LANGLEY – Russell Stevenson was one of hundreds of mountain bike riders who showed up for the ninth annual Mudder race on Sunday.
And he was glad he did. Stevenson took first place in the men’s expert open division, followed by Toby Swanson and Michael Susaro.
The top three women finishers were Kristi Berg, Erika Krumpellman and Melanie Lewis.
In mountain bike racing, the winners are determined by who crosses the finish line first.
South Whidbey finishers included Sherry Mays (second place, beginner women), Nash Grimm (third place, beginner men), Jack Frey (seventh place, boys) and Robert Hezel (ninth place, beginner men).
Last year when mountain bike race volunteer Josh Wellman applied a white line marking the starting point of the eighth Mudder race, most of it washed away in the rain.
Not this time. Sunday witnessed 275 bike racing fans jam the course off Coles Road in Langley under sunny skies for the ninth iteration of a Whidbey tradition.
“There are lots of names I don’t recognize, which means the word is getting out and attendance is higher than ever,” organizer Robert Frey said.
Across the way David Gardiner, owner of the Half Link Bicycle Shop in Bayview, was helping out with the usual suspects – busted chains, blown tires and maladjusted brakes.
“Lots of blackberry bushes out there. Bad for tires,” Gardiner said.
Frey was also pleased at the number of young people who showed up to ride, more than double over last year by his reckoning.
Like Katy Edwards, 10, from Oak Harbor. Her parents were visiting friends in the race and Katy wanted to join them.
“I love riding my bike on a pretty day,” she said.
Wherever one looked, folks were getting ready to ride, already blasting through the six-mile course or kicking back with friends while sharing race tales.
First-timer Jeannine Poucel of Seattle, was having Gardiner work on her shifter.
“I had some friends doing it and they said it was a fun race,” she said. “So here I am.”
In groups of 10 or so, 94 beginners started their race promptly at 10 a.m. The sport riders (103 in all) and experts (78) followed throughout the day.
Racers came to the Mudder for lots of different reasons.
Normally, Alex Wilson would have found himself road racing in Wenatchee but when he heard the forecast – 100 degrees – he opted for Whidbey.
“I’m not that fond of the heat and this is a well-organized race with a great trail system,” Wilson said.
Todd Gill from Seattle agreed.
“The course was great, lots of ups and downs to let you get a rhythm going,” Gill said. “There were good technical sections and a nice mix of single and double track. Of course, the last mile had a bunch of climbs that wore me out.”
At 55, Marshall Will from Stanwood was one of the older riders.
“It’s a chance to get out in the woods and see old buddies from past races,” he said.
Old buddies, but not necessarily old male buddies. This was Virginia Matthys’ first visit to Whidbey Island – she planned to make a trip of it by staying at a local bed-and-breakfast – and her second race this season.
“It’s a hard course but very beautiful,” she said. “Lots of little hills, dips and tough single track. I’m coming back next year.”
Matthys, from Ballard, was surprised at the many young girls on the trail.
“It’s been a man’s sport traditionally, but that’s changing fast,” she laughed.
Local sponsors of the Mudder were Jerry Beck and Company, Southern Cross Espressso and Cozy’s Restaurant.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” said organizer Matt Hickman.