I learned how to drive a skid steer when a bored friend of mine decided he needed to build a pump track.

That’s what happens when landscapers realize they own heavy equipment during a recession, have piles of dirt and a little extra time. Lucky for me, my friend also just started loving bikes. What a dilemma.

All he wanted was somebody to tell him where to put the piles of dirt. I was so excited by the mounds of dirt, a field full of large rock tables and logs of all sizes to drop into our fantasy track. The first thing I wanted was a seven-foot berm. “We’ll work from here!” I shouted in glee. It was like Disney World sponsored by Case. My kids picnicked in the excavator, climbed all over the bulldozer, and took turns sitting in my lap to drive the skid steer – as if I knew what I was doing. Jeff shouted instructions to me from across the way: “The left handle moves you forward and backward! The right one moves the bucket!”

That’s it?! I acted brave and climbed into the machine, snapping the bar down snugly across my lap in case I found myself upside down at any point. The engine easily cranked as everyone stopped to watch what might happen, comic book thought bubbles blossoming above their heads. Mostly I wanted my kids to know that their mom can do ANYTHING. It keeps them aware when they’re being bad.

I jerked the thing forward and laughed at how I felt more like R2D2 than Sigourney Weaver.

“Pack this dirt down as I dump it, and move some of this dirt over to the berm!” Jeff shouted.

I was amazed that he thought this was such a simple possibility. Only my girlfriend watching knew I was in above my head and shouted encouraging words and advice from the sidelines. I drove over to the dirt pile and began my version of scooping, which was more like jamming the bucket into the ground and tilting the machine backwards. Oops. I managed to pick up a bit of dirt and drove over to the berm to dump it. I could have carried more in my arms. Then I couldn’t back the thing out without spinning around or crashing into the excavator. Jeff threw me a quizzical look and I just laughed, not knowing which part was most humorous. He then sent me to another pile to practice scooping.

We drew patterns in the dirt of what the finished track would look like, including a rock table off the side of the berm that allows you to ride across the field and drop into the track. For a week he worked on it, gleaning advice from various friends until at last it was ridable.

The initial hump leading in has to be perfectly hit or none of the whoopdiewhoops work. The last hump before the berm is so tall that it requires good speed on the five humps leading up to it. With the right speed, the berm can be run high and fast, looping the return into fits of giggles. More will be added, but for now it’s a great warm-up for Kitsuma, just across the highway. Like anything worthwhile, it will take practice before nailing it, and I’m certain I’ll get better at the skid steer before it’s done.