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.

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

Friday, April 8, 2016


We knew it was going to be an awesome day when the drive up the muddy, rutted clay road required 4-wheel drive. The vans with 2-wheel drive required a running start, people hanging off the back to improve traction, and lots of heart stopping sliding from side-to-side. Mud was caked on everything. It was so fun. 

We parked some of the vehicles further down the hill and I gave people a ride up. Unfortunately, I started with four, but there were a couple of trees very close to the road. My condolences to our missing crew members.

Guacamole was an 11 mile loop, about half intermediate and half advanced. There wasn't a trail sign to be found, but on the huge expanses of slick rock, previous explorers had piled rocks to create cairns (markers). This often left riders confused as to which way the trail actually went. And if the cairns were near a drop off, scouting was required to determine which side of the rock pile the trail was on. Even then there were discussions as to which drop off was less likely to lead to disaster.

I heard of more than one over the bar adventure that didn't end well. But in all, even the less technical riders loved this trail because of the surrounding beauty of Zion National Park, which can be seen in the background on several of the photographs.

This trail gets my highest rating, with bonus points for the adventure we experienced driving up.

Milage <15

Elevation gain <1000

Marty scouting for something that resembles a trail marker

Bob thinking this may, or may not be a trail

Wes is wishing for one more gear

Susan looking for a way off this rock

Todd just lets it roll

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hurricane Rim Trail

Today we met up with another 20 SWAMPers to begin our week in Hurricane, Utah. Our first ride was the Hurricane Rim Loop, a 24 mile combo of the Hurricane Rim Trail, Goulds Rim, and Jem's Trail. These trail systems were linked together using half a dozen miles of jeep 2-track. The loop is a roller coaster ride with great vistas, easy climbing, fast flowing descents and a bunch of technical rock climbs. 

The rock gardens are particularly fun because we don't have any of those in Florida, and few of them around Asheville. It's all about picking a good line and maintaining momentum. Fail, and you have a bloody knee to show your friends. We had a lot to show to our friends.

Not much as far as trees go, so the views went to the horizon, and the rock formations were amazing. Would have to consider this open prairie, lots of knee high scrub, but not much was green. The landscape was definitely out-west-red. We could see Zion in the distance and it looked huge, even though it was a dozen miles away. The scenery was a s breathtaking as the climbs.

We had rain and hail descend upon us during the last five miles. Of coarse, being from Florida none of us brought rain jackets, so the 20° temperature drop was a wee bit uncomfortable for some of the last riders in. The chattering teeth was humorous for those of us who beat the rain, but not so funny for the last ones back.

Day one was an IMBA Epic ride. This is a great introductory ride for the area. For an intermediate rider, it was fun and challenging without being scary, even in the rain.

Milage >15
Elevation gain <1000'

Susan trying to beat the storm. (no, she didn't make it.)

Wes climbs out of a dry riverbed.

Guy drop off a ridge with Zion in the background.

Group along a gulch that we eventually rode thru.

Bob starting a steep decline.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rim View Trail

Todd found this little 11 mile gem of a trail starting right in the center of Page AZ.  Called the Rim View Trail, it offered outrageously beautiful views of Lake Powell. The trail was easy except for a few intermediate sections that included rock lifts and tight turns, but they were few and minor.

This could be ridden with good speed since the trail is smooth with gentle climbs. But the main feature was the views. This 
was the only trail we found in the area, but Page is only 2-hours from Hurricane. So considering the slot canyons, Lake Powell and the Rim View trail, it could be worth the drive.

Milage < 15
Elevation gain < 1000'

For an urban trail, this was pretty exciting. 

The trail is miles of solid rock.

Wolf and Todd on one of the few flat sections.

Page AZ, also has lots of touristy things to see, including beautiful buttes, slot canyons, and Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River. If you were here for a few days there are all kinds of boating opportunities on Lake Powell.

Even on a cloudy day the colors are bright.

Inside one of the slot canyons.

These can be hundreds of feet deep.

Horseshoe Bend

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Phil's World

Wes, Wolf, Marty and Bob at Phil's World, Cortez Colorado.

You know it is a great day when:
Big Head Todd (Riceman) drives down from Crested Butt to ride with us.
Today's ride is Phil's World, a 5-star rated IMBA trail.
Dinner is at a gourmet Mexican restaurant (Pepperhead) in Cortez
I get a buzz off my first Pomegranate margarita.
I am comatose after the second.
I jump out of the 4Runner on the way home with leg cramps from climbing.
There are three flavors of ice cream in the freezer when we return to the lodge.
Tomorrow will be more of the same (hopefully, without the cramps).

Phil's World is 30 miles of challenging single track on top of a mesa. We rode all the intermediate for about 18 miles. Much of the trail ran within a couple feet of an edge, offering great views of the valley below while adding a sense of urgency. Not for those susceptible to vertigo, the ledges definitely added a heightened feeling of awareness of your surroundings.

The interior trails were fast, rolling and smooth, very reminiscent of Boyette's Ridgeline. Imagine Ridgeline being on a downward slope. Yep, really fast and fun.

We didn't attempt the most difficult because the intermediate seemed challenging enough. Additionally, there are half a dozen miles of easy trails that we skipped. Would rather save our energy for the next challenge.

Phil's gets my highest rating (whatever that is). Bob and Marty said this is the best trail we have ridden in the past three weeks. All agreed we could easily ride here again, including the more technical sections after adding a little body armor. Knee pads and elbow pads would be good insurance against the numerous rock outcroppings. 

Wes makes a quick lift onto the next level of rock.

Wolf follows a narrow line along an edge.

Marty loves the flow lines thru the trees.

Bob gets behind the seat for this steep drop.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Durango, it's one of those mystic places that seems to be on everybody's bucket list. The center of Durango is definitely old west ski town, with more micro brews and bike shops than you can count on both hands. And, It has charm.

For day one we picked easy trails to help us work thru the 7200' altitude adjustment. Apparently, it takes more than one day to acclimate to oxygen deprivation, as I was sucking air before we got out of the parking lot. Perhaps it was time to reevaluate that monster ridge climb we had planned.

These were typical high dessert trails; hard packed clay with a layer of loose rock on top to keep things interesting.  The trails wove around the low scrub and usually went straight up and down the fall line to accentuate elevation change. The trail designer would occasionally divert the trail to cross over a rock outcropping. We liked those for the increased pucker factor.

We rode the Horse Gulch Loop, which is one of nearly a dozen trail system accessible from town. Unfortunately, trail signs were few, and local maps only listed a small percentage of the trails we actually found while exploring. Maintenance doesn't seem to be a priority here, so if erosion complicates a fall line section, people just seem to move to one side and ride that. Some of the trails seemed to lack forethought, and no formal construction. I guess if enough people ride a line, it becomes a trail.

Milage > 45
Elevation gain > 4000'

Sooner or later it had to happen, a trail without bikes. This morning we toured cliff dwellings in the Masa Verde National Park. On the paths to the indian dwellings, the guys were picking the best lines down the hiking trails, and Marty was picking the best rocks for her expanding collection. Oh, and the 12th century buildings were cool, assuming you were part monkey. It's no surprise this tribe was never attacked. All they had to do was pull in the ladders and no raiding party had a chance.

Ok, enough with the history lesson, let's go get the bikes.

Anasazi cliff dwellings.

Back to Durango after a morning visiting Indian cliff dwellings. Today we hit a bundle of trails starting in town and climbing west into the hills. There must be a half dozen named (signed) trails, all less than a mile long. Connecting those are a dozen or more nameless trails that have been ridden in as opposed to being designed and built. Most were  narrow to nonexistent bench cuts across steep slopes covered with loose shale. After grinding straight up and skidding straight down, we decided to bail. Unfortunately, the signage was so poor we couldn't find our way back to the cars. The ride turned out being longer than we wanted. Once again our GPS saved the day.

Wolf heading into the great unknown.

Wes judiciously applying both brakes on the gravel over clay trail base.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

La Tierra

Florida is not flat. Oklahoma is flat. Northern Texas is really flat. Leaving Amarillo via I-40, we can see 360° in any direction, and there is not a single tree anywhere. It is like being on an ocean where the horizon is visible in every direction. Occasionally we will come upon a wind farm where dozens of generator towers with huge propellers break the vast emptiness, but beyond those is the same never ending horizon. This would be an excellent place to visit at night to view the heavens. The stars would be awesome.

Welcome to Santa Fe NM, where you can go into a New Age Holistic Crystal shop and pay $75 for the same rocks that were laying all over the ground in Hot Springs AR. Doesn't matter, we are here to ride, not shop. Our first outing will be the Winsor downhill trail, a 3,341' descent from 10,290' covering 9.3 miles. Well, as you can see in the bottom photo, that descent could prove to be problematic. Santa Fe had 6" of snow mid week on top of a solid base. Big time downhill was not in our immediate future. Move on to plan 'B'.

The La Tierra trail system is an 11 mile loop with 1029' of elevation gain. Located at the norther boundary of Santa Fe, it is an urban ride with easy climbs and nothing technical. Ok, so if the climbs are supposedly easy, why are we breathing like puppies chasing a squirrel? Ah, perhaps it's the 7,200 elevation. This is going to take some getting used to.

Top Photo is Bob cruising along. The snow in the background is where we were an hour earlier. Middle Photo is Wolf doing his big air thing, and the Bottom Photo is me coming in for a landing.