FATS – Forks Area Trail System – is ‘the’ big mountain bike destination in the Old 96 District of South Carolina. People come from around the country to experience their 37 miles of trails. And now it was my turn, so I could write about it for Old 96.
With a bit of apprehension on my part, we left our home base at Hickory Knob Resort State Park and headed for the trail. Thank goodness Sandy had made an excellent list of directions for this trip in the pre-planning. Because there were no signs directing you to FATS until you are at the trailhead. Without detailed directions, no one would easily find their way to this ride.
After more than a half hour on the road we arrived to discover a cable across the parking lot and a “Closed” sign. Seems that Forest Service was doing a prescribed burn, which would have the trails closed until the day before we were to head home. They closed it before we’d even arrived in the region. And today had the best weather prediction for the rest of the week. Disappointed, we moved on to explore Lick Fork Recreation Area instead.
A few days later, we returned to FATS. Under threatening skies, I took off on the Skinny Loop. According to the SORBA/CSRA website it was a good entry level course. About a third of the way into the loop there was an option to join the Brown Wave Loop and add an additional 5.8 miles.
After a short shared trail I arrived at a fork in the path with the Great Wall Loop and curved left to follow the Skinny Loop.
What started as a wonderful singletrack ride through the woods quickly turned into a charred black and gray landscape. It matched the overcast sky. I could have been riding on some distant planet, it was almost devoid of color. Many logs and stumps were still smoldering. And there was a smoky blanket in a few of the places.
But if you look closely, there’s always something to see. In every direction as far as the eye could see, the woods were burned. Except in the center of the singletrack I was riding!
The pine needles were unburnt, and often there were clumps of green that survived the flames. Looking ahead, off in the distance, I could see a tiny unburnt path to follow. It was almost surreal.
When I reached the intersection for the Brown Wave, raindrops were beginning to fall. So I had to skip it for this trip and continue back to the parking lot.
Had I arrived before the burn, this would have probably been my favorite ride of the trip. An excellently built and maintained trail, it provided great riding with just enough technical places to keep me on my toes. As advertised, it was the perfect trail to test your skills on before moving on to one of the more challenging loops.
As I arrived back from the ride, Sandy had just returned to the car, since the drops had become a shower.
As we drove away, both the bike and I were covered in mud. I had a big smile from enjoying this ride and never once crashing or falling off the bike. Ignoring the burn, it was a great ride finished up just in time. The folks at SORBA request that you do not ride in the rain, and give the loops a few days to dry out to keep bikes from damaging the trail.
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.