Originally published November 2007
Ben and Eric Bostrom have never led what most would consider to be conventional lives.
Raised by counter-culture parents in northern California, the two were racing by the time they hit kindergarten, were also fiercely competitive, and gradually became, shall we say, keenly aware of the natural world because they grew up largely without the, ah, benefit, of a television set planted in front of them 24/7. The brothers Bostrom remain two very earthy and unusual people—absolute enigmas in the cutthroat and intense world of motorcycle racing. Try to name two other riders that you can sit down with and discuss such diverse topics as beat-generation author Jack Kerouac (Eric), gigantic Elvis-style belt buckles (Ben), and guitar chords (both)—you can’t.
And when they need to blow off some steam, the two do so in a decidedly unconventional way.
After the frustration of the 2007 season—neither Ben or Eric won a race—together they planned an epic surfing trip to Mexico as a way to wash all that frustration from their collective souls. The two bought an old boat and an equally decrepit truck to pull it with, and started to circle places on the map where they’d be able to find long, tall waves.
The truck’s odometer registered over 250,000 miles before the trip even started. It was purchased not because they longed to intimately experience sacked-out seat springs and a loose steering assembly. Both truck and the boat were chosen because they could conceivably be abandoned in Mexico if the situation warranted it. Banditos, bad weather, or a late start back home were potential reasons for vehicle abandonment, seemingly. The trip was designed to be basic and relatively inexpensive. However, the $2,500 budget for the truck and boat was blown through quickly—the beaters ended up costing $15,000.
Big brother Ben was “all in” for the trip south. He was “stoked” and so looking forward to braving gigantic waves south of the border with his brother and friends. Nothing was going to stop him from being there. Thus, of course, Ben did not go. Those who know Ben are right now not registering any shock. (For more on what Ben did instead, see the sidebar.)
Eric and pals hit the border and just kept going. Freeway led to two-lane, then turned into single-lane paths through the mountains. A group of gringos towing an old boat isn’t too unusual even for the smallest of villages in the mountains and along the shore, and even if there was some shock from the locals, the hippie Zen vibe from the group smoothed things over.
Appropriately sized waves were spotted and the boat—filled with boards—was launched into the sea. The epic surfing trip was about to get seriously fun, and all the wind, getting lost in the mountains, and the omni-present flying insects and sand could not dent their enthusiasm. Perma-grin! Just then, someone looked over the side of the boat at a long, dark object in the water and said something like “Hey, what’s that thin…sh*t! SHARK!” A fourteen-foot tiger shark welcomed the surfers to Mexico with a cruise past the boat—yum, well-muscled white boys. The inhabitants of the boat, of course, then recalled the info they had gleaned from late night Discovery Channel surfing—that tiger sharks attack more humans than the headline-grabbing Great Whites.
“It was a serious reality check,” Eric says of the shark sighting.
The group surfed and drove to a new location every few days. “We slept in a swamp a couple of nights,” Bostrom recalls. “All you want to do is get in the tent, because…we had a canopy with us, and we put the canopy over the tent…because it was probably like 90, 95 degrees at nighttime. So the canopy was for rain, but the tent had to be totally open because it was so hot, and so there’s me and two friends. Obviously, the day began before sunlight, because we just wanted to get out of the tent and get into the water. We’d surf until the little bit of food that we ate was out, and we’d find a place to go get some drinks, and drink some Coronas and wait for the tide to change or whatever, and go back out there and hit it again. That was pretty much our every day.”
Just getting the boat to the point where they could launch the boards was a learning process, one that several times ended up with the boat dangerously filled with water and its engine buried in the sand—in pounding surf. The locals found Eric and his friends’ boat-launching skills quite entertaining—gringos tempting the Grim Reaper remain fascinating for the Mexican locals, be it the Baja 1000 or water-based fun like Eric and friends. But, to their credit, they did help them out each time the situation got really serious.
When did the off-season whistle officially blow? When they saw the shark? When they were lost in the Mexican mountains or eating lunch in an un-named village? When the locals invited them into their home for dinner?
“Probably when we saw someone eating iguana,” Bostrom says.
The group blew past the sands of Baja and just kept going south. In the end, they made it all the way to the border of Guatemala. Another few days behind the see-sawing wheel of that old truck, and they’d have been in South America.
After many sublime days of sun and surf passed, Eric and friends decided to forgo the drive home and, instead, fly back to the U.S. They left the truck and boat in Mexico and boarded jets bound for the States.
While “civilians” might call this a trip of a lifetime if they experienced/survived it, for Eric Bostrom, it was just one more episode in a long, yet thankfully, not-very-normal existence.
“As it turned out, we did some no-no’s,” he recalls. “We drove over a few mountains that we learned after the fact that we shouldn’t drive over at night, because there’s bandits, and they’ll roll you out in front of the road, and rob you. But everything went smooth. They say ignorance is bliss, and God protects the innocent.”
Sidebar: How The Other Half Lives (And Suffers)
Meanwhile, back at stately Bostrom Manor … actually elder brother Ben was in Colorado with his girlfriend and dog doing the usual “Yeah, maybe I’ll fly down tomorrow” thing. Assuredly, everyone involved but Ben and Eric knew he wasn’t going to join them in almost-South America. Colorado was just too great. “You can ride a bicycle from the cabin up to the top of Mt. Evans, 14,200 feet,” Ben explains. “On the way home, we went through all the National Parks.”
It seems that he “made a wrong toin at Albukoykee” and entered an impromptu triathlon in Las Vegas that he, his girlfriend, and mother decided to enter, even though Ben has not run in over two years as a means of training. Knowing this, Benny decided to race just the Half-Ironman class: Thirteen miles on foot, 56 on a bicycle and a mile-and-a-quarter swim. Despite the fact that he hadn’t run in a long while and he’d never been a great swimmer, Bostrom seemed confident that he’d do well in the abbreviated triathlon. Riders have this oak-like faith in themselves that, no matter what factors they’re up against, they still believe that they have a legitimate shot at winning.
Bostrom rides a bicycle every day for training, so the bicycle portion of the three-part race saw him blaze off into the distance, putting most of the pack behind him. It’s only when the run began that, according to Bostrom, his “damn body turned traitor and let me down.”
“The bike part’s all fine, because that’s what I do,” Ben said. “So when we get on the bike, you come in, you look like you’re going to be all fast, everybody thinks you’re going to be fast, because you come in and you’re leading this thing off the bike. Then the run starts and, initially, I looked strong. I’m like, ‘Man, I’m in second place. I could just cruise this.’
Three miles into the 13-mile run, Ben’s body started to slowly implode. “Before you know it, you’re like, ‘What’s that? My leg giving out?’ And then your other leg gives out, and then your hips start to hurt, and then your knees hurt, and then you can’t hardly push off your calves anymore,” he explains. And then, because this course climbed a couple thousand feet of elevation, on the way back down, every time I’d step, if I didn’t lock out the knee just right, my quad would buckle,” recalls Bostrom.
Asked if the pain became so intense that he felt he was going to evacuate the contents of his stomach, Bostrom denied it, but said a far greater degree of shame was on the cusp. “I ran three miles, and I just cried for the next 10. Cried. It took me two hours to finish that run, which was just embarrassingly slow. I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry so bad.”
Bostrom finished and, for the last seven miles, cursed himself for attempting such a silly stunt. It left him hobbling. “I could barely walk to the car. I’m not kidding. It was only an eighth of a mile away, and I barely made it.”
After that, Bostrom decided to join some friends in a 24-hour long mountain bike race in Moab.
While he does bicycle daily, it’s on the road; he hasn’t ridden a mountain bike in some time. In fact, he didn’t even own a mountain bike. “I don’t ride mountain bikes. But some of my friends that race on a team convinced me to race this Moab 24 Hours. I go, ‘I don’t mountain bike.’ They’re, ‘Don’t worry, Cannondale will build you one.’ The guys at Newbury bike shop were so cool. They built this bike in, like, a day. I rode, I tested at night, they finished the bike, I picked it up, it was dark. I went out with some buddies with some headlights, rode like three hours in the dark, and said, ‘That’s amazing. That is unbelievable.’ Got in the car, drove to Utah, took another night session, took a day session. Up for over 24 hours. Found out how hard you can really crash on a mountain bike. I lost it a few times. Lots of scars. Cracked some ribs. I have this big, old hematoma on my leg. I drained it twice.”
At this point Bostrom lifts up his pant leg to reveal a damaged section of flesh both shaped like, and almost the actual size of, Italy.
“What did the doctor say when he drained that?” I asked.
Bostrom gives me with a strange look and confesses that he drains his own hematomas, thank you.