We met Jimmy Smith at his new shop, Earth Connection Outfitters (ECO) in McCormick, South Carolina. He was putting on a few last minute touches on the new shop. Working with the Old 96 Tourism Commission, he would be providing us loaner bikes and kayaks as we worked on inventorying and photographing trails for them throughout the region.
I signed out a new Trek 3500, a 21-speed aluminum frame bike with a fork shock and disc brakes. The tires had never been dirty! Signing the waiver, I was worrying about any nicks or scratches when I returned it. I’d never rented a new and shiny bike before. Would it be like returning a rental car? Would they walk around it and make a list of nicks, scratches and dents?
Our first stop was nearby Baker Creek State Park. Sandy watched me ride off in the woods before going off for her hike. When working on projects like this, we each try to do different activities to get the most out of the time we are in a location.
I was hardly out of sight of the parking area when I came to the end of the yellow diamond blazes I should be following for the next ten miles on the Mountain Biking Trail. After much thrashing around in search of a worn trail I finally found one. It had no blazes. After a short distance, I came to a Y in the path. I took the fork to the right and after a little while I came to a few more yellow diamonds on the trees. I was feeling pretty good about finding the trail again until I noticed the blazes had led me in a loop back to the same parking lot I had left. Oops!
Retracing my earlier start, I took the left fork. On and on I rode along an old pine straw-covered road until I reached an intersection with the paved main park road. There, I came across a small brown sign with a bicycle and an arrow pointing from the direction I had just came from.
Yay! I must be on the right path. Soon I came to a yellow diamond leading me off the road and back into the woods. After another blaze or two they vanished. I continued to follow what looked like it might have been a worn trail. Along this path, pink surveyor tape wrapped around tree trunks and hung from limbs. Was it a clue?
Before long, the tape disappeared as well. Turning around this time to retrace my path wasn’t easy. I had left very little trace behind me. Riding in circles, I realized that I was lost. How could thatt happen? I thought I’d followed a path to get here. Hadn’t I?
Trying to go back in the direction of the road I’d left, I kept coming to a four-foot ravine. If I had crossed it, I’m sure that I’d remember it. Off in the distance, I noticed a patch of brown leaves with what looked like a straight edge. As I grew closer I could see that it was a bridge almost completely hidden from view.
After a closer look, I could tell that I hadn’t crossed over it today. Nor had anyone else in some time. Thankfully it got me back to the dirt road and then the main road. My trusty map showed that somewhere by a bridge the trail left the woods, crossed the park road bridge, and went back into the woods.
I spotted the small brown sign on the end of the bridge and then the path back into the woods. Two yellow blazes later, I was again on my own. By then I’d had enough. I found my way back to the park road, across the bridge, and onto the path that should lead me to the trail that I never managed to find. The blazes vanished again, a few minutes later. I was over even trying to follow the trail at this point. I went back to the paved road, and rode it all the way back to the parking lot where I had started.
Tired, frustrated, and bleeding from from a few nicks and scratches, I got back to the parking lot before Sandy did. She had the bad luck on her first hike attempt, never finding the trail despite there being a sign at the trailhead for it.
She made a quick visit to the park office and asked about what was going on. As it turned out, a bad ice storm had come through the area earlier in the year. The volunteers they expected to come clear the mountain bike trail hadn’t shown up yet to straighten things out. Which explained the couple of dozen logs across the trail that I had carried the bike over.
With its rolling terrain, a few small ravines, and beautiful trees, it’s easy to picture that this could be a nice trail, with the blazes back in place and the logs out of the way. It showed me how important it is for parks to have volunteers to help keep the trails open!
After riding more mountain bike trails over the next few days, I returned the bike to Jimmy. Thanks again to Jimmy for loaning a complete stranger a just assembled, brand new bike for this project. After all my rides, I’m happy to report that the bike avoided any scrapes or mishaps. And other than a fresh coat of mud, it still looked like new. I wish that I could say the same for myself!
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.