|Randall is a low-profile, long-time hardcore rider, who's been hammering regularly in Capitol Forest for nearly a decade, but mostly in winter. In summer, he migrates to
the Cascades, throughout Washington and other parts of the Northwest, with the express goal of finding something new each time out. Randall, an ex-Ranger/Special
Forces guy, who retired from the Army in 2000, gets to ride more than most of us, and tends to be something of a lone wolf on the trail -- yet one who always stops for a
friendly exchange with other riders. Not one to count grams on a digital scale, care much for trends, or be affiliated with a pack, Randall's consistent obsession over
many years allows him to roll out of bed just about any morning and, impulsively, go crank out a solo 60-mile mtb ride. If anyone has realized the dream, Randall has.
Capitol Forest Rider Interview April 2005
Current city of residence?
How long have you been mountain biking and where did you start?
I started mountain biking in Okinawa, Japan, where I was stationed for four years.
I’ve been riding for about thirteen years now, since early 92.
What got you interested in mountain biking?
My job for many years required a high level of fitness, and mountain
biking seemed like a fresh, fun way to maintain this. It delivered in
both respects, and I’ve been addicted ever since.
What was your first mountain bike?
That’s easy because I still have it. It’s a Miyata, full rigid, bonded aluminum and steel.
You can press headsets in by hand now and the dropouts have argued with my
vice grips more than a few times, but I just can’t seem to kill it. And not for lack of
trying. In fact, I resurrected it yet again with a fresh set of hand-me-downs just a
few weeks ago. I still ride it, quite regularly. It keeps me honest.
What keeps you interested in mountain biking?
Boy, my feelings are increasingly ambivalent there. I’m not sure I want to think about
this too hard. The short answer, I suppose, is new trails. I stay motivated so long as
I can point my wheel down some trail I’ve never ridden before. If I had a longer
answer, I’m sure my wife would love to hear it too.
You’re into longer epic mountain bike rides, what attracts you to this type of riding?
The majority of my rides are more comparable to what’s normal for most riders. I have put together some long loops in Capitol only because the trail system allows that,
just to see what it would be like, and in order to help mix things up. Everything in there is so familiar to me now, after nine years, that the extra distance helps reintroduce
the unknown – whether I’ll make it back to the truck! what it’s like to drop down to Porter Creek alone in the dark! -- and that makes it exciting again. They’re not
typical rides at all. As I said, it’s usually new trail – or some special circumstance -- that draws me. It just so happens that some trails are longer than others. I suppose
you could call it adventure riding, but – hell -- every mountain bike ride should be an adventure.
When you do ride longer rides you ride solo, why solo?
Compatible, willing and able partners are hard to find. You need someone with a similar
philosophy, background, skill and fitness level. I have two partners who are like that in
most respects, but our schedules -- or current state of willingness -- often conflict.
One partner simply thinks I’m out of my mind. We did forty-plus miles together near
Shelton once, over some of the roughest trail you can imagine, and halfway through I
discovered him laying full length, face down, licking what fragments remained from a
Power Bar wrapper. He’s been a hard sell ever since. Plus, I ride mostly during the
week, often on impulse, and don’t like to plan much in advance. So solo riding is
perhaps more expedient for me. Also, it can sometimes be more exciting to be
out alone – if not quite prudent -- when it’s dark in them thar woods, you’re ready to
bonk, and your light’s just failed. There’s that aspect too.
What are the usual distances, names and times for some of your bigger Epic rides?
I generally define an epic as anything over thirty-five miles or five hours, whichever comes first.
That’s a good standard for a weekend warrior. I’m usually happy to see the truck by that time
anyway. Several rides in the popular guide books resemble that. I’ve not found many trails that
are much longer, in terms of miles, other than the ones I posted here for Capitol – namely,
Big Red, Mean Green, and Outer Limits. Another example that comes to mind is one I did last
summer, by combining two trails from Zilly, Lower Mad River and Mad Lake, near Entiat.
I started at the bottom, at Pine Flats Campground, and did an out-and-back to Mad Lake.
That was fifty miles roughly. Call it ‘Mad River Epic’. I did North Umpqua in Oregon with
one partner two summers ago, which was 75 miles, spread over two days. That’s a great
trail, and probably a good candidate for single shot some day, certainly no more difficult
than some of the stuff in Capitol. But it’s not all about distance. Last summer I ventu
red up Middle Fork Teanaway, near Cle Elum, returning via Jolly Mountain and Yellow Hill,
barely twenty-one miles, but that took well over six hours. I knew afterwards why it wa
s never suggested in the guide books. But there are plenty of adventure racers who ride a
lot farther than this, routinely. The only thing special about my rides is having the time, and the willingness.
What do you do to train and prepare for these big rides?
Nothing really apart from my normal riding. It’s supposed to be fun, right? The momentum I’ve accumulated over the years seems to be enough. Beyond that, I’ve
always had good native endurance. If I were doing these rides for time or racing purposes, I might take a different approach, but that’s not the case here. In fact, when I
do occasionally catch myself thinking like that, it just spoils things, so I back off right away. During those first four years in Okinawa, and for a short period when I
returned, I approached it differently – you know, heart monitor, average speeds, supplements and all that stuff, for I was still thinking about racing. That largely accounts
for the momentum I mentioned, which must still persist to some degree. Every so often I’ll go through a phase where I ride a little more frequently, or more intensely, but
it doesn’t usually last very long. I suppose you could call that training of a sort, but – hell – when I did Big Red again, a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t done anything even
remotely that long in well over four months! I guess that’s the payoff for riding on a regular basis.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring solo distance riders?
Well, I’d like to narrow the context of this a little because it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, ever since those long rides were posted on CapitolForest.com. I
knew once they were posted people would want to do them. I heard just the other day through the grapevine about someone currently in ‘training’ for Mean Green; and I’
ve also heard from another guy who wants to do them, but who’s never ridden in Capitol before. So maybe this would be a good time to reiterate what was said in some
of the trail summaries: Be familiar with the various stages before you try to hook them all together, so that you can better anticipate the demands and plan well. The rides
are not that difficult – well, I shouldn’t say that -- but you can easily get tired enough to impact decisions, in case of mishap, misorientation, or you just happen to bonk
that day. This is what happened to that kid a few weeks ago, just out on an ordinary ride, and they found him barely three miles from his truck. Time and temperature are
not always your friends. I was nervous the first time I attempted Big Red on my own – on a wet day in February -- yet I know every rock, root, and rut in that trail, from
every direction. It sure helped knowing exactly what was ahead, where I might bail, and being prepared for the worst. Enough said, my conscience is clear. Oh, yeah,
don’t pack a lot of water, buy a water filter instead. You’ll appreciate the weight-savings.
Have you ever been into racing?
Briefly, a few grass roots events, but nothing to boast about. When I was interested, there were few opportunities; when there were opportunities, I was no longer
interested. I haven’t attempted to revive it mainly because for me it boils down to sustaining a race face or simply enjoying the hobby. I opted for the latter when I
discovered that I’m just not built to balance the two very well. It’s very easy to burn out, if you’re not careful. Nope, I’m just another rough-cut, knuckle-draggin’
mountain biker, albeit something of a hybrid: I always wear lycra but don’t own a cycling jersey.
Being a seasoned rider, and veteran of the sport what general advice do you have for the most recent generation of riders?
The big difference for the new generation I notice is the fact that even entry-level bikes now come equipped with disk brakes and gobs of suspension. Sometimes this can
mask a lot of mistakes and impede rider development. I believe a lot of riders on new, high-end rigs would get better use out of them if they threw a leg over their old
beaters on occasion, to keep themselves in line and hone their skills. I know that I get lazy if I stick with suspension for too long, and more prone to make mistakes. I
think this is partly what’s behind the current single-speed craze, because many are discovering these benefits for themselves, who otherwise didn’t start out on a rigid bike
to begin with. A rigid bike will make you a better rider and faster on your dually (but you don’t need to sacrifice your chain rings and gears – or your knees – to achieve
this). Beyond that, stop reading the magazines and go ride. Don’t get wrapped up in technology. Twice the money never yields twice the performance; it’s all about the
rider. Of course, everybody goes through a ‘widget’ phase – and it’s a lot of fun – so I probably shouldn’t say anything.
How would you define the spirit of mountain biking for you?
Adventure, adrenaline, and hairy – legs, I guess.
If you didn’t ride what would you do?
Hit Abe (The Plains Of Abraham) one last time and huck myself into Mt. St. Helens probably.
One sentence description of Capitol Forest.
Klein’s original proving ground!
You have spent a lot of time in Capitol Forest, and ridden many other places as well. What place in your Rolodex of riding areas does Capitol Forest fit in?
In the beginning, Capitol was it for me – year round. Over the last few years though, I’ve changed things up. Now I divide riding into two categories, summer and
winter, with the opening of Chinook Pass as my line of demarcation (most years). Each category comprises definite trails which I seldom overlap. Capitol Forest – I
know that some will find this odd – is usually part of my winter group. That is, you’d be lucky to catch me there during the summer, mainly because I’ve already beaten
it to death that winter. Still, it’s definitely at the top of my winter heap, comprising the only ‘winter’ trails which I consider comparable to trails in the Cascades -- in
some cases, even better. Of course, when pressed for time or tired of driving, it sure is nice to kick up some dust in there in summer too. And I usually get a chance to
do that in May and June, while there’s still snow at elevation. That’s always a treat.
Where do you ride in summer then, or where else have you ridden in Washington?
Cascadia! and mostly on the eastern side. I just pick a trail out of the popular guides – Zilly and Kirkendall chiefly -- at least those trails that interest me, toss the bike into
the back of my truck, and head out. I didn’t start out intending to do all of them but – damn! – I’m getting pretty close. Now it’s a motivator. I’ve nailed virtually
everything within a three hour orbit of my door and have to push out a little farther now. Over three hours, I usually overnight. So, given that, plus a growing list of
favorites which I end up repeating every year, progress is beginning to slow. I suppose that’s a good thing because I’m already beginning to wonder what I’ll do when I
run out of new trails. Closer to the coast, well, most of that I reserve for the winter. Already, I’ve exhausted most of the winter options, at least those that are worth the
drive when its forty degrees and wet, so it gets harder and harder to make it through the winters. Thank God for Capitol Forest! If it weren’t for Capitol, I’d have hung
up my spuds long ago.
So what do you like most about Capitol Forest?
Everything loops! and it seems to offer the best climb-to-descend ratio of any trail or trail system I’ve encountered. If you can ride in Capitol (in winter), you can ride
anywhere. Plus, you can ride weekly for two months or more – typical weekend rides, say, fifteen to twenty miles – and not cross your own tracks. The same can’t be
said for most other trail areas in Washington. A lot of people don’t realize this, but if you subtract Capitol’s four major trails, comprising nearly a hundred miles, what’s
left over still represents more than perhaps any other year-round trail system in our state. Why so many riders, for whom Capitol is the same distance away, prefer some
other places is simply beyond me. I don’t understand it.
What is your favorite trail in Capitol Forest?
I have to say I prefer the red trails overall, at least I seem to spend more time on them. Again, I may be the odd man out here, but I don’t mind motorcycles as much as I
do horses, and I don’t like being channeled too much by narrower single-track and brush, which can be ugly at times on the green side. Still, it would be a toss-up
between Mima-Porter #8, I suppose, which is green, and the two principal red trails, namely, Molly-Porter #3 and North Rim #1, especially the latter’s outer arm, between
Porter Creek and Rock Candy Entrance. It’s still low-use and raw out there, more like Capitol used to be. Everything in Capitol is good, but the real trick is knowing what
trail or trails to ride, and when.
If you could change anything about Capitol Forest what would it be?
That’s easy, I’d remove all the signs, burn the maps, lob a 12-gauge slug through your server (sorry), erase my own memories, and – then, perhaps I could discover it all
over again! I miss skidding into some dark intersection, in an unfamiliar section of the forest, mud-splattered and breathless, and wondering, ‘Whoa! Where does this trail
Incidentally, I don’t mind the logging one little bit, for it’s helped open up the forest and create some variation. Capitol always used to seem so uniformly dismal and dark,
so it’s nice to bust through a high clear-cut now and enjoy some new vistas and some daylight occasionally. I’m sure there are others who feel the same way.
What is your bike of choice for riding in Capitol Forest?
Fit, handling, durability, and weight – in that order. That’s all I really have to say. In Capitol, or any trail for that matter, you might bump into me on a full rigid, a
conventional hardtail, or a sweet, short-travel dually. I ride all three equally and in equal circumstances. I choose the bike to suit the mood, company, or intention (to go
faster) – or sometimes because it happens to have more oil on the chain. The trail has little to do with it. I did Big Red last year, and both Big Red and Mean Green more
recently this year, using my back-up hardtail – a generic $119 Nashbar frame, dressed in hand-me-downs -- which is actually heavier, not nearly so plush, and no more
efficient than my dually. So go figure. If some think they need something special for certain trails, then I suggest they take at a hard look at the illustrations in Tom
Kirkendall’s books, or a harder look in the mirror. Of course, you don’t want to hold your buddies up, so you have to consider that too. But if you’re riding solo, it really
doesn’t matter. Speed is often subjective, adrenaline comes from trail feedback, and you can easily achieve that -- without the same degree of risk -- from a less capable
bike. So why take a chance on a bike that may be more capable than you are? For then you sometimes have to really push the envelope to have fun. As for parts, well,
don’t let me spoil things for those who still enjoy those sorts of discussions. It would just start an argument anyway.
Do you feel Capitol Forest has changed much over the years?
Yes, Capitol has changed a lot since I started riding there. The trails were never so well maintained as they are now; there was no gravel to fill the holes and few bridges.
Nor were there as many signs, many were rotted or missing, and the map wasn’t so good. Trails have come and gone, and come again. I remember when the so-called
‘Lost Valley Loop’ was a truly brutal, messy adventure, not nearly the highway it is now. That loop out of Fall Creek used to be my least favorite trail, in fact. It was that
rough. Capitol once seemed to be a dark, dismal, and daunting place to mountain bike, but now it’s starting to lose some of that raw, rugged – where-the-hell-am-I? --
character. I’ll miss that.
Have you noticed any trends that have come and gone in the Forest?
I notice the shuttle vans more frequently now, on some weekends. Still, the user density seems about the same – low – which I like, and which is not surprising in
winter. Trail maintenance, as I mentioned, seems more active in recent years. But since I ride mostly during the week, when few others are about, and seldom go in there
when the forest’s more heavily visited, it’s hard for me to judge trends. This year though, I did notice more shooters, and ATVers who ignore the closure dates.
Do you have any predictions about the future of Capitol Forest?
No, I just smile and act politely towards everyone, and try to ride ‘responsibly’, which is not always easy when you can lob yourself down a trail for up to an hour in your
big ring! I don’t foresee a problem so long as the forest’s multiple users remain friendly. I just try to remain low-profile.
Any advice to riders coming to ride here for the first time?
Again – call me Nervous Nelly -- always know where you are and be prepared. Carry a map and know how to read it. And identify the roads around you in advance, so
that you can use them as escape routes. Realize that Capitol Forest is not Black Diamond or Tiger Mountain or Victor Falls. You can’t always just bail to the parking lot
or to some nearby hardball, or expect someone to find you – and don’t rely on a cell phone -- and if you fly over the handlebars at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or
drop down the wrong ridge when you’re near exhaustion, you can be in a world of hurt -- especially in winter. As you know, this happened just recently and a real nice
kid died out there for no good reason (except that he chose the wrong fork in the road as he tried to make his way to safety). If you ride alone, be prepared to overnight,
if you have to. It will probably be at least that long before anyone comes looking for you (and only if you left word with someone). Just hope that you’ll have a chance to
stuff some leaves in your trash bag and pull on a watch cap before you pass out.
On a lighter note, study the DNR map and recognize that everything in Capitol loops, so don’t waste time with tentative out-and-backs, as many do. Most popular loops
are only around fifteen to twenty miles anyway, are fun and fast, and involve usually only one moderate climb at the beginning – an hour or so. The terrain does roll rather
severely though, so it might be helpful to point out that – in general – for every ten miles beyond what I just quoted, you can count on another equivalent climb (and,
happily, another fabulous descent). So plan accordingly. And leave the guide books at home, for their selections betray the fact the authors don’t know Capitol all that
well or ride there very often. And – oh, yeah – don’t forget your fenders!
Also, if you happen come across a black Tracer upside-down in the trail, don’t be concerned. One of my partners probably just spotted a grouse and went after it. Just
don’t make any flapping sounds.
Shuttle or climb?
Pay [to] play
Biscuits and gravy or oatmeal?
Hard tail or full suspension?
Double [the] pleasure.. . .
Berm or air?
Spandex or baggies?
Baggies for P&J sandwiches
Molly Hatchet: Flirtin’ with Disaster
Ride in the spring or ride in the fall?
Any family, friends or bike shops you would like to recognize, say hello to or thank?
Nod to Vern and Mike, partners of longstanding – ‘pure’ mountain bikers, to my way of thinking (inside joke). You should interview them. One got me started; the other
keeps me going. Also, to Ishikawa-san of Ishikawa Cycles in Okinawa, Japan: Thank you for my first mountain bike, that fluorescent yellow Miyata Ridge Runner, with
a purple fork and matching handlebars! Man, does my wife HATE you!
|Where it started. Okinawa '92