Record Year

When I heard about the Seat Time Adventures ride a few months back, a weeklong vacation 8,475 feet high in remote Colorado Rockies that this year would be catered toward a technical singletrack rider, I immediately applied via Instagram and an online form to describe my riding experience, comfort level and reasons for wanting to attend.

Impressed by the seriousness of the overall event summary, including a warning note to discourage beginners, I vowed that if I was selected to attend, I would scratch all of my previous plans for the summer and blow all my savings if I had to in order to join the group on its third-annual trip.

Plus, once I educated myself on Seat Time and its mission to have more fun riding dirt bikes, I wanted to help spread the stoke and, who knows, hopefully encourage more females to ride (and buy) off-road.

Over the course of the next few months I was accepted on the ride – thanks, Brian! – and learned I would be the only Florida rider and the only female to boot, along with what ended up to be 5 other riders, including a former professional BMX racer who has been coming to this spot for longer than I’ve been alive, a handful of locally-ranked A riders, a film crew and chase vehicles, all of whom hail from Texas, except for my new friend and travel buddy Clay Stuckey of Sherco Offroad.

In the midst of all of this planning, Nicky Hayden, the Kentucky Kid I always looked up to, passed away unexpectedly while bicycling in Italy, which sent a shock through the industry. People talked about hanging it up and quitting racing altogether; this loss was too tough to stomach for some, but Nicky wouldn’t have wanted his death to stop anyone. He would just say, “Let’s get it.”

When I left Florida last Friday after work, I wondered what this trip would bring. I arrived in Tennessee to Clay’s house on Sunday night, after a layover at my dad’s house in Western North Carolina for a last-minute lesson in rock riding at the Brown Mountain OHV Area. Clay and I hit the road Monday and completed the nonstop 19-hour drive (mostly he did – I logged about 600 of the near 2,000 miles.) We pulled up to the Tomichi Creek Trading Post in Sargents, Colorado around 5 a.m. my time Tuesday morning feeling ripe for a nap.

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One of the main bunk houses at Tomichi Creek

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I woke up like this!

After an afternoon of naps and unpacking, everyone joined at the Post for dinner to share a meal and go over key time and the menu for the morning. One thing’s for sure: a lot, if not all, eyes are on me heading into Day 1 of our 4-day adventure. So much so that, once a few of the other guys heard I was attending, they followed me on social, trying to gauge my expertise from my extremely old and outdated YouTube videos that need to be updated or deleted immediately. They even mapped out how far I lived from here, and questioned if I’ve “ever rode anything like this,” making fun of the last guy, a “full moto dude who said he was an OK B rider,” but they were riding his bike for him and avoiding some tough technical sections because of him. They did not want that this year.

Coming in to the trip, I wasn’t feeling much, if any, pressure to perform. I was excited, sure, and I still am. Full disclosure: once I realized that no one in the group could vouch for my skills, I switched to water.

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View from the dinner table

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James was awarded the No. 1 plate as the only rider to attend all three Seat Time Adventures.

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Representing No. 2

New skin

After I moved back to Florida last year and bought a new bike about a month later, I knew I wanted to change my racing number from #1, but I didn’t know what number I wanted. The #1 represented my decades-old enduro championship, and I wanted to start fresh, but I didn’t know where to start. I used to run #8 but I wasn’t really feeling that anymore, either. Someone told me, “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.” So, I waited and raced my bike naked without any numbers for about a year … until the tragic death of Nicky Hayden on May 22. That’s when, immediately, I knew what to do: I would ride in memory of him. Every. Single. Day.

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“You’ll feel much better if you get off your ass and go ride a motorcycle. Even better if you do it well.”

The first and last memory I have of meeting Nicky, we were both young racers with our whole lives ahead of us. After, I followed his career closely, watching his (and America’s) wildest dreams come true. He gave me, from afar, the courage to believe in myself and my own wildest dreams.

“I made a decision last night that I would die for it
Just to show the city what it takes to be alive for it.” – Drake

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Exactly one week from today, I’ll be in singletrack heaven with Seat Time Adventures on their annual trip to Colorado with 7 other guys from across the country.

I’m sure being the only female on this year’s trip will be a story in itself, and I’m looking forward to telling the bigger story of how Seat Time creates a good time on dirt bikes, builds community and lasting memories.

Here’s to making Nicky proud.

Prime time

It’s that time of year again to purchase a new $80 OHV permit to ride at Croom until June 30, 2018, thanks to the Florida Forestry Association.

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With summer in full swing and just a few weeks until my riding vacation in Colorado, I decided it was time to crank up the focus training. So, I hit bikram at 8 a.m. last Sunday before putting in a 20+ mile “trail ride.”

Since breaking my arm in February, I’ve been slow to find my race pace again, but I’ve been patient, not wanting to ride over my head or with a group where I might lose focus, following the crash that ended my enduro season. (I still finished second in the Women class with 5 finishes – 6 attempts – out of 9 races.)

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These last few months I’ve been thinking about what I need to work on to achieve perfection in my riding. My dad wrote in an email to me a few months ago: “You have the skills. You have the strength. You have the bike. All you need is to ride with pure focus.”

I’ve been reading and listen to leadership podcasts, soaking up as much knowledge and psychology from industry thought leaders. I returned to my bikram practice and I continue to meditate on my intention to achieve peak performance. The faster I am on my motorcycle, the stronger and more aware that I need to be mentally.

“Everyone’s actions and reactions directly reflect the development of their mind,” Eddie Rose said.

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Posted up with Melka

This past Sunday, I pulled into the mostly-deserted park after 12 noon as temperatures climbed past 90 degrees, and was expecting to put in another 20+ miles solo, but I ended up parking next to the “Melka Man,” an expert road racer and A class woods rider who knows the forest and all of the secret singletrack to tour me (and one of his road race buddies) through. We burned up a few loops at a solid clip around a small turn track cut into the woods with me staying close to his back tire – not that close – until I smoked my rear brake and had to pull over and rest. They continued while I watched and waited to get going again.

The mere act of following someone usually prevents me from excelling – as a child, my dad would always make me lead. “You’re faster out front,” he would say.  But riding behind Melka, I found pure focus in trying to mimic his style. He rides his dirt bike like a street bike, staying smooth off the pipe, swinging wide around corners and hugging the outside through the turns. I’m more of the coming-in-hot on-the-inside type, throwing my body into the apex and dropping the clutch.

At one of the breaks, Melka’s friend, who had been following me the whole time, asked if I grew up riding motocross. “Your body positioning is like a night and day difference,” he said comparing me to his friend.

We drilled lap after lap, and I wound up feeling more relaxed as the miles wore on and using minimal effort. I wondered if it was because I had found my focus earlier at bikram. Either way, I was more sensitive or conscious of my connection to my machine, and that meant no crashes!

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The tighter, the better!

Lucky sweat

I’m not one to remember it ever being too hot to ride, but the thought came to mind during yesterday’s rip around Croom Motorcycle Area. I barely managed 15 miles in an hour, stopping every 5 miles or so to catch my breath, shed my goggles and helmet and, of course, snap a few pics of the sweat dripping off the ends of my eyelashes before getting going again.

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With the “feels-like” conditions well over 100 degrees in the shade, I had the forest to myself (an added benefit to training in extreme heat) and found most of the singletrack firm, untouched and ripe for ripping. The amount of rain in the past couple of weeks packed down the sandy whoops and made for much traction. I was in the zone, thanks to the canopy of trees covering most of the trails and the gallon of water I downed on the way, trying to work on the techniques I’ve been learning in motocross, like scooting up on the seat through the turns and trying to back off and not ride the rear brake as much (still working on that!) Just about the time I would lose the rear brake, I was ready for a break and headed back to the truck before I overheated, too.

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In other news, I loved listening to last week’s 4+ hour PulpMX podcast with three greats, Chad Reed, Tim Ferry and David Vullemin in studio. Besides the laughs, listening to legends talk moto motivates me to stay focused on my training.

“I’m don’t want to go there and just ride. I’m there to train.”

The other day at work, I passed up on a cookie that one of my colleagues offered.

“No?” She asked, looking curious.

“No, thanks,” I told her. “I’m training.”

“Training for what?”

“My next win!”

We laughed, but I was serious. Champions are made when no one is watching.

The soul has no secret that the behavior does not reveal. – Lao Tzu

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Practice makes perfect!

“It’s the art of it,” Patrick says. “Which is actually what I like about racing. I don’t necessarily care about driving the car, it’s the art of it. Setting a goal and achieving it, the feel of the car, the rhythm of the lap; nailing it. It’s just like getting it all right.

Dearly departed

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I’m back at my desk after a relaxing 3-day weekend in Key West catching up on industry news. I spent Monday watching Nicky Hayden’s memorial service, which was livestreamed on Facebook and viewed by over a million people from St. Stephen Cathedral Church in Owensboro, Kentucky.

My tears started falling once the priest started his Homily talking about Nicky as a world champion, a hero and a winner, sure, but he was also as a giver, a listener, determined, driven, goal-oriented, loyal, funny, witty, grounded – everything anyone wants to be.

The priest said, first and foremost, he wanted to concentrate on Nicky as a gift from God.

“As we often say about a gift, we are called to do many things with the gifts that God gives us … three things – We are to take care of the gift that God gives us. Secondly, we are to share the gift that God gives us, and third, the unthinkable, we have to give back to God the gift that He gave us, because in the end, everything belongs to God.”

Father Tony thanked the family for willingly sharing their precious gift – Nicky – with so many people: “The world is a better place for you sharing the gift of Nicky with so many people.”

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Memorial Day will always have a different meaning for me now. Along with the short list of those I know personally who served in the armed forces, I will always remember Nicky on this day especially; if I ever happen to forget about him, I will never forget the words he shared with me many years ago in his Ask Nicky advice column that shaped my life, “transformed my inner self” and will always remain in my heart:

“…motivation shouldn’t be something you have to find. You’ve got to have it inside.” – Nicky Hayden

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I will remain grateful for the gift of Nicky’s life, as will his millions of faces across the world. RIP, Kentucky Kid. “Let’s get it,” as Nicky would say. ✌

Donations for local children, here.

Lost

I was super stoked to write about my weekend at Tampa MX and winning my first-ever motocross race until I heard the news that Nicky Hayden passed away and, this time, after multiple reputable international sources confirmed, it wasn’t fake news. I cried in my cubicle, sitting there in complete shock. I wondered, selfishly, why the ones we love the most are taken away from us too soon. The motorcycle community is small, sure, and my heroes are everybody’s heroes, I guess. Maybe only the good die young, like Billy Joel said, or God needs them. But I don’t believe any of that. Motorcycle racing is dangerous, sure. But so is bicycling, apparently. Nothing is safe. Nothing makes sense.

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The Finnerty bros, Nicky and I at Mid-Ohio in 2000

I was a young racer (see above) when I met Nicky and Roger Lee at Mid-Ohio in 2000. At the time, he was the dreamy “Kentucky Kid” my dad told me about. We watched him and his brothers every year when they came down to race flat track at Daytona. I stood in line by myself to have my picture taken with him and get his autograph – he was my Prince Charming. A few years later, I submitted a question to the Ask Nicky column in my favorite motorcycle publication, Racer X Illustrated, and they printed it along with his answer! I dreamed of showing it to him one day …

Hearing the news Monday, I walked around looking for a tissue. When asked why I was crying, I told my colleagues about Nicky, who they’d never heard of. It’s hard to believe someone who inspired me “to have it inside” (see above) and motivated me so much was unbeknownst to them. I returned to my desk, reading all of the social posts from my other heroes – his brother, Roger Lee, Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath. We’re all at a loss for words. The only thing I can do is change my racing number to 69 – sorry, Mom. – in his memory and keep on racing for him.

They ain’t seen the blood sweat and tears it took to live their dreams
When everything’s on the line
Ain’t just another field, just another farm
No, it’s the ground we grew up on
They think it’s a middle of nowhere place where we take it slow
Aw but they don’t know – Jason Aldean

Building time

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Sunday marked the third week in a row at Croom Motorcycle Area trying to get back up to speed. I managed a solid 18.98 miles before a few minor mistakes – washing out in a corner, casing a whoop and hitting false neutral – had me riding back to the truck before a massive crash hurt my arm again.

I spent a lot of time by myself while being injured off the bike – “not killing time, building time” – so it only feels natural coming back to speed by myself, too. I used to loathe riding by myself, but not anymore. Florida is actually the only place I’ve ridden where it’s relatively safe to ride alone, since 90 percent of the terrain lacks any real challenge; there’s more knee-deep sand whoops and flat pine rows covered in pine needles than anywhere on Earth. Plus, I have no problem meeting my usually high standards by myself but, when I have to wait on anyone OR play catch up, I lose focus and don’t ride my best.

Solo, it’s just me getting back into the swing of things, sticking to the basics of body positioning, throttle and clutch control, moving as fast as I can while minimizing mistakes.

How I know I’m getting stronger is my body is gradually less sore this Monday than I was last week, and I rode more yesterday than I have in months. I’ve been training, too, at spin class during the week where I’m burning more calories than I’ve ever burned running or riding, and it’s made a noticeable difference and provided peace of mind in my body’s capacity to respond. I know I have a long way to go before I can compete for podiums the way I once did, but there’s still nothing like seat time to return to true form.

“The best ability is availability.”