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North to Alaska Road Trip: Bellingham, WA

Stop number one on the 2,600 mile journey home.

 

It’s been over five years since I’ve spent any real quality time in the town of Bellingham, WA. And almost eight years since I said goodbye, and decided to relocate to Oregon’s high desert. As I pulled off of I-5N and headed to my motel that would be “home” for the next two nights, the heavy nostalgia and possibly even weightier ghosts from my early 20’s started to wash over me. In my experience, that particular sensation has the ability to either paralyze or motivate. For me, paralytic fear of repeating the past and a strong resolution to change and grow often live right next door to each other. Luckily, when I set out on this haul from Bend, OR to Anchorage, AK, I had a very clear agenda – ride as many trails as I could and write as much as I could during my down time. Bellingham would prove to be a great place to kick things off and to get to the real work of tying together this 8 month experiment of living and working out of duffel bags, backpacks, and my trusty ’98 Toyota Tacoma.

On my one and only full day in town I woke with the first hint of daylight. It had rained intermittently during the drive north and had only intensified over night. I knew that that meant great things for “the ‘Ham’s” world class trail system on Galbraith Mountain, which I had heard consisted of mostly moon dust for the last month or so. The rain would knock the dust down and create a fast, dust-free ride for as long as I could handle. (I had recently been recovering from a very intense upper-respiratory infection. Thus limiting not only my aerobic capacity but my ability to take a deep breath for any reason in any circumstance. Not fun.) A quick stop at the Black Drop for a “Chocolate Shooter”, followed by a peanut butter and orange marmalade sandwich on seed bread and I was ready to party.

Galbraith can be accessed at two different points, one is north, the other is south. If you prefer more of a downhill-y or freeride-y experience I would suggest heading south. If you’re like me and you prefer more of the cross-country or singletrack experience, go north. Directions are simple, if you want to go north, park at Whatcom Falls Park, cross Electric Ave (cue the music) to Birch St and follow it to its end. It’s the same starting place I used to use when I lived in the area and worked just fine for me this time around. If you want to go south, take Samish Way and park in the lot directly across from Galbraith Lane. I know there are other parking / riding situations nearby to both of these places, but I know these work great and, frankly, are in the same neighborhoods as the other options a more up-to-date local might suggest. I would also recommend picking up a trail map and checking up on conditions at one of the local bike shops in Bellingham. My longtime personal favorite is Kulshan Cycles. Located right downtown, they’re very easy to find and the staff is, in my opinion, much less pretentious and awkward than your usual bike shop staff. They’ve got a great inventory of new bikes as well as all of the spare or replacement parts you may need, in addition to local trail maps and beta.

Kulshan Cycles
Kulshan Cycles

On to the riding.

Friends, let me tell you, it’s been longer than the 5 years since I was last in Bellingham that I took mountain biking seriously. And it’s been a lifetime since I last competed in cross-country or singletrack events. But recent health concerns associated with over a decade of hard partying, combined with a strong re-kindled love of my two-wheeled friend made this day sweeter than I could have imagined. The climb up the ridge, followed by a lap on one of the newer additions to the system, left me not only breathless, but absolutely beaming. My forehead was a non-stop stream of sweat. The dust had indeed been laid down by the past 18 hours of rain and every whoop and bank gripped like chewed gum, rocketing me forward in a delicate balance of risky randomness and relative control. The memory in my legs, hands and feet came back and I naturally began to trust the instincts I had neglected in favor of riding bar stools for so many years. Memories of childhood and riding local ski trails during the summer came flooding back so heavily and quickly I almost lost focus on the riding I was actually engaged in.

 

When I reached the bottom I slammed another peanut butter sandwich and headed back to the top with a full head of steam. I was going to beat the time of that first lap and there was no stopping me.

 

My head cleared. Nothing hurt. I was in the fucking zone! I had given in to the euphoria of having a brain currently deprived of oxygen and what it meant to the challenge rolling beneath me. By the time I had reached the top again I knew I was on the right track. No stopping to catch my breath before the descent this time. I hammered the turns as hard as I could. Leaning into every berm. The obstacles that were once a mystery on the previous lap were cleared with a giggle as my smile somehow grew even further across my face. I could feel my eyelids peeling back and my lungs opening just the same. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced in so long that my laughing out loud was startling. I was back in the saddle and there was no way I would even consider not heading back up for a third lap. Until I reached the bottom. I’ve always loathed / loved the body’s way of smashing you back to reality after you’ve been that high. I stopped just long enough for a few gulps of water and a handful of very deep breathes, and in that small amount of time every muscle from my lower back to the arches of my feet tightened up like an over wound spring. A sharp reminder of the habits I had taken to since my last ride like this many years ago. “Take it easy”, I thought to myself “you have a lot more traveling and riding ahead of you.”, and rolled back towards my truck. “This is how you come back to this town. This sport. This mountain.”

Galbraith Mountain
Galbraith Mountain

Stop one on the 2,600 mile road trip to my childhood home was a success. On to the next one, Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada.

Stay tuned . . .

 

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