COLUMBIA — Nestled in the back of Finger Lakes State Park, a sand and dirt track enclosed by an old metal fence serves as a practice ground for motocross enthusiasts.
There are no clouds in the sky, and the sun and muggy heat are ruthless, but that doesn’t stop one rider. Three men stand sweating as they lean over the edge of a fence to watch the rider practice laps.
He comes roaring by across the straightaway on a yellow and black dirt bike, the number 403 across its front and sides. The white on his pants and shirts are covered in a brown layer of dirt from the track.
His protective knee-pads, chest cover, helmet and boots get sprayed with sand from his bike’s front wheels as he changes direction and turns towards a two hill dip.
The rider approaches the first hill, slams his heels down and turns both wrists forward revving the engine and propelling the bike forward with a burst of speed. The bike roars at it flies into the air.
A cloud of dust lingers as the rider jumps across the space between the two hills. He lands gracefully on top of the second hill and rides off down the next straightaway.
Chase Breeggemann, 15, has been riding dirt bikes for a year, and his current bike — a Suzuki RM 125 — for only three months.
“We have a personal track at home in Boonville, and I usually ride every day,” Breeggemann said. “Sometimes twice a day… most of the time I just ride as much as I can.”
Breeggemann said he got started in motocross about a year ago after his father bought him a bike for his birthday.
“My dad went and got me a dirt bike and now here we are,” Breeggemann said.
His father, Jim Breeggemann, said that he looks back and laughs at that birthday gift now.
“He played a whole lot of video games and was glued to the TV,” Jim Breeggemann said. “I wanted to get him away from it, so I got him a bike for his birthday. He was disappointed because he didn’t get the new gaming system.”
He wanted nothing to do with the bike for months.
“But one night,” Jim Breeggemann said, smiling at his son, “I woke up one night to find him in the garage on the bike, and ever since he hasn’t gotten off.”
Chase Breeggemann said he is serious about motocross now.
“I want to be a pro like Dungey,” Chase Breeggemann said. Ryan Dungey is a professional motocross star and hometown hero in Belle Plaine, Minn., where the Breeggemanns used to live.
“I have friends who ride, but not like I do,” Chase Breeggemann said. “They just putt around.”
His friends used to ride circles around him, doing wheelies and other tricks on their bikes, but now, Chase Breeggemann said smiling, “I don’t see them doing the jumps I do.”
While he says he has professional aspirations, he also says he would be just as happy to come out every day and ride.
“As long as I can be competitive, I’m happy,” he said.
Chase Breeggemann said that he’d been riding for about four-to-five hours on Sunday before he was ready to do jumps and tricks.
“I really try and push myself each time I ride,” he said. “But I also try to stay safe."
Part of Chase Breeggemann’s determination stems from a competition he raced in as a beginner. He was put in the intermediate/experienced division by mistake.
“I beat two people out of the gates, but after that I got smoked,” he laughed. “It sucked, but I got out there."
His immediate goal is to get good enough to compete again at that level and be successful.
That means riding as much as he can. His father says he has no qualms.
“I’m an outdoorsman, and now he is too. It’s great,” Jim Breeggemann said.
For the rest of the summer, Chase Breeggemann plans to continue to try to get on the track every day.
“I love being out here, jumping and riding through berms and spraying up dirt everywhere,” he said. “You ride really hard and get that adrenaline pumping ... and you just feel good!”