As we turn off Chuckanut Drive and the pavement abruptly changes to gravel, my heart starts to pound with the anticipation of what lies ahead. The ascent up Cleator Road is slow, and we turn up the music to tune out the rattle of the bikes in the back of the truck.
Our friends are waiting at the trailhead. We pull our bikes from the truck bed and start suiting up for the ride down the mountain. Drops, steep terrain, and rock covered trails lie ahead, so wearing body protection while riding is a wise choice. Most riders don knee/shin pads, full-face helmets, elbow pads, goggles and gloves. Many riders also wear neck braces and back pads as an extra precaution. Mountain biking can be a dangerous sport, so it is also important to trust and watch out for the riders that you choose to shred with.
We begin the short trek up to Double Black Diamond. At the top of the trail, we fall into a line from fastest to slowest. Pushing off, we become a bike train weaving through the giant trees that envelop the area. The rider in front of me puts on a show for the deer that just crossed our path, launching off the tree roots and cruising through lush salal. We curve around tree after tree until suddenly the trail spits us out onto a gravel road.
Once all of the riders have emerged from the first trail, we begin to pedal upward toward the Chuckanut Ridge Trail. The trail comes into view, our pedaling quickens and we fall into line once again. Slashing around corners and hopping over mud puddles, I chase the rider in front of me as the trees become a blur. We must trust our bikes with our lives, and our focus is razer sharp on the winding trail ahead of us. I taste dirt as mud whips up off my front tire as we round the final corner. Skidding to a stop on the gravel, I am surrounded by smiling, mud-covered faces, and high fives are flying everywhere.
We all climb into the back of my friend’s pick-up with our bikes and head back up Cleator Road for one more lap. Huddled together with our backs to the cab and mud covering 75% of our bodies, we relive the epic lap we just had. From building trails to hanging out in the back of trucks on a shuttle run, the camaraderie and friendship that evolves from mountain biking is truly amazing.
As the truck takes the last corner before the trailhead, we reach for our helmets and get ready for another lap before the light is lost. Falling back into line, I see crimson, orange and yellow filtering through the trees as the sun slowly sets for the night. I smile as I take the first turn, knowing that summer shredding has finally arrived.
THE TRAILS. Connected to Larrabee State Park, the trails off Cleator Road are some of the best public mountain biking trails in the Bellingham area. Whether you want cross-country or downhill trails, or something in between, these trails have you covered. Double Black Diamond and the Chuckanut Ridge Trail are both considered intermediate to advanced level trails that have downhill sections to them. You’ll find roots, drops and technical sections, so if you are a confident rider or want more difficult terrain, these two will be a good fit for you. The Chuckanut Ridge Trail is approximately five miles long, and Double Black Diamond is approximately two miles long.
GETTING THERE. Cleator Road is located off Chuckanut Drive, approximately six miles south of Fairhaven. Take a left off Chuckanut Drive onto Hiline Road, which turns into Cleator Road (bear right at fork) and make your way up the long gravel road. You will eventually reach the Larabee State Park Gate, where you can park your vehicle and ride up the trail. This gate closes at dusk, so make sure you are out the park before then. For those shuttling from the top of the trailhead, continue driving past the gate until you reach the end of the gravel road. You’ll need a Discover Pass to park within Larrabee State Park. Some parking lots also have a $5 fee, so pay attention to signs.
The trails all begin at the end of the gravel road and branch out from there. To reach Double Black Diamond, hike up the trail located on the east side of the gravel lot. Push your bike uphill from the end of that Double Black Diamond trail to reach the Chuckanut Ridge Trail, which will shoot you to the North Chuckanut trailhead.
Maps of the Chuckanut Road and Larrabee State Park trail systems can be found at your local bike shop. A map is necessary for first time riders and should be used until you are familiar with the area. Riding with a partner is recommended, because many of the trails in this area are difficult and can be dangerous. Remember to go slow on a trail the first time, giving yourself time to check out the terrain and evaulate the difficulty of each section of trail. X
Shannon Skouras is an avid mountain biker who spends her time shredding, writing, and shooting photos.
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