Tennessee Trails, Take Me Home

After a long, wet winter, I needed some dirt.

With the mountain bike trails around my Indiana home too muddy to ride, I picked up my buddy Jimmy and pointed the Forester south to Nashville. The temperature was about 10 degrees warmer than what we’d been suffering through this Hoosier farce of a spring, and from what I could tell from the Internet chatter, the Tennessee trails seemed to be in fairly decent shape. A little over four hours later, under overcast skies, we were rolling up to the Montgomery Bell State Park trailhead near Dickson, Tenn.

The plan was simple. Since this was our first trail ride of the season, we would stick to the two easier trail systems at first, easing our way up to the two harder levels by the end of the day. A couple of riders we encountered at the trailhead told us the 20-plus miles of trails were marked fairly well, so we knew there was no way for us to get lost. Just to be safe, I quickly took a snapshot of the trail map with my phone, then threw my leg over the Giant’s top tube and pedaled into the trees.

Jimmy was already in front of me, his tiny legs a blur on his new 650B rigid singlespeed. He knew my cautious nature on technical singletrack and was soon launching a few short attacks, trying to get me to breach my comfort zone. As he dipped beneath the horizon, I accelerated, determined to catch his wheel. The oak and hickory trees disappeared behind me as I picked up speed, catching him as he was powering up a short rise. He might be more fearless on the trail, but I had the benefit of 2X10 gearing and could easily catch him on the hills.One of the reasons we came to Tennessee was for the hills, and they did not disappoint. The trails didn’t flow in the same manner as the ones back home, and climbing felt like more of a chore at times. But it was dirt, it was new, and we were having fun.

My biggest flaw as a traveler and a cyclist is my inability to follow even the simplest of maps. If I were born five centuries ago, I would have been the hapless mariner piloting his vessel over the edge of the earth. So it shouldn’t have been a shock when we soon realized we’d ventured into the more difficult terrain we wanted to avoid at the start.

The Esses and Chain Reaction are great fun, with fast, bermed turns and some nice downhills, but by the third time we rode over them, my frustration was starting to show. The terrain wasn’t nearly as technical as we had feared, but we didn’t drive four-plus hours to ride the same section of trail multiple times. Finally, after studying the map harder than my 15-year-old self-examining a dog-eared Playboy, we were finally able to navigate our way onto new trail.

That’s when the sleet started.

The tree cover protected us from the brunt of the storm, but we were still pelted by the slushy hail. The weather motivated to throw caution to the wind and sprint back to the trailhead. Seconds after our tires hit the gravel trail leading to the parking lot, the skies cleared and the sleet stopped. We briefly considered riding back into the woods, but decided beers sounded better.

The next day would prove to be less cartographically challenging. Lock 4 Mountain Bike Park, located on the other side of Nashville in Gallatin, Tenn., is a wonderfully laid out, nine-plus mile trail system that offers a wealth of terrain, including a couple of short switchbacks that could stop you in your tracks if you don’t gear down fast enough. The trails were in great shape, save for one section of the trail that was taped off, the rains a week before making it a muddy mess.

Over all, Lock 4’s rooty singletrack was super fast, with well-marked bailouts before the most difficult technical sections. Being that rock gardens are my kryptonite as a rider, the only section that gave me any real difficulty was a narrow, stone-strewn climb that tested my nerve as much as my technical skills.

We did just a few laps at Lock 4, pausing near the top of one of the climbs to admire Old Hickory Lake, which surrounds the park on three sides. It was a beautiful day, and more than a few riders were on the trail on that Wednesday afternoon, playing hooky from work, just like us.

We were rained out the next day, and afterward it was time to break out the road bikes. But I’d gotten the dirt I needed, and that was enough.

So you want to ride the singletrack near Nashville? Find out trail conditions, get directions and trail maps at tennesseemountainbike.com.