What Good Neighbors Do

Thirty years of hopes, dreams and dirty hands in the Pacific Northwest


WORDS BY SAKEUS BANKSON


Eric “EB Extreme” Brown scurries up the root wad, surveying the devastation that once was Cougar Ridge Trail. Located on the east side of Lake Whatcom, east of Bellingham, Washington, “Cougar” was once an unsanctioned downhiller trail scheduled for closure. Now it’s one of the area’s premier—and legal—rides.


This section, however, is a mess of rocks, dirt and wooden tentacles, the aftermath of three enormous trees blown down in a recent storm. But EB isn’t daunted.


The former online product manager and his wife, Courtney, moved from Seattle in 2008. As the trail director for the county’s mountain biking advocacy group, the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC), he’s been a fixture at civic meetings, public forums, races and events, and—of course—on Bellingham’s trails. WMBC’s first paid, full-time employee talks as fast as he moves, crawling through the forest like a scruffy Tasmanian devil as he alternates between plans to reroute the trail, rebuild it or literally jack the stumps back into place. It’s why the unofficial “MTB Mayor of Bellingham” is so effective: He doesn’t battle challenges. He overwhelms them with a flood of optimistic ambition. My phone rings, showing a California number: Jim “Sully” Sullivan. He tells me to high-five “Rico Suave,” his nickname for EB. I do, then I tell Sully how amazing it is that Cougar is no longer illegal. He immediately corrects me.


“I really suggest you don’t call them ‘illegal,’” he says. “Whenever hikers, horse folk or dog walkers go to a pretty place or connect two parallel trails, it’s considered a positive thing—a softball offense, at worse. When it’s bicycles, it’s illegal.” Banned from wilderness areas and national parks, in places like Montana, California, Idaho and even Washington, bicyclists and environmentalists are often on different sides of conservation debates. But not in Bellingham. When it comes to (literal) hands-in-the-dirt activism, few are more involved than the mountain biking community. Led by the WMBC, they have helped pass green-fund levies and they show up to trail-work parties in the dozens, even when those trails will never see tire treads. WMBC’s blue and green tent is a fixture at events across Whatcom, emblazoned with their mission statement: “To preserve and enhance nonmotorized trail access in Whatcom County through stewardship, education and advocacy.” And the whole story began with illegal trash dumping, an espresso machine and some good neighbors. If EB is the mayor of two-wheeled Bellingham, Sully is its godfather—and their shared “office” would be Galbraith Mountain, the beating heart of Pacific Northwest mountain biking. And it’s a pretty damn ugly one.


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