Hard-rock life of downhill on show at Hub-A-Palooza
Mountain bikers from across the Pacific Northwest converged on the Beacon Hill/Camp Sekani Park trail complex on Upriver Drive last weekend. They were there to kick off the spring riding season with two days of racing known as the Hub-A-Palooza. The main draw was the Double Down Hoe Down, a downhill race that has become a featured event on the regional circuit.
The Double Down Hoe Down starts at the top of a ridge above Camp Sekani and drops about 450 vertical feet over a mile of cliffs, basalt rock gardens, kickers and a bobsled run of banked chicanes at the finish. The signature feature on the course is known as “Girfmoor,” a heart-stopping plunge from a 15-foot cliff over a 15-foot gap.
Watching riders go airborne from Girfmoor makes it easy to assume that downhill racers must have a screw loose. But according to local pro racer Jaime Rees, the sport requires a personality that is both crazy and calculating.
“A little bit of both,” she said. “You have to be willing to go off a lot of big features and if you hesitate you’ll be sorry. You have to commit.”
Rees, 34, is a Spokane native who committed to professional downhill racing after competing as an amateur for only two years. This is her 10th year of racing overall and she’s been unbeatable on the Beacon Hill course – but not infallible.
“I’ve had my share of injuries in the sport,” she said. “Mostly my hands. I’ve shattered my metacarpals. Last year I took a berm kind of stupid, got stuck down in the rubble and the rock and went over the handlebars. I went through a pair of gloves and two layers of skin and needed pretty massive stitches.”
Traveling with her husband, Jeff, Rees competes in about 20 races a season around North America. She has sponsors and there’s some prize money, but that isn’t what motivates her.
“I do it because I like where I get to go,” she said. “I like the courses and terrain we get to ride on and I’ve made some really good friends in mountain biking too.”
Should you want to find out if you have what it takes for Girfmoor, Rees said the right kind of bike is essential. Downhill bikes are overbuilt for punishment and have shocks with up to 8 inches of travel. Along with a full-face helmet, shin and knee guards are a good idea. Most racers at the Beacon event could be seen wearing a brace that keeps the neck from overextending or compressing in a crash.
She also recommends finding experienced riders to hook up with. Local bike shops host group rides and offer skill clinics. A good information source is the Eastern Washington chapter of the Evergreen Bike Alliance (evergreeneast.org), a grass roots organization that lobbies for new mountain biking areas, conducts classes and rallies volunteers to maintain trails.
“Coming and watching races and seeing what it’s all about first before you try to get into it is also a really great idea,” she said. “It’s pretty impressive to watch.”