It took me a long while to realize that the mountain biking scene at Growlers Gulch, a few miles west of Castle Rock, is unique.
Initially, I was under the impression that this was the way things were everywhere. I’ve discovered that’s not the case. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a sense of both ownership and fellowship at Growlers that has made it a very bright spot in my life for the past twenty-five years.
Because mountain biking and Growlers have been such a big part of who I am, I decided it was time to set down on paper as much as possible of what has transpired here.
If you want to find out how a 40-mile trail system evolved in a place where there was previously no trail, how the Growlers culture developed, and who the major players have been over the years, read on.
And if you just want to hear some great stories, that’s fine too.
PART I – THE EARLY DAYS: 1992-2003
In 1992, Mike Patterson talked me into buying my first mountain bike – a used Trek 830 that I purchased for $175. I was in my 40s then and still pretending I was in the same shape I’d been in as a high school athlete. This pretense came to an abrupt halt when I attempted to ride the bike from my house to the top of Growlers Gulch Road. Not only was I unable to do it, I had to take a nap afterwards.
Just to let you know where I was in those days in terms of conditioning, it took about a dozen attempts before I could ride up the Power Line Hill without putting a foot down.
My earliest mountain biking connections were with Mike, Jack Berry, and Jeff Lipton. There was no trail at Growlers and very little at Stella, so we traveled to Capitol Forest, Bradley Park, Seaquest Park, or Rainier to ride what little single-track was available, or we did gravel rides at Rose Valley or Growlers. To say that the mountain biking scene was a far cry from what we have now – in terms of the trail available and the number of riders involved in the sport – is the greatest of understatements.
Within a year or two, my brother, Dave, and our cousin Sam Cooley started biking. Dave and I had hunted the Abernathy area as kids and cut wood there as young adults. We knew the road layouts and the general topography. We put wheels on every gravel road we could find, sometimes making a 26-mile round trip to the site of the old fire watch tower at the end of Abernathy Ridge. It seems laughable now, but that was all we had.
In about 1994, I decided we needed trail. My dad had a big brush mower, and I hauled it up through Melton Road in my pick-up. I’d limbed a line called the Melton Trail – parts of which remain as sections of Shooter and Frosty Balls – that was almost a mile in length. I got the brush mower running and started clearing with it. When I got to what is now the back end of Frosty Balls, it quit and I couldn’t get it started. There was nothing I could do but push it back to the pick-up. The mower weighed almost 80 pounds and was difficult to move. When I got to hilly spots, I had to get down on my knees and force it upward a few feet at a time. That was the last time the brush mower made an appearance at Growlers.
Sam and Dave were avid trail builders, and – with help from Jeff, Mike, and Jack – we put in Predator, Beauty, Belly, and Terminator to get things rolling. During this time, Vaughn Martin and Ed Strong were building trail near the Wauna Mill on Highway 30. Meanwhile, Rob Larsen, Brian Mahon, Ken Roberts, Joel Rogauskas, and Bob Stanton were expanding the Stella network, which gave big impetus to the small group of fledgling mountain bikers who were seeking single-track.
Jack Brought Newbies
I once referred to Jack Berry as a former Training Master for the Hitler Youth. Jack was famous for bringing new riders to Growlers and crushing them so badly they never wanted to return.
Jack once brought a rider who had just moved here from Florida. The guy passed out at the top of the Power Line Hill. The one I remember most distinctly was a work colleague of Jack’s who was in his late 20s. We met at my house and the guy was hopping his bike all over my driveway. I hate that shit.
We rode from my house up the pavement. By the time we got to the top of the Power Line Hill, the guy was no longer hopping, he was hyperventilating. Jack talked to him for a while and told him to ride the gravel to the intersection while we rode Mr. T. When we connected with him, we rode down Walk in the Park. At the bottom, he started hurling. Time to go home.
Jack had one of his many newbies out one Saturday not long after the Big Wow was built. That trail was a new experience for us because it was one of the first lines at Growlers where you could generate big, sustained speed. As a special treat, we took Jack’s buddy down the Big Wow. When we got to the bottom, he said, “You take me on a trail like that again, Jack, and I’m gonna kill you.”
We laughed, but then we realized the guy was genuinely angry. “I’m serious,” he said. “I’ll kill you.” That was his last ride at Growlers.
Oddly, something very similar happened within a few weeks of that incident. Bob Stanton was out with a large group of riders from the Portland-Vancouver area. Dave and I ran into them, and Bob asked if we’d take some of his people for a tour while he handled the rest. We said, sure, and took about 10 of them with us.
Because they were with Bob, we naively assumed they were strong technical riders. We decided the best gift we could give them was a trip down the Big Wow.
The tread was great and we were whooping and hollering all the way down. There were about three of Bob’s crew with us when we reached the bottom. When the rest of the people got there, they were pissed. Dave and I couldn’t believe it. We thought we’d done them a favor and all they could do was bitch about how dangerous the trail was.
After listening to it for about five minutes, Dave had had enough. In a voice just loud enough for everyone to hear, he said, “Anybody who doesn’t like that trail can kiss my ass.”
We decided that the next trail we built had to be called Kiss My Ass, which is how the KMAs were named.
Dave once brought his boss to ride at Growlers. Dave didn’t like the guy, who had a serious case of small man’s syndrome and was an all-around dick. As you know, a lofty position in the workplace doesn’t carry a lot of weight when you get on a mountain bike.
We met him at the parking area. By the time we’d ridden the first section of Predator, he was toast. Dave had a smile on his face for a long time after that.
Jack Berry – I was introduced to Jeep during the early 1990s by Mike Patterson. We rode logging roads at Growlers and some at Rose Valley with Brian Mahon. The first couple of years or so Jeff Lipton, Dave LeMonds, Sam Cooley, Jeep, myself, and sometimes Mike continued riding logging roads, then discovered game and motorcycle trails. We developed some of these and then started building trails of our own. Over a wide period of time many more friends and trails were added.
Several things make Growlers special. In terms of riding, it offers something for people of every level. And somewhere at GG there is always decent tread, no matter what the weather has been. People come together and develop bonds for life, enjoying a sport that we all love. We share great times, great rides, great stories, and the joy of pushing ourselves to our physical limits. You can’t help but keep coming back.
There are so many good stories: bringing out “riders” for their first time at GG and having them pass out, puke, or suffer a seizure and never return. Having your life threatened by a rider who freaked on you because you took him down your favorite trail. Hitting big, epic rides, exploring the monstrous old growth in the Green River Valley, riding at St. Helens, taking our whole crew to Mountain Bike Oregon. And who can forget our direction-challenged leader taking us on a ride at Capitol Forest, where 16 miles turned into 38. One thing never changed – it was always a good time.
In the beginning, we rode every Saturday morning for years. It did not matter what the weather was or if you were sick. No excuses were accepted, period. At the end of each ride we would kick back and relive the day’s trail experiences while sharing beers at Jeep’s house. One such Saturday morning, it was raining hard. Jeep and I were standing in his garage, waiting for Dave and Jeff to arrive. Jeff drove up, bailed out of his car, and said, “What a great day for a ride!” That just about sums up what Growlers has been about for me.
Jack was responsible for coining the phrase “Growlers Time.” He and Rob were notoriously early when it came to showing up for rides. If the start-time was 10, it wasn’t unusual for Rob to be in my driveway by 9:20.
We’d been around long enough to know that some people would say they were coming but then no-show. How long were we supposed to sit around waiting for them? Others tended to show up on time or a few minutes late, but then have to change clothes, check tire pressure, and make minor repairs. We weren’t interested in waiting while this got done.
The unwritten rule was that when everyone who had RSVP-ed was there, it was time to ride. In some cases, we didn’t even wait for everyone who had RSVP-ed.
It took Lance Brigman and John Gibson a few tries before they realized that Growlers Time was much different than Doctor Time.
One of the best stories about Growlers Time involved Susan Martin. We were having a work party that day, and Susan had agreed to pick up a Portland area guy and bring him to the build. When she got to his house, he told her she would need to reconfigure her rack and make other adjustments to fit him and his dog into her car.
She said, ‘That’s not going to happen. Those guys are on Growlers Time and there’s no way I’m going to be late. You’re on your own.” And then she drove off and left him.
We were desperate for single-track and willing to do a little driving to find some. We’d been to Capitol Forest a couple of times for short rides on the west side of the park. I studied a map and told Jack, Dave, and Jeff that I had a special 16-mile ride planned, with food and brews to follow at Dick’s in Centralia.
I believe we started on the Green Line. I was supposed to get us turned around by taking a trail that would loop us back to the parking area. Evidently, I had not studied the map carefully enough.
We ended up climbing Capitol Peak, and by now I knew we were lost. I just didn’t know what to do about it. When we got to the top, we’d already rung up 18 tough miles. A sign there said that we were 20 miles from the trailhead. I didn’t stop to discuss this because I was already very unpopular. I just kept pedaling and hoped they wouldn’t notice. By now, all of those who had planned for a gentle 16-mile ride were out of food and fluid.
What really pissed Dave off was that when we finally pulled into the parking lot at Dick’s they were closing. He still hasn’t forgiven me.
Jeff and the Mantra
In 1997 or ’98, Jeff Lipton won a Klein Mantra in a raffle at Byman’s Bikes. A mountain biking magazine had selected the Mantra as one of the best new bikes of the year. One problem – the bike was a small. Jeff rides a medium or a large.
He made some adjustments to try to get it to fit, including the installation of a seat post that made him look like a circus bear on a unicycle. Things did not go well. I have never seen anyone go over the bars as often as Jeff did when he had the Mantra. Anything – the slightest depression, a small log – was an instant endo.
Dave and I both thought that Jeff was going to quit mountain biking. To his credit, Lipton was tough enough to endure it until he was able to purchase a Schwinn Moab. A few months later, another mountain biking magazine selected the Klein Mantra as one of the worst bikes ever made.
Jeff Lipton – I met Jeep through Mike Patterson in about 1992. We rode Capitol Forest, Hoffstadt Creek, Seaquest Park, and other areas in the early days, along with logging roads at Growlers.
The social aspect – riding with my friends, having a beer after – is a big part of what keeps me riding at Growlers. Then there is the sense of adventure (and occasionally fear) of what lies ahead for me on the day’s upcoming ride. Finally, there is the opportunity to meet, ride with, and get to know people who often travel long distances to enjoy Growlers.
One of my earliest memories is when Dave had just started riding with us. He was wearing a plastic sauna suit (a precursor to what happened later at Norway Pass). He was suffering, but when we stopped for a break we told him how fresh he looked. Riding the Smith Creek loop for Jeep’s 50th birthday and participating in all the Tour de Gulch events are also at the top of my list.
What makes Growlers unique is the incredible diversity of trails, the phenomenal volunteers helping create and maintain those trails, and the sense of ownership.
Meeting Ed and Vaughn
I remember several things about my initial meetings with Ed and Vaughn, who were in their mid-50s at the time. Once, Jack, a young guy named Dan Bingham, and I were riding with Brian Mahon at Stella. We saw Ed and Vaughn in the distance and Brian said,
“Just letting you know that if you connect with those old guys they are going to go straight up that hill.” We did connect with Ed and Vaughn, and Brian was exactly right. Until then, I’d thought the point of mountain biking was to avoid climbing.
Afterwards, Dan – who was in his late 20s – told me, “I don’t mind getting my ass kicked by you and Jack, but having those old guys ride away from me is humiliating.” Welcome to the world as we knew it.
Another time, Ed and Vaughn were giving Dave and me a tour. After going up the Haryu side for what seemed like forever, we finally started rolling some DH. I was behind Ed and he said, “There’s a bridge coming up.”
He rolled right across the bridge. When I saw it, I got off. I told Dave later, “That wasn’t a bridge; it was a stick.”
Ed, who passed away in February 2014 and who was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met, was so far ahead of the curve in terms of technical ability it’s almost impossible to comprehend. In those days, few of the guys who would eventually have BMX skills were mountain biking. The rest of us could barely ride over a limb, let alone a log.
One day, Brian, Ken Roberts, and I were riding at Stella when Ed and Vaughn came along. There was a 36- to 40-inch log along the trail that had the entry sloped up. Ed rode right up on it like he was cleaning a speed bump in the Winco parking lot, then hucked off the other end. Brian, Ken, and I were speechless – and if you know Brian, you realize how significant that moment was.
The first time I met Bob Horness, he came to Growlers with Ed. We only had a few miles of trail but anyone who was a mountain biker was always looking for an opportunity to ride new line. Sam, Dave, Jeff, and I were working on a section of the Melton Trail (the area that was clearcut south of Frosty Balls). There was a 32-inch fir tree across the trail, and we’d limbed it and built a ramp-up, as though we could actually ride it.
When Ed and Bob arrived Bob got a big head of steam, plowed into the front side of the log, went over the bars, flew through the air, and ate shit. And he bounced right up. We couldn’t believe he could still walk.
Ed followed. He didn’t generate speed. He just rolled up to the log-over, lifted his front end, kicked the back end up, and came out smoothly on the other side.
By now, Bob was ready to give it another shot. He cranked hard to build speed. Exact same result. Bob cleans that stuff now with ease but his attitude hasn’t changed a bit.
First Big Wreck
I was riding with Brandon Stephenson and Craig Seidl on a Saturday in 1998. At the time, there was a bridge across the Monahan Creek south of what are now the top entrance to Without a Paddle and the western entrance to the Golden Spike. We crossed the creek and rode up the hill on an overgrown spur road for a couple of miles. When we started back down, there was a chance for speed. I sent Brandon and Craig down first.
I’m guessing I was doing between 15 and 20 miles an hour. My weight was too far forward, and when I hit a mogul that was hidden in the grass I probably grabbed the front brake and was launched over the bars. I was in the air long enough to think, “This is really going to hurt.” I tucked my left shoulder before impact and landed on the left side of my head and my left shoulder.
My helmet shattered. My left collarbone snapped. The force of my arm being driven against my torso broke four ribs. I was unconscious for several minutes and unable to get up when Brandon and Craig found me. It took awhile but I was finally able to stand and get back on my bike.
I was having trouble breathing but didn’t know I had a punctured lung. What I did know was that there was only one way out and that was to ride back. We were five miles from my house, so this was a long and painful journey. I must have been in shock because when I got home I told Sher that if I took a few aspirin and soaked in the hot tub for a while I’d be okay. She realized I was in trouble and took me to the ER.
That’s when I discovered I had a blown lung. I learned that medical people take pneumo-thoraxes very seriously. I also learned that morphine is our friend.
Sher brought the papers I was grading for my English classes to the hospital, and I killed the boredom Saturday night and Sunday morning by reading as many as possible. Even with the morphine it was hard to get comfortable.
I made it to school on Monday, but I was not good at things like turning, bending, sitting, or getting in and out of my car. Two things I clearly remember. One, we had a waterbed and, while getting into it wasn’t real bad, getting out of that mother was an adventure in pain. Two, I had a world-class, black-and-purple bruise that covered the entire left side of my chest and extended all the way down my left arm to the wrist.
I attempted to make a comeback a little sooner than I was supposed to. I went over the bars while riding with Dave at Rainier and hair-lined my collarbone in the same place I’d broken it. My physician was not amused.
Building Was Primitive
Building trail was much different back then. In most instances, we only had a handful of people involved. I still remember what a big deal it was when we had about a dozen volunteers for the construction of Frosty Balls.
We limited our efforts to the lower area at Growlers, not only because it was easy to get to but also because it was relatively flat. Dirt work was unheard of. All of us graduated from the Vaughn Martin School of Trail Construction – pick a line, cut a few limbs, call it good. If we’d waited until a trail was fully massaged, we’d never have gotten to ride our bikes.
We soon built Mr. T, Walk in the Park, and the Road Trails and followed that with a second set along the road but a bit farther to the north. These included Dead Left, False Hope, and Alley Oop. One of our biggest accomplishments was the completion of the Creek Trail, which was easily our longest line at the time.
I laid out Rush, which ended up being the most complicated build we’d ever undertaken. We’d been riding the Ridge Trail as a down line for some time. If you aren’t familiar with the lower section, it’s interesting to say the least – steep and rutted with lots of gnarly roots – and was the scene of many spectacular wrecks.
Building Rush in an area with so much sidehill was a new kind of test that involved benching and cribbing. Jack, Dave, and Jeff helped out with that one, but it still took parts of two years to complete.
Sam fell off a porch while delivering a package on his UPS route; he broke his clavicle and was off work for several weeks. This set off a frenzy of trail building activity. With the help of Dave, Jeff, and a few others, I had built Carnage, and Sam followed this by building Piece while I built Pound. He then laid out the Big Wow. Once we hit the bottom of the Big Wow, we started looking at lines in the Secret Garden. Our crew was expanding a bit, and I recall that Sam, Dave, Jeff, Jack, Rob Larsen, and Joel Rogauskas all had a hand in building the Secret Garden (including what is now Lower Bitch), the three Lower KMAs, and the Upper KMA.
When we were building those lines, Rob said, “I don’t know why we’re doing this. Nobody’s going to come all the way out here (to the Secret Garden) to ride these trails.” He still pokes fun at himself about that one.
Rob Larsen – The first time I rode at Growlers, I came over with Brian Mahon and Boone Dog (Jason Moon). I think the only trails at Growlers at that time were Beauty and Belly, Melton, and some of the Road Trails. Soon after there were many others!
I really enjoyed the days when Sam Cooley rode with us, and I’ll never forget the first time down Rush when the Rodeo Chute was in its full glory.
The glory days for me were when Paul Norris, Jeff Muldoon, and Thomas Mueller were riding with us every weekend, and Melanie Norris was in full swing with the Growlers Gulch Girls.
We are all very grateful for the time and energy Jeep has put in to make Growlers what it is.
The Rodeo Chute that Rob refers to on Rush was really sketchy when we first put the trail in. The same steep down is still there, but there are two distinct differences. First, you used to have to take a hard left between two trees. When you did, you dropped immediately into an over. Sam went over the bars big-time here. Rob demonstrated his skill by railing it the first time he tried it. Second, that left-to-right berm at the bottom that saves your ass wasn’t there in the old days. You were carrying speed into an off-camber corner.
We would typically ride down Rush or the Big Wow, up the Secret Garden, and then take the gravel to the Railroad Grade (approximately where Deja Vu begins now). We’d ride the Railroad Grade south and then connect with the Upper KMA, head for the bottom via the Lower KMAs, and climb out on the Ridge Trail.
In addition to those already prominently mentioned, other people I remember from those days were Brad Burger, Carla Mitchem, Brandon Stephenson, Craig Seidl, Ryan Hicks, Jason Moon, Sue Smith, Joe Furer, Bob Juntunen, Gene Teeters, Mike Fajardo, Al Hansen, and Kevin Knorr – who was a high school kid working at Bob’s and then Byman’s as a mechanic.
Tour de Gulch
We had the first TDG in 1998. I believe there were 12 of us. The ride consisted of pedaling to the top of Abernathy Ridge and back. Some of the people on hand for that first one included Jeff Lipton, Joel Rogauskas, and Bob Stanton. Joel and Bob have been to many Tours, but Jeff and I are the only ones who have hit them all.
Jeff holds the record for fastest-crash-at-a-Tour-de-Gulch. I don’t remember the year, but my driveway was slick with moss and algae. Jeff hit the front brake a little too hard on that right-to-left corner, went down, and scraped a lot of skin off his legs. I’m guessing he was on his bike no longer than six seconds before the wreck. It is unlikely anyone will ever break that record.
At TDG III and IV, our numbers were still probably under 25. We decided to break into groups and ride the same route at different paces. It didn’t work well. Dave and Sam had the “fast” and “intermediate” groups. I had the more dialed back riders. When I got to the end of Predator, most of Dave and Sam’s people were waiting to join my group. Needless to say, they had seriously overestimated their capabilities.
At one of those early TDGs, a husband and wife from the Portland area showed up unannounced. I’m not sure where they’d been riding to form this opinion, but afterwards the guy said, “These are the most difficult and dangerous trails we’ve ever been on.”
A guy named Roger was riding with Bob Stanton quite a bit at Stella at this time. In fact, there was a trail there called “Break a Leg” that was named in Roger’s honor. Roger didn’t know Growlers at all when Bob brought him to one of the earlier TDGs. Roger also was not good at listening.
A father showed up with his son, who was a student at R.A. Long High School, along with one of the son’s R.A. Long buddies. Roger had the kids with him as we rode up the hill. I told him to stick with us since he didn’t know his way around. He ignored me completely and took off. We didn’t see his group until they limped back about four hours later. They hadn’t ridden a single foot of trail.
While we were waiting for them to arrive at my house, the father made it back. I’m assuming he didn’t know we’d seen how things played out initially because he said, “My boy is with Roger.”
Joel told him, “I wouldn’t let that fill me with a lot of confidence.”
It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but the TDG was one of the things that opened the door to what we have today. It was a party with like-minded friends who also rode. And it was the first of its kind in our area.
Bob Stanton – I met Jeep and first rode at Growlers at the very first Tour de Gulch in 1998. Michelle Dieter, who was working as pharmacist at the hospital, had heard about this upcoming mountain biking ride and party near Castle Rock. I think I met Brad and Carla at that one and seem to remember that Carla crashed hard on the Far Trail.
I also remember a Tour de Gulch where, just after everyone finished riding, Jeep got a call that his daughter was in the hospital with acute appendicitis. He and Sherry left and Sue Smith and I finished up the party and cleaned up the deck and the kitchen.
Sue led a group at a later TDG (she was riding SS) and told me afterwards that there was a doctor riding with her. She was encouraging him on a log-over (in the super nice way she always has), and he got upset and wouldn’t talk to her. We never saw him out biking again after that.
I think my strongest year at Growlers was 2008, riding fixed gear for the 5K and finishing third at the Time Trial behind Eric Loney and Al Hansen after working a nightshift.
Andy Crump came out for his initial TDG in 2001 and has not missed one since. The year after that, Andy invited his sis, Cristine Smith, and her boyfriend, Woody Cox, both of whom had won world championships in velo. In 2003, Andy lowered the bar, inviting his brother, Mark, and his ride group, the Killer Burritos.
The first time the Burritos came out, I put them with Lance Brigman, who had started mountain biking at Growlers after many years of competing in triathlons. Vortex, Creation, WTF, SNB, and Legacy did not exist. Despite that, Lance took them up the gravel to the top of the 313 hill. They looked around and asked where the DH was. Lance said, “There is no DH. I just thought you guys needed to do some climbing.”
The Burritos told me they did not want Brigman as a ride guide the following year so I assigned them to Dave. He recognized their lack of technical ability and brutalized them at every opportunity.
Other people Andy introduced to Growlers included Tana Gutzka, Cage Aaron, Ted Dodd, Dennis Veatch, Andy Jansky, Jeff Wize, and Aaron Althauser.
Andy Crump – I was introduced to Growlers by Don Svela, who took me to the Tour de Gulch in 2001. I kept riding there because everyone was so friendly and just wanted to ride. BTW – I got schooled many times riding with the old guys.
Growlers is a very unique place because of the community. I’ve ridden many trail systems in the Northwest and Growlers is one of a few places where the people who ride there are very passionate about the trails, to the point that they are willing to contribute their own time to keep everything in good riding shape. This was also the first place I ever joined a work party, and I was hooked.
I have many great memories from the TDG to the 5K, but I have to say that Jeep’s 60th birthday ride was probably one of the favorite things I’ve participated in. Many people, myself included, felt connected to Jeep’s goal. I remember Andy Jansky and I sleeping at the Ape Canyon trailhead waiting for everyone to show up to start the day and then the ride up Ape Canyon to watch the sun come up. During the Falls Creek portion of the ride, I had to ride back up the trail to try to find Dara (Muldoon). When Jeff (Muldoon) and I couldn’t find her we rode like maniacs only to discover that she was at the bottom waiting for us. Then finally I remember Jeep cracking open that bottle of Patron Gold that tasted so good. It was a great day and I was blessed to be a part of it.
Riding at the Mountain
In 1998 or ‘99, I decided we needed to expand our horizons. I had a trail book that listed some of the big rides in the Northwest. The Ape Canyon out-and-back to Windy Ridge, which was rated as three wheels out of four for difficulty, was among them.
I talked Dave and Jeff into coming with me. We learned a lot but we got our asses kicked in the process. We were so inexperienced and stupid that we didn’t even have hydro-packs. We put water bottles in our cages and taped on an extra. I’m guessing we had to stop at least five times on the initial climb to the top of Ape Canyon.
We made it to Windy Ridge and headed back. Carrying our bikes up the ladder-like steps on the north side of the mountain just about killed us.
The wind was blowing hard when we crossed the Plains of Abraham. Dave was in the back and was starting to cramp. He tried to whistle and yell, but his mouth was so dry he couldn’t make any noise. Lipton and I just kept going.
After that first beat-down at St. Helens, I decided we needed to step up our game. For my 50th birthday in summer 2000, I recruited Dave, Jeff, Jack Berry, and Mike Fajardo to accompany me on the Smith Creek epic.
We were in better shape this time and had much less trouble climbing to the top and across the Plains of Abraham. However, none of us had ridden Smith Creek, and in those days it was a lot rawer than it is now. The trail disappeared in places. We had to cross streams and bushwhack our way in other spots.
And of course there was that initial descent surfing the pumice to the bottom after we left Windy Ridge. None of us was very adept at knowing how to brake without locking up the front wheel and eating it. Jack endo-ed twice and ripped the computer off his bars. The rest of us just tried to survive.
After we’d ridden the flat, easy part at the bottom, we were feeling pretty cocky. The ride book I was carrying said we would be coming to a stream that could be dangerous to cross in high water. When we got to it, we laughed because it was much smaller than what the book had described.
The laughter stopped about a mile later when we got to the Muddy River – the stream the map was actually referencing. There was a big melt-off in progress and the river was running fast and about chest deep. Somebody had somehow put in a series of metal garden stakes for hand-holds, and with no other option we put our bikes on our shoulders and started across. I still can’t believe we didn’t lose a bike or a rider that day.
We were celebrating until we started up the final gravel climb back to the trailhead. It was about five miles long and featured plenty of dust and horse flies big enough to carry off a small dog. Completing that ride was a huge achievement and opened the door to many more adventures in the Gifford Pinchot.
One in particular from that era stands out. Jack, Jeff, and I had made the long drive to Norway Pass for several rides. This time, we took Dave with us. It was July or August and about 28 degrees in the parking lot. Jack, Jeff, and I knew the sun would be up in a few minutes, and we’d be riding in a fully exposed area. Unfortunately for Dave, he did not know this.
He was wearing what Jeff referred to as a sauna suit – some sort of plastic jacket and pants over about four layers of heavy clothing.
The climb out of the parking lot is tough and can generate plenty of heat on its own. About a mile into the ascent, the sun came up, the temperature skyrocketed, and Dave began to cook inside the sauna suit. He bailed off his bike and started tearing off one layer of clothing after another.
He told us later, “If I could have been naked on my bike, I would have been.”
Dave LeMonds – I started mountain biking in the early 1990s. Jeep spent many conversations trying to convince me to get involved. I was an avid golfer at the time and couldn’t justify the time for both. I finally relented, bought a Schwinn Moab, and started riding.
Ninety-nine percent of the riding at Growlers in those days was limited to logging roads. Jeep had put in the Melton Trail and we had the quad route we called the Ridge Trail, which was sketchy toward the end because it dropped off the ridge and was treacherous when wet. I remember crashing on it many times. One wreck I recall was with Lipton and my brother. I was going as slow as possible down the steep hill but the lack of traction soon had me out of control and gaining speed. I knew wrecking sooner rather than later at a higher speed was my best option and attempted to gently veer into the brush. Unfortunately, it was too late. I bounced off a tree, planted my front tire, and launched over the bars. I can remember seeing the sky as I made a full rotation before landing on my back.
Riding back then was so different. There were very few riders and even fewer trails. Stella was home to local legends Vaughn Martin and Ed Strong, as well as many others. We had no trail building experience but we had space and soon launched into developing some of our own trails at Growlers. Our crew consisted of Jeep, Jeff Lipton, Jack Berry, and Sam Cooley. Big trail builds didn’t happen, and we were constantly trying to balance build time with ride time. I think this caused certain trail builders – my brother in particular – to scrimp on quality. Jeep was notorious for his fake berms. A quick rake with his foot towards the outside of the line and, behold, a berm! If you rode at Growlers, you knew never to trust one of those berms.
As riders cycled through, I always enjoyed observing the different ride styles and skills. Some were just starting out and a little timid. Others were fit, balls out, and likely to crash really hard. Mike Van Hoose was one of the latter. He showed up at Growlers with road cycling fitness and a competitive attitude. His mountain biking skills, however, didn’t align with his other abilities. I recall following him down the top part of what used to be Carnage. It had a steep section down to a big fir tree, then a hard right over roots and a short chute. Mike was flying down the hill toward the feature when he missed the corner, slid into the tree, and crashed hard. I thought for sure he’d broken something. Wrong. He popped up, laughed, and rode on like nothing had happened.
Over the years, the one thing that remained constant for me was how great the people I met riding at Growlers were. So many characters with diverse backgrounds and colorful personalities. My brother inherited our father’s colorful storytelling abilities, which generated names for people. At Growlers we have “The Bird With the Broken Wing,” “Silent Bob,” “The White Bearded Satan,” “The Snowman,” “The Acrobat,” “No-Nob Rob,” and more. The trail naming convention at Growlers was similar in its creativeness. The yet to be completed Lemony Snicket, WTF, Trust Me, KMA, Rush, No Problem, JLS, etc. all have hidden messaging.
After reading my brother’s draft I realized there was no way for me to improve on the story content. Rather, my addition to the history of Growlers is to call out all of the effort, energy, time, and networking that Jeep has contributed to make Growlers a very special place. Believe me, it didn’t just happen. He emails, calls, writes, attends meetings, volunteers (himself and others), does outreach to local politicians, and of course rides. Not only that, he offers to give anyone a tour of the system. He wraps all this around multiple riding and training events and stewardship efforts. And finally, he hosts the annual Tour de Gulch and invites 50 to 100 of his biker acquaintances to his home for a celebration.
Like I said, Growlers didn’t just happen.
In April 2003, I wrote a story for the Daily News (Longview) called “The Over the Hill Gang” that later appeared in Horizon Air Magazine. It featured Dave, Sam, Jeff, Jack, and me. When that article was published, interest in the local mountain biking scene really seemed to pick up.
You can access the story at here. (It’s possible you may have to complete a two-questions survey before viewing the content).
By now, we probably had about 12 to 15 miles of trail. If there were cars in the parking area, there was a real good chance you would run into those riders sometime during the day, simply because there was so little trail.
Our group was small but expanding. We were having fun and improving our ride skills and stamina in the process. We had no idea that we were on the cusp of a boom that would transform the system.