PART II – A CULTURE DEVELOPS: 2003-2010
A number of changes marked the transition to this era. First, as the trail network expanded, word spread. As a result, Growlers began to draw riders from the Portland-Vancouver area. Second, I retired from teaching in 2002 and was looking to supplement my income by writing newspaper and magazine articles. Mountain biking was often my topic of choice and that helped spread the word, not only about the sport but also about trails throughout Southwest Washington. Third, purely as a result of kismet, a number of new people ended up at Growlers, and they played a huge role in recruiting riders and trail builders and expanding our influence.
The Mahon Factor
Brian had been riding and building at Stella since the early 1990s and was working hard to serve as an advocate for mountain biking. In the late ’90s, he did what many thought was impossible – he convinced the U.S. Forest Service to open a trail to bikers that had previously been off-limits.
The trail Brian pushed – the 230A at Coldwater Lake – is hardly a beginner line.
Right from the trailhead, the initial climb is 1,200 feet in just 1.8 miles. The trail continues to the east end of the lake, where riders can opt to ascend a brutal 2.5 mile section to St. Helens Lake. I’m sure the USFS was thinking, “Let’s just give it to him. Nobody’s going to be stupid enough to ride that trail.”
They didn’t know us very well.
Of course the USFS wasn’t just going to do something for mountain bikers out of the goodness of their heart. The deal was that Brian had to make sure that the 5- to 6-mile section from the South Coldwater Ridge trailhead to St. Helens Lake was maintained. Initially, he did this with help from Zach Bayes and Ken Roberts. I remember a group that included Jason Moon, Jeff Byman, Sam Cooley, Dave LeMonds, Jeff Lipton, Brian, and myself working on the 230A in 2003.
My first time up there to brush the line was in the spring. Things weren’t too bad near the back end of the lake, but then it got dark and started snowing. The wind was blowing from the south and we had snow sticking to the left side of our faces for the last three miles on the way back to the trailhead
One time, we had a pretty good-sized crew up there. We worked our asses off and got back to our vehicles to discover that the USFS had ticketed us! A hiker had seen us on the trail and driven to Johnston Ridge to file a complaint about bikes being out there. It took Brian a little while to work things out. That incident didn’t do a lot to enhance our tenuous relationship with the Forest Service.
While Brian carried much of the load, he was usually able to get a group of eight to 12 out to keep the line in shape and open to bikers. This might not seem like a big deal, but it would prove to be significant a few years later.
Spreading the Word
In October 2004, as part of his effort to get the message out, Brian convinced Seattle Times reporter Mike McQuaid to write a story about the local biking scene.
This was the only time I rode with bike-building legend, Gary Klein, a long-time friend of Brian’s who was living in Centralia. Gary, Brian, Mike, and I met Ken Roberts, Ryan Handy, and Bob Keeney for a ride at Stella before hitting trails near Brian’s house and then at Growlers. Gary, Brian, Mike, and I continued on and rode Capitol Forest, which was a total mud bowl.
View story here.
In 2005, Mahon put together a ride dubbed the “Tour de Pants” that covered 40+ miles on four trails near St. Helens and Adams. Those in the group included Dave, Zach Bayes, Jack Berry, Mike McQuaide, and myself. It was an interesting mix of lines that included Upper Siouxon Creek, Squaw Butte, Falls Creek, and the Toutle Trail from Blue Lake to the Kalama Horse Camp.
View story here.
In 2005, Brian took Dave, Jack, and me on one of the most memorable rides of my biking career. We parked at Ryan Lake on the north side of St. Helens and endured a vicious climb up to Goat Mountain and on to Vanson Peak.
Brian’s description went something like this: “You start out with a steep climb that gets steeper and then you ascend more steeply for a while before going up a moderately steep section.”
We then railed down into the Green River Valley. This section of old growth – I’m talking never-been-logged – was miraculously spared during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and the subsequent salvage logging operation. These are the biggest trees I’ve ever been around.
With the line rolling downhill, it was a zen-like experience. I had to keep telling myself to keep my eyes on the trail not on the trees.
The Boundary Trail: “It Could Be Worse – But Not Much”
By the time we finished Tour de Pants, Brian was already thinking about going for the big one in 2006. The Boundary Trail traverses the Dark Divide between Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. It is the largest uninhabited area on the West Coast.
Author and biker Michael Orendurff had ridden the BT from Adams to Norway Pass in the mid-1990s and included an entertaining summary in his guide book. Brian and Trek’s Harry Spehar had completed the same section in the early 2000s.
Oredurff’s description of the Boundary Trail was both colorful and frightening. He rated the trails in his book as Easy, Intermediate, Advanced, or Absurd. He tabbed the Boundary Trail as Triple-Absurd Plus.
“The surface is all the worst of everything you could imagine -,” Orendurff wrote, “sharp rocks, big boulders, scree fields, washouts, blowdown, unrideable up and downhills, snow late into the summer . . . complete hysteria.”
Hard as it is to believe, he wasn’t exaggerating.
“There are parts that are so nasty that I’ve pretty much blocked them from my memory,” Mahon told us. “I can’t wait to go back.
The ride team included Dave, Brian, myself, and Brian’s climbing buddy John Platt, who was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Cycling Team. Dave and I trained, but we didn’t really know enough to understand what we were training for.
We rode through the Dark Divide – which featured inhuman climbing and constant sphincter-tightening exposure – and camped at Norway Pass.
The second day’s ride from Norway to South Coldwater was very difficult, but I’ve never been on a trail that compares with what we experienced that first day. Best-guess is that we climbed 10,000 to 12,000 feet before we got to Norway, and the tread would not remind you of anything you’ve ridden in Bend. At one point, Dave and John came up with a mantra – “It could be worse. But not much” – that effectively described what we were facing.
The Boundary Trail was, and still is, the most difficult ride I’ve ever been on. The terrain is spectacular and brutal. The exposure and difficulty level almost unimaginable. On day-one, there was no cell signal and help was six to eight hours away.
After the Boundary Trail ride, nothing intimidated Dave. “It doesn’t matter where you take me,” he said. “It can’t hurt worse than what I’ve already been through.”
We didn’t have biking computers so it wasn’t until Kevin Knorr and Braden Nicholson did the BT as a three-day bike-packing trip in 2016 that we learned that we’d covered 60+ miles and ascended 16,000 feet. To the best of our knowledge, we were the first group to complete the entire thing.
View story of our 2006 BT experience here.
View story of Braden and Kevin’s 2016 BT trip here. If you think I’m making up the stuff about danger and difficulty on this ride, check their comments.
Brian retired several years ago and has added many miles to the Stella system. He also remains one of the best all-around riders in our area.
Susan Martin – I cannot even remember how long ago it was that I was introduced to Growlers, though I think the 5K was still in its infancy. Eric Rutz introduced me to this group of warm, welcoming. and ALWAYS riding people.
During one of my first rides, I met what I vaguely recall was something like the “Banditos” or “Burritos” (The Killer Burritos, led by Andy Crump’s brother, Mark). Andy’s brother introduced himself to me as a forearm model. Who was I to know differently? They seemed like a pretty famous group of people amongst the Growlers crowd, and I knew there were hand models.
The real sign of my Growlers ignorance came with my first GG5K. Not realizing the importance of knowing the route and not relying on others, I not so brilliantly thought, “I’ll just follow Joel (Rogauskas). First, the only people who follow Joel are the likes of Sue, Abra, and Kim. Secondly, Joel does not do a mere mortal route. As a result, my first 5K was completed in constant rain; cold, brutal, and never-ending gravel climbs (we didn’t have the trails we have today); and ended up being closer to 7 to 10 thousand feet of ascent with Joel feigning innocence about getting lost.
Despite the early challenges of my introduction to Growlers, I have kept at it and have met the best group of people one could be so lucky to ride with.
The Gravity Boys
Jason Moon had been riding at Growlers since the mid-1990s, and he introduced guys to the system who had legit skill. With Rush and the Big Wow in the mix, Jason, Eric Loney, Darrell Jamieson, Ryan Hicks, and others now had places where they could get speed, and they made the most of it.
In some ways, this group changed the dynamic by making all of us better riders. Those like Jack, Dave, and myself might not be fast when it comes to descending, but we are much faster than we were before Eric and Darrell began to ride regularly at Growlers.
Their presence also coincided with build efforts farther out from the trailhead in terrain with much more up and down than the lower trails. Dave and I were constantly on the lookout for flow lines that would put smiles on the faces of the Gravity Boys.
When these guys were racing regularly, we always celebrated their exploits. Darrell won three national races, including two at Sea Otter. His youngest boy, Chase, also won a national title.
Eric was the top-ranked pro in the Northwest and competed in the World Cup in Brazil in 2010. I wrote a story about the event for the Daily News that can be accessed here (video included). Eric came within .012 of winning the crown. He was disappointed, but finishing second in the world was certainly something for all of us to celebrate.
We always got a kick out of telling people that these guys did their training at Growlers.
Darrell Jamieson – I got introduced to Growlers in about 2002. Eric Loney and I had been riding with Jason Moon and he invited me out one day. I was so amazed by the trails that I went out and bought a real bike and sold my dirt bike. After that, I started bringing my boys, and it has been a great experience for all of us.
So many things are unique about Growlers, including the dirt and the always expanding trail network. I love the fact that you have to earn your descent. I have torn up so many great riders who weren’t prepared for the climbing at Growlers.
Before the Super D a few years ago I gave tours to riders from the Seattle area. They were amazed and tried to search online for info about Growlers but only drew blanks. And somehow we still have more people on a build day than any organized club on the West Coast!
Neil Strobel, who is one of the top enduro riders in the Pacific Northwest, came down from Seattle and rode with me a few times. When I told him about the Super D we were having he was stoked. I had a day off during the week and was prepping Legacy when I ran into Neil sessioning the course. I thought, “This is bigger than I realized.” Turns out that all the elite guys were sneaking in mid-week to session. There were no OBRA or USA Cycling points. It was just to be part of the Growlers vibe, which we owe to the Godfather.
Loney and I have always said if it wasn’t for Growlers we wouldn’t have ever been on mountain bikes. Growlers has provided the trails and camaraderie that enabled a couple of local guys to excel and become elite riders in the U.S. and the world in our divisions. At the end of the day we try to compare other trails to Growlers, but they almost always disappoint.
In 2004, I was doing quite a bit of commercial work that included writing, editing, and marketing. I had a website built (www.writeteknorthwest.com) so that I could promote my business, share stories I’d published in magazines or newspapers, and post client testimonials.
Gradually, the WriteTek site morphed from a business site into a mountain biking site. I have posted more than 1,000 biking-related stories, photos, and videos in the past 12 years.
I was producing fake news and utilizing alternate facts long before it became trendy. I’ve interviewed many people for biking stories without ever having been in contact with them. Think about it. Everybody is busy. I already know what Dave, Crump, and the other minions are going to say, and if I ignore their words I can make them see almost coherent. Making stuff up just saves time for everyone involved.
Most importantly, the website gives me a place where I can direct people to view important info. In conjunction with email blasts and the advent of Facebook, it has given me the ability to reach a relatively large audience, not only to promote work parties and events but also to build a sense of community.
Paul and Melanie Norris showed up at Growlers in about 2005. I believe their first involvement was during the builds of the Miracle Mile and Cousin Eddie. They were a quick fit with our group and soon began participating in events, recruiting people for work parties, and laying out new trails.
Jeff and Dara Muldoon and Thomas and Ksenia Mueller arrived on the scene about this time as well. Like the Norrises, they quickly meshed with the old-school guys and were a welcome addition.
Mike Van Hoose and Ryan McMaster – both of whom knew Lance Brigman through the Three Rivers Cycling Club – became integral parts of our ride group and also did a ton of trail work. They were strong riders – both won GG5K’s – and great people.
It is because of the work done by Paul, Mel, Jeff, Dara, Thomas, Ksenia, Mike, and Ryan that our numbers – as well as our trail mileage – increased so dramatically during this era.
Brian Butler – One day in the early 2000s, I drove to Stella and, just by chance, stumbled across the start of a giant gathering called the Harmonic Convergence. I got to join the ride and sometime during the day someone mentioned a “more technical spot” called Growlers Gulch near Castle Rock.
I located Growlers pretty easily and was able to find all the lower trails. A year or two later I took Randy Hill up there. Randy said he’d run into Jeep on a ride, probably when he was lost, and – despite the fact that their last names were spelled differently – told me that Jeep was the older brother of Greg Lemond.
I knew Growlers was “off the radar”; in fact, at Stella some locals had told me “no maps, no net, no evacs.” I really liked the interval nature of the trails, but rarely ever ran into anyone. I vaguely recall crossing paths with Jack (Berry) on Mr. Rogers one day. He was very surprised to see another Maverick on the trail.
I really enjoy the work parties at Growlers because you can ride on what you create, and someone has to build ’em! Occasionally, I go through areas where I was part of a build and remember what it looked like before there was a trail.
I also feel projects like Coldwater are super important. I love the St. Helens area, especially the Dark Divide. There’s a kick-ass epic loop from Elk Pass out to Craggy Peak, down to Wright Meadow, and back up to FR 25. I’ll always support anything to keep that line open to bikers.
As for what brings me back to Growlers, it’s the terrain, the vibe, and the excellent trails, including the Super D routes. But Jeep is the biggest reason I keep coming back. He is open and engaging to visitors and makes expectations clear. Yes, there are literally hundreds of people that now contribute time, energy, and other resources, but he is the glue. Growlers would not be there without his leadership, and for that I am very thankful.
Melanie Norris and Dara Muldoon realized that there weren’t enough ride opportunities for women. They also realized that the last thing most wives and girlfriends wanted while riding was to listen to their significant other tell them how to corner or ride a log-over.
So, in about 2008, Mel and Dara created the Growlers Gulch Girls. Often, when couples showed up, the guys would ride together while the girls did their own thing. This probably allowed those guys who insisted on telling their wives the right way to do things to extend their life expectancies.
Cathy Zimmerman wrote an excellent story about the GGG that appeared in the Daily News in September 2010. View here.
In addition to Mel and Dara, some of the women I recall riding with the GGG included Samantha Scheller, Tonya Breedlove, Laurie Larsen, Ksenia Mueller, Hayley Cox, Sara Carlson, Alexis Moon, and Denise Livingston.
Despite the fact that Mel, Dara, and many others from the original group have moved away, the GGG Facebook page lives on, and Christy Mueller and April Silva have continued to host rides.
Ksenia Mueller – I moved to the U.S. from Russia in 2007 and was first introduced to Growlers in 2008. I had never been on a mountain bike in my entire life. My husband (Thomas) bought me a “starter” bike, a Novara hardtail, and took me on the Beauty and Belly trails. I instantly fell in love with mountain biking and Growlers!
About a year later, one amazing lady, Melanie Norris, organized a women’s ride group. Mel did not imagine that her efforts would lead the women in this group to become amazing friends for many years to come. We rode every weekend at Growlers and called ourselves the Growlers Gulch Girls. Those of us who had kids could still enjoy mountain biking while our little ones were at home with their dads – all thanks to Mel.
One of my favorite memories about Growlers was the Tour de Gulch, a huge fun event that concluded with a large party, delicious potluck, beer drinking, and socializing.
I had no idea how phenomenal this trail system was until I traveled throughout the west and east coasts. Growlers is extremely unique because it was not built by state park employees; there are also no markers or maps. It was as if you had to be a part of a secret club to know your way around this wonderland.
Everyone who was passionate about mountain biking participated in building and maintaining the trails. The Growlers community, led by Jeep, organized its own events several times a year. For most of us, Growlers was our second home, an outlet, a magic place where you forgot about everything negative and simply enjoyed the pain of climbing. And at the end, you were at top of the Legacy trail, soaking up the sun (or rain), feeling free, and loving life.
We took a large Growlers contingent to Mountain Bike Oregon in 2008 and 2009. I believe it was in 2009 that Paul coined the name “Growlers Gulch Racing.” The timing was just right. We had an increasing trail-building presence and there was a growing notoriety of the system.
When people asked us who we were, it was awkward and unclear to say, “Just a bunch of friends who ride and build together.” GGR solved that problem. The hilarious part is that we have never been an official organization. No membership. No meetings. No fees. And yet we have one of the most enthusiastic groups of riders and trail builders I’m aware of.
I had a minor problem on day-one at the first MBO. We had just finished the climb on Alpine and were getting ready for the rocking 12-mile downhill. My right crank arm fell off; it was completely stripped and couldn’t be reattached. I was forced to ride the entire thing with my right foot on the frame, which is more difficult than it might sound. I was really proud of myself for surviving the descent. When I reached the gravel, I got off, went around the gate, and jumped back on my bike. I momentarily forgot that I was missing the crank arm and instinctively looked down to see why my foot wasn’t on the pedal. There was a rock right in front of me, and I didn’t see it. I hit it, folded the front wheel, went over the bars, and broke my left thumb.
We had two doctors with us. Lance Brigman said, “Looks like you really screwed it up.” I asked George Go for a second opinion. He said, “That’s probably going to hurt a lot. You could go to the hospital, but they won’t be able to do anything for you.” So much for qualified medical assistance.
The next two days were very painful because my thumb was constantly being jarred. What really irritated me was that I couldn’t shift between my small and middle rings with my left hand. When we rode the Middle Fork, there were a couple of short steep climbs that I didn’t think I could make in my middle ring, so I opted to stay in the small one. I was in 1-9 most of the time and maxing things out, but in a couple of instances I was passed by people who normally would not have been able to pass me. It seriously pissed me off.
One of my favorite memories is when we rode Hardesty on the third day. We had Jason Moon and Monte Price – both excellent DHers – with us. The bus parked about a mile from the start of the trail, which is very steep and fast. I believe the descent is 3,000+ feet in about six miles.
Monte had a problem with his chain that put Jason and him behind everyone else. When we got to the trailhead, the MBO guides were saying, “Everybody move back. We’ve got a California race team here.” The race team took off and the rest of us followed. By now, Monte and Jason had reached the entry, and they started railing. In just six miles, they passed all 35 riders, including the entire California race team. When we reached the bottom, the race team guys were asking Monte and Jason for tips.
When Moon went by me, he hit a long rock garden at about 25 miles an hour. I asked him how he could carry so much speed through that gnarly shit. His response has always stuck with me: “Pick a line.”
Dave earned an unsavory reputation the second year we attended MBO. As we headed up the initial climb on Alpine, we got hung up behind a woman in a white jersey. She was very resistant to letting us pass, so Lance, Jack, Rob, and I waited for a wide spot and blew by. Unfortunately for Dave, he was unable to get past her. As we were riding away, he asked politely for her to let him by. Then he asked less politely. Still no response. Finally, he managed to elbow by her.
When he finally caught up with us, he started ranting about “the bitch in the white shirt.” If you ever hear any of the old guys refer to Dave as “Bad Attitude,” this is how it got started.
You can view my story about the 2009 MBO here. Is it wrong to laugh at your own writing?
One Saturday after a ride in late 2009, Mike Van Hoose, Ryan McMaster, Dave, and I were hanging in my basement. It’s possible this entire scenario may have been prompted by the fact that we were imbibing.
I’d been thinking about doing something special to celebrate my 60th birthday, so I tossed out the idea of riding 60 miles of single-track in one day.
Van Hoose stared at me like I was stupid, then said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
We had numerous planning sessions at my house in the months that followed. We decided to include Ape Canyon, Blue Lake, Lewis River, and Falls Creek. In addition to the planning, I also started training hard. Memories of the Boundary Trail ride were still fairly fresh, and I decided there was no way to be over-prepared.
We started with a relatively small ride group, but things expanded as we got closer to the ride date. People called and said, “Can I join you guys? I’d like to be a part of it.” I couldn’t say no.
We decided that Ryan would pace me. Mike would ride sweep. I would have no pack (Dave is still bitter about this). They would carry my fluid, food, and tools. Thomas Mueller and Jeff Muldoon would alternate legs and be responsible for any wrenching that was necessary. Ape Canyon and Lewis River were out-and-backs. Specific people would be designated to move the vehicles at Blue Lake and Falls Creek.
When the July 2010 ride date rolled around, the team included Mike, Dave, Lance, Jeff and Dara Muldoon, Brian Mahon, John Platt, Andy Crump, Andy Jansky, Vaughn Martin, Denise Livingston, Ryan, Thomas Mueller, and myself.
I had decided to use the event to raise money for charitable organizations. The local paper did a story and it was all over social media on various biking websites.
Two weeks before the event, Mike, Ryan, Andy Crump, and I rode both Lewis River and Falls Creek. We had a pretty good pace, and after that day I was fairly confident that I could complete the entire thing. The following week, we rode Ape Canyon and Blue Lake.
Things never go as planned, of course. I was riding a Trek Remedy and, a couple of days before the ride, Jeff and Thomas decided they needed to go through everything. They discovered a serious crack in the frame. The Remedy would have to be put down. I didn’t know what I was going to do until Paul Norris emailed me to let me know I could ride his Turner Sultan. He and Mel were unable to make it on ride day, but the loan of that bike saved my ass.
When we did the Boundary Trail ride in 2006, very few people knew about it. This was different, and it created a lot of pressure. I had dedicated the ride to Gary Ekegren and Mick Spane, two of my friends who were battling pancreatic cancer. A few days before the ride, Mick – who was my college roommate – called me. He was very emotional. He broke down when he told me how much it meant that I’d dedicated the ride to him. I could barely keep from going down on my knees.
By the time ride day arrived, I was sick of training, planning, and soliciting donations. I just wanted to get on my bike and rock.
We dialed a gorgeous day, and all the pieces came together. The deal-breaker was at Lewis River. When we arrived, the temperature was around 85 – I went through about 350 ounces of fluid that day – but we managed to get it done. At Falls Creek, it felt like I was gliding toward the finish line.
When we got to the campground, Andy Crump had put brats on the barbecue, and the beer was on ice. I’d brought along a fifth of Patron Gold, and everybody drank a shot to celebrate. Everyone on the ride team rode at least 35 miles that day. Dave, Lance, Ryan, and I were the only ones who cranked out all 63 miles.
Completing the ride and raising $11,000 for charity were both very satisfying, but sharing that day with great friends is what I will remember most. So many people donated and sent good wishes that it felt like a celebration for all of Growlers.
I put together a video of the ride. I still think the shots on the Plains of Abraham are the best I’ve ever seen. What a way to celebrate that day. View here. Turn it up!
Ryan McMaster – (Ryan married Sarah Hunter. They now live in Maine)
Growlers is about community more than anything else.
The sum of people associated with the group has varied quite dramatically in age, background, and riding ability. What made the community strong was the inspiration and sense of purpose Jeep and others created for everyone else.
A lot of people have been involved with Growlers over time, and the unofficial membership has changed, but what has always stayed true and kept things thriving is the uncommon level of personal investment that those associated make for the benefit of all. I know there are a lot of great groups and causes out there, but Growlers is one that defines community and what the sport of mountain biking should be about.
I have to admit that since moving away, it has been tough to maintain a comparable level of interest in the sport without the same people, projects, parties, and general purpose that drew us to spend so much time together. All of the stories Jeep posted, the group rides and carefully organized build days, the nutty fun events, and the friendship we shared defined mountain biking and that near-decade of my life. It makes me happy that the group continues to thrive and form such a strong cornerstone for so many people’s lives.
One of my favorite 60@60 stories has nothing to do with the actual event. Kelley Hinkle was starting to ride at Growlers, and he’d met Barry DeSemple. I’d put out a post about a Saturday training ride. The crew included Jack, Rob, Dave, Ryan, Lance, Mike, and myself. It was one of the days when you just knew the pace was going to be snappy.
When we got to the top of the Gulch, Barry was waiting for us. “Kelley Hinkle sent me,” he said. “I’m looking for the guy who’s riding 60 at 60. Is it okay if I hang with you?”
“Sure,” I said. What could go wrong?
We bombed the Big Wow and came back up the Ridge Trail at a rapid pace. Barry was dragging by the time he got to the top. Jack had decided he didn’t want to ride Rush and was going to ride gravel around and meet us at the top of Bitter Bitch. Since Barry was hurting, we told Jack to take Barry with him.
Somehow, Jack got confused. As we headed down Rush, he told Barry, “You need to catch up with those guys.” Barry followed us and the rest is history. He didn’t know Growlers at all. By the time he got to the Secret Garden, we were long gone.
About three hours later, we were headed back on gravel. Just past the blue gate, we saw a rider ahead of us barely turning the crank. Yep, it was Barry. He’d spent the day wandering gravel roads and was just now finding his way back.
Later Barry told me, “At the start of that day I considered myself a strong intermediate rider. When the day was over, I realized I was nowhere near being a strong intermediate rider.”
Tana Gutzka – My husband worked with Andy Crump and asked him to take me mountain biking. I think the second time Andy and I rode, we went to Growlers. Andy told me what a great place it was, that you could always find people to ride with, and that a very nice woman named Melanie Norris headed up the GGG (Growlers Gulch Girls), a women’s riding group that had regularly scheduled rides. I felt like I had hit the jackpot.
I still remember my first few rides at Growlers, meeting so many nice people: Dara, Denise, Juntu, and so many others. I remember riding Predator for the first time and struggling so badly I thought I was going to pass out.
I knew nothing, not even how to adjust the straps on my pack. I didn’t know how to fuel properly, didn’t know about lowering tire pressure when riding in mud, didn’t know how to change a flat, or clean out the cogs on my cassette. Andy spent a lot of time teaching me, not just about mountain biking but also bike maintenance. Susan Martin gave me training advice and took the time to show me trails in the Tillamook and Mount Hood areas. I will always be very grateful for her help and friendship.
The trails at Growlers are amazing, with something for everyone and new challenges with each trail that is built. The Growlers community is even more amazing. I never knew what community was until I rode at Growlers Gulch. I get it now.
Growlers is unique because of Jeep, Dave, Vaughn, Jeff, Bob, and so many other GGR’s and their commitment to building better trails and creating community. Jeep plans trail builds and riding events with an engineer’s precision and continually offers tours of Growlers to anyone that is interested. Without his passion, drive, foresight, guidance, and encouragement, Growlers would be a different place.
I have met so many nice people. People that give you the encouragement you need to be a better mountain biker, people that believe in you no matter how much you do not believe in yourself. I have made so many friends, most of which have come out of bonding at Growlers trail builds and events.
In 2012, I was talked into riding my first Growlers Gulch 5,000 by Jeep and Andy over a beer. I pretty much thought they were crazy, then talked to my husband who said, “Well, you can choose to be a porch dog or you can run with the big dogs.” That was enough of a kick. Melanie Norris guided me through my first 5K. Just learning the GG trail system was difficult enough, not to mention riding 25 miles with 5,000 feet of elevation gain. I never would have made it without Mel’s help. That event is still one of my favorite Growlers memories.
Legacy Build Changes the Dynamic
We were building like crazy during this era, and it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or more people come out for a work party. We’d added ABC, Miracle Mile, JFK, Jekyll, JLS, Canoe, Ace of Spaces, Little Sister, Cousin Eddie, and Double Down and were looking for something that would be a signature trail for the system.
In 2010, we decided to build a trail in a clear cut at the top of the 9313. Bob Juntunen had led the build of Creation, but there were no other trails in that area.
We realized that maintaining Legacy would be a problem, but the views caused us to lose our minds and move forward. On a clear day, you can see the Olympics, Rainier, Adams, St. Helens, Hood, and Jefferson, along with the entire Cascade Range. Paul, Dave, Al Hansen, Eric Loney, and I did a lot of the initial lay-out, with Dave carrying most of the load.
On build day, the temperature was 34. There was a skiff of snow on the ground, and snowfall continued throughout the day. Paul and Mel set up a chuckwagon on the north side and served chili and jalapeno cornbread to the entire crew.
If you were in on the Deja Vu or Upper Jekyll work parties in 2015, the Chainsaw Massacre in 2016, or the Mega-Build in March 2017, then you can imagine what the Legacy build was like – it involved cutting out and picking up a zillion sticks.
My goal for that work party was to recruit 100 volunteers for the first time. We fell short (86), but our ability to recruit and execute that build really amped up our reputation. We worked in horrific conditions and still completed the scope of work, which included more than two miles of single-track, in 4.5 hours. It would set the tone for work parties that followed.
Story about the Legacy build here. Photos included.
The construction of Legacy soon led to the addition of Vortex, WTF, and SNB.
Kelley Hinkle – My first experience at Growlers was a Tour de Gulch in 2008. I was with Jerry and Andrea de Ruyter. We rode the lower trails, Predator, Cousin Eddy, Beauty and Belly, Walk in the Park, as well as some of the Road Trails and Alley Oop. We later went up higher and rode Bad Gravity (part of what is now Deja Vu).
We crossed the main road multiple times, and every time we crossed it I thought we were crossing a different road. I was so turned around that day that I don’t think I would have ever found my way out.
A couple of weeks later Barry DeSemple and I were exploring the lower trails when we saw these guys riding down the gravel near Beauty and Belly. We flagged them down and asked if they would show us around. It was Ryan and Miles Olin and their friend from Minnesota, John Kowalski. John had a new 29er and Miles was riding a garage sale special and they were trying to see how much abuse it could take (It didn’t take much).
On the second Road Trail, Miles hit the stump-over at the end and slammed into a tree. They pulled the front wheel off, grabbed a large chunk of wood to wedge between the legs on the front fork, and reefed on it until they had straightened it out.
We headed over to Carnage. Somehow Barry and I ended up in the lead. We got to the old Canoe Log feature and stopped because neither of us had the skill or guts to ride it. Kowalski came down the trail first. We shouted that there was a big drop off at the end of the log, but he just rolled right off the end – no problem. Then Miles hit it. He rolled off the end into a front wheel stand before face-planting himself.
I kept coming back to Growlers for a number of reasons. First, the people. Everyone I met were just great folks. They were always willing to let me tag along and show me new trails. Second, Growlers was the closest place for me to ride.
It was shortly after my introduction that I showed up one Saturday morning to find Cage Aaron and a friend of his getting ready to take off. We climbed the gravel, did Predator, and rolled right into Cousin Eddie. Cage’s friend was new to mountain biking; he was an avid road rider so he had the strength but not the skills.
Cousin Eddie used to have a spot that was just a short skid line that ate riders. I had gone over the bars there and had seen many riders do the same at the Tour de Gulch. Needless to say, Cage’s friend followed suit and did his first OTB there.
Later Cage took us up the gravel to Bad Gravity. They were ahead of me and had headed down the spur that took you over to Creation. I saw something out of the corner of my eye chasing me. Freaked, I slammed on my brakes, jumped off my bike, and swung the bike around to act as a barrier between me and whatever was chasing me. It was a grouse. We finished the ride by doing Miracle Mile and the Upper KMA, which scared the shit out of me on the first couple of turns.
I have ridden all over the country and I have to say Growlers is unique, in part because the trails are all hand-built by users. Yes, I’ve ridden other hand-built systems, but they don’t have the organization and support that Growlers has. Growlers is the only one I know of where the trails are continually being improved and the system is continually expanding and changing. The trails all have a character that reflects the builders and designers of the trails.
I have so many memories of Growlers and great times with friends. It brings me back over and over.
The Growlers Vibe and the Price of Admission
Despite what some people might think, you don’t need a special pass to ride at Growlers if you’re new to the system. Instead of hard looks, you’ll probably have some of the regulars stopping to engage you in conversation.
Events, however, are a different thing, and – eventually – we used them to send a message.
Unlike state or federal systems, there has never been a paid crew to build or maintain trail at Growlers. We’ve done everything from scratch on our own. As a result, we tend to attract people who are committed to the idea that if you ride, you build.
Prior to 2003, we had an open invitation to the Tour de Gulch. If you were a mountain biker and you were interested in attending, you were in. However, increasing numbers at that year’s TDG – see story here – got us thinking about the fairest way to accommodate people.
Bigger numbers would mean a greater need for things like course marshals and signage; you’re probably aware that we’re not into that shit. In addition, the TDG party has always been at my house, and there was no way Sher and I could host 100 or more people.
For years we’d taken for granted that Growlers was like other places. We just assumed that everyone who rode a trail system also came out to maintain those trails and to help with construction of new lines. By now, we realized that this wasn’t necessarily the case.
We debated this issue a number of times over beers in my driveway. We decided the answer was to only include people who had done trail work. Oddly and unexpectedly, this changed the paradigm and ended up having a widespread effect in the biking community.
Ironically, even though we weren’t an official organization, by 2008 we were hosting four or more events per year. This was all about friends getting together to have a good time – and to possibly compete a little bit. The last thing we wanted to worry about were OBRA points and goody bags for the participants.
We agreed that having no monetary entry fee was the answer. You could earn your ticket simply by doing trail work at Growlers or by doing big work at your home system. And since we weren’t charging anything, we could keep things quirky, stripped down, and informal.
Some people were genuinely pissed because they couldn’t get on the sign-up list for particular events. As you can probably imagine, we had a special folder where we filed these complaints. It was labeled Too Fucking Bad.
If there were people who weren’t doing trail work at Growlers or elsewhere, were we really supposed to feel bad about hurting their feelings?
Pay to play has been a key part of the Growlers culture ever since. And oddly, it has sparked discussions about the obligation mountain bikers have to give back and created a buzz throughout the biking community in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon.
Among those I recall who began riding and building trail at Growlers during this era – in addition to those already prominently mentioned – were Mark Sanchez, Wayne Nussbaum, Randy Toney, Chris Evenson, Denise Livingston, Shane and Juntu Oberg, and Jerry and Andrea de Ruyter.
We had expanded the system from 12 miles to more than 30 in just a decade. Big builds and big changes were on the horizon.
We would be losing some of our key people within the next few years, testing the resiliency of the Growlers crew. But new people would step up to fill the void, and GGR would begin exerting influence in ways that we never could have anticipated.