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Test your mountain-biking skills in this downtown Seattle park

Justin VanderPole of Seattle cruises high up on a wall at the two-acre bike park built in the shadows of a 12-lane urban highway.
Justin VanderPole of Seattle cruises high up on a wall at the two-acre bike park built in the shadows of a 12-lane urban highway. (Ralph Underwood)

I snake my way down a trail highlighted by tight switchbacks and lined with oh-that-would-really-hurt rocks. Twice I am forced to dismount because I can't navigate a turn.

Down in the novice area I am content to tool around on low-consequence teeter-totters (picture a seesaw that you ride up, over and down the other side). This doesn't look hard, and really it isn't, but it takes mental commitment. Ditto for the near-vertical banked turns and whoop-dee-doos in the more advanced areas. Most of the features are built of wood, with stone, mesh and other materials used as needed for optimal support and traction. A quick cruise around has me transitioning rapidly from all of the above to dusty earth and back again.

As I pause to watch a couple of teens wail off a jump, I meet Seattle resident Ed Lambert and his 14-year-old son, Otis.

"This is helping me get back into biking," dad Lambert said. "I used to bike a bit, but it was called รข??cross country' back then." (See paragraph 1, re escapism.) "These kids are getting pretty radical." He points to a shadowy corner of the park where the highway snuggles against the hill. "You know there's more over there, right?"

Ah, so I see. "More" is a hairball chute, a narrow, knee-quivering straight-line down a steep hill, emptying into the park's lower regions. It looks like something they sent ore down in the old days, and sure enough, some 20-something dude is aligning his tires at the top, readying for a screaming ride. This section bears black-diamond signs, part of a difficulty rating system borrowed from the ski industry.

The ratings are helpful and humbling as I, a black-diamond skier, find myself fretting and double-checking and false starting on numerous blue square Colonnade trails. But I am not alone. While the prevailing demographic is teens and 20-somethings, and the prevailing riding style is airborne, there are also parents here with small children (I met one who said he was 4 years old), a few other middle-aged guys and folks who are clearly trying to determine whether this mountain bike thing is for them at all.

Glover says the park has proved to be a groundbreaker: In May the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance held an opening ceremony for a much larger skills and free-ride area, Duthie Hill Park, 120 acres of feature-rich trails on land that had harbored an abandoned archery range in Issaquah, 17 miles east of Seattle.

"The approval process for Duthie went much smoother," Glover says. "They all saw how successful this is here. When you come back out, definitely hit Duthie. You'll love it."

That I believe. Escapism takes many forms.

Briley is a freelance writer in Washington.

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