Pine Hill Enduro Ride Report
Lots of fun, no (bad) crashes, trophy (in the mail).
I rode two enduros 15+ years ago, but I knew nothing and did poorly. Then I got sidetracked with other stuff and didn't ride off road much. Since getting into riding off road a little bit more seriously in the last couple of years, I've been wanting to do another enduro, but for one reason or another just never got around to it. I finally got around to it this past Sunday (5/1) at the Pine Hill Enduro in New Jersey. This was essentially my first enduro, and certainly the first one where I went in with some idea how timekeeping worked.
I'd been told to just ignore timekeeping by a number of people, but I figured I'd at least try to do it when I could so that I could learn a little about it and hopefully be able to carry that experience forward to the next one(s) that I might do. My timekeeping equipment consisted of a roll chart that I'd made the night before (there were no Jart charts available), my stock odometer and a cheap digital clock zip tied to the bars. The clock didn't have a 'seconds' display, but I figured that I wouldn't be in a position for seconds to matter anyway.
It rained all day on Saturday, and was still raining when I got up at 4:50 AM on Sunday. Hearing the rain made it a test of will just to get out of bed and go to the event. I managed, but I'm very aware that I'm just never going to be a morning person. I was worried that the rain would make the trails a swamp, but the Jersey sand soaked it up pretty well and there was only one notable mud obstacle all day - and it was only notable 'cause there were a couple of riders stuck in it when we got there - the four of us on my minute got right through.
I planned to ride on a row with my friend Fugi who is a long time A enduro rider coming off of a 6ish year break (this was his 2nd race back) and his friend Ty who is a B hare scramble and GNCC racer with some enduro experience. Another A rider named Carl would be the 4th rider on our minute. Fugi and Carl both had computers, so I knew that I could fall back on them for timekeeping if I got confused. We got signed up and then waited for our late minute (62) to come up. I signed up for the Vet C class, so there was no question as to who the slowest rider on our minute would be. Carl was the most serious of the bunch - he even had spare wheels ready to go that someone carted to all of the spectator points in case he got a flat.
I was riding my KDX220, Ty was on a CRF450, Carl was on a CR250R and Fugi was on a 1987 Husky 510 four stroke. The old Husky drew lots of attention at the checks and resets, but it never seemed to hold Fugi back, and in the tight sections he was the fastest rider on our minute. He's a great rider and would probably be fastest on a TTR125.
Finally, our minute got close, so we headed over to the start in the cold rain. I don't have an enduro jacket, so I wore a tyvek waterproof jacket, which turned out to work really well. It never rained really hard, but it kept it up on/off 'til lunchtime.
We took off, and then promptly pulled over since the club had thrown in a 2.5 mile reset just a couple of tenths off of the start. Not surprisingly, there was a check shortly after - it was surprising that people were burning it. The morning loop contained a lot of fire road and fire cuts and fairly short trail sections (just a couple/few miles at a time). This was great for me, as it allowed me to practice timekeeping and I found that it was pretty easy to remain as accurate as my clock with no seconds would let me. I did get mixed up one time and think we were two minutes late when we were two minutes hot, but that little bit of dyslexia was short-lived.
I didn't really get the strategy behind riding as hot as we were at points, but I figured they knew what they were doing. Just in case, I always stayed back a bit so I'd be able to slow-ride to kill time if need be, but I never had to do that. It turned out that Carl had a copy of the spectator information sheet which allowed him to speculate as to where checks would or wouldn't be... and he and Fugi had experience to rely on as to where they thought it made sense to ride hot and when to be on time. Carl liked to ride a little hotter than Fugi. I found the timekeeping part to be fairly easy on the easier trails in the morning, but I can see where it would take lots of experience to get good at the strategy part. Plus, I have the benefit of being slow which makes me late by default in the high speed average tough stuff, so I never have to worry about burning checks there.
With the fire roads and short sections, it was pretty easy for me to stay on time in the morning, but the other three riders on my minute would all pull away in the tight sections. I dropped my first point when I was late to a check that I shouldn't have had trouble being on time for. I just got 'out of sync' in the semi-technical section leading up to it and it took a bit to 'regroup'. I knew the afternoon loop was going to be much harder, and I figured (correctly) that I'd drop plenty more in the afternoon.
I burned the 5th check by one minute. My clock said I was on time, but they had me down as a minute early. I had lost touch with my minute-mates, and whenever I did that in a section I just rode hard 'til I caught up again, figuring they'd be on time. They had burned the check by two minutes. Later we would find out that the mileage was wrong and the club threw that check out. This would cause issues later on with check 6 too, since check 5 was the 'check in' and 6 was the 'check out' of a test section. I dropped 6 points in check 6, and was on time from there 'til the long reset for lunch and gas.
After a (too) long lunch/gas reset of 53 minutes, we headed to the start of the second loop, this time under sunny skies. There would be much less fire road on the second loop, and tons of great (and some brutal) trail. While I was having a harder time keeping up, I was absolutely loving the trail. When I think of great trails in my head, south Jersey sandy singletrack always comes to mind, and this was it!
One of the downsides to being on such a late row is that the whoops and ruts had gotten pretty bad in some spots. My riding has two (OK, more, but two stand out) weak areas: whoops and ruts. The only way to get better at things is to do them, and I was getting plenty of "doing" in. I recall one section where things were starting to click in the whoops and I was carrying more momentum and jumping/hopping the bigger whoops that usually cause me to wuss out and slow down. It was only a small taste of how it should be done, but it felt great and gave me some confidence to know that experience would make it easier someday.
I don't recall the specifics from here on out as to how many points I dropped at each check, but the points started to add up. Being a C rider on a minute full of A riders, I never had to worry about timekeeping once the trail got tough... I just caught up to them at the resets and left when they did. ;-)
I was getting tired, but the trail was just so good that I couldn't stop grinning. My barkbusters were getting as much of a workout as I was. One time after nearly missing a turn I lost my footing and plopped over and that would be my only spill of the day. I kept the bike running and took off again only to stall the bike 4 or 5 turns later. Duh.
I was alternating between riding smooth and fluid and pinballing all over the place. I'd get tired, make some adjustments and try to clear my head and ride better, and then get tired again. Over and over.
With 12 miles to go, there was a start control which led into a special test section that was ribboned off, forcing you to follow a specific line through corners. It was super tight, lock to lock in some places and gas/brakeslide/gas in others, but very tiring throughout. After a few miles of this, the ribbons stopped and it became lock-to-lock, bark buster testing, face-slapper infested single track for the remaining 9 miles or so. By this time I was pretty tired, but the trail was so good that it kept me going.
With about 5 miles to go, my right wrist "locked up". I've heard people talk about this, but I've never had it happen to me. Basically, I could only move my wrist a couple of degrees at most. It hurt like hell, but there was an upside. With my limited throttle movement, I started using the clutch more to smooth out my riding and started riding very smoothly. Not fast at all, but more fluid than I've ever ridden in stuff that tight. I guess the trick is to ride that smooth *and* figure out how to go fast while doing it. I expected my wrist to be a big problem, but literally as soon as I got off of the bike it stopped hurting and has been fine since. Good thing too, as I spent all day yesterday (race was Sunday) tearing up carpet and helping my father move into a new house.
I got passed by a couple of fast guys on late minutes and passed a few people who were in survival mode, but mostly that last 12 miles was a lonely section. At check out I was 18 minutes late, which was by far the latest I'd been all day. I guess that's part of the test, saving the best/worst for last. Judging by how few people passed me in the last section, I figured I did OK relative to the C class riders who were mostly at the back with me.
I was still smiling at the last check, so that makes the day a total success. The bike had no problems and I didn't feel to bad either, so that was a bonus. When I walked over to check scoring, I was surprised to see that I was in first place in Vet C. There was talk that the club was going to throw out checks five and six due to a mileage error making people early for check five and then the fact that if they threw out that check alone it would give riders a "head start" into the section that ended at check six.
After a couple of hours, there was still no word on when they'd finish up, but I was still listed as the winner of my class. I had to leave, but first, I calculated the scores if they threw out checks five and six, and that bumped me down to second place by a few tiebreaker points (seconds). Maybe I should've gotten a clock with a seconds display after all.
I haven't seen any official results yet, but the unofficial results I saw only show the winner of each class, and it looks like they did throw out those two checks as the guy who won in that scenario is listed as the winner. Hey, I can live with second place!
It's a little bit frustrating in that he and I both burned that bad mileage check by one minute and then he dropped one more point than I did at the check out - meaning that I outrode him through that section. That tied our scores and then it came down to tiebreaker points. He and I had exactly the same number of tiebreaker points for one emergency check, and one got thrown out. This left one check to decide the outcome, and it was the only emergency check that I was on time for all day... and with no seconds display, I had no way of knowing where I was on my minute. Crap! ;-)
Timekeeping was easy for me, but to be fair, I had two A riders with computers to help, so I wasn't doing it on my own - as often as I was actually keeping time, I was just 'following along' with the roll chart. Without the help, it's very likely that I'd have dropped more points in the morning and those seconds wouldn't have mattered.
All in all it was a great ride with no injuries, so I'm a happy camper.
Maybe I'll do more of these things.