For reasons unknown to me, I haven’t been able to live without motorcycles in my life in one way or another since childhood.
I still have the bedsheet of my youth, a black and white mosaic of motorcycle images spanning motocross to MotoGP. There is no memory of asking for it, or why. I do remember Evel Kneivel, my childhood hero. Playing with that crank-up Evel bike and jumping his tour van was all I thought about. Hiding under my moto bedspread, dreaming of being Evel is what got me through countless terrifying nighttime thunderstorms in the midwest. And, of course, I had baseball cards clipped to the rear wheel of my Scwhinn Stingray, braaaping before I knew what braaaping was.
The moto bed sheet that covered me at ten years old now covers my GS at night.
No one in my family rode, none of my friends rode. I don’t recall knowing anyone with a motorcycle. Which begs the question, are motorcyclists born and not made?
I was 25 years old before I finally picked up a used Harley Davidson Sportster, a childhood dream realized. A couple years of solo riding in rainy Vancouver, WA, then my first child, and I traded in the Harley for minivan. Sigh.
Fast-forward a decade - after working Mount Rainier and Cuyahoga Valley National Parks - and I found my next dream bike, a BMW R1200C, while working at Yosemite National Park in California, truly a step up in parks and bikes. It was a savagely beautiful canary-yellow-and-chrome cruiser that fell to the temptation of speed all too often in the mountain roads of the Sierra Nevada. The road was my friend, but the trail always called me, without answer.
Thirty miles on dirt roads on a borrowed KLX and I deemed myself ready for Mongolia. oops.
Then, May, 2014, out of nowhere, from a chance meeting in Yosemite, my life with motorcycles was reborn with a passion and fervor I had never known. Upon completing a routine meeting with a Mongolian parks delegation, a casual conversation between two of them caught my attention. In just a matter of weeks, fifteen riders were going to Mongolia, MONGOLIA!, to ride and donate new motorcycles to park rangers there. oh. my. god. What did you just say? They told me again what they were doing, asked me if I was a rider (yes), and well, they just had someone drop out, would I like to join them in a few weeks? (um, yes)
I had never been to Asia. I had NEVER ridden a bike off road (FYI all of Mongolia is off road). And I had never, in six weeks, raised $5,000 and figured out how to survive 1,500km on a dual sport bike in one of the most rugged and remote places on earth. This was all so new, and so fast, I forgot to buy travel insurance.
I had never ridden through a body of water on a motorcycle before Mongolia.
That lack of travel insurance dawned on me pretty quickly. Just three hours into day one and 30k into the dirt the rider in front of me, my new friend Hans, high-sided on a fallaway right hand curve and broke his collarbone. He was done, into a truck for the bumpy painful ride and flight back home.
What the hell have I done. I have no business here. I’m going to die.
Slowly (and I do mean slowly) but surely I got my footing. I had strong coaching and our pace was reasonable. I distinctly remember a left hand turn when, for the first time, I properly weighted the pegs, looked ahead, leaned the bike, separated my upper and lower body…wait a minute…this is like skiing! Just like that, it clicked. I had been skiing for all but the first two of my fifty years. Competitive racing, coaching, PSIA certified instructor, free ride, telemark, backcountry, I had done it my whole life, it was as natural as walking. Soon bumps were moguls, sand was powder, ruts were, well, ruts. I fell in love all over again, and thoughts of dying became dreams of riding another kilometer, another rally.
Sand was my nemesis on the first rally, but today I seek it out with glee.
Fast forward six years, winter 2020. I find myself one of two co-founders (Wesley Thornberry being the other) of the Rally for Rangers project - Protecting the Worlds Special Places One Motorcycle at a Time. Since that first off-road ride in July of 2014, we have ridden thousands of kilometers and personally donated over 100 motorcycles to park rangers in Mongolia, Nepal, Argentina, with future rallies planned in Bhutan, Peru, Mozambique, and more.
My partner in crime, Wesley Thornberry and I, on a much needed shade break in western Mongolia.
Park rangers all over the world are struggling to combat poaching, wildfires, and myriad other threats to our collective natural and cultural heritage and future. These brave individuals often do not have the tools they need to be successful, reliable transportation being one of the most critical needs. Rally for Rangers has stepped into this void, recruiting like-minded volunteers from around the world to help raise money, buy local, quality motorcycles, and then travel to remote regions to ride and donate them to park rangers in need. Volunteers get an incredible and rewarding adventure, rangers get a new bike to protect endangered species and cultural antiquities. Everybody wins.
Connecting with fellow park rangers around the world is inspiring and humbling.
Rally for Rangers has changed my life. As a career national park ranger myself, the ability to spend my personal time and money to support rangers around the world through adventure riding can’t be described as a dream come true, only because I NEVER would have dreamed it possible. How does one go from never turning a wheel off road at 50 years old to riding five rallies in Mongolia and two more in Patagonia and Nepal in five years? The riding would have been amazing all by itself, but then to layer in the passion and the cause of environmental protection and ranger support, it’s almost too much to comprehend.
The motorcycle community is one of endless generosity, energy, and support.
Most importantly though, this isn’t just MY doing. It wasn’t my idea. Hell, I was a last-minute addition to that very first rally. But it clearly took root, in my heart as well as in my community. The support has been overwhelming. Family and friends, as well as riders I’ve never met, have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to support me, purchase new bikes for rangers, and sustain this growing and important effort. Industry leaders like Mosko have contributed valuable equipment and gear to be used on rallies and then given to park rangers to make their work even more successful.
Scores of Mosko tail bags, dry bags, and tank bags are now patrolling vast reaches of Mongolia, Nepal, and Argentina.
The greatest reward is connecting with individual rangers and giving them the support they need to care for our earth.
This is how positive change happens. One person, one ranger, one motorcycle at a time.
Its pretty well known that endangered species around the world are under constant threat. We see images of snow leopards, rhinos and elephants killed for parts by poachers. More recently we’ve seen kangaroos, koala’s and countless other animals imperiled due to wildfires. Thieves pillage cultural and heritage sites for wealth and status. What we don’t see are the struggles and successes of the park rangers most responsible for protecting these priceless animals and antiquities. Facing great personal risk, enduring the harshest of climates and landscapes, and tragically underfunded, park rangers around the world continue to diligently patrol and work to save these resources and species that benefit us all.
With the help and participation of motorcycle enthusiasts and environmentalist all over the world, Rally for Rangers is changing that. YOU can help park rangers protect endangered species. YOU can apply to volunteer on a Rally for Rangers project, personally riding and donating a new motorcycle to a park ranger in Africa, Asia, South America. If you don’t ride, YOU can volunteer to join a rally as a member of the support team. If rally participation doesn't work, YOU can contribute time and money to help the rallies and rangers succeed. You can promote the work through your social channels, tell your friends, attend fundraising events, and be an ally and ambassador for park rangers around the world.
Why not start by supporting the Rally for Rangers Documentary Film on Kickstarter? Your help in completing the documentary will ensure this story is told around the world and continue to grow the support for park rangers everywhere.
Follow this link to support the cause.