For eons now, the hedonistic lifestyle of Southern California has charmed generations come and gone, catapulting bodies across the vast expanse of the Great Plains in convincing fashion. The image contains hordes of tourists washed up on sandy shores in search of money and fame. New beginnings predated by old haunts. Mischievous youth eyeing the point break literally wax poetic, prepping their boards while amusing the bums who preyed on the aforementioned out-of-towners for spare change. Though absent of its polished finish (if there ever really was one), the masses still remain sun-kissed, basking in the California glow.
Somewhere along the way, a crop of motocross riders popped up out of nowhere, just on the other side of the mountain. They’ve been there ever since.
In order to investigate the going-on’s of this strange land, I’d need a vehicle fit for travel. Some 2,000 miles removed from our humid wetlands off the tip of Lake Michigan, California has always been considered a journey. “Indiana! You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?” A popular quip from the locals on Pacific Beach pier. In their breath was a hint of standoffishness, until I’d mention my ride. No longer was I another tourist here to poach their spot and dip. I was in it for the long haul.
Home. 2 months.
It’s not much more than what you see in this vignette. 2012 Ford Transit Connect. “The little guy,” is usually my clarifying statement. Readers of WoE might find this angle familiar, as I had affixed my war-torn YZ250 in the back to gallivant around Florida before the pandemic. While there was enough gumption in the tank to sleep underneath my bike for a week down south, I just couldn’t muster the energy to do that again for 2 months. In theory, my plan had no definitive ending either. I could’ve been out west for half a year, or even indefinitely if I so desired. So, in place of my motorcycle now lived a “Narrow” Twin mattress, a bed frame, various clothes, mini-fridge, fold-out desk, and a battery bay coupled to a pair of solar panels on the roof. Aside from my cameras and skateboards, the rest was left behind.
There’s a liberating feeling associated with van life, something my friend Charles Bakke has been trying to communicate ever since he documented his journey outward two years ago. On numerous occasions I’ve questioned why he hasn’t settled down, both out of genuine curiosity and, honestly, a bit of selfishness, but his answer remains unwavering. “I don’t want to be stuck in one place.”
Notice that being stuck doesn’t directly pertain to your physical location. You can be trapped by jobs, even those that allow you to travel. You can become engulfed in the comforts of life deemed necessary only by those who sold them to you. That comfort is a sneaky state of being, as it can allow you to perform to your potential, yet too much of it for too long can give way to complacency and apathy. Living in a van teaches you to find comfort in the tiniest of places, with as little aid as possible.
As Isaac Brock once sang, “Do you need a lot of what you got to survive?”
Charlie’s roof. One of many signatures from its visitors.
That repellent for the mundane comes through the undying freedom and versatility of van life. Drive anywhere, park wherever, sleep in places best suited for you and your needs. You’re only limited by your imagination and ambition when you don’t have to return to a fixed location every night. Notice I stop short of using the term “home,” as home takes on new meaning here. You quickly realize it doesn’t matter where you brush your teeth, shower, shave, eat, or relax. You take ownership of your area (the van), meaning wherever the van is, that is now your space and you’re free to live as you wish. That feeling may come largely out of necessity, because you don’t have a home, but I believe there’s true value in the lesson that home doesn’t have to be one singular place, despite the sacrifice needed to reach that realization.
It would be remiss to exclude Charlie and his story from this piece, because a lot of what I do and who I’ve become stems from our friendship. He’s got a funny way of getting people out of their own heads, which my mind is thankful for. When he planted his wheels on California soil, we plotted for months and months, daydreaming about what we could do and where we could go. The trip was all-time, hardly without a moment that wasn’t worth remembering.
Charlie also befriended one of those motocross kids I mentioned earlier, in the desert of Lake Elsinore.
I didn’t want to get in my friend’s business, and I reminded the kid as such. He obliged though, even encouraging that I offer him my thoughts. I inquired, and he began,
“I mean really, all I know is racing. This is my life. I understand where people are coming from, those that think I shouldn’t race, but in my gut I feel like this is something that I have to do. I have to at least try. It won’t do me any good to sit back and watch my competition from the sidelines.”
What if he fell and hurt himself even worse? I wondered if the risk was worth it just to show even an ounce of his brilliance. His gaze was unbroken, and he didn’t skip a beat:
I didn’t know Carson Mumford all that well before I stopped in Lake Elsinore on this trip. Mind you, I’d visited before on a brief detour from the Banch tour, so I knew he loved moto videos even more than myself. I also knew he had a well-trained pup named Lucy. And what I knew most importantly was that he and Charlie had become close friends in the time between our initial meeting at Loretta Lynn’s in 2019, Mumford’s senior year at the proverbial school of hard knocks. Since Charlie had frequented this space on his journey, it became a base camp of sorts for he and his Nissan NV200. Naturally, that meant I’d experience the same situation in my own way.
While I was worried his neighbors might form a petition barring anymore “lived-in” vehicles from parking on their street, Carson didn’t mind the extra company in the slightest. For as impersonal as we might’ve been upon my arrival, Carson opened his door with generosity, his candor a welcome sight from the harshness of the road. Our earlier conversation exemplified his openness, and he went on to further explain the garage was where “shit gets real.” I smiled.
I can think of a million different conversations I’ve had with friends and family in garages across northwest Indiana, complex and often philosophical in nature, sprawled across idle dirt bikes in the presence of past accolades. That experience is universal. It wasn’t any different for us hanging over our clapped out 250’s in a humid country shed, as it was for an amateur phenom in the heart of Southern California, his house literally perched above the Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park. The garage is a sacred place in motocross lore, and I was honored to share that moment with Carson in his own space. He’d even go so far as to invite me to the track where I met his team, something he didn’t have to do, surely, but it was appreciated. Shout out to Richard Sterling and Yoshi!
If you’re a motocross fan, you should be rooting for the kid this summer. It’s no secret that his professional career has been marred by rough luck, distorted through a lens of lofty expectations. His effort and determination are under-par though, and would rival any idea your imagination might have of the guts it takes to be pro. Furthermore, when his day is done, be it off the track or fresh out of the gym, he’s hard pressed to find anything to talk about other than moto. Mumford lives this life just as hard as any of you weekend warriors, arguably even moreso. Scream at the top of your lungs when he flies by, no matter the position. That’s all I ask.
Despite the ethos of the trip being the van and the camaraderie that came with it, there was still actual work to be done. To live this way for an extended period of time, an income source flexible enough to fit inside a van is necessary baggage. Luckily, in the case of Charlie and I, we carry this luggage in the obtuse art of motocross video. How there is an industry surrounding dirt bikes large enough to not only support its participants, but the crushing weight of hanger-on’s around them, astonishes me to no end. As the universe would have it, we all scored gigs at Thunder Valley for a weekend on the mountainside in Colorado, our vans safely in Southern California conducting recon from the airport parking lot.
In an effort to find some of my favorite privateers, notably “J-Walk” and the PRMX squad guided by their fearless leader Baylon Jones, I noticed a Connecticut mainstay in the gaggle of 450 hopefuls racing for their lives in the LCQ. It was none other than the Baddest of Dad’s himself, Mr. Josh Prior. Another infamous callback to our Banch trip of 2020, I tracked his camp down on the furthest edge of the paddock, butted up against the general admission line that stretched from Lakewood to Denver. Turning his head back from the massive crowd, Josh commented,
“Hard to believe I’m not making any money back from this, huh? I nearly died a few times in that LCQ!” And for what? We pondered aimlessly. Josh explained that he and his father were on vacation and decided to add this mission to their trip shortly after takeoff. Even still, he further elaborated that he’d rather not waste any more time chasing his tail on the other side of the country without earning a penny for his efforts. A tale as old as time, the privateer chronicle.
He and Pops still sat patiently through motos 1 and 2 for their chance as alternates on the final gate, though their moment never arrived. A damn shame for some honest people.
On the other end of the spectrum, the mood in the media tent was light as Mike Emery and I shot the shit about skating and whatever else we found interesting enough to babble about. If you know Mike, you know there is never not something to talk about. Here’s an incredibly horrible photo set to showcase one of our sport’s finest lensmen.
Our shoot was disrupted by Nick Wey, who had stolen my seat in haste to watch his youngest Donovan holeshot the 50cc class during the Loretta Lynn’s Regional Qualifier. Nick was stoked, as we all were, yet I joked that he hadn’t called dibs on my spot. Though I told him not to, Nick moved anyway because he’s a nice guy. I snapped a photo.
The incubated SoCal air treated my van nicely, as she looked nearly identical to when we all left for Colorado, prepped and ready for a rip north to Mammoth Mountain on one last investigative assignment.
I had started to piece together what it meant to live down here, reasons obvious enough: beautiful weather (on the west side of “the mountain”), endless time to do as you pleased, plenty of places to explore, calm folks simply looking for the next wave… And the riders seemed to enjoy the desert and endless access to the industry. The mountains, however, were territory uncharted on my travel log. Not the ones previously mentioned either, I mean the types you see on postcards.
It was immediately evident why everyone makes it a point to visit Mammoth, the ski-resort turned national-for-a-week sports luxurious amenities, good eats, and unmatched views just north of the famed Yosemite National Park. Whoever got away with cutting out a motocross track in the middle of this natural playground is a genius, and it’s a wonder they keep getting away with it today. That’s no slight either, as the facility is top notch, respectful and attentive to their environment as they are to their racing program. It shouldn’t be a question whether this event is on your calendar next year. Distance does not matter.
Funnily enough, I didn’t take one single picture of the track. Take my word for it.
Before I forget to mention, I was only here because of one person, really. Ever since Tom Journet called me out to assist in the Netherlands for the 2019 MXoN, he’s brought me on countless other trips and projects both near and far, and I owe him a lot for what he’s done for me in that regard. Tom catches a lot of flack from our Bell Helmets family, even if he inflicts most of the wounds on himself, but he deserves a shout every once in awhile. Tommy is the man, and can be seen above in 3 acts.
Special shouts to Kyle Vara, Benny Tozzi, and Mike “Tony” Schalkoff as well.
In haste, I’m cutting this report short. I will level with you and admit there are a myriad of things on my plate at this particular moment. As wack as that sounds, it’s the God’s honest truth. I leave this writing, as fractured and longwinded as it may be, to you. That’s just the nature of the beast. To conclude my research, a personal note:
A majority of the trip was really about getting away from what I had known for all my life: this little sliver of comfort in northwest Indiana. Looking back on what it took to live this way, I surprised myself and found I was capable of more than I knew. Granted, many of the hurdles that came from van life were lost on my naivety, but that was part of the point I suppose. I wanted to leave home, and whichever obstacles I’d need to overcome down the road would be addressed as such: down the road.
Above all, this trip was undetermined in length, a notable difference from every other time I’ve left home. In the pit of my stomach I wasn’t sure if I had moved on from this place. Naturally, I find myself back here now, in my childhood home alongside my family and friends, free to work unbothered by the siren song of the west. I return with experience anew and yet, at night, when the mideastern air falls silent on my windowsill, I can faintly hear that familiar call from parts unknown.
I believe more field research is in order.