Photo: Marcel Slootheer

I can't even begin to explain how incredibly "unprecedented" the year 2020 was. (And if I never have to hear that word again, I'll die a happy man.) But we all lived through it—we all have our own experiences to share from 2020 and the COVID 19 pandemic. We all had our plans for the year completely derailed.


So when you're faced with an utter shit storm of a year, what do you do? Focus on the few things that are within your control, and then make the most of them.


While international travel was off the table for 2020, thousands of miles of the world's best mountain bike trails are found right here in the good ole US of A. Instead of hopping on a plane I slid behind the wheel of my car, and the once-mighty interstate system of my dysfunctional country took me from Colorado to Arizona, Pennsylvania, Utah, Northeastern Oregon, California, Arizona again, more Colorado, a bigger dose of Utah, and a large helping of Southern Oregon to wrap things up.


Over the course of this chaotic year, I rode dozens of the nation's top trails and logged thousands of miles of pedaling. While I did re-ride a few perennial favorites, I spent most of the year exploring tons of new-to-me trails and destinations. Below, you'll find 20 of the very best trails that I rode for the first time in 2020.


Whittling the list down to 20 was a real challenge. Even just naming my favorites left me with a list of about 40, and I had to cut it in half. But the 20 that remain are all creme de la creme singletrack trails. All of these selections qualify as world-class mountain bike experiences, even if nobody has heard a few of these names


While this list is just an overview, I've penned dozens of guidebooks for FATMAP about these various destinations. So if anything here piques your interest, you can definitely dive deeper into each region and get more info.


Topping the list of my favorite trails of the year were a handful of routes in the Cascades. I don't know why this region doesn't get more ink, but flying down the loamy singletrack of the Cascade mountains is downright euphoric! O'Leary MountainLawlerEula RidgeHeckletooth, and Rye Spur collectively convinced me of the supremacy of the dark black dirt in the Cascades.


Somehow I've reached the end of the year and I'm still only in mediocre shape—blame the shuttle runs. Apparently, 2020 was the year of the point-to-point shuttle for me. The Big Boulder IMBA EpicTime WarpWOW TrailO'Leary MountainLawlerEula RidgeHeckletoothClassic Mt. Ashland ShuttlePauley CreekMills PeakMr. Toad's Wild RideMrazek Trail, and 9k Trail all thoroughly impressed me... and that's only the highlights reel of the shuttles I rode this year.


By far the best overall mountain bike destination I explored for the first time in 2020 was Downieville. While I had briefly passed through Downieville in 2012, this was my first deep dive into the region, and I'll definitely be back! Mt. Elwell along with the Big Boulder IMBA EpicPauley Creek, and Mills Peak especially impressed me.


Early in the year, I spent a month living and riding in Northeastern Oregon, and two of my favorite rides from my time there were this loop at MERA and the Umatilla Rim Loop. For more on Northeastern Oregon, be sure to dig into this guidebook.


Finally, there are a few outliers that don't fit any of the above categories. While I've ridden almost every trail in Colorado's Arkansas Valley, this spring I had an absolute ball pedaling the brand-new Camp Elevation and Unchained trails. While Spence Mountain is technically in the Cascades, the dry dirt there is much more reminiscent of Bend, since it's on the eastern side of the mountains. The descent on North Ridge is also arguably one of the most technical trails in Oregon. Finally, while I spent a couple of weeks riding in the Sonoran desert this spring, only one of the rides there managed to earn a spot on this top 20 list: Golder Ranch.


Whether you live in the United States, Canada, Europe, or someplace further afield, each of our home regions offers many lifetimes worth of adventures to enjoy. While international travel is a life-changing experience that everyone should take full advantage of, don't let limiting factors outside of your control rob you of the joy of exploration. Sometimes, the best adventures are hiding right under our noses.


Check out the full guidebook here!

 


There’s no one right way to travel: travel can and should look incredibly different from person to person, and from one season of life to the next. The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a season of life that has dramatically impacted how and where we travel. 


After my three-month Total Immersion tour through three different European countries, which you may have read about here on FATMAP, I temporarily re-integrated back into life in Colorado. And even with a global pandemic raging, I realized that I wasn’t ready to sit in one place for too long. I wanted to continue traveling, but slowly… and health-consciously.


A delightful series of unplanned events led me to spend a month and a half living, working, and exploring in northeast Oregon. Since Oregon is filled with epic mountain towns such as Bend, Hood River, Oakridge, and more, I had spent a respectable amount of time in Oregon before… but never in the northeastern corner. 


But Northeast Oregon is entirely different from the better-known destinations further to the west. This region is a wild and sparsely-populated area of the nation, with mountains ranging from rolling hills to jagged, rocky peaks. The area is dominated by the Blue Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains, but unfortunately for mountain bikers, most of the Wallowas are protected by the expansive Eagle Cap Wilderness—the largest wilderness area in Oregon. While mountain bikes may be banned, the Wilderness Area does make for great hiking and peak climbing! And aside from some small swathes of wilderness, the Blue Mountains are largely open to mountain biking.


Northeast Oregon is possibly best-known for its impressive web of wild and scenic rivers—most notably, the Grande Ronde. This region is also home to some beautiful lakes, including the idyllic Wallowa Lake framed by the soaring peaks of the Wallowa Mountains.


During my time in the area, I did my best to explore as much as I possibly could… but this wild and untamed landscape is home to a lifetime of adventures. In this guidebook, I’ve shared an array of my favorite adventures from my Total Immersion into the landscape of Northeast Oregon. Read on and learn about the best mountain bike rides in MERA, to exploring the Umatilla Rim Trail, to hiking deep into the Eagle Cap Wilderness, pedaling endless gravel roads in the expansive national forests, and exploring both lakes and rivers on my standup paddleboard. This guidebook can easily help you plan an epic multi-sport itinerary to rival the most popular mountain destinations in North America... with a fraction of the crowds!


Dive into the full guidebook, here.

 


Mountain bike trails seem to be immortal entities. Similar to roads, you might think that once a trail is built, it will stay like that forever—never moving, never changing, permanent and immutable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mountain bike trails are *constantly* changing over time. Even the best, most sustainably-built trails evolve as the years roll on. The trail tread wears down and wears in, with fast lines appearing in the trail corridor. Some trails get rougher, while others get smoother. New features may be built to make the trail more entertaining, and others may be removed to make it easier. Most notably, erosion plays a huge role, sometimes turning buff, easy trails into challenging messes of ruts and rocks.

Mountain bike trails even change their paths over time. Trails are often rerouted onto more sustainable alignments, and sometimes they're closed down to make way for other, newer alternatives. Nothing is permanent, except for change itself.

Sometimes this change is slow, and classic trails serve humanity for decades, over even hundreds of years. A long list of historic trails have helped shape and define the sport of mountain biking, emerging as classic rides that every mountain biker worth their salt has to ride at least once.

The problem is, many of the so-called "classics" have indeed changed over time, and the trail's present reality doesn't always hold up to the fond memories that we have from years past. Yet other trails retain their character over the years, drawing riders back repeatedly while delighting new riders who have never before tasted their sweet fruit.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is one of the latter. Established in 1982, this steep trail drops off of the venerable Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) and descends quickly down the mountainside into the valley below. While it can be ridden as a loop, many riders choose to shuttle part way up the highway and then climb the TRT to the top of Mr. Toad's.

I chose the shuttle option and got dropped off at an upper TRT trailhead. Despite the shuttle bump, it's still about 1,400 feet of climbing up the TRT to reach the top of Mr. Toad's. But with sublime singletrack to pedal and occasional views through the trees, the feet ticked by quickly, and before I knew it, it was time to pull the knee pads up and drop in.

Mr. Toad's has long held a reputation as a gnarly, demanding descent, but sometimes it's tough to know how much credence to give these reports. Was Mr. Toad's just challenging on the fully rigid mountain bikes with tiny wheels and steep geometry of yesteryear, or does it still serve up a big dose of challenge today?

Shortly after dropping in, I found the answer to my question: Mr. Toad's *definitely* still packs a punch! The trail drops through a veritable boulder field, and especially for a first-timer exploring solo, spotting the best line through the sea of rock can be a challenge. In a few sections, I stopped to scope the line, determining exactly how I would approach the piles of boulders. In others, I would blast down an obvious line, then look off to the side and spot an alt line that launches off a massive 5-foot boulder, gapping to a smooth landing further down the mountainside. While simply making it down Mr. Toad's without a crash is a worthy accomplishment, this trail provides a smorgasbord of challenge for expert mountain bikers.

Despite stopping for photos, the 2,700-foot descent flew by in a blur, and before I knew it, I had left the rocks behind and was rolling through smooth singletrack on my way to the lower trailhead. Whoever first routed this line down a vast mountainside of cliffs and boulders was a true visionary, and I hope that wherever that person is today, they know what a classic trail they created in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!

 


Many tourists will "visit" a city or a country for a day (or even less) and then consider that city checked off their list. Ridden up the Eiffel Tower in an elevator? OK, I guess you've seen all Paris has to offer…


As you can tell from this Total Immersion series, I don't view travel in nearly the same way. Despite spending three months straight in Europe and maxing out my tourist visa, I didn't visit a single new country on this trip. In fact, of the three cities where I spent a significant amount of time, I had already previously visited two of them.


During my first FATMAP team trip in 2018, I had the opportunity to ride Roller Coaster, the most famous trail in Finale Ligure, Italy. After just a brief taste of Finale, I was absolutely floored by the quality of the riding and the vibrant mountain bike culture. Was it a fluke? Or was Finale *really* that good? I decided that I'd have to go back and drink more deeply of this delectable Italian singletrack so that I could find out for myself. And so, Finale Ligure ended up being my finale—the third and final stop on my Total Immersion Tour.


I took the opportunity to spend two and a half weeks riding the trails with knowledgeable locals, visiting the bike shops, eating the delicious Italian food, and generally getting a feeling for the vibe of Finale Ligure. I found that even in the offseason, Finale Ligure boasts a better-developed mountain bike trail system, mountain bike tourism infrastructure, and mountain bike culture than any of the resort towns I've personally visited in the Alps. And yes, that *is* a serious claim! I still have a ton of destinations I want to check off in the Alps, but there's a reason that Finale Ligure has been christened with the title, "Whistler by the Sea."


The verdict is in: it wasn't a fluke. Finale Ligure really is *that* good!


Dive into my loop guidebook here, and my shuttle guidebook here.

 


As the chill hand of winter slowly tightened its grasp on the Chamonix Valley, I knew I had to head south to keep riding my mountain bike through November and into December. The next two stops on my Total Immersion European Tour would find me on the coast of the Mediterranean searching for warm rays of sunshine and gnarly singletrack to shred.


Stop number two on my tour wasn’t going to be a typical mountain destination. Instead, I hopped a plane to the bustling metropolis of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. 


The main impetus for traveling to Barcelona wasn’t actually mountain biking. Rather, my primary objective was to spend a month living and working with a group of digital nomads known as the WiFi Tribe. But… any potential destination had to at least offer *some* decent mountain biking. I had flown into Barcelona on a previous trip and had ridden with a few locals in the Pyrenees, so I sent a few messages, did some digging online, and it looked like yeah, Barcelona had access to some rad riding!


As I explored Barcelona, the mass of humanity was a shock to the system after living in Chamonix during the tourist town’s off season. As the weeks rolled on, I couldn’t believe how dense and concentrated the city felt. I looked it up, and Barcelona has an average population density of 16,000 people per square kilometer, spiking as high as 36,000 in the Eixample neighborhood. To put that in perspective, the population of Tokyo, the densest city in Japan, is just 6,158 people per square kilometer, and Denver, Colorado's is 1,706 people per square kilometer.


You might think that living in such a dense city would make mountain biking impractical if not impossible, but in Barcelona’s case, you’d be wrong! Barcelona is sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea on its southeastern side and a low mountain range on its northwestern side known as Collserola, most of which has been designated as a national park. Despite being surrounded by cities on all sides, this massive park covers over 8,295 hectares of protected land, and it’s filled with miles upon miles of rugged singletrack trails!


Accessing Collserola is an absolute cinch from anywhere in the metropolitan area. Generally, you can pedal right up into the mountains and start shredding, but if you want to save your legs, you can hop on the metro, ride it to the Vallvidrera Funiculuar, and take the funicular to the top of El Tibidabo and the boundary of the national park.


For a deep dive on the best trails in Collserola, be sure to check out the guidebook I compiled during my 5 weeks in Barcelona!

 


My love affair with European travel began with a work assignment in Sweden in 2015. As an American who hadn’t traveled internationally (save for Canada and Mexico), the history, culture, lifestyle, and beauty of Sweden instantly captivated me, prompting me to return to Europe again and again. Since then, I’ve traveled to Europe at least once per year (if not more).


After numerous 1-2 week trips to Europe along with a month-long tour through the Pyrenees and the Alps, I had the tourist approach pretty well dialed in. But bouncing from place-to-place every couple of days can be very stressful and draining. Such a quick mode of travel gives you just a taste of each town that you visit, leaving you hungry for more. I wanted a deeper immersion into European life, with at least a month planted in a single town in Europe (and preferably longer). 


During the fall of 2019, I finally carved out the time to make such a trip happen. I decided to stop in not one but three different destinations, spending a month in each spot. 


First up? Chamonix, France!


FATMAP was born in the rich mountain culture of the Alps, with Chamonix specifically serving as FATMAP’s defacto mountain headquarters. After spending so much time staring at the Mont Blanc in FATMAP and reading through the various adventure descriptions published by writers over the years, I knew that I had to see this place for myself. I knew that my first priority during my 2019 trip had to be a deep dive into the epic destination of Chamonix.


Travel will always throw you unexpected curveballs, and in Chamonix, due to other time constraints, my first curveball was arriving right as all of the bike-friendly lifts closed down for the season. Undeterred by this obstacle, I set out to still explore as many mountain bike trails as possible… even though I had to ride every single trail the hard way!


Despite that challenge, over the course of a month, I was still able to hit the majority of the highest-acclaimed mountain bike trails in the region… and even a few under-the-radar sleeper hits. For an in-depth survey of the best singletrack mountain biking in this world-renowned destination, be sure to read through my guidebook!

 


I'm ridiculously excited to announce an all-new writing project today! This new website—"blog," for lack of a better term—is a deeper exploration of my Outside 365 project, and a closer look at how nature and exercise connect to our daily lives. You can find it at Outside365.blog

After being active outside every day for 845 days straight, I've only become more and more convinced of the importance of this idea. Over the past two and a half years, I've realized that going outside is actually kind of a revolutionary idea—and only more so in 2020. I've even had friends join the challenge, and they've shared with me how dramatically it has impacted their lives. So I'm going all-in with a full website to explore these ideas in depth.

I've been working on this site and prepping fresh articles for a couple of months, and I'm pumped to start releasing these pieces. If you click on over, you'll see that the site is populated with a number of articles I've written off and on over the past few years, but at the top there are a couple fresh ones to dive into. If you want an overview of the Outside 365 project, be sure to read the Manifesto linked in the navigation, and stay tuned for a little more back story in a couple of weeks.

This new blog is a passion project, and right now the site and the marketing strategy (or lack thereof) is in V1. Please bear with me as I professionalize a few things over time...

For now, I would love it if you were to check out the new site and read the first piece, "Strangely, Going Outside Is a Revolutionary Idea." Any thoughts or comments? Hit me up on the 'Gram!
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