Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Surprising Health Benefits of Mountain Biking

This is an article by Helen Grayson

Few things can beat the rush of a downhill ride, or a slow ride through a particularly lush, area of our favorite forest. Mountain bikers know that what we most miss when we’re not out cycling, is the sensation of getting away from it all, feeling the freedom of speed and the thrill of a great jump, in the midst of the magnificence of the Great Outdoors. We know that mountain biking is a great workout; that it gets our heart racing and helps us obtain a leaner, stronger shape – yet there are many more hidden benefits we may not really comprehend, but which are powerful and life-changing. Some of mountain biking’s most surprising health benefits include:

  • Better Mental Health: Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental conditions in the world and both can be triggered by chronically high stress levels. Mountain biking is a great stress buster, bringing down cortisol (stress hormone) levels for two reasons: because it provides a powerful cardiovascular workout, and because it takes place in the midst of Nature. Various studies have shown that an outdoor beneficial workout is more beneficial than an indoor one, providing a greater sense of enjoyment, and reducing stress levels to a far greater extent.
  • Battling the Addiction to Technology: The vast majority of kids in the United States spend less than 30 minutes outdoors engaging in unstructured play. Most blame the heat, a lack of access or interest in Nature, and even obesity. Others are so addicted to technology, that they feel compelled to spend various hours a day connected to their computer, tablet or TV set. The statistics are a reminder of what Nature writer, Richard Louv, called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ – basically, children have become so disconnected from the outdoor world, that they can lack the ability to concentrate, develop conditions such as anxiety and panic attacks, and can pack on the pounds, revealing the detrimental nature of their sedentary lifestyle. Louv says that we are “telling kids unconsciously that nature's in the past. It really doesn't count anymore, that the future is in electronics, and besides, the bogeyman is in the woods.” The best way to battle the trend to spend all our time indoors, is to find a pastime we enjoy outdoors – and few are quite as addictive as mountain biking.
  • Mountain Biking is Better than Indoor Cycling: You may think you are doing yourself a great favor by taking part in indoor cycling classes, but take note: people burn more calories when they exercise outdoors. Nothing can quite make up for the varied terrain we encounter when we are mountain biking – indoor bikes have a long way to go in terms of replicating the thrill of a downhill ride or the true difficulty of cycling uphill, with more impediments than mere gravity standing in our way. While it is true that outdoor cycling can do more damage to our bike than road or indoor cycling, keen bikers will say that is part of the fun – preparing for accidents and broken equipment and finding a way, by hook or by crook, to make it to the bottom of that mountain!
  • It Expands Your Social Circle: by singing up for one of SWAMP Club’s fun activities, you can meet some pretty amazing people from all walks of life! Having a wide social circle has many more benefits than the obvious. Recent research shows, for instance, that having friends or being part of a close family or community, increases our lifespan, improves our sense of wellbeing and helps us stave off diseases such as dementia in when we are older. Connection is always of the essence, but when it takes place in Nature while partaking in the fun activity that is mountain biking, the sensation is indescribable and pretty close to fantastic.

If you’ve been thinking of signing up for a guided ride or attending a fun event or festival, don’t hesitate. SWAMP is there to help beginner, intermediate and advanced riders alike reach their very best potential. Novice riders should consider the basic mountain bike riding skills workshop, which will teach you vital skills and show you how to stay safe. Learn all about mountain biking by heading for the wild, wonderful outdoors instead of learning from a book, and begin to reap the benefits of what many would say is one of the most liberating sports in the world.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Graham Swamp - Hanna Park - Mala Compra

Graham Swamp
The NE coast of Florida has several small trail systems that could be worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood. Jacksonville Beach has the well established Hanna Park, and an hour south is Palm Coast with Graham Swamp and Mala Compra. For an intermediate level rider, Graham is the most fun of the three.
We arrived two days after the state's first hurricane in 11 years had dumped a ton of rain. Turns out, that was a good thing because Graham is constructed on sand dunes and dredging spoils. The plus side is frequent elevation changes and good drainage after a rain, the downside is that when dry, sand is sand. To minimize poor traction on the sand, the trail builders utilized local coral rock, crushed shell and oyster shells to stabilize the track. On particularly steep grades, wood decking was incorporated to get over the sand while creating technical features, adding to the fun factor. 
For an intermediate rider, Graham had very nice flow, banked curves, frequent technical features, lots of steep descents and drops, and a couple ladders between boulders that had you asking, "do I feel lucky today?" The most technical features (probably Black Diamond, although not signed as such) had a bypass. At 8-miles, two laps takes 1:15-2:00 hours. Probably couldn't recommend Graham for an entry level rider unless you don't mind walking occasionally.

Mileage <15
Elevation gain <1000'

Elias drops in on one of the many smooth runs.

Ron decides to skip over the rocks.

Many of the climbs were rock armored to improve traction.

This drop required a ladder.

This rock drop required speed and a lift.
As it turned out, the existing line to the right was better.

Wes got to use his dropper post on these two.

Hanna Park
Located on the north end of Jacksonville Beach, this state park has all the amenities including camping, day use picnic pavilions, a beautiful beach, and 14 miles of singletrack.
There are three primary loops that twist and turn under heavy canopy. The South Loop gets an easy rating. The E-Link get an intermediate, mostly because it has small elevation changes. The Z-Trail is rated Black Diamond, but only because of elevation gains that can range between 4 and 8', and occasionally are steep ( I would rate South and E as easy, and Z-Line as intermediate). Because the surface is beach sand, the builders have stabilized the steepest climbs with old carpet or geo cloth. Unfortunately, straight aways where a rider could pick up speed are few and far between. The one complaint all the group had was the trail was always changing direction, darting between trees and palmettos. The constant twist and turns soon became boring, taking away from an otherwise nice trail.
If you are in the neighborhood, it would be worth a visit for those looking for an easy trail. An intermediate rider wouldn't find anything here challenging.

Milage <15
Elevation gain <1000’

Mala Compra
Mala is also in Palm Coast, just off the beach. Mala has about 4-miles of tight, twisty, tree covered singletrack rated very easy. There is essentially zero elevation gain and nothing challenging other than the occasional tight turn between trees.
However, on the south end of the park is a trail called Cloud Nine, which is a mile or so of Double Black Diamond terror. Here you will discover very challenging climbs, often with huge root balls, requiring skill and strength. Technical features are sprinkled all along this section, and typically do not have a bypass. Parts of this DBD are covered with decking that when wet, is impossible to ride. I tell you this from experience. 

Big ouch!
Because it was raining, I didn't get photos of the trail or decks, but three days after my ride, I grabbed this shot of a hematoma that popped up within minutes of a slip-n-slide across one of the decks. Fortunately, a pedal got lodged between boards before I slid off the deck for a 15' drop into a bottomless lake. No more riding wet decks for me. No sir.

Across the street from the trail entrance is a really good BBQ restaurant (most riders park there to ride Mala). Next to the entrance is a bike shop, and an ice cream stand. OMG- this place has everything you could want, well, except for intermediate level trails. You will have to hit Graham for those.
Not a destination, but Cloud Nine could be an add on to Graham if you are seeking something more challenging.

Mileage <15
Elevation gain <1000'

Saturday, August 20, 2016


While traveling thru western North Carolina, Marty and I visited an 8-mile trail system near the campus of Western Carolina University. The closest recognizable town is Sylva, a mostly retirement community in the foothills, near the Cherokee entry into the Great Smokey Mountains. It was a pleasant surprise to discover these wonderful trails out in the middle of nowhere. The next closest trail system is Tsali, about an hours drive to the SW.

The layout is simple, a map is not needed if you study the kiosk for a minute. This is a relatively new system, machine cut with very good design. The surface is hard pack clay with minimal roots or rocks. Even though there had been recent rains, there were only a few damp spots, and no puddles. Drainage was excellent. 

The high banked berms allows one to carry speed both climbing and descending. I would rate this as an excellent, very fast flow trail with no flat sections. You were either climbing or descending, so it is a moderate workout, but there weren't any overly steep climbs.

If in the area it would be worth a visit, but would not consider it a destination.

Milage <15
Elevation gain >1000'

Wes rails one of the many perfectly designed berms.

Marty was loving the smooth, well maintained trails.

The faster corners were wide and high, allowing speed.

The elevation changes were gradual and fun.