The Cook in the Kitchen
Photos by Ryan Wiegman, Michael Darter & Dennis Yuroshek
Brett Watts pulled up to our rental house in the pouring rain – his lifted Chevy was covered in mud and the bed was full of beer cans and shotgun shells. We could tell we were going to be friends right away. Intimidating in stature but not once he cracks his signature smile, he’s one of those guys that could probably befriend a rock with his southern accent and infectious charisma. By trade, Brett is a US Coast Guard who currently maintains and flies the fleet of helicopters based out of the Humboldt, CA area. In his free time, Brett embodies a bike destroying, trail-crafting shredder who isn’t afraid to send it. His occupation means that every four to eight years, he lands himself in a completely new location, forced to find his way into the local riding scene, or make his own. It’s a situation that would make many people turn away from riding to do something easier, but for Brett, it simply fuels his passion more. His infectious attitude and work ethic make him a powerful force for change. His most recent efforts have had a profound impact on the riding scene in the Humboldt area, and helped spark what has become The Loam Wolf.
The Wolf first crossed paths with Brett as a result of a few Instagram direct messages two years back. Before we knew it, one of our founding members, Drew Rohde was on the road and headed to his “Mind blowing trails”. Drew arrived with some idea of what to expect, but with Brett as your tour guide you never really know what you’re in for, other than a wild time and some world class trails.
Before Brett came along, Humboldt County had a decent bike scene. The small college town in Northern California is nestled in dense coastal forests, with thick loamy soil covered in massive trees. The region is more reminiscent of a Jurassic Park scene than reality, but the full potential was virtually untapped as far as riding. The trail network consisted of carefully built sustainable trails that please the local regulators while being almost entirely devoid of creativity. “These trails drain properly, are low impact and are all of those other things that are synonymous with, “It’s gonna suck to ride,” says Brett. The local riders had grown to accept it and were perfectly content riding what was available. Luckily, complacency isn’t in Brett’s vocabulary and he was no stranger to starting fresh.
Back at his previous station in Hawaii, Brett and a few other riders started with nothing and constructed lines big enough to qualify you for sky miles benefits. Some of Brett’s Hawaii trails drew so much respect they’ve been featured in videos and major publications as professional riders came out to thrown down with the beautiful Pacific Ocean in the background. As with most trail builders, Brett brought with him a willingness to go against the grain and break some rules with an attitude that, doesn’t accept no for an answer. This same mentality carried over when he returned to the mainland and the forests didn’t know what was about to hit them.
After he got stationed in Humboldt and did some social media recon, he found two local guys that had just scratched in a secret trail. It weaved through the woods and connected two roads with the highest elevation change possible. The crew of two had spent months cutting trees, clearing brush and scoping out the terrain for the perfect route. If you’ve ever cleared a line through the forest, you’ll know just how much work that is. This trail was a major departure from the way the bike scene worked in Humboldt. Brett joined the guys and spent the next four years digging almost every day. Instead of going to bed after working the night shift, he’d grab his tools and head up to move dirt. Most of the time he was digging alone, roping in anyone he could to lend a hand on the trail envisioned in his head. Brett quite literally spent any free waking moment with a shovel in his hand moving the loamy soil and sculpting the earth. Berms started to stack up, lips got shaped and the trail of his dreams began to form. “I want to build something that motivates me to progress as a rider,” says Brett. His building style mixes smooth, sculpted berms and jumps from his BMX background, with steep, natural and technical lines. It’s the delicate mixing of two polar opposites that makes his work so much fun to ride. One moment you’re dropping a near vertical and root filled chute, sliding the back end over the wet roots to maintain control. The next, you’re skipping through the most perfectly timed rhythm section and into lofty step-downs.
“I want to build something that motivates me to progress as a rider.”
Brett doesn’t have an off switch, spending his entire life pinned in 5th gear – he’s got the calluses and riding skill to prove it. His vision and contagious personality ended up having a massive impact on the community and he became the guy that changed everything. “That’s been my role here,” said Brett. “These guys had their blinders up and were just sitting there,” he continued, “it was like a record skipped when we started building the big stuff and exposing what was out in the woods here.” The Humboldt area was full of super talented riders who had all the ingredients to make an incredible riding scene, but as Brett says, “There just wasn’t a cook in the kitchen to mix all the ingredients together. No one was willing to chuck the trail building rules in the trash to go build something different.”
Brett’s attitude and the scene in Humboldt are a large part of what inspired The Loam Wolf project. We spent a week with Brett and the local crew shredding some of the best trails of our lives, punctuated with beer, burritos and a whole lot of laughs. For years we had been dissatisfied with the way things were happening, but hadn’t acted. Our Pack had all the ingredients to make something different, but lacked the cook to make it all happen. Meeting Brett and riding with the Humboldt crew inspired us to actually take the leap and do something different. The best things come when you throw out all the rules, the norms and the list of things you “should” be doing and get down to the raw and unfiltered passion. If you’re passing through the Redwood Curtain, do yourself a favor and look these boys up. Brett’s trail work is sure to inspire you to do greater things. If the West Coast isn’t in your itinerary, we hope the words and photos will be enough to encourage you to chase that little voice in your head – and it doesn’t just have to be with a pick and shovel. The days we spent in Humboldt riding some of the best trails we’ve ever seen in a mystical forest with living giants certainly inspired us.
“It was like a record skipped when we started building the big stuff and exposing what was out in the woods here.”
Local Flavors and Info
A must visit is the Samoa Cookhouse! This historic restaurant has been opened since 1890 and still serves all-you-can-eat logger meals 7 days a week. Come hungry and be sure to check out the museum with tons of cool old logging memorabilia.
Website: Samoa Cookhouse
Revolution Bike Shop
These guys hosted us for a post-ride social hour and are involved in the local community. Be sure to swing by if you need any directions or parts.
Website: Revolution Bike Shop
Live From New York Pizza
‘Cuz you always need a good place to get a slice.
Website: Live from New York Pizza
Papa Wheelies Pub
Bike friendly bar with some entertaining folks.
Website: Papa Wheelies
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