This story is the second installment in our five-part series examining the intersection of climate change and mountain biking. In it, we explore how climate change is affecting the places and people of our sport, and likewise turn the lens on ourselves as a contributing factor in one of the greatest challenges of our time. Read Part One Here.
“All of this burned to the ocean,” says Steve Messer, peering out from the Backbone trail over the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. Thousands of acres of shrubs sprawl out below us, intermixed with tall grasses—hardy Mediterranean vegetation that’ll poke and prick us if we get too close. It all sits in a massive bowl linked to ridgelines that fade toward the sea. At the foot of these peaks lies some of the greatest affluence in the world in the community of Malibu.
In 2018, the Woolsey Fire tore through here burning 96,949 acres, destroying 1,643 structures—including historic film and TV sets and celebrities’ homes—causing the evacuation of more than 295,000 people and killing three. Ten months later, perched over the handlebar of my bike, I can’t tell anything happened. It looks fine. The ecosystem here is like a phoenix, adapted over millions of years to burn and come right back. Many plants even need fire to crack their seeds open.