Paul Andrews

Today’s Ride: Tiger Mountain RR

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Today's Ride on May 4, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Having been out of town at the Sea Otter Classic, I’d missed the official opening date of April 13 (2 days earlier than usual) on Tiger Mountain, my favorite place to ride in the Seattle area. The sun was still out when I started, but a breeze was kicking up and the forecast called for rain by nightfall.

I had low expectations for trail conditions, based on Saturday’s nasty rainfall and the fact that, in early May, Tiger’s trails usually are pretty soggy. Well, soggy is an understatement. The truth is, Tiger in May is like the U.S. mortgage crisis — completely underwater. But the air was crisp and dry and I hoped to escape with as little a layer of mud as I could.

I’ve been riding Tiger since the early 1990s and have complained long and mightily to BBTC-cum-EMBA officialdom about the lack of any new trail openings for two decades. Especially when one of the measly three trails mountain bikes are allowed access on is closed for the season, as has happened in two of the past three years, we ought to be given temporary access to another major trail. The obvious choice is Tiger Mountain Trail on the south side, a wonderful loamy, winding passage that could easily be tied into Iverson for a south-side loop rivaling the Preston-Northwest Timber trail hookup on the north side.

According to the EMBA web site, the NW Timber Trail may be closed at least partially again this season and next. This is a great opportunity to pursue expanded trail access on the mountain.

Anyway, back to today’s ride.

I was encouraged to find half a dozen riders in the parking lot. For a weekday noon hour, that’s not a bad turnout at all. Moreover, a couple who were just returning from NWTT appeared almost unspattered. Usually their lower halves should be caked like logger’s boots. A good sign, for sure.

The lower road up from the East Summit parking lot off Highway 18 is mudded over by logging-truck activity, but no worries. It was packed enough to glide over. Every time I do the grunt up the fire road I say a little prayer of gratitude for Tiger. Without this climb, which can be augmented by a right turn at the top Y to the cell towers, there would be really nothing anaerobic within 50 miles of Seattle. Tiger road’s climb is great training for Kachess, Corral Pass, Devil’s Gulch and other high-country elevations that are unavailable till some time in July. As a reformed roadie, I don’t mind long boring climbs. They clear the head and allow almost an altered state, meditation on wheels. They can be creative and inspiring as well, since new ideas tend to flow away from the ball and chain of the desk computer.

I made pretty good time to the top for this time of year, having benefited from a month of steady riding in California. At the trailhead I was getting ready for the ride down — lowered seat, elbow and knee pads, letting out tire pressure in the new tubeless Nevies — when whoa! Out walks a cougar up the road 200 feet or so. Having just returned from mountain lion country in Santa Cruz, and encountered a kitty there, I knew what to do. Maintain eye contact and stay still as long as practical. But the cat didn’t even give me a look, just sauntered across the road and was gone.

Santa Cruz trail mascot

Santa Cruz trail mascot

My plan this early in the season with Preston was to take it slow. The fun factor of kamikazying in creek beds isn’t worth a $75 bearings job on White Flite, and getting soaked on the extremities, especially the feet, doesn’t help either. So I mellow along in stretches, taking advantage where I can but with lowered expectations of the overall ride. At least, that’s usually the case.

Soon in from the trailhead, I sensed things might be different this time. The trail seemed drier than I anticipated. There was a lot of rock work this far up, so some of the sodden patches were free of water. But it was also true that the forest did not seem damp at all. Even at the usual puddle areas, especially after the first little downhill run, things were dry (again, trail work was evident).

By the time I got to Bone Yard, I was thanking EMBA, Brian and the crew for some obviously major trail rehab. Right around the rooty stretch there’s a sign designating “BBTC Trail Party,” with lots done (and more to do). From Bone Yard to Zorro’s first switchback, things were in dynamite shape. There’s been a lot of heavy duty rock work that is paying off. I’m not a big rock fan normally, preferring wooding in water areas (the wood not only absorbs water but disintegrates to soil, regenerating the trail over time; rock may be more permanent but not as naturally integrative in my opinion), and using ladders and bridges rather than in-fill. But hey, I’m not running the work parties, am I? Kudos to the gang for a job well done!

The first switchback, normally a mini-lake, had far less standing water than usual. It’s coming along, but I’d love to see a teeter or bridge here spanning the bog. Then you get slingshotted down the first series of launches, and I have to say it wasn’t bad. They’ve diverted the creek off to the side where it’s worst, so you don’t have that stretch of splatter to contend with. And damn if there just isn’t as much water on the trail as in the past.

About half way down the first leg of Zorro, I figured what the hell. I’m gonna rip it. There wasn’t enough water to really get Flite dirty, and I figured this early in the season I wasn’t going to find any surprises. Plus I had the tubeless guys on, so pinch flats weren’t a concern. Time to rumble!

For the rest of Zorro I pinned it (well, for me anyway) like it was mid-August. I was shrieking like a little kid down the stretch where you get those off-camber mini–gaps and that one 3-foot drop. The 6 3/4-inch travel of the 6.6, the DHX 5 coil and the coiled Lyrik were soaking up the hits. Again, there was very little water on the trail.

When you get to the bottom of a downhill run and you’re sucking wind, you know you’ve been hammerin’! What a sled run! I pulled out onto the road with a huge grin, did the little connector with that rock launch, and dropped back to the road for the ride to NW Timber Trail. About the only noteworthy thing on NWTT is that it’s completely dry and buff. But after Preston, it’s always kind of a let-down.

The work at Preston is by no means finished. But the trend is clear. Now that Colonnade is done, it’s time to showcase the one trail close in to Seattle that has the potential for a full-on Northshore or Whistler treatment. I know that’s saying a lot, but with the right approach it’s entirely doable. Thanks to Brian and all the others whose hard work has brought Preston so far over the winter. Rock on bros!

By the time I got back to the parking lot, the skies were darkening, wind was whipping up and sprinkles were falling. I’d beaten the deluge. But this time, I’ll be back quicker than in the past. And I’ve signed up for the May 17th work party, hope to see you there!

  1. Amen Paul, esp. on the Tiger Summit Access issue. We are now allowed on 8 out of about 80 miles of trail up there. Many of them are old logging rr grades so there’s no environmental justification for not opening them to all nonmotorized use. I’m not a northshore type, so not sure I’d like Preston revamped the way you’re talking about, but in 13 years of riding there I’ve met pedestrians on it twice, so at least there’d be no user conflict. I’m slow, but hope we can ride together sometime.

  2. [...] had blocked exit paths off the trail. Below the switchback, things got serious. I rode Preston at the beginning of the month and was amazed at what good shape it was in. But May 2009 has been brutally wet, with more than 150 [...]

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