The Good Old Days Are Now

Taking it Back to Simpler Times

Words by Ben Giese | Photos by Aaron Brimhall

Growing up in a motocross family was a childhood unlike any other. We spent our weekends sitting in the dirt and launching our bodies through the air to see if we could get around the racetrack faster than our friends. It’s kind of weird when you think about it like that. Sure, there was the occasional blood and broken bones, but most of the time those weekends were filled with nothing but laughs and smiles. Saturday night’s pre-race campfires were a gathering of friends old and new. I think of them as our chosen family — a group of crazy humans who found pleasure living the same strange life as we did. We lived off Gatorade and brown-bag sandwiches, and would come home from the races caked in sweat and dirt — sunburnt and exhausted in the best way. Those endless and unforgettable weekends brought us all closer together, and I feel fortunate that we all got to share that period of life doing something we love.

Eventually, though, we all grew older, and the passage of time led us all on our individual journeys to adulthood. Some of us moved away for school or work, and some of us don’t even ride anymore. Reality set in for all of us, and the responsibilities of adulthood transformed those gasoline-fueled weekends with friends and family into nothing but a fond memory.

Since those glory days have passed, I’ve spent a decade pursuing my career, chasing the dream of paying rent by capitalizing on my love for motorcycles. It’s been great to stay involved in the motorcycle industry after my racing years were over and to see things come full circle like they have. But as each year passes and META continues to grow, I’ve found that I’m spending less and less time behind a set of handlebars, and more and more time behind a computer screen. Lately it has gotten to a point of frustration, and I’m realizing that chasing this “dream” means nothing if I don’t have time to stop and enjoy it once in a while. 

With that realization, I called up my dad and brother to plan out a much-needed weekend getaway in the Utah desert. My dad also works a demanding and stressful job, and my brother Mike was in the midst of a job change and planning his move to Washington. I think we each needed this trip in our own way, and it might be our last chance to get together and do something like this for a while. I was really looking forward to getting off-grid, with no cell service and no distractions to relive those good old days.

Dad and I woke up at 5 a.m., loaded the Husqvarna FX 350 and FC 450 into our Toyota Tundra, brewed some coffee and hit the road well before the sun came up.  The drive from Denver to our destination is about 7 hours, so we had plenty of time to catch up and tell stories. Road trips are always fun, but this one was extra special. It reminded me of the dozens of trips we took as a family driving back and forth across the country to one motocross race or another. I think those experiences as kids really instilled a love for travel and a sense of wanderlust in Mike and me. 

Mike lived in Park City, Utah, at the time, so he would just meet up with us at a roadside destination in the middle of nowhere, and we would caravan out to the riding spot. My dad jumped in the car with Mike for the remainder of the drive, and I would occasionally look in the rearview mirror to see him hanging out the window with his camera snapping photos. Ever since I can remember, he’s had a camera in his hand documenting our adventures. I chuckled to myself and thought “some things never change.” 

As we pulled into our destination just outside of Hanksville, Utah, the stoke was at an all-time high.  No matter how many times I’ve been here, the size and beauty of this landscape always takes my breath away. “Swingarm City” — more commonly referred to as “Caineville” by old-school riders — is a legendary riding spot. I first came here in 2003 on a YZ85, and have been watching VHS tapes of the pros riding out here since the ’90s. Towering rock faces and canyons surround miles of steep ridgelines and valleys. This place is humbling and has a way of making you feel small. The massive moto-playground features endless jumps, berms, hill climbs and everything in between. The only limit to possibilities out here is your imagination.

Mike and I each individually hadn’t ridden dirt bikes in over a year, and we hadn’t ridden together in several years. It’s a shame, really, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured we would be a bit rusty, and it might take some time to get back into the flow of riding together. But as soon as we geared up and started the bikes, it was like we never had skipped a beat. We followed each other up massive hills, balancing across steep ridgelines and floating side by side over jumps. The decades we’ve spent riding together quickly became obvious. 

We spent the next 8 hours or so ripping around and having as much fun as ever, stopping only occasionally to fill up on gas and drink some water. The afternoon flew by as Mike and I blasted berms into the sunset. We returned to camp to find my dad with a fire blazing and a cast-iron skillet cooking up some jambalaya. Mike and I took off our gear, and we all sat around the fire eating and telling stories, reflecting on a day we will never forget.

My blistered hands are the trademarks of a day well spent. And much like our childhood weekends at the races, the memories made here this weekend will live within each of us forever. This trip has been a reminder to slow down and enjoy the little things. It makes me smile to know those days are not gone. The good old days are now.

James Crowe

The Reality of Freedom

Words by Jann Eberharter | Photo by Paris Gore


Two years ago, James Crowe settled into a little slice of paradise. It’s maybe a quarter of an acre and had two small structures on it at the time. One was a derelict prefabricated house that he wasted no time in tearing down. The second was a garage with a small apartment above that needed a lot of work. Naturally, he rebuilt the garage first, turning it into a full-on machine shop, complete with a lathe, mill, CNC machine, frame jig and welding table. 

His priorities are as visible in his remodeling choices as they are out of his upstairs living room window, which offers a stunning view of Mount Currie, the pride of Pemberton, British Columbia. He’s only half an hour away from Whistler, the resort town where he grew up and the path that got him here has been one of figuring out what he wanted to prioritize in life, and doing just that. 

Crowe is a mellow dude. He carries his lanky stature with confidence and speaks softly with thought. He usually has a bit of leftover grease on his hands, still rocks a flip phone, and, at 32 years old, has a few gray hairs beginning to make an appearance in his light-brown hair.

First and foremost, he’s a craftsman. His skill, style and creativity are visible in the custom motorcycles he’s built over the years, the parts he machines and even the tools that hang on the wall. Scribbled on one of his tool boxes is an Ed Roth quote:

“Imagination is the limit and speed is the need. Everything else is irrelevant.” 

Making ends meet solely as an artist can prove challenging though. One pervading trend throughout Crowe’s career has been his ability and willingness to put his head down and grind, focusing on his end goal. He did that for two years in Portland, Oregon, working two full-time jobs. He worked on the oil rigs in Saskatchewan for a summer before embarking on a 10-month journey to South America and back on a custom-built bike. And a job as a welder for the Municipality of Whistler brought him home to British Columbia, somewhere he could settle down and enjoy the surrounding mountains—and the ability to clock out at the end of a long day.

Growing up in Whistler, Crowe naturally took to the mountains. His father groomed the municipality’s cross-country ski trails in the winter, while his mother landscaped in the summers, and between the two, he had plenty of opportunities to chase the seasons. He raced cross-county mountain bikes during high school and skied in the winters. But nothing compared to when he first dug into a combustion engine. His parents gave him a 1990 Mazda pickup two years before he could even legally drive and the truck introduced him to a whole new world.

“I loved all the outdoors things growing up,” he says. “But when I discovered fabrication and welding, that was kind of what I discovered for myself and there wasn’t any of that happening here. I realized really early that making things from scratch with metal, whatever it might be, was where my passion was.”

Once out of high school, he continued chasing that passion. Crowe found a small trade school in Laramie, Wyoming that had a one-year concentrated program for sheet-metal shaping and chassis fabrication. It was exactly what he was looking for. He learned to weld and committed himself wholeheartedly to getting everything out of the experience he could. 

“All of a sudden I was in this new scene with all the tools and everything that I ever dreamed of, and the shops and the cars and the instructors,” Crowe says. “I was loving life.”

His ultimate project at school was a 1958 GMC pickup that he rebuilt. It wasn’t quite done by the time he graduated, so he lived out of a storage unit while making the final modifications. From there, he drove straight to Portland, where he’d received a job offer at a high-end restoration shop. It was there, at Steve’s Auto Restoration, that Crowe began tinkering with motorcycles.

As most mechanics do, he’d accumulated a lot of stuff, including an old Ford Model T. To make ends meet, he moved out of his apartment and into his Volkswagen Bus, renting a garage that soon became too packed to even work on anything. He sold it all and bought three XS 650s, which together would, he hoped, make one working bike.

“Once I got the bike running and once I actually started riding motorcycles, it was on,” Crowe says. “Nothing else really mattered at that point; it was just that feeling of what a bike gives you—it’s amazing.”

This was perhaps the first chapter of Crowe’s all-out working binge. He’d grind at Steve’s during the day and then commute across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington for a night job at another fabrication shop. Who knows when—or if—he slept. He took his vacation time to ride to Bonneville Speed Week, where he was in full company of fellow motorheads and got a taste of the open road and sleeping under the stars.

Soon after, Crowe and his best friend Jordan Hufnagel rented warehouse space in Portland where they began to assemble their own shop and a space where they could create whatever they wanted. This was after the Great Recession hit in 2008, and Crowe was able to buy various heavy duty machinery (thanks to his two jobs) that came up for sale. Much of the collection now occupies his shop in Pemberton.

“The motorcycle scene was really taking off at that time and I got really lucky to just meet the right people at an early time,” he says. “There was all this momentum growing to where all the sudden everybody wanted motorcycles.”

It was at this time that he started machining parts and operating under the moniker Crowe Metal Co. He designed and produced custom handlebars, levers, lights and even reinforced frames. He built up a custom BMW R series camper cruiser and CB 750 that caught the eye of enthusiasts all over. The bikes are works of art that also happen to cruise at 70 miles per hour, a visible extension of Crowe’s style and interpretation of what a motorcycle should be.

Being pent up in a workshop results in some impressive productivity, but it also leads to some wild ideas. Sometime during this phase, perhaps in the early hours of the morning, or over a few beers (probably both), Crowe and Hufnagel dreamed up the idea of heading south. Both feeling a little burnt out on working all the time and still being broke — and with a couple of XR 600s in the garage — they decided they needed to hit the road. Logically, in 2011, they set their sights on South America, perhaps the longest possible continual ride from Portland. 

“Often, it’s more about building the bikes than actually riding them,” Crowe says. “But the trips test the build.” 

And test them they did. Crowe took a year to finish up his businesses in Portland before heading to Saskatchewan, where he spent the summer working on an oil rig. He returned with relentless determination and plenty of time to prepare their bikes for the journey, reinforcing the sub frames, expanding the gas tanks, increasing gear capacity and minimizing breakability. Then, they spent the better part of a year riding dirt roads and mountain passes to the southern tip of Patagonia.

“You go where the road takes you,” Crowe says. “You’re kind of heading south, but you’re trying to ride as much dirt as possible, so you’re trying to follow routes you don’t know much about. At the end of the day, all the amazing memories I have are from the little tiny towns when we were lost and the places we got to go that had no significance [on the map].”

An experience like that—seeing the world firsthand—is enough to make anyone think about what really matters.

For Crowe, it was definitely motorcycles, but also the luxuries of the mountains and a place where he could craft and create with metal. 

During the trip, he and Hufnagel established West America, a brand of sorts that embodied their lifestyle and travels. They sold gear to offset their travel costs, connecting with a following who lived vicariously through their photos and frequent updates. When he returned to Portland after the trip, Crowe tried to keep the West America dream alive through travel opportunities and commissioned fabrications.

He went on a two week bike-packing trip to Bolivia and built custom bikes for brands, but all the while felt the lack of authenticity that they had when documenting their riding in South America. He doesn’t mind admitting that he overcommitted himself, and the stress of trying to follow through on everything took a toll.

“It was a huge learning experience of what I actually cared about, which is making things with my hands,” Crowe says. “I love photography and I love storytelling, but not for other people. When I came back, I thought that I could live this fairytale life of building motorcycles and traveling and balancing those two things. The reality is, to do something genuine takes genuine time and if you spread yourself too thin, then pretty soon everything sucks—something’s getting sacrificed.”

For Crowe, one of those sacrifices was his marriage. It was a tempestuous few years, and in 2015 he headed home to Whistler, where he was offered a full-time heavy duty welding job for the municipality. In many ways, the move was contrary to so much in his life up to this point in time—fixed hours and upper management had never been his style. Not long after, he migrated north to Pemberton, where he plans to be indefinitely.

On a different level though, accepting the job was what Crowe needed to do at the time, a resolution that he’s equally familiar with. Just like working around the clock in Portland, or on the oil rigs of Saskatchewan, the motive of this job was in how it would set him up for the future. He figured out his priorities and put them first. 

“It was something I avoided my whole life,” Crowe says. “Getting a nine-to-five, that was like, ‘The world’s going to end if I have to get a real job.’ But the reality is, the last two years, I’ve never had more freedom.” 

His machine shop hadn’t been assembled since the Portland days, but now it’s fully complete and meticulously clean (although that might change), ready to churn raw steel into whatever beautiful piece of art Crowe decides. Orders continue to trickle in for the pieces he designed to take those BMW R series bikes to the next level and he’s happy to indulge in some architectural fabrication for contractors in the Pemberton Valley.

A short ride north of his spot delivers unreal opportunities for backcountry missions on his XR, while a few minutes’ pedal brings Crowe to the base of Pemberton’s venerated mountain bike trails, which he rides regularly on his Chromag hardtail. In the winter, he’s a short sled mission away from multiple backcountry skiing stashes.

Here, Crowe has found a balance in his priorities, one that clocks 40 hours a week and is far from the backroads of South America, but still delivers genuine time. It’s a place where he’s got his machines and his mountains, and together they provide the good life.

The Mint 400

Return of the Bikes

Words by Bill Bryant | Photos courtesy Mint 400

“There he goes. One of god’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Desert racing is a wildly enigmatic sport generally associated with Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Dumb Guys. If you’re going to try it, you just gotta figure out which one you are gonna be. The endurance required is the long-format sort. It’s not the skills that win a Supercross, or that get one through the harsh terrain encountered in this kind of racing; it’s the thousands of micro-decisions that happen over hours and hours of riding that make the difference. 

Part of the charm is this — the only qualifications required are that your machine and helmet pass tech, and that you can afford the entry fee. Prep your bike or buggy properly; have your logistics, fuel and navigation wired tightly; and you’ve got a chance of success. This sport was built on the backs of hearty individuals who did their best work hundreds of miles away from other humans. You’ve got to love it unconditionally, because it does not love you back. The desert can smell arrogance miles away and takes crafty pride in humbling the richest and most talented riders, no matter their previous successes or accomplishments in other arenas. 

The origins of desert racing can be traced back to 1962, with Dave Ekins (Bud’s brother) and Billy Robertson Jr. These two legendary pioneers traversed the then-unpaved Mexican Federal Highway 1 for 950 miles, from Tijuana to La Paz, on Honda CL72 Scramblers as a publicity stunt for American Honda. Thirty-nine hours, 56 minutes after they started, a new form of racing had been born, and it was a filthy little underdog of a baby with mischief in its bloodshot eyes. Dune buggies and modified 4x4s soon followed, and a culture of desert rats speeding through the deep ruts and rocky traverses of the Southwest U.S. and Mexico has been constantly evolving ever since. 

The Mint 400, also known as “The Great American Off-Road Race,” first ran in 1968 and was shuttered after a twenty-year run, when the hotel it was named after was sold. Resurrected in 2008, it came back with a festive bang, and has truly grown into its nickname. A mind-blowing parade of race cars down the Las Vegas strip and two days of partying with racers, vendors and spectators on Freemont Street has only grown the festive atmosphere, while designated pits, restricted viewing areas and heavy-handed involvement from the BLM has morphed the event into a modern-day spectacle of off-road racing, all while making it safer for everyone involved. 

2019 was the first time motorcycles had been invited since 1976. The scariest aspect of racing on two wheels is the thought of a Trophy truck barreling through the choking dust directly behind you. It is a very real threat — and not one to be taken lightly. The Mint 400 organizers fixed this by putting the bikes on the course Saturday morning, followed by the vintage cars and side-by-side classes later that afternoon. Modern bikes did three 85-mile laps, and the vintage bikes (including a sick XR500 side-hack), along with the half-dozen interlopers on Harleys, were required to finish just two. Once the cars got on the course, any bike still moving was pulled off at the next checkpoint and considered a DNF. The big boys in Trophy Trucks and unlimited buggies didn’t race until the following day. Not mixing two-wheelers with cages was an upgrade in safety that no one complained about. 

The Gnarlys on Harleys were a race inside a race. Inappropriate as they were, their performance shocked not only spectators and fellow racers, but the riders themselves. Arnie Wells from Idaho was one of the only guys who had ever been to an actual desert race. A pillow freshly strapped to the seat of his mostly stock Sportster on lap two spoke legions about his experience that day. The team of combat veterans known as Warrior Built Racing has some race experience in Baja on bikes and in their Class 11 Volkswagen. They had the audacity to attempt the Mint 400 on an Ironhead Sportster. Ironheads are notorious for not making it home from the bar, let alone finishing a grueling race like this. Fueled by tenacity and passion, it still wasn’t quite enough to get them across the finish line. 

Another outsider, Doug Karlson, had ridden a dirt bike only a few times, and had never even tried his Harley in the dirt. What he lacked in experience, he made up for with an infectiously positive attitude and a sense of humor that didn’t quit, even when his body wanted to. Mark “The Rusty Butcher” Atkins and teammate Mikey “Virus” Hill, along with BMX Pro Barry Nobles, have serious skills on two wheels, no matter the bike or conditions. Mark was plagued with mechanical issues and rode about half a lap while missing the foot peg on one side of his bike, after it ripped out of the stock mounts. 

Improvised mechanical fixes, long the staple of off-roading, got him back on the course several times, but it made his first lap time slow enough that he was pulled at a check point somewhere on lap two and sent packing. Barry and Virus swore to stick together and “just finish” but couldn’t stifle their competitive instincts. What was supposed to be a fun, let’s-just-make-it-the-whole-way vibe turned into a real battle for first place as lap two progressed. Both riders hammered their 500-pound-plus machines all the way to the podium with no real mechanical difficulties, short of losing gear and quite a few get-offs. In the end, Barry made it to the finish line and quickly exclaimed “I’m the first Harley, right?!” Not long after that, Mikey pulled in, number plate and headlight dangling by a zip tie and mumbled something like, “I thought I had the fucker!” 

That’s racing. No matter how you start out, you still want to win. 

After the champagne was popped, interviews were given and the guys regrouped, the day’s battle was relived a few times, and the toxic seed that is desert racing took root in these six riders. If Harleys can battle it out in the Hooligan flat-track courses across the country, why can’t they start competing in desert races, too? The days are brutally long and the rewards are few, but the smiles per gallon are impossible to quantify. 

Knowing the competitive nature of this crew, the bikes will get prepped better, training and testing will ensue and another generation of reckless weirdos will do their best to hurtle themselves across a desert on bikes that were never intended for it. Dave, Billy — and even old H.S. Thompson — would be proud. 

Routeless 395

Connecting the Dots from Past to Present

A Film by Ian Beaudoux | Words & Photos by Heidi Zumbrun

Ever since 2014, Heath Pinter (X Games athlete and professional car/motorcycle builder) and Ian Beaudoux (filmmaker) have been documenting their travels together, creating a film project called ROUTELESS.

Go left instead of right … always the long route.  For years Pinter and Beaudoux have been riding motorcycles, vintage roadsters, drag racing, meeting up with friends and doing cool shit, always with a destination but taking the road less traveled. As they see it, the idea is very basic, “grab your buddy, ride your motorcycle and check shit out — it’s what people should do, and we’re just doing what we wanna do.”  And what they want to do now is revisit the route that ties all of their history together: a well-known Highway 395.

To Ian and Heath, this project is a slightly different take on their past journeys. Instead of aiming toward an event or people to interview, this was an opportunity to revisit the road that links it all together for them, connecting Southern California to their roots in South Lake Tahoe, where they met snowboarding at the age of 18. Over the years, Ian and Heath have probably traveled Highway 395 more than a hundred times going from sea level to 10,000 feet, connecting the dots of the past to the present. Highway 395 is the lifeline to how it all began for these two, and for six days, I followed them riding up the backroads, revisiting a road that has a rich history for California, combining two of their favorite passions: motorcycles and snowboarding in the Sierra Nevadas.

As with most of their trips, this one begins in the garage. Two freshly built dual-sport Harley-Davidsons with side-mounted snowboards — one 2010 scrambler built out by the talented Aki Sakomoto from Hog Killers, and one 2003 street tracker customized by Heath, both rigged with snowboard racks built and designed by Heath — rolling out for their first rides from Long Beach to Mammoth Mountain via the most off-the-beaten-track dirt roads as possible and filming along the way. 

Here is my photo diary following these two guys out riding on the open road, signifying 20 years of adventures and projects together.