Photo Story: A Year of Trail Building Through a Pandemic in Oregon

Jan 3, 2021
by Katherine Donnelly  

I'll spare you the "what a year" monologue and cut right to the chase: 2020 turned into an incredible year for trail building in my neck of the woods. With the exception of some long stints of stay-at-home orders, leaving us stuck in the suburbs to daydream and twiddle our thumbs, the vast majority of my year was spent 45 minutes down the road in a magical place called Tillamook State Forest.

Before I get ahead of myself, here's a bit of backstory - as I would feel completely remiss if I didn't give credit where credit was due: as with all sanctioned trails on public land, things take time. And this project is no different. A good buddy Ryan McLane, an Oregon native who's been at the forefront of the mountain biking scene around Portland for decades now, has been painstakingly working with Oregon Department of Forestry to bring his dream downhill trail alive in Tillamook: Fear & Loaming. If you're familiar with the area, then you may already know him and his work with Stub Stewart, Raven's Ridge, and many other local trail systems. After years of tedious lobbying and planning, he finally got the approval from ODF in August of 2019 for four miles of steep, hand-built trail cascading down from the top of Larch Mountain in Tillamook. And so the dirt work began, and Fear & Loaming was born.

By the time 2020 had arrived, we had about a mile of roughed in trail through steep and loose terrain and a few key features built throughout. Despite frozen earth, cold and wet PNW conditions, and a few inches of Cascade Concrete up top, January kicked off with weekend build days that saw upwards of 25 volunteers decked in head-to-toe rainwear with shovels and rakes in hand. The momentum was contagious, and the progress on the trail continued through February and into March...

...and then of course, COVID-19 hit. Oregon closed all State Parks and issued a stay-at-home order, and the trail sat untouched for over a month. But as the temps rose and the ground thawed, restrictions were finally lifted in April so that Ryan and his crew of builders could get back to business - albeit a significantly smaller crew with the pandemic looming and daily lives drastically altered for many. Luckily for us, trail building is already a relatively COVID-safe activity and our small group of core builders spent as much time out in the woods as possible: digging, building, riding, and getting just a small dose of IRL socializing to keep us 'sane'.

Sure it's been a heck of a year, but having this little slice of heaven just down the road has been a savior for myself and many others and I count myself incredibly lucky to have had a year where I could put my heart and soul into something that is already giving so much joy to the local community. And with this, I'll turn it over to my photos from the year. They do a much better job of showing you what this trail means, and for the sake of storytelling, I'll keep everything in chronological order.

No such thing as a bad time out here. (January)

Just some nature shots from a cold morning on trail. (January)

Rainy weather won't stop us. Ryan directing the team on what his vision is for this soon-to-be feature: rider's right side is now a table and on the left is a larger double. (January)

Just one of the many trail dogs that frequent Fear & Loaming. (January)

An absolute slop fest with unseasonably warm temps after New Years. (January)

Discovering roots and stumps in the landing is never fun - but they gotta go. (January)

Raj roughing in some wooded section. The majority of the trail has stayed loose and off-camber, which translates to some extra fun winter riding. (January)

Building up a small gap feature through the woods. That fresh dirt looks oh so good, even with a light dusting of snow. (January)

New tool day! (January)

A glimpse at the view from the clearcut section of trail. This bench cut was doozey, but well worth the work. (January)

As is typical in the Oregon Coast Range, this snow originated as rain and quickly went back to rain after this photo was taken. (February)

I call this one "Winter in Oregon". (February)

We came back out the very next day to find the sun shining! (February)

Oh, those pre-COVID days were so nice. (February)

Goose lapping up some rays and attention. (February)

With the sun out and the trail dry-ish, we were all ready for some trail 'testing'. (February)

Cami heading through the clearcut section, with the Coast Range as a backdrop. (February)

March arrived, and with it came the news of COVID-19 rapidly spreading through California + Seattle. We were able to make a run up to the trail for one last shuttle lap before the impending lockdown began. This was the last time we were able to go up until May. (March)

Lockdown slightly lifted and the State Park reopened. A few of us quickly got off the couch and made a run for it up to F&L for a rainy ride. I'm not sure words can express just how good this day felt. (May)

There's this pull-off on the forest road that has an incredible view of the surrounding mountains. We ended the day up there, and our friend Mitch even took a look at our bikes in his rad bike shop on wheels. (May)

June arrived, and with it, our crew got a little bit bigger as restrictions continued to get lifted gradually. (June)

Ryan and Cami doing work while entertaining their new 'quarantine pup', Porter. Don't let the cuteness fool you, he's a monster. (June)

Every time I see this picture I can smell the dirt, and it's oh so glorious. (June)

Some light rain was welcome after a heatwave, and the boys party-trained all 1.5 miles of trail that had been built by this time. On the left is 'Josh's Nose Bonk Rock' with Josh himself nailing it, and on the right is Hornbecker looking heroic off of the Rock Drop. (June)

Lower down on the trail is one of the larger features, a 15-20 foot step down (not actually sure how big it is, still need to measure that). Mark makes it look easy here. (June)

There's little better than riding bikes with friends, and being in and out of lockdown during the summer made these days outside that much more special. (June)

As July and August approached, we had to hold off on building and wait for approval on what was already built. Small work days took place here and there to refine on notes from ODF, primarily building up better drainages and removing rotting wood, but overall this was a brief time where riding made up the majority of our days out there. No complaints here. We were also waiting on the next section of trail to get flagged by Ryan and then approved by ODF before we could begin roughing it in. (July)

That summer dust. (August)

You know, just the dog days of summer. (August)

Everyone meeting at the trailhead and Ryan getting ready to give us our orders for the day. (October)

We got the go-ahead to start the next section of trail, and with Fall in full force and the pandemic stats relatively low we were able to have some larger work parties. (October)

So. Many. Stumps. Sometimes it felt like Ryan was flagging the trail to hit as many of these beefy stumps as possible. (October)

Another day of moving dirt and no one was complaining. This was actually the morning they called the election - just before we lost service driving up to F&L, NPR called it for Biden. (November)

While the lower section wasn't packed in enough to ride after digging this day, the upper section was on fire. Here's the road gap at the midpoint from two angles. (November)

New day, same ol' thing. This was Ian's Birthday Dig Day, and he kept it to a low-key group. (November)

Before changing into riding gear, these guys eyed up the newly built sharkfin feature on the lower section. (November)

With a recent injury keeping me off the bike, I happily shuttled the guys up to the tippy top. This was going to be Kelson's first time riding it, and you can see just how stoked he was. (November)

The fearless leader himself, Ryan gets ready to point it downhill. (November)

While I was on shuttle duty, I was still able to get down to the sharkfin before the boys and get the camera out. Two angles, Ryan on the left and Mark on the right. (November)

The very next week brought along Thanksgiving. Once the food comas wore off, we all rallied for a massive push to finish the top section of trail during the long weekend - in all approx. 1.7 miles. (November)

With the help of some 20 amazing volunteers, we dotted the i's and crossed the t's. (November)

And possibly the most exciting job of the weekend was getting the signposts installed. (November)

Signs make it official! Thank you to Cascade Bikes for sponsoring this. (November)

After months of work on the top section, Sunday, November 29th marked the official opening. With sun in the forecast and a few beers in the cooler, it was time to celebrate with a whole lot of shuttling. (November)

Legs tired, souls replenished, and the sun setting over our humble little trail. (November)

Milking every last ounce of sunlight. (November)

Not so fast... just because we got the top section opened to the public doesn't mean we're done here. Through December we have gone flat out to clear the lower section of trail - and we're damn close to having a rough trail all the way to the bottom. I wouldn't take your bike down it yet, but it'll go soon enough!

A glimpse at what is to come. (December)

All hands on deck, let's get this thing built. (December)

But save some strength, because it's not a real dig day without some riding afterwards. Cami and Ryan clearing air with Porter in tow. (December)

I would like to take a quick moment to say thank you. First and foremost, Ryan - you have been such a strong leader throughout this year, and your dedication to this trail is truly remarkable. This entire community owes you a debt of gratitude for your hard work, not just on this trail but all of the trails you have touched before. Thank you for letting me join in, tag along, and take photos throughout these past months.

Of course, a massive thank you to everyone who has come out to help with the trail. It's been eyeopening to see just how many people are committed to bringing more trails to this region and getting to work by your sides and get to know you has been a highlight in an otherwise bleak year. More hands make less work, and this trail is a true testament to the community.

And lastly, I thank PinkBike for being a constant source of inspiration and good news throughout it all. And to you, PB reader, if you are actually reading this. You're probably I could really say anything here. But thank you nonetheless for reading a story about a trail in Oregon and looking at my pictures. I hope you enjoyed this, and more will come soon...

Until then, you can check out the top section of Fear & Loaming on TrailForks now:

Thanks for stopping by!

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  • 70 0
 Great photo essay.

Trails don't built themselves folks. So many riders just assume that "someone else will take care of it" or someone else will fix it when they do something kooky like riding trails wet ( Socal doesn't handle the wet) or breaking lips.

If every serious rider just adopted one trail (or even one section).....
  • 11 0
 can't upvote this enough.... too many people not giving back.
  • 5 1
 dont adopt other peoples trails without the builders permission.

Dont "adopt" a public trail and start removing roots and opening corners, just clear the drains, blowdown and overgrowing brush.
  • 38 1
 I read it all (even the part to the PB reader) and want to thank you for writing such a good story about trail building done the right way. It takes a lot longer but it should also last much longer, both because of proper construction and drainage, and it won't get knocked down.

Sounds like a great ride alreasy that will soon get even better. Thanks for the read!
  • 7 0
 Thank you - both for the kind words and for reading! Wasn't anticipating this article getting on the front page of PB, so it's a pleasant surprise that people are seeing this Smile
  • 24 11
 Oregon sucks. Always cold and wet. Just a bunch of junkies lookin to steal your bike to pawn it for meth.
  • 5 2
 This guy knows.
  • 6 0
 you just described the entire west coast from canada to Santa cruz, and all the way to mexico of you omit "cold and wet:. lol. good work!
  • 11 2
 And now that meth, crack ect are not considered criminal it should get sooooo much better.
  • 9 3
 You're right, Oregon sucks! And now that all drugs are legal your bike doesn't stand a chance! Don't move here! Stay in Jesusville or wherever yall live!
  • 2 0
 Any worse than the Greater Vancouver area? I doubt it.
  • 2 0
 @njcbps: about the same
  • 2 1
 Speak for yourself. Oregon rules, wet and dry
  • 1 0
 @Kwclaggett: Have you ridden in Vancouver area?
  • 3 0
 Yes, cold Creek, Growlers, @njcbps:
  • 8 0
 This is so awesome, there is a trail building renaissance going on in Oregon and southern Washington right now and while we don't have massive trail complexes like Galbraith, the world class tracks within an hour of Portland are becoming tough to count with only 10 fingers. Kudos to all the builders out there, thank you! Lend a hand, volunteer, buy raffle stickers (shoutout TORTA), and come visit!
  • 6 0
 Katherine for president! Jossie for VP! Ian for Secretary of Shred. Ryan to lead the planning division! So happy to have stumbled into this amazing group!
  • 2 0
 @Smelson you dog you, hope to see you out there agin soon. And obviously I'll offer some babysit shuttles for ya if the little one wants to come along Smile
  • 4 0
 There's no doubt just how much Katherine has fueled the volunteer stoke over the past year. Thank you Katherine. Amazing article and pictures are top notch. Lets make the push to the bottom. So proud to be part of this crew.
  • 3 0
 Awesome job everyone. So exciting to see the energy and enthusiasm going into this project (even on a disastrously rainy Saturday!) This surely will be one of the trails that puts Portland area back on the map for a lot of people.
  • 5 0
 Nice article Katherine and big props to Ryan for making this happen! Stoked for more days out ther!
  • 5 0
 Ryan is a real PNW OG and all around solid dude. The MTB scene here is lucky to have him! And Katherine takes the best pics!
  • 3 0
 @mitchcigno0 oh, and this one guy Mitch is real good with bikes and has a dope repair van Smile
  • 3 0
 Fantastic artical and photos, this crew is second to none! They work their butts off constantly, day after day to bring the heaviest stoke around! Nice work everyone you've done an incredible job!
  • 3 0
 This was completely hand built? Besides the post hole digger, it looks all hand built. Good for you guys, in the androgynous sense of word.
  • 4 0
 99% hand built by 100% volunteer labor. We're going for more of a backwoods/raw feel than the superhighways that are machine-built (and all-too common) these days
  • 4 1
 Just wanted to say that's my dude Mitch and he owns @PDXmobilebike and he absolutely should be the one taking care of all your bicycle repair needs in the Portland area.
  • 1 0
 Awesome to see more trail building on the PB homepage and receiving the recognition it deserves! However, you need to get that wood out of those lips, a legal trail should be sustainable and covering wood with dirt is not sustainable. Just from one trail builder to another
  • 3 0
 All of the jumps have been built using rock and dirt; no wood was used to build lips.
  • 2 0
 @yukonman no worries, the wood/logs that are seen in some of the pics have been removed!
  • 2 0
 Pretty rad that a state agency such as oregon dept of forestry is stepping up and giving the mtb community something to legally ride. Kudos to the builders and land managers! Thanks
  • 4 1
 Gonna try that trail when the border reopen. Wil be a good trail to ride in between surf session.
  • 4 0
 nice work! hope to get there some time....
  • 1 0
 I live close and would be happy to show you around if you make it across the Atlantic.
  • 1 0
 @daugherd: would be a dream come true :-) who knows . . .
  • 3 1
 Got to see Tillamook State Forrest and the coast this past summer. What a gorgeous place! Can’t wait to come back and ride the trails too.
  • 3 0
 As always, great photos and article Katherine! Can't wait to get back up there
  • 1 0
 @nukulur thanks dude, and can't wait to see you again soon - maybe we'll come down towards you one day for some BR or Alsea Falls!
  • 1 0
 @jondroke: was just telling Ian how you two will have to visit soon so I can show you some of the local Mac forest goods too????
  • 2 1
 Stoked on more committed builders and new sick trails! Side note, I LOVE seeing people running chainsaws sans protective equipment. Do you also ride bikes sans helmet...? Just asking for the first responders out there...
  • 4 0
 The Portland scene is firing right now.
  • 2 0
 Stoked to check it out, hope they add more in the area in the future, this is my backyard!
  • 2 0
 from a fellow oregon rider, can't wait to ride it!
also if needed is there anyway I could help with trail building?
  • 4 0
 Stoked! Search "Fear & Loaming support group" on FB. We'll get you plugged in!
  • 3 0
 Yesterday was brutal!!! soo wet.
  • 2 0
 Family mudfest...over 3 inches of rain out there on Saturday...whaaaaa?
  • 4 0
 Props Ryan and crew!
  • 2 0
 Onward Fearless 'Gonians! My shoes are damp and cold just reading this article. Looks like a rad spot.
  • 2 0
 I once rode some trails in Oregon, they were amazing. I also visited the Tillamook Beef Jerky factory. Also amazing.
  • 2 0
 They closed down the Tillamook Cheese factory tourist scene well before Covid. If I did one righteous thing raising my kids, it was taking them there.
  • 2 0
 These guys rule. Only an hour away. Keep the stoke. I’ll be out in the spring . Doing maintenance with SATA right now
  • 3 0
 Love it! Great photos as always Katherine!
  • 2 0
 Sick trail! Ryan’s the man! Can’t wait to get back out there. ????
  • 2 0
 The measurements in the topographic diagram
are American or Canadian ?
  • 1 0
  • 1 1
 Wait, "Larch Mountain in Tillamook"? Larch Mountain is east of Portland, and Tillamook is on the coast... They're 111 miles apart according to Google Maps.
  • 5 0
 Huh, okay, I searched a little harder, and today I learned there are TWO Larch Mountains in Oregon, one in Multnomah County and one in Washington County. Derp.
  • 6 0
 @barp: and another Larch just across the OR/WA border. People are really good at naming mts
  • 2 0
 @daugherd: and another on in capitol state forest near Olympia (actually two: Larch Mtn and Little Larch Mtn). Thing is I can't believe there were ever Larch trees growing on any of these, because as far as i know Larch Trees (the only decidous conifer) grow mostly on the eastern flanks of the cascades?
  • 5 0
 There are three "Larch Mountains" in this area and it confuses the heck out of everyone.
  • 4 0
 Wait until I tell you about this Mill Creek Canyon I visited. Western names aren’t exactly unique...
  • 1 0
 Right next to Olallie
  • 2 0
 @gafoto: is there a creek? Was there a mill on it at one point in time? LET'S CALL IT MILL CREEK. Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @gafoto: or how bout Mt. Baldy
  • 2 0
 Go WTF!! The Westside Trail Federation lives!
  • 1 0
 Great article, super inspiring! I wish Australia had more of this volunteer-led trail building culture.
  • 2 0
 Looks awesome!

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