“I haven’t run this course yet. Should be fun,” Travis Pastrana says, giving me that signature smirk. Before I even think of protesting—not that I would—Pastrana has his helmet on, his belts hooked up, and a Can-Am X3 xRS Turbo RR is already idling, waiting for me to strap in. It's one of those moments in life where you question how exactly you ended up here.
[Editor's note: Jonathon recently spent a day hanging out with Pastrana as the action sports legend sat for an extended, in-depth interview covering everything from Ken Block to parenthood to how he controls his own fears. This wasn't part of the original plan, but when someone like Pastrana wants to take you for a ride, you go.]
We’re at MidAmerica Outdoors, an off-road racing and trail-riding park Pastrana is building out with the land’s owner, Jason Robinett, to become the destination for all things action sports. It’s a sprawling facility out in the lowlands of Oklahoma an hour outside of Tusla. There’s a massive complex being built for Nitrocross, a pit bike course, a downhill Barbie Jeep run, a lazy river, a freestyle motocross area that has the biggest kicker jump I’ve ever seen in my life, and countless tree-lined off-road trails built for pro-spec race rigs and off-the-showroom-floor UTVs like the Can-Am we’re in.
It’s heaven on Earth.
And though Pastrana has taken a step back from his racing activities this year outside Nitrocross, the rallycross series he created, the man hasn’t lost any confidence in his driving capabilities. Not a single ounce.
We tear off; Travis’ inputs are stupidly quick, getting onto the gas faster than I can think. The open field that connects the first forest section of the course flashes past so rapidly, I can barely catch my breath before we reach the trees. Immediately, what I thought I knew about the Can-Am’s capabilities after spending the last two years with my own... well, it evaporated as Travis drove it harder than I knew to be possible.
Terry Madden, a professional UTV racer who’s raced King of the Hammers and is also in our convoy with his race-spec Can-Am UTV, would later tell me we were clocking just under three-quarters race pace. My heart sank hearing that.
Through the trees, the man once known as “Wonder Boy” shatters my power to say anything but “Whoa!” and smile from ear to ear, giggling in my helmet. I don't blink for 20 minutes, as my eyes try to read the trail ahead and understand how Pastrana and Madden could process everything so fast. I came up with the certainty that I just suck.
But as we exit the forest section of the stage and Pastrana floors the 200-horsepower UTV, we feel a sudden vibration followed by an explosion over our heads that causes us to instinctively duck. The roof just ripped off at around 70 mph. Pastrana slows for a fraction of a second, looks up, looks at me, shrugs, and then gets back on the gas. I can sense that same smirk pulling his face back from behind his helmet.
And we aren’t done with close calls. As we enter the first few feet of the next forest section with Madden leading the convoy, two deer jump out right in front of us. Madden barely misses them by what feels like inches. Suddenly, I'm not just watching Travis’ steering and the trail ahead, but also the forest to the side, waiting for another deer to pop out and join the two of us in the cabin. But the jolt of fresh venison never comes, and we exit the forest to what I think is the finish line our impromptu rally.
Only it's not.
The final section is a cliff rock crawl, the type you see those dope-ass rock bouncers hit in 1,000 horsepower tube-frame “cars.” The obstacle doesn't seem to phase either men as they aim the UTVs at the wall and gun it, going up what felt like a sheer cliff. We're at the top in seconds, my jaw agape that the stock Can-Am just did that. And then we go back down and hit it again, but a different line that felt even steeper. Still, we get to the top like it's nothing.
We crawl down the wall, both to let me and another writer catch our breath, and because Pastrana's Can-Am is all but out of gas. He's all smiles as we pull our helmets off. “How was that!” he exclaims. I can barely utter a word, a manic smile plastered across my own face, which clearly lets Travis know I loved our ride. And then he does the most Pastrana thing possible. He calls me out.
“You’ve got this,” he says, again smirking and pointing at the rock wall ahead of us. The same wall I absolutely thought we were going to backflip off of just moments before.
Now, if it were anyone else, I would’ve absolutely said, “Nope!” But this is Travis Pastrana, and if you’re an action sports fan of my generation, you know there’s no backing down from this man’s call-out. It’d be like refusing a joint from Snoop or another beer from Stone Cold Steve Austin. You just stamp down the fear and send it.
Madden, sensing I might be about to need a Medevac a la Street Bike Tommy, grabs his helmet and hops into the stock Can-Am with me. “I’ll walk you through this,” he says, calming my nerves. We talk tactics; he tells me it’s all about managing wheel speed and only turning the wheels when I hit a line that will get us all the way up.
I get up the first step up, but my wheels spin and instinctively I use my left foot to hit the brakes, halting our progress for a fraction of a second. I get back on the gas, turn the wheel, and climb the last bit with what can only be described as extreme violence. We make it to the top, but it takes what felt like minutes longer than either pro. Madden has some more advice: “Don’t left foot brake. This is one-foot crawling, not rally. If you just use just your right foot, you’ll be 100% smoother. Now, let’s do it again.”
And so we do. But this time, my left foot is glued to the dead pedal. We hit the wall, I modulate the throttle as best I can—it's still jerky as all hell as the rock wall bounced us up and down, but less so than before, and way quicker—and we’re up the face again. I breathed a sigh of relief and exhaled what felt like pure adrenaline.
I wouldn’t say I was good at it. Hell, I'm trash compared to these dudes. But I kept the Can-Am shiny side up and didn’t kill Madden or myself. It's a win, one made all the better as I exit the seat to hear Travis say, “See, you had it!”
Pastrana and Madden then tell me that they’ve brought a few friends over this wall before, only for them to walk away without even trying it. They’d listened to that internal “Nope.”
I'm still coming down from the experience with two thoughts rolling around my head. First, in Travis’ hands, that Can-Am is a weapon, and it makes me wonder how much farther I can push my own Maverick X3. Not that I should, especially with the kids in the UTV, though they’d be the first to exclaim “Go faster, daddy!”
And second, I can’t believe Travis Pastrana actually called me out. But there’s video proof and my own smirk that’ll never fade.
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