Monday, December 2, 2013

New Mountain Bike and Chickasaw Trace Park

I recently converted my 2009 Specialized Hard Rock Sport to a single speed due to continuing problems with the rear derailleur (one of the mechanisms that changes gear) but it soon became clear that the Hard Rock was in need of major expenditure and retrofitting to get it working again after I shattered a rear sprocket on Chilhowee Mountain. Since I had been preparing for the expense of a new and better mountain bike for over 2 years, instead of investing more money in the low end Specialized I went shopping at 3 different bike shops and finally found a good deal (~30% off) on a new 2013 Trek Superfly 100 Elite 29er with an aluminum frame at a Scott's Bikes in Cleveland, Tennessee. It was a brand new bike and was discounted only because the 2014 models were available.

The author with new bike and post-Thanksgiving "turkey gut." I've actually been working on the gut for weeks but I'm in that phase where you feel better but don't yet look better. I know from experience that I just need to keep knocking out the push-ups and crunches. In the background: the valley of the Duck River and Middle Tennessee knobs of the Highland Rim (knobs = steep-sided hills - think "baby mountains").
I took the new bike to my Mom's house in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for Thanksgiving in hopes of getting out for a ride on Black Friday. I was pretty disappointed when I found the back wheel had gone flat during the trip up from Georgia to Middle Tennessee, although it wasn't entirely unexpected as the shop had warned me that tubeless tires often go flat sometime after first inflation. Unfortunately I was not able to correct the problem myself and mangled the valve trying. I'm used to Schrader valves but the new tires have Presta valves. I headed over to a local bike shop in Murfreesboro to get the problem corrected. Props to MOAB for making the ride happen. I also got some good local advice to go to Chickasaw Trace Park near Columbia, Tennessee for a good trail system with a variety of terrain.

Since I added clipless pedals to the new bike, this would be an adventure. Clipless pedals counter-intuitively involve wearing special shoes that have a "cleat" on the bottom that clips into a spring-loaded mechanism on special pedals so that your feet are locked to the pedals. They are called clipless because they replaced a previous technology called "clips" that are now obsolete. The new tech is called SPD, although it is no longer new really. I was accustomed to using traditional platform pedals where you can just wear any old shoes (I usually wore trail running shoes) and stand on the pedals like we all did when we were kids. You can escape clipless pedals by twisting your foot outwards but you have to think about it. It takes about 1 to 2 seconds to escape from clipless pedals and to make a long story short, you can crash in less than 2 seconds - so that happened.

The park I was visiting is a Maury County (Tennessee) public property located on the periphery of a landfill, alongside the Duck River. The landfill is still in operation and can be seen from some of the higher ground in the park. Why are landfills always built next to rivers? I've yet to see a landfill that is not built right along a major perennial stream.

An obstructed view of the Duck River from the trail system. This is not far from where I had my first clipless crash. I was coming to a stop and basically forgot that I needed to unclip and fell on my multi-thousand-dollar knee. Yeah, that hurt.

The landfill near the entrance to the park.
I realized after I had been riding for a while that I actually went to the wrong place at first, beginning at the Duck River public access point rather than a trailhead with better signage near the entrance to the park. This wasn't troubling since the terrain there was forgiving for getting used to a new bike. I started out in some grassy fields on the flood plain of the Duck. It was easy riding and I figured out how to clip into my pedals and tried to start getting used to the feeling of being locked to the bike. I managed not to fall off but that did not last long after I decided to hit the real single-track trail that led into the woods. I came around a corner and saw a short but steep climb around a giant tree that had fallen and decided I might not make it. I began stopping the bike, remembered that I was actually clipped to my pedals too late, and promptly fell over hard onto my right side before I could get unclipped, landing on the knee I had surgery on many years ago. It hurt, and my right shoulder got jammed, but nothing broken. I walked the bike over the climb and continued.

Some of the more technical trail at Chickasaw Trace. I walked some of this even though it was well within my ability. I had already fallen by this time and I did not want to fall on rock. Mountain biking is a confidence game. The faster you go, the easier it is, but the greater the consequences if you crash. If you have any doubts then you start hiking.
I rode the trails clockwise, and eventually this led along the Duck River and a tributary creek called Knob Creek. The creek looks like a half-way decent whitewater run, although it is small enough that there might be some issues with logs blocking the channel based upon the narrow width.

This is an interesting feature in the tributary Knob Creek. This channel looks artificial at a glance but it appeared to be natural upon closer examination. I interpret the sharp cleavage planes as a natural feature of the rock. I'd love to run this in a kayak at higher flow.
If you ride clockwise from the river access point, the trails become gradually more difficult as you progress and eventually I hit some features that I had to walk my bike over, and also spun out the back tire on the autumn leaf layer on a climb and fell over (thankfully on the uphill side of the trail). It knocked out my wind but other than that wasn't too bad.

Roller coaster section on the more advanced trails. Normally I would have hit these with fury but a couple of crashes made me hesitant and I had trouble carrying enough momentum through them. It ended up being part hard work and part hike-a-bike.

A nice bamboo grove somewhere in the middle of the trail system.
There is a trail that runs along and eventually crosses through a pretty cool ravine. It's surprising to find such a neat place at low elevation in Middle Tennessee. The photographer failed to capture a sense of depth here but the ravine is extremely rugged and steep and equally so in the upstream direction from this photo.
A distant view of the remote controlled aircraft field with Middle Tennessee knobs in the background. I suspect this land might be covered-over landfill but not sure.

Eventually my knees started to bother me and the sun got low in the sky and it started to get cold so I took a shortcut that probably cut off the last mile of the trail system. I was glad to be back at the truck. I picked up some fast food on the way home and made the long drive back to Ringgold. It was a pretty successful first run on my new bike, with only a couple of true crashes, plus some other minor incidents, mostly a result of unfamiliarity with being clipped onto the pedals. The trail system at Chickasaw Trace is nice and I'm glad I got a chance to ride it, but probably not worth driving over 2 hours considering that I live in the Appalachians and have numerous better options within 1 hour of home. Still, it was a fun ride.

The Derryberry Log Cabin is on the site and dates back to the early 1800s, before it was legal to settle in the area. Obviously it's had quite a bit of maintenance in the interim 200 years. The roof is definitely "non-period."
Strava details below.