Dirt Rag Magazine

Featured Ride: Annadel State Park + Oat Hill Mine, California


Oat Hill Mine

Oat Hill Mine

Oat Hill Mine Trail

When you’re done, throw the bike in the car and drive into the hills northeast of Santa Rosa to the small town of Calistoga to ride the Oat Hill Mine Trail, 9-16 miles (out and back). Oat Hill Mine Road rises steadily above Calistoga and takes you through some great scenery and challenging terrain.

The first few miles of the climb are pretty gradual and well graded. Near the top you’ll find unrelenting chunk that will work you over hard. You can turn around once you get to the top (around 4.5 miles in) and head back down, or continue on and explore even more toward Aetna Springs.


Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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Annadel State Park

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This 16-mile “big loop” hits the highlights of Annadel State Park just east of Santa Rosa, California. The big loop features technical singletrack up the black diamond-rated Cobblestone trail and a fast, fun descent—with opportunities to catch air—along the swooping North and South Burma Trail.

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Side loops provide options for lengthening or shortening this route while a few short fire road sections will provide for rest breaks. For those who love chunk, work your way back to Cobblestone for a more technical descent.


Oat Hill Mine

Oat Hill Mine

Oat Hill Mine Trail

When you’re done, throw the bike in the car and drive into the hills northeast of Santa Rosa to the small town of Calistoga to ride the Oat Hill Mine Trail, 9-16 miles (out and back). Oat Hill Mine Road rises steadily above Calistoga and takes you through some great scenery and challenging terrain.

The first few miles of the climb are pretty gradual and well graded. Near the top you’ll find unrelenting chunk that will work you over hard. You can turn around once you get to the top (around 4.5 miles in) and head back down, or continue on and explore even more toward Aetna Springs.


Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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Featured Ride: Maah Dah Hey, North Dakota



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The Maah Daah Hey is one of the jewels of North Dakota open space and a designated IMBA Epic. This ride is a serious adventure and a serious commitment. It is 93 miles of singletrack through painted buttes and tall grass prairies that will both test and awe you.

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As it follows the Little Missouri River, the trail blends difficult climbs up the bentonite buttes with challenging downhills. Beautiful vistas abound. Also known as the MDH, this long-distance route is best enjoyed as a multi-day bikepacking or sag-supported adventure

The trail connects the north and south units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park across the Little Missouri Grasslands. Note that mountain bikers are required to ride alternate routes through the sections of the MDH that cross through national park lands.

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For those who plan to support themselves with a vehicle on the Maah Daah Hey, it’s best to identify contact points for each day’s ride to refuel the group with food and water. This will require some planning to navigate the surrounding rural road system. Most roads are passable by two-wheel drive vehicles, although high clearance is recommended. Consult a copy of the Little Missouri National Grassland’s map for a support vehicle strategy.

The MDH is broken down into five sections, each anchored by campgrounds along the route: Buffalo Gap to Wannagan, Wannagan to Elkhorn, Elkhorn to Magpie, Magpie to Bennett, Bennet to CCC. It is located between Medora and Watford City, North Dakota, approximately 40 miles from Dickinson Municipal Airport and 140 miles from the state capital of Bismarck.

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The Maah Daah Hey is a shared-use trail, enjoyed by cyclists, equestrians and hikers alike. However, due to its remoteness, it requires total self-sufficiency. Be prepared with your own water, food and maps. Be prepared to employ route-finding and navigation skills.

Photos and information courtesy of MTB Project. 


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Featured Ride: Millstone Hill, Vermont



Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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The Millstone Hill trail system near Barre, Vermont, is not long but it is unique. The trails wind above water-filled abandoned quarries, through northern hardwood and coniferous forests and along exposed granite spines.

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The ride featured here is located on the west side and totals about 7 miles that is 75-percent singletrack and includes a couple of steep, challenging, downhill-only sections. A day pass is required to ride these mountain bike trails if you are not a member of the Millstone Trails Association (MTA).

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For additional trails not currently mapped on MTB Project and much more information, visit the MTA website, and consider helping to add those rides and trails to MTB Project for easy mobile navigation.


Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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Featured Ride: Chicopee Woods, Georgia



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A fast, intermediate ride through beautiful hardwood forests, Chicopee Woods links together almost all of the trails and loops in this system adjacent the city of Gainesville (northeast of Atlanta) for an 18-mile zig-zagging, roller-coaster ride.

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Expect flow, berms, bridges, a few climbs up a gravel road and a somewhat technical descent down White Tail Trail. The Tortoise Loop serves as a good warmup or a nice beginner trail. The trails are well-maintained and well-signed thanks to Gainesville SORBA.

Photos courtesy of MTB Project.


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Featured Ride: Wedekind/Crestline/Greenline, Washington



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This week’s featured ride from MTB Project is southwest of Olympia and is called the Capitol State Forest’s “signature ride,” linking intermediate and advanced trails. This particular 16-mile ride covers everything from steep, loose climbs to fast, flowy downhill and everything in between. Greenline #6, the black-diamond trail, features sections known as The Luge, Roots of Fury and Tokyo Drift.

Griffin Meyers (Single Speed Open).

Griffin Meyers (Single Speed Open).

Greenline #6 can easily be shuttled and the more difficult Crestline Trail can be skipped by riding the dirt roads. There are so many options in this loop and in Capitol State Forest itself that you can customize your ride to your day. According to the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, the forest has 166 miles of riding available (50 percent singletrack, 50 percent fire road). Most of the riding is classified as cross-country style.

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Photos courtesy of MTB Project


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Featured Ride: Whitemeadow-Stone Coal Loop, West Virginia



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Cheat Mountain is a relatively unknown riding area in West Virginia. This 13.8-mile ride is fairly remote, even for West Virginia standards. While the trails are well-signed, you’re definitely out there. Self-sufficiency is mandatory.

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This technical, backcountry-style ride is characterized by things you might find in the pages of a Tolkien book: dense mixed forest covered in bright spongy mosses, imposing pine trees growing over boulders and disappearing streams that run underground for miles. You will feel as if you have entered another world.

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The route covers a collection of trails that traverse the top of the mountain, descending and climbing from the Shavers Fork River. Its a healthy dose of West Virginia riding and the iconic backcountry trails the state is known for.

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There are campsites along the route if you want to hang around for a night. This ride is not too far of a drive from the better-known Spruce Knob trails and North Fork Mountain trail. In fact, there are so many rides in this part of the state, you could easily spend a few days exploring the terrain without having to drive too far or ride the same thing twice. Summer road trip!

Photos courtesy of MTB Project


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Featured Ride: Narrowback Mountain, Virginia

 

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The Narrowback Mountain Loop ride is located near Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the North River District of George Washington National Forest. There is a bit of everything on this 12.5-mile sample loop including ridgeline riding, rocky sections with alternate lines and one memorable descent off the mountain. The ride ascends and descends a total of 1,500 feet.

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Narrowback Mountain Loop is just the tip of the local iceberg. There are enough trails in the area that you could tack on several more for a huge day, or stick around and ride for several days. Nearby is the 36-mile Shenandoah Mountain Trail and 25-mile Wild Oak NRT, among many others. Most of the rides in this area are rocky and forested.

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If you like it, donate to the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, which helps to maintain this trail. If you want to make a weekend out of it, there are plenty of accommodations nearby. If camping, its hard to beat the ride in/ride out option at Todd Lake Recreation Area which has showers and flush toilets.

Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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Featured Ride: Mid Mountain Trail, Utah



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We’re in Park City, Utah, this week for Bike Press Camp, and one of the trails we get to ride is Mid Mountain. It’s part of the local IMBA Epic and just one of many options that can be accessed either by brute uphill pedaling or ski lift. The trail starts at 7,800 feet and tops out around 8,400 feet and is a nice sampling of what this part of town has to offer. Apparently we got lucky as the last of the snow melted not too long ago.

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Mid Mountain Trail is beautiful, classic-Wasatch singletrack through a combination of deep forest, brief passes through open meadows and along a ridgeline. There’s a bit of climbing as you make your way north, but nothing brutal. There are also some rocky sections along the way but nothing too technical for an intermediate rider—just enough to keep things interesting. Enjoy periodic beautiful views out over Park City, wildflowers and aspen groves along the way.

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You can access this trail from a few different locations. Begin the ride from Park City Mountain Resort or Deer Valley at Silver Lake Village. There’s significant climbing to get up to the trail no matter where you start, unless you catch a ride on the ski lift.

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At the north end of the trail, you’ll have more options to choose from to extend your ride, should you so desire (there are so many trails around here you could ride for days). Many riders find their way down into Canyons Resort then ride the paved Olympic Trail back toward Park City. Or hook up with the Mid Mountain Loop IMBA Epic.

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Cheers to Mountain Trails Foundation for its 30+ years of local advocacy work and trail building. Thanks to MTB Project for the photos.


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Featured Ride: Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming

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Curt Gowdy State Park, located between Wyoming’s capital city (Cheyenne) and primary college town (Laramie), is two hours north of Denver and is slowly being discovered as a worthy weekend destination, even for Colorado’s trail-spoiled mountain bikers. Wyoming State Parks has embraced mountain biking at Curt Gowdy, and its trails were specifically built to accomodate all riding styles. Camping options, boating and fishing allow for a full family vacation.

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The 19-mile IMBA Epic at Curt Gowdy is a varied loop that travels through a host of different landscapes, terrain types and ecosystems. Trail offshoots includes freeride and trials areas that take advantage of the area’s natural granite rock. Smooth, fast trails follow the shorelines of the park’s two reservoirs and intermediate trails wind through pine forests over crushed granite, rock-strewn surfaces. The entire ride hovers between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, but expect to climb about 2,200 feet if you do this route as shown.

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Extend this ride at its southern end by adding the five-mile Canyons trail, the park’s longest and one of its most consistently technical.

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  • Fees for in-state residents: Daily admission – $4 per car; Camping – $10/night
  • Fees for out-of-state residents: Daily admission – $6 per car; Camping – $17/night

Photos courtesy of MTB Project.

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Feature: Maryland, An Old-Line State of Mind



 

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Words: Brice Shirbach
Photos: Abram Eric Landes
Originally published in Issue #189

Growing up, I’d often sit and stare at it.

My obsession began the moment my family moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland. I was 7 years old and we piled into a single-story rancher a mile and a half down the road from town square. From our backyard, I could see it planted across a few miles of rolling hills and fields. Just a few short years later, we found ourselves renting out an old farmhouse on a single-lane country road, and we were suddenly directly across the street from it. I don’t think I have ever really known its name, or if it was ever actually given one, but locals like to refer to it as College Mountain, although I’ve always assumed, or maybe just hoped, that its real name was something perhaps a bit more regal.

I have since seen and been on countless mountains that more than dwarf it, but whenever I find myself driving from my home in southeastern Pennsylvania to this little nook in western Maryland, it’s always the first significant spike in the landscape, and I’m as transfixed by its summit now, at the age of 33, as I was when I was 13. The mountain tops out at 1,700 feet, with Emmitsburg far below on one side and Mount St. Mary’s University nestled on the slopes of the other.

Emmitsburg sits on the Maryland half of the Mason-Dixon Line, just a couple of miles south of historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and a little more than an hour from both Baltimore and our nation’s capital. The Appalachian Mountains make their most easterly appearance in this part of the Mid-Atlantic, with Emmitsburg tucked neatly into a declivity of one of the Earth’s most ancient mountain ranges.

Growing up in this small rural community, my development and ambitions undoubtedly were profoundly affected by the mountainous surroundings, which likely has something to do with my desire to make a living riding bikes and telling stories.

I have long felt a debt of gratitude toward the mountains and ridges that surround my hometown, so it stands to reason that when I first heard about mountain bike trails being built on College Mountain, my imagination began to run wild.

“I thought trails would be a good idea for Emmitsburg since before I even moved here,” Tim O’Donnell tells me. “A few years ago, I presented the idea to the town council of Emmitsburg. They weren’t enthused by the idea, but they also weren’t against it. Jim Hoover was the mayor at the time and wanted to create a task force to investigate the concept a bit more.”

O’Donnell is in his sixth year living here, and halfway through his second term as a commissioner for the town. He’s been mountain biking for close to 30 years. This self-described Clydesdale rider and former collegiate rugby player is one of the primary figures involved in the design and development of the trails in Emmitsburg, and he looks to them as more than just an opportunity for him to ride his bike.

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“I’m the quality control,” he explains. “My goal for the trails has always been for them to not only be an asset for the community, but also provide an economic boost to the town by bringing in visitors. From the onset, our local effort has been very strong. Over the past four years, I’d say we put in close to 900 volunteer hours of trail work. Once the feasibility study came back saying that this would benefit the community as a recreational option, we began to really move forward with the project. Grant money came from the Trail Conservancy, which is run by Austin Steo. They pursued the Recreational Trail Program grants. The RTP grant is matched by the volunteer hours we put in.”

Nine hundred hours in four years equals a significant grant indeed. Austin Steo is not an Emmitsburg resident, but his parents are, and he’s long appreciated the trail and recreational potential for the region. His Silver Spring, Maryland–based company, Trail Conservancy Inc., is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization whose mission is “to provide assistance in developing, building and maintaining natural-surface trails using sustainable design principles that minimize negative effects on the environment.”

I met Steo for an evening ride to discuss the project and his role with it. His excitement over the trail plan and construction was immediately clear. “It’s pretty awesome to have a place in the area with the terrain that Emmitsburg has, and the riding experience it can offer,” he says as we work our way up and around the stacked-loop design of the trail network. “The lower land here doesn’t have a lot of rock in it, but as you go up the mountain, there’s a whole lot more technical terrain. There are some amazing rock outcrops that you’d be happy to ride through, and it looks like the town wants to do that as well. We want it to be fun and interesting, but sustainable at the same time. This mountain has a lot of features, and trying to piece them together is certainly a challenge. But it’s a fun one.”

Steo and his Trail Conservancy are not solely responsible for the design and construction of the decidedly ambitious trail plan for the town. There are currently a little more than 13 miles of trail available to riders, but current plans call for more than double that amount, eventually taking riders from near the top of the mountain down onto Main Street. It’s more than just a marked increase in the length of the trail system; it also more than doubles the 550 feet of elevation change currently available from the highest point to the lowest, to upward of 1,200 feet.

This kind of plan requires quite a bit more than what volunteers are able to provide with rakes and shovels. “I was walking around downtown Frederick after we moved here and I saw a flyer for the Emmitsburg Trail Series,” remembers Elevated Trail Design co-owner Andrew Mueller.

Mueller and his girlfriend moved to Frederick from one of the East Coast’s most heralded mountain biking regions—Asheville, North Carolina—after she was hired by an area biotech company. He’d been researching riding and building opportunities in the Mid-Atlantic when he began to hear about the plans for Emmitsburg, 20 minutes north of his new home and Maryland’s second-largest city.

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“I knew that they had been trying to build up there for a while. I gave Tim a call and he put me in touch with Austin, who interviewed me over the phone and told me to go ahead and come by the next week to start building.”

As Steo and O’Donnell realized several years prior, Mueller was quick to see significant potential for the region, as well as some logistical challenges. “There are some really dense briar patches up there, which makes trail design tough because it’s difficult to visualize the layout. As you get closer to the top of the mountain, the rocks are enormous as well,” Mueller says. “But I think that overall this place can be really awesome. There is just so much to work with on that mountain. The dirt packs in really nicely, and there’s enough rock to create some really cool features and put some cool texture in your trail. I’m excited to get up there and build more.”

Because 13 miles of trail certainly isn’t much when compared to what other destinations in the region are currently offering—even ones like Michaux to the north, or the Frederick Watershed to the south, both of which share the same ridgeline with College Mountain—Steo and Mueller both acknowledge that they don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to the next step for the trails in Emmitsburg. They do agree, however, that the best results tend to come from compromise.

Mueller doesn’t believe that beginner and expert terrain are necessarily mutually exclusive.

“I’m pretty excited about getting to build some beginner stuff, because I think that there is a lot that can be gleaned by creating stuff you can take riders to learn on, but still provide you with the opportunity to ride with your buddies and find things in the terrain that beginners might not have an eye for,” he explains. “I don’t think that mountain biking has to have this exclusionary approach to trails and terrain. Obviously we want to push ourselves and explore new lines, but I don’t see why a beginner trail can’t still be fun for experts.”

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The town of Emmitsburg is comprised of about 660 acres within its corporate limits, but is surrounded by 1,800 acres with development restrictions in place, implemented in hopes of preserving the abundant open space available to those seeking to enjoy the natural playground the land here provides.

But, growing up, I never felt as though the town looked to the mountain as a fundamental part of its identity. Whenever I make the trip home nowadays, I’m still not convinced that the community is entirely aware of its own potential. Taking this place and these opportunities for granted can lead a small town down a dangerous path, both economically and socially.

This town of 2,900 has had to deal with a number of issues in recent years, including a burgeoning heroin problem with area youth and a lack of new businesses, particularly retail, coming into town.

Both issues seem to indicate a general lack of desire by the community to move forward in a positive fashion, but there is hope that the trails are a sign of change for the town—and it’s not just the mountain bikers who are beginning to see it.

“Right now we have about $30 million worth of projects going on around town,” Don Briggs notes. Briggs is a former real estate appraiser and the current mayor of Emmitsburg. He and his wife moved to town back in 2003 after having run their respective businesses here the decade prior. Briggs, a longtime conservationist, has high hopes for what the trails can do for the community and is working hard to ensure that there’s an infrastructure in place to allow for social and economic growth.

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“We want to show that we’re investing in this town. That’s been my main drive. We want to show people that we have a stake in this town, and I think that we have done that. We’re upgrading the sewer plant, we replaced all of our street lamps with L.E.D. lights and we’re working on developing a walkway from Mount St. Mary’s University onto Main Street in town. We’re redoing our square in downtown as well. We’re putting over $1 million into our square. This is a special nook and cranny of our state. We’re really ticking into a lot of things.”

“The first step is the trail,” Tom Rinker tells me during our discussion at his Frederick bike shop, The Bicycle Escape. Rinker was approached by O’Donnell more than eight years ago and was asked to write a letter of support for the trail plan. “My first thought was how fantastic this could be. My second was that I hoped that Tim has the endurance to stick with this concept,” remembers Rinker. “Some of the plans and conversations have evolved quite a bit, but Tim saw it through. Other towns are now looking to that success as a model for their own projects.”

When I asked Rinker whether or not he’d ever consider bringing his bike shop into Emmitsburg, he hesitated at first. “I’d want to see more complementary retail and food in town in order to consider opening a bike shop there,” he said. “It could work, but it’s not there yet.”

“We have room for some creative thinking,” O’Donnell says, with no attempt to mute his hopeful and optimistic tone. “We have room for some entrepreneurial and creative individuals to bring some life into town. When we acknowledge and listen to the locals who have concerns, we bring them into the fold and they become friends of the trails. I know it won’t be everyone, and I need to respect those who don’t agree with what we’re doing.”

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Mueller has made a living helping communities by building trails and has seen firsthand the positive effect they can have on a declining municipality. He also knows that it’s never a quick fix. “Places like Brevard, Fruita and Downieville took a lot of time to build up to where they are now,” he says. “I am going to try and continue to help Austin and Tim realize that they’re competing with places that already offer big miles. I think that the focus should be on building something different. We should be concentrating on putting in features and directional trails. We can offer riders a full range of terrain here in Emmitsburg. You can create a true playground here; it’s not just about the miles. I think that a quality-over-quantity approach will pay off big time down the road.”

Hope is widespread in the discussions I have had with everyone, and it seems to be for both the trails and the town itself.

Perhaps that’s the narrative thread Emmitsburg never knew it needed: a proper connection with the mountains that cradle this community. Change won’t happen overnight, but when does it ever? Progress within the town, and on the trails themselves, isn’t rapid, but it’s steady and it’s being led by a committed contingent of people who see the same potential for this area that I saw as a kid staring up at the top of the mountain from my backyard.

“This is an opportunity for the people in town to open their eyes and help shape this community,” Steo tells me after our ride. “It takes some time to get moving, but eventually, if it’s a good thing, it’s going to happen. And this is a very good thing.”

Explore some of the Emmitsburg trails, courtesy of MTB Project: 


 

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Featured Ride: Tipperary Spruce Flume, Colorado



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This loop ride near Fraser, Colorado, offers a 13-mile tour of the edge of the Arapahoe National Forest and is easily accessible off the main highway if you want to stop and stretch your legs during a road trip, or want to sample some singletrack in addition to a downhilling trip at nearby Winter Park. There are plenty of options to both add significant mileage and to access this route by bike from downtown Fraser.

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Get your lungs ready, as this loop begins at 8,770 feet and tops out over 10,000 feet. It’s a mix of forested doubeltrack, narrow singletrack through alpine meadows, incredible mountain views and creekside riding. The altitude is the biggest challenge—the trails have a few rocky sections but nothing particularly challenging—so settle in to enjoy the views and fast, flowing descents.

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Photos courtesy of MTB Project.


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Beyond the Bike Park: Winter Park, Colorado


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Words and photos: Zach White
Originally published in Issue #190

When I was a kid, my great-grandmother’s humble backyard was my favorite place in the world. It couldn’t have been more than 1,000 square feet, yet within that confinement was a separate little area behind the broadside of a detached garage with a massive wall of shrubbery along with the cover of a magnolia tree’s sprawling branches. It was most likely by design that this was hidden from the back porch because that’s where the clothesline was, and nobody needed to be exposed to my great-grandpa’s questionably white whitey-tighties flapping around in the wind. This sliver of dirt, grass and plants was what I considered my jungle. It was a place that, though it was only the length of a typical clothesline and not much wider than a single-car garage, I could get lost in—or at least lose myself in. There wasn’t much motivation to explore or escape from my little jungle either, because it was just what a kid did.

As an adult, about a half-hour up the road from my house is a bigger “backyard” to explore than what’s common in most regions and which would make any parent rightfully nervous to let a preteen wander off into. This mix of National Forest, Wilderness Area and islands of private land make exploring the easternmost Rocky Mountains a bit of a gauntlet for those who both prefer to do so on a bike and care to keep all things legal, but even without falling into the self-entitled mindset of ignoring these bicycle boundaries, there’s still more than enough trail to satiate a healthy appetite for singletrack and general exploration.

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For literally decades now, I’ve only flirted with this area by bike. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, for all practical purposes, abut my front yard. Yet, over the years, I’ve found myself too distracted by trying to find comparable versions of said mountains in other locations to actually appreciate and explore what ultimately is still always the standard to which I compare other riding areas around the world. Hell, there are times when I’ve made the 1.5-hour round-trip drive to the Winter Park bike resort a couple of times a week to ride on the backside of the mountains I can see from my front porch.

My buddy Jasen caught me in the midst of a random lull in summertime travel. Had it been earlier or later in the year, my phone most likely would’ve gone straight to voicemail while I was on one of several international trips trying to match the 200 bpm travel tempo of pounding out new and interesting destination cycling stories. But oddly enough, the phone rang while I was sitting on my porch, staring at a lawn that needed weeding, instead of appreciating the mountainous backdrop just above it. Not surprisingly, Jasen was calling to pitch a story idea for a client of his. What was surprising, however, was that the destination was almost within sight of where I was sitting.

The idea was so simple and locally normal that at first it didn’t seem as if it would be worth writing about. Everyone around here goes to Winter Park to ride, or at least somewhere in the 20-mile-long Fraser Valley corridor that’s strewn with a network of hundreds of miles of trails between Trestle Bike Park and its redheaded stepchild of a neighbor, Granby Ranch. As great as it is, it’s so commonplace in my spoiled world that there was an essence of being asked to write about brushing my teeth that morning.

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Though not exactly daily, the 1.5-hour route of driving down, around and back up to the Fraser Valley to go ride for a day or two is so routine that it’s hard to get excited about, yet it has been an essential element in my Coloradan mountain bike lifestyle over the last two decades. The one thing I hadn’t done, sadly, is skip the I-70 traffic jam and take the direct, motor-restricted route to Winter Park by way of navigating a network of dirt roads and trails with questionable legalities up to the 11,660-foot Rollins Pass.

“Let’s ride there!” The words flew out of my mouth before I even thought about what that entailed.

Jasen is one of those skinny, always fit types. While I’ve never been to a movie with him, I’m guessing he talks during the most action-filled moments, as he sure as hell doesn’t have the decency to mask his ascending superiority by shutting up and letting me suffer up climbs in silence when we ride together. Regardless of which route we’d decide on, there’d be a healthy dose of climbing, and I didn’t want to be the only audience stuck listening to how horrid the idea of an Electric Singlespeed Fat Bike World Championships would be for hours on end, so I called up a couple of friends to join in on the weekend trip.

Always up for a ride, Kelli Emmett committed before there was really even a solid plan and only asked a couple of questions like “How long will we be gone for?” when she was packing the night before leaving. Eric Porter somehow made it out from Utah for the weekend too, and brought with him the gift of still-healing ribs from a recent fall, which would be a perfect excuse to keep the climbing pace a little more manageable for me.

We all met on my front porch at what each of our interpretations of 7 a.m. meant, under deceivingly sunny August skies that weren’t supposed to last very long. I’ll take complete credit/blame for opting to skip the 17-mile road climb up to where the dirt really starts, and instead taking the leisurely three-minute spin to the bus station and catching the 8:10 a.m. Route N up to Nederland. We each paid $4 to gain roughly 3,500 feet of elevation in about a half-hour instead—it’s the best four-buck deal in all of Boulder County, if not all of Colorado, if you ask me.

With that elevation variation from Boulder often comes a similar variation in temperatures, if not weather as well. Today, the sunny summer skies stayed down in Boulder as a cold, drizzly slap in the face greeted us when we stepped off the bus and scrambled to get our pile of bikes out of its belly before our short-tempered driver could throw a tantrum. You’d think driving up and down a beautiful mountain canyon for a living would instill a sense of tranquility, especially considering the route connects what was once a haven for happy, dirty hippies to their new, quainter, crunchier habitat.

Nederland.

It’s a funky little town in its own right, but when factoring in its general distaste for the gentrification of Boulder down the canyon, its vibe is decidedly Daniel-Boone-goes-to-Burning- Man. If trapping beavers and hunting moose with a black-powdered musket were still accepted in these parts, it’d be less of an oddity to see a guy in the coffee shop reach for his wallet to pay for the skinny soy double-double he ordered and “accidentally” grab his giant, fringed-and-beaded-leather-sheathed bowie knife instead. Yeah, “oops” is right.

While there is definitely an impressive amount of summer squatters in the forest surrounding Nederland—usually leftover or overly eager Rainbow People from their annual gathering up the street—there’s a damn good chance that guy with the bowie knife and homemade ensemble of striped and fringed everything is a software engineer at one of the many startup companies in the town he so outwardly fights to stray from.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with a regional interpretation of trying to look different just like everyone else. If we had stopped in a place that catered to actual card-carrying mountain men, we’d probably be less comfortable clacking around the wooden floors in our cleated shoes, ducking our helmets under potted plants held up in crocheted slings, and taking over the couch and coffee table in our semi-form fitting, super high-tech neon bike kits while trying to make last-minute decisions on the best route to take to Winter Park, given the current weather.

We suspected that the trails Jasen had chosen were legal to ride, which I know because I’d always heard and assumed otherwise, and therefore asked him if he was sure. There were a few options discussed, and we weren’t up for a longer scenic route. Besides, we were supposed to meet someone on the backside of Rollins Pass in a few hours, too, so we clacked across the warm wooden floor and back out into the face-slapping cold drizzle that’d been pissing all over our bikes left leaning up against a handrail out front while we put off the inevitable inside.

It’s a tough call what to wear when it’s miserable at the base of a 3,000-foot climb to almost 12,000 feet, though we all seemed to be on the same page, choosing to find as much comfort instantly and dealing with the unavoidable heat explosion somewhere 10 to 20 minutes up the trail.

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Nederland has a reputable trail system in its own right, and our first few miles were comfortably familiar, less the steam beginning to puff out of the neck of my jacket. That familiarity quickly faded as our guide turned left into my unknown, and things got even more foreign with each of what seemed like almost a dozen turns at intersections I’d never witnessed before. Being as how this was my first time to ride up to Rollins Pass without an engine, this unfamiliarity was expected. But, what wasn’t expected was feeling completely lost in my own backyard, which is exactly what I needed.

Through a combination of singletrack and jeep roads winding through National Forest and who knows what else, we dumped out on the dirt Rollins Pass Road, only a couple of miles from the top. Generally, dirt roads are relatively boring on mountain bikes. Today was slightly less so, with just enough of a break in the abysmal weather to allow cloud-framed views of beautiful and uncrowded Colorado high country. Fields of snow still crouched behind south-facing ridgelines, usually just above frigid ponds and lakes their larger selves had made earlier that year. Marmots squeaked profanities at us for being up in their ’hood without an invite, and the trees gave way to emerald-green grass and moss-covered granite rocks that seemed fine with a low-oxygen diet.

Though I’d been up here before, it’d never felt so gratifying as it did on a day that I pedaled up to this view. The same lack of oxygen that keeps trees from growing at these elevations made the last few hundred feet of elevation gain a punch in the gut. To make things less joyous, the weather also rolled back in. Without the protection of trees that lined the trails and dirt roads below, rain and sleet whipped together by gale-force winds shotgunned us from the west, which was the direction we were headed. I kept stopping in the name of grabbing photos, but deep down I knew I just wanted to give my face a break from the relentless bead-blasting, even if it meant making the crew expose themselves to the elements several more times than me.

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The last section was the worst and the most exposed. Shouldering our bikes up a steep hike-a-bike through a rocky scree field up and over a closed tunnel that hasn’t been in use for decades, we were met with the crumbly rock walls of an old cabin, which offered just enough shelter to hunker down in reprieve for a few minutes before pushing up and over to the western slope of Rollins Pass. In my mind, we’d funnel down from the pass and directly into classic Fraser Valley singletrack. In reality, there was more climbing, more intermittent weather and more road descending before we finally reached the Broken Thumb trailhead.

The weather, while not appreciated by most of us, added an evil twist to my personal goals of photographing this ride. On several occasions the hint of a rainbow could be seen off to our side, and the idea of capturing this day in a rainbow-bannered image had me continuing to ball up the pace of the ride with more photo stops than usual. Every time we stopped to set up a shot, another cloud rushed in and grayed out any hopes of magical backdrops, then instantly dissipated back into the beginnings of another rainbow as soon as the camera bag was zipped up for the hundredth time that day. After a few rounds, even I was over it, and we dropped back down into the trees and rain clouds toward the promise of singletrack.

Broken Thumb trail is a fun, fast and flowy ribbon that winds its way down toward the town of Winter Park through a mix of evergreen- and aspen-treed National Forest. It’s marked, mapped and maintained, and it can be added in with myriad other trails on the east side of the Fraser Valley, but we wanted nothing to do with more frigid, soggy riding and beelined it straight to the condo to quickly thaw out before walking over to a place that sounds like it should serve Mexican food but is in fact a pizza joint.

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We spent the next couple of days riding in and around the valley, which we’d all basically done before. Winter Park’s Trestle Bike Park seems to be a front-runner for the largest bike park in the U.S. these days, and it’s continuing to both expand its already impressive trail system and meticulously maintain what’s already offered. A bit crowded on a fall weekend, there’s one great side-access ride off the top of the bike park that’ll surely offer a breather from the sketchy beginners and teenage groms in tank tops and full-face helmets. Mountain Goat is a trail that’s been in existence since I first started riding the mountain back in the ’90s, and it’s about as rough today as it was back then. Pleasantly smashy, the rocks and exposed roots aren’t on Winter Park’s grooming route, and that’s a good thing for those who like the challenge of such raw trail.

About 20 miles down Highway 40 and past Winter Park is Granby Ranch. A small family-oriented resort with much less elevation variation, the tiny bike park is past its heyday of the mid-2000s. In that era, Winter Park had very little interest in catering to mountain bikers, but the privately owned SolVista (the hill’s previous name with the same owners of today) rolled out the red carpet. Trails were unabashedly built to challenge the best of downhillers, and its reputation of willingness to work with the riding community awarded the resort the National Mountain Bike Championships in 2009 and 2010.

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Around that time, Winter Park finally got around to putting mountain biking on its radar, and with the advantages of being closer to the Denver metro area, having more terrain with longer runs and having a bigger budget, Winter Park quickly surpassed Granby’s bike park, leaving the cool little cutting-edge hill in its shadow. Granby is still a fun place to ride to enjoy an uncrowded afternoon, especially if the buffed and manicured trails of Trestle get stale, as Granby is relatively untouched by its crew, which makes for some crumbly, dusty, blown-out trails.

A few days of riding in Fraser Valley offered up quintessential Colorado mountain biking. I’ve been riding there for what’s added up to half my life now, and I take for granted its offerings and convenience. Before this long weekend, it’d always felt like a destination spot, though only a day trip away from home. Now, it feels more like part of my backyard and a place that I can explore more of. A place that, right from my front door, I can escape to without the need to load up the van for a drive. Though I’ll probably continue to take the bus.

 

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Featured Ride: Trout Creek Canyon to Beartrap Gulch, Montana

Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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The Trout Creek Canyon to Beartrap Gulch loop is an excellent opportunity to experience Montana backcountry riding in the Helena National Forest. The 13.6-mile ride features two scenic and fun trails connected by a moderate doubletrack climb.

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You’ll want to climb Trout Creek and descent Beartrap. The grade is steady with a few, short punchy climbs. After beginning opposite a campground, you will quickly enter into a canyon. The route bounces back and forth on each side of the canyon and alternates between lush pockets of green and open scrabbly trail. For the most part the route is in the shade, a welcome respite from the sun on a hot day.

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Beartrap Gulch is an excellent singletrack descent that features long, fast, carving turns. It’s not steep, but has just the right grade to carry your speed and enjoy the ride.

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The upper section is a series of carving turns through large pines with occasional long runs of trail through open meadows, offering some big views as you go. The lower section of the trail ducks back into the forest and whips through a series of tighter turns that bring you to bottom of valley. The ride finishes on fast trail through tall grasses.

Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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Beyond the Bike Park: Whistler, Canada


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Words: Hailey Elise
Photos: Mark Mackay
Originally featured in Issue #190

She’s elusive. Cheeky, only showing glimpses of her true nature the farther in you find yourself. And by farther in think of an hour climb. Whistler’s trail systems are easily accessed by those who are looking for them, but outside of the bike park they require a mindset of going on an adventure. Beautiful, extreme and a few pedal strokes away, the established network can provide a great ride while allowing for exploration of Whistler’s wilderness.

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With a history extending almost 30 years in the making, the trails spanning the Whistler Valley have evolved alongside the modern-day mountain bike. As technology advanced, so did the trail building, leading to new-school trails that are feeding the current trend among gravity riders of earning your turns.

History

With mountains set before them, rogue builders went in search of downhill descents in Whistler as early as the 1980s to escape the boredom of the offseason from skiing. The first trails can be traced back to decommissioned logging roads that provided access to the hills surrounding the valley. Trails such as the challenging Binty’s were carved into the mountainside using dirt bikes and chain saws. Many of the skeletons of trails created by these first builders laid the foundation for the trails we know today.

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While mountain bike technology improved and the sport grew, trail building increased throughout the Resort Municipality of Whistler. With that came conflict and the need for maintenance, regulation and supported growth. The trails were soon faced with potential closure, and The Whistler Off Road Cycling Association, or WORCA, came to be in 1989 to lobby against the bike trails being shut down.

River Runs Through It, Cut Yer Bars and other infamous trails became established shortly after the founding of WORCA. The acknowledgment of biking as a recreational resource for the area translated into increased building, participation and trail traffic, in turn laying the building blocks for Whistler’s extensive world-class riding.

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New Directions

Driven by the progression of the sport and technological advances in mountain bikes, modern-day trail builders in Whistler have been creating descents that have been putting Whistler on the map for riding well outside the bike park. One such trail builder is Paul Stevens, co-builder of Blackcomb’s Micro Climate, a trail containing a little bit of everything from steep to flow and every bit worth the climb. His initial inspiration came from Dave Anderson, fellow rider and co-builder of the trail, who skied the zone in the winter and felt the terrain would be perfect for riding a bike down.

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The following summer, the two flagged the line and Micro Climate began. Upon completion, the trail gained a lot of traffic. What’s more, the Enduro World Series was making its debut at the 2013 Crankworx. Developers wanted to showcase the best riding Whistler had to offer as well as release a course that would surprise even the locals. The inclusion of Micro Climate helped set the stage for the Whistler round of the EWS to be known for challenging and exciting riding.

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Expanding Zones

WORCA, along with new builders, is expanding the horizons of Whistler’s biking scene to the surrounding mountainous zones, such as Wedge, Sproatt and Whistler. In addition to an extra-long descent, the creation of trails that connect subalpine regions to well-known recreational areas allows for an adventurous ride down through the stunning forest zones of British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. A bike rider now has the option of taking a full-day excursion or a leisurely few-hour jaunt.

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When asked about the future of building and riding in Whistler, Stevens says that he thinks it is following the new-school style, which focuses on using the terrain more efficiently and emphasizes sustainability. Whistler is notorious for its rugged, technical and rocky landscape, but as building advances, more fl ow and jump trails have been popping up along the outskirts of the valley.

Stevens is also quick to note that with the transient population that goes along with being a resort town, involvement from people looking to build for their preferred style of riding could lead to some interesting trail innovations.

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Culture

Together with progression and growth in trail building, the biking culture in Whistler has grown immensely. From WORCA-sponsored weekly rides to larger-scale events, mountain biking has become a recreational and social foundation for the Whistler area. Far more people, locals and tourists alike, are riding outside of the resort.

Climbing has become as sought-after as the world-renowned downhill singletrack, whether it’s for the fitness or the thrill. Social gatherings now take on forms ranging from epic day rides to after-work climbs. And one cannot forget the traditional post-ride visit to one of the many lakes.

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The past, the present and the growing mountain biking culture have made Whistler a destination for all disciplines of riding. Although Whistler is most known for its incredible bike park, there is a whole other dimension that incorporates adventure, beauty and equally exciting trails. The mountains that line the village already harbor trails that will leave you wanting more, and the future looks bright for the surrounding regions.

“Intriguing, gorgeous and challenging” sounds just like the perfect soul mate, but in fact it’s Whistler’s trail systems. The only way to find out is to book a plane ticket and to experience for yourself, exploring the real Whistler.

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Featured Ride: Everything But Ninja Beaver, Minnesota



Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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“Everything But Ninja Beaver” is a ride linking several trails in the Mission Creek area near Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota. This 12.6-mile ride is 85 percent flowing, rolling singletrack with about 1,000 feet each of climbing and descending. It’s a great one for newer riders and kids to get out and enjoy mountain biking in a remote, beautiful and wooded setting.

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If you need to make this ride shorter, or want to add an extra couple of miles to your ride, you can certainly tack on the “Ninja Beaver” trail, which is similar to the rest of the system. It skirts a beaver pond and offers a sustained climb/descent depending on which way you ride it.


Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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Featured Ride: Kokopelli Loops Ridgeline Tour, Colorado



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There are many reasons why Fruita, Colorado, is a famed mountain biking destination, and the Ridgeline Tour of Kokopelli Loops is one of them. This is a difficult, expert-level ride with rewarding views of the Kokopelli Loops, Colorado River and McGinnis Canyons. Accept that hiking your bike is a foregone conclusion, then set out to enjoy the 16 miles of singletrack featuring rocky ledges, smooth contouring singletrack and everything in between.

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You can easily extend this ride by many, many miles by adding on other beginner and intermediate loops that intertwine with this route. When finished, you’re a very short jaunt away from Fruita, a town that caters specifically to mountain bikers with good food, good bike shops and lots of local camping.

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Photos courtesy of MTB Project.



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Featured Ride: Kerr Scott IMBA Epic, North Carolina

Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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“Welcome to Wilkesbermo.” Kerr Scott gets its nickname from the hundreds of bermed and banked terns, and has been compared to a 30-mile roller coaster ride.

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Kerr Scott, located in central North Carolina, has three main trail systems: Dark Mountain, Overmountain Victory Trail and Warrior Creek, plus shorter trails either looping or connecting to those main veins. Most riders park at one of the main trailheads for shorter rides, or set up a shuttle to incorporate the entire 31 miles of 95 percent singeltrack that make up the epic.

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Dark Mountain is the oldest of all the trail systems at the lake, and its 5 miles were designated a National Recreation Trail in 2005. You’ll encounter rooty tech and downhill jumps.

Overmountain is 5 miles and the easiest trail in the system—perfect for newer riders or visitors not sure of where to start.

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Warrior Creek, at just under 11 miles, is among the most progressively-built trails at Kerr Scott and represents the evolution of more than 10 years of purpose-built MTB trailbuilding. Along the way there are rock gardens, bridges, tons of in-sloped turns and great lake views. Warrior Creek also contains several “super-stacks” of berms and banked turns that are likely to provide the most memorable part of your ride.

Off Warrior Creek (but not part of the official epic) is the 1.6-mile Headwaters Trail, a double-black diamond snack. Headwaters was designed to ride one-way because of its challenging rocky sections, chutes, boulders and stacked slabs. The trail also has a nice mix of drops, berms and jumps to tie it all together.

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When designing Headwaters, the local club sniffed out the most rugged areas for an advanced trail and, during construction, rock was hauled in if there wasn’t any. As a result, alternate lines are often more difficult than the main line.

A big thanks to the Brushy Mountain Cyclists Club, which built and maintains the trails.

Photos courtesy of MTB Project

 

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Featured Ride: Lookout Mountain Loop, Virginia



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This 13-mile ride is highly ranked in Virginia on MTB Project. It will give you a flavor of both the 25-mile Oak Mountain Trail and the 44-mile Virginia Endurance Series showcase ride.

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This ride has a bit of everything including easy climbing, fast descents and technical rocky areas. Don’t miss the intersection for an overlook that forks left off of the main trail. This takes you to a cliff side with views of the North River, Skidmore Fork and Trimble Mountain.

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This ride is located near Harrisonburg, Virginia, and is adjacent to countless trails, including several advanced ride options. Enjoy the ride!


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Featured Ride: HyMasa/Captain Ahab, Utah



 

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Simply utter the word “Moab” to many a mountain biker and you can watch their eyes glaze over joyfully as they’re spirited away on their daydreams to slick rocks, red dirt and technical ledges.

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One of those daydream-inducing rides is Captain Ahab. This featured ride, which is just one combination of trails in this location, is about 9.5 miles with 1,500 feet of climbing and descending. When you’re done, check out any of the myriad of trails surrounding this ride. The trailhead is just a short jaunt southwest of downtown Moab.

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We can’t describe this ride any better than Mark Knowles did in his writeup of this ride for MTB Project, so we’ll let him take it from here:

“MTBing ecstasy is what it is. I can not do justice for Captain Ahab in words. Most intermediate riders will walk a spot or two on this trail. Fact is, there is even a sign that says you should walk a particularly risky spot on the trail. But don’t let that dissuade you from the experience. Ahab will etch in your memory. Visually stunning, technically thrilling, a true gem. You’ll not want it to end.”

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The ride begins with a 3-mile ride up the HyMesa trail, which was built recently to replace a Jeep road ascent. The trail brings you along canyon rims and affords views at the top of Canyonlands National Park.

A big rock drop marks the start of the descent. The upper half of the trail is a playground for long-travel bikes and technical descenders. Most of the largest drops can be avoided with ride-around options. The trail contours so there will still be a bit of climbing, here. The lower half of the trail flows along tight singletrack with a few spots of serious exposure on cliff edges. You’ll know you’re nearing the end when you hit a “spicy” rock garden.

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If you’re looking for a shorter route or want to avoid the most technical upper sections, there is a bypass via the Amasa to Captain Ahab Connector trail. Find that at 3.3 miles into the HyMasa Trail climb.

Photos courtesy of MTB Project.


 

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