Mobbing in the Chuckanuts
A mountain bike race in Bellingham
By Ian Ferguson | Photos by Carl Buchanan
Bellingham is known for its mountain biking and its races, but until very recently the town wasn’t known for its mountain bike races. Following the success of the Chuckanut Enduro race in October, that’s probably about to change.
Enduro is a style of mountain bike racing popular in Europe and now on the rise in North America. It combines the best parts of two more traditional disciplines: cross-country and downhill racing. Cross-country races are long distance – they require stamina and fitness to complete. Downhill races send riders down steep, hazardous terrain, and require advanced technical ability. The idea behind enduro is that riders are tested for both their endurance and their bike handling.
Timed stages over generally descending single-track and steep, gnarly downhills are combined with untimed uphills to get to the start of the next stage. A good enduro is also a fun social event.
As the fifth and final stop in the Cascadia Dirt Cup, a five-part enduro series in Oregon and Washington, the Chuckanut Enduro sold out its 225 spots long before race day and attracted a big crowd to the start and finish line at Larrabee State Park in the Chuckanut mountains south of Bellingham. The course wound through the Chuckanuts, north to Arroyo Park and back, finishing with a steep descent down the Double Black Diamond trail to Fragrance Lake Road.
“It was a super cool event,” said Bellingham local and pro cross-country racer Logan Wetzel at the post-race beer garden. “It was awesome that we had access to these trails. I know Eric Brown played a huge role in making it happen.” The Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC) hired Brown as their first employee over the summer. On top of his other job, Brown works part time planning and building trails, attaining permits and advocating for mountain bike access.
I caught up with Brown on a rooty section of the Double Black Diamond trail during the race. He told me about some of WMBC’s future plans in between shouting encouragement at passing racers.
“We’re putting together this big trail plan for Larrabee and the Chuckanuts …Yeah! Get some!… I’ll be doing something very similar with the reconveyance land (8,000 acres of parkland recently purchased by Whatcom County). Most of it will be multi-use, but there will be some single use specific to each user group like hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking …There you go! Eyes on the prize!…Taking 25 percent out of the inventory and dedicating it to specific uses gives those groups the opportunity to do whatever they want without having to worry about other users … Mobbing! MOBBING!!… You want to mitigate conflicts between groups as much as possible, and the other user groups get that.”
Brown became animated when we started talking about the enduro course itself: “The pros will come along and they’ll probably air this drop right into the berm.”
The man loves trails, and he’s stoked to be building more of them. Brown and the WMBC have proposed 17 miles of new trails throughout the Chuckanuts. “I like planning and scouting new stuff. It’s my thing,” he said.
The Chuckanut Enduro required permits from the Department of Transportation, Larrabee State Park, the city of Bellingham, Whatcom County… the list went on. Despite the red tape, Brown said the success of the Chuckanut Enduro opened up the potential for more mountain bike races in the future.
Local pro shredder Lars Sternberg, a regular on the international enduro scene, agreed.
“The community embraced it, and it’s kind of laid the groundwork for more of these,” he said. Sternberg skipped the finals of the world enduro series in Ligure, Italy to help organize and race in the Chuckanut Enduro.
“The race in Ligure would have suited me pretty well, but honestly I was not going to miss this,” he said after the race. “It feels awesome to be racing on a hometown course.”
After contending with 20 miles of track and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain, many riders were still cramping up at the post-race beer garden, but all agreed the race had been a huge success – even the park rangers. A Larrabee Park ranger addressed the crowd assembled in the beer garden and said he’d welcome back the bikers anytime. x