Rocky Mountain Hare Scramble ride report
Bob Fitzhenry – August 2014
A photographer asking a writer to do a ride report is like a scribe asking a shooter to snap some frames—without more direction, the results are open to creative interpretation. That works for me; blame Art if your ears bleed.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a grand and more on my long-time-coming, often pondered, more often dithered christening into dirt bike racing. The Rocky Mountain Hare Scramble (and Kayak Race) was my vessel.
Rocky Mountain isn’t too rocky. I don’t know who named it, but suspect a drunken Viking explorer wanted to repeat the Greenland and Iceland bait and switch. It’s pretty rocky for sure, because I bounced through a few gardens and heard Tuck mowing lots of boulder tops in the field the workday before race weekend. It’s just not that rocky for a Granite-state who grew up down south with a gravel pit for a back yard and Foxboro State Forest out the trail beyond it.
Glacial till will never get a rise out of me like rain and mud can. Those excite me in the same way as saddle sores and the final step of a yearly physical. My Sportsmen and C familia and I were flush with excitement on the second lap of the morning race, when thunder boomed, rain came in biblical proportions, and the trails and swales flowed red with silt, blood and big plastic pieces from Andre Marois’ CRF.
Yes, the prose is purple and hyperbole abounds, but it did rain hard and make a mess. The bottom line is I won. That’s my spin and I’m sticking to it. I won on metaphysical and existential levels. I won because of my trust in humanity. And I won on materialistic and judicial levels, per a judicious and immaterial readingbetween the lines of the NETRA rule book.
Working backwards on the rule book interpretation:
- I was the first C Senior to get the checkered flag, thus I won C Senior
- I was first rider on a 20th century, non-water cooled bike to get the checkered flag, thus I overalled the combined AA/A/B/C/Women’s/Mini Class for Vintage Engineering bikes raced in non-Vintage races.
- And—it goes without saying—I overalled the super-secret Air-cooled Class and lead it for the millennium. (Sponsorship by AJP bikes in 2015?)
The play-by-play of my win(s) starts with bike and gear prep. I washed my XR and put a new rear fender on the day before the race. I dedicated another 15 minutes Shoe-Goo-ing the sole of my left boot together—I wear a 10 and 8 of it was falling off. The how-to of goo-ing involved a bench vise to squeeze all the stuff from the tube and clamps to hold things together until dried. I’ll do a clip for youtube once things come apart again.
C Senior left in the next-to-last wave with twenty starters. It was my 200-something-ish start line in 22 years of racing, even if I had pedaled off all the other ones, taking some holeshots and wins, and even coming in second Expert at Rocky during its brief mountain bike experiment in ’97.
Less tension filled my C start than any bicycle start for the likely reason that I wasn’t penned in by a pride of grown men with shaved legs and bright, skin tight clothing. It helped that I didn’t care about the first corner, since I wasn’t planning to race until I got around it. Good plan for a newb with less horsepower under him than a lawn tractor.
My trust in humanity told me that we C’s were all old enough to know better, not as good as we once were, to paraphrase Toby Keith, but as good once as we ever thought we were. Ripping and riffing off Keith, I was as good for half a lap as I ever was, as good the next nine miles as I could be, and, for the remainder, as good as a wet, blind man with lightly cracked ribs, no brake pedal, and 280lbs of bike and mud can be in a dark, somewhat rocky forest during an electrical storm.
The green flag dropped. One kick fired the engine. The grass and dirt puffed up off the field. I rolled into the first corner thirteenth and started racing after that.
Gaps opened. I made a few passes into the second turn, but checked up conservatively behind a WR rider. The front of the race started creeping out away from him through the chicanes and buried boulders Tuck had mowed in the field. Though yards and seconds opened up, perspective is worth a lot. The woods waited near and the race would last miles and hours.
We hit the trees and it got tight. The WR rider crashed left; I amorally pinned it right. It wasn’t much different at that moment than it had been a week earlier, when I followed Steve Semuskie as he GoPro’d the course: dust and the scent of two-stroke oil over the trail, and no one in sight.
The recent laps chasing Steve and my death march in ’97 paid off in course knowledge. I went 10/10ths into the next corner, which turned us downhill, across a bridge and into the first rock garden.
My time had come, just like the girlfriend’s did in Thunder Road, sort of. You know, when Springsteen’s motorheaded protagonist rolls up to whisk his soul mate away with the poetic entrapment, “You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright.” That’s just about what Steve had been saying every time he’d stopped for me to join up on the GoPro ride: “You push that XR pretty hard.” I dove into the gnarl with Steve’s words of inspiration doubling, nay tripling, my self-esteem.
More riders than I figured were having more trouble than they figured in the gnarl. There were lots of spectators lending, ahem, moral encouragement to the foundering souls though. Sickos or saviors? It’s a fine line.
I made a pass or two in the nastiness before the race came out of the tight stuff to cross a graded road with a side-to-side, eyed-out puddle introducing a bony doubletrack climb. Well, hehe, the puddle just looked side-to-side. The left was smooth and dry while the entry visuals led to a rutted cut-around on the right. I pinned it left, sailing abeam of two riders paddling through the rut on the right. (There’s an unconfirmed report they pulled out with whiplash soon afterward.)
Not really sure what place I was in after that. Above eighth and below first? It had been an action packed five minutes. Then I either got too settled or the passing chances closed up. Really it was both. I sat behind a Husky rider with a trials tire for a bit, then Andre came by us at six minutes and I got by a bit later. I mixed in and around the tail end of earlier rows, and the front of the Sportsmen mixed in and by us. There was something ahead though that I had to put behind me.
In my ride after the work party the week before, I went full turtle-up in one of the only mud pits on the course. I came out covered head to toe slime. I had gotten back on the bike with that on my mind and every contact point freshly greased, which led 30 seconds later to unplanned bodily intimacy with a punky stump and the aforementioned lightly cracked ribs. The pit and the stump were ahead of me in the race.
The site of my dunking mired many riders in the race. It was just an unassuming dip in a loamy, grassed road through a heavy or clear-cut woodlot, but the ruts were deep enough to clutch up the rut averse. I stayed right and motored on to my next demon: the stump and the puddle and hidden roots that put me on it.
Son of a Gun! The puddle had been drained and the death traps worked over with hand tools—thanks for nothing guys! I would have laughed, but the ribs were starting to ache.
My brake pedal enjoyed unplanned intimacy of a geologic variety not long afterward, descending downhill with traffic in the woods. There was no rock beside the rut my bike and I dropped into, and there still isn’t one there, so we couldn’t have hit one, but we did and we hit it hard enough to put the back end up thirty degrees. Nose wheelie on the gas tank downhill into a right-hander with riders and big trees within arm’s reach—no problem.
Since my feet were at the front axle in that turn, the pancaked brake lever didn’t rear its useless head until the next turn when my toes and Shoe-Goo-ed boot stabbed at vacant air. After a few minutes more of giving the race the old college try, I overcooked a corner, tipped, and tapped my lightly cracked ribs from the week before.
Maturity kicked in at that point. I restarted and cut back to the junior college effort. A rider went down just ahead in a single-line section. It was just another guy under another citrus colored bike, but this guy was having trouble breathing. I parked and lifted it off him. He rolled out of the way and I rolled his bike off the trail.
I took some minutes there, and a rock, trying to bang my brake pedal out from under the foot peg so the pads wouldn’t drag. Then I took a few more minutes banging my footpeg out so the kick start would clear it and old Betsy would fire again. I was out of breath; the crashed guy had caught his and was out of sight.
The junior college effort lasted into lap 2, when the skies flashed and Noah’s 40 days and 40 nights of rain came all at once through the tree canopy and onto the trail and my eye glasses. My figurative references may be opaque, but my specs literally were at that point. I pulled off to put them in my pack, which is when I went blind. The next thing I saw clearly was the checkered flag.
“747” Racing: Rocky Mountain NETRA Hare Scramble
Water…water…and more water….that pretty much sums up Sunday’s NETRA Rocky Mountain Hare Scramble in New Hampshire. We drove up to Alton, NH Sunday morning to hit this race, in hopes that the predicted rain storms would miss us to the south. We weren’t that lucky. It rained hard in the morning, to the point where the pit area where we were parked was about 6 inches under water. I felt bad for the guys that raced the morning race, as the visibility had to be next to zero, and my buddy Brian said the trails were just a long stream. Anyway…this is New England, and they don’t cancel races here…period. So I gathered my stuff and geared up to duke it out for the next couple hours with my race buddies and mother nature….mostly mother nature.
My game plan was pretty simple…SURVIVE…bring the bike and body back in one piece, try to find a way to have fun with this and I should be ok. I got a decent start, but the first few turns were all grass track and with all the water I just could not get good traction and kind of just tip toed around. As we entered the woods I was about mid pack. The woods sections were actually not as bad as I expected…yes it was muddy, and yes there were a few deep swamped out areas, but overall it was surprisingly decent. The biggest challenge was to keep goggles clean. I went through all of the roll off film on my goggles within the first lap and had a heck of a time seeing anything, but I didn’t want to take my goggles off either….it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye…ha. After lap one I pulled into the pits to get new goggles….dad had my EKS brands with a fresh roll of film ready, slapped them on, slapped me on the back, and I was back out….I think that was by far the fastest pit stop ever for us (no fuel)…dad and I had agreed before the race that we were trying to go the distance without a fuel stop since they announced that they were cutting the race down to 4 laps (9 miles each)…yeah, we are the gambling kind. Lap 2, 3, and lap 4 went pretty well, what a difference being able to see makes. I had a couple small crashes (more like tip overs) but overall no major problems or incidents. Once I realized where I was as far as positions go, I saw that there was no way I could catch the leaders unless they made a major mistake, and I had a pretty good gap built up on the guys behind me so I went into survival mode….make the bike last, conserve fuel, and bring it home. On the last lap I did get a little scare as my fuel light came on (the Husky has a little warning light, I’m not sure how much fuel is left once it comes on). Fortunately I was already out of the long woods section and on to the grass track so I knew I didn’t have that far to go, and worst case, I could probably push the bike to the finish. I didn’t need to…we cut it close, but I made it with a little bit of fuel to spare. I rode a decent race, adjusted to the conditions and didn’t try anything crazy. I ended up with 3rd place in A open and 14th overall. I’m happy with that for this one – The bike and I survived just fine and I had a ton of fun!
This was a double header weekend for my parents as my sister competed with her water ski show team (Holland Aqua Riders) at the regionals (they took 3rd as well!), so mom went to support her at that event while dad helped me with my race. I know this was a tough one for them (can’t be in both places at the same time). A huge shout out to Art Pepin at www.offroadpaparazzi.com for the photos!
Thank You to my sponsors….could not do this without your help!
Kenda Tires, Fly Racing, Magical GoGo, EKS Brand goggles, FMF, Panic Rev Ministries, Halls Cycles, and mom and Dad!
Until next time
Hunter “747” Neuwirth
PS: For those of you that actually paid attention (Thank You), you will have noticed that my race number for this race was 447…that’s because the NETRA series scores differently and 747 would mean I would be in a different class. We ran out of sharpies and paper so we actually had Steve at STS whip up some new number plates for us.
Saturday my Daughter Stephanie completed her very first race the Rocky Mountain JR Enduro located in NH. She was very nervous to try her first event. We were reluctant as she did not have any seat time riding the larger new to her KTM 200 prior to the race. After the many words of encouragement from other race parents and reassurance from the sweep riders we all agreed the JR race is where she could learn and receive seat time at the same time. I mentioned to Steph to let the other racers leave the line then try and tuck in behind and follow the riders to see good lines. When Stephanie rounded the corner after completing the 7.1 mile lap all the parents and spectators stood up and cheered for her. The look of intimidation on her face vanished instantly and was replaced with a big grin. We were happy to see her finish a lap and did not expect her to want to complete another lap. We verified that she would have time to do complete another lap and off she went. At the end of the day she completed 2 out of the leaders 4 laps and rode the bike for close to 2 hours with a very short break at the pits after lap 1.
This was our son Brian’s first event since the May 18th race. He is almost 100% healed back up from his Spleen injury/ Mono and feels much better. Both Brian and I signed up to race Sportsman Class which is the last line of the C line along with B/A SS this class you do not receive any points.
I have been racing this line since Brian’s injury to slowly ease back into racing and get in shape. We all agreed this is where Brian should start again as he would not have any pressure with the lack of other “A/AA” Racers pushing him. I was able to jump Brian off the line and was near the front with Brian starting dead last. I think he may started last on purpose. The lead I had over him was short lived as he passed me before the group entered the woods. I am happy to say this was the last time I would see him in the race. He was able to cleanly pass 111 other racers to receive 3rd place overall. I passed 82 racers to finish 32 overall. This race was a step in the right direction for Brian we wanted to see how he would feel back on a bike.
Thanks to our sponsors FLY, LEATT, COUNTY CYCLE, ENDURO ENGINEERING, KUTA ELECTRIC, MOTO WORX, 139 DESIGN, RENTHAL, and most of all our largest supporter my wife Patty. Patty not only helps loading unloading, listening , worrying, caring and helping heal but she runs the pits when I am on the course. I need to write a separate story just on her…Love You Babe!
To sum it up our whole family could not of had more fun camping in the Rv, Relaxing and Racing with our friends.