Enduro of Subdued Excitement
…and the growing mountain bike racing scene in Bellingham
By Spencer Paxson
“It’s like rally car racing but on a bike,” I said, describing to a friend what I would be doing one Sunday in May at the Enduro of Subdued Excitement (ESE).
“You know,” I continued, “racing against the clock on ‘special stages,’ and then moseying through the woods to the next stage. No internal combustion. You’re only timed on descents, there are bacon stations at the top of the climbs and a beer garden and burritos await you at the finish!”
Mountain biking needs no explanation for many people in the Northwest. The riding community is huge in this region, and events like the Enduro of Subdued Excitement on Chuckanut Mountain in Bellingham are a microcosm of the local riding scene.
The bike scene around these parts is endowed with critical elements: spectacular physical geography, a climate that allows for year-round riding, a widespread culture of blending the outdoors with everyday life and a large community of singletrack connoisseurs, ranging from industry professionals to devoted amateurs.
The ESE is an example of all of those elements coming together. This particular race is a fundraiser put on by Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC), a non-profit organization working to preserve and enhance non-motorized trail access. Through a combination of stewardship, education, advocacy and effective relationships with land managers, elected officials and educational institutions, the WMBC and its volunteer army have created a world-renowned trail system around Bellingham.
The local trails continue to improve through weekly organized workdays and thousands of volunteer hours. Projects include Larrabee State Park, Galbraith Mountain, Lake Whatcom Forest Park, city of Bellingham trails, and other projects on Department of Natural Resources land, such as Blanchard Mountain. All of these trails are located within just a few miles of town.
The 2014 ESE was just the second time such an event had been held in Bellingham. The first was the Chuckanut Enduro held in October 2013 as part of the Cascadia Dirt Cup, a regional series of enduro events showcasing world-class trail systems throughout Oregon and Washington. Both enduros took riders through the brawny terrain of Chuckanut Mountain, an approximately 13-mile network of root-laced trails located high above Samish Bay in Larrabee State Park, just south of town.
Being a mostly local event, the ESE’s pre-race gathering was a who’s-who of the town’s fat tire folk, and the neighborly atmosphere seemed to make the cold, rainy weather more of an amusement than otherwise might be the case. After receiving instructions at 9 a.m., more than 100 participants, ages 13 to 60-something, skill levels beginner to professional, embarked on a 1,800-foot climb up Fragrance Lake Road to the start of Stage 1. Each rider had been assigned a start time for each of the four “special stages,” and would spend the next three to six hours navigating the course.
Conditions were wetter than wet for the ESE, and some sections were borderline treacherous, guaranteeing lots of adrenalized storytelling on the transitions between each stage. As much as we riders in Bellingham appreciate the traction of “hero dirt” on drier days, we thrive in the slop. And befitting the local spirit of trail stewardship, a workday had already been scheduled for the following weekend to patch up any mangled sections of track.
After 20 miles of mud-spattered fun, riders trickled back to the après scene in Larrabee State Park, complete with burrito truck and beer garden. Bikes and beer go well together, and Bellingham’s healthy microbrew industry ensures events like this are well supplied with nourishing post-ride elixir. Once everyone had returned, the organizers held a podium ceremony, listing off the fastest times in each category and handing out raffle prizes, and general revelry ensued.
Later in October 2014, the Chuckanuts played host again to the Cascadia Dirt Cup, drawing a sold-out crowd of more than 250 racers. Since then the trails have quieted down to their standard winter traffic (which is still steady), and plans are in the works for future events.
Meanwhile, the WMBC has been putting into action its plans for extending trail systems, with a particular focus on adding over 17 miles of trail to the Chuckanut network. Be sure to check out wmbcmtb.org to learn more about its work.
The organized racing scene in Bellingham is still somewhat nascent, but it is bolstered by strong growth in the local riding community. In addition to mountain biking, Bellingham also has growing BMX and cyclocross racing scenes, as well as service learning and riding clubs at local schools. At the end of the day, there is something for everyone on two wheels, and it’s a great community to be a part of. x