on mountain bike trails and not everything can be a 10

On this trip, I have been fortunate to stop off at some destination-worthy mountain bike trails in Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. Previous to this trip, even, even I have been lucky to ride some world-class trails in Vermont, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Texas (Louisiana, Arkansas…)

On this trip, I have also stopped off at some mountain bike trails that are not destination-worthy; I would not recommend building a trip around these; nobody vacations cross-state or cross-country to ride in De Soto National Forest in Mississippi or the Blackwater River State Forest in northern Florida.

one of my favorite trails back “home”

But you know, I find inspiration in these places, too. A different kind of inspiration. Horry County Bike & Run Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was a surprise: in this coastal plain of flat sandy country, a sweet little 7-mile course involves lots of berms and even pumps and jumps. Many of these were constructed using carpeting, admittedly. But it was a fun ride, and I appreciate a local community that makes its sport work where it must. I come from a trail system like this. Nobody travels to Houston, Texas for the mountain biking. There is something comforting and admirable about trail-building in the places that are not the Pisgah, the Moab slickrock, or the steepnesses of British Columbia.

As I shop for a place to settle, I’m not necessarily looking for the world-class destination. For one thing, I know the lines will be so long (and all that that means). But a local community that invests in its imperfect topography? That’s for me.

just another day in Brevard

Rode another trail, this one in the Dupont State Forest, and the most fun I’ve had/the most suited to my style and the trails I’ve loved most in the past. A wonderful fun ride! Hops and I then traveled a few miles further into Hendersonville, and checked out two dog-friendly breweries. After a delightful and relaxing afternoon I returned to the campsite to cook my dinner, only to find that my stove & fuel had been stolen during the day.

I was angry with myself for leaving them unattended, and embarrassed at my own role in the theft. But then again, this is common practice in every campground I’ve known – and in driving around this one, I see lots of tents, piles of gear, chairs, and yes, stoves, left unattended. So I’m also very angry with whomever took advantage of the opportunity to steal from me my chance to cook my own dinner. In the grand scheme, of course, it’s not that great a loss, financially. I’ve been very lucky on the whole. When Foxy got hit-and-run in Houston, that was another difficult piece of ugly humanity to deal with; but that one turned out fine, financially, thanks to my insurance policy. And this one will be fine, too. It’s just money, and not that much of it. I’ve mostly been very lucky.

This is how I spent the next hour or two of my evening: working to process my feelings, to be upset but also philosophical and not too weepy. I’m still a lucky woman in this life.

Then I pulled it together and made the drive up to Asheville to the nearest REI, where I spent my annual dividend and then some replacing the stove – I got the exact same thing, having shopped and found nothing better suited. And then, what the heck, I was so nearby the Mills River location of Sierra Nevada… I had thought I’d miss this brewery, but why not? One beer later I was headed back for camp. And as Hops and I snuggled in for the night, I thought again: I’m so lucky. I love this life.

a week in Brevard

It’s been lovely here, and there’s so much riding I didn’t want to miss, and I found a decent campsite, so I’ve just stayed.

I’m camped in the Pisgah National Forest, in an improved campground with toilets and showers and water, for a very modest price. There’s even an old church on the grounds, which is not a service I require, but it’s very pretty.

English Chapel

A wooden version was originally built here in 1860; as it fell apart, the rock church replaced it in 1910.

I have been doing the usual: reading, writing, riding, and hiking with Hops. And enjoying the local breweries.

Next up is Greenville, SC, and happily I ran into a couple at a brewery the other day who live there, so they gave me some brewery and restaurant tips. They were fans of Hops (and, I guess, hops). It’s a lovely world, most days.

Mulberry Gap

Holy smokes, y’all, this one is a find! Leaving the Atlanta area, I headed a little north just past the town of Ellijay to Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way. It’s a special spot in the woods where you can camp or rent a cabin, pay for lovely meals to be prepared for you, buy a beer, and most importantly, ride straight onto some fine trails and gravel roads. (Services also include guided rides, shuttles, and map consults. All services à la carte – meaning you can cook for yourself, etc.) This is a magical place.

Hops and I parked the van, took in a few meals, and listened to the creeks burble along. I did a short ride alone but was quickly set up with some other guests who took me out on some self-shuttled adventures. Even with shuttling, I climbed nearly 2000 feet each ride: these are hilly parts. My first night there – a night on which they were technically ‘closed’ – I was invited to share beer & pizza with a small group including the proprietors and a few friend/guests. Within hours of meeting, guys were handing me keys to their trucks to drive up & down mountains. The mountain bike community is a special one. I mostly keep well to myself on this trip, other than visiting with people I already knew before beginning. This couple of days was the first time I’ve really made new friends, and it was such a delight. Thanks to Kate & Andrew for the above-and-beyond hospitality; Alan of Walking Tree Brewery for beer & companionship; Greg for taking charge, pushing me, and even a bike wash (!); and Scottie of Club Ride for the ride, the gear, and talk of the future. I’m humbled.

For my mountain biking buddies out there, I highly recommend this experience. It’s remote – no cell service, and very spotty wifi. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The trails are plentiful and challenging, mostly in terms of climbing, but with some whooping fun downhills as well. Routes tend to include some gravel road as well. There’s more here than I could ride in a few days, even with shuttle assistance. I’d be thrilled to hang out for a week, like Greg was doing. The food is very good, the beer selection likewise, great company – really, this is the destination you’ve been looking for. Heartily recommended.

near Atlanta

There has been pie; a Mexican brunch; beer; and trails. I’ve mountain biked at Blankets Creek a few times, and Hops and I have hiked. That is our deal: I ride while he naps in the van (temperatures permitting), and then I take him out on the same trails. Repeat. Sometimes I find a bar or brewery afterward that we can enjoy together, too.

Most days I get to read, write, ride, and walk around with my partner in this wild and varied life. I’m the luckiest woman I know.

day two, Asheville

I can see it’s going to take me some time to take this town in.

A fine morning: I put in some work, and then headed into the woods. Hops and I took a short hike and I rode some trails in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, which (as far as I can tell) is part of Pisgah National Forest. The trails were not terribly technically challenging, but the climbing was a challenge for me. And descending so fun!

climbing in Bent Creek

For comparison I went back and looked up a similar picture I took in 2015 or thereabouts…

in the Chuckanut Mountains of Washington state, near Bellingham

I put in some more time reading (oh, this life) and then met up with some friends for dinner and drinks – Larry, from just last week, and our friend Velicia are in town for a conference this coming weekend.

And I spotted this list of live shows coming up, which is part of what’s making it hard to leave town.

Lucinda! Todd Snider! Tank and the Bangas! (as always, click to enlarge)

Good problems, friends. Good night for now.

trail’s end

Boone and on

A new state!

Hops and I rolled into Boone, NC in the afternoon, checked out the town a bit before bed…

And the next morning, I rode the gorgeous trails at Rocky Knob.

By the time I finished, though, I was very dirty and very cold. We fled to lower elevations, finding a perfectly lovely spot in the Pisgah National Forest.

While I enjoyed Boone very much, the presence of ski equipment (cold!!) and lack of visible diversity make this a place I’d visit, not live.

Asheville tomorrow, though…

good night. (night sky near Catawba Falls)