My friend Stacy arranged to meet some of her friends Dave and Paul at the mountain bike trail system at the Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) near Tullahoma, Tennessee to explore a place that had been on her list for a while. She also was running an errand to exchange some cash for a used dry suit (for paddling whitewater) for a friend, which made the trip feel a little like a smuggling run. Nonetheless, I quickly decided that I was up for the adventure because AEDC had also been on my list since I first started riding in 2009 and there would be a guide familiar with the trails along to show the way. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. Things started off inauspiciously as it was raining in Lookout Valley when we met up to carpool from the Chattanooga area but after we got rolling, we drove out of the rain in short order and although overcast it was quite warm for mid-December.
I had messaged ahead for my friend Kenny Warwick to meet us at AEDC at the appointed time so the group grew to 5, the largest group I have ridden with so far. Everybody was running significantly early although Kenny had forgotten his helmet and trail map at home. He decided to go ahead and ride anyway. The parking lot for the trail is not well marked at all. Fortunately Stacy had good directions in an email from one of her friends so we found it on the first try although we felt no certainty until we got quite close.
|Why is everyone breathing hard?|
|Guide Paul on the right.|
The AEDC trail system was built over an abandoned gunnery range. The Air Force issues warnings not to touch any ordnance you might come across. While worrisome, I assumed crashing my bike was probably a much greater threat so I decided to worry about that instead. The area is mostly forested, with a few power line cuts and some fire road double track threading through it. The trails are mostly single track but wander onto the double track from time to time. The terrain is fairly level with only short climbs. The trail builders took advantage of the forest to make up for the lack of topographical relief and there are frequent sections of trail that setup a relentless slalom between and around the trees, with many tight turns threatening to throw you into an oak or pine. Speaking of pines, the trail system features long stretches of quiet, needle carpeted trail, one of my favorite things. I love the muffled sounds and the open forest understory of a stand of pines. Of course, these pines are almost certainly artificially planted due to the trail system being on the grounds of an Air Force base. This reminded me quite a bit of the Saul Raisin Woods trail system just outside Dalton, Georgia, which is built on a remediated landfill. Remediation is great, but you can always tell the difference from natural forest and topography.
|Sunny double track at a point where the single track crosses over. At times the trail signs direct you down some of this.|
I still do not entirely comprehend the trail system there but it’s pretty unique in that most of the trail seems to actually be a single trail, numbered in order with sections of increasing difficulty, so that the farther you ride, the more difficult the trail is. It’s as if the trail designers were actually video game designers. I kind of expected to have to beat a “boss” villain in the last segment before I could get back to my car.
|Trail numbers mark segments rather than separate trails. If ridden in order the difficulty increases with the number.|
Eventually Dave and Kenny tired out and took an option to return to the parking lot where the trail system crosses over the road. By that time I would say we had ridden at least 5 or 6 miles and it was still at least that much further by following the trail to get back, so they were cutting off quite a bit of trail that would have had to be ridden. It’s nice to have these options to turn back if you find yourself struggling.
Somewhere around trail segment 15 or 16 you go through a quite intense slalom between some pines and end up riding along Woods Reservoir, with the Cumberland Plateau escarpment in the background. The afternoon sun on the lake made for some great views. The reservoir has developed some nice gravel beaches along the lake shore. This section was nice for the technical riding and for the scenery but as is often the case when you are riding close to water, there were too many roots. Soon I was longing for a full suspension bike. I was hoping to have one by now but it’s always a question of money and priorities and I haven’t found the time right yet. Someday soon hopefullyJ
|The escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau on the far side of Woods Reservoir.|
|My guess is this was once a blind for hunting waterfowl?|
|Gravel beach on Woods Reservoir in the afternoon sun.|
Finally we crossed back over the road and got into the high numbered trail segments (high being over 20) and were approaching the car. My right knee was starting to complain and the trail crossed over a series of ravines, or perhaps it was the same ravine over and over again. Either way this resulted in some short but steep climbs, which would not have signified much to me if they had not been so thoroughly covered with roots. Classic East Coast mountain biking – too many roots. Soon I was daydreaming about Colorado Front Range trail again. We finally made it back to the parking lot. As we were approaching the cars, I heard Stacy scream behind me. She had run over a hapless chipmunk that had run in front of her tires. I’m not sure what to make of that but it was an unpleasant end to an otherwise pleasant ride. We shook hands, loaded up and headed back to Chattanooga for some Mexican food. It was a great day on a new trail. I’d rate the AEDC trail system as entertaining but only medium compared to much of the trail near Chattanooga. Still, I’d go back.
[Use caution if you go because hunting is allowed in the forest and it is closed to non-hunting users at certain times of year.]