Monday, June 9, 2014

Mountain Biking - Urban Assault on Chattanooga

One of the fun things about riding a mountain bike is that they can be ridden virtually anywhere, over any surface, and even over significant obstacles. You are limited not by the bike, but by your own skill, strength, and courage (foolishness). For this reason, mountain bikers sometimes choose to ride through the city rather than on the literal mountain. There are plenty of places to ride a mountain bike in city besides the obvious roads. By tradition, this is referred to as an "urban assault."

Over the last decade or more, Chattanooga has been building up a series of interconnected greenways that are very popular for bicycling. Unfortunately, not all the segments are linked up yet, so I decided to explore a new section that has not been connected by making my way through back streets to create my own connection.


Typical greenway trail in Chattanooga. This is a section of the Tennessee River Park.

I got up unusually early and went to Cracker Barrel for large breakfast and headed out with my bike shortly after 8 am. I decided to park along the Tennessee River Park in a central location that would also allow me access via roads to the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway in a new section that floats disconnected from both the Tennessee River Park and the rest of South Chickamauga Creek Greenway.

I first headed across Amnicola Highway and onto a side street, hoping to avoid any significant traffic. This gave me a lovely view into the labyrinth of light industry and warehousing that exists in that part of town. I found myself along the back of the fire department training facility and saw their fake high-rise building and torn up old cars that have obviously been used to practice with the jaws of life. It was kind of interesting but not scenic.


Firefighter training center with old beat up cars available for practices extractions with the jaws of life and probably other tools as well. Note the fake high rise building in the background.


Since I was riding through a somewhat deserted section of road at that point, I took the opportunity to try out a maneuver called the bunny hop, which I have previously found difficult to do when riding platform pedals. I watched a YouTube video the other day that made it clear how to do it with SPD pedals and I found I was able to pretty easily do small bunny hops, although I can see that doing large ones is difficult and possibly not something I will ever be able to do considering my age and, ahem, weight. I managed not to take myself out on any curbs anyway. Real urban assaults include things like jumping off loading docks and the like. I'm too old for that and even when I was young I was too old for that.

Unfortunately I made a turn too early and ended up on a truck route and got flipped off and shouted as a work truck full of a lawn mowing crew passed me. It's also a marked bike route but I was trying to avoid using it anyway since I had a feeling something like that might happen. That's why I said I made the turn too early. I should have gone up a few more blocks. The road isn't that busy, they just had to follow me for 20 or 30 seconds until an oncoming dump track passed. Unfortunately the roadside was a deep ditch in that stretch so I had no choice but to keep riding. If you go through life looking for things to hate, you will find them. Lowlifes.

The lovely sinuous boardwalk of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway. It looks rainy and leafless because this photo was taken back in late winter. It was actually perfect weather last Saturday.


Eventually the route to the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway opens up a bit and I was able to avoid other issues by riding off into the grassy edges, through potholes, and over curbs and therefore stay out of the way of the light truck traffic. The greenway itself is lovely for most of the length, and features very long stretches of boardwalk and neat bridges with occasional views of the creek. Like most urban greenways it also crosses roads and behind housing developments but for the most part it's a nice stretch. There is an old barn with a silo made of natural stone that is pretty cool.
Pretty cool looking barn along the greenway with a silo made of natural stone. Photo taken March 22, 2014.

I've hiked the greenway before but did not get to the end of it so I pushed on and rode the whole thing. It eventually turns to gravel and joins into a very minor back street. It's almost rural. There were several boarded up houses in a poor state despite not being that old. I found that suspicious. In this part of the country that usually can mean only one thing: meth. Hopefully I'm just jumping to wrong conclusions. This street joined into another road that did not look favorable for bike riding so I turned around and made my way back.

On the way back I noticed that the mowing crew was just finishing up and about to leave so I went ahead and pulled into a driveway to let them go by. I didn't want to give them an opportunity to do anything truly stupid. They were quickly gone and again I avoided the official bike route and wandered a few blocks further over looking for a way back to Amnicola, riding up a few more sloped ramps and through potholes and such before finally getting back to where I knew where I was. It was a fun side excursion.

I checked on my truck and since I had only ridden about an hour and really wanted a much longer ride I went onto the Tennessee Riverpark for a very scenic ride along the Tennessee River. I used to run on the Riverpark all the time (back when I ran) but I had forgotten how interesting it is. It too goes through some industrial parks but also features beautiful wetlands, has numerous good views of the Tennessee River and the surrounding mountains, and visits some of the more interesting places in town, like the enormous Chickamauga Dam and the Bluff View Art District, which is poised high on rocky cliffs over the river right next to downtown. Unfortunately the River Bend music festival is going on right now so it was too crowded for me to ride on into Chattanooga's revamped and now somewhat famous downtown riverfront and North Shore areas, which are connected by a pedestrian bridge and a remodeled draw bridge. Chattanooga is a neat place to live.

There are several neat bridges on both greenways. This one has loose planks that create a thunderous sound when you ride a bicycle on them.
The entrance to the practice field for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team is located right on the greenway.

There are some amazing views of the Tennessee River, the city, and the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau region. That is Raccoon Mountain on the left, Elder Mountain in the middle.
Lilly pads cover a sizable pond that sits between Amnicola Highway and the Tennessee River. There used to be beaver lodges in here but I read that the state trapped the beavers and blew up the lodges. I have no idea why they would do that other than they were afraid the beaver would eat all the trees. If someone knows a good reason, feel free to leave a comment below. That is Lookout Mountain peaking over the treeline.
McClellan Island and the Walnut Street Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that connects Chattanooga's wonderfully walkable downtown river front with the North Shore business district and the North Chattanooga neighborhood on the steep streets of Stringers Ridge. This overlook is available at the Bluff View Art District.
The old wing of the Hunter Museum of American Art.
A view of the side streets adjacent to downtown of the "new" Chattanooga. Those are pretty expensive apartments and condominiums. The street is blocked off because the Riverbend music festival is going on right now. They have a huge floating stage built on a barge moored along the riverfront and tens of thousands of people mob downtown for a week. I pretty much hate it.
A view over the Veterans Bridge. One of the benefits of greenways is that they usually allow you to avoid having to ride or walk on wide, busy streets.
Another wetland along the River Park.
Ok, the River Park is not 100% awesome. There was a very worrisome chemical smell in the air along here.
The River Park passes right through an industrial park in this area, but it's still clean and nice and is much less crowded than the sections further downstream by downtown.

It ended up being a very long but pretty interesting ride. I could have done it much faster but I got such a good feeling from my explorations, the scenery, and the blue skies that I started taking a bunch of photos. I don't consider the ride to have been a waste of time. If I could afford to waste the rest of my life exploring the world on my bicycle I would happily do so.

Here is the GPS track from Strava. Cheers!