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Live Fast Die Slow

Stay Wild

Racing Mopeds from Seattle to San Diego

Story and photos by Carrie Schreck // @rehabforcandy

 

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“Officially, it’s not a race,” says James as he yawns. We’re on an all-night drive to Seattle from L.A. in a rental van. It’s just before dawn. We’re on our way to the starting line of the Pinball Run, an epic endurance challenge spanning 1,800 miles of coastline roads from Seattle to the Mexico border. James takes a swig from an enormous energy drink and tries to make himself comfortable behind the steering wheel. He laughs a tired laugh. “But really, who’s spending two hours on the side of the road swapping an engine if it’s not a race?”  

The Pinball Run is in its third year as James and I drive northbound. Like other endurance challenges, it involves roadside fixes, mechanical know-how, and a chase team. There’s a start line each morning and teams have 24 hours to make it to the day’s finish line. But unlike its big brother, the legendary Gumball, the Pinball is strictly mopeds-only. Slow, noisy, pedal-powered mopeds, 99 ccs and under. The rickety moped strapped in the back seat is James’s hopeful winner, set to compete against 19 others. It’s a Tomos LX, dingy-faded blue and dented. 1,800 miles, eight days, 42 mph. If you think that sounds crazy, it is.

“Chances are, you’re going to fail,” he says. He’s right. Mopeds are not known for their reliability, and per the rules of the race, you must repair your bike where it stops. In past races, support teams have brought extra engines, tires, carbs and plenty of tools. The event attracts the weekend wrencher — someone who knows two-stroke engines top to bottom. Some teams custom-fabricate parts or do secret mods. Preparation is months in the making and competition is friendly but heated.

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“What’s the difference between your support team this year versus last year?” I ask. “That I don’t have one,” he laughs. This will be James’s second Pinball, but it will be his first race solo. “My team had to back out last minute. I decided I needed to do this one myself.”

Mopeds have a sort of loyal following that has created a close network of friends — a family of sorts through which we have gained and lost dear friends. “David got me into mopeds. He loved to ride ...” James muses. He has a boyish face. Small scars web across his lip and chin. “One night we were stopped at an intersection on our bikes,” he continues. “Light turns green, lady runs a red, nails us both. Hit and run.” David died instantly. James was left for dead.

After the accident, what was left of James’s and David’s bikes were left in a box. After some time healing, James dusted off the parts and began to build them into a new bike, a tribute to his friend. “I scavenged everything that was sentimental. The tank is all dented. I took some bolts from the shocks. I even went back to the scene of the accident and got little bits of mirror, washers … whatever I could find.” He rebuilt the bike strapped in behind us piece by piece. The remaining spare parts he’ll carry with him for roadside fixes. “The bike’s motor from that accident actually survived. That’s my backup motor. It’ll be my secret weapon.”

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In Seattle, we meet the other competitors prepping bikes. Many have mods for comfort or convenience like two gas tanks or sissy bars. Eleven teams have converged from as far away as Boston. Support teams are also arriving with chase vehicles that range from a 2-door hatchback to a ‘90s prom limo. “In the end,” says a racer as he changes the limo’s brakes, “we did the math and renting a camper cost the same as buying this limo. It was an obvious choice.”  

The limo has style, but the camper may have kept them more comfortable since the eight-day challenge includes several nights of camping. One team outfitted a school bus with bunks and a portable shop. Matt and Mike rented a Penske moving van, Jake and Ashlee are using a Prius. James negotiates space for his extra parts amongst the other teams.“I’d do anything for that guy,” says Jake, another racer. “If I had to turn around and drive 30 miles to bring him gas, I would.”

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Pinball is informally organized. It’s self-sanctioned and there are no sponsors. There is a daily starting line and finish line, and each team’s time is recorded and added cumulatively. Each team will strategize their best route. Since the bikes are small and slow, every extra mile counts. Racers are also required to run an app which tracks location and speed. There’s a modest purse at the finish line and some trophies, but that’s all. If you’re here, it’s because you love to ride.

The next morning, 19 hopeful bikes gather at the starting line. The race starts with the wave of a flag and the small crowd cheers. Today’s ride will end in Portland. The bikes slowly inch away from each other as navigation strategies are put into play. Of the 19 that started, only 15 make it to Portland that afternoon, removing four from the competition. Along the way, those who receive a DNF (Did Not Finish) pack up their bikes and continue to follow the caravan. Some continue the daily rides as non-competitors. “Even if we don’t win, I just want to say that we went all the way,” says Ashlee, looking defeated next to a bike in pieces. She and teammate Jake accept a DNF on day four. “We’ll replace the transmission tomorrow and keep riding. We’re just out of the race.”

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Days one and two see James competing strong. He manages to make the top seven each day and his spirits are high. After day three, his chances begin to fade. His position isn’t improving and his speeds are low. On top of this, he finds himself in the middle of a controversy over some interstate travel, earning him a penalty and possible disqualification. “I don’t care, I’m doing this for the memory of my friend.” He musters some determination. “I”m not giving up.” He’s frustrated and trying everything to inch forward in the race, even creating temporary cardboard fairings to cut down on his wind resistance. 

Day five is the toughest day for James. Engine problems plague him all day. Tensions are riding high with him and a team that wants him disqualified. It’s a low point for him. Then outside of San Louis Obispbo just 20 miles from the day’s finish line, James’ moped breaks down. His phone is out of service and he doesn’t have the parts he needs. It’s pitch black. Unwilling to give up, James starts to walk the bike toward town, toward the finish line. After an hour, Jake’s team locates James and lends him the necessary parts. It’s been an exhausting day and an exhausting week. 

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On Day seven in the late afternoon, six of the 19 original mopeds make their way one by one across the Coronado bridge in San Diego and reach the finish line. Jay, another solo rider, takes first place. The other bikes make their way in, including Jake and Ashlee, covered in road dirt and smiling. Coming in very last was James, whose wife and daughter are there to greet him. It’s a happy reunion. “It’s important for me to do things like this race,” he beams. “It’s important for me to show my daughter that life goes on. You should enjoy it while you have it.” 

There’s a small awards ceremony, trophies, and the grand prize money. The energy is high but exhaustion catches up. One by one we say goodbye. Teams pack up vans and suitcases to head home. No one did this race for money. It could barely be said there’s even bragging rights to be had. But it was a great adventure with great people. For James, winning wasn’t really the goal. “I was inspired to do this for David, for all the friends we’ve lost. Doing things like this keeps their memory alive.” 

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Skatehike

Stay Wild

The Landyachtz crew went deep into the San Gabriel mountains of Los Angeles in search of an untouched switchback road

Story & Photos by Stephen Vaughn // @stephen_vaughn

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Google Maps is a downhill skater’s best friend. It’s the only way I found a mystical road too good to be true—El Dorado: the Cogswell Dam.

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We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task. We loaded ourselves up with hammocks, sleeping bags, tents, and supplies for 2–3 days. What we didn’t account for was the 7-mile skate to camp being consistently uphill, turning our skate into a hike at many points. The only motivation was that certain-to-be-delightful cruise downhill back to the van. We trudged onward.

We stumbled across the most inviting fairy pool of a waterfall I’ve ever seen. Not knowing how much farther we would have to go before reaching our campground for the night, we spent a solid chunk of time chilling in the refreshing mist and cool temperatures of the falls. Our campground turned out to be right around the corner, turning the pit stop into a convenient water source that we returned to many times.

After setting up camp and unwinding a bit, a group of us decided to continue on the path in search of our final destination. Very quickly, the road turned into some of the most hairball, ridiculously steep asphalt and concrete I’ve ever seen. After about a mile of that insanity, the road turned into a dirt trail and we still hadn’t spotted the road for which we had embarked. Knowing it would be getting dark soon, we made the decision to turn around and skate back to camp for the night. 

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The next morning was a chilly. We warmed ourselves and our boards by the fire. After getting some food in our stomachs and some sunlight on our faces, we decided to embark on the last leg of our journey. Once more we climbed the steep incline and reached the dirt trail and within one mile we turned a corner to be greeted by the magnificent view of our hill.

Six long miles cruised by in a pleasant blur of trees and asphalt.

We reached the van and reflected on our journey during the ride back. Another Skate & Explore mission was in the books, and we could say that we were the first skaters to discover and ride this magical stretch of pavement. 

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What could go wrong? 

Stay Wild

Story By Amalia Boyles // @gingerfox00

Art By eatcho // @ eatcho // eatcho.com

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What could go wrong? 

What, indeed.

I eagerly persuaded my partner Eatcho to take a break from beachside relaxation to enjoy a day of ocean kayaking. I promised a quick jaunt out into the bay, and a return soon thereafter. Eatcho was reluctant. His hesitation inspired me to push the idea harder.  

Our feet made funny swooshing sounds in the sand as we stumbled to rent our kayak. Without instruction (or life jackets), we were presented with a custard yellow two-person kayak. We trusted our desert-colored vessel and suddenly found ourselves paddling out to sea against the rising tide.  

We reached the edge of the bay and gazed out beyond the jagged rock edges of the shoreline and into a vanishing horizon of ominous dark blue.  After moments of serenity and awe at the abyss around us, we decided to head back to the beach. As we turned the kayak on its heels, we became parallel with the waves. With one hefty blow of salty sea, we began to sink. 

The ocean rushed into our kayak with rapid fury, swallowing us whole. We were left treading water, our yellow vessel bobbing with increasing depth below our flailing feet. What followed was shock, disbelief, discomfort, paralytic panic, and overwhelming fear, without control. We tried for an instant to revive our sinking kayak and cried out loud sentiments of WHAT THE FUCK, draining our lungs of air. 

Our cries lost their gusto as the reality of our situation sank heavily into us. We threw out inarticulate gasps at one another, hoping to stop time for long enough to catch our wits (or at least, to catch our breath). Instead, we were greeted with adrenaline — unsophisticated, but with enough aim to clarify our survival strategy. 

Abandoning our sinking ship, we swam. 

And we swam. And we swam. We swam against the tremendous pull of the current, contradicting our every stride. We swam, with terror and little choice, through a school of jellyfish. Wrapping around our arms and legs, one jellyfish slapped me in the face, adding stinging insult to injury.

The beach didn’t seem to be getting any closer, and desperation set in. Eatcho is a poor swimmer, and as time passed, hopelessness got the better of him. Treading water next to me, my dear love began to spit sonnets of our life together, trying to say goodbye. I screamed at him to shut up and save his oxygen. How did we mess up THIS bad? I rolled onto my back, catching enough breath to curse my former self. Go kayaking, I said. It will be fun, I said. What could go wrong, I said. I should have knocked on wood. Or, better yet, we should have asked for life jackets.

After three hours and well over a mile of open water, we made it within striking distance of the shore. The closest point to us was the northern tip of the mainland, an austere cliff face surrounded by mollusk-covered rock islands popping up out of the ocean like the shoulders of a great, gray giant. The tide churned around the rocks with a mighty wake, swelling up and down and over. 

We followed the upward swell of a wave and came crashing down on the nearest rock mound. The tide dropped, and our soft, fatigued bodies ground down the jagged razor-sharp mollusks. It shredded our front sides like cheddar to a cheese grater. Blood poured from our new cuts, wretched deeply across our shins, knees, thighs, stomachs and the tight tendons between our fingers. 

Finding our grip, we climbed to the top and clung — shaking, bleeding — to the first bit of land we had felt in hours. Rejoice at our success lasted for a brief but distinct moment, interrupted by exhaustion and the even more sobering task of jumping back into the water once more for a final push to the mainland.

It took us a very long time to move — perhaps an hour spent on that mound. Fearful weeping came and went, and eventually we regained our ambition to tepidly step across our sanctuary of mollusk and rock. 

Laughter, screaming, and sobbing compounded. We walked for another hour through dusty deer trails and cactus-strewn forest peaks. Eatcho paused every so often to politely release his severe diarrhea from ingesting so much seawater. Our bodies became streaked with crimson as our wounds poured out the evidence of our naivety. We stumbled back to the road home. 

The Vanishing Islands of Panama

Stay Wild

Story and Photography by Greta Rybus

gretarybus.com // @gretarybus

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Off the Caribbean coast of Panama lies a constellation of approximately 365 islands known collectively as the Guna Yala Comarca. It is the land where the Guna tribe lives. Some of the islands are owned by locals but uninhabited: sand and palms rising from the sea, places to swim or gather coconuts. Other islands are inhabited by densely-packed communities of Guna families with thatch homes built to the very edges of the islands, sometimes built over and above the water.  

In Guna communities, decisions are made collectively. Each week, problems are brought to the congress house during a series of meetings overseen by sailas, or tribal elders. They talk about how to manage fish populations, how to grow crops and care for children, and they mediate quarrels between neighbors. These days, there are new, unprecedented problems brought on by changes in the environment. There has been too little rain. It is not enough to fill the water tanks or water the crops. Sometimes, parts of the island are flooded, the seawater rising to the knee and crossing the thresholds of homes. The sea seems too hot for the fish, and the storms seem to get stronger and stronger. The new problems exist alongside a loss of traditional knowledge, increasing influence from the cities, and overpopulation. 

The communities must make new decisions: what to do with the unpredictable environment and where to go when the sea begins to swallow the islands. According to a report by Displacement Solutions, it is estimated that 28,000 people in Guna Yala will eventually need to relocate.

 Gardi Subdub is an island closest to the highway on the mainland that leads to Panama City, an island with a cell phone signal and a small supermarket. Because of the rising sea and the growing population, the island’s congress has decided to relocate. They’ve already begun building a new community on the mainland a short drive into the hills where a new school building is almost completed. Next, they will begin to build homes.

Six hours by boat from Gardi Subdub is the island of Coetupu. It is more remote, more traditional. People wait in line to use one of two pay phones to call their families in the city. There, they are drafting plans to relocate to an adjacent island. They worry if the sea and land will continue to sustain their families and community. 

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“The sea is good. The sea is medicine. If you have mosquito bites, you go inside the sea and then you feel better. Now, the sea can’t heal the way it used to. It is too hot. And in the past they used to catch a lot of fish. Nowadays, there is not much fish. And before, there were a lot of coconuts and bananas. But not now, because of the changes with the sun. And it used to rain like for about a week long. Now, if it rains, it rains only one hour and then it stops.”

— Leonidas Perez, saila (tribal congressman) - Coetupu community

 

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“Young people, they are going to suffer the consequences. Governments, politicians, big countries should think about the relationship between people, not only indigenous people but all around the world. The problem is that as long as the social system doesn’t change, we will continue to have problems. The rich countries only work to get more and more money, and they want to dominate. There’s no equality. Poor countries are becoming even poorer. The system has to change. The resources, the wealth that God created, only a few are taking advantage of it and only a few are protecting it.”

 -Guillermo Archibold, agronomist - Gardi Subdub community

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“Climate change is happening. And it’s happening in other countries, too. Right now there’s no water. We’re in danger. In the future, our islands are going to disappear. We aren’t safe. We are going to leave our own island because the sea is taking the land.”

— Alberto Lopez - Gardi Subdub community

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“Parts of the island that normally didn’t flood are often covered in water. When people realized the sea level was rising, they started to destroy and use corals to build a kind of wall, which is very damaging. Our island is mostly made of coral infill now. So, we’re planning to move to a real island, an island made of land. About five years ago, we tried to start a project to relocate to the mainland, but there were disputes within the community. The land on the continent is already distributed; it has owners. And these owners don’t want to give their land to other people. So now we plan to relocate to another nearby island.”

— Asterio Ramirez, teacher - Coetupu community