Although mountain biking is a great sport to do alone or with friends, it can be pretty confusing to pick up by yourself. Here are some tips to get you riding this summer in Bellingham.
I don't recommend going out and spending two grand on a full suspension mountain bike until you've tried the sport out a bit. If you take to it, you'll eventually want to upgrade to a nicer bike, but beginners can get around simple trails on anything with big tires.
Interurban Trail: The interurban is a 7-mile trail between Fairhaven and Larrabee State Park. You can get on the interurban in downtown Fairhaven or at the Rotary Trailhead on Old Fairhaven Parkway. Most of the trail is smooth sailing on a gravel trail made on an old rail line, but there are two sections for easy mountain biking. The first is called the 100 Acre Woods, which is about a half-mile south of the Rotary Trailhead, behind a metal gate on the right-hand side of the trail, just past where the trail crosses South Ave. 100 Acre Woods is a lot of tight, interwoven trails that all come back to a center area with big dirt jumps.
If you keep on the Interurban, you'll cross Old Samish Highway and enter Arroyo Park, where the trail turns into a single-track climb with a few bridges and small obstacles. After you get to the top, the trail turns back into flat gravel and goes on to Larrabee. This is a great spot for beginners so you can get used to going far on your bike and have a picnic on the beach at the State Park.
Lake Padden: Lake Padden is a lake and park off Samish Way. There's a 2.6 mile double-track loop around the lake, and 5.1 miles of single-track trails on the south and east ends of the lake. I haven't ridden much here, so I recommend downloading a map at www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks
Galbraith: Once you've got a feel for riding off-road, you'll want to check out Galbraith.
Galbraith Mountain is the place where Bellingham mountain bikers spend most of their time. It's officially called North Lookout Mountain, and is in between Bellingham, Lake Whatcom, and Lake Padden. Most of the land belongs to Trillium Corporation, and the trails are well-maintained by Whatcom Independent Mountain Peddlers (WHIMPs). Galbraith makes top riding lists worldwide, and is considered among the best trails in the state. We're very fortunate this mountain is within riding distance of our city.
The north trail access is within riding distance of Bellingham. Head up Lakeway and turn right on Birch Street, which is just past Whatcom Falls. (Park in the Whatcom Falls parking lot if you're driving.) Ride up the steep Birch St., through a construction site, and you'll see the trail access on the right going up a steep, dirt embankment.
To access Galbraith from the south, head out Samish Way past Lake Padden. Right after the speed limit hits 50, park in the gravel lot on your right. Head up Galbraith Lane across the street.
From here, I really recommend you bring a map. Local cycling shops sell Galbraith maps for $5.95, and there's also a pricier CD-rom available with fancier maps. Some of my favorite beginner runs are Ridge, Intestine, and Cedar Dust.
It can be pretty confusing to go to Galbraith by yourself. I recommend finding a group to ride with at least your first few times. Riding with people who are better than you will help you improve, too, because you'll push yourself harder to keep up with them. I recently joined the AS club Women Riders, which is how I got acquainted with Galbraith over spring quarter.
Group rides for all skill levels are advertised at local cycling shops. Fanatix, for example, organizes regular women's group rides, including intro to riding Galbraith on June 26 and July 31. They list other group rides on their blog at www.fanatikbike.com