I heard some rumors, stirrings, and enough talk from the right people to really want to check it out all summer.
"Better than Pisgah."
"The best in Tennessee."
"Some super technical riding."
And more muttering that just continued to peak my interest...and curiosity.
After a summers worth of digging, asking the only person I knew that rode there to take me (scheduling never worked out), and a whole bunch of curiosity, I finally found the .gpx file for the Holy Grail of trails that lies on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina but never leaves the Volunteer State. Couldn't have been luckier to find it on a Friday! Instead of waiting for anticipation to build, I asked Allie if she wanted to do a real butt kicker of a ride on Sunday. We just got her bike about 2 weeks ago, but we've been riding about 3 times a week since then. I told her it was going to be bigger than anything she's ridden so far, and there were a few options we could choose from once we reached the top of the first 1200ft section of hike-a-bike. On Friday night I showed her the map along with the elevation changes.
"Let's do it" she said without any hesitation.
On Saturday night, I set our alarm for 7:30am the following morning and went to bed around 10pm. As I lay in bed, stoked about doing not only my first backcountry ride of the summer, but Allie's first backcountry ride ever, I started to second guess my decision to take her into a ride like this.
"Maybe everyone keeps it a secret for a reason."
"Maybe she's not ready."
"Maybe I'm making a bad judgement call."
I tossed & turned for a few hours while these thoughts went back in forth in my head until I finally drifted off.
The 7:30 alarm went off way too early so we snoozed it for about 15 minutes until I could finally drag myself out of bed. I headed down stairs to make a pot of coffee and load our gear while Allie got Olin ready to hang out with her Grandpa for the day. We were on the road by 9am, which if you have kids and dogs you know is an accomplishment within itself.
Around 10:30, we arrived at the 1300ft trailhead after stopping to get fuel. The trail head has an incredible location that parallels the French Broad River, great for an after ride swim. We began our ride without any delay and began down the Forest Service road that would bring us to an over grown two track and up the first climb. The two track eventually narrowed into familiar man made, old school, burly single track.
We continued on through this mixture of hike-a-bike and "pedal when you can" for about an hour and a half total.
At about 1 mile into the ride and 500 feet of climbing, we encountered a nice, big tree and a bunch of its' branches laying sideways across the trail. Allie was carrying her bike up and over behind me, before I even had my bike all the way across and could ask her if she needed a hand.
We pushed on after a few breaks, until we made it to 1200ft and the intersection with 3 different route options from the 2536ft summit.
The view was amazing. A dramatic, swooping view of the French Broad River with layers of mountains surrounding us in every direction. Absolutely spectacular.
Now was time to make a decision. One way led us to a 1000ft descent into another 1000ft climb and finish it with another 1200 ft descent. We could turn around and head back the way we came and make the ride an "out & back", or there was a third trail that I did not have on my GPS. Looking at where we were on the map and where the trail would intersect if we chose the route with the additional climb, we speculated that the third trail may meet up at that point. At that time we made the call to ride the third, unmarked trail to see where it went. About half a mile in, it looked like it was going to meet up exactly where we thought, right at the beginning of the 3 mile and 1200 ft descent back to the car.
Allie ate a quick snack and we began the downhill. This was going to be her longest and most technical descent yet. We were both stoked! One issue she had was getting too focused on the steep exposure next to the trail, instead of looking at the trail itself. After a bit of advice and a few tips, we took it a good pace, moved some fallen tree & down branch from the trail, and took a few breaks on the way down. On the way down I also helped her with proper positioning on the bike as well as how to get over small little drops and rocks.
She had the most priceless response when I told her that we had only a few more switchbacks until the road. "Already?" she asked jokingly.
By the time we got back to the car we were both smiling from ear to ear.
With a total time of 2 hours and 45 minutes to ride the trail, take photos, and breaks, I was very impressed.
Our plan is to go back in the next few weeks and do the slightly longer 12 mile loop that features 2300ft of climbing.
All in all it was a great ride. I'd have to say this is now in my Top 5 trails.
The icing on the cake is the ability to take a swim in the French Broad River to rinse off before the drive back home.
Our final numbers for the day were just shy of 7 miles, 1400ft of climbing, and on the road home at 1:20pm. Not Bad.
Dogs & Diapers