Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blast From The Past

Today I have decided to give you all a blast from the past.

I have only been blogging for a short time, but my love for writing has been around for years. For those that don't know, I graduated with my B.A. in Communication and was obsessed with anything extreme sport related. My dream was to be on T.V. and interview riders for the X-Games. I was writing for my local newspaper covering some prep sports and occasionally, any extreme sport competition that I could get my hands on.

Here was a piece I did when I went to learn how to ride a dirt bike. My boss thought it would be great fun to have me go try different extreme things and then write on them. I was the only girl working in the sports department. I sometimes miss it, but when the baby bump came along, I knew that it was not my time to be jumping on any dirt bikes, surfboards or anything else anytime soon. My priorities were a changin'!

Anyways, enjoy! To read the article on the website click here. ♥

Rolling in the dirt: Our thrill-seeking writer boards a dirt bike and leaves the training wheels behind

PAUMA VALLEY - "Have you ever been on a dirt bike before?" Bonnie Warch, one of the certified instructors with the Coach 2 Ride program, asked me on a recent Sunday morning.

"No," I said, "only quads."

"How about a street bike?" Bonnie inquired.

"Can't say I have."

"OK, well is your truck a stick shift?"

Once again, my answer was no. But Bonnie was undaunted by my inexperience.

"No problem," she said. "I'm putting you on the Honda CRF 100."

When my fascination with the desert started in high school, I began taking trips with friends who were more than willing to hand me their oversized helmets and let me take their quads (also known as four-wheelers or ATVs) for short runs. Going from quads to dirt bikes is like going from a tricycle to a bike without the training wheels.

I was at the Amago Sports Park in Pauma Valley to finally take off those training wheels. I had driven past the park many times on my way out to Ocotillo Wells, unaware that it existed. The park is open seven days a week, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. for a $20 entrance fee. It consists of three different experience-based tracks.

This is where the Coach 2 Ride program bases its weekly classes, teaching people of all ages safe and responsible dirt bike use.

I had joined five other students to learn how to ride a dirt bike. Andrea Beach, another certified instructor with the program, started pulling out buckets of riding gear, helping each of us get fit in proper attire. As we started suiting up - everything from pants and jerseys to riding boots and helmets - we all buzzed with anticipation of the day ahead.

One student, 53-year-old Karen Thompson, finished dressing and jumped out of her car yelling, "Born to be wild," imitating the Steppenwolf classic. We all laughed as she broke the silence.

Karen had brought her daughter Kate, 19, and Kate's boyfriend, Brent Briscoe, 22, from Poway for the class. Also joining us were Tiffany Brown, 34, who drove down from Santa Monica, and Crystal Gordon, 28, of Temecula.

Since we were all novices, Bonnie and Andrea started with the basics, which began with a bike inspection and led to simply turning on a manual bike. The morning cold forced us to use the choke to get the bikes ready to go.

Bonnie and Andrea helped us kick-start them the first time, showing us the proper procedure. Then we all mounted our bikes.

Look at that face! LOL!
In neutral, I gave the throttle a little test of its power and was impressed by the sound of the four-stroke engine. The hand throttle seemed a lot more powerful than the simple automatic thumb throttles I had been accustomed to on trips to the desert.

Shifting into gear

Now that the bikes were warmed up, the next step was shifting. As one of the only students in the group unfamiliar with shifting techniques, my inexperience was showing even more.

Andrea explained each step, and Bonnie demonstrated on her dirt bike. It was the perfect learning tool. We started with small drills in first gear to get a feel for the power and grow more comfortable with the shift down from neutral.

It seemed easy enough. Hold the clutch with your left hand, use your left foot on the shift pedal to click down into first gear and apply a little power on the throttle with your right hand as you ease off the clutch. Not as easy as Bonnie made it look.

When I clicked my foot down and tried to slowly let my hand off the clutch, the whole bike shut off. I had stalled.

Andrea came to my aid, helping me get the bike back in neutral and kick-start it again. I was determined to get the shifting down, and after a few more failed attempts the process became effortless.

We moved on to more drills around the course that Bonnie and Andrea had set up for us with cones. We learned proper braking procedures and how to shift into second gear. We drove around the course, changing from first gear to second and back down. Andrea would signal to us to keep our arms up and chins forward. She didn't want us to leave with any bad habits, and I liked that. It was almost time for our first break in the five-hour class.

"So do you all want to go on a little trail ride?" Andrea asked.

We were all for it. It was time to use the skills we had learned on different turf. The group formed a line of bikes behind Bonnie and took off around the sports park while Andrea took the rear. I felt confident riding past groups of people, knowing that only a few hours earlier I had never been on a dirt bike - never mind that I was having an absolute blast.

Following supercross and freestyle motocross for years, I never imagined taking part in a sport in which I was so fascinated. I was stoked.

With my confidence soaring, I decided to kick it up a notch and put my Honda into third gear. The power felt great, but spotting unstable dirt ahead I decided to bring it back down.

Stall can't erase smile

Maybe I was getting a little too cocky. After about an hour of riding, just as I tried to smoothly change gears, I stalled again. As my bike came to a halt, I could feel the stares from experienced riders who had come out to use the park for the day. I immediately was thankful to be disguised in the helmet and goggles and oversized jersey for my 5-foot, 1-inch frame. I got the bike back in neutral and kick- started it back into action, which seemed to take an eternity.

I returned to our meeting point and parked my bike. Looking at the faces as we pulled off our helmets, it was obvious that we were thoroughly enjoying the class. Despite the embarrassing stall, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

As we took a break and fueled up on snacks and quenched our thirst, I was curious how the other students had discovered the class and what made them decide to try it. I found it fascinating that some had traveled so far to take the class. They made my 45-minute trek seem like nothing.

Crystal, from Temecula, had heard about the class through the Girls Learn To Ride program that features girls-only action-sports camps and clinics.

"I have been wanting to transition from quads to the bike," she said. "I never knew how to shift and I would run into other people."

After the morning lesson, Crystal was pleased with the program.

"I'm feeling more confident now," she said.

I couldn't agree more. Itching to get back on the bikes, we re-fastened our helmets.

Training takes a turn

The second part of the class consisted of learning to turn while standing up and transferring our weight.
We practiced figure eights to learn the proper techniques. Bonnie and Andrea showed us exactly where to place our arms and hips to complete a successful turn.

It wasn't long before I started realizing that this riding stuff isn't just a leisurely activity. It takes a lot of strength. My forearms were starting to burn with the constant pressure on the throttle. I developed a whole new respect for the riders. I knew my body would be feeling it for the next few days, and it did.

As the class was ending, we made our way over to an on-site pee-wee track. The dirt track had a few jumps and sharp turns that we all felt ready to conquer.

For some reason, even knowing I was on a pee-wee track and watching 8- and 10-year-olds fly by me, I was proud of what I had done and felt very educated on riding as a whole. I left with a feeling of satisfaction and an eagerness to do it again.

Quads are now a toy of my past. I learned to ride a dirt bike.

- Contact staff writer Heather Zeman at

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