Nearly 400 mountain bikers flock to Spokane park, seeking 'adrenaline rush' in the first regional race of season

Apr. 7—Mountain bikers of all ages took to Camp Sekani this weekend, emerging from hibernation to enter Hubapalooza, the region's first mountain bike race of the year.

To tear through the park's maze of downhill bike trails among ponderosa pines and flowering balsamroot, nearly 400 bikers flocked from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and beyond to dust off their helmets.

"It's one of the longest standing bike races around," said biker Willy Bartlett, sales representative with Shimano, a sponsor of the race. "It's kind of the big kickoff for the Inland Northwest and beyond."

The 17-year-old event includes several courses: Saturday's more technical trails with ample incline that had 14-year-old racer Liam Dupree's legs aching from peddling 16 miles that day. To the relief of his calves, Sunday's downhill courses are "all gravity-fed," said Jon Amend, EMS coordinator at the race and manager at the Bike Hub store.

Sunday racers took turns tearing through the winding sloped paths punctuated by ramps and tight curves, most whipping through each 3/4-milelong course in two to three minutes.

For many riders, Liam included, it's the thrill of barreling downhill that draws one to the bike saddle.

"It feels free going down," Liam said. "And then the up is just to go down."

He picked up mountain biking during the pandemic after his mom, Amika Taniguchi, who is also a rider, encouraged him. The two have become more involved in the sport since, entering more races and Liam joining two teams that Taniguchi coaches.

"It's an adrenaline rush," Taniguchi said.

From the outside eye, bikers may appear to fit in better at a circus rather than in the woods.

"It's startling," Cynthia Williams said, watching a boy zoom up a dirt ramp and flip upside down while hanging several feet midair.

Cynthia and husband Doug Williams came from Athol to cheer on their grandson, 16-year-old Isaac Lutz and teammate Arden Lockwood, also 16, in their first mountain bike race.

Biking for over two years, Lutz straps a GoPro camera to his chest to catch any potential spills and to document the race for his and Lockwood's YouTube channel, Bike Addicted.

They sometimes take tumbles, like Lockwood earlier in the day, much to the anxiety of their onlooking grandparents, who took reassurance in the presence of several emergency medical technicians from fire District 9.

"It concerns us a little bit," Doug said.

"On the other hand, I think it's exciting to watch him do what he loves," Cynthia added.

The weekend's festivities were attended majority by men and boys, a trend not unique to Hubapalooza. Bikers said the sport is heavily male-dominated, with men seeing more opportunities for sponsorships and invitations to exclusive rides.

Josie Macartney, 11, has mountain biked since she was 5 years old, following in her mom's bike treads. The two drove from Fall City, near Snoqualmie, Washington, to compete. Josie loves riding with her friends and teammates, especially going fast. It's taught her to value optimism.

"You learn that you have to enjoy the moment because it's always different every time," she said. "You might have a good run, you might have a bad run."

She's noticed the lack of women in her sport, a shame because "when they do get into riding, girls get really, really good," she said.

Fewer women and girls means reduced competition, in Josie's age group separated by gender. She was the sole racer in the first course and one of two in the second.

Her dream race, a course in Whistler, Canada, featuring a daunting 10-foot drop, mostly sees male bikers. There are only a few entries allotted to women, she said.

"The boys get to do really big gap jumps and, like, drops and then the girls get to do just a normal trail that's, like, flat," she said.

The scene is changing, albeit slowly, with some whipping up strategies to make mountain biking more welcoming to women locally and encourage those who may hesitate to give biking a try.

Taniguchi's biking team is hosting a leisurely group ride around Beacon Hill trails for girls in grades 5-11. On May 11 at 1 p.m., bikers will meet at the Camp Sekani parking lot on 6722 E. Upriver Drive. After the ride, the group will craft jewelry from bike parts, play games and have a raffle.

Also targeted to beginner bikers, North American Enduro Cup is hosting a contest on their Instagram, giving away a prize package worth nearly $16,000, including a bike, gear and race entries for many area races. Applicants are instructed to post an Instagram reel showing their passion for biking and tag the group's Instagram page.

Locals know Spokane to have myriad outdoor recreation opportunities close to town: nearby state parks Riverside and Mount Spokane, river access around the city, snowsports in the winter and extensive park offerings. It's an accidentally well-kept secret, Bartlett said, with many bikers dismissing the possibility of good rides in such a populous city.

"People tend to think of it as more urban," Bartlett said. "Spokane's kind of a sleeper in that way."

Longtime biker Alex Anderson was surprised when he first visited Spokane for the race a few years ago. After his first Hubapalooza, he was sold on the Lilac City and moved 3 miles away from Sekani.

"There's trails literally in town. Wild," Anderson said. "I just didn't envision the Spokane area as being a trail-heavy space."

Elena Perry's work is funded in part by members of the Spokane community via the Community Journalism and Civic Engagement Fund. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.