Delaney Dunn – One of the Boys

I knew it was my family the moment I heard the engine of their white Ford F-150 rumbling down the gravel road and “Carry on my Wayward Son” by Kansas flooding the speakers. As they pulled up to our campsite and I started to help roll ten dirt bikes out of the back of the trailer, our curious neighbors looked upon, questioning why a 5’4” blonde girl was rolling out a 250-pound dirt bike. I couldn’t help but grin at the gentle cool breeze and the familiar screeching of two-stroke engines echoing through the forest of Hollister Hills National Park. It is a particular sort of peacefulness, one that you would never expect to get from a noisy dirt bike park. “The sooner I help my family unload the trailer, the sooner I can hop on my bike,” I thought.

Yes, setting up camp does take a while. My mom constantly needs to remind the four kids to stop slacking off and continue to set up the worn-out tents, fold-out chairs, stacks of firewood, and rotting picnic tables. We always show up early to secure our campsite – one with ample space for any family and friends that decide to join last minute. With two campfires, three picnic tables, and plenty of dust on the ground, it is the perfect place to call home for the weekend. To create a sound barrier between us and our obnoxious neighbors in the adjacent campsites, we parallel parked the trailer and cars around the campsite once we had finished.

“Who wants to go on a ride with meeeee?! Come on!!” I pleaded to the boys.

My brother, Chandler, my uncle, Big Mike, and cousin, Dan were quick to accept the offer. The three of us laid out the park map and discussed which trail we should take this time. When we chose a double black diamond track nobody had been down before, their attempts to dissuade me only strengthened my burning desire to prove I am just as good, and maybe even better than the guys. This five-mile single-track, Pete’s Path, requires focus and tenacity to keep the bike on the track through the loose dirt and large rock obstructing the narrow route. Remembering how I’ve zoomed by the track multiple times in the past, I felt my heartbeat quicken knowing it was finally time to endure the rough terrain.

Without a second thought, I threw on all 10 pounds of gear, hopped aboard my Honda 230 dirt bike, and carefully pulled the clutch in as I kicked on the engine and shifted into gear. The boys followed and soon enough all four bikes were instantaneously roaring as the pungent smell of gas filled the campsite. As the bikes warmed up, Big Mike shouts above the roar of the engines, “REMEMBER TO STAY ABOUT THREE CAR LENGTHS AWAY!” Keeping this in mind, we strategically chose the order. Dan would be first, followed by Chandler, me, then Big Mike. It is an unspoken rule that the oldest rides in the back just in case one of us falls and needs bike assistance. Big Mike knows the most about dirt bikes and can fix anything from a scratched fender to a flooded engine. Although he is a bit on the thicker side, his size has never stopped him from winning multiple Motocross races back in the day. Even now, 30 years later he still likes to show off by popping a wheely now and then. So of course, we put him in the back. Fumbling in my goggles, and tightening my gloves, I gave a few more pulls on the throttle before I slowly released the clutch and finally felt the bike lurch forward. We headed out one by one and raced to the trailhead. On the beginner track up to Pete’s Path, I fiddled with my gears to reach the highest speed I can in order to loosen my tense muscles and get my adrenaline pumping.

“And so it begins,” I thought as I smiled under the tight compression of my helmet.

The path was eighteen inches wide and one slip would send me tumbling down the side of the four-story cliff. Refusing to be afraid of the life-threatening twists and turns around the mountain’s edge, I embraced the beauty of the red rock and bright blue sky overhead. I did my best to ignore the feeling of gravity slowly pulling me back further and further on my bike as I went up the steep hills. At one point I lost sight of Chandler’s all-black outfit in front of me, but as I came around the bend of the mountain I saw the tail of his fender curving around the next one in the distance.

I could feel the back tire doing a fishtail motion as I quickly pulled the clutch in and shifted down into first gear to get enough traction and speed to get myself up the next hill. There is no scarier feeling than the back tire losing traction under you, especially on a track you have never been on. I remembered that if my brother could do it, I can do it too. I pulled my goal back into focus and regained the mental toughness required to remain calm while understanding the consequences one slip would cause, which was key to my success. Falling in a trance from the bike’s rhythmic engine, I lowered my gaze and focused on how I was going to get through what was at hand, not on how fast I was going. I paid close attention to every small detail on the track, ready to make quick, necessary movements in response to obstacles my bike encountered. Avoiding ruts and loose gravel at all costs, I used my intuition and quick thinking to maneuver my tires around these obstacles.

Whenever I get the chance, I would pull back on the throttle until the engine whined for me to let go, fishtail around each berm, and leave a shower of dirt in my path until I reached the next hurdle. My intensity, drive, and competitiveness were somehow sharpened. In that moment of complete focus and determination, I felt in control. I decided how far back I pulled on the throttle, or how often I stepped on the brakes.

It is a sort of meditative experience that allows me to be at peace with myself and my surroundings. When I get on my bike, I am no longer the little girl with long blonde hair and blue eyes. By testing my limits and bravery, I became one of the boys.

Getting lost in my train of thought, I am confronted by a loose boulder and have no choice but to face it head-on. I pressed my toes into my foot break and gave a slight tug on the hand brake to steady my bike as I looped around the abrupt downhill bend. My back tire skids out from under me. My focus and determination were crushed by the heavyweight of the roaring bike. My only hope was to turn off the engine, push the bike off me, and wait for Big Mike. When Big Mike finds me, there was no time to check for injuries — the bike was okay and that’s all that mattered. He simply brushed the dirt off my back and steadied the bike so I could hop back on.

“I guess I have no other choice but to finish what I started,” I thought.

Still a little shaken up, as soon as the engine began to roar, I was back in my zone. The minor setback accounted for a major comeback. There may have been a near-death experience along the way, but a few scratches and some dirt only seemed to feed my hunger for the thrill.