The peaceful solitude of the Yacolt Burn State Forest north of Camas became the epicenter of the Pacific Northwest mountain biking racing world on Saturday, July 20.
Cars, trucks and dozens of off-road recreational vehicles lined the forest service road for nearly a mile around the trailhead to the 3.5-mile Thrillium Trail, just past the Larch Mountain Correctional Facility north of Camas.
More than 350 mountain bicycle racers took part in the seventh annual Yacolt Burn Enduro, part of Race Cascadia’s Cascadia Dirt Cup series.
It wasn’t just professional riders enjoying some of the best mountain biking trails in the Pacific Northwest, however. The Yacolt Burn Enduro caters to riders of all ages and skill sets, from 8-year-old boys and girls to amateur riders 70 years old and older.
Brian Ely from Bend, Oregon, brought his two boys to the race and camped out in the forest the night before the event. He enjoyed some fly fishing on the Washougal River while his kids took part in the four-stage enduro race.
“I think it’s (about) just being out in nature and getting our kids away from the screens and technology,” Ely said. “One of the things I loved (is when) my son said, ‘I don’t even have cell service out here.’ We sat by the campfire and talked about the upcoming race and strategy.”
Fundraising for local trail advocates
Trey and Camille Wilson are race directors for the Cascadia Dirt Cup, a five-race series of enduro mountain bike racing. The Yacolt Burn event is the fourth race in the summer race series.
Enduro racing is based on a European model of mountain bike stage racing. Riders climb several miles to the 3,500-foot summit of Larch Mountain, where most of the downhill stages begin.
“There is a huge social component where it’s just like going out and mountain biking with your friends in the woods for the day,” Camille Wilson said. “When you are on those transfer rides you are just hanging out with friends and talking as you ride your bike.”
The casual nature of things changes in an instant when riders enter each stage. Riders are timed as they race downhill 30 seconds apart on trails, including the 3.5-mile Thrillium Trail, the first legal downhill mountain bike trail on Washington Department of Natural Resources land.
A second 3.5-mile trail called Sixth Sense was recently completed thanks to the work of volunteers with the Southwest chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance. The new trail was used for one of the four stages in the Yacolt Burn Enduro.
Saturday’s race raised more than $5,000 for the local group to continue building and maintaining the trail system.
Eric Albers is the president of the local chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, which also maintains mountain bike trails in Lacamas Park in Camas.
“Right now there are eight new trails coming into the Yacolt Burn State Forest,” Albers said.
When developing trails, great care was taken to make them safe for riders of all skill levels. The Evergreen Mountain Alliance members work hard to take the consequences out of the trails while keeping them fun for the professionals as well, Albers said.
“My daughter is 10 years old, and Sixth Sense has become her new favorite trail,” Albers said.
The trail rushes riders downhill on rocky trails through deep forests with fun technical features built into the trail testing riders’ maneuvering skills.
Bellingham resident Ryan Roelofs, 13, finished third in the 13-and-under category and has competed in all four events in the Cascadia Cup this season.
“It’s a lot more exhilarating than most other sports,” he said. “It’s kind of like downhill skiing.”
The sport is not without risks, however. Roelofs raced in an easier category after suffering a concussion last week.
One can see that mountain bike racers are in tip-top condition and appear to share a deep connection with physical fitness and nature. Even people who are there to support their loved ones appear to share that connection.
Gabrielle Worzella was camping with her dog Lilly in a large utility truck that her boyfriend Ryan Hales converted into a four-wheel-drive recreational vehicle for his races. Since the races happen deep in the woods, cycling is not the best sport for spectators, but that doesn’t matter for those who are there to support riders while taking in the natural beauty of their surroundings.
“We always spend the night before the race in the RV,” Worzella said, “and when he goes racing, I get to go hiking with my dog.”
Ely, who works as a real estate agent in Bend, travels around the Pacific Northwest every weekend, taking his boys to races. He says there’s something magical about being out in nature and being with so many other people who share the same passion of connecting with their bikes and bodies to the earth.
“This race near Camas is something special,” Ely said. “I just went for a beautiful hike while my boys were racing and found a nearby waterfall … It’s paradise here, just beautiful.”
The Southwest chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance meets for group rides every Tuesday and Thursday during the riding season. For more information, visit evergreenmtb.org/chapters/southwest.