Mountain Biking: Washington Sampler

My brother Joe was out here visiting for a few days from Boulder, CO and I finally got to show him some of that fine Washington singletrack we love so much. We rented him a Giant Faith from the shop in Black Diamond -- the shop loaned out the size Medium Giant Anthem 2 I requested earlier in the week (Pete is too casual for his own good) and gave us the size L Faith instead. Wouldn't have been too bad had the bolt not have fallen out of the rear triangle during day #3. Nice.

But I digress... it was $100 well spent for 3 days of riding. So we spent Friday night in my garage working on my bike. My brother, despite being 4 years younger than me, was the one who got me into riding in the first place and is quite the bike mechanic. He used to own a shop and worked behind the bench for years. As a result, my bike is running better than ever thanks to him. With the bikes ready to go, it was just a matter of keeping close tabs on the Accuweather forecast and minimizing our time out in the slop.

SATURDAY - Esmeralda Basin
We awoke early and drove the 2 hours out to the Esmeralda Basin area. We passed dozens of hunters on the M.F. Teanaway River road but only a few near the DeRouxe Campground where I parked my truck. It wasn't long into the ride before my lack of recent riding and general lack of climbing over the summer reared its ugly head. I was winded and tired early on in the ride and was repeatedly on and off my bike making the initial singletrack climb up the Esmeralda Basin trail from 4000 to 5900 feet. Fortunately, the weather was absolutely perfect. Temps in the upper 60's, clear blue skies for much of the ride, and a slight breeze made it all worth while. And the views, as always in that area, were great. Joe was doing really well on the climb and enjoying the technical, rocky nature of the trail. We took quite a while getting to the top and by the time we made it the wind had really picked up and the cloud cover blew in.

We didn't eat lunch at the top where the large sun-bleached "lunch tree" is, but descended a bit down the back side of the ridge for some cover from the wind. From there, it was time to nagotiate the tight switchbacks heading down to the "Jeep Road From Hell". I did a good job on most of the switchbacks -- better than normal -- but had trouble staying on the trail once it got straight and rocky at the bottom. The size Large bike my brother was renting was a bit too big for him and proved to be a bit of a problem on switchbacks, but he still made it down with little trouble. Up the JRFH to Gallagher Head Lake and, from there, we zipped down the 4 miles back to the car. I was riding really well on the DeRouxe Trail, and handling all of the tight rocky drops and switchbacks with little trouble, prompting my brother to remark on how much I improved since the last time we rode together (2002). He completely bombed the straight sections, literally leaving me in the dust, but I would usually catch up on the switchbacks. We ran into a couple of older gents on horseback about a mile or two from the cars and they were asking me about the trails and where to go. After, I remarked that it felt kind of cool to be a young guy (from Jersey no less!) on a mtn bike offering navigation tips to a couple of ol' cowboys. This somehow led to me singing Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" for the next 1/2 mile or so. I hang my head in shame as I type this.... "On a Carbon Fiber Horse I ride.... and I'm wanted... WAAAAANTTEEED Dead or A - Liveeeeeee!" No wonder nobody ever signs up for my rides. ;-)

Joe really liked riding Esmeralda but wished the DeRouxe trail was a couple miles longer. Don't we all. That said, he was digging the brief bits of exposure and the overall techy nature of the loop. Not to mention the scenery. No larch however.

SUNDAY - Tiger Mountain
The rain came Saturday night and to be honest, after looking at the satellite images on we were thinking of just returning the bike and getting some money back. I really wanted to ride some more so we decided to just wait and see. After watching that awesome Seahawk comeback on Sunday morning, we noticed a small break in the rain and quickly loaded up the truck and headed 5 minutes of the road to Tiger Mountain. There, we ran into a mud-covered guy from Trinidad & Tobago. He was grinning ear to ear as he just got done riding Preston and NW Timber. I asked if he enjoyed the nicer weather earlier in the week. Nope, he just got off the plane the previous night and came right to Tiger with his hosts to ride on Sunday in the slop. He didn't care. He was totally loving it.

As for us, I wasn't looking forward to riding Preston among the salmon that would undoubtedly be swimming up the trail so we headed off towards Iverson -- my fav trail there anyway. Joe really enjoyed Iverson and thought the dense forest totally cool looking and a nice change from the Teanaway area. Iverson was in great condition with little to no standing water. We saw two pairs of hikers, but no riders out there. After Iverson, I gave Joe the choice -- we either climb 1200 feet and do a very wet 11 mile loop back to the cars or we go out-and-back on NW Timber for a total of 5 miles. We chose the latter. We ran into absolutely zero people on NW Timber and had a great time zipping through the mist-cloaked forest. Joe impressed me by climbing the real rocky/rooty little section on the way towards Preston. I've only ever seen one or two other people make that section in that direction. NW Timber was a bit wetter and definitely had some puddles on it. Back at the cars, I bid my farewell to Tiger for 2006. To think I only descended on Preston RR trail once this year and don't even miss it. I guess I have a little Bournique in me after all.

MONDAY - Fort Ebey
The plan was to go big on Joe's final day here. We'd park at the airfield in Greenwater and ride the White River, Corral Pass, Dalle's Ridge, Palisades Loop. Then we saw the weather and realized that Joe was flying out at 8:20pm and decided against it. Instead, we caught the ferry to Whidbey Island and drove up to Fort Ebey instead. It didn't rain on us there, but we never saw the sun either. That said, it's always great to see the look on a first-time visitor's face when they round the corner and emerge on the bluff trail, 80 feet directly over the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The trails were absolutely empty -- we saw zero people in the park and put in over 12 miles on the fun, roller-coastery singletrack. I lead the way to all of my favorite trails like Hokey-ka-dodo and Hootin and Madrona Hill, among many others. Joe especially liked the scenery along Shepherd's Crook in the Raider Creek section of the park and I took a few shots of him on the corkscrew section that made for a great multi-exposure composite. I told him we wouldn't get above 180ft above sea level, but still rack up nearly 2000 feet of climbing before the ride. Not sure if he believed me or not, but 12 miles later, the altimeter I wear registered 1780 feet of climbing. Don't underestimate Fort Ebey's hilliness! Oh, and if you're wondering, there was zero standing water. The trails were wet and tacky, with excellent traction and the only minor complaint would be that the new trails over by Roy Evans/Confusion/MadronaHill area were like going through a carwash. The rhodies need to get beaten back a bit.

All in all, Joe was really impressed by how different the environments we rode in were and how different each trail system was. I explained that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Factor in the Winthrop area, St. Helens, Greenwater, the Olympic Peninsula, and even places like Tolt and Devil's Gulch, and it's clear we really are blessed with an abundance of variety out here in Washington. Wouldn't have been nice to get him on something a bit more technical, but we had fun nonetheless. And best of all, he gets to repay the favor when I go to Boulder in February -- he's going to show me his favorite snowboard places. I can't wait!

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