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A Love Letter to a Technical Trail

Trail building and revamping has been on the rise in Western North Carolina, which is depressing for many reasons I’ll get into, but I’m grateful that our brethren care enough about our trails to do what it takes to save them.  I love the media. Our ability to know what’s going on in Oregon or Germany is pretty limitless with the vast amount of communication at our fingertips. I’m proud to be part of that process. However, I also hate that I’m bringing more attention to something that’s so deeply loved because of how pristine it is.

One of my favorite trails in this area is in Black Mountain. It’s gnarly. The climb up consists of tight switchbacks, on a very steep incline, with rocks and roots, requiring momentum, balance, and the ability to hop your bike around corners with enough energy left to pick up the front wheel, push it forward, and spin the back over rocks as good as 10 inches high. It’s not a long climb. Thankfully.  Each time I rode I would try to clean yet another switchback. It was all about aerobic capacity, upper body strength, skill, and timing. Once at the top I would take full advantage of the rest, because I knew I needed to have my faculties about me before descending narrow gullies lined with twisted roots. I would hover the rear wheel just to keep the bike down. It would scare me so bad at top speed that I would laugh at how I’d forgotten the last time.  Past that were a series of very fast turns in loose dirt where I watched my buddy skid out and slide across roots that tore his arm gaping open.

The fast turns led to rolling singletrack no wider than two feet with nothing but a steep grade of rhododendron to one side. You had to watch out for the washed out sections. It has rained 90% of the times I rode that trail, coating everything in forest snot.  Well now that the machine has been run across all of it to hold back erosion, it’s nice and safe. In fact, my 7-year-old son can probably ride it now. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I’m not ready yet to see it as a roller coaster ride.  The thing is, a lot of people heard about it. They heard how badass and fun it was. They held races on it. People like me kept thinking if they just rode it one more time they would be able to clean every single switchback on that first mile climb. They lied in their beds at night thinking about how if they would’ve gotten a little more speed they might’ve been able to make it higher on that berm so that they could’ve hit that jump a little faster to clean the log. They just kept thinking about that last series of jumps where the trail is wide and the forest is as dark as it can get, where it always feels like it’s raining and the earth just smells so rich.  I understand.

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