit them at the wrong angle. It forced me to come to a complete stop to wiggle through. Sometimes the trail was like a corridor through brush so thick you couldn't see anything beyond your front wheel and other times it was a stick farm. Once I stopped a moment because I couldn't find the trail and when I looked around me it all looked exactly the same in every direction...millions of little trees the size of your arm all about 20 inches apart. I struggled through this for mile after mile. I was completely exhausted and could barely work the clutch. And then disaster hit. I had just come out of one of the worst sections of trees and it looked like the trail was going to open up briefly. I was way behind on time and so I grabbed a handful of throttle and the bike just died with no warning like I'd hit the kill button. A classic example of a fouled plug I thought. I gave it bunch of kicks and it briefly started, sounded really sick, then died again. As I kicked the bike over for several minutes more I could feel the last little bit of energy that I still contained slowly drain away.
I know now how a flashlight feels as the bulb grows dimmer and dimmer and then is gone when that last volt slips past. Wearily I looked at the spark plug waaaay up under the gas tank. It was all I could do to get the plug cap off, no way in hell to remove the spark plug without taking off the tank. I looked at my ICO and I'm down 22 minutes and counting. *)&**&$@!!! All of a sudden this little man in my head started screaming at me at like drill instructor, "YOU WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET THIS BIKE MOVING AGAIN! YOU WILL NOT HOUR OUT! DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU WILL *NOT* HOUR OUT!!!" So all of sudden I'm in a hurry again and the tools come out and the seat comes off and the gas tank is loose. I started to lift the tank up out of the way when WHOA! That sure is light. A little shake and I hear a faint splash down in the bowels of the tank. "AAAAARRRRGHHHH!!!! YOU DUMBASS" that little man screamed at me. I didn't have a fouled plug, I was out of gas! Well, I was this far along so I might as well put another plug in it while I'm here, I thought. I did that and switched to reserve and the bike started on the third kick. Where in the hell that tank of gas went is beyond me. I know I filled up at the previous gas stop. In fact I ran it over. All I can figure is that my float must've gotten stuck open at some point and practically drained the tank in a short distance. Quickly I started putting my bike back together. I couldn't get the tank to go back down correctly and I just said screw it and put in two of the three bolts and slapped the seat back on. So what if one radiator shroud is flapping.
The ICO showed me down by 55 minutes as I fired up and took off like a maniac. Ironically I didn't go 10 turns when I came into the tiebreaker check. I carded a 55. I haven't houred out yet! The worker gives me a big pat on the back and yelled some encouragement as I dropped the clutch. Still more tight trees! *&%$! Arghhh! I'm losing! 57, 58...still more tight trees! Dammit, this shit has to end somewhere. I'm riding like my nuts are on fire and the clock is holding at 58. Then it opened up for a moment. Thank God! I 'm railing now...58, 57, 56, 55. OH NO! More tight trees! 55, 56, 57, 58. Still more tight trees but not quite as bad now. The tenths go up and down but I'm holding steady at around 58 minutes. I'm riding waaaay over my head but that little man just keeps screaming away at me. I hit the next check sideways with the front wheel in the air and people are literally running for cover. There's a sign that says "Free Ride to Finish". I asked the guy what the hell does that mean? He said there's no more checks to the KC at the finish. Hmmm. I'm sitting at 106 miles and the finish as at 111. I've probably already run 6-8 miles on reserve. Do I slow down to conserve fuel? If I do I'll DNF but I ride out under my own power. Or do I keep the hammer down and finish this MF'er. I don't even know for sure if you can hour out at an observation check but it seems logical that you can. It was no decision really. I made up my mind while the guy was still writing on my scorecard. I'm going to either finish this race or I'm going to crash and die trying. I hit the afterburner and took off. I didn't go 50 yards and it was right back into the tight trees again. Holy Mother! Doesn't this shit never end? I'm careening through the trees riding like a maniac and occasionally I come upon other riders who are casually toddling along to the finish . I scream at them and give about 1 second to respond and if they don 't I'm coming through anyway. Somehow they sense that there's a madman behind them and they all move over promptly. At least 3 of the final 5 miles were still in trees so tight that I couldn't get out of first gear. The clock seemed stuck on 58. Occasionally it opened up a bit and I kept it pinned as long as I could stand before dropping back into the tight stuff again. I'm waging war with the clock now. This is an 18 mph section and I've got a fighting chance if I don't run out of gas. In the open areas I'm scaring the hell out of myself but the I'm slowly getting my time back. 58, 57, 55 and I'm passing people like they're sitting still. At last I can see trucks and RVs through the trees! They run us for another agonizing couple of miles around the camp but I'm still shaving time off the clock. I have one last crash at what must be the one thousandth log crossing. It was on a little uphill and I tried to jump it like a step-up double. Instead my rear wheel clipped the log and kicked really hard. The bike went in one direction I went another but we both landed on the far side of the log and I never let the bike die and that's all that was important. I remounted and tore off down the trail praying that my gas holds up. Finally, FINALLY, I hit the OB check at the finish around 55 minutes down. I turned out of the check and down the road toward the truck and went about 200 yards and ran out of gas. I smiled the whole way as I pushed it down the road to the truck.
On the scorecard I finished fourth in my class and 3rd Texas points. Keith finished fourth in class and first place Texas points. It's strange, but instead of being disappointed I felt like I just won the Overall. I rode probably the hardest I've ever ridden in my entire life and I came out on the other side. I would have to rank this enduro as one of the most difficult races I've ever ridden but also one of the most rewarding simply because of the relentless nature of the terrain. There was no relaxing anywhere. If your wheels were rolling you had to give it 110% of your attention. One moment of carelessness and you'd find yourself on the ground. The word "brutal" kept coming up in the conversation on the way home.
Well, it's time to take another dose of Motrin and start readying the bike for the next one. The Piney Woods enduro is in two weeks.