Endurance course tests dirt bike riders
Deep in the woods north of Akeley, 120 dirt bike riders tested their endurance Sunday on a grueling path no wider than a foot in places.
The 50-mile ride is one of two annually sponsored by ARMCA, the acronym for the nonprofit Amateur Riders Motorcycle Association. It is chartered as District 23 (Minnesota) of the American Motorcyclist Association.
ARMCA promotes dirt bike riding and the development of public trails.
Of the two annual Minnesota rides, one run is east of Highway 64, the other west. It's like motocross, only held in rugged terrain.
It's an amateur competition as fierce as any professional event.
Riders were tested by hills, mud, slippery conditions and unfamiliar terrain as they raced through the woods.
But the "D23 Enduro" event isn't a race, sponsors stressed.
It's a timed endurance competition. Riders go through seven checkpoints that are timed. They can be penalized for coming in too early or too late.
"We don't want anyone cutting corners," said timekeeper Paul Niedzielski of Southaven of the early arrivals.
Riders' helmets are bar coded and scanned at some of the checkpoints, especially the finish line.
It seems odd to have all this high tech gear in no man's land, but the stakes are that high.
And for a group of competitors that love to ride free in the wild, the bikers live by a strict set of rules and bylaws that governs their competitions. In addition to the Enduro rides, there are also flat track, motocross, hare scrambles, quad, hill climbs and open road events.
Season point totals are tallied up for an annual banquet to laud the winners.
But as a dangerous sport, it's also compassionate by mandate.
If you see an injured rider you must render help and stay with the rider until help arrives, said Joe Berscheid of Fergus Falls, a member of the Paul Bunyan Forest Riders Motorcycle Club that sponsored the Akeley event.
Such was the case Sunday, when a diabetic rider began having an insulin problem and needed medical attention.
Emergency rescue crews from Park Rapids, Bemidji and Akeley plowed into the forest three miles to render aid. Riders stayed with the unidentified man until he could be helped.
Riders who render aid are awarded "the average of their points per event earned for the season for the event in which they stopped to render help," according to the rules.
"We are concerned about these incidents but these are skilled riders," Berscheid said. For added safety measures the club sends riders out on the trails before the race to determine hazardous spots.
After the race, a team of "sweepers" rides the trails in case anyone has gotten lost or injured, Berscheid said.
Although the mud made the trails slick in areas, Berscheid said the cool Minnesota day was great for the competition.
Riders caked in mud lifted the safety glass on their helmets to grin at the finish line.
About all they could say was "Whew!"
Then they raced off to the showers.