I travelled a long ways to demo a Gary Fisher 29er. All the way to Tennessee, in fact. I cut out of work early on Thursday, jumped on a plane, and apparently recent speeding tickets failed to correct my behavior when I made it to Knoxville from Nashville in about 2hrs flat. I really wanted to pick up the rental bike in the evening so I could get an early start. The shop didn't open until 10am, and it was 2hrs to the trailhead. When I planned this extended weekend riding trip, I failed to recognize that the eastern/central time zone line falls in between Nashville and Knoxville. The 30 minutes margin I had was 30 minutes deficit that had to be made up on Interstate 40. Glad all the staties had others pulled over.
The nasty head cold I came down with last weekend has pretty much departed my body. Unfortunately, it went to roost in my wife's body. Nasty things. You'd think that since they can make a vaccine for a brand new swine flu virus in a year, that they could make a vaccine for a virus that has been around for millenia.
The forecast down here was teetering on disaster for riding. In fact, the western part of Tennessee has been getting hammered with rain and flooding. It just keeps coming up from the gulf. Just a couple hundred miles to the east, it's been staying dry. Friday was warm and super moist though, and tonight the system is supposed to drift this way. Saturday looks like a complete washout.
Brush Creek on left, Tanasi on right. Started in lower right.
The plan for Friday was to hit the Tanasi, Brush Creek and Chilhowee trails east of Chattanooga. Tanasi was recently designated an IMBA Epic. Also, the Ocoee River that runs through the area was used in the 1996 Olympics. Lots of white water around here. The terrain is rocky and deeply corrugated.
I parked at the Thunder Rock Campground on the Ocoee. From here, it is nearly 1000ft of climbing to get to the good riding up top. Many of the trails appear to be reclaimed logging roads, with a ribbon of singletrack down the middle. Others are machine built singletrack trails with a wide, all season tread of crushed rock. This is how they build trails in the UK, since it rains continuously there. These trail could be ridden in wet conditions just fine. Not sure I would enjoy it that much, but it would not damage the trails.
Up top was a sweet 1.8 mile loop called the Quartz Loop, maybe from the brilliant outcroppings of quartz. Looks more like white marble to me. The River View loop slowly works its way back down to the Ocoee further east at the Whitewater Center. Fun stuff. Heavy leaf drop gave me pause every time I wanted to let my speed run out. Evils lurked just below the surface, although nothing technically challenging had been encountered yet.
Somewhere nearing the Ocoee, I must have nailed a pile of bear scat. I get to the suspension bridge over the river, stopped, and was nearly overcome with putrid odors. Shit had flung off the front wheel all over me and the bike. Sticky too. Fortunately there were restrooms with water at the Whitewater Center. Riding for about 90 minutes, I had perfect solitude until I got back down to the river.
I didn't originally plan to ride the Brush Creek loop. With Saturday looking abysmal, I decided to link it into the ride. There's a nice 2.3mi connector trail along the river that picks up Boyd Gap trail. Passed a few deer hunters along the river, quite close to the Whitewater Center actually. Boyd Gap was the toughest thing I encounter yet, hitting 20% grades and rutted out. The GF Paragon 29er climbed admirably well. I did slip once on wet red clay. The Paragon is fitted with Bontrager XDX tires, perhaps my most hated MTB tire. These aren't tubeless either, so I didn't dare go silly low with pressure.
I picked up the Brush Creek Trail at Boyd Gap. This is perhaps the most perfectly contoured trail I've been on, maybe eight miles of trail in all. Supremely buff too. You could go tempo pace and just let your mind wander as you twisted and dipped around. Many of the turns are bermed so you could pedal full speed through them. I was sad when it was over. Back at Boyd Gap, I opted to take US-64 two miles back down to the Whitewater Center. I did not need to ride the wide track again along the river.
Crossing back over the suspension bridge, climbing mode resumes. This time I would take a more northerly route back to the car through the Tanasi trail system. Chestnut Mtn Loop was more reclaimed logging road for the most part. A few bad sections were rerouted and felt like singletrack. Then it was time for the finale, the plummet down Thunder Rock trail. Good things have been written about this 1.5mi descent back to the trailhead. It did not disappoint. Thick leaves made it tricky though. This tail was by far the most technical one there, but still tame by New England standards. That is fine by me when travelling alone. I'll be picking at scabs on both arms for another week or two from the Wicked Ride of the East last weekend.
The wind was going nuts when I finished, and it was drizzling. I figured my riding was done for the day. I logged 32mi in 3.2hrs riding time with about 3300ft of climbing. I still held out hope of doing a short loop at the Chilhowee Trails, also on the Ocoee River, heading back towards Chattanooga.
Lollipop loop at the Chilhowee Trails
I lucked out. The misting stopped, although the skies were still very dark. There were two trucks parked at the trailhead, presumably deer hunters. I debated whether I should put on my orange vest. I don't think it is regular rifle season right now, just muzzle loader and bow. I was hoping to score more views riding in this area, but there are no cliff outcroppings or clearings at the ridge tops. You can see out through the trees not that leaf drop is nearly complete at the higher elevations, but that doesn't make for good photos. I knew there was an oft photographed waterfall in the Chilhowee Trails. Maybe if the rain holds off, that will do. Not sure why people are lured towards waterfalls. Personally, I like to interact with them, as in getting wet. But most waterfalls are too dangerous for that. Getting beamed by a 200ft rock from 100ft up would ruin your day.
From the US-64 trailhead, access to the Chilhowee trails is ruthless. The first half mile averages about 15% grade, then it slackens to 10% for a long time. My legs were pretty trashed by now and rebelled.
I didn't want to risk a full perimeter loop here with rain in the area. I truncated the lollipop loop to hit Benton Falls sooner. The main trail passes right by the top of the falls. Scary, as you could walk out and not realize it is 65ft straight done after slipping on the green slimy ledge. A granite stepped trail drops to the bottom. I ditched the bike. Benton Falls is pretty near a perfect bridal veil falls. This fall was probably safe to walk into if you wanted. The temp was around 70, but the water was pretty cold. I opted out despite the dried bear scat on my legs.
Alright, that made it worth it stopping here to ride. Now I had to ride higher, cross the stream, so I could descend the canyon on the other side on Clear Creek Trail. Parts of this trail felt like singletrack, maybe because it deviated from reclaimed logging roads. I decided to plummet down Rimrock Trail, cross the stream again much further below Benton Falls, then climb the canyon wall I came up on in the first place. It was only a 250ft climb. Turns out Rimrock Trail was a hoot, quite rough, steep, and nicely canopied with rhododendron and laurel. I finished the lollipop loop ride bombing the 15% climb I started on. That added another 12 miles, 1.5hrs and 1900ft to the day's riding. Never saw another soul out here. A wicked fun day of riding. Work was the furthest thing from my mind.
I spotted a Sonic Drive-in not far from the trailhead. I ate a meal that would have impressed Fat Doug for sure. A chicken sandwich with mayo, a Super Sonic double cheeseburger (bigger than a double whopper!), and a large chocolate malt. Had to have been 2500-3000 calories.
Now I can color in Tennessee on my map of states mountain biked. Kentucky is next, but probably not on Saturday. I'll leave you with a bunch of photos. I'm too tired to caption them tonight. Mousing over (or clicking and looking at URL) should clue you in what they are.