Locked Up Alone.

I broke a long streak of not being able to ride trails today. I won’t go on about how bad the weather has been, and what our clay soil is like when it’s been wet, or worse, when it freezes and thaws. No, instead, I’m going to tell you it was about 40 F when I started riding, and about 55 F when I finished. I rode a trail that is arguably one of MidTN’s most popular, Lock 4. There’s a reason it’s popular. It’s sweet trail, largely free of roots and small traction compromising rocks unless the section is specifically supposed to feel that way, for instance the Jeep trail climb. I took a picture looking back down that.

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The jeep trail is a little bit of double track rock section up what passes for a hill at Lock 4, which is largely flat, relatively speaking. Don’t let me turn you off on the trail, it’s not flat. It’s just that 700 feet of climbing and descending in 7 miles isn’t hilly by my standards. What this trail does is flow. Again, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t one of those new trails that builders are taking so much flack for, with people calling them characterless, etc. No, this trail flows because it’s just the way the land lays here. The best way to demonstrate this might be to go ahead and post a picture of a feature called Rolling Table.

 

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The reality is, this is plush single track, it’s fast, it rolls, there are lots of little rollers in the trail to hop over, lots of lips and berms on the edges of turns to catch and catapult yourself through, and even a few technical rocky places to negotiate. Unlike last time I was out here, I didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trails, but it’s not unusual to see white tail deer, turkeys, and ducks and geese gallor here. Yes, Lock 4 is right next to a lake, and a significant amount of trail borders the lake.

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To say I had a blast for an hour or so today riding (and re-riding some) loops out here would qualify as understatement. When I got on the first loop, and opened up, and started whipping around turns and hopping over the rolling features in the trail it was almost like I’d been holding my breath since the last time I was on a trail, and finally, I was breathing again. It didn’t matter that I was alone. It made no difference that the woods were still and quiet, like the trees and the animals were hold their breath too. It was therapy. It was needed, it was deserved, it was necessary, and it was the ultimate luxury.

As a bonus, although I rode alone, I got to the trail relatively early. There was only one other person there when I arrived, and somehow, rounding through the loops, I never encountered them, and they weren’t back yet when I arrived back at the parking lot. There I did find a few other riders unloading, eager to know what conditions were like. Aside from a few soft spots (when you encounter some mud on a loop named “the sink hole…”) it was perfect. It was a one time shot, because it’s raining tonight, but the trail was perfect today. One gentleman struck up a conversation with me. He was quite happy the trail was open, as he was trying to ride enough to improve his result in the six hour race that’s held here in the fall. He told me this past fall, he got 5 laps in with a time of just over 5 hours. His goal this year is to get 6 laps inside the 6 hour limit. Now, I can lap straight through in 53 minutes, my first lap out. I’ve never bothered to time my second one. But I can tell you I think 5 laps is pretty good. I figured this fellow to be in his 50s when we started talking, but the longer we talked, the more I began to suspect I had undershot his age a bit. I finally asked him how old he was – would you believe 70? Seriously. And he was every bit as giddy as a school boy…or me….to get to ride today. Think about that for a second. I find it inspiring. I’m more than half way there, and I hope I can do as well as he is at his age. I’d say that I’ve hoped that he had a good ride today, but the fact is, I know he did.

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Single-Track Minded

After so much wet weather, and not being able to get a whole lot done an any front, yesterday was a welcome change to that pattern. In spite of a little rain Thursday night, we were able to get in the woods yesterday, and accomplish something. Yesterday morning I left the house early, in the dark and drove into Nashville. There, I help the guys and gals of IMBA/Sorba MidTN (http://sorbamidtn.org/) do some work on phase two of the trails going in at Cane Ridge Park.

Cane Ridge Park Trail Map

It’s nice to see some trails going in over there that are beginner friendly. Many of the trails in this area are not beginner friendly just because of the terrain here, but things there are much more mild than where a lot of our trails are. We made a lot of progress, but that was due in no small part to the turnout. There were twenty people there helping out. It’s staggering how much progress that many people can make.

Because of the warmer temperatures, and the wind blowing, and the sun coming out yesterday, things dried out pretty well, and in the afternoon, I met up with a friend and we hit the trails at Rotary Park in Clarksville. There’s only about 7 miles of trail there, but there’s very little flat ground, so most of the time you’re either climbing or descending. It’s a pretty fun ride, and it’s been getting better, because that’s where I’ve had my crews focusing their work days, is improving trail there. We got in a good 2 hour ride before we wrapped things up. Along the way we both learned that winter is killing us, and we need to get back into shape. Hopefully the weather will co-operate further, and permit more progress on that front in the near future than it has in the recent past.

Grinding Gravel, Part 1

The rain just won’t let up. Single track all over MidTN lies useless, abandoned, soggy, waiting for warmer drier days, and riders gripped by the simple thrill of following a dirt trail through the woods. But a guy has to ride. He has to mount up, turn the peddles, climb a hill, carve a turn, bunny hop something ridicules. He needs to grind out some miles to stay in some shape, vaguely resembling fit. Fortunately for me, there’s a new answer to this problem.

Most of our greenways around here are flat. They exist that way because they were built on old rail beds, intentionally built as devoid of grade as they could possibly be, in order to allow the trains to move more efficiently. I recently spoke to a land manager, however, who holds the key to answering a lot of local needs. We need places we can ride when the weather is like it has been. We need places we can put more single track. A lot more single track. Unfortunately, that usually requires some blend of public land, and magic. Fortunately, this land manager is the decision maker for upwards of twenty thousand contiguous acres of public land. To put a little icing on that cake (because who doesn’t like icing on their cake?) that land is criss crossed by a network of gravel roads and existing double track semi-improved foot paths. Over seventy miles of gravel roads, in fact. Not really nice gravel roads like you’d drive your car down, the kind that make you want a jeep, or a four wheel drive truck, because they aren’t really smooth, and there are some huge puddles on some of them.

So I was having a little chat with this land manager, and he said sure, you can ride out there. I asked if I could build trail out there. His response started out badly. He explained he didn’t have the time, the man power, the funding, or the equipment to maintain, clean up, clear off and otherwise mess with trails. But hey, if I had a bunch of volunteers and wanted to build trails all over the place, I could knock myself out. Que elation. Because that made me pretty happy. Now, there’s a lot of work to be done. I can’t just walk in there with some tools and start building. And you can only tell so much from a topo map. So one of the things I’ve been spending time doing is riding my mountain bike around on these completely deserted gravel roads. Surveying the lay of the land, as it were, to see if anything in particular strikes my fancy.

The result is, my best rides recently have been grinding away at the hills on these gravel roads, meandering through the woods, miles from anything. Some of the hills are nice and rolling, and allow a fair bit of speed. That makes for an interesting choice when one of the afore mentioned large puddles presents itself. Slow down and ride through it? Crank away as hard as I can and bunny hop it? Yes. Of course, some of them are just too big. But others are just big enough to pose a challenge. Suffice to say, these rides not only improve my frame of mind because I can get out and ride, but also because I can see the potential of this piece of land opening up to mountain bikers in this area. We have so few really large tracts of land to work with, that many of our riding venues are limited to 10 or 12 miles. Many are less than that, because you can simply only do so much with a 100 acre park. To put some perspective on how limited that is, consider this. Yesterday I rode a 7.25 mile loop. It covered just a small fraction of this piece of land. Yet, inside that loop, is 1200 acres of land. Knock myself out, the man said. Yes sir, I probably will.

Patches, tubes, and other flat solutions.

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to get a ride in on some trails with a friend. He doesn’t ride a whole lot, but he keeps some pretty nice kit. While we were out he got a flat. It was a classic pinch, and he pulled out another tube, said he’d patch that one later. Unfortunately, the extra tube he was carrying around had been in his pack for a year or so, and it split when he pumped it up. It brought to mind an issue I think about sometimes.

Typically I don’t carry a tube with me when mountain biking. When on a road bike, I always carry a tube, but I’ve had this same thing happen where the tube basically dry rots in the pack. Of course, I always, regardless, carry a patch kit. I think maybe the difference for me between mountain biking and road biking is that I can patch the tube sitting in the woods, and the worst I have to worry about is what, a passing cyclist, or hiker? Ok, maybe a bear. At the same time, I’m not keen on sitting on the side of the road for any length of time. I mean, you just never know today, right? Especially when it comes to people behind the wheel.

On the flip side of that, when I went riding with my brother over Christmas, he stuffed a tube in my pack. Now, he has miles of mountain bike trail to get lost on, and tubes do come in handy sometimes. It’s not like he’s in one of my local parks when seven or eight miles of trail covers the whole loop, and it takes at max a mile or three to get out of the woods. If he can’t patch a flat he has to hike 10 or 20 miles sometimes.

So, I’m taking to carrying a tube with me now on my mountain bikes as well. I’ll just have to be more cautious about how long I carry it around with me, otherwise it’ll be useless. Speaking of useless, I was riding with a friend who got a flat and pulled out some of those new glueless patches. That held for about 3 minutes. As near as I can tell, those things are horrible.

So what about everyone else? Tubes? Patch kits? How do you feel about patching a tire on the side of the road? In the woods? Let me know.