On Trail with the IMBA TCC
I heard that quote this morning while listening to National Public Radio. The NPR narrator explained that what Thoreau meant was that often times you can find what you need closer to home than expected. This was one of the points Scott Linnenburger of the Subaru/I.M.B.A. trail care crew made this past weekend at a trail building session in south-central Ohio. Although destinations such as Moab, Tsali, and British Columbia are certainly worth exploring, people can create their own mountain bike Mecca at home with a little hard work, the right leadership and of course a place to ride.
American Electric Power was responsible for having reclaimed 30,000 acres of strip-mined land southeast of Zanesville, Ohio (not too far from Columbus). The “ReCreation Lands” included provisions for camping, hunting, boating, fishing horseback riding and hiking, however there was no mountain bike trails. Central Ohio Mountain Biking Organization president and Ohio I.M.B.A. representative Matt Ogle began to change all that early in the year 2000.
As of July 2001, COMBO had over 1800 hours of time invested in the construction of the AEP trails, and subsequently opened the first 3-mile loop that summer. Although three miles might not sound like a lot, you would understand the magnitude of their accomplishments if you were to try your hand at carving trail on land so unnaturally shaped by the hand of man. Additionally, the trail offers enough sustained climbing in the first three miles that even advanced riders will be challenged.
A rough-and-tumble group of not quite twenty individuals had assembled for a trailbuilding session on August 3—despite the 90-degree heat. Most members of the group were part of COMBO, though some people had traveled from Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana, as well. The task at hand was simply to continue working towards the completion of Phase II. Building a bench cut on an 85° hillside proved to be more challenging and time consuming than expected, however significant progress was made.
We waited until the scorching sun set to get our first taste of the AEP trails. I for one had been itching for a night ride, and was overjoyed at what south-central Ohio had to offer. The hard packed clay trails were fast, yet the twists, turns and climbs kept everyone honest. A number of bridges connected the course and the occasional wooden obstacle kept things as interesting as did the trails that crept along 50-foot cliffs. Many of the climbing switchbacks seemed to demand that one defy gravity while rounding the bend, however gravity certainly had its way with each rider who plunged down the numerous fall line chutes.
Our group reconvened after riding Phase I, and shrunk by more than half before delving into what was completed of Phase II. The foliage increased along the trail and for a moment I felt as though we were being used as human machetes—clearing pesky thorn branches with our forearms and shins. I began to really feel at home as we encountered large downed trees which had yet to be chainsawed. The trail featured much of the same terrain as Phase I, however many obstacles (such as the foot high tree stump that sent my friend Scott flying) still needed some attention.
The following day meant a drive back to Pittsburgh for Brad and myself, but the TCC and COMBO folks headed back out for another hot session of summertime trail building. As we sped up interstate 77 and west across 70, I thought about the thick, heavy clay that would be sticking to the trail tools and the underground water that was making the benchcut even more difficult. For a moment I was glad I wasn’t wrenching my lower back on the trail again. Then I thought about how sweet it was zipping down the gravity chutes, standing up and climbing the benchcut hillside, and trying to keep Ez (a really fast singlespeeder) within eyeshot. Suddenly I felt bad for not sticking around to help build trail on Sunday. But I realized that there would be more opportunities to help build and maintain trails in my own state, my own city, and my own backyard.
One-speed aficionados may want to take note—the AEP trails serve as the site for the Ohio Singlespeed State Championships, which are scheduled to take place September 1, 2002 as part of the second annual Power Surge mountain bike race. For more information on COMBO and the AEP ReCreation area, visit www.joincombo.org and when you go out for a visit tell them Dirt Rag sent you.
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