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Last Dog Standing | 2017 Race Report

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When I was asked, just a few days prior to Last Dog Standing, if I would like to race it, I immediately thought about the two hardest obstacles I had seen in videos of the race from the years before – the tire mountain and the K-rails. The pros had some difficulty with both of these obstacles, so I knew they were pretty challenging. I called one of our test riders, Michael Allen, who had raced Last Dog Standing a few times before. Michael reassured me that with my trials background I would be fine and that I should race the Lightweight Expert class, which limits the bike’s engine displacement to 250ccs and is the skill level class right below Pro. After Michael’s reassurance, I decided to give it a go and race. We didn’t have any two-strokes in our arsenal of bikes, so I opted for the Yamaha YZ250FX, which Michael had just returned to our offices after finishing up a Long-Haul test on it. I should mention here that although I have competed in trials most of my life, this would be my very first ever off-road race.

I showed up to Glen Helen about a half an hour before the rider’s meeting. I still had to adjust my clutch and brake lever position and prepare my goggles. Since I just started working at Dirt Rider about a month ago, I hadn’t ridden the bike at all prior to the race, but I was fairly familiar with the motocross version – the YZ250F. I parked next to a group of guys from AEO Powersports, who were all from Arizona and very friendly. One of them, Joe Bridges, gave me some advice as he had raced the year before. He recommended I take it somewhat easy in the first race, LDS 1, as it’s more of a GP-style course and I would need plenty of energy for the second race, LDS 2, which was going to be much more difficult. Additionally, the main purpose of the LDS 1 race was to determine starting positions for the second race.

The LDS 1 race began at about 9:00 AM and was to be one hour long. The Expert class racers started in the very front row on the start. It was a dead engine start, which I knew would work to my advantage with the electric start-equipped YZ250FX. When the green flag waved, I hit the e-start, dumped the clutch, and shifted as quick as I could. I came around the first turn in about sixth place and we headed up Mount Saint Helens and straight into the hills. We all quickly became immersed in a massive cloud of dust, as the dirt on this part of the course was very dry and composed mostly of silt. I couldn’t see more than five feet in front of me, so I proceeded with caution. The course wound back and forth through the hills and descended down into a creek and back onto the national track. From there, we ventured onto the trophy truck course and returned to the motocross track once again. The race lasted an hour and my finish put me in the 26th row for LDS 2.

The start of the LDS 2 race, which began at about 11:30 AM, was a staggered start with two riders beginning together every 15 seconds. The race was only to be one lap on the full extreme course. I lined up next to a guy on a Kawasaki KX250 and engaged in some friendly conversation before we blasted off the line and into the Talladega first turn. We navigated our way through the tire bridge and made our way out into the hills. Not two minutes into the race, we hit a massive bottleneck of approximately 30 riders at the base of a large, steep hill. I made my way to the front of the line and gave it a go. My same friend on the KX250, who I started the race with, gave me a good push at the bottom to help me gain some momentum as the base of the hill was super soft from so many riders attempting it previously. I held it wide open in second gear and made it to the top without any issues.

I made my way back down the hill and was faced with the tire mountain – the same obstacle that came immediately into my mind when the idea of racing this event was first brought up. In other words, one of the two obstacles I was most intimidated by. The tire mountain was undoubtedly the most difficult part of my race. The four-level tire mountain looked just as gnarly in person as it did in photos and videos. I clicked the YZ250FX into first gear and used a trials technique called the “doubl blip” to attack the first tire and successfully make my way on top of it. At that point, my front wheel was bridged across the other side of the tire and there was nothing filling the middle part of the tire, so I had to unload the rear shock and pop the clutch all at once to get my rear tire to the other side of it. Thankfully, I had done this maneuver countless times during my days as a trials rider, so I was able to do this without much trouble. It was at that point that two other riders assisted me in carrying my bike, one tire at a time, to the top. We lofted the front end of the bike to the top of each tire followed by the rear. Once I successfully made it to the top of the tire mountain, I navigated my way over to the EnduroCross section of the course, which believe it or not was one of the easier parts of the entire race! The EnduroCross section consisted of a firewood pit, a Matrix, and a large pile of dirt with concrete pipes at the top.

There was another EnduroCross-style section right after that, which was essentially a water hole with tires and logs in it. I made it through without any major errors. The last set of tires in this section was the most difficult part and I ended up getting some assistance from another rider, Alex Hernandez. I helped him afterwards to return the favor. After I made my way through that, I rode up a big hillclimb behind the REM track and came back down a tight, technical single-track trail. From that point on, the course essentially took us up and down every single hill Glen Helen has to offer.

The final hill of LDS 2 was by far the hardest. There were a couple of trials-sized rocks that were extremely difficult. Thankfully, there were a few Prairie Dog members there to assist us and give us water. I would like to extend a huge thank you to each of them for helping us because if not, I’m sure most of us would still be out there! I made my final descent down the same hill, which was steep and rocky. The rocks we had to ride down; they were unforgiving. I saw plenty of riders let their bikes fall down them and pick the bike up at the bottom. I had no intention of doing that if I could avoid it.

Towards the end of my descent, I came upon a double rock ledge that was undercut and had an immediate left turn afterwards, which didn’t leave much room to run out at the bottom. My friend Morgan Tanke was behind me and she helped me walk my bike down without me having to toss it to the bottom. I helped her in return and we both continued. When I reached the next checkpoint, one of the course workers informed me I had timed out and that I could go back to the pits. He also informed me that only 25 people of the 77 entrants had made it to that checkpoint.

I returned to my truck at 2:30 PM; I had been on the course for approximately three hours, which was well over the allotted one-hour time frame required to make it into LDS 3. I couldn’t imagine being able to finish that race in under an hour and racing LDS 3, a course that was even harder than what I had just done. After I loaded my bike up and changed into my street clothes, I stayed and watched the LDS 3 race, which only 11 riders were able to qualify for. I wasn’t able to see the entire course, but each of the 11 riders was able to make it up the tire mountain on their own without any sort of assistance. I could only imagine how difficult the rest of the course was. The finish line was three eight-foot tall pipes lined up next to each other. They were plenty slick as a few guys spun and fell off the side. Thankfully, each of them walked away largely unscathed.

When all was said and done and the results were tallied, I found out that I finished 4th overall in the Lightweight Expert class. Overall, I was very pleased with my result, especially since this was my first ever off-road race. I was completely exhausted on my drive home and was very sore the next day. As I write this today on Monday, I’m still pretty sore as well. The soreness isn’t from crashing, but just from the sheer amount of energy it took to make it over all of the obstacles. I was also very happy with my decision to race the Yamaha YZ250FX as it performed great for the entire race and took me over some of the gnarliest terrain I’ve ridden on a dirt bike to date. Originally, I wanted to race a two-stroke for how light and nimble it would be, but in the end, I feel the four-stroke was great because of the linear powerband and I have spent nearly all of my time riding dirt bikes in the past five years riding four-strokes on the motocross track. Additionally, the electric start was critical, and I would certainly choose the Yamaha YZ250FX over a kickstart equipped two-stroke any day.

The LDS 3 race was quite a spectacle. Cody Webb and Kyle Redmond battled in the beginning part of the race, but Cody was able to pull away in the latter portion of the race a bit. Watching both of those riders make their way to the top of the tire mountain was incredible. They each had a different line, but they both got off their bikes to push their bike over the top of the fourth and final tire on top. If that wasn’t enough, Webb came back to the tire mountain after the race and managed to ride up the entire thing without getting off of his bike. That was after a full day of racing no less. In the end, Webb took the win over Redmond. Noah Kepple rounded out the podium in third while Mike Aranda and Ty Cullins rounded out the top five, respectively.

Last Dog Standing 2017 was not only my first off-road race, but also my first ever extreme enduro. Extreme enduros are unique because you absolutely question why you signed up in the first place when you’re out on a never-ending course of pain and challenges and are totally exhausted, but when you’re done, you feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement knowing you just rode some incredibly difficult terrain. You also feel a sense of soreness in the days following the race – that too. Overall, I am grateful for the experience and glad I did it. It is certainly one I will never forget.