Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chuckanut Enduro

Last weekend reminded me of why I fell in love with mountain biking.  The WMBC's annual Shoot the Trails event combined with the inaugural Chuckanut Enduro made for one of the most fun weekends I can remember.  Big thanks to Val Thompson for organizing Shoot the Trails, which raised $17,000 towards the trails we ride.  Our mountain bike community is unbelievable.  There is certainly no place I would rather live right now than Bellingham.

Full-house at the WMBC Shoot the Trails event.
Sunday's enduro race was an eye-opening experience for me.  I had previously only raced one enduro-style event, the Methow Enduro, which was a lot of fun but not vastly different from a standard cross-country affair.  The Chuckanut Enduro was an entirely different beast.  Being on my backyard trails, I knew the course would include a lot of technical, rooty, slimy challenges.  Staying upright and on the trail would be a challenge.  Chuckanut was seeing tons of traffic the week before the event with everyone and their mother out practicing.  New lines were popping up and everything was getting covered in a layer of slimy damp loam.  My number one goal was to have fun, ride within my abilities, and not crash and re-injure my shoulder (or anything else).

24 miles and 5k+ ft of gain.  Not a walk in the park!
Rising early Sunday morning was painful after a late Saturday night.  Getting ready to ride at Larrabee State Park, I was asking lots of questions and trying not to look like a total idiot.  I finally casually began climbing up Fragrance Lake Rd to the start of the first stage, Two Dollar.  Knowing this was the least technical stage with the most pedaling, I hoped to take advantage of being on my Raleigh hardtail and build up an advantage before going into the more technical stages.  After powering down Two Dollar, I was so gassed I could barely see straight.  This was going to be a tough day on the bike!  It turns out I only put 5 seconds on Lars Sternberg... so much for building a big lead on "the pedally stage"!

After climbing casually in a group up to Lower Chuckanut Ridge, we were all amazed by how it seemed to be raining on us, despite absolutely no chance of precipitation.  Strangely, the dense fog coming off the Sound must have been blowing across the high crest of Chuckanut, where moisture was caught in the trees and dropped down on us in thick drops.  It was quite the isolated weather phenomena and reminded me of the Atacama Desert of Chile, where marine fog supports life.

The second stage began with a wide open fast descent down Madrona Crest, but quickly tightened into a maze of roots and flow-killing corners on Hush Hush.  This puzzle of a trail is so tangled with sniper roots, slimy rocks, and strange corners that the general consensus from riders afterwards was that nobody had a clean run free of crashes or mishaps.

After a long transfer down through Arroyo Park, out the Interurban back to Larrabee, then nearly 2k feet back to the top of Chuckanut, we faced the third stage, Upper Chuckanut Ridge to Galen's Step.  This trail featured some new loamy rutted singletrack followed by the classic Upper Ridge which was chock full of root gardens and mossy rock faces.  The final stretch down Galen's Step is steep and deep as it drops away from the ridgeline.  I had a clean run and hit some lines far faster than I ever had.  This was my smoothest run of the day.  Unfortunately, Lars suffered some bad luck when his cassette picked up a twig and hindered his pedaling.

Badass unicyclist riding Upper Ridge!
Climbing for the final time brought us to the fourth and final stage, Double Black Diamond.  Being steep and fast with heavy compressions and braking bumps, I knew this trail would be my personal crux.  Feeling that my first three runs had gone well, I was nervous-scared even-when dropping into DBD.  I botched a couple sections shortly after the start but took a few deep breaths, regained my composure, and rode the next 2/3 better than I ever had.  After crossing the line, Lars finished more than 30 seconds later, which told me that I had done well.  He is on another level down that trail, so believe it or not I was pumped to lose only 23 seconds to him.

While drinking beer and celebrating such a memorable day on the bike, stories of the day flew around.  It was rad catching up with friends new and old in the beer garden.  After 5k feet of climbing and 4 challenging stages, a mutual feeling of tiredness, satisfaction, and camaraderie was in the air.  As the results were suspensefuly announced, I knew I was leading the race after two stages.  Lars came over and told me I had won the whole thing by 8 seconds and I couldn't believe him.  I was absolutely blown away!  The racing was unbelievably close.  Darrin finished 3rd to fill the top-3 podium spots with Bellingham riders.  Lots of friends in the full results here.  Pink Bike article here.


I caught the enduro bug last weekend.  The racing was technically, mentally, and physically challenging.  That, combined with the social, laid back transfers between stages and big total time on the bike made for a winning combination.  With our trails and our passionate community, Bellingham seems to be the perfect place for hosting these races (and hopefully XC races in the future!).  Eric Brown and the WMBC are an incredible group who, among many other things, have worked with the WA State Parks to hold the race and take on an exciting growth plan for mountain bike trails in Larrabee.  Our town is already making a name for itself as a mountain bike hot spot.  If the current trajectory holds, Bellingham will be an international riding destination in a few years.  

Signing out with mountain biking perpetually on my mind...  Time to hit the trails!

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