When Yamaha Motor Canada selected their slogan – Conquer Dirt – for their off-road line of products, something tells me that they had Gopher Dunes in mind. It’s often said that this track separates the men from the boys. It’s where racing revolves around sand, sweat and tears. Well … Gopher Dunes lived up to its reputation.

Completing round 5 of the Rockstar Energy Drink Canadian pro national series was a battle of mind, body and bike over the deep, rutted, never-ending sand and ever-changing track conditions. There was no rest to be had once the gate dropped and no such thing as a really smooth line on the track. The deceivingly immaculate conditions of the early morning quickly transformed into sinfully challenging breaking bumps that grew worse as the day went on. To successfully complete a moto at Gopher Dunes was truly to “conquer dirt”.

I saw this post on Pinterest called “Advice from a Sand Dune” by Ilan Shamir. I think it pretty much sums up the right approach to “conquering” Gopher Dunes. It goes like this:

  • Soak up the sunshine

You know it’s likely going to be VERY sunny and hot when the series reaches Gopher Dunes. So to soak up the sunshine also means to soak up lots and lots of water during the week leading up to the race and staying hydrated throughout the race day. Just when you think you’re no longer thirsty and couldn’t drink another drop … pour yourself another glass or grab another bottle of water. (Shout out to my girlfriend for telling me to keep drinking and to Johnny Grant for bringing the blow-up pool to cool off in! That was mint!)

  • Stay loose

Gopher Dunes brings new meaning to going with the flow! Either you do … or you’re going down. You have to try and stay relaxed because to tighten up here and fight the track is to get arm pump and waste precious energy a racer just can’t spare here.

  • Keep moving

To get through the obstacles on this track, you want to be twisting the throttle as much as possible, to stay light and on top of the sand, while keeping it on two wheels. Sounds easy for guys who practice and train all the time and like nothing more than to be on the gas right? Not. Gopher Dunes claimed its share of victims this weekend with bikes smoking, front ends getting swallowed up by the sand and riders struggling to the finish because they are so exhausted. This track tries to defy Newton’s law of motion which states that “every object in a state of motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it”. Well Gopher Dunes was the external force that brought many riders to a stand-still. It was a force to be reckoned with for sure. Every racer that successfully completed a 30-minute moto on this track, especially when it wasn’t groomed after a full day of amateur racing the day before, should feel an enormous sense of accomplishment. I know I did.

  • Embrace winds of change

The one certainty at Gopher Dunes is that the track conditions are going to change each and every lap. That faster line you found the previous lap has likely disappeared by the time you get back to the same spot on the track. So … expect the unexpected …and adapt accordingly.

  • Make positive ripples

As physically demanding as Gopher Dunes can be, it’s also mentally challenging because you constantly have to try and pick the best lines available on the track, throughout the race, in an attempt to maintain speed, momentum, and your position. Success is achieved by tackling and moving past each obstacle, one at a time, making progress one corner, jump and lap at a time. It’s about pacing yourself. It’s about going to the line with a positive attitude and the confidence that you can and will “conquer the dirt”.

There’s no doubt that previous success has a positive ripple effect on a racer as they line up to race. While I was in the west, I got a taste of the podium. I liked it … a lot. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think back to my 3rd place overall finish at Gopher Dunes two years ago as an Intermediate rider and silently wished to repeat or better that finish as a pro. Last weekend proved to be a little bit like déjà vu since I got the exact same results this year as I did back in 2013: a 5-3 finish for 3rd place overall. This is exactly the kind of results I was hoping for when the series returned to the East.

  • Don’t get carried away

Sometimes, giving it your best effort doesn’t mean racing balls to the walls. If you get into a position where the leaders are so far ahead that you can’t realistically catch up, and the gap between you and your next competitor is pretty big, ride smart to maintain your position and earn the valuable points that could lead you to a championship or, at the very least, help you move up in the standings. Knocking it down a notch to a more comfortable but fast pace is better than riding over your head which usually leads to a crash or a DNF. (This lesson took me a while to learn. LOL)

  • Show your true grit!

Never give up! It ain’t over till you see the checkered flag. Lots can happen between the gate drop and the checkers, especially at Gopher Dunes. There appears to be a consensus that this is the toughest, gnarliest, most wicked track in North America. It’s certainly one of the wildest tracks I’ve ever ridden. Only those who arrive prepared to battle manage to “conquer the dirt”.

So while some dread the Gopher Dunes round, I actually look forward to it. I like the weather hot and the track rough. Gopher Dunes rarely fails to deliver this deadly combination. My fitness was on point. (Thanks Rob Mouland!) My mechanic had my YZ250F in tip-top shape. (Thanks Cale Foster!) My team manager kept me motivated and my mind focused on the job at hand. (Thanks Kevin Tyler!) The FFF factor (family, friends and fans) kept fueling my soul with track-side encouragement as I battled the heat, the track, competitors and fatigue, riding my way to the first overall podium finish of my pro career!!!! (Thanks everyone!)

You can’t imagine the feeling you get when you cross the finish line after moto 2 at Gopher Dunes and the CMRC staff point you toward the podium. Your muscles ache with exhaustion while they also want to vibrate with excitement! Your mouth is dry from the exertion and dirt while your body drips of sweat. You go from feeling the beating of the track, to feeling the love of your team, family and fans as you receive hugs, high fives and props. I’m convinced there’s no better feeling in the world than stepping up onto the podium and it’s the kind of feeling that leaves you craving more.

I’m a proud Yamaha rider who’s happy to be able to say that “I conquered the dirt” at Gopher Dunes and hope to do it again this weekend at Sand Del Lee! (Thanks to all my sponsors!)