Inside job

Today’s the last official school day of the 2015-2016 year so I’m sporting this “Thank You” tank for my ~90 of my freshman journalism students taking their final exam this morning, which is online and hasn’t crashed the internet, yet (yay!)

It’s been about a month since I’ve swung my leg over my motorcycle, so I’ve been taking a “sabbath rest,” in terms of riding, but I was able to knock out a freelance article – my first in a few months – which fulfilled me with a sense of self that I used to have and was missing. Ever since I started writing – I started riding before I could write! – I used to love writing in my diary about my epic dirt bike adventures breaking wrists and crashing. In high school, I developed my storytelling skills in Yearbook class and started learning about photography. Then in college, I started covering the dirt bike races for FLmx magazine and…the rest is history. Journalism has always been a way for me to connect my passion for storytelling with my love of the dirt biking community. I was reminded of this just the other day when one of my colleagues shared this inspiring Pulitzer.org story, “My family was my journalism school.”

Journalism rescued me from my fear of living small and disconnected, gave me a way to feel useful, and I came to understand how my family prepared me for the work.

Hammer time

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The only thing better than riding on Sunday could be watching supercross champion Chad Reed pounding out a few laps right in front of you. Sometimes, you “go ride” just to watch, especially when your BFF is leading the way with her man and their two kids under 3. I spent this past Sunday at Florida Track and Trails in Punta Gorda for the first time. The 1,000-acre outdoor adventure park, which opened last year, is a motorhead paradise and exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for, with everything from a floating trampoline in the middle of a man-made lake, a white sandy beach, three motocross tracks (pro, amateur and beginner), one-directional offroad trails and a drag strip.

I knew it was going to be a good day when my girl and I got to gate and picked up a different color wristband than everybody else was wearing. Score! Once the boys headed out, I started the longer-than-normal hike through the sand over to the track.

“You’re walking over there?” my friend asked. I wanted to snap some pics, even if I only had my phone camera.

There’s just something about watching one of the world’s top supercross racers dropping the hammer on a monstrous local track in The Middle of Nowhere, Florida. The best part was heading back to the beach afterward and soaking up some sun.

“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself.”

Silt up

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I guess I’ve been riding too much lately – 5 times in the last month – because I blew my bike up on Saturday at the WORCS race in Mesquire, Nevada. I entered the Women A class and was able to finish one lap in 10:52.926 – 2 minutes behind the leader’s 8:49.492 . The Women Pro class, which started with A on Row 1, turned sub-8 minute laps. So my first WORCS race didn’t count because I DNFed. But I came around the second lap screaming through the wide open silt bed of whoops – more than I cared to hit – and I was getting really good power, the motor revving a little high, and then I heard a loud noise, the rear wheel locked up and I coasted to a stop and white smoke poured out of the bottom hoses. I guess I got lucky because the bike didn’t lock up or launch me flying; it just sputtered for a few seconds and then stalled.

With a sinking feeling in my stomach and a knot in my throat, I tried pushing down the kickstart but it wasn’t moving, so I pushed the ol’ girl up against a tree and started the long mile walk back to the pits. So that’s what a blown engine feels like, I thought. Really depressing.

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Hard work playing off

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I love teaching but after yesterday’s tour around software giant Adobe’s 280,000-square-foot campus located just south of Salt Lake City, I was contemplating a change in careers all because of the amenities offered at the company’s four-story facility, which employs around 1,500 in one of the most flexible work environments – you can head down to The Bunker to play video games if you’re ahead on your work, organize a game of pool or ping pong with your colleagues or hit the gym like the true workaholics who bring a laptop down to the cycling workstation.

Touring the current building, just the first phase for Adobe as there’s plans for two more, I admired the rock-climbing wall, deluxe employee cafe and yoga room. The building, which is open 24/7 for employees, is actually two separate structures in case of a seismic event since Salt Lake sits on the active Wasatch fault; there’s almost a whole other building underground.

Along with flexible hours and kick ass amenities, the interior design is just as creative as Adobe’s suite of innovative programs, namely InDesign and Photoshop, and focuses on employee health and well-being with open “floating” workspaces, vivid colors and the least amount of doors and walls that encourages employees to interact and collaborate out in the open and not sit behind a computer in their cubicle all day. There’s a stellar 360-degree view of the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains from just about anywhere, providing another reason to use the stairs around the magnificent 44-foot tall floor-to-ceiling glass atrium. The biggest perk? A service desk for you to drop off your dry cleaning or schedule an oil change for your car, since these things can take away from your workday and Adobe wants its employees to be more effective in all aspects of their lives.

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JD talks about the 75-foot spray-painted mural courtesy of Los Angeles street artist El Mac.

The tour guides JD and Eric work in sales so who better to stoke up a group of high schoolers (and their teacher?) They gave us specific instructions to photograph anything but the “NASA wall,” a dashboard that monitors real-time Adobe analytics from daily hits, returning visitors, weekly and monthly visits. It looked super cool.

JD asked my group why these numbers were so important and when no one responded, I chimed in: “For sales.” Exactly, he said. “The customer is everything to Adobe…OK, why else would these numbers be important?”

Again, crickets.

“To know the audience,” I said.

Another correct answer. Go, teach! We moved on to another talking point and I hung back to ask Mike if those numbers fluctuate when there’s big news. He told me that sometimes the numbers will dive drastically; often they find out about news before the news breaks, like if Singapore goes offline and web traffic plummets, they know something’s happening. I asked if the goal was get to more visits, and while he said yes, it’s really a full-circle experience for the customer in trying to find out what their behaviors are, what they’re predicted to do next and how to better serve them and make more money.

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Interactive screens like this highlight real-time Adobe activity worldwide.
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Green space above the central server room.
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Adobe harnesses heat from the building’s computer servers to warm the atrium.
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Working at Adobe perks: secure parking.
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Editor’s on the Yearbook staff at Adobe for Yearbook Camp.

Supremely singletrack

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Another check off my bucket lust: riding in Moab, Utah.

I rode three times in two days over my Easter Break, hitting the most supreme singletrack and one of the sweetest trails I’ve ever seen. Camping off Dalton Wells Road offered a free and scenic spot in close proximity to this ultimate singletrack – the Sovereign area.

Rolling up the first section, I realized this was no beginner’s ride; actually, this was probably the most technical singletrack I’d ever seen and took all of my power not to die. This trail was world’s apart from the other two trails, which were mostly wider Jeep trails and although still technical, not too difficult for a strong rider – it was more scenic than anything (photo above.)

But this Sovereign trail was (terribly?) tough – a rocky ride through boulder fields, sheer drop offs, step-ups and switchbacks. It was a delicate balance of throttle, brake and clutch control and I thought, this is almost over my head, but at least it kept my interest. The trail, which was also open to mountain bikers, was deserted, thankfully. Surely, it would suck on a bicycle. I was going slow enough on my motorcycle!

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Disneyland of a course

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“It is an essential tenet of Buddhism that we can begin to change the world by first changing how we look at the world.” ― Greg Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Going into Saturday’s USRA desert race in Lynndyl, Utah (population 106), I felt nervous for my first official desert race of the year, which I thought would be a regular 35-mile race until it turned out to be a 35-mile loop that the leaders would round three times while I toughed two out on a tear for over 3 hours…my poor bike.

After the start, it was a free-for-all battle, and I worked to pass of all those (guys) in my way who were faster in the wide-open sections but slower than a snail and off the gas through the tight stuff. Once I was alone on the trail, I started to fly, riding the dangerous skinny ridge trails, across soggy, off-camber, silt-covered climbs and bar-busting, arm-bruising woods, sprinting as much as I could, knowing I was missing knobbies on my tires, fearing I was going to wad at any moment. But the stars aligned and I made no mistakes on the first loop, which brought me more confidence coming into the second lap.

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Post-race bruises

After the second of three check points on the second loop, the overall race leader lapped me, and I was inspired watching his rear tire wheel tap out of sight. Another leader caught and passed me, standing up the whole time. That’s about when the devil caught me, too: “Why are you doing this to yourself?” “This is torture!” “Why don’t you just slow down, or quit?” “You suck. You’re so far off their pace.”

I heard another four stroke in the distance except it was not approaching as fast. A few long, whooped-out straightaways later, I spot her W on the side numberplate and her long hair. The last thing I expected. I never saw her coming!

She passed me and pulled away as more guys caught up to us, leaving us in a pack while they worked passed. I kept her in sight, waiting fiercely for my window knowing I didn’t want to get beat. Once the desert sand sections ended (briefly), we got into another soft, soggy-bottom trail through these thick bushes, so I went for it, coming in hot behind her and setting up for a pass anytime soon. I’m not sure she realized it or cared because she didn’t try to out motor me. I skated by clean for a few more turns through the brush and then it was back into the whoops. I’m gassed at this point – some 65 miles into the race, so I tried holding on as long as I could, knowing she was back there, and she passed me a few miles before the finish;  I was 17 seconds behind at the end. The worst part was not knowing I was in the lead for those first 60 miles, since that’s just about the time I let off the gas. Lesson learned.

Results: I finished second in my class and 104th overall with a total two-lap time of 3:23:04, 17 seconds behind the leader’s 3:22:47, compared to the overall race leader Joe Wasson’s three-lap time of 3:19:58. (He finished three laps faster than I finished two.)

“to dust you shall return”

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I’m somewhat superstitious; at least with fortune cookies. I always eat it all before reading my fortune, which recently read: “This is a prosperous time of life for you.” 

I laughed loudly. Prosperous, I thought, was not having to worry about money, riding a born-in-the-last-decade dirt bike and flying to Palm-anywhere city for the weekend.

Prosperity is wealth and financial success; according to the dictionary, 1. “marked by success or economic well-being,” and 2. “enjoying vigorous and healthy growth.”

A few weeks ago on Ash Wednesday, the Catholic Lenten season started so I decided to give something up. This year, instead of giving up something like chocolate or sugar, I wanted to create space for something else (like God) to emerge by trying to see the good (the God) in whatever life brings me. I decided to make it a point to give up complaining, which I had been doing a lot of lately since I haven’t been able to ride that much this winter, and I’m not used to that having grown up in Florida where I can ride year-round. However, part of the reason I moved to Utah was to ride out west and grow in my faith by teaching at a Catholic school.

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Inside the Great Hall at my school.

So, this Lenten season, I stopped complaining. No longer would it be “too far to drive,” “not enough fun,” or “too slow.” (I rode three times in the past month for a combined total of about 2 hours, but who’s complaining?) 

In high school, unless I was grounded from riding my motorcycle or injured from riding my motorcycle, I didn’t have much to complain about. I just lived life to the fullest and experienced as much as I could. When you live like that, you get a lot done.

Life is why

Someone said a bad day of riding is better than a good day at home. Well, yesterday was one of the worst riding days ever. The plan was to meet at my friend Justin’s house at 10 a.m. “Try to leave by 10:15. Ride until sunset or until we are tired, go into Wendover for dinner, then head back to Salt Lake,” Justin wrote.

I checked the weather when I woke up – it was slated to be a perfect day – near 60 degrees and sunny with no snow in sight. I mixed some fuel and loaded up, got my bike in their truck and Justin, his dad and I headed out to Knolls. Pulling in, we noticed a lot of trucks and campers and Justin said he was “almost sad” that winter was over.

I mocked him, “No way.”

“Riding Little Sahara alone was fun,” he said, and I understood. 

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Looking down on the parking area at Knolls

After we parked, we geared up quickly before taking off down a long whooped-out sand trail heading south. I was riding behind Justin and in front of his dad, sandwiched in the middle, just like I like.

Snaking our way through the whoops, trying to find the smoothest line, the next thing I saw was Justin’s rear tire swapping right to left. For a second, it looked like he was going to save it but then the bike high-sided hard and crashed in a cloud of dust. I came upon him and his eyes were open but he wasn’t moving. Justin’s dad pulled up and dropped his bike. Something was terribly wrong. Justin was in a lot of pain and said he didn’t have any feeling below his chest.

Half an hour later, the University of Utah’s AirMed helicopter arrived to take Justin to the hospital. I stood in shock while the nurses and paramedics tended to him. I wondered why was this happening to us; we had barely broken a sweat. I prayed for him, for his dad and for me. By now, a group of people gathered around and offered to help get Justin’s bike and gear back to the truck. I kept thinking back to the last time I saw a helicopter landing at the track – after a friend crashed and broke his neck. I felt the same devastation that I did then, shaking to tears until a mutual friend came over to comfort me. “He’s alive,” I remembered him saying. “We can get through anything now.”

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Once the helicopter took off, I met Justin’s dad at the truck and we loaded up in disbelief of what just happened. We fought back alligator tears driving back to Salt Lake in mostly silence until his dad said: “I’d like to think that getting hurt, situations like these, freak accidents, puts things into perspective but they really don’t. Motorcycles are dangerous but so are automobiles.”

“And bicycles,” I said.

“My best friend in college died riding a bicycle,” he said.

We talked about how every time something tragic happens, everyone always says it’s time to throw the dirt bikes away but life is about adventure. So maybe stuff like this happens in order for you to act on some of the decisions you’ve been putting off. Because you never know.

You might as well do what you want.

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Ride or die

“Can actually ride”

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Sometimes you meet someone and you know within seconds of meeting them that they have a story worth telling. Well, that happened to me yesterday when I met up with a friend to go riding. After we loaded my bike on his trailer, a bright orange truck pulled up with two KTMs and I saw a girl driving but no passenger. She offered to let me ride with her and I thought, “Keep your friends close…”

I jumped in truck and that’s when I noticed this girl was driving with a prosthetic leg. Immediately I wanted to ask her what happened but I relaxed back into my seat for the 90-minute drive to Knolls Special Recreation Management Area: “Nearly 36,000 acres of sand dunes, hills, and mud flats located in the Great Salt Lake Desert.”

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Fresh desert air and 50-degree temperatures

For most of the day, I stayed behind her not knowing where I was going and she led us around last year’s desert race course, which was still pretty tough and beat up and thus made for excellent training. The snow was pretty much melted if soft in some spots, and we bushwhacked through the desert trying to avoid long sections of desert whoops. Across some of the flats, my little 125 was tapped out where she was only in third or fourth gear but I tried my best to keep up. When we got back to the truck, we talked for a bit about hitting the next race together. She told me she was thankful to meet a girl “who is cool and can actually ride.” I said, “My thoughts exactly.”

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Struggling to sweat

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“If you feel something weird, that’s good. If you feel something good, that’s weird.”

I’ve been having a hard time coming up with things other than bikram to write about since I haven’t been riding and I don’t do much else besides work. And, despite bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury’s recent sexual harassment lawsuit in which he was ordered to pay $6.5 million to his former legal adviser, I’m still a fan. In the last 30 days, I counted 15 bikram yoga classes and, while I haven’t really noticed any changes to my physical being, (I should have taken before and after photos), I feel a lot stronger mentally and more centered. It’s a lot easier now to keep my mind from taking over and remember that everything is temporary.

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The view from my classroom sure has changed
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The best thing about inversion is the killer sunsets!

Bikram is the hardest thing I’ve ever done besides racing enduros and hare scrambles in the Florida heat, and it’s been taking the place of dirt biking since there’s too much snow on the ground to ride anywhere around Salt Lake. Plus I can’t see myself driving 4 hours just to ride for 2. So, I’ve been sweating it out inside instead and I’m sad my 30-day challenge is behind me. My last class was probably one of my worst in terms of feeling like I was going to pass out, but the day before that, I nailed every posture. The best part of the challenge was having those 90 minutes all to myself in “open eye meditation” on my own body in the mirror. I learned something about myself every class and came to appreciate my instructors giving me small correction; I knew they could tell I was taking it seriously and trying my hardest.

“Smile. It’s only yoga,” they said.

It’s way more than that.