A Week In The Woods
Story by Trevor Hunter, Photos by Trevor Hunter/Ryan Nitzen
As members of the moto media, we get to partake in some pretty cool experiences that we only dreamed about just a few short years ago. For instance, tester Ryan Nitzen recently joined the JCR Honda squad for a weekend of racing aboard the 2020 CRF450RX at a recent round of the AMA Big6 National Grand Prix Championship Series and you can read about it HERE. While that was an experience of a lifetime, Ryan and myself were able to partake in another epic ride with the bLU cRU spending a week in the woods of South Carolina testing the new YZ125X and YZ250FX models.
All of this started about a month ago and with it being the opportunity of a lifetime, we did everything we could to make it happen. I rescheduled a midterm and skipped some important class sessions at Cal State Fullerton, but the idea of riding in unfamiliar terrain on brand new bikes was too hard to pass up. Previously, the furthest East I had been would have been Lake Powell, and my woods riding experience was virtually non-existent. As for Ryan, his time in the trees truly was non-existent so we were both in for a treat — especially when we saw rain in the forecast.
With all of our logistics taken care of (shoutout to Tyler Hutt for arranging our trip flawlessly), we jetted off to John Wayne Airport bright and early Monday morning at 5:40 for our 6:45 flight. We cut it close on the departure time, but luckily we were able to make it on time. None of us had flown with a gear bag before either, so we also had to figure that out and hope our bas were under 50lbs, which they were… this time. Next, we hopped on the plane with the VitalMX crew and departed for Atlanta for our layover. An easy flight saw us touch down at ATL, where we then headed for lunch at an airport mexican food restaurant – we’re not in SoCal anymore. A few hours here gave us a chance to get some work done, then it was off to Greenville, South Carolina where we’d meet the Yamaha folks.
Arrival in Greenville led us to the Hampton Inn where we’d be staying for the week, then immediately we headed to dinner across the street at the Mellow Mushroom pizza joint with all of the other media outlets. Pizzas upon Pizzas kept coming and at one point, we thought a 2nd group of media may be coming in judging by the amount of pizza leftover. We didn’t make it back to the hotel until after 10PM, but luckily we were off the hook until 10AM the next day so us west coast editors could get some decent sleep.
Tuesday was the bike intro and photo day and took place at the AmPro Yamaha race shop, where the Hawkins’ NASCARshop also sat. We got a brief presentation on the new bikes, along with the history of Randy Hawkins’ career and the NASCAR shop we were housed in. NASCAR legends were built in the very spot including David Pearson and Bill “Million Dollar Bill” Elliott. Yamaha catered Mexican food for us at the shop before heading outdoors to get static photos of the two bikes. Once everyone finished up their photos, we all headed back to the hotel a bit early.
With some daylight left, I was able to squeeze in a quick run around the beautiful Reedy River located across the street from our sleeping quarters – we definitely aren’t in SoCal anymore. Tuesday night’s late dinner saw us head to the Rooftop Bar then down to Ruth’s Chris for an exquisite dinner. Each night’s dinner was full of bench racing and smack talking between the different media members, and plenty of laughs were made at this time before heading back to the room around 10:30PM.
Wednesday morning came quick as we needed to be in the lobby by 7AM, or 4AM for us west coasters. We all made it, barely, then made the trek to the Hawkin’s ranch in Union, SC where they have roughly 1300 acres of property just a few miles away from the Big Buck GNCC location. We were met with freezing temps and some ice on the ground, and everyone huddled around the campfire they had provided us with. A few minutes later, we geared up on the YZ125X and got a tour by Stevie Tokarski and special guest Ryan Villopoto around the three loops that were laid out for us. Despite the numb hands, slick muddy clay, and even some ice, we couldn’t wipe the smile off our face as we ripped the new two stroke around. The usual photo shoot took place, before throwing down some hot laps and just having a good ol’ time.
The land features a little shack on the side of a pond where our lunch was catered, and the day’s menu saw some BBQ food on our plates. We continued to rip around for a few more hours taking more photos and video as we soaked in the riding experience. Riding through trees just wide enough for a set of handlebars and climbing green hills with perfect dirt was an unreal experience and certainly better than taking that finance midterm I was supposed to be doing at the moment. Again, we couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear all day long. At the end of the day, we handed our bike off to the bLU cRU, had our boots pressure washed, then headed back to the hotel for another dinner, this time at Larkin’s for gourmet burgers. More bench racing ensued and with the likes of Racer X’s Davey Coombs around, any moto question was sure to be answered.
Again, Thursday morning came early, but the day was filled with more epic riding and good times. We were able to put in some miles with Yamaha’s east coast tester Noah Fairburn and extreme enduro ripper Bo Ibsen. We did our best making some of the steeper climbs look like molehills and ventured off to make some new lines up these hills for a little more excitement. Again, we aren’t in SoCal anymore.
To cap the day off, the High-Torque pubs of MXA’s Josh Mosiman and Dirt Bike’s Mark Tilley and Ron Lawson put together a “High-Torque Ride”. Front wheels were sawed off, brakes were checked, and smiles were large as we all completed one final lap around the facility. By the end, Dirt Bike’s Mark Tilley was in the lead with myself and Mosiman battling it out as it slowly turned into a race. With just the grass track in front of us, I saw some creative lines by the two media guys as they vied for office supremacy on the trail. In the final corner, Josh went in for the kill and took both him and Tilley down, handing me the inaugural win. Dirt Bike Test can now claim superiority over the rest of the media outlets
The fun and games were coming to an end and the final night’s dinner was held at Randy Hawkins’ house just outside of Greenville where we had a good southern mashup full of good food. We also toured Randy’s trophy room where we were seemingly tripping over trophies because he had so many. He was able to share some cool stories about most of the races and everyone was in awe of his success but humbleness. The final jokes were made and another high-torque war raged, this time on the basketball court, before we finished up our time in the woods.
We were scheduled for the earliest flight out of Spartanburg airport at 6:25AM, and despite Tyler telling us we were going to be ok on time, we cut it much closer than we would have liked. My gear bag was overweight and required some rearranging with my suitcase and the Vital guys were just ahead of me. As I swiftly walked through the airport after a long wait at TSA, I made boarding as last call was going out. Back to SoCal we go where we reminisce on a rad week in the woods with the bLU cRU.