By Daryl Ecklund
It feels like a lifetime ago that my buddies and I would tear up the hills after school and hit the moto tracks every weekend. We had the time of our lives. But now, all my past-life riding buddies are either hard-core Pro racers traveling the world or have run-of-the-mill family lives. Heck, it’s hard just to get them on the phone these days without some kind of interruption. So, I gave up trying to relive my heydays long ago, thinking that the child within was long gone.
Fortunately, my riding trip to Costa Rica with the rest of the MXA wrecking crew brought out the squeaky-voiced, pimple-faced teenager of years past.
It all started when we were testing 51Fifty Yamaha YZ250F. While inspecting the bike, we noticed a Costa Rica Unlimited sticker on the back fender. Intrigued, we asked team manager Terry Beal what it was all about. Terry replied, “It’s my dream come true.” Terry filled us in on his venture, and we wanted in. Think of the possibilities: Costa Rica, motocross, beach rides, tropical jungle—we were sold. A few months later John Basher, Dennis Stapleton and I—were on the red-eye to San Jose, Costa Rica.
Weary from the five-and-a-half-hour overnight flight, we were welcomed by Costa Rica Unlimited tour guide Chris Killbride and his beautiful wife Miel. “Pura vida!” Chris shouted as we headed towards baggage claim to retrieve John’s tower of luggage, which he insisted was necessary.
The three of us faded in and out of sleep throughout the hour-and-a-half drive to Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica, catching glimpses of motocross tracks, beautiful views of the beach and an army of hungry crocodiles as our bloodshot eyes opened momentarily and then quickly closed again. It wasn’t until Chris came to a halt, put his truck into four-wheel-drive and floored it that we fully awoke to a rush of adrenaline running through our veins. It was the steepest road that we have ever laid eyes on. When we reached the top of the mountain, we had a breathtaking view of the entire landscape. As we sat watching the gates open, Chris announced, “Welcome to Costa Rica Unlimited,” but, since I was still daydreaming, I heard, “Welcome to Jurassic Park.”
When I think of accommodations for an adventure dirt bike tour, the word “rugged” comes to mind. There is nothing about sweat-drenched gear and muddy bikes that connotes luxury, or is there? Four modern-style homes were erected on the scenic landscape of the Costa Rica Unlimited compound. Nothing set it apart from a five-star resort until we saw the workshop with a lineup of Yamaha WR250s and WR450s. Is there such a thing as a six-star resort? We were escorted to our beautiful two-story house, where monkeys were swinging from the trees as we were gearing up. John and I chose two WR250s, while Dennis went with the WR450, and off we went into the tropical jungle of Costa Rica.
Chris knew that we were experienced riders, but what we failed to tell him was that we were out-of-shape experienced riders. Basher had only ridden once in the span of three months due to a slipped disc. Dennis had been out for six months due to wrist and leg surgeries, and I needed my sidekicks to help zip my size-32 pants, as I had been on the sidelines with a blown eardrum for a couple of months.
DAY ONE: THE RIDE STARTED OUT WITH A FEW MILES OF FIRE ROADS THAT LED INTO SOME TIGHT SINGLETRACK INTO THE JUNGLE.
Day one: The ride started out with a few miles of fire roads that led into some tight singletrack into the jungle. At times the red clay was hard to read. We couldn’t tell if it was dry, slick or double-slick. Every once in a while one of us would slide across the ground laughing like a hyena. As we climbed above the jungle cover into the sunlight, we were greeted with a gorgeous 360-degree view. It was hard to keep our eyes on the path as they kept wandering off to view the scenery. Before we knew it, we were in the clouds at 2500 feet. We stopped at the peak and watched the clouds rip through the mountains. What a surreal feeling. We then made our way down the backside of the mountain on razorbacks that led us to a river crossing. Of course we could have gone around, but how much fun would that have been? We were all a bit nervous about how deep the water was, but since we were on Chris’ bikes and he was willing to let us ford the river, we knew it could be done. In fact, Dennis and I turned around and did it again!
A few hours had past since we took off from home base, and the WRs were running on reserve. In a small village we got some water and snacks, while Chris spoke with the locals in their native tongue (Spanish). Chris signaled us to follow him, and we found ourselves on a local’s front lawn. A guy who had a parrot on his shoulder came out of the house and chatted with Chris. The man handed his parrot over to Dennis, went into his living room and came out with his family carrying jugs of gas to fill up the bikes. I was at a loss for words while one of his daughters topped off my WR250. Chris tossed the family a few colones and off we went.
By this time the three MXA musketeers were starting to tire from the long day, and the sun was getting low on the horizon. We had two options: take the fire roads back, which was double the time, or take the trails.
We should have taken the fire roads. We had grins from ear to ear as we hopped over logs, ducked under branches and weaved through the trees, but it wasn’t long until our arms and legs felt like Jello. John wasn’t looking too happy, but he didn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun, so he kept silent and suffered. Chris could tell we were hurting. He pointed to the full moon popping up through the clouds (thank goodness for the WR’s headlights) and said there was only one technical section left. It was a slippery-as-snot rocky uphill that we all struggled to make. John Basher only made it halfway up before his bike started to overheat. Pale in the face, John finally threw in the towel. He was spent, as were the rest of us.
It was dark when we arrived back at the Jurassic Park gates. Chris’ staff was patiently waiting for our arrival so they could prep the bikes for the following day of riding. Chris told us to leave the sweat-drenched gear in a pile, and it would be cleaned and ready for us the following morning. We had to ask, “Do you do this for all your clients, or are you just trying to butter us up?” Is there such a thing as a seven-star rating?
DAY TWO: RINSE, WASH AND REPEAT, EXCEPT THIS TIME OUR BATTERIES WERE FULLY CHARGED, AS WE HAD SLEPT LIKE BABIES TO WHAT SOUNDED LIKE THE “SOUNDS OF NATURE” SOUNDTRACK.
Day two: Rinse, wash and repeat, except this time our batteries were fully charged, as we had slept like babies to what sounded like the “Sounds of Nature” soundtrack. Rain, light thunder and the cries of tropical animals echoed throughout the night. Collectively, the all three of us decided to throw our pride out the window and ask for an easier day of riding. Chris smiled and replied, “No problem!” Did I mention that Chris is 46 years old and his wife Miel went on the rides with us? So not only did we get schooled by an old guy, but also by a girl.
With all the rain the previous night, we thought the red clay was going to be unrideable, but Chris insisted the terrain would be just like it was the day before after a few hours of the sun beating on it. So, we put on our spotless gear for another adventure.
This day consisted of waterfalls, mountaintops with views too beautiful to be put into words, and, my favorite part of the ride, the beach. We were like kids in a candy store. We were giggling like school girls, splashing each other with the warm ocean water and carving corners in the deep beach sand like a scene out of “On Any Sunday.” It was a blast to say the least—that is, until our stomachs started to talk to us. We rode into a small town where kids were out on the street waving to us and parked the bikes in front of a restaurant. What was the food like in Costa Rica? It was like fresh Mexican food. Just subtract the tortillas and add plantains to the plate.
DAY THREE: WE ALL WANTED TO PLAY TOURIST FOR A DAY. THE THREE
MXA MUSKETEERS WERE SORE TO SAY THE LEAST.
Day three: We all wanted to play tourist for a day. The three MXA musketeers were sore to say the least. Chris gave us a laundry list of options to choose from. Everything from white-water rafting to full-body massages to surfing. The massage was tempting, but we wanted to check out the local scene in Jaco, Costa Rico. Jaco is a popular tourist town that is five minutes from Playa Hermosa. It is right on the beach and has nightclubs, restaurants, casinos and stores. We went surfing and zip-lining. Surfing was cool, because the ocean was like bathwater, and zip-lining was a blast in the high treetops. Again, we had to ask, “Do you do this for all your clients, or are you just trying to butter us up?” Is there such a thing as eight stars?
DAY FOUR: BACK TO OUR ROOTS. ON THE DRIVE FROM THE AIRPORT, WE
HAD PASSED TWO MOTOCROSS TRACKS, SO WE ASKED IF
WE COULD CHECK THEM OUT.
Day four: Back to our roots. On the drive from the airport, we had passed two motocross tracks, so we asked if we could check them out. Chris responded, “No problem; we will ride there.” Again, we rode some incredible trails on the way to the track. We arrived to find two Yamaha YZ250Fs prepped and ready to ride. This particular track had held a round of the Costa Rican Motocross Nationals. It was a tight track with the beach only 100 yards away. After a few motos, we hopped back on the WRs and rode to the next track. Again, the YZs were waiting for us. The track had a fast flow and big jumps, with a river in the background. It was an awesome day of riding.
Unfortunately, we were only able to stay a short time compared to most who come to experience what Costa Rica Unlimited has to offer. Why? Well, we had a magazine back home to write—although Jody, who stayed at home to finishing testing the bike in the next issue, seem to have it all handled.
The majority of riders visiting Costa Rica Unlimited stay for seven days and six nights and ride three of those days. It typically costs between $1999 and $2499 per person for a week’s visit. And guess what? You can bring your wife or a friend for free! That’s right. While you and your buddies are having the time of your lives riding dirt bikes, the ladies can go off and do their own thing. Whether that’s getting a massage, hanging on the beach, hiking up a volcano or shopping, the options are endless. Everything we did and more is included in the package. Relive your golden days, and get the buddies together for a trip of a lifetime. Pura vida!
For more information, go to www.costaricaunlimited.com.