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IN AND OUT OF TOWN WITH KONA AND TRANSITION.

DIRT ISSUE 148 - JUNE 2014

Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones

There’s not much in it where the bottom left of Canada bumps into top left of the USA, the dividing line is as straight as a die for thousands of miles. This Pacific coastline, bashed around by a strong sea, is one of broken land infiltrated by water, and is very, very wet in so many ways. “We measure our rainfall in feet not inches" says Les Miller, a logger out of Washington state who I met working on his truck in his garage on the side of the 101 north of Aberdeen.

For such a geographically relevant place it’s also a strange one, the vastness of Olympic National Park acting like a mass damper on sound. It’s where Kurt Cobain grew up, where Nirvana was formed. A sign was put up in the town after his death “Welcome to Aberdeen – Come as you are"… we didn’t hang around.

The road north is where we met Les and his mate Ed Brown. We talked trees, timber, lorries and the problems facing loggers in this area, the pressures being placed by ‘environmentalists’ wanting to ban felling. He showed us around the old mobile library his dad ran for several years selling car parts.

We drove a little further north before hanging a big left to hit the Pacific proper. It’s a place I’ve always been in awe of. Why I don’t know. Maybe it’s the aura that emanates when the swirl of conifer meets the airborne effervescence of the ocean, there’s constant feeling of dialogue between land and sea. Today the Pacific waters tumble in relieved, now resting from their own battle way out west, the larch stand on tip toe taking in some rare sunlight. To and fro.

The road takes us down to the sea proper at La Push, an Indian reservation with a big population, but we see hardly anyone and the beach is deserted. Further north at the topmost point of this big country the deep water swirls around Cape Flattery, it’s mesmerizing and scary. Best known recently as the location for the Twilight series of films the place clearly has an attraction for tourists, but it is ‘king size weird’ in nearly every respect, almost uncomfortable in its notoriety. It was good to get out of Dodge and head back west for some sense and no sense in the town of Bellingham.

It’s a cool town, the kind of town any mountainbiker would be happy to live in. It has all the key elements – great trails, great bars, good food and quick access to bigger terrain over the border in British Columbia, but Bellingham comes without being swamped by tourists every day of the year. It also has two major bike companies based there in Kona and Transition.>>

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[part title="THE PACIFIC NORTH WEST PAGE TWO..."]

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Kona’s product manager Chris Mandell lives in Bellingham’s own Manhattan style grid–square locality, which at first I thought was handy for navigation but in reality just spins me out, a corner is a corner, especially after a few local brews, which the area is extremely well known for. Random space is easier to navigate. And even easier if you are a rider of unworldly skill levels such as Seth Holton, who I had the pleasure of sharing the street and having a beer with.

Half expecting a tour of Kona’s HQ it was refreshing to spend the next few days working out of Mandell’s garage, it did after all have all the merchandise and the man knew every inch of the product and the area. The past year has been one of Kona’s most notable, arguably the first post–Barel, almost a decade since they won a double World Championship with the Frenchman. They have in many ways reinvented themselves with the new Process range and we spent the next two days slamming the 111’s, 153’s and the new carbon Operator around the local woods. Unlike press trips where you are press–ganged into tiresome activities and presentations that always try to put the screws on you, the days are just about chipping away at the good and the bad of bicycles and design with Chris. It is my first time on the Process bikes and the Mandell influence shows through because he’s a man who doesn’t hang around two wheels.

Chris takes us to the Double Diamond trails, it’s where the legendary Kona Stab and Stinky range of bikes were developed. The ten–minute descents through massive Douglas fir are an explosion of loam laden treats littered with root and snared by awkward drops. As you’d imagine, the Kona man knows them well. As the early morning light begins to filter its way through the canopy Transition Bikes’ Lars Sternberg arrives at full tilt.

And that’s the thing about Bellingham, there’s a strong riding community, everyone knows everyone and there’s massive respect of what they have in terms of trails. So much so that they have managed to remind the Forestry just how much value mountainbiking has in terms of woodland management and tourism resource. The bikers maintain the trails, nothing is surfaced and considering the heavy traffic it’s one of the cleanest woods I’ve ever visited.

Both night and day Bellingham is a potent mix of dirt, coffee, beer and great company, and even though the next few days were primarily with Transition I still see Mandell, his wife Ariel and Seth Holton. And we still visit the same café midday to stock up on food.

Owner Kevin Menard arrives at 7am ready for a day at Transition. Like at Kona I was half expecting a company tour followed by a few beers. This was turned immediately on its head and with just an hour to shoot at HQ we were packed into a truck and heading east to Mount Baker for a days riding… but not just a few of us… the WHOLE company!>> [part title="THE PACIFIC NORTH WEST PAGE THREE..."]

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All is good at Transition’s HQ north of Bellingham, Darrin was working on some new Anvl products, Carl was shooting bikes whilst the rest of the gang hurriedly got mails done before shutting down for the day. Leaned on a bench one of their Klunkers caught my eye, but there was no time as a pile of Covert’s were primed and ready to head to the hills.

Sternberg was obviously the front man when it came to riding but he has good back–up in owners Kyle and Kevin, Sam, Cam and Darrin. This little company has some heavyweight personalities and possibly one of the world’s most stylish, ‘turn it on in an instant’ riders. This year Sternberg is focusing on world enduro for the company. He’ll do a grand job.

The drive to where we were going was pretty epic vertically and clearly liquidly challenging for some of the guys on this, their ‘away day’ to the hills. We shuttled high, Mount Baker constantly on our flank. At the summit I found it almost unbelievable that someone had cut in a trail from this altitude, and after being chased by bees we dropped in. It was classic hand cut stuff, deep of decomposing needle, interrupted by rock and always keeping you on your toes.

The gang cooled off in the drink of frozen mountain water and we head back to the coast for one of the most heavenly evenings imaginable, the end of some unforgettable days in the Pacific north west.

We shuttle and then walk to a small piece of shoreline to where a group of friends sipped beers amongst some rowing boats. Lars has a fire lit and Darrin and Cam head out on to the silky waters to pull the crab pots that they had dropped earlier in the day. They measure the catch and return the smaller ones back to the clear waters but the rest we will feast on until sunset.

The drum of a washing machine acts as a great pressure cooker and soon we are picking at one of the freshest meals imaginable. Every now and then an Amtrak train rattles down the line between us and the forest which we had been riding a few days earlier with Mandell. The waters now almost waveless, a serene moment looking west to Lummi Island, tired from riding, fully content.