Take A Hike! (For National Trails Day)

The American Hiking Society has declared today National Trails Day across the U.S. in an effort to encourage all of us to get outside and visit our favorite trail. This annual celebration of the outdoors serves as a reminder of the fantastic natural resources that we have around us and how important it is for our general health and well being to connect with nature on a regular basis.

With more than 200,000 miles of trails across the country, the U.S. has one of the best trail systems in the entire world. No matter where you live, chances are there is a great trail nearby just waiting to be explored. Many of those trails even offer mixed-use access, so even if you’re not a fan of hiking, you can go mountain biking or horseback riding along the route. There are even plenty of popular paddling trails too, giving kayakers and whitewater rafters a chance to join in on the fun.

In celebration of National Trails Day there are events scheduled to take place in all 50 states. Those activities include guided hikes, trail running events, group rides and much, much more. There are also numerous opportunities to join a volunteer group conducting trail building exercises. Those activities will repair damage to existing trails and conduct work on building new ones.

Whether you take part in one of these organized events or simply stroll a favorite trail through your neighborhood, the important thing to remember is to just get outside today. Turn the cellphone off, leave the iPod behind and spend a little time enjoying nature. It won’t cost you anything and chances are you’ll feel a whole lot richer for the experience.

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park To Open In Time For Memorial Day

Good news for mountain bikers looking to hit a trail this long Memorial Day Weekend. The fabulous Mammoth Mountain Bike Park will open to riders this Saturday, kicking off another great summer season with a variety of trail options for riders of all skill levels.

Located in California‘s scenic Sierra Nevada range, Mammoth Mountain is a year-round outdoor playground for those who like to get away from it all. In the winter it offers some of the premiere skiing in all of North America and in the summer the bike park opens for a completely different type of fun. The park offers more than 80 miles of trail that includes cross-country, single-track routes with breathtaking views and adrenaline-inducing downhill courses for the more adventurous amongst us.

Mammoth Mountain’s trails offer gentle riding for beginners and more technical and leg-straining options for the experienced mountain biker. When the park opens on Saturday at least 12 of its trails will be ready for action. If you’re already familiar with what the park has to offer, the list of trails that will be open include: Downtown, UpTown, Big Ring, Paper Route, Juniper, Timber Ridge, Shotgun, Lower Pipeline, Lower Bullet Lakes Trail and Pioneer Practice Loop.

To celebrate the opening of the park for the summer, Mammoth is also offering an outstanding deal for this weekend. Just $69 will get you both lodging and a bike pass good for unlimited riding. You’ll have a hard time getting on this course for less cash than that anytime soon. What a great way to kick off the summer!

Sonya Looney: World-Class Mountain Biker, Traveler

The only thing Sonya Looney racks up faster than victories on the international mountain bike circuit is frequent flier miles.

Between racing and her day job – she works in sales and marketing for Ergon, one of her cycling sponsors – Looney’s on the road two weeks out of every month, so she’s picked up her share of favorite spots across the globe. Stamps from Haiti, Nepal, Germany, Costa Rica and Brazil line the pages of her passport.

But despite visiting some of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots across the globe, it can be hard for the Topeak Ergon Racing Team rider to focus on the scenery as she’s screaming by on her Canyon mountain bike.

Although the fun-loving Looney has the effervescent air of the stereotypical girl next door, she’s an incredible competitor and a tough-as-nails athlete, as evidenced by her multiple national cycling championships and incredible racing pedigree. During the recent 10-day Yak Attack in Nepal – she won the overall race in 2012 and finished first among women in 2013 – Looney trudged through knee-deep snow up the 18,000-foot Thorong La Pass, her bike on her back. Following the oxygen-starved, three-hour trek up the mountain, she then had to descend back down the same way.

Considered the hardest mountain bike race in the world, the 160-mile La Ruta de los Conquistadores forces riders to climb more than 20,000 muddy vertical-feet over three sweltering hot days. Illness forced her to drop out after 6 miles on day two, but Looney decided to ride the 43-mile finale the next day for fun. That fun included gingerly crossing a rickety railroad trestle 200-feet over a crocodile-infested river before finishing on the gorgeous La Playa Bonita beach on the Caribbean Sea.
Looney was gracious enough to share some of her experiences with Gadling.

What’s your favorite place that you’ve visited?

My favorite country so far has been Nepal. I love the warm people, the culture, the contrast between different cities, the (mountains), great options for photography, and all the different activities. The country is a huge playground. There are also lots of opportunity to do volunteer and non-profit work. I’d love to go live there for six months doing just that!

I often have to get back pretty quickly after a stage race because I had to take time off work to go. I would love to have another week to just travel, relax and explore. I normally get two days post-race to hang out before heading home. I love to go for rides exploring the area, walking for hours, checking out the architecture, and eating all the different foods. I’ll dabble before a race, but I’m always concerned with staying healthy. I’ll go for shorter walks and be more cautious with food and drinks. After the race, it feels less stressful because the consequences of being overly tired or sick are way less severe!

I love visiting new places because it always gives me a new perspective. Of course, the more obscure the place, the more out of my comfort zone I get. Even though it’s sometimes a challenge, I love to be put into different situations. Plus, it makes traveling in the US seem so easy! I love making new friends, and seeing how other people live their lives.

What are some of the problems with flying with a bike?

If you can, weigh your bags in advance. There’s nothing worse than having to open up your bike case to take stuff out in the middle of an airport. That said, if you have extra weight leftover to bring you to 50 pounds, put a few things in the bike box.

My bike has never been damaged in transit. I use an Evoc case, and previously used cardboard boxes. I take great care to pack my bike properly. However, an airline has lost my bike before. I was going to Brazil for a stage race. The airline lost both my bike and my suitcase – as well as my teammate’s who was on a separate flight – for days, and I couldn’t start the race. It was very stressful and very disappointing. They gave me a small travel voucher, but it didn’t even come close to covering the cost and the loss of experience from their negligence.

Favorite souvenir?

I don’t really have a favorite I can recall. I like to buy local art or handmade crafts from wherever I go and decorate my house. I got a couple of really cool paintings from Haiti that are my favorites right now. I also bought a mandala from Nepal that is about to get framed that I’m pretty excited about.

Favorite foreign dish?

I really love the Pad Thai I had in Bangkok this year. I had a day there passing through and ate as much Thai food as I could. I know that sounds boring and generic, but it was really freaking good! It had these little salty, dried shrimps in it, too. I love the Pao de Queso from Brazil, too. It’s this doughy cheesy bread ball. So good! I used to love Chicken Tikka Masala until I got food poisoning (on the plane ride home) … I still can’t eat it.

Oddest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Yak cheese pizza. The smell still makes me gag! I need to spend more time in the Asian countries to get a fun answer for this one! Chilled Monkey Brains? (Like Indiana Jones! Hehe.)

You’re leaving for two weeks. What’s in your suitcase?

It just so happened I packed my suitcase for two weeks yesterday! Camera, spare memory cards, laptop, iPod, bike shoes, helmet, pedals, ride clothes for different temperatures, running shoes, bright socks, sunglasses, ball cap, skort, flip flops, Garmin, Gortex jacket, a few dresses, a pair of fun wedge shoes, my favorite T-shirts, down jacket, fun earrings, everyday clothes, race stuff if I’m racing. It really sort of depends where I’m going!

Must-have travel item?

My iPod and my camera. I love music. It also really helps me sleep in places that do not have quiet nights … think dogs barking, roosters crowing and people talking. I take tons of photos; I rarely leave home without a camera.

Best travel tip?

Frequent flier? Flying domestic? Buy the Classic Fare on Frontier. If you have a bike and a piece of luggage, it ends up being cheaper because there are no baggage fees and you get extra perks with it as well.

For international travel, I like a window seat. I can sleep if I put one foot up and I normally put it on the back of the armrest of the seat in front of me without my foot getting in the way (of the other person. I can also sleep if I slouch down and curl into a ball against the wall and turn on my iPod.

[Photos supplied by Sonya Looney]

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.

Epic Mountain Biking In The Heart Of Indiana

Indiana might not immediately pop in your mind when you think of great mountain bike destinations, but after riding Brown County State Park, it will.

Located less than an hour south of Indianapolis, Brown County is the crown jewel of Midwestern trail riding. After the International Mountain Bicycling Association bestowed Epic status on the 25-mile trail system in 2011, riders within a day’s drive of the trails began turning up in droves. On a pleasant spring day, riders will spot license plates from as far away as Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri.

A torrential rain earlier in the week meant the parking lot was mostly filled with locals when we pulled in Sunday afternoon; no one wants to drive six hours, only to discover the trails are too muddy to ride.

The rain did impact our riding. The trail was mostly perfect, albeit a bit greasy in several spots. Where we were used to a trickle of water at the creek crossings, we pedaled across what seemed to be a river of water. Wet socks and mud-splattered kits couldn’t take our smiles away – but the hills tried.Indiana has a reputation of being flatter than a steamrolled pancake. That’s true in the northern half of the state, where you can see miles of cornfields in every direction. But the southern part of the state is known for its rolling hills. One of the nation’s most popular road rides, the Hilly Hundred – yes, it lives up to its name – is held every October on nearby roads. Inside the park, it’s a single-track rollercoaster; during my last visit, we climbed and descended multiple times, logging more than 2,000 feet of climbing in just over two hours of riding.

Clipping in at the North Gate trailhead just inside the park entrance, we pedal up to Haynes Loop and onto the newest leg of the trail, Green Valley. Green Valley has a definite flowy vibe, almost like a pump track at times. There are more technical trails out there, but few that are more fun.

Heading farther into the park, Hesitation Point looms, with its numerous rock gardens discouraging meeker riders from climbing to the gorgeous vista at the upper trailhead. Located off Hesitation Point are the fast, wide-open Limekiln Trail and the double-black diamond Schooner Trace, which has destroyed more bike frames than rust.

Each trail and trail combination is unique, with its own personality. By altering the direction and order we ride, it’s like we’re on totally different trails. You can easily spend a long weekend at the park and not get bored.

Trailbuilders are currently constructing Hobb’s Hollow, a brand new 3-mile segment of trail that will be jam-packed with bermed turns, step-ups, rock drops and tabletop jumps, along with a 2-mile descent with 360 feet of vertical drop, more than any other trail in the state. Trail advocates hope to build another 12 miles of trail over the next few years, eventually connecting the park’s single track to the nearby Nebo Ridge and Hickory Ridge trails in the Hoosier National Forest, as well as two private trail networks. With luck, in a few years riders will have more than 100 miles of connected, rideable terrain. When that day comes, IMBA might have to come up with an even more epic trail designation.

Descending back to the trailhead, our massive group splintered into twos and threes, the front rider trying to shake the others off his or her tail. To my rear, I hear Janet Sherman – five months pregnant and apparently riding with the strength of two bikers – taunting me. “Rob, are you going to rail this or what?” The implication being that unless I sped up, I had better get out of her way. I accept the challenge and bomb down the hill, fighting every instinct to squeeze my brake levers. Picking up momentum, the bumps on the trail launched me into the air for a few exhilarating moments, before touching back down onto terra firma. As I successfully steered through each successive turn, my timidness at descending gave way to the sheer joy of speed.

As we roll into the parking lot after our all-too-brief ride, more cars are pulling into the lot. We’re all smiling, our blood filled with adrenaline, endorphins and, after a spill or two, more than a little dirt. We all want to do another lap, but we have family responsibilities – baby sitters to pay, lawns to mow, beers to drink. As our cars head north out of the park, we’re already planning our trip back.

Want to ride Brown County State Park? It’s located on Ind. 46 East, less than an hour south of Indianapolis, off the No. 68 exit of I-65. Park entry is $5 per carload for Indiana residents, $7 for cars with out of state plates. Camping is available at the camp or you can stay at the full-service lodge inside the park. Rates start at $10 for primitive camping, $77 for the lodge. You can get by with most types of mountain bikes – I ride a dual-suspension Giant 29er, and my teammates run the gamut of a rigid 650b chromoly and 26-inch aluminum bikes. Just be sure to wear a helmet.

[Video Credit: Rob Annis]