The tornado hunter on the poetry of downhill mountain biking
When we chatted, Ricky Forbes had just returned from a trip to Panama. His days were spent learning Spanish, surfing and volunteering. The three-week vacation was a needed break before the start of storm-chasing season.
Yes, Forbes is a professional storm chaser. The title even graces his business card. The Saskatchewan native is the driver for one of North America’s top professional stormchasing teams, which appears in the cmt Canada show Tornadohunters. He’s also the host of Woodscanada’sgreatest Explorer, a web series that features 12 adventurous Canadians facing outdoor challenges across the country.
Forbes, 30, has always enjoyed adrenalin-boosting activities, such as snowboarding, skydiving and downhill mountain biking. Six years ago, he graduated from the University of Saskatchewan having studied finance. He worked in sales and marketing for a while, but more adventurous work that suited him better was also in the mix – northern fly-in mines, for example.
A little luck led Forbes to meet some storm chasers – including Tornado Hunters co-star Greg Johnson – who were looking for a driver. He figured he would give it a try for a week. If nothing else, Forbes could add a cool job to his resumé. “I saw my first tornado and I was hooked,” he recalled. “They told me it was just like Twister; I didn’t believe them. Nobody storm chases for a living, but this guy said he did, so I gave it a shot.”
Forbes’s first storm-chasing experience was in Oklahoma. For seven days, he said his team kept missing the wicked weather. Then, on their final day, they caught a meteorological monster, unlike anything he had ever seen.
“It was raining down baseball-size hail and the truck was getting pummelled, which in itself was a bit terrifying,” Forbes said. “Then, we popped out on the other side of this hailstorm and about 100 yards in front of us was a mile-wide tornado ripping up the fields. It was so surreal. You want to stay there and watch it, but at the same time you are terrified. That tornado was the longest tornado I’ve ever seen. It lasted for over four hours.” A professional storm chaser was born.
Cycling, for Forbes, offers a similar rush to his day job. A trip to the Rockies at 11 years old hooked him on mountain biking. His first bike was a Gary Fisher bmx. Growing up, dirt biking was his first love; he has many broken bones from these early days in the saddle to prove it. Today, Forbes finds downhill mountain biking more “poetic.”
“You are coming down the mountain and halfway down, as you are going along really tight trails and threading the needle between trees, everything disappears out of your life,” he explained. “You have to be so in the moment. Put the horse blinders on, and just focus on the trail. You get to calm down; you hear a creek running by or see a deer on the trail, and all the greenery, and it feels like you are one with Mother Nature.”
Getting to travel the continent is another aspect of his day job Forbes loves. “We get to travel more than 130,000 km across Canada and the U.S. every year during the six months we are on the road,” he explained. “The road trip itself is awesome, along with the thrill of seeing the tornadoes and getting to capture, photograph and video some of biggest storms on the planet. It’s a dream come true.” Even after tracking 85 tornadoes during the past five years, the thrill of the chase never fades. “You never know how wild the next one is going to be,” Forbes concluded. “Some storm chasers will tell you they watched Twister growing up and they knew that’s what they wanted to be, but I never thought it was a possibility. Even now, it feels surreal to call myself a professional storm chaser, but I absolutely love it.”
Age Hometown Profession Bike 30 Saskatoon
Storm chaser, adventurer, television host
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