Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘EMBA’

Paradise Valley: Where mountain bikes are free to roam

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Trail Access on June 5, 2009 at 10:11 am

Last night, as temps hit 94 in Bellevue, I went out to ride with IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) and EMBA (Seattle’s Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance) at Paradise Valley, the recently reopened Conservation Area past Woodinville near Maltby.

Back in the day I rode Paradise occasionally, recalling it as a cross between an Appalachian firing range and county dump. The hard work of Evergreen and the mountain biking community has really dressed the place up. Trails are buff, not yet suffering from overuse, there are a few techie stretches, and you can ride forever and never quite seem to retrace your steps. Of course you are retracing, but the 11-mile combination of loops and forwards-backwards-traversewards makes an endless series of permutations available.

Paradise found... Evergreen gang at the trailhead

Paradise found... Evergreen gang at the trailhead

To cram all this into a fairly compact riding area requires the Duodenal Technique first mastered on the Worm outside of Renton, where you take a small flat section of land and fold trail in with switchbacks, turns and near-circles so the leader of a 20-bike ride can practically brush handlebars with the sweep. It can be tricky, in fact, just keeping track of where you’re going. You tend to use the rider ahead as your guide, so when you see another rider directly in front you think the trail is going in a straight line. In actuality, the rider ahead of you is somewhere off in the ferns to your right.

We used to do night rides on the Worm just to get the serpentine illumination effect of bike lights in a row, winding around loops like some kind of alien spaceship landing. Wonder what that would look like from Google Earth!

IMBA's Inga and her multiple rides

IMBA's Inga and her multiple rides

Anyway, Paradise Valley (directions here) is a must-ride if you haven’t already. Thanks to Brian Crowley for leading a suddenly ballooned turnout of 20 mtbers through the twists and thickets, and to Jason Van Horn and Inga Beck of the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew for coming out with their Team Car and great stories!

IMBA's trail Subaru...you can't miss it!

IMBA's trail Subaru...you can't miss it!

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!

“Freedom Riders” shows the wisdom and the way

In Mountain Biking, Videos on April 20, 2009 at 9:34 pm

“Freedom Riders,” a new film from KGB Productions and Gravnetic unveiled Saturday evening at Sea Otter courtesy of IMBA, represents a real step forward in mountain biking’s effort to gain the legitimacy it richly deserves. The film looks at compromise efforts in the Bridger Teton National Forest near Jackson WY to open hugely popular but unauthorized downhill trails constructed by a renegade gang of five mountain bikers.

What’s striking about the film is its wisdom (which appropriately reflects the wisdom of the effort itself). It doesn’t get defensive about our sport. It doesn’t point fingers at anyone, including the trail builders. Instead, it explores and explicates the many subtle and thorny aspects of trail-making. You come away with a good feeling about mountain biking and high hopes that ignorant and confrontational attitudes are a thing of the past.

In a nutshell, three trails — Ritalin, Lithium and Skullfuck — were constructed over a period of years by a local surgeon (hence their names) and his recruits. They were kept fairly secret at first, but word eventually got out and their popularity grew. They were challenging, steep, gnarly and jump-laden, but were not built to strict standards, and people began getting hurt. When people get seriously injured on unmarked trails, things start to unravel fast.

The Forest Service at first took the usual path, felling aspens across the trails at numerous points. The blockages were soon cleared. Then more felling, and more clearing. The tit-for-tat wasn’t working.

Finally an enlightened Forest Service manager, Linda Merigliano, issued a call: We need to resolve this impasse for the safety of the community. “But we’ll need the help of mountain bikers to do so,” she said.

As a result, negotiations ensued and mountain bikers agreed to give up access to Ritalin and Skullfuck in favor of preserving Lithium. Then work began to rebuild and maintain Lithium according to proper specifications from IMBA and others. Now the trail is still challenging, the fun factor is still high, but when someone needs help the Search & Rescue folks wind up doing far more of the latter than the former.

Partly because of the success of the Teton project, there is movement in this direction throughout the country. For the first time, officialdom is looking at increasing mountain biking access rather than shutting down unsanctioned trails. We have IMBA to thank for much of this, of course, but it can only succeed with grassroots support from the likes of local clubs and groups, including our own Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.

It would be foolish to think that Forest Service accommodations will deter or end rogue trail-building. Life is too short, and bureaucracies move too slowly. But in sensitive and highly populated areas, the Teton model provides a great example of how to move mountain biking forward.

Beyond its lessons, “Freedom Riders” is great entertainment, with plenty of action shots from everyday riders like you ‘n me and lots of humor and goodwill. Five stars, five flamin’ red chilis, five bars — by whatever measure, this is a must-see. It’ll make you want to get out and ride as soon as the closing credits are over.

Video trailer from PinkBike here.

Mountain Bike Advocacy Heats Up in Portland

In Bicycle advocacy on March 1, 2009 at 8:46 am

From BikePortland.org:

“With the voting in of six new board members at their monthly meeting earlier this week, the Portland United Mountain Pedalers (PUMP) are set to embark a new era of off-road advocacy. These new board members mark a significant turning point for PUMP, a group that some advocates for more off-road riding opportunities in Portland had all but given up on…”

Advocacy is on the rise everywhere. We’ve reported on growing agitation among the members of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (formerly Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club) for more advocacy on Tiger Mountain and elsewhere. Get involved! The trail you lose may be your own!

Tiger Mountain: Time to Move Forward Positively

In Bicycle advocacy, Mountain Biking, Trail Access on February 26, 2009 at 6:18 am

A recent Bike Intelligencer posting on Tiger Mountain access has generated a lively if not acrimonious discussion on the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance Yahoo! forum.

It seems there’s lots of energy to talk. Why not siphon that energy into action as well? As I posted to the list:

A simple proposal: Whenever one of the MTB trails is closed temporarily (usually means nearly all of the season), we ask for temporary access to another trail. Tiger Mountain Trail is the obvious one, with southern exposure, very little hiker use. A road/trail combo gives you a great loop, incorporating Iverson. And in fact the club could easily put a short trail connector between Iverson and TMT. If you don’t know what I’m talking about check the Tiger Mt. map.

Temporary access would show the world doesn’t end with MTB usage. In fact, the trails would wind up in better condition as a result of EMBA access. We could guarantee that. EMBA doesn’t have to do this alone; we could solicit STM (if it’s still active) and other clubs. Plus I know some pretty good trail builders, not club members but active riders, who actually live right next door to Tiger.

Re trail activism, two thoughts: First, the club needs to tell us members what is actually happening with the trails — before decisions are made — and give us names, email addresses and phone numbers to make our voices heard. Public opinion does work! But when all of a sudden we see tape on NW Timber Trail and an announcement it’s been closed for the foreseeable future, it’s way too late and makes us feel snubbed in the process. Second, the club can do so much more to rally the troops: E-mail blasts, posting on this list, and other e-activism a la MoveOn and the Obama campaign (Republicans know this too and have been just as effective; right now they’re pimping Twitter of all things) give club members with day jobs and busy lives a chance to do something; the club could even set up a Web site contribution bot to raise money for a specific cause.

There are some pretty influential people in our community who mountain bike, and we can use our connections politically. But we need to be able to act early, meaning more communications from club leaders who are official points of contact, naturally, for agencies.

Finally, it seems mountain bikers are way too defensive vis-a-vis other user groups. We seem to accept a certain rep, but it’s based on ancient mythology propagated by the Harvey Mannings of the world, who have been overwhelmingly marginalized by now. The Obama generation, as I posted earlier, doesn’t much distinguish between hiking and biking on trails. If we are polite and state our case firmly, we can overcome the bogus stigma attached to our sport. I have hiker friends, very good friends, and never miss an opportunity to tell them the wonders of my sport. They have learned not to trot out the canards about trail damage and rudeness to me, because when I ask their data points and then give them mine, it’s no contest.

(BTW, the damage to upper Iverson is severe, due not to winter storms but to logging on the south side of the west road. Every time there is logging, new damage surfaces, whether from drainage or from wind exposure. It is ludicrous to suggest that mountain biking causes eco concerns given the depredations of logging in a “managed” forest such as Tiger.)

Today’s Ride: Black Diamond/Lake Sawyer

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Today's Ride on February 21, 2009 at 10:15 pm

It was a gorgeous day and the tail end of a fantastic sunny week in the soggy Northwest, so I made the trek for a second time in 4 days to Black Diamond. It’s funny and ironic, but “black diamond” in this case refers to coal, which was mined heavily in this area’s past — not to the “black diamond” rating of ski and mountain biking trails. Black Diamond, Washington, which the trails border, is a former quaint and authentic coal town that is being turned into just another faceless suburban nightmare of strip malls and row houses. Alas.

At the main trailhead there’s even an artifact from the past age.

There's even coal inside!

There's even coal inside!

This network of trails, which I’ve described as a serious case of varicose veins, is fun to ride and more of a workout than you’d think, given that it’s virtually completely flat. Around and around you go, in true duodenal fashion, with bridges, ladders, teeters and jumps at various points along the way. One cool thing is that most structures are close to the parking sites, so you can don the pads at the beginning or end of the ride and then go back and dress up for cross-country for the rest. There’s more than 55 miles of trail out here, and most of it is just fun flat stuff not requiring much in the way of protection.

I rode around a bit on some of the structures, most of which are in dire need of upkeep. They tend to get more attention in the summer, but the trails today were as dry as you’re going to find them. Still, some of the stunts have gone to seed, and the remaining ones could use a day or two of maintenance.

I went across to the north side of the road and explored a bit. I actually like riding there more. You can’t get as lost and even though the trails are even more convoluted than on the lake side, they’re also more interesting. Time just seems to disappear and you rock ‘n roll around deep in the woods (well, maybe not so deep…you can pretty much always hear traffic and see breakouts. But it seems isolated and that’s what counts).

Black Diamond is a great all-year hangout for mountain biking, and until heavy rains come it serves as one of the better regional destinations during winter. Bob “Turtle” Hollander leads enormously popular club rides, and how could a ride with someone named Turtle be anything but extreme fun?

The Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance rates it one of the Seattle area’s Top 10 rides and has a great rundown with map and directions. Maps used to be available at Black Diamond Bike and Backcountry, just a stone’s throw east on Highway 169 (the next mall down), but our friend Jim Hendricks apparently isn’t in the mood any more. It’s questionable how much a map would help in this hairball, though, since there are no trail signs. You just have to learn the network…or ride with the Turtle!