Local Pride and a Star-Studded Soirée, Spencer Reports from a Top-10 at Trans Cascadia

Trans-Cascadia is a blind-format, backcountry enduro race held in the wilder corners of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountain Range. Previously held in Oregon, the fourth-edition of the event made its way north to the deep corners of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in south-central Washington State. This year’s edition included a heavy-hitting cast of gravity heroes, including international stars Greg Minaar, Steve Peat, Loris Vergier and more. Factory rider Spencer Paxson was on site to represent not only for Kona, but for his local heritage, having grown up just over the hill from where the race took place. For Spencer, Trans Cascadia was a full-spectrum experience of modern mountain biking, from exploration to advocacy to participation. From helping vet the quality of the routes to volunteering in pre-race work parties to finally racing the event, Spencer shares with us his special account from this piece of MTB goodness. 

I credit the terrain around Trout Lake, WA and the greater Gifford Pinchot National Forest for inspiring my deep connection with sport and the outdoors. When I was informed that Trans Cascadia would be venturing to this area for 2018, I leapt at the opportunity to help out. From writing letters of support to the local USFS districts to participating in trail work days, my connection to the region gave me the sense that I owed a concerted effort to support the Trans Cascadia crew and their terrific event. My family’s history goes deep with these forests, including four generations of a family-owned timber and sawmill business and many years of my grandfather and father flying surveillance patrols for the US Forest Service. Not to mention my own experience growing up in these hills. Now, as the economic landscape continues to evolve, it is inspiring to think of mountain biking becoming a more important part of the recreational activities in the area. What better way than to usher it in with revamped trail systems and a world-class event!

I never dreamed I would share these trails alongside 100 other like-minded mountain bikers, let alone legends of the sport whom I’ve looked up to throughout my cycling career. To be clear, this was the zone where I would often go to be solo, or perhaps accompanied by a stalwart family member or friend. I even performed my marriage proposal on one of these trails! This was the zone where I fostered my “benign masochism” on long rides and bushed-out loops with heinous amounts of vertical ascent and frequent hike-a-bikes. But the reward of alpine vistas and remote singletrack was always worth the effort. Fast-forward a decade-and-change later and there I was sharing the same routes with a dozen good friends, trading high fives and trail snacks with the likes of Steve Peat and Greg Minaar, and being able to reassure others with local knowledge of: “don’t worry, it’s almost the top”.

Speaking of more meet-and-greet, the video above captures perhaps the best “nice to meet you” moment I’ve ever experienced. If you follow the big mountain ski world, you’ll get a kick out of it. If not, the running commentary is entertainment enough.

For all the fun that was had, the week was not without a healthy reminder of the fragility of pleasure and the sheer remoteness of the place we were riding. On Day 1, a long time fellow pro racer and friend dropped in ahead of me on Stage 2 and ended up losing control and impacting a tree. I had given enough of a gap on the high-speed stage that I didn’t notice that he had sailed off into the woods until after waiting at the bottom when he was nowhere to be found. After a few riders passed without seeing him, I notified the stage timers and medic and ran back up the trail. Sure enough, my friend was a few minutes run up the hill and laid out on a gentle slope below the trail. The thought that I had ridden past him without seeing gave me a pit in my stomach. A medic and I arrived on scene at nearly the same time and began to administer care (I have my WFR precisely because of these backcountry activities…it’s not much, but it’s far better than nothing). As difficult as it was to see a friend in so much distress, and as scary as the uncertainty of injuries was in the first hour, it was amazing to witness the clockwork of the Trans Cascadia medical crew and staff as they switched-on to expert care for my friend while keeping the rest of the event running smoothly and out of the fray. I can’t speak highly enough of the medical crew and organizers for rallying the way they did to ensure safety and care. After three tough hours, my friend was able to get up and move out on the back of a motorcycle. As for me, I coasted out the last two stages of the day, race brain totally fried.

Mike Thomas

Thanks to Day 1’s strong reminder of two-wheeled hubris, I had the mind to savor and respect Days 2-4. We were still deep in the woods, and any serious incident meant a long wait and (likely) helicopter ride at best. That said, topic for a future piece is the phenomenon of continued risk-taking in the wake of incident. There are so many angles to open up on that topic that I’ll save it for later, but suffice it to say, I didn’t feel like I slowed down despite the experience of my friend’s crash. And I wouldn’t have gone any faster, either. F#@(%…it felt fast!! And on average I was still 3% off pace. I’m happy leaving that remaining sliver to the forest gods. That said, over the next three days I managed to eke out a top-3 and a few top-5 stage placings, which seemed remarkable to me (and scary/exciting?). Maybe everyone else slowed down? Whatever the case, the local pride probably had something to do with it. Witnessing everyone’s enjoyment of the trails and terrain gave me that special form of joy that comes from sharing with others. In that way, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to have my ass handed to me on fairly familiar trails than by the likes of the international gravity stars in attendance.

Chris Hornbecker

In the end, we grimy bunch of mountain biking adults spent 4-days feeling like 19-year-olds with no curfew, no homework, and European drinking privileges. Our cups runneth’d over. I bathed in cold streams and lakes each evening, ate delicious food, and shared lifetime good laughs and high-speed trail sensations with old friends and new ones. As for the racing part, I got myself to 9th place (FULL RESULTS HERE). The morning after the race, a bunch of us loaded into a truck and started the long drive back home. On the way we stopped in sleepy little Trout Lake. There was the gas station and cafe as it always had been each morning before school started, the mountain looming over the valley. I was a visitor in my own home this time, but there was a new twist that felt good. It had been put on everyone else’s map, and in this capacity, it felt really good to share it. I hope people come back. I certainly will!

Thanks for reading.

Photo credits: Mike Thomas and Chris Hornbecker