Finding new spots to ride is always exciting. One of the best things about being back in the northwest after a prolonged absence, is that a number of new riding destinations have sprung up. We’ve lost some too, but I’m all for celebrating the spots we have and working towards making the old ones better. Or even better, working to create new ones. And sometimes it is just a matter of being turned on to spots and scenes that are already there below the radar. The Pacific Northwest is already known as a great destination for riding, only a fraction of the possible riding is documented and out there.
Take Longview, Washington: a small industrial city of 34,000 or so, Longview is less than an hour’s drive from Portland. For many, it is simply a pit stop between Portland and Seattle. However, Longview boasts a small but robust cycling community. With two completely different trail systems in place, it has been a regular destination for us while we’re living on the coast. Both trail systems are completely off the map, which is the way the locals prefer it. Because the trails are located on private timberland, the land managers prefer to limit access to the general public. However, they currently do allow recreational use, and because the locals have a good relationship with them, it allows not only their use, but trail building privileges as well. As long as the riders “don’t do anything stupid” their access to the trails will continue.
Our favorite of the two trail networks is known as Growlers Gulch. Many of trails angle away from the access road in loops that make for short intervals. The single track is typical of the northwest; twisty forest single track that goes off into the dark woods. For the most part, there aren’t any many long climbs, making for a quick tempo on group rides. It’s all good stuff, with some sections putting a serious grin on your face. The classic NW flow of the trails for the most part, is open and flowy, although you’ll encounter tight turns here and there that will keep you on your feet to avoid flying off into the bushes.
The downside is that many of the trails feel just like the trail you previously rode. Some of the trails are laid out in a way that have them crossing back in on themselves, and while there are no published maps, sometimes you wonder if a map of the trails would look like the scribbling of a toddler.
We first rode these trails in 2009, then returned to participate in one of the trail build days. The best way to ride here is to meet up with one of the Growlers Gulch crew, known as Growlers Gulch Racing. A community of the local mountain bikers that dig and maintain the trails, they ride regularly and even put on their own underground race series. Participants are limited, and priority is given to those that participate in regular build days. Riding with a local is the best way to get in a ride that maximizes the best trail experiences and minimizes the wandering around in circles feeling that keeps one from wanting to return — though this could be completely intentional…
The Stella Trails make up the other trail system in the Longview/ Kelso area. Like Growlers, the entrance to the trails is unsigned. You know you’ve reach the trail head when you reach a locked gate that bars the way to an firelane access road. We haven’t ridden the Stella Trails as much yet, but they can be fun as well, with a decidedly XC twist. The downside is that much of the trail has the exact look and feel of what you just rode, resulting in a feeling that you already rode the section you just rode.
Until you realize, yes you did ride that section again.
While the Growlers Trails are also XC trails, they have more of an overall all mountain feel to them. The Stella Trails have the feeling of classic PNW heritage trails, walked in by users with the intention of getting through to somewhere else. The flow at Stella is a bit more technical and slow speed.
We did lose our way at one point, as many of the trail converge into a playground area that is littered with log rides and balance features. Many of the trails loop around and back to this nexus, making for a bit of confusion. Next time we hope to get the tour with a local.
Because of the current status of these trails, the locations is not disclosed to the general public, though in recent years, the group has been working with the private landowners to make the trails more accessible to the publich. If you would like to get more info on these trails, visit WriteTekNorthwest.com to start your networking.