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.

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