Exploring Lost Trails on the “Cold Coast”

Errant rays of light cut the dark forest floor as the afternoon sun lay heavy over the hills below Mount Baker, Washington. The hand-crafted trail sheared methodically through the dense forest undergrowth, snaking ribbon-like through the otherwise thick green carpet of verdure and deadfall. Like a ghost in his full-face mask, Micah Evangelista emerged from the gloom, almost floating over the ground on his full suspension mountain bike. The banks of dirt he bounced through made it seem as though he flowed over earthen waves. Moving quicker than most would dare on an open slope, Micah weaved seamlessly through tight stands of pines, threading gaps in the trees no wider than a doorframe. Here on the flanks of the North Cascades, the mountains and forests are home to amazing skiing, running, backcountry hill walking, and general roaming, but Bellingham’s claim, more than many other outdoor cities is the extraordinary potential for mountain biking in spectacular form.

“Be careful where you’re pointing cameras up there,” my friend warned me, “the locals can get pretty territorial when it comes to those back woods trails.”

The mountain biking scene in Bellingham is widespread and very apparent, but at the same time, as guarded and tightly knit as the shield of conifer pines that cover the mountain slopes of the North Cascades. There exist several bike parks around Bellingham, where anyone visiting might go for a ride just a minutes jaunt out of town, but many of the renowned riding trails in this region are hung with mystery and hidden purposefully midst the thick forests. There is a strong mentality midst the core scene that if you didn’t help dig the trail and craft it out of the almost primordial forest, then you shouldn’t be riding the trail without the blessing of a digger. Often times taking months and even years to craft, these trails are cut with intent and careful planning, so the ownership felt by the bikers who put in the sweat to craft them is understood.

When Micah invited us to explore a trail that he personally had worked on and built over the past year, it was a special and personal glimpse into his world. Having removed stumps, moss and brush, and graded and smoothed the ground over which he now rode for our cameras, this trail was as much a work of art for him as a photo or piece of writing is for me.

That afternoon, as moody clouds shiftlessly gathered over the coastal hills, we found ourselves back in Bellingham for lunch and a regroup. We would be visiting one of Bellingham’s more well-known bike parks named Galbraith, a series of trail lines cut into the woods off of a loop of old logging roads just outside of Bellingham. This system of trails set up by a local group called the WMBC, a coalition of bikers who maintain and manage many of the local trail systems, is the opposite of the hidden trails outside of Glacier. Open to anyone who wants to ride, from expert to novice, Galbraith is the door into the vibrant stratum of the biking community embodied within Bellingham. Launching out down a muddy trail following another local biker Mark Allison, it’s very apparent that although a beginner to sport would thoroughly enjoy some of the trails here winding through the hanging foliage, there are still features and routes through the woods that would baffle your average non-biking human including yours truly. As Mark comes ripping into the last bend in the trail, and rides ten feet up the wall of a moss covered boulder before returning to the mud in a suspended moment, the superhuman likeness this sport conveys, and the faculty of Bellingham’s trails to host those is reinforced and confirmed.

Up Next: Trail Running in Bellingham, Washington

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Read all the “Exploring the Cold Coast” dispatches.

The Adventurists blog series “Exploring the Cold Coast” is sponsored by Sperry, which provided footwear and apparel for this adventure.

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