‘To Hell and Back’ – I Take On the Corduroy Enduro…and Lose
By Jeff McConkey
Photos by Melissa Munns
My 2015 Corduroy Enduro experience. Now where do I begin? I believe Billy and I were coming home from either the Moncton National or the Ulverton National. After hours and hours of driving and bench racing, Billy popped the question “Hey…would you race The Cord?” I think I replied, “Sure, if someone gave me a bike and some gear.” I didn’t really think much more of it until Billy sent me the text saying I was in.
From what I’m told, Billy and Victoria Hett from Husqvarna Canada came up with this crazy idea together. For those who don’t know me well, I love moto, and I love clean bikes and gear. Enduro is the complete opposite, but I was sick and tired of being called a ‘fair-weather rider‘ or worse, a ‘pussy‘. I bit the bullet and welcomed the idea. To be honest, I really was more worried what gear and what boots I would be wearing, and I really didn’t give much thought to the actual race or the bike I was going to be riding.
Let’s be serious for a minute… old guys race off-road and I was going to be on a great bike from Husqvarna.
After a few texts messages back and forth with Billy, we were pretty sure I was going to be riding a Husqvarna TE 250. We weren’t sure, but we thought it was a 2-stroke. Not a big deal, I feel like I still ride the 2-stroke well. I received the bike around 9:30pm Friday, September 18th. The race was September 26th and 27th. I had lots of time!
To get used to the bike, I loaded up and headed to the local MMRS motocross practice day at Rocky Ridge. I think I got 25 maybe 30 minutes of seat time on the moto track and that was plenty. Next thing you know, it’s 4:30am Saturday September 26th and I’m loading my trusty Husky and I’m on my way to The Cord.
I rolled into the pits and instantly relaxed as it was very laid back. I found my long-time friend and enduro adviser Dustin Heacock from Asselstine’s Yamaha. Dusty is a long-time off-road racer and he really helped me out a lot. It was almost 7am and I headed for registration. I really had no idea where to begin. When my turn at the front of the line came, I was greeted by some very nice and helpful ladies who gave me everything I needed.
The next person I ran into was none other than Toni Sharpless. I’ve known Toni for years and she knows this off-road thing better than most. Toni gave me some solid tips, then made me do a quick video interview for something she was putting together.
After leaving sign-in, it was time to unload my war machine and get it teched and sound tested. I rode the bike to the tech table and waited patiently as the rider in front of me went through. I was starting to get nervous, as it was my turn to get teched. The older fella doing tech was super-nice. He put the transponder on the front number plate, then put the backup transponder wristband on my right wrist and said I was all finished. I responded, “I still need to go through sound.” His response was, “I heard you ride up, your bike was quiet, you passed.”
Back to the truck I went to load my race bike and make the 30-minute drive to the start line. Back at the truck a few of the other racers were still preparing their bikes. I asked, “How many tear-offs are you guys packing?” Only to be answered by the one and only John Nelson,”You don’t need tear-offs, just wipe them off!” Problem solved.
Time to head to the starting point.
It was a 30-minute drive from sign in. I hopped in my truck with my fantastic ‘mechanic / gas person’ Melissa and we followed my off-road adviser Dusty as he was taking his son Ryder (who races the Pro class), and Bennet Amyotte (who eats cheese burgers like a Pro) to the start as well. It was like a wagon train as we all headed to the start line. The roads were very curvy, very scenic, and very bumpy. The truck two vehicles in front of me proved that, as I think that was the most air I have ever seen a Sherco bike get, as it bounced itself out of the tie downs and up and down smashing the box side of his truck. I’d like to say the bike and truck were OK, but I’m thinking he needed a rad and probably a header.
We rolled into the start, and it was a gravel pit. I instantly thought… I have just found a replacement for Nanaimo.
Anyway, after looking for a place to park, the last spot just happened to be beside my friend Jeff Morgan from Motocross and Off-Road. Jeff is an off-road specialist and offered up some great advice. We proceeded down to the riders’ meeting and got our last-minute instructions.
It was now time to get dressed. I was sporting the new Fly Rockstar colab and fresh JUST 1 helmet, all courtesy of our great friend and supporter Jeff Fullerton from Gamma Powersports. It was now go time.
I pulled on my fresh Scott Hustle goggles, huge thanks to Davis and Aaron from Mica Sport. These goggles had the coolest lenses, and for some reason I was the only guy to keep my goggles on the entire day with out issues.
As I headed to the start line on my Husky, I remembered in the riders’ meeting that certain classes followed certain arrows. Problem number 1: I had no clue what class Billy signed me up for!
Pit stop #1: I quickly stopped to chat with the scorers and they were kind enough to give this ‘noob’ the proper class after searching through emails. Finally, I was on the start.
Problem #2: I had no clue how these races start! My off-road adviser was nowhere to be found, so, thankfully, I pulled up beside Jeff Morgan and he gave me the 411. I was number 121, so that meant I was 1 of the 4 racers leaving on the 21st minute. So, it was finally my minute. I was waiting on the line with my fellow 21-minute starters and I was pretty calm. I just didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ who fouled a plug on the line.
When we got the go ahead to start, I let the 3 others take off first. We did a full lap of the moto track before hitting the trail. After hitting the trail, I realized that we were definitely in rock country and it was going to be a very dusty rocky day. The first test popped up fairly quick and there was already a line-up.
3 to 4 guys started the test on each minute. It was fairly tight, with one main rut. I actually passed quite a few guys, and was starting to think I had this thing. I was kind of shocked with how long the test was. I really wasn’t expecting it to be a quarter of the time it actually took.
After the test, it was back on the trail to head towards the next one. Along the way, I tried to stay as loose as possible and stand most of the way. It was also a perfect time to learn how to drink out of my Camel Back without drowning. I had never used one before and I had no idea when to drink and how much.
The 2nd test was an instant eye opener. I don’t know who arrowed the tests, but they really must be part mountain goat. There were jagged rock faces that I couldn’t walk up or down, and I was somehow supposed to ride a dirt bike through it! After you plummeted to the bottom of these rocks, without going over the bars, you were instantly knee deep in the muckiest bog with hidden logs going every which way. Going in, I figured line choice would be key. Slow and steady would get me in, get me through, and get me out.
Problem #3: Was I ever wrong! Next thing I knew, I was buried sideways off the bike with 5-10 bikes revving their engines trying to get through. After struggling in the mud for numerous minutes, and being used as a bumper and a berm by many riders, I finally fought my way up and out of the first hole. Time to pick up the pace and get the time back that I lost.
Problem #4… the harder you push in these situations, the more you end up picking up your bike. On the bright side, I got a fantastic triceps and shoulder workout picking up my bike. I didn’t think there would be many more holes like that first one, but I was wrong. Many more nasty holes, rickety old bridges that wouldn’t hold a dog, and jagged rock faces awaited me. It really didn’t help that I was going through these holes and ruts behind at least 100 or more bikes that in turn made the ruts and holes more beat up than Lindsay Lohan after a May long weekend bender! There really was no way to get a flow going. You pretty much had to be like a pin ball and bounce your way through and off of things.
Problem #5: I didn’t wear a chest protector or elbow pads. I did my best to man up and go with the flow, but I was already hating life at this point. I can remember saying to myself over and over, “Why in the hell would anybody out themselves through this!?” Well, the rocks got steeper and completely covered in mud from the 100 plus riders in front of me. Add in the fact that we were required to make turns halfway up these wet rock faces while dodging trees, branches, and other riders, all the while keeping up our own speed so we didn’t flip over backwards.
In the next hole, I got so buried I believe I had a good 3-4 minute 3rd gear burnout going in the mud on what I think was either tree roots or rocks. There were, honestly, too many to tell. After gaining some momentum, I thought I was in the clear only to drop the front tire and really eat it good. I fought in this hole for what seemed like an eternity. I really thought I was going to be stuck there for good. I’m pretty sure this was the spot where I saw Chuck Norris crying like a little girl in the corner. This was not fun at all. I gave it everything I had to physically get the bike out.
Problem #6: the bike and myself weren’t going to make it out of the bog and up the muddy greasy rock face together. This is when I decided to stand beside the bike and hold the throttle wide open and then dump the clutch. The bike shot up and out of the mud instantly and ghost rode itself halfway up the hill. I felt really bad for doing it, but at the same time, that was the only way they (Husqvarna) were going to get their bike back.
The bogs and the wet roots and rocks got worse, and the amount of times I had to ‘send the bike’ without me grew. I’ve been hard on bikes in the past, but never like this. The bike was smoking so bad, I thought it was on fire twice. I was blown away with the way that Husky fired up time after time. It had been upside down, sideways, dragged up hills by the handle bars, and that damn thing still purred like a kitten.
I was halfway through the 3rd test when there was a huge line-up to drop down onto a bridge, then into a bog, and then up out of the bog on some super-jagged rocks. I looked over to see my old riding buddy Chris Castelo sitting with his helmet off. I was in no rush to fall off that bridge, so I pulled up and asked if he was OK. Turned out, Chris decided to run a stock tank on his Yamaha, and he had run out of gas. I looked down at my tank and I was barely under half a tank. Looking for any reason to throw in the towel, I chose to offer up some fuel.
Chris tore the hose out of his Camel Back and we hooked it to my fuel petcock. We then laid his Yamaha on the ground under my bike and transferred gas out of my tank into his. After giving Chris enough fuel to reach civilization, it was time to solider on. I think I made it one, maybe two, mud bog/rock faces deeper into the test when I ate absolute s#!t. I hit so hard, I instantly thought I had broken my arm or elbow. This was Problem #7, 8, and 9.
After laying in the wet moss for numerous minutes, I started getting feeling back. Along with the feeling came the realization that I still had to ride out of this damn bush. I was 100% over off-road at this point.
Leading into the race, a friend mentioned that it would be a cool idea for me to wear a helmet cam. Thank God I didn’t as everyone would have heard me sniffling and whining like a little girl. By this point, I believe I had picked up my bike more than I had ridden it, and I was hurting pretty bad. I had been passed by a vintage bike, a few senior citizens, and even a kid in work-boots and jeans. My pride was beat almost as bad as my body. But that darn Husqvarna TE 250 was still mint! I really don’t know how it still had both fenders and a seat on it. That has got to be the toughest bike I have ever ridden. I’m still amazed.
Anyways, I fought my way out of the 3rd test, to the first gas stop. If I wasn’t the last guy, I was pretty close. My mechanic Melissa was sitting on a rock, bored out of her mind, when I finally appeared. I wasn’t even embarrassed to throw in the towel, I actually felt relieved.
Problem #10: I was so far behind, everyone had left the first gas stop and headed to the 2nd stop. Melissa was left with my gas can, my goggles, and some food. I thought we were screwed. Thankfully, Shawn Pope and his son Bailey were still gassing up daughter Gemma’s RM85. After many minutes of rearranging the Popes’ truck, we finally had room for my Husky, my mechanic Melissa and myself. Shawn drove us to the 2nd gas stop, and we watched as the fast riders came in for a quick stop before hitting the trail again. I can honestly say I didn’t see many smiles, as the course was taking its toll on everyone.
We proceeded to another check point to spectate. While laying in the grass stretching out, I had an older women basically call me a pussy because her 60-plus-year-old husband was still competing. I agreed with her and told her how fair-weather I was, and her and her friends quickly agreed with me.
It was time to head back to the start/finish line as the riders were coming back for the final test of the day. The moto test was 3 or 4 laps around the gravel pit we had parked in. There were no real jumps, but it still looked like lots of fun. As I was getting changed, the top 4 riders started the moto test all together. I have never seen more bar-banging in my life! Yamaha’s Zach Lewis and teammate Brian Wojnarowski took turns T-boning and parking each other for a solid 10 minutes straight while the crowd went crazy.
After all of the excitement, it was time to head back to the home base at the Gooderham Community center. Many people tried to talk me into riding day 2, but I honestly had zero interest in it. Although ‘The Cord’ completely kicked my ass, I actually look back at it and think I had fun. The people were great. Everyone from the organizers, the volunteers running the tests, to the fellow racers and their pit crews and families. Everyone was super-nice and just so darn willing to help with anything. I can’t say that I’m willing to try to race it again, but the scars are still fresh. Maybe with time, I may change my mind?
None of this would have been possible without Billy and Direct Motocross throwing me under the bus… I mean, coming up with this great idea. Also, a huge thanks to Victoria Hett from Husqvarna Canada. Victoria set me up with a beautiful 2015 Husqvarna TE 250. This was the perfect bike for any off-road race. And I am still blown away with how great it worked and how tough it was. The bike came out of The Cord looking mint. Jeff Fullerton from Gamma Sales had me looking great in the new Fly Rockstar gear and JUST 1 helmet. I was very impressed with how the gear and helmet performed in the nasty conditions. Definitely give Gamma a look for your next gear purchase. Davis and Aaron from Mica Sport had my back, like always, with some amazing Scott goggles. I was the only guy running goggles the entire time and not fogging up. Last but not least, I would like to thank Melissa Munns for all of her help and Dustin Heacock for all of his great advice.
Will I try The Cord in 2016? At this point, I’m not too sure, but I really did have a great experience, and I’m probably dumb enough to say yes. Thanks to anyone else that made this possible, and maybe I’ll see you next year…