Mile-by-mile account of the highlights and low comedy of the most spartan of cycle-sports. Related by Cycle’s new West Coast Editor, and Winner of this very event, Dave Ekins. Originally appeared in Cycle, October 1967
Gorman is a seedy gas-station town situated in the mountains between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. An earthquake nearly reduced it to rubble fifteen years ago, but there is still enough of it to serve as a gathering point for the start of 1967’s Greenhorn Enduro. Key time for the start was a yawning, eye-rubbing 6:00 AM, and precisely on the hour, the first four-rider group set off-to is followed by successive groups at minute intervals.
Having drawn #18, my starting time was 6:18. Jack Krizman was also in group 18, by previous arrangement. Jack is a tough veteran of these desert events and we have been riding Enduros together for the past four years. With us, too, was Ed Romas, another experienced rider who always seems to finish. Billy Roberson was the fourth member of the group, and as I had never ridden with him before, I was curious about how long he would last. Roberson was on a Harley-Davidson Sportster, Krizman had a 360 Maico and Romas rode a 250 of the same make. My bike was a 100cc ISDT Replica Zundapp, and my problem was (it seemed) to keep pace with the bigger mounts of my partners.
At the end of 26 miles came the first checkpoint, where we were still together and on-time. Then, off the pavement onto a desert road, with a 24 mile average to hold for the next 13 miles. And I was treated to a real sandblasting as the Harley and the Maicos disappeared up the road. They didn’t stay disappeared very long, for the road turned into a rutted nightmare that was a horsepower equalizer. I caught Jack in this section and we started racing—which brought us into a secret check too early. Motoring on, we shouted obscenities back and forth to work off our mad at having collected penalty points.
Another speed change, and onto fast trails with a 20 mph average to maintain. Jack and I were running along behind a Ducati when the muffler came off, flipping high into the air and landing behind us. The Ducati’s rider realized that something was amiss, saw what it was and turned back to recover the detached muffler. Others had not been so aware. The Greenhorn trail was littered with canteens, mufflers, license plates and other hardware.
Another check, and back on a road with a 24 mph average indicated on the instructions. Jack, Ed and I had stopped, trying to figure our position, when the Harley-Davidson with Billy Roberson aboard came roaring past and disappeared into the distance. On down the road, we passed the intersection where the Sunday course crossed the Saturday course. Some riders were confused and went the wrong way here; it would have helped if different color arrows had been used to mark the way.
After the Willow Springs fueling stop, we came upon a course marking that could not be missed. Heading up into the mountains, the trail led into a canyon and became a steep, rocky path. I was leading the group, standing on the pegs and wound-out in 2nd gear when a really awful stench reached my nostrils. It was the course-marker: a cow, several days dead, with a red arrow painted on the carcass to point out the way.
Speed change #6 brought us to a nine mile average down the side of the mountain. Here, I fell off the Zundapp and caused much embarrassment for myself and some entertainment for the other riders behind. But somehow, Ed, Jack and I all reached the check at the bottom on time.
Then a 24 mph average for 14 miles of relatively good road and another nine mph mountainside, where I slithered down in style, feet on the pegs, and passed all those who had just blown past me on the fire-roads. After that, it was another 24 mph average through 21 miles of dry river bottom and sand washes, finally into Cinco, for the lunch stop.
An hour and 16 minutes later we left Cinco, with full stomachs and high spirits but missing Bill Roberson. I never did find out what happened to him-but there wasn’t much time to worry about it. The course led us up a steep trail that would have been hard going for four wheel drives jeeps or tanks. The Maicos leaped ahead, showering rocks back at me as they drove for the top. I was using low-gear and full throttle, making just enough headway to keep my balance.
At the top of the mountain, the trail turned right and plunged straight down-over a thousand feet down in the first half-mile. Engine dead, fuel-tap turned off, in low-gear with the clutch pulled-in, I proceeded down the hill. Using my feet as outriggers and brakes, I tried to maintain the 24 mph average. Here the “Zuny” zapped by the larger machines being bulldogged down the slope by weary, perspiring riders. Despite everything, I was 3 minutes late into the check at the bottom, but Jack and Ed were only half-way down when I left the check.
Speed-change 11 brought fast mountain fireroads and a realistic 30 mph average. Jack got carried away, and stormed into a secret check some 3 minutes early. Two minutes later I rolled in and Jack asked me “where the hell have you been.” Somehow he had passed me without knowing it, and had been riding furiously trying to catch up.
Shortly after that Jack punctured a front tire, and as Ed volunteered to stay behind with him, I zipzapped off across the desert headed for the next gas-stop, where there were Cokes and sandwiches. They looked very good to me at the time. My partners arrived about 5 minutes late, but had time to replace the front wheel.
The same 24 mph average was given for the final 48-mile leg of that day’s riding. Ed Romas’ Maico refused to start, and did not do so until Jack and I were five minutes further down the trail. Jack’s front wheel change made his speedometer inoperative, so we were riding on the information provided by the Zundapp’s speedo-and that was not any too accurate. But we made it over a mountain of broken lava and hit two checks reasonably close to schedule before the trail leveled and headed for Ridgecrest, the overnight stop. We hit the last, secret, check a minute early, but I was too worn-out to care. 216 miles were behind us, and we three bone-weary riders went off for a hot shower, food, and not nearly enough sleep. The first day was over, another longer day was going to follow.
That “longer day” began early. We rolled out of bed at 4:30 AM and went down to the start area to join all the other tired and aching bodies dressed in smelly day-old riding clothes. We joined the others, too, in faking an eagerness to continue. Ed Romas had, in addition to all the expected aches and pains, an exhaust-pipe burn on his leg, so he decided to forego the day’s fun and games. Jack and I left at 6:18, on schedule.
Within 5 miles after leaving the start, we came to a hill of broken lava that had motorcycles tuck all over it. I chose a path off to the right about 50 feet and pretended I was Sammy Miller. Sammy might have “cleaned” the hill, I had to “dab” 3 times with my foot, but made it over the top. Jack was less fortunate and needed two tries.
Good desert trails from there, and the 24 mph average would have been easy but for the morning sun shining in our eyes. Nevertheless, we hit the day’s first secret check on-time. The first schedules check was at the top of a hill and I raced to build momentum for the climb. The momentum carried me part way, and then it was time to downshift, and downshift again, and again-and then climb-off and push the last 20 feet. Jack’s Maico had gone up the hill like a rocket, and he sailed into the check with a big smile-only to find that he was a minute early. I virtually pushed in, puffing and wheezing, and hit the time right on the button.
More desert trails and a few more secret checks. A 20 mph average down a dry river bottom was too much for the Zundapp and I was late at the next speed-change check. Jack had already gone through and was charging off across
Across the valley, and up within a hundred feet of the summit, Jack was stopped with a dead engine. The headlight had rotated around and caused a short-circuit, melting insulation on the battery ground-wire and causing a lack of sparks at the plug. But it is easy to switch the Maico over to a kind of direct magneto ignition, and Jack waved me on; he could fix things without help. I didn't need much urging, as I had less than 5 minutes to make it into the next control. The course, just over the summit, led down into a paved road, and I changed from Sammy Miller into Mike Hailwood. Tucked-in, in top gear and running wide open at an unbelievable 52 mph, I swooped through the curves trying desperately to get to the check on-time. I made it with 30 seconds to spare; Jack came through 5 minutes later.
After getting Cokes, food and encouragement from our pit crew, we left the Red Mountain area and headed out toward Cinco. Well used desert trails now, and a 24 mph average for 52 miles. We had to ride off beside the trails to avoid the ruts and conserve ourselves and the motorcycles. This section was easy and uneventful, and we made the checks fairly well on schedule. All but the last secret check. We had become bored, and started racing-which brought us into the check a minute early. This time we were too tired to be mad or even exchange the usual insults.
At the last turn before Cinco we came upon a Hodaka with its front wheel folded back against its engine, and a Matchless somewhat the worse for an encounter with the lightweight. They had collided out there while rushing along in opposite directions. One a PMC club member working the event; the other a boy who should have been playing elsewhere.
By the noon stop in Cinco, we had covered 331 miles all told. The 55 minute rest period was long enough for muscles to stiffen; not enough to get rested. And it was rumored that what was to come was the worst yet. And it was. We hadn’t covered 10 miles before we came to this horrendous hill, motorcycles all over it. I stopped and let Jack have a go at it first. He blasted the Maico right over the top, catching 1st gear just before the crest and did a wheelie out into the clear. And there I sat with my mini-toy. My approach was magnificently simple: flat-out in low-gear until all motion stopped and then push. At least I tried to push, but would not have made it without assistance. A man from North Dakota, whose Triumph was stalled sideways on the hill, came over and helped me over the top
The bike may have been stopped by the hill; the clock was not. There was still that 24 mph average to hold, and after the delay, I had time to make-up. But not as much time as I made-up. Jack had just gone ahead, and hit a secret check two minutes early. I arrived a minute behind him and a minute too soon.
Another mile, we hit speed change #17, which marked the beginning of a six-mile stretch at 18 mph. This trail round through thick brush and proved to be a disaster for many contestants, as they were jabbed, poked, and picked right off their bikes by sturdy branches reaching out in the trial. All this and a 1000-foot climb. The Zundapp, which is tall and narrow, was ideal here, and I worked my way up, dodging branches and fallen riders all the way to the top. Right past the top was one more diabolically-place secret check, where I was logged as being 4-minutes late. Jack? He was still playing in the bushes.
J.N. Roberts, who is probably faster than anybody in the desert, had gone through the check just ahead of me and I went racing down the mountain after J.N. and his flying Husqvarna. It would be something to brag about if I could catch him and there was the added incentive of a 30 mph average to be held through this section. But we soon reached some fireroads and Mr. Roberts disappeared in a haze of dust.
Another secret check, where I looked at my watched and found that I had Zeroed, which made me feel great and being by nature a smart-ass I told the checker I was the only guy who made his check on time. Smirking, he informed me that J.N. had been there-on time.
Off I went, still trying to hold the average and not get lost, for the wind had come up and the lime marking the trial was getting thin. I caught J.N. three times as he doubled back trying to find the course. The last I saw of him was when we started pounding up the Willow Springs Mountain, which isn’t too difficult o get up, but becomes a nightmare going back down the other side. The slope is steep, and the surface is broken shale, which means that one mistake will get you numerous cuts and bruises.
I was the second rider to arrive at the Willow Springs gas stop, and could enjoy a full 20 minutes or rest after refueling. Jack came in several minutes late; it seems that the top of his carburetor kept unscrewing. A good tightening with “Channel-Lock” pliers cured that problem, and we set out on the final 56-mile leg with a 30 mph average to hold.
The last leg started easy. So easy that we were a minute early at each of the first two checks. Then the organizers sprang a surprise, and the trail led us off into the sand dunes. The dunes are tiring to ride anytime, and after 400 miles they were pure agony-especially on my 100 cc “trail bike.”
By the time I got out of the dunes I was late, and heading down the fast trail that followed, I hoped to make up some of the lost time. It was not to be, for the trail soon led to trouble. A monster hill loomed ahead, and the lime went right over the top of it. In many tries, I had never been able to get a small bike over this hill, but I had to do it now. It would have been easy to detour around, but it seemed certain that there would be a secret check just over the crest. So I charged the hill, and quickly ran out of steam. There was nothing to do but push, and push, and then push some more. I reached the top completely drained of strength; heart pounding and lungs on fire. And there was no check. The trail went along the top for about 100 yards and then dropped down to join the main road. I was very late at the last secret check, and charged for the finish at Gorman knowing that it was all paved and I could make up time. That, too, was not to be. Knowing that there would be some wild road-racing on that last 20 miles, the organizing club cut the road short, ending it where the pavement started.
So ended the 21st running of the annual Greenhorn Enduro. No cheers, and no wreath for the winner because nobody knew (then) who had won. They only knew that it had gone on a long time and that they were terribly tired. Later, however, it was all sorted out. Out of 280 entries, there were only 70 finishers, which is an indication of how much the event demanded.
When the first results appeared, I was pleased to find that I had finished 3rd overall with the little Zundapp. Especially as there wasn’t anything smaller than a “500” all the way back to 15th place. But then came the recheck of the results, and I was absolutely astonished to find that I had won the event outright. Bob Steffan, who was first listed as winning, moved back into 2nd and another 650 Triumph, Dick Dean’s, was 3rd. Then came Cal Bottum, on a 441 BSA, with another 441 Beeper back in 9th place. All the rest of the first 10 were on 650 Triumphs. And my Zuny ISDT “trail bike” beat them all, which probably proves something but I’m not sure just what it is.
-- Dave Ekins