Sight Unseen The Oregon Coast with Brice Shirbach
The more I think about what progression means to me as a mountain biker, the more I’m convinced there are numerous valid definitions. Riding a trail repeatedly is one way to develop and progress your skillset, as is pushing yourself on unfamiliar terrain. With the latter of those two ideas in mind, I set out for Coos Bay to explore the growing coastal Oregon mountain bike scene.
“We really built these trails to take the attention off of how good the surfing here is,” says Erin Kessler, who serves on the board of directors at Wild Rivers Coast Mountain Bicycling Association (WRCMBA). While she may only be half joking, my sense of excitement over the prospect of bringing this project to this part of the Oregon coast left me grinning.
In addition to her work at WRCMBA, Erin runs Pineapple Express Adventure Rides in Port Orford and co-owns Ptarmigan Ptrails, the builders responsible for all the trails at Whiskey Run—a purpose-built mountain biking trail system just a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. After a handful of emails and phone calls, Erin convinced me that heading to Coos Bay to film was indeed the right decision. She described the trails as intuitive and fast, meaning I’d need to keep my vision as far down the trail as I could to reap the benefits of the nuanced features and natural terrain throughout. She seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of having us come and document the sense of adventure that comes with experiencing something for the first time, particularly when it involves trails her and others in the community have put so much time and effort into. The ride itself, as well as the setting, are always significant considerations. If I’m going to share my experience with others on trails that I’m visiting, I need to do so knowing that those who call this place home are the ones behind it. The endorsement from Erin along with other WRCMBA representatives endeared me to Coos Bay as much as the stunning surrounding landscape.
I arrived in Coos Bay to sunny skies and warm temperatures. The rugged beauty of the southern Oregon coast is a sight to behold. Immediately, I was struck by the rustic allure of the town too. It had the kind of distressed charm synonymous with contemporary and upscale contractors and designers who earn a living reproducing this weathered look. In Coos Bay, however, it’s simply the sum of conditions plus time. Timber and fishing reign supreme here, and while there are a handful of bike shops around, mountain biking isn’t yet at the forefront of the community’s identity.
The trails themselves were stunners. We filmed on four total trails throughout the day: Loam Wrecker, Gnome Wrecker, Bam-Ba-Lam, and Old Bones. Loam Wrecker and Gnome Wrecker are similar in length and style, sharing a start at the same junction. They were in a corner of the forest devoid of the ferns and bright vegetation found throughout the rest of the network and were instead densely forested and very dark. The speeds on both trails can be very high as well, creating a surreal visual experience as your eyes focus on the ribbon of light grey dirt through an otherwise dark brown and black forest. Old Bones was the shortest of them all, but it packed a whole lot of amazing dirt and lumpy terrain over the course of about a quarter mile. It is among the newer trails at Whiskey Run and has the kind of rough-hewn trail design I would love to see more builders embrace. Bam-Ba-Lam proved my favorite of the lot. It is blisteringly quick, with a variety of cambers and natural features to get creative on and just the right amount of purpose-built terrain to enhance much of the heavy lifting already done by nature.
As the old saying goes, you only get one shot at a first impression. And, ironically, while I’m constantly searching for the feeling that comes with riding a trail for the first time, I left Coos Bay wanting desperately to stay and familiarize myself more with this place. It left the kind of first impression that I’m certain won’t be my last.
Credit: Pivot Cycles