Great Expectations, Painful Realizations

Earlier this year a group in the UP (The real part of Michigan) called the UP Sandstormers noted that they would be bringing back an event that they called The Mad Moose Hard Enduro. This group also puts on a National Enduro in the area called The Loose Moose. Suffice to say, they know how to put on a race on some amazingly varied terrain. The group had been putting on this event for a few years, but unfortunately hadn’t since 2018. As soon as I read online that they would be having the event in early 2020, I HAD to sign up.

2020 unfolded in the way it has, and the Mid May date for the 2020 Mad Moose seemed in jeopardy. Thankfully the organizers were able to work some magic and postponed the event until late July. The day the Live Laps event went live, I was registered. I was perhaps a bit too anxious for the event. I have ridden the area where they hold the event many times with friends, with one year us stumbling on where the course was being routed. I was optimistic about everything. I had my shiny(ish) KTM 350, fresh tires, and I was even running mousses to eliminate the chance of flats. I was prepared…….well kinda.

My bike was set (kinda….more on that later….) and so was I. Well, I kind of was. While I have been riding more this season than I have in basically the last 2 seasons combined (insert excuses here), I hadn’t been racing much. I had entered a local harescramble a few weeks prior to this event and made some really silly mistakes. I don’t think I came in last, but well it was far from a great showing. That noted, I had been getting back in a workout plan and the couple weeks leading up to the event, with a couple of them spent at elevation. I figured I’d be decently set…..but well……Things began to go pear shaped somewhat quickly.

All setup in the pits

Thankfully, going pear shape didn’t happen right away. I arrived at the staging area Saturday afternoon. I got unpacked, registered, and decided I’d go ride around on the practice loops they had setup. Temps were in the 90’s (plenty hot for the y00per), which is where things unbeknownst to me began to unravel. I found most of the practice loop to be on par with what I was expecting. They kept away from the more hilly terrain, so it was mostly rock obstacles, with some tight singletrack mixed in. One section caught me up a bit, but with some grunt work I got up and through. As I began rolling on, I came up on another rider who was physically gassed out. We got his bike unstuck and he continued on his way. I finished the section and worked my way back to the trailer. I should have called it a day right then, but I was feeling comfortable and I wanted to get another go on the bike. I rode the second loop quicker than the first, though one particular rocky uphill, I made a poor line choice. I got caught between a rock and a soft place (meaning….a steep ledge) and had to put in quite a bit of effort to get the bike to where I wanted it. Thankfully another rider rolled up on me (he chose a far better line….) and helped me through the section. I should have keyed in how much pushing through that sapped my energy, but hindsight is 20\20. I finished the loop, again working my way back to the trailer and not realizing just how physically drained I had become.

When your gear is soaked through, use the free air dryer!
Where’s the BEEF.

The night went as any other night should in the pits. I had at least for the night, a decent meal planned of steak, noodles (albeit bean noodles), some veggies and whatever other little snacks I had tucked away in my gear bag. As darkness rolled in, so did the rain. This should have been a hint to me. Remember how I noted my bike was setup with mousses? Well I was running standard pressure (10-12psi). I should have at the first sound of rain pulled my rear wheel and tossed in a standard tube to run some lower pressure. I did not, which likely cost me quite a bit later on. I however did manage to toss on a front tow strap, so in the event I needed to yank my bike up something, there was an easy access strap. Darkness fully set around 9pm, so I decided to call it a night. This threw me off a little bit, as it was only 8pm back home. I figured it’d take me awhile to fall asleep anyways, so may as well try to rest and relax. There was a decent rain, so I tried my best to sleep in the trailer. I should have tossed some ear plugs in though, as someone decided to run their uber loud generator all night long. It’s one thing when its a constant RPM, but the thing had a terribly lobing idle. Very much not fun. Eventually I fell asleep, with multiple wakeups in the middle of the night to adjust doors to stop rain from getting in, but still keep fresh air flowing.

The bike….ready to race…..but was I?

Eventually my alarm rang, with me hitting snooze more times than I should have. I knew pretty quick I was dragging, but figured it was mostly due to lack of sleep. I got myself ready, and attempted to eat some food. I should have been downing my large coconut water with everything, but I forgot that it was in my cooler. So it goes I suppose. About 15-20 minutes before the start of the race, most folks were working their way over to the starting area. I too got all my gear on and proceeded to line up.

I walked up to the front and looked at exactly where the start of the race was going. They had us weaving up and down through some (in normal circumstances) relatively simple sandy hill climbs. I took a few mental notes, but just kept thinking in my head to be calm, don’t do anything silly, its a LONG event. It was soon relayed that each of the 3 loops were around 10 miles long. I lined up next to a guy who was pitted by me, as well as someone else. I joked to the guy on my right that if he sees me keeled over on the side of the trail, to keep roosting on. He noted to do the same with him. Good friendly race start chat. Amazingly right on schedule the Pro wave was started. Now, this should have been a hint of what was to come. There was a decent number of riders in the Pro wave, and to see how quickly they were spread out at the start shoulda been a big warning of a crappy obstacle real early on in the race.

I kept my hear rate down as best I could for the start. I should have gone a bit quicker had I knew what was about to come, but I did not. The horn was honked, signaling the start of the race. Everyone blast off immediately down and back up some sand climbs. Fitting I botched one of the first ones, and eventually rolled up on the first of 3 or 4 endurocross obstacles. The first was a set of railroad ties. Normally, not an issue, however there’s a pile of riders all trying to get through, and oh yeah, it had been raining all night and until about an hour before the start of the race. No one is moving quick, at all. I force my way through the wooden ties, and then come up to the stack of tractor tires. Again, normally not an issue, but here we have a huge group of guys all struggling trying to cram through, and oh yeah, the tires laying on their side……The organizers did NOT put anything in the rim area, so guys bikes are getting sucked in whole. I hop off my bike and start pulling guys through. I figure its the only way we’ll get through. Go figure, as soon as I go back to my bike the organizers setup a bypass for the things. This had me mentally raging a bit as I’d spent a good deal of energy, now wasted.

I made up for this though as the next section had what I’ll call a…..sneak line. It was another wooden section, however you could ride the far left side of it, avoiding the obstacles altogether, but still be within the boundaries. I thought lets take it, which allowed me to pass a large group of folks. They ended this section with a large diameter tree. A lot of guys were trying to use what I believe were teeter-totter wood planks to ride over the thing, but the tree was small enough that a quick blip of the throttle had the bike jumping over. I get through, and as soon as I’m through the next thing they’ve got is more of the same short sand climbs. One of them on its own woulda been fine, but at the bottom of it, they had a large, wet, angled log in your way. So basically, you could not build any momentum. I eventually got the bike through this and carried on.

What came next was the most baffling thing I’d seen in a race, and really, it may have been before that last sand hill, I don’t remember…..I think my brain got fried during this race. However, what the organizers decided to do was have a set of old tires hanging from trees that you had to ride through. I don’t know who came up with this, or thought it was a good idea, but it was absolutely stupid. I watched a few guys in front of me harpoon the things, almost ripping them off their bikes. I too did my best to duck down, and let the tires bounce off the bike, but sure enough, they flung around and caught me. Stupid. Stupid Stupid. I’m all for rough terrain, but this was beyond annoying.

However I figure each “Hard Enduro” has to have some gimmick to it, so I carried on. It was around this point that they started us into the woods for a little bit. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I’m pretty sure I was averaging around -5 mph, or as my dad would say “he’s going so slow, he’ll have to speed up to stop!”. After a bit, we bopped out to one particularly long and rocky hill climb. As with much of this terrain, I’ve ridden this specific climb in the past with minimal issue. That said, like all things, add in that it was a race and things go from straight forward to sketch somehow. It was this climb where things really began going downhill for me (puns intended). I about made it to the top of the climb, only to get stopped short tipping on my side. I saw that they didn’t technically have a specific route you HAD to take (arrows\course ribbons), so I turned around and took an alternate route up from the midway point, which was substantially easier. I however underestimated how gassed I had become at this point.

At the top of this climb they had us bumping back into the woods. I got to a spot and decided to pull my helmet and try to catch my breath. I waited what seemed like quite awhile, deciding to continue on. Sure enough the next thing I see was another crappy uphill. This one however I saw riders\bikes strewn about, with riders revving the snot out of the engines attempting to get to the top. I decided to take what I thought was the best line, clicked into gear and began the ride up. Again, I made it about 75% of the way, only to have my bike launch from under me, thankfully being caught by a tree. What happened next was spending what seemed like an eternity with another fella, pulling my bike to the top of the hill. Just as I got to the top of the climb and my bike moved away, I heard the organizers setting up a bypass for this section. Again, I was absolutely pissed. My breathing was out of control. My heart felt like it was about to rip out of my chest. I was physically and mentally DONE, and I was barely a couple miles in. Hearing the hill I just dealt with wouldn’t have to be dealt with by others put me over the edge, but I decided to press on.

I thought I had my breathing and heart rate in check. I should have eaten one of my energy shots, but for some reason didn’t. Instead I put my helmet back on and decided to continue on. Sure enough, probably a few hundred feet down the trail, I got tripped up on a sideways log. My bike wedged in, I toppled over and let out a few choice words in frustration as I fell to the earths floor.

It was over.

I was physically and mentally defeated. I got my bike unstuck and out of the way, and ripped off all of my riding gear. My body was steaming (literally). Not much later another rider stopped where I was, noting he was done. Soon enough, some sweep riders rolled up on us and relayed that they’d help us with a way back. I was frustrated, and gutted in that I had such high hopes. My only goal was to finish the 3 laps (optimistic…..), and to not even finish 1 had me very frustrated. My decision to DNF the race at that point was confirmed immediately as I hopped on the bike to escape. I could feel my brain not feeling like it was in my helmet. My reaction timing was off and every bump felt like casing a triple. My body was depleted, and I was in no condition to continue riding.

Head hung in shame, I got back to the pits and began consuming food, coconut water, and whatever else I could. I doused my head and body with water and ice I had at the trailer. It took around 90 minutes to even begin to feel normalish. Eventually some other riders began filtering back to the pits, they too unsuccessful in their attempts at conquering the race. More and more came back, and I eventually decided I’d sooner pack up and get home early from the event than hang around to see further misery and pain on so many faces. My timing was proven good here, as shortly after getting packed in, the Heavens opened up, and rain began falling.

The entire drive home, I felt off. I knew I was tired, but this was more than that. I tried drinking what fluids I could. I felt I could barely keep what I had in me down. I was starving though, and wanted food…..and the soonest Culvers in Escanaba had me craving, but I felt if I ate then, it wouldn’t be sitting with me long. I held off until Marinette and proceeded to destroy far too much food. Still, I felt off, to the point of not having much of any appetite by the time I got home. After unloading my gear, it was time to finally rinse the nastiness off in the shower. For kicks, I stepped on the scale to see where I was. I was down ~5-7# from my normal. Not a good sign and very clear indicator that I was dehydrated and running on empty. It wasn’t until 3 or 4 days later that my body began to fee normal.

As down as I may sound on all this, I am not (at least not anymore). I took on this event as a bit of an experiment and understand now that my expectations were far too high. I also learned to do some things different with my bike. I should have not gambled on running the Pirelli MT16, but instead chosen a hybrid\cheater tire. It wasn’t going to be a fast pace event, and any extra grip I could have had would have helped. I also should NOT have ridden so much on Saturday and should have also replenished much better. I underestimated just how much fluid and food my body used up in that. I’ve also been guided in a few things I should have done different in my riding, so I’ll be working on adjusting that as well. I would also try to “ride” this event with someone else, vs more or less flying solo. This likely would have helped pace myself, and given some confidence to help get through the crap.

So that’s my play by play on the Mad Moose. The entire trip home, I swore I was done racing. Not just Hard Enduros, but harescrambles, enduros, GP’s, whatever. Barely a day or two later and I was already looking for when the next event was. As soon as the 2021 Mad Moose registration opens, I’ll be on the list…….ready to better my first attempts result.

For those that like video evidence, below is my helmet cam footage. Pardon the assorted….ummm…..coarse commentary.


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