America is a big and beautiful country which usually makes it difficult for me to choose where to go on vacation. Last year I decided to try an off road destination (the Hatfield-McCoy trail system in West Virginia) and had a great time. This year’s destination was Highland Park Resort in Georgia. I found out Shane Watts would be holding his DirtWise school the same weekend I was there, which added another perk to an already grand adventure. I thought it was great to get away from the mud, rocks and tangled conspiracy of tree roots that define the upstate New York trails I ride. By the end of the week I was tired, sore, and humbled, but with the classroom being 1,000 acres of excellent trails, and the teacher being Shane Watts, going to school was never so much fun.Highland Park Resort (www.highlandparkresort.com
) is a 1,000 acre privately owned facility located about an hour west of Atlanta, Georgia. There are currently 24 trails with roughly 60 miles of varied terrain offering something for every rider from beginner to advanced. New trails are added regularly and the trails are rated using a diamond system, with one diamond being the easiest and five diamonds being the most difficult. The one, two and three diamond trails are shared by dirt bikes and ATV’s; the most difficult four and five diamond trails are reserved for dirt bikes (and brave souls). They offer on-site cabins and camping, have a full service pro shop, rent dirt bikes and ATV’s, and offer several free in-house schools , and, of course, play host to Shane’s DirtWise school.Most people know Shane is a great rider, but he’s also a great teacher, combining just the right amount of theory backed up by example, then implemented into practice. Our 20 rider class was a good mix of skill levels, with a few A and B riders, and the bulk of the class made up of very talented C riders. Some, like me, were more interested in safety than speed and some were there solely to discover the secrets of breaking the sound barrier. Most were somewhere in between.Shane emphasizes the importance of fundamentals and riding smart, so it was no surprise that he began our class with the basics. We started the class by learning to weave through cones, tried to grasp the fine art of slow riding (not as easy as it sounds), gave wheelies a valiant attempt, and practiced riding while locking the front wheel. We progressed to corners, both flat and rutted, learned how to wheelie over logs, choose the best line, attack treacherous hills and snake through typically tight east coast single track. The class was always challenging, but never grueling and there was even time for hitting the trails to do some well-deserved free riding. Shane also showed us some advanced techniques and it was definitely a high point watching him ride; it was like being in our own private theater. In one demonstration he did a 40 foot wheelie into a rutted section and launched the bike a full 30 feet; not once, not twice, but three times, and landed the back wheel inches from the same spot each time. Awesome!I went into the class with a fair degree of confidence but quickly discovered there was more room for improvement than I care to admit. I ended up being the only woman in the class, but the guys were great company and my only regret was not taking the class sooner. When the dust settled, I realized it’s better to discover any shortcomings in a controlled environment instead of on a crowded track or trail. I had a great time, met some great people, discovered a great place to ride, and learned a bit more about myself and the great sport of dirt bikes. It was some of the best vacation money I’ve ever spent and I’m already planning for 2009.