Saturday, October 31, 2009
It poured all day in Knoxville. All of the areas on my list of places to hit were getting deluged today, from Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky to Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Fortunately, this vein of moisture that has plagued the nation's mid section for several days now is only a couple hundred miles wide down here. Friday it was dry in eastern Tennessee, wet in the west. The back edge of this ribbon was supposed to clear the western side of the state later in the day.
I picked up a just released MTB guide book for the tri-cities area (Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga) when I picked up the rental bike. It featured a place about 1:40hr west of here called Fall Creek Falls State Park. It had a mix of paved, gravel and singletrack riding options and supposedly drained well. Sounded good to me. At the very least, I could do little hiking to the waterfalls if it didn't stop raining or do a soggy road ride in the park.
It rained most of the way there, but cracks of blue sky started appearing as I arrived at the park around noon. It rained hard for maybe 24hrs there, so everything was soaked good. I decided to hike first. One positive side of getting rained out of planned riding was that the waterfalls would be roiling big time. I was not disappointed. Quite a few people were there despite plummeting temps behind the front and wetness. I tackled a couple spur trails, one requiring a serious rock scramble to get out to the vantage point. The risk wasn't falling 300ft into the gorge, it was scaling down a near vertical 25ft rock face to get out to the vantage point. The granite was wet and slimy. I had slippery sneakers on. Definitely more risky than any thing I do on a mountain bike. I kept thinking that I really should have a helmet on. That vantage point really wasn't worth the risk. Fall Creek Falls, the park's name sake, was spectacular from both the top and bottom. It is claimed to be the biggest free drop falls east of the Rockies at 256ft. Naigara Falls is only 173ft. It creates a huge down draft at the bottom. It was hard to take photos without the lens getting wet.
The "barely there" Upper Loop Trail.
After 4mi, 1.2hrs hiking, the fallen leaves were just starting to dry up. Time to ride. I went out on the Upper Loop Trail, a 13mi singletrack loop that stays up on the plateau for the most part. Amazingly, there was no mud to be found. Many water crossings, a few knee deep with swift current, but no muddiness. In fact, most of the trail was dry. I got wet only when riding through laurel tunnels. Temp was around 50F, and I was comfortable in short sleeves.
Slimy bridge over swollen Cane Creek.
Upper Loop Trail suffers from neglect. It is a beautiful woods trail, a skinny "barely there" ribbon with leaf drop. There were many blow-downs along the route and the tail was a bit overgrown in some areas. If it weren't for the white blazes, I would have had route finding trouble. I met only a solitary hiker in the 1.9 hours I was out on this loop. The first half of the loop (clockwise direction) was gently rolling and completely non-technical. After crossing the uber scary suspension bridge over Cane Creek, the trail became decisively more challenging. The loop reminded me a great deal of the trail I learned to ride on in Michigan at Yankee Springs. Fast and rolling to start, then repeated fall line lung buster climbs and plummets the second half.
Tunnel of laurel and holly on the Upper Loop Trail.
The Upper Loop suspension bridge was wet, a little mossy perhaps, with oak leaves on it. Since the bridge designs used in the park attach the decking directly to the suspension cables, the deck follows a parabolic shape. The deck was so slippery that I more or less slid all the way down it to the center of the bridge. I could barely stay upright. There was haphazardly attached fencing below the hand rails cables, but whether it could keep an out of control 160 pound man from going into the raging river below was suspect. It was even harder to walk up the other side. Both body and bike did not want to stay upright. I get weirded out enough walking over these wobbly contraptions in good conditions. I was glad I didn't have to go over it again.
At the end of the ride. I think this is normally a swimming hole when the water is not so high.
I thought about riding the shorter Chinquapin Loop too, but I didn't want to get back too late. I figured 3+ hours of aerobic activity with 2700ft of climbing for the day was sufficient. Really lucked out. I felt a few drops during the afternoon, but never got wet. As I drove back east, it was still pouring in Knoxville. Sunday may be a Pisgah epic if the rain moves out by morning. Else I may head north to check off a Kentucky trail ride. I'll leave you with some waterfall pics.