Cam Zink hits the Big Girl on the Oakley Sender for the first time during practice.

Cam Zink hits the Big Girl on the Oakley Sender for the first time during practice.

Words and Imagery by Danielle Baker

My road to Rampage started in Moab when I drunkenly arranged to become a stowaway in the Fox van. For more than six hours on the Monday before the event I stared out the window as the terrain changed like channels with scenes from “Indiana Jones” to the sand people from “Star Wars.” Each time the van braked, I expected to see a cartoon roadrunner being chased down by a coyote. I focused on being a good passenger, tried not to think about how much I had to pee and giggled quietly as we passed through Beaver, Utah.

Upon arrival in Virgin I was quickly introduced to the difference between Canadian and American Walmarts: You can buy guns at the American ones. The space that would be taken up in a Canadian Walmart with things like room deodorizers, Tupperware and other things you don't really need, was filled with rifles and ammo, obviously things you truly need. In fact there is reportedly a law in this area that if you own a home you must own a gun, I suppose all the paperwork for house insurance takes too long.

I picked out my cousin-dating-straw-big-brimmed-hat, the standard badge of honor that says, "I went to Rampage" and left mildly disappointed that that I didn't see more 'people of Walmart.’ My spirits were lifted in the parking lot however when I saw a woman driving around with a carousal horse and a dead wreath on the roof of her mini van. I felt satisfied.

Watching Rampage on TV as opposed to seeing it in person is essentially the same as thinking a great white is a guppy. The first day that I drove the windy and dusty road deep into the canyon where the event has taken place for the last few years made me feel even more dwarfed than my 5'4" stature normally allows. The vastness of the Rampage venue is overwhelming.

I instantly gained a new appreciation for how these athletes read terrain and the creativity that they employ at these competitions. I started my trek up the canyon to see what I could see. The building crews were all out in full force as it was the first day that they could lay tool to earth, even if it is unforgiving, nearly unmoldable dirt.

Not wanting my fear of heights to become too obvious, I tried to look up and control my shaking; after all, these guys were about to be riding down this! Whenever I heard 'heads up' I would duck for cover under the nearest outcropping as the diggers dislodged boulders the size of small animals. I was very aware of my mortality as we climbed up the jagged edges and goat paths that eventually got us to the top the course, refusing the whole way to stand out on the pre-built platforms and take in the view that the riders would be plummeting through.

Those lucky enough to make the journey to the Utah desert and post look-at-where-I-am-and-you-are-not Instagram photos, are well rewarded with an amazing show. The athletes who participate here are in it for the love of what they can create, not for the money. In fact for a dressed-up television production, the Red Bull Rampage athletes make very little money for what they risk. Just because it airs on NBC does not mean that these people are earning NBA salaries.

Take away the helicopter, the film crews, and the whole production of Red Bull Rampage and you would still have athletes hucking huge lines. While the sport may need the elevation of a corporate partnership to gain mass appeal and the sponsorships that come with it, the riders are here because they love what they do.

You can put up as many flags, signs and branded merchandise as you would like, but you cannot buy the core culture of big-mountain riding. Only the athletes who are judged well at these competitions are rewarded for risking their lives. The injured see hospital bills, not pay checks, in the mail. And yet everyone wants to be there, athlete and spectator alike.

Looking back on the whole event, Rampage for me wasn't the glitz and glam, it wasn't the televised live feed, the ticket sales or the segregated, catered lunches. For me, Rampage was sitting on the hillside surrounded by friends at magic hour the evening before the competition, watching Strait and Zink hit the Big Girl for the first time. As they rode up to it over and over again, it was not the media coverage or the prize money that mattered at that very moment; it was the essence of mountain biking, community and personal achievement. It was everything that we should go to Rampage for.