Working vacation

I found myself on a redeye flight to Orlando last Wednesday for the National High School Journalism Convention at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel.

And, since it’s already 30 degrees and snowing in the Salt Lake valley, I knew it wouldn’t be too terrible coming home to 90-degree weather, sunshine and palm trees. In the past as a professor, I traveled with my students to conferences in Atlanta and Miami, but college students are adults, so this is my first time accompanying minors to an out-of-state event, which is a bit nerve-wracking, in addition to finding a dog sitter – thank you, student – submitting substitute plans for two days of school that I’m missing – I miss you guys! – and making sure I bought gum for the flight, which was one of the worst flights EVER due to a screaming baby; I barely slept a wink.

Fiesta’s face every morning when I tell I have to go to work


Looking west at the Oquirrh Mountains

Driving east to the Wasatch Mountains

We arrived in Orlando around 5 a.m. on Thursday to pick up our minivans, my hair instantly frizzy, and drove to the 7-bedroom house we rented just minutes away from Disney World. It was some of my student’s first time in Orlando, so I made sure to prep them about the high humidity and daily afternoon thunderstorms, which never happened.


One of the parent chaperones and I hit up Publix to stock up on groceries – always a must whenever I come back to Florida. After that, it was off to Disney World where we hit 3 parks in one day with the park-hopper pass, starting at the Magic Kingdom, stopping by Hollywood Studios (formally known as MGM?) and ended our night at Epcot. By then, I was wired and could not fall asleep until midnight having been up for more than 40 hours.

Main Street at the Magic Kingdom


Front row on Splash Mountain
The Tower of Terror was closed due to “technical difficulties”
Christmas in November at Hollywood Studios
Epcot lit up at night

Friday kicked off the first day of the convention and I was excited to arrive to the Dolphin Hotel having not been since the last dirt bike banquet a few years ago.

Arriving that morning, I walked into chaos with more than 5,000 high schoolers trying to find the desk to check-in, where to find coffee and what session they would attend first.

I picked my first session on online teaching tools and was saddened to find out there was no wifi at this convention because apparently it was too much money – I heard something like $30,000 for just the speakers to have internet access, which is absurd. In 2015, I think it’s a reasonable expectation for wifi to be provided at a journalism conference. I was not happy.

One of my favorite sessions was using your device for video journalism

“The only way to stay and get to be a good producer and creator is to constantly create content.” – Don Gable of Ladue Horton Watkins High School talking about how he continues to stay relevant in his field by producing videos.

Strip it down

I woke up Sunday morning without any plans to go riding or enjoy my last chance to “get it found” before another work week begins, so I headed out to Jordan River OHV State Park in Salt Lake, which has two motocross tracks but I was more concerned with the 3-mile offroad loop I’d heard about. Pulling in, it was obvious that this was a moto crowd as I noticed jacked-up trucks and flat bill hats everywhere. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb with my stock wheels, bark busters and yellow number plates. Nothing new…

I felt nervous unloading my bike in front of everyone and could not remember the last time I went riding by myself. It’s usually a no-no where I’m from because if you crash while you’re out riding solo in the woods and no one knows where you are, you’re good as gone. I assume it’s especially important not to ride by yourself in Utah where a stupid mistake on one of these really epic trails could end your life without a trace.

“If she’s lonely now, she wont be lonely long.”

Once I geared up, I took a ride around the one-way trail, which was all flat singletrack and pretty choppy hardpack with some tight and sweeping sand corners. It was fun finding my lines as I had the trail to myself and made two loops before pulling off with cramping brake and clutch fingers.


I came back to the pits and sat on my tailgate watching all the families and friends together and felt lonely as ever with no one to talk to or bench race with. It hit me like a ton of bricks but I tried to remember that loneliness comes when you forget that God is with you.

The next thing I notice is a guy walking over to introduce himself: “I saw there was a girl out here riding so I had to come say, ‘Hey.'” Suddenly, his friend appeared and I was the center of attention again, answering questions about Florida, why I moved here and how I like it so far. I no longer felt alone, thanks to my new friends at the dirt bike track.

Crash or win

Sunset at Sam Boyd Stadium.

There’s a story for every time someone says, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The cliche sums up how you take a piece of Vegas home with you (if you ever get out of there) – you never lose Vegas. Just like you never lose memories of the perfect someone coming into your life – your “person” – and the two of you are so incredibly amazing together that you cannot imagine life without them. But nothing lasts forever, right? The honeymoon has to end sometime. So you enjoy the moments, you consume life and you enjoy every single second until it ends. Knowing nothing lasts forever actually intensifies the need to be in the moment and experience everything. The end actually brings some security.

Driving south on Interstate 15 to Nevada.
Good morning from the Stratosphere Hotel.

So, I added another Supercross to the list, but this time I wasn’t alone, unlike my last trip to Vegas five years ago when I went for the first time during my last grad school semester at Syracuse. It was supposed to be a girl’s trip but the other girl bailed so I made it a pre-graduation gift trip to myself and hit the strip solo, which was not as bad as I thought once I was surrounded by dirt bikers.
This time in Vegas changed the game completely. First, I rode passenger on the drive there, instead of looking out the window seat flying across the country. Driving through Utah to Arizona and then Nevada was breathtaking as was the view from the top of the Stratosphere Hotel where we stayed. The event itself included an active and engaging pre-show including a best whip contest with famous freestylers flipping high overhead. During the race, I watched from the sidelines clinging to the hope that everything I wanted would come true, including James Stewart’s comeback three-moto sweep. Well, not even close. He crashed out of the first race, never to return. Maybe next time, Vegas.

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On top of the world

Three amigos overlooking the Wasatch Mountain Golf Course.
Three amigos overlooking the Wasatch Mountain Golf Course.

Another perfect weekend riding both days in Utah’s Wasatch State Park, which is pretty much on top of the world. We started out on Saturday by meeting up with a fellow female rider who showed up to the gas station decked out in pink Fox gear. While we filled up on fuel, I noticed another car pull up to the pump next to us and a guy wearing a FMF hat peeled a gas tank from his front seat. Only in Park City do people drive around in cars with dirt bike gas cans, I thought. Come to find out the guy was planning on riding at the same spot later so the threesome became a foursome – the more the merrier, right? ”

Once we pulled up to the campground, I started gearing up while we talked about what kind of trails we wanted to ride. Once the guy from the gas station showed up, it was time to go so we headed up the main road to the first trail, which is a rocky, rutted out mess but all uphill and lots of fun if super sketchy in spots.

After a few miles, the trail ends at an intersection of roads, so we decided to ride another road to the singletrack. Or at least that was the plan. I was starting to hate riding the roads and feeling bad for winding out my motorcycle – she’s not used to it – but if that’s the only way to get where we wanted to go, I had to deal. Usually, any time I’m on my motorcycle is a good time, but with 10 to 20 miles of road ahead, it was starting to get old fast. So, we got to the singletrack, I took off in the lead and rode a few minutes before I realized no one was behind me. I killed the engine and waited…not a sound. No one was coming, which was strange. Turned out, the other female rider went down and her bike was unable to continue. So, we circled back and when I pulled up next to her, I noticed a piece of her clutch cover as well as the water pump cover was missing. “Woah!” I said, more disappointed that we now had to figure out how to get her back to the truck without ruining our day. The other guy took off on his own, while we followed our friend down another road to the nearest trailhead; she coasted the whole way.

We lucked out and ran into a forestry officer who volunteered to give her a ride back to the truck so we wouldn’t have to ride two up since we were dozens of miles away. Then it was time for Jon and I to hit the singletrack, which we did before going back to the truck to check on our friend. We called it a day after that and made plans to ride again tomorrow.

Sunday morning came and we pulled up to the exact same spot only this time the parking lot was pretty much empty – that’s riding in Utah on a Sunday. I was excited to see the guy from yesterday pulling up as we unloaded since he said he knew where to find the best singletrack.

It only took about an hour to get there, riding road after jeep trail and more roads. We ran into traffic at one point when a group of Jeeps were literally crawling through this sweet section of rocks and I wanted to scream: “Get out of the way!” and make them move myself. Patience is not easy when my adrenaline’s pumping and I’m rarring to go tear up some trails only fit for a dirt bike. We passed them with a few choice words and were on our way again when we came up behind a line of side-by-sides and UTVs – even worse! They stopped in the road just talking, and I almost ran into the back of the last one. More words…

We finally reached the singletrack and it was well worth the wait. There’s just something about the woods here – it’s like the Tim McGraw “On Top of the World,” song says:  “Any way you looking, it’s a hell of a view.” It’s hard not to look down and out across the valleys when you’re riding, but you can’t take your eyes off the trail for fear of falling off a cliff you could never return. The other guy lead most of the way at the beginning and stopped to walk a short uphill section before we or I decided as a group that it was too risky to chance it, and if there’s any doubt, don’t do it. Looking back, I know I could have done it and was mad for turning around. I assumed if we had just come up here without walking it first, it wouldn’t be a problem but the longer you wait to do something, the harder it is and I know seeing it beforehand psyched me out. Oh, well.

There was plenty of more trails to conquer and we ended up around 10,000 feet across from Mount Timpanogos “sitting on top of the world.”

“…Holding on to heaven.”

The rest of the day, I managed to baby my rear brakes, which desperately need pads and keep my ass off the ground except once or twice. I remember before one particularly gnarly downhill, the other guy turning to me and saying something like, “You’re going to want to be careful in the next section. It gets pretty rough,” and I wanted to laugh. “We’ll see,” I said, knowing I had been training for trails like this for more than 20 years. Plus riding my 125 was a breeze, and I knew what he meant to say was that he needed to be careful because he was riding a heavy thumper, and I was right behind him every time he turned around.

We rode until the sun set, swapping the lead, twisting throttles and stopping for pictures and/or to chat with other riders on the trail. A moment came later sitting down at dinner to recap our epic ride. That’s when I heard what I’d been waiting for him to say all day, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Well, I’ve ridden with a lot of girls all over place but none of them ride quite like you.”

I must have blushed. “Thank you,” I told him. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

New rules

I raced an Enduro last Saturday in West Wendover, Nevada across hundreds of thousands of acres of public land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. By sunset Friday, driving through a bleak and desolate western Utah, I captured this image of the Bonneville Salt Flats – about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide – mostly underwater.


After a pit stop in Delle, Utah – with bumper stickers like “I’m on a highway to Delle,” and “Welcome to Delle,” – crossing the state line, I knew instantly that I wasn’t in Utah anymore. The town of West Wendover is home to a handful of different casinos and has that glitz and glam Vegas feel that’s so obviously missing in Utah where there’s not even a state lottery. I digress.

Heading to the white spot of campers off in the distance to start the enduro.

At sign up on Saturday morning, one of the ladies working for the club hosting the enduro flattered me by asking if I was signing up for the Junior Girls class. “No,” I told her smiling. “Do you have a Women A class?” One of the men spoke up: “No, we just have Women B and C.”


Great, I thought and signed up on row 32. Then, with key time being 11:30 a.m., that meant I didn’t start until 12:02 p.m., so I waited almost 3 hours for the race to start and by then I almost needed a nap. Around 10:30 a.m. the club hosted a riders meeting to go over a few rules for the majority who said they had never ridden an enduro before. I lumped myself into the first-timer group having never ridden an enduro out west before and not understanding their scoring system. “Basically, you can take as much time as you want during the transfers,” one rider explained to me. “They only score you during the test sections,” which is unlike the East Coast enduros where everything is counted and you have to be on time at each checkpoint. Out west, you only have to be on time at the start of each loop; at the tests, you just line up and they mark your time when you start and once again at the end of the test. So it weeds out the people on your row and allows you to really ride hard during the test sections and take much-needed breaks at the transfers. The only part I didn’t like was how easy the test sections were compared to the transfer sections with tight and technical rock washes and uphill climbs that didn’t count if you cruised through there unscathed. Naturally, the only time I crashed was during a test section, and both times due to a downed rider who was in the fast line and forced me to a rough outside line where I crashed. I lost at least 5 minutes in the second test when I came around an off-camber corner and saw a rider stuck down in a ditch. Guess where I ended up? Down in the ditch with him…I had no way out except to launch my bike up over the ditch and back onto the trail where I found my groove and managed to keep it on two wheels for the rest of the race. I came into the end of the last test just 18 seconds behind a fellow ponytailed rider who had started 15 seconds ahead of me. She ended up winning our class by more than 2 minutes and I finished second less than a minute ahead of the third place girl, so how’s that for some competition?


“Desert dumb”

I entered my first desert race last Saturday, which was unlike anything I’ve encountered in my 15+ years of racing. First, we were racing on a Saturday, my first in Utah, which is predominately a Mormon state, so just about everything is shut down on Sunday, including the race track, unlike Florida where we just about only race on Sunday, except for Bike Week or special night races like the Pumpkin Run fun runs. In Utah, races are Friday night and Saturday. It was tough waking up early to go racing Saturday after working all week and nice at the same time knowing I would have Sunday off for a change.

I signed up for the Women amateur class without a Women expert class option, and showed up to the starting area confused about everything from the location of my row, rules of the course, length and distance. I knew, from walking the track prior to the start that Endurocross obstacles awaited me right after one lap around the motocross track. Then, it looked like the trail went off into the cattails and whooped out around the freestyle ramps used in Nitro Circus at the Godfrey ranch, before snaking around the dragstrip and asphalt roundy-round to the chicane.

Over the wood pile
Over the wood pile

The landowner said it best, when asked how long was the course or how many laps he thought we would run. “I don’t know. I’m desert dumb.”

Trying to find traction
Trying to find traction
Riding it out!
Riding it out!

So, I waited for the green flag, holding my bike in front of the motocross gates on the last row of the amateur and expert afternoon race. I spotted another girl and assumed she was racing in the women’s class, too, but she said she signed up in the 250 amateur class with all the guys because she likes the competition.

Confidence built, I still just wanted to have fun and not crash. The riders meeting was called to the front of the first row, which made it impossible for me to attend because I had no one to hold my bike or a kickstand. Most everyone there had a kickstand, I noticed. About five others couldn’t attend or hear the riders meeting, either. After the others returned, I asked one of them: “They say anything important?”

He hesitated while getting set on his bike. “Hot engine start. You can go around the obstacles but you might get docked.”

I nodded thanks and focused my thoughts on staying smooth. After all the rows left, the women and all the leftovers started in a pack of about 20. I found midpack and tried to stay to the right as I warmed up around the first lap of the motocross track and into the obstacles where people laid out on the ground left and right, and bikes passed me coming bonzai into the rock section, airborne without a rider. I snuck around the obstacles and managed to stay upright for most of the first lap and only slid out once trying to get around this Honda rider.

Trying to get around this guy...
Trying to get around this guy…

That’s the worst thing about desert racing: the dust. Well, it’s actually more like a silt, and it’s slicker and pushes more than sand, so it took some getting used to. Add in trying to get around slower moving riders and the challenge becomes more like a hassle. So, I lasted about an hour of that before I pulled off with a hard dirt ring around my mouth and no more fun left out there for me. I finished 5 laps on a 6 mile course and was scored a DNF 😦…but my lap times would have put me in first in my class and also ahead of the other girl, but who’s counting? 😍

Consistent if nothing else
Consistent if nothing else

Never surrender

Today marks the official start of the third week of school at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah, even thought it’s only the second calendar week – the four-day block rotation means I only see students four days a week, instead of 5, and allows me at least one daily plan period, instead of teaching 6 classes back-to-back. On A and B days, I teach five classes and on C and D days, I only have four. It’s nice to have a break in the middle of the day like today (an A day.) On B and C days, I have first period prep, which I’m using to make sure my lessons are in order for the day. Then, on D days, I have two prep periods, so there seems to be just enough time to have everything prepared in between classes. I’m excited teaching journalism at the high school level and I’m always happy to see them; I’m doing my best to learn all 143 of their names and personally greet them when they walk in my classroom. I want to earn their respect and remind them constantly how important journalism is to our democracy.

Tell the young high school kids keep dreamin’ because they sure do come true. – Drake

In the middle of class yesterday, as we were discussing the differences between hard and soft news stories, I pulled up a story about the brush fires in Utah and noticed a red breaking news banner across the top of the website about the shooting death of two journalists in Virginia. I was just trying to explain how new stories are written with different tones, and there I was standing in front of ~30 9th graders staring at the TV in stock. I was not prepared for this teachable moment to come so soon, and I thought to myself, “This is getting to be a dangerous profession,” but I couldn’t just tell them that. I reminded them that we have a duty to report the truth and went home to prepare today’s lecture about the freedom of the press. We talked about government interference and how photographing is not a crime; we talked about the BBC reporters who “were reporting from the scene of the crash when they were told by police to delete their video footage.” I was happy telling them their rights as a journalist and how sometimes, police can (unlawfully) interfere with your reporting and threaten to confiscate your materials. And, if you don’t obey their orders, they can have you arrested (which then becomes a story in itself.) But, back to the First Amendment and the freedom of the press: “We have to know and defend our rights as journalists. Would a police officer hand his gun over to you if you demanded it? Your camera is the same as that officer’s gun. You never surrender it. Ever.”

Collecting moments

I almost dropped a few tears at Friday’s faculty retreat when my colleague ended her story on the history of Juan Diego with a personal anecdote about working with foster children whose parents have been detained at the Mexican border – sometimes for up to 5 years without a court date.

It wouldn’t be the first time I fought back tears that day.

It all started the moment we were asked to pick a partner or someone we wanted to get to know better (or knew nothing at all.) There I stood next to my colleague who I’d met months before when I flew out for my interview; I’d wanted to pick her but my gut said that was too easy, and she picked the teacher standing next to her before I could say anything. For a moment, I wanted to cry; it reminded me of being the last person picked for the flag football team in grade school. In a moment, my friend said, “Pick Sister. She’s super cool,” and in a moment, I knew that’s what I needed to do.

Sister, who teaches theology, and I rode the school bus together to our destination and talked about caring for our students and how we can live “bravely” and “boldly” this year. We spent the rest of the morning learning about Juan Diego – “the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas.” Then it was our school principal’s time to talk about the history of Sam Skaggs – a well-known Utah businessman and benefactor who donated the 57-acre campus also known as the Skaggs Catholic Center.

What’s interesting is that Mr. Skaggs converted to Catholicism at the age of 72 after serving in World War II where he witnessed the “compassion and generosity of Roman Catholic chaplains during the war.” This ultimately lead to his conversion. “It was always the Catholics,” Dr. Colosimo said. Tears. 

The retreat ended with an interactive lesson on the Juan Diego seal (or logo or crest or symbol) and the meaning behind each of the elements. A few faculty spoke about the importance of the school’s mission of “Spiritus Donorum,” and as I looked around the room, I noticed grown men rubbing their eyes; one lady said to  please excuse her if she cried. I turned around to see my colleague and fellow new teacher’s eyes big, wet and red and I understood this was where I belonged.

God really outdid Himself with this one: this is how it’s supposed to be, I thought, or at least how I’ve always envisioned it. It’s a world where I don’t mind working so long as I can contribute to the greater good of my community. I am grateful to finally feel surrounded by people who live the way I intend to, giving as much of themselves to the students, each other and to life/God/whatever image for you is God. Honestly, the Catholic church is the last place I would have thought to find what I’ve been looking for but, looking back, it should have been the first place I looked.

“Be strong and of good courage.”

Riding Fivemile Pass OHV Area outside of Lehi, Utah yesterday reminded me how much stronger my right (brake) hand is than my left (clutch) hand. The terrain at 5,300-feet was mostly wide open (read: boring), and rocky. Some spots required all the front brake I could grab bulldogging the bike down a steep hill, locking up the rear brake and putting to use all my years of delicately balancing my mountain bike. When it came time for one of the uphills, I stalled my bike – obviously, I can’t clutch as good as I can brake. After 10 miles of dusty desert jeep trails, which is fun for the side-by-sides and ATVs, I decided I would rather hike, it’s so scenic. Plus, I’m not sure riding there makes me a better rider, either. I was more concerned about dropping my bike and denting the pipe again. I did manage to ricochet off a sage bush and scratch my arm so I must be the only person who can ride in the desert and still run into a tree. Score!

Last Friday I attended the new faculty orientation for teachers in the Salt Lake City Catholic Diocese and I learned a lot about the history of the Catholic Church in Utah and what it means to teach at a Catholic school. For one, when a student tells me something terrible happened in their life, I have the right (and privilege) to say, “I’ll pray for you.” Words like “morals,” “peaceful,” “nurturing,” “patient,” floated around reminding me of my greater responsibility with this job: Utah is celebrating 140 years of Catholic education. “This is a small town in a big city,” someone said, and it’s true. Of the 16 schools in the Diocese, I’m teaching at one of 3 high schools and, while it is not a requirement to be Catholic in order to teach at a Catholic school – in fact, more than 25 percent of teachers are not Catholic – it is encouraged to uphold the Catholic values of caring for each other as relationships are at the foundation of what it means to be Catholic. But it’s not just about being Catholic; it’s more about our commitment to the service of educating the “whole person” and helping prepare student leaders to go make peace in the world. I can jive with that.

“Prayer should come with a disclosure: if you pray, you will change.”