Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rocks and Mud

Back in the day, years and years ago, I got around in the woods on foot.  I spent a lot of time backpacking around the national forests of the eastern US, especially the wilderness areas.   The prospect of a day walking through mud or rocks never particularly bothered me - it was just part of the price of admission.

Rocks at the IMBA Epic trails at Ellicottville, NY
Later I turned my attention to traveling by water, and I started spending a lot of my time in a kayak.  At first it was back in the swamps and ponds, where I certainly became a lot more intimately acquainted with mud - like the stinky, slimy mud packed into beaver dams.  Later my paddling adventures centered more around whitewater, with hundreds of trips on dozens of streams across the Appalachians and Adirondacks.  Rocks became an essential part of every trip, every stream and every rapid - along with water they defined the experience.

Me on Scrubgrass Creek, PA
 These days I get around in the woods on a bicycle, though I still spend some time paddling and hiking.  Rocks and mud have a different kind of significance in this realm, one as tied to the definition of the experience as rock and water are tied to whitewater kayaking.  Some would say that mud and rock are there for riders to conquer, though I don't see how you ever beat the rocks - you just manage to not let them beat you.  For me, they help to create this huge stage, where I get to go and play - making as much as I can out of what's there and what I can do.

My brother at Ellicottville, NY
Mud is another deal though.  In small doses it can be just a part of the mix that creates a challenging ride.  A lot of riders have experience with those soft spots that seem to hardly ever dry out, and have to be ridden with different strategies for different moisture levels.  The other face of mud is that of the barrier - when it's so bad that you can't with good conscience continue on down the trail because to the damage you'd do.  That's when a mountain biker hates the mud - even though it's just the same old trail with a bit more water.


This week I took the chance to head out to the trails at Moraine State Park, in Pennsylvania.  These trails handle the water better than any place around, and though it was pretty wet I thought I'd take a chance. Moraine has a lot of rocks, with a good portion of decayed sandstone in the soil, so it drains really well. Once I got on the singletrack I could tell that the soil was moist under the leaves, but most of it was still pretty solid.   There were places where the trail doesn't drain well due to the way it was laid out, but these were short stretches and not really all that bad to get off and walk around.  And since it's such a technical trail that I'm not able to ride far without putting down a foot anyway, having to get off and walk on 10% of the trail doesn't ruin the ride for me.

It was a good ride.  I had a nice couple of downhill sections, some rewarding technical features, and I fell over a couple of times.  But no damage was done to me or the bike, and I did get out and get in the sun for a while so it was all good.  I wish I would have had another hour, then I would have made the whole big loop rather than do a small loop and then some out-n-back.  Maybe on Sunday?

Near Moraine State Park.
Kenny and I went out and did some trail work on Saturday morning.  I hadn't called for the group to come and work, so it was just the two of us.  Big portions of the trail were really, really muddy and we spent some time looking at a reroute for the worst section.  We did find a slightly higher spot, but it's in the middle of the biggest wild rose thicket I have ever seen. I'm torn up all over from the damn thorns.

Near Neshannock Falls, PA
We also spent a couple of hours digging rocks out of the old spoils piles from when they bulldozed in the roads fifty years ago.  It's hard, dirty work but if the only rocks in the area are ones that have to be dug up, then that's the way it has to be.  This area is mostly full of chunks of flagstone, and we found some huge pieces that will be great for firming up the muddy sections.  I have a feeling that there is a LOT more rock in there, if we're willing to put in the sweat to dig it up.

Bridge over Neshannock Creek, where I've spent many days paddling.

We had a good time though.  It's always a good time going to do trail work with Kenny - he's a fun kid.  He loves digging in the dirt - getting muddy is no problem for this boy.  Now that I think about it, we had another fun day centered on rocks and mud.

On the way home - day is done.
I put together a little video of Moraine riding from this January and February.  It's nothing spectacular by any means, though I do like the song ("Cross Country" by the Godz).


  1. That was a good video. Man, I envy you your woods. We got 'em here, but not like that.

    I did a little work in PA twenty years ago and the crew and I spent a little time out in the trees when we had the chance. It really is a beautiful place. Thanks, Swampboy.

  2. I think that if mtb took place exclusively in urban, designed settings that at least half of the appeal would be gone. These Allegheny/Appalachian woods feel like home to me, and I'll take damn near any exuse to get out in them. Even with all the problems we're having around here, it still would be almost impossible for me to make myself move elsewhere.

    Hope that bronchial stuff is easing up for you TJ.

    Steve Z