Sunday, October 2, 2016

Kingdom Trails, Vermont

Small World Story - first day riding on the Kingdom Trails in NE Vermont our crew stopped on an obscure little trail to check our map. We met 4 other riders and started to chat. Turns out, three were from St Pete, two were SWAMPers, and one had recently complete my introduction to mountain biking class. All this on a Monday in nowhere Vermont. 

This is our lodging, an old diary barn rebuilt as an eight bedroom lodge.
Very unique and spacious.

Our first morning started at 31°, but by mid afternoon it was 64°. Perfect weather for riding. The trails were tacky, providing great traction. The trails here were steep, twisty and root covered. We will be here for a week, riding a different trail system every day. Kingdom has over 100 miles of singletrack.

High speed drop onto a bridge.

Bob on one of the many high speed berms.

We started day 2 by riding thru a working farm with cows, horses, goats and at least one donkey. What is interesting about this trail system is that it crosses 50 sections of private land. The property owners realized that opening their land to bikers was very good for the local economy. The town of East Burke has visually benefitted from the biking community with new restaurants and rental lodges opening in support of the cyclists.

a century old barn

a working farm provided access to our trails

The older trails are hand built and more technical than the newer machine built trails.
Fortunately, there are enough trails of both variety to make most any rider happy.

Marty, Bob and one of the tour company owners, Alex, are getting ready to dig into our
lunch quiche. The meals have been healthy and very tasty, and totally home made.
Looks like I will be putting on a few pounds this week.

This guy was perhaps the most friendly chipmunk I have ever met, not at all shy.
 I don't doubt he would have stuck around for as long as we fed him snacks.

And the great trails just keep coming. Today we rode at the Stowe Ski Resort, which has some wonderful trails. A little flow, some old school hand cut, and one climb that I never fully recovered from. It was a contest to see which gave out first, my legs or my lungs. Fortunately, this old bod held together and we completed a respectable climb without self destructing. 

We have had some lovely sunsets, followed by the darkest skies full off stars. Every night I have gone outside to look at the Milky Way. In Tampa, I can see the moon and maybe half a dozen stars. Up here, the sky is full of bright stars, planets, a galaxy or two, and a horizon to horizon view of the Milky Way. I doubt there is anyplace in Florida with skies this black, so the night views are a real treat.

When we arrived, the trees were green. As we leave the mountains, color is everywhere.

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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hurricane wrap-up

After riding 30 trails in 31 days the body was tired, the vehicle needed a bath inside and out, the bikes needed love and I needed a haircut. Guacamole and Gooseberry were our most challenging trails of the trip, and riding them back to back was exhausting mentally and physically. I slept late. The access roads in Utah should be rated black diamond (most difficult) as seen in photo one, so the 4Runner had several pounds of mud caked to the undercarriage. I gave it a bath. I left the bikes on the rack at the car wash, then lubed everything that made noise, keeping the Trance happy. And, I got a much needed haircut. All is well in Hurricane UT.

Many of the people that just arrived on Saturday took a break today by visiting Bryce Canyon or Zion. A few rode, while others kicked back and did chores. Not surprisingly, most people are not used to riding hard four days straight, so a midweek rest day was appreciated.

For me, riding everyday of our trip had become an obsession after the first week, so I was driven. A day off renewed my energy and I have already planned rides for the next three days. I am ready to roll. Tomorrow will bring new trails, new photos and more stories.

Access road to Gooseberry Mesa

Backside of Zion
View from Gooseberry

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hurricane Wrapup

Our condo for the week, and the portion of our crew that rode. Missing are Lou, Mary and Jeanne, who are hiking Zion.

We started the week with a mid intensity trail, progressed to the most difficult, then tapered off to the easiest. All week the weather cooperated with 50-60° start times and no rain during the days. A couple afternoons the winds kicked up 20 knots, which was sufficient to cause unintentional directional changes, but not a problem unless you were near a ledge. Fortunately, all bikes were accounted for at the end of the ride.

There were hiking trips to Zion and Bryce Canyon, shopping trips to local bike shops, and nightly social gatherings. We ate well, rationalizing the inclusion of monster desserts by believing all this riding has been burning major calories. However, I am afraid the weight scale back home will prove otherwise. But like they say, there's no time like tomorrow to start a diet.

It was a fun group that played well together, challenging each other in a positive way, and being more than helpful when needed. Hurricane has been an excellent destination if you like technical trails. The Black trails here are definitely more difficult than anyplace I have ridden, including Moab.

Most people are heading home tomorrow (Sunday), but Jeff, Marty and I are still traveling west to experience Bootleg and Cottonwood Canyon near Vegas. This will probably be my last post, and I hope you have enjoyed my rambling attempt at storytelling. Marty and I plan on arriving back in Tampa late April or early May. Six weeks on the road has been a bucket list item in the planning for some time, and it has all been good, wouldn't change a thing. I do look forward to riding with all you SWAMPers soon. Look for us on your favorite trail.

Zion is well known as one of America's best National Parks. By mid week numerous people wanted a day off to do some hiking, so up they went into the snow. Yep, it is May, but it can snow at these altitudes most any time.

Matt is wondering if this is safer than biking.

Matt and Susan in Zion

Wait a minute, this isn't sand, it's snow.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Red Bluffs

All week we have been riding Black trails, breaking into three groups by abilities. With this being our last day we considered trying at least one Blue trail, so our group picked Bear Claw and Stucki Springs. Combined, these created a four mile gentle uphill. The fun began when we turned around and started downhill. What started as one path soon split into multiple parallel versions of a jump park. It would take a hundred flights down to hit every possible combo, but what we did was entertaining in a 'little kid on a BMX bike' kind of way.

The Red Bluff system had a dozen or more trails of Green, Blue and Black/double Black persuasion. The double Black diamonds trails were possibly the most difficult of the week. Spread around the St George and Washington area are dozens of trails of the Green and Blue level of difficulty. Bottom line, after seven days of riding we only scratched the surface. This place definitely rocks.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Little River Mesa

Little River Mesa featured trails that ran only a few feet from a cliff edge, and often only inches from the edge. It took 2:45 to cover 15 miles because we had to stop frequently to hunt for the trail over large expanses of rock. Included were the now typical rock lifts, steep climbs and descents over huge boulders, and miles of rugged exposed rock with edges sharp enough to slice tires, which actually happened.

Little River was within sight of Guacamole and Gooseberry, but not quite as technical from the rock hopping aspect. But because of the trails proximity to sheer edges, the scenery was breathtaking. Several of the mountain peaks had fresh snow from a rain/snow storm that blew thru early morning, adding to the mountain's magical aura.

Guy crossing a rock bridge

Dave decides to turn around

Wes at the edge

Wolf grunts a steep rock climb

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Gooseberry Mesa

Located adjacent to Zion National Park, the views of Zion's towering rock formations were spectacular (see photo 4). The trails themselves were the most challenging of the trip, taking over 2-hours to complete 11 miles. The trail often would climb near vertical rock formations, only to turn sharply and descend with a seemingly unridable steepness. Much of the ride was completed in a standing position to facilitate movement from a climbing posture to a descending, behind the seat position. The constant up and down flow of the trail was exhausting, and towards the end, as fatigue begin to set in crashes became more frequent. Fortunately, no rush trips to the hospital.

Milage <15

Elevation gain <1000

Guy testing the traction on a steep climb

Fortunately, Susan had a running start on this one, otherwise...

Jeff makes this look way easier than it actually was

Wolf with Zion in the background

Guy showing his climbing strength