Zen and the Art of Cat Herding – Toy Machine’s annual trek to North Carolina.
Originally published in our Dec/Jan 2012-13 issue
Words: Kevin Barnett
Photos: John Bradford
Imagine having to constantly problem-solve around the flippant worries of people forever living in the moment. Caring for all the minutiae and tedium so someone else can take part in an utterly carefree lifestyle. Taking the long way so that everyone can take the shortcut is a task requisite of only the most patient man, happily punching names and numbers into various websites and packing slips, content to drive a van of raving ego machines all over the world, doing his damnedest to command a herd of cats. This man for Toy Machine is Mike Sinclair. Every year, Sinclair makes an autumn pilgrimage to the triangle situated cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina, just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He's a native of the Tar Heel State and spends at least a quarter of each year back in his childhood home. No doubt the laid-back Southern-fried lifestyle suits Mike's terrible diet and affable demeanor. Rarely raising his voice above a gruff rasp, he manages subtly but firmly with unequaled patience. A ball of Buddha calm, I've personally only seen him lose his temper once, which amounted to no more than swiftly putting the van in park. Not one for air travel, Sinclair adopts to drive across the country four times a year, always with his constant-companion pugs, Bowski and Chubbs, and sometimes with an assortment from his stable of riders. This time was as follows:
The rookie hot-shot and casual destroyer of it all, Collin mostly floats in the background of the hotel and van, carefully building index-finger-size joints while listening to personal speakers purling b-side dark metal. Usually getting three to four tricks a day without much effort, the occasional battle he undertakes plays out on his first make, slightly rocket but easily passable. Collin went at it again, much to Bradford's worry, nailing this kickflip just as golf-ball-size rain drops began to fall in celebration.
Unquestionably the leader of the squad, he's spearheading the charge at each spot and holding court inside the van. Quick-witted and irreverent, his sharp tongue brings a sense of levity to the trip dynamic. With no subject off limits and nobody safe, everyone learns to not take the jabs or the job too seriously. Most sessions started with Leo hucking himself at a rail in the dark and sparking everyone to join in. One such session was on a never-before-skated rail down a mellow ramp. He, Collin and Daniel traded blows on the virgin behemoth for an hour before Leo punctuated the evening with a banister rattling kickflip front board. The crew sat behind the nearby generator huddling for warmth and waiting with a chorus of high fives for their brostyle sensei.
The veteran pro of the crew and positive vibe putter-outter. After a gnarly hip surgery, Harmony was on a tear before the trip started. He'd missed our previous visits and was eager to get ripping, perhaps a little too eager. The second night of the trip he did the splits trying to Smith 180 a rail and tore a hole in his knee. His bones were visible under a bloody flap of skin. Mostly unfazed, Josh simply requested an emergency room, preferably a mellow one with no wait. It was mostly cosmetic, but the several stitches would keep him out for the trip. Of course he handled it admirably and stayed on the whole time, all grins on gorgeous chins. Next time that rail's in for it.
Every tour has a road barnacle or two. Barnacles are just friends of the local shop or of the visiting team that join the crew for a duration of the trip. For a night or two we had the pleasure of uber-am Trevor Colden latching onto the session to skate with the bros. Perpetually beanied and slim as a reed, everyone was impressed as he hucked a few tricks down this rail with a lumpy cobblestone run up. He topped it off with a nosegrind. Not bad for a barnacle.
The über-am and ray of sunshine, he can be caught up early getting coffee from the motel lobby in his underwear. Lutheran is usually mid-goof out or giggle, constantly half-peeking at his Instagram between excited yodels from the back of the van. Most certainly the heart of team, he's a beacon of positivity even while taking by far the worst slams. Within the first five minutes of arrival to most spots, it was not unusual to see Dan crumpled at the foot of a large set, Leo's unmistakable laugh ringing out in the distance. In a brief departure from routine, he jumped on this frontside bluntslide and was rolling away after a few tries, which I think even surprised Daniel.
The mysterious one, he says little but makes it count. Typically a short set of words abbreviated or exhaled together with a muddling affect, his lingo is as hilarious as it is addictive. Almost every group catch phrase had its start in Matt's routine verbal affectations. By trip's end, the dialect is so thick that a readjustment period is necessary in order to be able to communicate with the normal world. A minimalist through and through, Bennett weeds through the spots, experimenting on a carefully chosen few. He seems to be waiting for the tricks in his head to manifest. This approach steered him to a slanted retaining wall out of a parking lot into a busy intersection. A veritable shit storm, every 15 minutes a cop would roll by and the whole crew would cower behind some trees to avoid detection. Matt would just step into the shadows and quietly meditate on this switch wallie.