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Meet the Neighbors

In a time when immigration is a hot button issue, BRO has decided to blur the border lines. Sure, we regularly give you the dirt on outdoor adventure in the Carolinas, Virginias, Georgia, and Tennessee, but now we’re ready to jump the fence and dig into the playgrounds of our neighboring states. Maybe you’ve never thought about backpacking in 'Bama or spinning your wheels in the Keystone State. Frankly, you’re missing out. Get a glimpse of the outdoor opportunities just beyond our Blue Ridge borders.


Despite what you’ve heard, Kentucky has more to brag about than just being the birthplace of bluegrass. If you’re into vast wild lands, it just might be time to explore the 706,000-acre Daniel Boone National Forest, which runs the vertical length of the state and is characterized by steep wooded ridges, scenic rocky hollows, and 3,400 miles of sandstone cliffs. Although a total of 600 miles of remote trails run through the forest, thru-hiking freaks can take it from end to end on the 269-mile Sheltowee Trace Recreation Trail.


The Big South Fork River and National Recreation Area spills over from Tennessee into Kentucky. The 123,000 wild acres on the Cumberland Plateau provide a secluded alternative to the nearby Smokies, and with 300 miles of trails any backpacker could wander around for months among the area’s lushly vegetative rock outcroppings. In the Big South Fork’s northern end try an overnight loop in the Yahoo Falls Scenic Area, where you’ll pass the state’s biggest waterfall (113 feet), catch distant overlooks, and skirt the Cumberland in connecting the Yahoo Arch, Negro Creek, and Sheltowee Trace Trails.

Explore Mammoth Cave

Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is the longest in the world at 360 miles. Although you might have to share it with the masses, wander through the cave and surrounding national park for the sheer ecological wonder. Then grab a permit and take off on a backcountry canoe adventure along the Green River, stopping along the shore or one of the river’s islands to set up camp.


Most Appalachian rock stars know about the abundance of climbing opportunities in the Red River Gorge-26,000 acres full of the most unique natural rock formations east of the Rockies. Located in Eastern Kentucky, the “Red” is world renowned for its climbing scene, boasting over 1,300 recorded routes on 104 cliffs-everything from good top-roping, aid climbing roof systems, traditional cracks of all sorts, multi-pitch classics, and vertical to severely overhanging sport climbs. Hang out afterward at True North Outfitter’s climber-friendly (and wallet-friendly) hostel after a day on the rock.


This year Alabama is getting serious about showing off its abundance of outdoor opportunities. Dubbing 2006 the Year of Outdoor Alabama, the governor has worked hard to get the word out about the area’s vast forestland (two-thirds of the state), paddling paradises, and endless trail systems.

Bike Run

It’s not hard to find a fat tire fix near the big city of Birmingham. Just head south to nearby Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham. Here you can ride the infamous Red Trail, a 16-mile loop that was once the training grounds of the U.S. Olympic Mountain Biking Team. The well-known technical trail features some steep climbs and tight singletrack twists and turns, including the notorious “blood rock” section-a series of uneven and jagged rocks. This year the course was part of the inaugural Nissan Xterra Southeast Championship Off-Road Triathlon. The state park also hosts the annual Oak Mountain 50K Trail Run in March.


Although not quite as big as Asheville or other Appalachian whitewater hubs, Bama has a growing paddling scene. Last year the Coosa River held the National Freestyle Championships, concentrated at the class III Moccasin Gap rapid. One of Appalachia’s most stunningly scenic gems is the upland landscape of the Little River Canyon National Preserve. A rare ecological wonder, the Little River runs down the spine of Lookout Mountain in northeastern Alabama, carving out a forested high plateau above gushing waterfalls and flowing creeks. Experienced boaters can take on the treacherous hydraulics and undercut rocks of the six-mile class III-V “Suicide” section, and for beginners there’s the more amicable class II-III stretch of the same length known as “Chairlift.”


You could spend a month wandering around whistling Dixie in Alabama’s remote Talladega National Forest. Hikers looking for the extreme wild go to the 7,000-acre Cheaha Wilderness to hike its portion of the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail, Alabama’s longest continuous footpath at 102 miles. From the trail outcropping overlooks provide views of the tail end of the Southern Appalachian chain, and hikers will cross the Alabama’s biggest peak, the 2,600-foot Cheaha Mountain. Plans are in the works to eventually connect the trail to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.


Boulder hounds know Alabama for Horse Pens 40, the site of the brutal second comp in the Triple Crown Bouldering Series. Reopened in 2002, Horse Pens is a private climbing site near Gadsden with the best bouldering in the Southeast, thanks to its vast acreage of overlapping granite. For a reliable trad or sport fix, visit the seemingly endless options at Sandrock. Sun Wall has over two-dozen routes ranging between 5.6 and 5.12.


There’s a lot of space in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Despite being one of the most industrialized states in the nation, Pennsylvania has a wealth of public lands, including the Allegheny National Forest and over two million acres of state forests and parks.


Pennsylvania is paradise for fat-tire freaks. The pinnacle is the Roth Rock Ride, a 30-mile beast that has earned IMBA Epic Ride status. Roth Rock is located in the 90,000-acre Rothrock State Forest, just 10 miles south of State College-a cool college town perfect for post-ride revelry. The lengthy stretch of singletrack and dirt roads climbs 4,500 feet and breathtakingly winds through the oldest and largest grove of hemlocks in the country. Watch out for the tire-grinding “Tombstones” section.


Ultra addicts need to try the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Trail Race. The acclaimed individual or team relay race nearing 30 years old takes place in early June, traversing the entire Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in southwestern Pennsylvania. Runners following the yellow blazes endure rocky and rugged singletrack with steep grades, log crossings, and a good bit of mud. An open meadow reprieve comes at the Seven Springs Resort.


On August 26 American Whitewater will host the Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival, an event featuring a falls race and freestyle comp to celebrate Ohiopyle Falls State Park. The festival gives paddlers a few select days each year to run the 18-foot waterfall on the Youghiogheny (yaw-ki-gay-nee) River-one of the most revered whitewater wonders in the East. The state park is a 19,000-acre wild gateway to Western Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountains that also features 80 miles of hiking trails and 13 miles of designated mountain biking trails.


Don’t let Wayne’s World fool you. There’s plenty to do in Delaware. If you find yourself crossing through the First State, check out its impressive network of its 15 state parks, which range from coastal escapes to forest preserves. The state parks also host a popular adventure racing series with four multi-sport comps from May through August. The last race in the 2006 series takes place at Lums Pond State Park on August 12. The 20-mile trail system at Brandywine Creek State Park near Wilmington has something for everyone: cross-country running trails, a disc golf course, riverside hikes, and wildlife viewing from the bluffs and marshes.


In addition to 229 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the state has over 1,000 miles of long-distance hiking trails on the East Coast. This bounty includes 110 miles of the Tuscarora Trail and 100 miles of the North Country Scenic Trail. For an option off the beaten path, try the newly constructed Allegheny Front Trail, which runs 40 miles over 11 high vistas through the rocky and rugged Allegheny Plateau country of Black Moshannon State Park and down into the clear mountain trout streams of the Moshannon State Forest.


You might think Florida is just about overdeveloped beaches and laid back fun in the sun, but the state has plentiful pockets of wildlands perfect for outdoor recreation, including a thriving triathlon and adventure racing scene.


If ultra is your game, you’ve gotta try the Wickham Park Marathon-a crazy bushwhack run in the sun that takes place every Memorial Day weekend in Melbourne. The 200-mile race consists of four stages of 50 miles with a 12:30 cutoff each day on a 3.75-mile mostly flat trail loop, poorly marked with arrows drawn in flour. Runners trudge through harsh heat and humidity and encounter soft sand, bad footing, snakes, and gators. A marathon, 50-mile, and 100-mile “fun” runs are also offered. Only one runner has ever finished the 200 miler.

Adventure Race

Leave the mountains behind and get some adventure racing action on the beach. The Bear Adventure Race takes place over Labor Day weekend in Jacksonville. Off-road biking takes on a new meaning as riders traverse maritime forest trails with coastal sand routes. The Floridians will even throw a little non-technical ropes climbing into the mix at this USARA National Qualifier.

For a longer jaunt, try the revered Florida Coast to Coast Adventure Race. Usually held on Memorial Day Weekend, the slog takes racers 250 miles over three days through the center of the peninsula. Racers run, kayak, bike, and navigate through the state’s grasslands, hardwood hammocks, oak meadows, and spring-fed lakes.


Mountain biking in Florida? Sounds strange. Even stranger-Florida actually has one of IMBA’s Epic Rides (one of only 37 worldwide)-a 12-mile stint in Alafia River State Park (30 miles southeast of Tampa) that features rolling terrain, a dozen creek crossings, and several miles of technical quarry riding with rock ledge drops. A trail system totaling 30 miles has come from the sweat equity of the Southwest Association of Swamp Pedalers, who have put in over 4,000 volunteer hours to give Florida some serious fat tire action.


When it comes to surfing in Florida, it doesn’t get better than Sebastian Inlet on the Central Atlantic coast. The area is no secret for hardcore wave riders, as it hosts several major surfing comps, but it’s not a standard tourist trap like nearby Daytona Beach. Grab a board and look for renowned breaks like “First Peak,” “Spanish House,” and “Monster Hole.” After a day in the water stick around and grab one of the campsites at Sebastian Inlet State Park.


The Florida Trail is a 1,400-mile work in progress, but with big efforts made by the Florida Trails Association 85 percent of the trail is complete, and many long stretches of the Sunshine State footpath are ready for extended backpacking trips. The trail gets about a dozen thru-hikers a year, despite a few road holes. One of the best lengthy overnight options is the 71.3-mile stretch through the Ocala National Forest in the North Central part of the state. Take the stint north from Clearwater Lake and move through the 13,000-acre Juniper Prairie Wilderness, filled with Ospreys nesting around lowland prairie ponds, oak hammocks, pine islands, and white sand scrubs. Habitat will change in the northern end to long leaf pine forests with possible sightings of the reclusive Florida Black Bear.

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