Marine infantry veteran Clark Cavalier secures his helmet before climbing inside the Can-Am. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
On a recent Monday morning, a small group of wounded veterans gathered at Pastranaland in Annapolis, Maryland. It was Memorial Day, and the group had come to the home of action sports legend Travis Pastrana to celebrate with a death-defying trip around one of the most exclusive top-tier race tracks in the world.
Several of the veterans held helmets — a necessary safety precaution when traversing the famous off-road course that twists and turns through the dense woods that cover the 65-acre property. After a short safety brief from Pastrana — a man who’s broken more than 60 of his bones doing stuff just like what the group was preparing to do now — the first volunteer climbed inside the four-wheeled 200-horsepower Can-Am Maverick X3, and off they went.
Travis Pastrana built the action sports park around the same trails he rode as a kid. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
Driving 100 mph feels fast regardless of the road conditions. But speeds like that take on a whole new dimension of extreme on the off-road course at Pastranaland. The surrounding woods blur into a wall of greens and browns. Trees rocket by within mere inches of the vehicle. It is about as dangerous a race venue as they come, and Pastrana has driven it more times than he can count.
The action sports legend started building Pastranaland when he was just 12 years old. Since then, what began as a simple dirt track in the Maryland backwoods has grown into a complex maze of jumps, hairpin turns, and stomach-churning passageways that requires a lot of skill and courage to navigate without ending up in the hospital. Flying through the forest on one of his four-wheeled toys, Pastrana is so at ease he may as well be sipping his morning coffee. The same, however, cannot be said of his passengers.
Travis Pastrana's 200 horsepower Can-Am is a beast, though it's dwarfed by his 800 horsepower race car. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
When the mud-splattered vehicle finally screams back out of the woods, Pastrana pulls to a stop and calls for the next volunteer. One by one, the veterans take their turn inside the Maverick X3, each returning to the starting line just as high on adrenaline as the one before.
“Man,” said Clark Cavalier as he emerged from the side-by-side, smiling and still trying to catch his breath. “I need one of those.”
Following rides on the Can-AM, the Pastranaland crew put on a stunt show. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
Cavalier was one of several wounded veterans of the Global War on Terror at the event. A Marine veteran, he lost both his legs to an IED in Afghanistan in 2011. Also there was Tyler Vargas-Andrews, who lost an arm and a leg in the deadly 2021 attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport (now known as the Kabul International Airport). Now sporting two prosthetic limbs, the former scout sniper relished the opportunity to ride on a closed course with one of the best professional drivers of all time, yet he never lost sight of the fact that the fun he was having was ultimately owed to the 13 Americans who were killed in the same blast that left him wounded.
“This is such an incredible opportunity, but today isn’t about me or the other wounded veterans,” Vargas-Andrews told Coffee or Die. “It is about honoring those who were killed in action.”
There was no shortage of jaw-dropping stunts at the Memorial Day event. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
Pastrana and his family have been hosting Memorial Day events for as long as he can remember. His father served in the Marine Corps and used to host annual dinners for veterans at Walter Reed Medical Center. When Pastrana turned pro at age 16, he decided to grow the tradition. What was once a casual meal has evolved into a daylong event at Pastranaland that includes breakneck tours of his off-road course, a motorcross stunt show, and a dirt bike race for anyone brave enough to test their skills against the four-time Rally America champion.
Pastrana’s appreciation for veterans is ingrained in his DNA. His father isn’t the only member of the family who has worn a uniform. In fact, both of his grandfathers served in the Navy, his grandmother served in the CIA, and four of his cousins attended the United States Naval Academy. Having grown up steeped in military culture, and fully aware of the sacrifices that life in the service entails, he feels duty-bound to give back to those who serve whenever he can.
Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews takes a break from the action. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
“Memorial Day is for the fallen, but it has never been a day of mourning in my family,” Pastrana told Coffee or Die. “It's always been a time to enjoy the freedoms we’ve been given by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. What I can do here is gather people to remember them and pay thanks that we get to live the American dream.”
Pastrana made it clear that his No. 1 goal with the event was to bring as much joy as he could muster to everyone in attendance. Now at 39 years old, he says that building community is more important to him these days than winning. Hence, why he recently decided to join forces with Black Rifle Coffee Company.
Travis Pastrana gives a "safety brief" before kicking off a pit-bike race. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
“Even more than racing, I want to foster friendships,” Pastrana said. “Whenever I go to a race or an event, the first question from Black Rifle is, ‘How can we involve the community?’ They’re more willing to spend money on fixing the things I break while I have veterans here than to just have me go race and advertise for them.”
For Pastrana, being able to host wounded veterans and giving them a chance to do things with no limitations is one of the greatest rewards of his success as an athlete. He has found a way to leverage his unique skill set to get people to open up. When some of the veterans are more reserved, he invites them for a cure-all ride in the Can-Am. More often than not, when those same quiet veterans re-emerge from the woods, they suddenly can’t stop talking.
Travis Pastrana's family-sized Can-Am. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
“That adrenaline rush really gets people talking,” Pastrana said. “Veterans who were very reserved before climbing in the Can-Am start jabbering away after going ten-tenths with a professional driver on a closed course.”
While Pastrana spent Memorial Day doing everything he could to give the veterans a once-in-a-lifetime experience, he was quick to point out that he too benefits from their presence at Pastranaland.
Travis Pastrana's custom Subaru Brat, nicknamed the "BRAAAP." Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
“Today, everyone keeps coming up to me and saying, ‘Thank you,’ but this is so fun for me,” he said. “I love being able to bring people into this action-sports world. The good energy that pops up whenever veterans are here helps me as much as it does them.”
Pastrana has no plans of stopping his Memorial Day tradition. He also has no intention of pumping the brakes on his career as an athlete. In three weeks, beginning on June 30, he will trade in his race car for a boat and compete on the water in the multi-day Union Internationale Motonautique Class 1 Powerboat series in Sarasota, Florida.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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