On track

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I spent Saturday at Tampa MX testing my new Six12 Suspension, putting in three 20-minute motos in 90-degree-heat and working myself to exhaustion, despite all of the training I’ve been doing during the week: before work, I’m up at 5 a.m. lifting in the gym or hitting the YMCA’s 6 a.m. spin class. After work, I’m back in the gym or running up to 5 miles as much as I can. But I was so gassed after Saturday’s ride, in which I barely burned half an oversized-tank of fuel, that I started thinking, maybe I’m over training?

“I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom.” – Thomas Carlyle

Then again, there’s just no way. Riding motocross is just that hard, and motocrossers make it look so easy. Plus, it’s hot and humid, I’m a woods racer AND I sit in an office all day.

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Going out for my first 20-minute practice, it was 90 degrees before noon, so I just took it easy, getting used to my new suspension and the few track changes. By the second moto, I took to the track and all of my worries went away; it was just me and the bike. I tried focusing on my form coming in and out of the corners, which is where I’m most comfortable, and being smooth through the apex. I managed to catch and pass a few riders who were jumping everything in front of me but then sitting down and off the gas everywhere else.

And I pumped up fast. 15 minutes in, my chest tightened up like my heart was going to explode or I needed a good cry or to throw up, or both, so I pulled off and headed back to my truck where I immediately stripped off my helmet, neck brace and jersey, giving me the shivers. How can I be cold right now, I thought? An observer pointed out, “You’re sweating A LOT.” Nothing new there, guy. I grabbed a banana and a water and walked up to the announcer’s tower where I watched the water truck make a few circles and tried not to think about my cramping biceps.

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After they watered the track, I decided to head out for one more moto, but I didn’t last long riding tight and expending what little energy I had left. I tried to ride relaxed, but there’s literally nowhere to relax on the motocross track when it’s turn, jump, turn, jump. Moral of the story: Train less, ride more! I’ve heard it my whole life: “There’s nothing like seat time.”

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Voices surround us, always telling us to move faster. It may be our boss, our pastor, our parents, our wives, our husbands, our politicians, or, sadly, even ourselves. So we comply. We increase the speed. We live life in the fast lane because we have no slow lanes anymore. Every lane is fast, and the only comfort our culture can offer is more lanes and increased speed limits. The result? Too many of us are running as fast as we can, and an alarming number of us are running much faster than we can sustain.”  Mike Yaconelli

Endless summer

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Today marks the official first day of fall as seen on today’s Google Doodle, but with temperatures expected to reach 90 degrees in Bradenton (with a RealFeel® of 107°,) it’s safe to say it’s an endless summer in the Sunshine State.

14435317_1315930005119054_981066000862438694_oThis past weekend, I spent more time on the water than I have in the past year. It all started under a full moon around 5 a.m. on Saturday when I met my friends at the marina for a day of deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

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We headed out to the first fishing spot and dropped anchor. Offshore about 20 miles, we ran into some steady winds and rougher-than-I-would-have-liked seas, which made me feel seasick and nauseous, something that I’ve never before experienced on a boat! My friend told me, “Keep looking at the horizon,” and that seemed to help.

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After a few hours of catching nothing but bait fish, we moved to a second spot some miles away, which was thankfully tranquil with little to no wind – so much that it felt like we were baking in the boat – and we opted to jump in the ocean to cool off for a second. It’s always scary swimming for too long when they’re chumming the waters…

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Easing into Egmont Key State Park

We ended the day with a swim at Egmont Key State Park, which is accessible only by private boat and “primarily a wildlife refuge, it can be a personal refuge – a place to relax and collect shells along secluded, pristine beaches.”

During the 19th century, the island served as a camp for captured Seminoles at the end of the Third Seminole War and was later occupied by the Union Navy during the Civil War. In 1898, as the Spanish – American War threatened, Fort Dade was built on the island and remained active until 1923.

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View of the 580,000-square-foot Feld Entertainment Studios on the Manatee River.

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Marvelous monotony

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This time last week I was driving home from my race in South Carolina with second-place-wood from the 64th annual Little Brown Jug Enduro by Greenville Enduro Riders after Round 2 of the SETRA Enduro Series in Buffalo, South Carolina. Out of 272 entries, I finished 139th overall and second in the Women class with a score of 84, which barely edged out third place’s score of 89.

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Watching the start before my race

The turnout was huge for an enduro, especially one right after a hurricane, and I imagine the storm scared more people away. Too bad because the club laid out a killer course, and I heard “best conditions ever” from more than a few people. The overall race winner, Steward Baylor, scored a 41. The top 9 finishers all came from the AA or Pro classes, but 10th, 11th and 12th place went to riders in the 50A, 40A and 45A classes, respectively with scores of 52, 54 and 54! Talk about getting better with age. For the record, the Women’s class winner finished 46th overall with a score of 65.

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Row 47 for the 2016 Little Brown Jug Enduro
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On the starting line with row 47

The race started us right into the tight stuff – is this a pattern? – and I was thinking, “Well, it can’t be any tighter than last weekend.” Wrong! Just about every corner I found myself having to brake slide into a corner just to make the turn, let alone get around it without a mistake; thanks, Pops, for making me hammer out those figure-8s for hours in the grass when I was young.

The tight woods kept me on my clutch and brakes, even though I tried to ride a gear high like it likes. I remembered to note that I must practice more riding fast standing up through the never-ending bar-bangers with lots of terrain changes; I sit down too much through that stuff.

After 7 miles of ups and downs, tighter-than-ever turns one after another and a really rough rock garden that kept me on two wheels, we came to the first reset and I was thankful just prying my hands off of the handlebars to relax my frozen fingers. Coming into the race, I read that the club was “virtually out of arrows,” which made my row assignment of 47 way better: a late row meant the trail would be worn in/out by the time I saw it, and most of the roots and rocks exposed. We had about 15 minutes to “rest” at the first reset and I checked out the score on my row buddy’s scorecard. I was only 2 minutes off of his pace – an Open A rider – not too shabby. With only a handful of faster riders behind me – most of the A riders scored early rows – I didn’t have to worry too much about getting in anyone’s way.

We hit the second section where the dirt turned out to be perfect with fast flowy tight sections – check out Keith Mitchell‘s video – by far my favorite part.

I rolled into the pits at the gas, lucky to have my dad and his lady pitting for me, and was handed a cold towel while Pops AKA Pit Dog refueled my bike and checked it for dents – none, yet! I took a seat in the shade and enjoyed a fresh peach while I recapped the first 25 miles of the day, complaining that I didn’t have strong enough brakes or? Pops enlightened me that a bigger/heavier bike just means it takes that much longer to brake – that sucks! He adjusted my brake lever and I was off.

After the gas, the woods darkened so much under the tight tree canopy that I thought it was going to rain when there was no rain in sight. Coming into the second-to-last section, we hit a creek crossing – well, it was more like a river with all of the rain of late – and I couldn’t tell where to go, so I just pinned it across to the bank where a deep rut stopped me in my tracks and I dumped my back half in the water. Thank God there were two or three boys spectating nearby because I yelled out to them, “Help! Help!” in my girliest voice and they came running over, grabbing my front forks and helping me up the muddy bank. Thanks, dudes!

After that, my gloves wet – hated – I could tell I was getting tired when I started ping-ponging off of the trees instead of fitting between them. One eventually took me down and my hand crashed into a rock, which hurt like hell and almost ended my day, but I knew there was only one more test after this one, so I kept hanging on, which was hard with the whole palm of my right hand throbbing and ruining my concentration.

At the last reset, the course worker told us that this was his “favorite section,” (of 13 miles,) so I said a prayer for my hand because I so wasn’t looking forward to it. But after some more tight trails mixed with a few good and fast sections, my prayers were answered when I crossed the finish line without my legs cramping once! I wish I could say the same for my fingers…

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Dog tired

Workers recovered more quickly from the demands of their working lives if allowed to indulge in hobbies in their free time.” – A man and his hobbies

Racing sure makes going to work the next day more enjoyable. Until next time!

Brutal blast

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I raced the first round of the 2016-2017 SETRA Enduro Series near Gainesville on Sunday and won my class, finishing 57th overall out of over 200 entries. My score of 70.33 was nearly three times the top finisher’s 24.46!

On the first ~30 loop, I dropped 8:45 at the first check,  14 at the second and 11:48 at the third; the second time around the same loop, I dropped a 9, 15 and 12 – the good news is my second loop was consistently slower than my first! The days leading up to the race, I did nothing but work and eat – no working out for at least three days before an Enduro, especially since I wanted to push it; it was brutal on the body and it felt good.

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What felt even better was doing everything myself, which isn’t the first time I’ve done that – thank God my dad taught me that I can do anything – but a brief bout of loneliness did hit me on my drive home; I wanted someone to bench race with – my “road dog” just wasn’t cutting it sleeping in the passenger seat. I didn’t need help loading up to get there or waiting in line at sign up, getting the cooler ready, fixing myself a snack at the 20-minute-goes-by-too-fast gas stop; the only time I really needed anyone was loading up my bike after it was all over. (“You can kick our asses on the trail but you can’t load your own bike?” they joked.) I did luck into finding a friend group to pit next to so I wasn’t technically alone – thanks to my bestie and her hubbie’s friends who welcomed me with open arms and a seat in front of their fan at the gas.

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Voting for a less-than-60-mile trail at the riders meeting

I talked to people everywhere I went, got chatted up by old friends at sign up: “how’s your dad?” – moto moms at the riders meeting: “be careful out there!” – strangers at the reset who started a few rows behind me, caught up and passed me: “You must smoke all the other Women riders. You’re fast.”

On to the race…gearing up Sunday morning, I heard someone say, “If the FTR guys say it’s tight, it’s going to be tight.”

The first section was so tight that my arms pumped up pretty much right away, and I couldn’t feel my brake or clutch fingers until the first reset around mile 7. I always wonder why they throw us right into the tight stuff from the get-go; why not let us warm up on some sweeping open sections for a few, but I digress. Just getting through that section was a win, and I lost 8 minutes.

I’d wished I had my camera at the first reset right on Lochloosa Lake with a nice breeze coming in through the trees. I removed my helmet, goggles and gloves and took a walk with Mother Nature, letting the wind blow through my already soaking wet hair.

The second section was even tighter in spots with a lot of bar-bangers, one of which took me and my left handlebar to the ground faster than I could think about correcting anything. But my bike started right up and I took off again, my fingers still sore and cramped up between my levers. I stalled it more than a few times just clutching and braking so much; did I mention I lost my rear brakes way back there and my stock front brakes just weren’t enough to stop me from blowing a corner (or 5) and ending up in thick brush. As the miles passed, I started learning how to lug it in second gear coming in and out of the corners when I’d normally wanted to be in first riding my 125 that I couldn’t lug anywhere and had to stay on the pipe at all times, but the 250 two stroke actually likes it better in a higher gear.

After the second reset, we hit the third section, which was rumored to be a bit more wide open and fun, if a little choppy (like crazy Supercross whoops chop,) but at least the first part of the third section was sweet and fast without a lot of whoops. Of course, that’s where all the fast guys caught up to me because they were going super fast…I tried getting out of their way as fast as possible, not wanting to mess their race up. Plus, everyone I passed was equally nice in letting me by.

Scott Gawler passed me once and I swear he went around a corner in the air! Lol. Flying through the whoops. Impressive while I was just trying to keep it on the trail. – Matthew McPhail

Break! After almost 30 miles, we had about a 20-minute “lunch” at the gas, which was just enough time to refuel, change goggles and gloves, smash a banana and pour some Powerade into my CamelBak so it was almost half and half. I don’t know if that’s what made me cramp later because I usually don’t drink anything but water when I’m racing and I usually don’t cramp, but it has been over year since my last Florida race.

On the line for the second loop, I noticed three of the five on my row never showed up again. Within a few seconds to the minute that I was to go – the rain started to fall, soft at first, and what a blessing; it cooled me and the woods off, coating the trail with a nice (if slippery) layer of traction; I don’t know how I would have survived the next two sections of literally the roughest, tightest trail in recent memory without it.

Hitting the third section for the second time, I remembered something I heard that morning from at least three people telling me, “Watch out for the stumps,” and not to get off the trail in the clear-cut sections. Well, it’s really tempting when you see this beautifully-smooth, untouched trail next to this terribly-worn-out path before you, and you just know it’ll get you where you want to go faster, but it could have a stump (or 10) hidden somewhere. So, do you take the chance? I say so, until one time I hit something so fast and hard that I had to pull a Jack move to save it and one of my arm muscles cramped up randomly. Another time I hit one coming through the clear-cut and the rear came around on me and I had to nearly hyper-extend my hip to keep from crashing.

That was right around the 45- or 50-mile-mark, when my body hit this wall of exhaustion, making me have to brake with my whole hand and alternate riding on the side of my seat because my ass was toast.

When it was all over, I sat for a few minutes with my friends to talk about the race, hearing that I “rode good today,” and I “impressed” them, grateful for the many things that my new bike does better than my 125, like wheelie over random logs in the middle of the trail and how it sinks into the soft sandy corners so I wasn’t fighting the front end all day like normal.

I stopped by to check the scoreboard before leaving and ran into another friend who asked me what I dropped.

“70,” I grimaced.

He smiled. “I dropped that and I didn’t even finish.”

Finishing was a victory.

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Granted greatness

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I took for granted riding both days this past weekend at the same spot; with Croom’s more than 2,600 acres, I don’t think I hit the same trail twice (at least not on purpose.) It’s one thing to complain about Florida that there’s not a lot of areas to ride but, like one of my riding buddies said, “If that’s the worst thing we’re doing pretty good.”

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Spider patrol on Saturday
I spent Saturday tearing up the trails with my friend of at least 15 years and his Pops, who used to battle years ago with my dad in the Old Fast Guys class. We got to the gate by the time the park opened at 8 a.m. and I thought we would be the only ones there, but a few other diehards showed up early to try and beat the heat. We played follow the leader with my friend, and later his dad, always leading the way (on spider patrol.) Dodging vines, Pops snaked us through the brush, saying he was trying to “stay off the trails,” which are mostly worn and whooped out. At one of our breaks, he said, “Man, you ride the s**t out of these woods, girl.”
Mission accomplished. We rode until noon and then I headed to Orlando for a quick visit with the mother before waking up bright and early Sunday and heading back to Croom for day 2.

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Sunday started off with a long warmup ride with my girl who I used to urban bicycle ride with; she showed up to ride my 125 and get some seat time in, having just started riding dirt bikes (at the ripe age of 48!) I was grateful since I can’t ride both of my bikes at once and the 125 needed to run; plus it’s always cool to see a girl on a bike. She kept apologizing for being slow but I told her not to worry and that I was proud of her – she was a natural with great form from all of her years of racing stand-up Jet Skis and riding mountain bikes. “Smooth is fast, remember,” I told her, “Fast is smooth.”

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Me and Cathy at Croom.

After Cathy left, I met up with some of the fast guys who are racing this weekend’s enduro – my first race of the year – and we hammered out a few laps around this tight, marked trail. Taking a breather at one of our breaks, I heard them echo, “You’re fast,” talking to me.

“That’s all I needed to hear,” I joked.
“I bet you crash a lot though,” one of them said.
I smiled. “Crash or win.”

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
– Charles Dickens

Real freshie

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Posted up at Tampa MX

I’ve traveled a few hundred miles since my last post – from shooting photos at Tampa MX two Saturdays ago, driving over to Barneys St. Pete to sign for a brand new YZ 250X, hitting Croom last Sunday to break her in, back to Tampa MX on Wednesday to ride practice (and shoot more photos) and then up and back to North Carolina this weekend visiting my dad and riding at Brushy Mountain Motorsports Park in Taylorsville, NC.

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Heading west in North Carolina

I’m still figuring out how to ride my new bike fast, which is set up a little differently than the regular YZ 250 with an 18″ rear wheel, softer suspension and a wide-ratio transmission – did I mention it comes with a kickstand, too?

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It’s also a hell of a lot more power than my 125 ever was, so what better place to practice than on a wide open motocross track? Plus, that’s the only place I have to ride after work during the week and it turns out that riding motocross, I’ve realized, is good practice for being present and keeps me more in the moment than riding off-road, and that makes me try harder, which means I can barely last a full 20-minute moto. In the woods, I’m used to riding for hours just zipping through the trails – sometimes half-assing-it through the parts I don’t like, but that’s not the case with motocross; it’s harder to hold on once your hands start tingling and your chest heaves with hurt like never before – you really can’t relax anywhere on the track. I can’t remember ever breathing that hard in the woods, unless I was crashed out on a hill and had to pick myself and my bike up.

Motocross is a different kind of hurt (now I know why they say motocross is the second-hardest sport after soccer!) It’s more about action; you’re always thinking ahead to avoid the chop: I need to go outside in this corner to set myself up for the best line over the next jump. In the woods, it’s more about reacting to what’s already in front of your tire, and that’s always changing.

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Now, if only I could figure out how to rail those corner ruts since, coming from offroad, I’m used to largely ignoring the ruts and looking for the smooth trail, riding the edges and crisscrossing over whoops. On the motocross track, you have to find the ruts for traction to turn. It’s a different kind of riding altogether.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

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Riding home

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Before pulling up to the Croom Motorcycle Area this past Sunday, I would’ve bet the place would be deserted as temperatures climbed toward 90 degrees before 9 a.m. But as I stood in line at the gatehouse waiting to renew my OHV permit, I saw that the price increased from $60 to $80 for the year and realized the CMA is still the best training in town, open 7 days a week with 2,600 acres and miles and miles of natural rough terrain. At the window, the park ranger called me a “lovely young lady” as I paid for my 2016-2017 sticker, which made me smile since I was wearing a baseball hat and no makeup. Driving down to the day use area where most of the dirt bikers park, I recognized a few bikes right away.

“What are you doing here?” one of the guys asked as I parked. 

“I’m home now,” I told him and we chatted for a few minutes as I geared up.

In the woods later, I passed a few bikes and quads including a father/daughter duo coasting down the trail. I started doubling whoops I would have normally rolled and realized I could combine the technical skills I gathered while riding out in Utah with the speed I needed to blaze the 26-inch-wide mostly flat Florida sand. Then I remembered I was still running hardpack tires, which I decided were really good training in high-speed sugar sand. The best part about Croom, even though I grew up riding these same trails, is that it always feels like returning home. I’ve ridden in several states, from Utah to North Carolina, New York and Nevada, and there’s just something about being in the Withlacoochee woods. I finally get to be myself, even just for a few miles. 

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – George A. Moore 

Work well

I survived my first Monday at my new job and celebrated my one week anniversary on Tuesday. It’s been a quiet start so far in what’s being called the “off-season,” since Supercross, Arenacross and Monster Jam are off, (but I did just start seeing Monster Jam copy coming through.) If the entertainment world is anything like racing, there’s no such thing as an off-season – we’re always working on something. The production team has been super helpful getting me caught up to speed while offering me a warm welcome, spanning from 5 feet away to two cubicle aisles down, or across HipChat from Illinois at the former global headquarters. So, in between learning the in-house CMS and memorizing all of the brand abbreviations, I’m keeping a custom .doc handy of the most common legal disclaimers along with a daily spreadsheet of the jobs I’ve completed – it’s helpful to know the volume and which piece I worked on. I’ve also started a list of ideas I have for creating content…but more on that later.

The work is meaningful and can get pretty intense once I’m in the rhythm – it seems like there’s this endless queue of tasks – but I get to set my own pace and that’s one of the reason why I love copy editing: I’m never at work wishing I was somewhere else; I’m always where I am, just focused on the ferocious hunt. It’s a lot of checking and re-checking since, as one of my colleagues put it, “It’s kind of against our nature and our job to completely trust what we did before.”

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One of the perks of my new position, besides all the moto swag and feeling valuable, productive and busy at work, is the prime location, which is 4 miles from my downtown Brandenton apartment and less than 8 miles from my best friend from high school’s house. It’s nice to have an after-work workout buddy and even better when her fiancé, who also works with me, joins us, so we get to talk shop sometimes, too. Just the other night he was called to announce the new Ringling show, “Out of This World,” not “the same old circus,” and caught the next flight to Los Angeles. “Good thing to have on your resume,” I told him, to which he replied, “I don’t plan on working anywhere else.” Same.

Being in the circus is not just a job, it’s a culture- a way of life so deeply ingrained in most of the performers they have no desire to ever leave. This culture is free of detachment, laziness and mediocrity, and bursting with collaboration, precision in all the things and heartfelt appreciation for their audience. – 7 Values We Can Learn From the Circus.

On with the circus

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One of my off-road racing buddies now working as a motorcycle stuntman commented on my new job assignment, “Welcome to the circus!”

Pulling into the global headquarters for my first day on Tuesday,  I stopped before a security guard who confirmed my name on his sheet of paper. “You’re the last one,” he told me. I was still at least 5 minutes early. “Perfect,” I said and we caught smiles. He told me to drive down to the next stop sign, which involved pulling into a tight circular turnoff. “You sure can drive that big ol’ truck,” the second guard grinned. I told him my name and he peeled off my nametag sticker. On I went to visitor parking and then to the lobby where a friendly receptionist confirmed my name before offering me water or coffee. I declined, still staring at the #1 on the jersey of a replica Ryan Dungey and KTM hanging from the ceiling, and found a seat near the door by another new nametag. Everyone walking in smiled in greeting. Then I recognized my supervisor who stopped to shake my hand and welcome me to the team. His energy excited me, along with everyone else’s; it’s fun to go to work. The morning’s orientation included videos with a variety of visuals and footage from the circus, ice skating performances, monster truck shows and Supercross and Arenacross races. Naturally, I felt drawn to the racing action with epic shots of big air and crashing or bloody noses (during the safety section).

Our near mile-long walk around the facility toured rehersal halls, another dirt bike hanging from the ceiling, office spaces and a showroom with thousands of costumes organized by shape, size and circus. 

The tour ended through the mechanics’ shop with dozens of monster trucks in various stages of production. “They share everything but the engines, which are built in North Carolina,” our tour guide told us. I imagined walking through a similar fleet of race bikes one day. ❤

New news

The Duke

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve accepted a proofreader position at Feld Entertainment, Inc. and will be relocating back to my home state of Florida in the coming weeks. I am extremely grateful for the chance to teach journalism in Utah and even more thankful for all of the amazing people I’ve met – from students to teachers, friends and riding buddies – and all of the experiences I’ll never forget.

“Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself.” ― Alan Alda

To kick off my last few weeks in Utah, I’ve been riding as much singletrack as I can in the Wasatch and Uinta mountains including three days straight at three different spots with three different groups of friends. Then, I spent Sunday at Ogden Cycle Association’s Hot Springs Raceway for Round 3 of the Wild West Series crouched down in the middle of the motocross track shooting photos of friends for free. Ride or die.