Pisgah was one of the main attractions on our radar for this trip. Being so, we were all very excited for this leg of the adventure. From there we spent a week in Mulberry Gap, GA in the Smoky Mountains north of Atlanta. After our wet week there we veered off our original course and found ourselves in central FL. Santos offered an abundance of riding and sunshine which most certainly did not disappoint. Straggling back on course we found ourselves in Birmingham, AL for Turkey Day and a few extra to get to know the area and were pleasantly surprised. Once our time was up in AL we made our way to another bucket list destination, Bentonville, AR.
Once arrived in Asheville, we wasted no time getting to the riding portion of our adventure. Our first of 3 weeks in the area was spent camping at Lake Powhatan (Bent Creek). The trails in this area were primarily intermediate rippers that had some chunk to them but allowed Parker to go on a quite a few excursions with me. We enjoyed trails like Explorer, Sidehill, Wolfbranch, and Greenslick. We were able to bike over the ridgeline from camp and access Spencer Gap, Trace ridge and some other great stuff as well. As a family, we took Parker on a loop incorporating Spencer Gap which was definitely one of the longest, most technical rides he has ever been on. I was completely blown away at how he handled all of the roots, rocks, and water crossings.
As you may have gathered by now, Pisgah is quite technical. We moved down closer to Brevard for the remainder of our stay. Some adventuring in Dupont State Forest lead us to one of the only “flow” trails we rode in the area, Ridgeline. It was a riot and Parker loved it. The wife and I spent days taking turns riding Black Mountain, Bennett Gap and more of the central system trails. With a fair portion of eastern North America under our belts it had been awhile since we got some decent climbing in and Pisgah certainly offered that. I spent nearly 6 hours looping together Avery Creek, Bennett Gap, and Black Mountain into an epic day. I regretted some of the hike-a-biking while in the middle of it, but as always, once finished I relished in the accomplishment of cleaning some big mountains and finding those unique descents I so enjoy.
There is a ton of riding in this area and in 3 weeks we barely scratched the surface. Parker and I even got to spend a day at the Reeb Ranch. A bike park created on the edge of Dupont by the builders of Reeb Cycles and creators of Oscar Blues Brewing. Once again, I broke the shock bolt on the fatbike jumping off the teeter totter. Luckily I had brought my Pivot along as well. We enjoyed our bike park day, got to know the awesome staffer working the park, and ended with meeting Kristen at The Hub, a local bike shop/pub about a mile from where we were camped at Davidson River.
Mulberry Gap, GA
After our extended stay in NC we made our way to northern Georgia. Mulberry Gap is a “mountain bike getaway” that offers camping/lodging, meals, a communal area, pump track/skills course, and of course, access to fantastic trails. We took turns riding various segments of the Pinhoti trail, which for the most part was quite similar to nearly everything else we have experienced in the East. Smaller, but decent climbs through forested hills meandered along ridgelines and rocky sections which lead into fast descents with surprise rollers and jumps along the way. This was classic singletrack that kept us smiling and returning daily to get our legs spinning.
I discovered that the small climbs were quickly diminishing when I chose to ride from camp to access Mountaintown Creek Trail. A 3 hour climb lead me up service roads, passed waterfalls, through fog and rain, over a few peaks and finally to the trail. It began like a bolt of lightning, sending me downhill and over repeated jumps and dumping me into a techy rock garden. I was smiling from ear to ear when I encountered my first water crossing. I don’t mind having to ford through some water, but it got a little redundant. The trail flattened out a fair amount and left me crossing creeks 15 times.
I would imagine if the water was lower it wouldn’t be a big deal but it was deep enough that I had to go full in and wade across holding my bike. Some spots were quite swift and had me worried I was going in. I made my way out and began the pedal back along the roads leading to Mulberry Gap. I would have taken trail but was quickly running out of daylight. Within a few miles of camp, Brian, one of the caretakers at Mulberry just happened to be driving back and stopped. He kindly offered, and I took the ride. I was pretty toasted after that one.
Santos, FL (Top Sail SP too)
Florida was never originally on our radar, but with weather turning to winter we decided it would be nice to continue enjoying warm temps…even if that meant riding flat trails in central Florida. We were able to camp right on a vast trail system near Ocala, FL and bike every day. With classic cx singletrack, pumptracks, skills parks, jump lines, and big features built into nearly every undulation imaginable I was beyond impressed with the area. If trails are too easy just ride them faster, right? Well, that was the mantra at Santos. Most trails could be pedaled hard and fast.
Techy rock gardens lead into root filled forest floor and left all 3 of us wandering around the jungle for a week. The Vortex is a circular trail surrounding a jump line/ skills park area that offers double black diamond level trails. Tech-gnar in two miles kept a smile on my face. More than anything, I kept returning to the jump lines. They were well built and I really enjoyed them. It offered me a decent amount of pedaling from camp to access them with other trails peppered in for exploration. I would love to return here someday. I met a handful of great people that really loved their local trails and had every right to be proud of them.
After our week in Santos we had to make our way back towards AL and decided to stop at Topsail Preserve State Park for a few days. There was decent little trails system called Long-Leaf near the park. That system combined with what was open to bikes in the park kept me entertained but it wasn’t anything special as far as mountain biking goes. I did however enjoy cruising with my fat bike along the white sandy beaches of the gulf and the park itself had many other great amenities.
While in Birmingham our main objective was pulling off a successful Thanksgiving Day. We spent a few days in a hotel obtaining that objective but then knew it was time to get back out in the hills. We found Oak Mountain State Park very close to where we had been staying. Up to this point Oak Mountain quickly became one of my favorite stops thus far.
Decent climbs, fast ripping singletrack around a picturesque lake, Blood Rock, rocky ridgelines, flow trails, classic techy singletrack and a big jump flow-trail really spiced up the rides. My favorite trail by far was one called Thunder. It was not only a great climb to access the top ridgeline but also my favorite descent. With some techy bits, flowing bits, and a few rolls and boulder jumps it leads right into a flow trail below it, Lightning. From what I was told, Lightning is one of the newer trails in the system and it did not disappoint. Large berms and table tops meander down the mountainside (with a climb in the middle to keep you breathing heavy) and lead into a box-drop style jump at the bottom. You can’t ride it without a huge smile on your face. It’s impossible.
There were many other trails that reminded me of the challenges that made me fall in love with mountain biking. Boulder Ridge and West Ridge were, as you can guess, up on the ridgeline of the mountain and were covered in slick rock and rock gardens. I definitely had to put a foot down on Boulder Ridge but did clean all of the descending faces of boulders. I do love the challenge of chunky rock gardens although I was questioning myself while riding it. I know that was one of Kristen’s favorite trails there as she told me with a wide smile across her face.
Alabama has so much more riding that we couldn’t even begin to experience. I would like to return some day and explore more. It is most certainly on my radar now.
Bentonville, AR (and Lake Ouachita)
To finish up this leg of our adventure we knew we had to explore the trails of Bentonville, AR. Home to Walmart, the aforementioned family has apparently invested in their local community. It was astounding. There were more bike parks with connecting trail network than I have ever seen anywhere else. Sure other places have more trail, but it is very apparent that NW Arkansas likes to mountain bike.
We camped at the edge of the renowned Back 40 trail with easy access along the bike path to the Slaughter Pen trails in town too. The trails in this area dive in and out of neighborhoods that are positioned on the ridgelines of the Ozarks. The climbs are not terribly large, but do offer enough of an elevation change to get the adrenaline flowing. Most of the trail was fast and flowing, classic singletrack with the occasional rock garden and wood jump feature or skinny thrown in.
The Back 40 was a great cx route that offered the endurance challenge that most mountain bikers seek out. One little section had some rock doubles that I thoroughly enjoyed. Doubles scare me, and I skipped them the first time I rode that section, but after seeing how well built they were I was determined to get them under my belt.
Slaughter Pen is broken up into 3 segments with a nice jump line/bike park area at the North Segment. Other than wood features and a few rock gardens, the trails were all very similar to the Back 40. The bike path leading through town also follows along the trails and offers options for getting out there and putting in some quick miles too.
As a family we also enjoyed another area to the west of town called Coler Park. Coler is a bike park with a few cross country loops on it, but the real attraction is the hub at the top and the accompanying jump trails leading down towards the north end of the hill. I was astonished by the investment, infrastructure, and opportunity the locals have put into the system. This place is definitely travel worthy.
Lake Ouachita is a recreation area near Hot Springs, AR. It not only offered us the opportunity to visit the National Park, but provides access to well over a hundred miles of trail. Ouachita Recreation Trail, Womble Trail, and Lake Ouachita Vista Trail are in the heart of Arkansas. Terrain there is very similar to NW Arkansas described above with climbs providing a few hundred feet of elevation gain before descending or meandering along a ridgeline. The biggest difference is that the prior trails were encompassed by society while these trails are out there. The entire trip has been spent riding on trail systems near adjacent communities and never really being away from people. Cresting the ridgeline of the Lake Ouachita Vista trail reminded me why I love biking in the West. You can get away from it all and just enjoy the views. That is just what I did.
With western states on the horizon it’s hard to even imagine we have come this far. I am forever grateful to my family for going on this adventure with me. Although at times it can seem small, our world is vast and can never be completely explored. I know this trip will continue to keep providing new experiences and creating bonds with my wife and son. It will also keep strengthening my love for exploration on two wheels and seeking adventure. After Christmas in Idaho it’s on to Texas! Who’s coming to Big Bend to get some dirt under their tires and avoid the cold weather up north?!!