At Raging River on May 19, 2018, the tide turned for mountain biking in the Pacific Northwest. It was a day of unrivaled triumph and, as it turned out, unexpected tragedy. But no day before or since has marked such a significant milestone for the PNW mtb community.
The trailhead was packed. The open field beyond the parking lot held multiple vendor booths, banners and bikes everywhere. Along the grassy knoll, riders lined up for shuttles.
Soon a ceremony began at the trailhead kiosk across the road. State lands commissioner Hilary Franz spoke, so did Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance executive director Yvonne Kraus and DNR land manager Sam Jarrett. Ribbons were cut, whoops echoed throughout, the quiet of the forest broken by bursts of applause. Everyone knew we were witnessing something epochal that day.
Then it was time to ride. So many riders! Older, younger, XC, enduro, men, women, kids! Those of us on hand who had waited decades for just one or two new trails felt drunk with glory. Not just new trails — an entire new trail system! — had been opened just half an hour from Seattle. Raging River, the emerging crown jewel of Pacific Northwest mountain biking.
And then, the whispers began. I can’t remember exactly where I was when I got the news. I think it was at one of the road crossings, maybe RR3, maybe higher. Someone mentioned there’d been a cougar attack on two riders. One was believed dead. It hadn’t happened on the ridge. But it wasn’t that far away either.
A cougar attack? On riders? Really? On this of all celebratory days for mountain biking? It couldn’t be right…could it?
Back at the parking lot, there were more furrowed brows, clouded expressions and muffled conversations. Apparently it was true. Few details were available, but things did not look good.
I loaded my bike onto the car and turned on the radio. Almost immediately the report came over. I sat there stunned—how could this be happening, on today of all days?
Cougar attacks are rare anywhere. Attacks on mountain bikers are even rarer. As it turned out, the victims were gravel riders, but the distinction narrowed to meaninglessness under the day’s circumstances. We were all in the backcountry. We’d all been vulnerable.
Anyone at Raging River on opening day remembers that whipsaw of fate, the emotional — and literal — highs of riding so far up, for so long. And the figurative crash below as word spread of the attack. How ironic—a day of exhilaration like no other turned out to also to be a day of tragedy like no other.
Raging’s christening was the start of something big, but a reminder of something fragile as well. I’ll never be able to recall one without remembering the other. We all know the saying, go big or go home. At Raging that day, you felt fortunate to get to do both.