With the work week behind her, the 24-year-old Brier woman swaps her business attire for the racing suit, boots and helmet of a competitive motorcycle racer. In October she competed at an Endurocross event at Everett's Comcast Arena, but mostly she races in Northwest Motorcycle Association (NMA) trail rides around Washington.
"I sit at a desk all week, so maybe this is my way to go out and seek a thrill," she said. "And it's such a thrill. I think it's just the adrenaline. It feels good, and especially when you do good.
"Whenever I go ride around a track," she added, "I end up smiling because I'm having a great time."
Johnson, a 2007 graduate of Everett's Cascade High School, got her start with motorcycles while still in grade school. A family acquaintance rode competitively and it led Johnson, her two brothers, her father and even her mother into taking up the sport.
"It kind of sucked my whole family into it," she said. "My parents bought a motorhome, and we all had bikes. It was just a family thing when I was growing up."
At the outset Johnson was mostly racing against boys, and often winning. By the time she was 13 she was competing and winning against older women, and in 2006 she won her first season title in a women's class.
By then she was in high school and also participating in varsity sports. She played soccer and was a sprinter on the track team, and was good enough to win seven varsity letters. Indeed, Johnson probably could have competed in college, but instead she focused on academics, first in pursuit of an undergraduate degree at Seattle Pacific University and then at Seattle University, where she received her MBA in 2011.
But she never lost her love for racing. In recent years she has competed mostly against men, and in 2012 she finished second in the NMA's 200 B class. She moved up to 200 A this past season and again finished second.
Most trail races are on courses with laps from 5-12 miles, and they generally last about 21/2 hours.
"Trial riding is constant bumps and lots of turns," Johnson said. "You get stuck some places where you have to get off and heave your bike out. It uses a lot of muscles and you're pretty sore (afterward)."
For all the treachery of a typical course, Johnson has never been hurt seriously in a race. She has, however, been injured severely on two non-racing rides, and both times at a course in Odessa about an hour west of Spokane. The first time she fell and suffered a fractured skull, requiring an airlift to Spokane for medical treatment. The second time she ended up with a broken left arm and a concussion.
Still, neither mishap was enough for her to give up racing. It helps, too, that her boyfriend, Shane Tonsgard, also races. In fact, they met years ago as members of the Stumpjumpers Motorcycle Club of Mountlake Terrace "and he was more into it than I was," she said. "So I got pulled into it even more."
As for other friends, and particularly women, "they probably think I'm pretty crazy to do this," Johnson said with a smile. "They hear about how I do these obstacles on my dirt bike and they probably don't understand why. I think they understand it's something I love to do, but I don't think they'll ever want to come out and try it."
Johnson said she would "love to go higher" in racing, though that would require financial sponsorships to help defray the costs. As it is, she estimates she spends $2,000-3,000 in a typical year for apparel, equipment, repairs, fuel, race fees and travel costs.
"It gets really expensive," she said, "which is probably the main thing that keeps me from doing it all the time."
But the appeal of riding a motorcycle remains strong, and Johnson doubts that will ever change.
"I will definitely always ride, even when I'm a mom someday," she said. "Not necessarily racing, but I'll always ride. It's something that brings back memories of my childhood and growing up with my brothers. And it's definitely something I love to do."
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