Myles Rockwell was a hero to many…a blonde haired Californian giant that could party hard and win a World Championship title. Ever since his re-emergence from seemingly self–imposed exile we knew we had to track him down. Writer and photographer Ian Collins went deep into the northern Californian woods in search of the legend…
DIRT ISSUE 132 – FEBRUARY 2013
Words by Ian Collins. Photos by Ian Collins
Myles Rockwell isn’t really a downhiller – at least not according to him – or in the general sense I was picturing from the nostalgic late 90’s images of him I had rattling around in my brain.
“I’m not really a downhiller, I’m a mountain biker. I just happened to be good at downhill and I liked it. If I was into cross country I would’ve put the time in and I could’ve excelled at that as well” Myles confidently claimed.
After exchanging a few emails I was surprised to hear that he doesn’t even own a DH bike. Apparently I won’t be awkwardly trying to shred around on a borrowed extra large DH bike in the soggy, coastal forest. Even on a foreign bike it would’ve been a nice change of pace from San Diego’s parched, jagged trails that are disturbingly devoid of trees. Damn. These days Rockwell divides his time pretty between a trail bike, road bike, and shaming the young guns at the San Jose motocross track.
Shortly after I anxiously boarded a plane to Santa Cruz (CA) to visit the ex–World Downhill Champion I learned that those ethereal, backlit scenes of him raging across the finish line at the Mount Snow, Vermont NORBA course didn’t really personify him. Then again, that was when Americans called it a “course”… not a track. The sport was healthier then. More on that later. There are probably hundreds of Dirt readers who don’t know very much at all about the enigmatic legend that is Myles Rockwell. Apparently I didn’t either.
For those who don’t know, Myles is statuesque, at around 6’3” and 200lbs he was the 1990’s poster boy of elite American downhill racing. Given his size he was tailor made for the fast wide–open ‘courses’ the sport was built upon. A motorcycle injury in Hollister Hills left him sidelined with two broken femurs in 1997 and made for a gruelling rehabilitation, and a two–year struggle to get back on form and winning major races again in 1999. After an impressive comeback he won his World Championships title in Sierra Nevada, Spain in 2000. In 2004 controversy shrouded his name when he was arrested in Durango, Colorado for possession of marijuana plants. Ironically it was recently legalized in Colorado just a couple of weeks before writing this feature, and had that event happened today it would go without consequence. How times have changed. Personally, I’m a bit floored that the man had to serve time in jail less than a decade ago for possessing something that is now legal and barely taboo. Pretty messed up if you ask me, but he barely seems miffed by it.
Last season he had been traveling the World Cup circuit with the Trek World Racing team and seemed to re–emerge and get back in touch with the sport after many years away. Anyhow, I ventured north to find out what he’s been getting into since going off the radar, and also to see what the future holds for him. Just five months ago Myles and his wife (and cross country legend) Willow Koerber moved to Santa Cruz from Durango with their baby daughter Raven.
A few miles down a one–way dirt road I arrived at his seemingly reclusive, but cosy, and oddly European house. It’s tucked away on the fringes of redwood trees and coastline where mobile phone coverage vanishes amongst moss, ferns, loam and the occasional cabin. This is where people who don’t want to be bothered choose to live…
I expected a big living room full of proudly displayed medals, helmets and jerseys from the glory days. At least some of his wife’s? Wrong. Maybe in the shed? Wrong again. They were all boxed up and tucked away, just a simple hearty environment where the emphasis is on Raven and the wood stove warming the place. I didn’t want to heckle them just for a gaggle of cheesy photos of said memorabilia, so I respected their humility and after a few cups of coffee we got cracking and loaded up his truck with a couple of trail bikes for a crack at some local loam on his gigantic bike. We got to riding and I we got to chopping it up. I haven’t done a formal written interview of this sort in the past, and although I didn’t quite know how to go about doing it, I was dead set on a couple of things. I didn’t want to alienate Myles with a bunch of obnoxious questions, and I wanted to take my time and just have fun and ride bikes with him. That’s exactly what we did…>>