At Hickory Knob State Park in McCormick, South Carolina, I was unloading the loaner mountain bike when a fellow rode up from the trail and said hi. He was dressed in colorful spandex cycling clothing, unlike me. I was in my typical hiking outfit of zip-off leg nylon pants and a neon colored nylon fishing shirt, with my lightweight nylon hiking boots. Yes, I’d left my bike shorts at home.
When I asked where he was from, he told me Washington, DC. He had found this trail on the SORBA/CSRA website, and reading through their website had made him want to visit and ride the trails in the area.
When I asked him about the trail, he told me that it was a good ride and to expect a few more technical spots than usual. There he was, not an ounce of body fat, on a carbon fiber 29er, with me dressed as a hiker, taking an entry level mountain bike off the roof of a car with a Florida plate. I’m sure it gave him a good chuckle.
As I left the parking lot and started down the Lakeview Trail, I wondered what I was getting myself into. The trail curved down a narrow path and just keep going, taking me through twists and turns and whoopty-dos going up and down the trail. I’ll admit being a little rusty when it comes to mountain biking. I bought my first mountain bike over thirty years ago, but until this trip most of my trail riding was in Florida, and never had included real vertical terrain.
With over forty years of cycling experience, how hard could this be? What a rush to go speeding along at more than 18 mph along a narrow singletrack, dodging trees, rocks and tree roots. Ah, but that was the downhill. Next came the even harder part: going uphill, pedaling with all that I had, dodging more trees, rocks and roots.
The whoopty-dos were great! Dropping in and flying out the other side, often with both tires off the ground. However, uphill whoopty-dos are not the same. Without enough speed when you’re dropping in, the momentum only takes you about halfway up the other side. Even with being in a very low gear and pedaling with everything I had, the bike would stall. I’d have to quickly lock up the brakes, and hold on as I slid back to the bottom.
Years ago, while riding on a week-long trip in the Virginia mountains, I developed a saying. “I’ve never met a mountain that I couldn’t push my bike up.” Today it changed for the situation. So far, I’ve never met a mountain biking trail that I couldn’t push my bike up.
As my riding skills improved, I made better use of the gears. I found that it was easier to ride up those hills than push the bike.
The hard work was worth it. The views were spectacular. From high places I could look down and across Lake Thurmond. When the trail descended along the waters edge I could see the red beaches and coves as the trail followed fingers of land to their ends. Riding near the shoreline as the finger narrowed I could see water in both directions. Then at the end, the trail would make a u-turn and show me the same water views in the other direction.
I’m lucky that only once I wasn’t paying close attention and found myself in one of those technical locations without taking it easy into it. On a very fast downhill, the trail made a hard left and dropped into a mean whoopty-do. Too late I, realized that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Making the turn with less than an inch to spare, I locked up both brakes and headed into a dropoff that I was not going to be able to handle. The bike’s momentum just kept me going. At the last second, I turned the front tire and luckily hit a tree head-on.
I never would have though that hitting a tree head-on would be a good thing. But that tree saved me a lot of pain, I’m sure. When the front tire hit the tree I used my right hand to keep my whole body from going over the handlebars and into the tree. When everything was over, I had one hand on the handlebars, the other on the tree, and both feet somehow still on the pedals.
I had been very lucky, surviving this dangerous mistake unharmed. When my heart and breathing returned to normal, I realized that I had another obstacle to overcome. The only thing holding the bike in place was the tire against the tree and my right hand. I was perfectly balanced, with only air below my feet.
Very carefully I inched my way off the bike, lowering myself to the ground. After walking unharmed through the rest of this technical location. I was careful for the rest of the ride.
There were rock jumps, and difficult repeating whoopty-doos. I dismounted and safely walked through them. Maybe some day, with a great deal more experience, I’ll try them again.
Even with my close call, I would strongly recommend the Lakeview Trail to anyone with a bit of mountain biking experience. The trail is well-marked, a blast to ride, and the views are like nothing I’ve ever seen before from a bike.
Just remember what skill level you’re at as you ride it. Pay attention to the trail, and don’t be afraid to stop and walk your bike through the parts that you aren’t comfortable with.
Disclosure: this ride was one of two dozen trails visited as part of a paid project for the Old 96 District of South Carolina. The opinions here are our own.