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Michaux: finally  //   Tuesday - July 11, 2006

So, finally a brief recap of the Michaux trip. Two weeks (has it been that long?) they were predicting rain all weekend. Heavy rain. As most of you know, we got and we got it good. But, not knowing when the rain would hit, I figured I'd plan on riding and bail if the weather dictated otherwise. Julie was going to be gone most of the day for a Ride Like A Girl group ride so I figured that gave me an all day pass for trail exploration. I wanted to get back up to Michaux State Forest and find some of this sweet singletrack that had eluded me when we went up a few weeks ago. Armed with a topo map from the Michaux race series and some detailed trail info from Elk (if you are reading this, Thanks Elk) I recruited Jay for a trail mission.

I pulled driving directions off of the Michaux race site and this is where I got us off to a bad start. There are three races in their series, each taking place in a different location in the vast Michaux forest. I mistakenly pulled the directions for race #1 when our topo map was for race #2. This mistake wasn't fully realized until much later. Since there was no start/finish marked on the map, I was trying to determine where the parking area was in relation to the loop we were doing. Things weren't quite adding up based on the roads I drove in on, but with Elk's instructions I figured we'd be OK. We were parked in an ATV lot and according to the instructions we were to go to a smaller adjacent field/lot and find a yellow gate at the rear which would be our start. Found the field/lot, but no gate. The instructions seemed pretty clear but a little wandering and we located a yellow gate a short way down a dirt road and assumed this must be it even though they didn't match the info we had. The real reason was we were at THE WRONG FREAKIN' LOT! Courtesy of my fouling up the riding directions. So, for the two hours we wandered trails trying to match them up with our instructions and map. We hit some fun and challenging stuff but were trying not to get lost since our info was useless to us. The rocks were damp and slippery from an early morning shower and a grizzled pair of ATV riders we passed on one of the advanced trails thought we were plain nuts for riding bikes in this terrain. Perspective is a funny thing.

After consulting with another pair of ATV riders (very friendly BTW) a half hour later, in an attempt to orient ourselves we were informed where we were riding was not even on the map. No wonder I couldn't figure it out. We worked our way back to the cars, grabbed a beer from the cooler and set out to find the true starting parking area. Which turned out to be us still kind of lost but driving cars instead of riding bikes. Of course, we did not have directions, only some vague info, but eventually we found the road we were looking for and scored the elusive 2nd ATV parking lot and it's magic yellow gate.

As we geared up for take 2, a guy and girl rolled across the gravel parking area on MTBs. Jay greeted them with "I hope you don't need directions because we are the wrong ones to ask". Of course, they were looking for some trail beta and we all had a good laugh. They were basically out on the same mission as us, armed with a topo map from the race web site - one of the shorter loops that traced some of the same stuff we had originally planned on doing. The guy was from Frederick and lives a few streets away from me: small world. We headed out and I gave relayed to them the first bits of info in Elk's instruction plan. After the first couple of turns we pulled away at our own pace and worked on navigating the course. With half of our day already blown we figured we'd try to find our way to the reservoir, a prominent landmark on the map, and see what how long it took us before deciding on a further course of action.

The first parts of the trail were mostly rutted, rocky, old jeep road type stuff followed by a short fire road climb before we entered the singletrack. Once on the singletrack the rocks really started as we continued to climb. Blazed red, our trail info indicated the locals called this the Abbey trail but there were no further markings. Some rocky challenging climbing took us to the ridge and some nice singletrack where you could get on top of your gear. Eventually we started heading down and the trail changed from a rocky surface to stuff that looked like it had been cut fairly recently but was covered with pine needles and nice and twisty. Fun stuff to go down and it popped us into a small grassy clearing that gave me the feeling we were a bit off track. The lack of trail markings, which were pretty consistent earlier, cemented this feeling. The terrain didn't mesh with the trail info, but then again it didn't contradict it either. Our only option was to go right on a grassy cut that was fairly level and looked like it was some sort of access to the area. Eventually we hit a gravel road which matched right up with our directions. Problem was, there was no trail continuing on the other side like we were looking for. At this point we assumed we were off track and headed left on the gravel road, going on instinct and the fact that going left meant going downhill. After a couple of miles we arrived at a lake and damn and some beautiful views of the walls of a gorge where the water funneled out of the dam. Even if the trails had sucked (they hadn't), the scenery would have been worth the ride.

With the huge body of water as a landmark, we were able to reorient ourselves on the map and realized at some point we had missed a turn or otherwise gotten redirected. We located the trail we should have come down to arrive at the damn and started climbing. It was tight, steep and rocky and looked like it would be sugary sweet coming down. Next time we'll get it in that direction. Climbing it wasn't bad, just a steady grind with a few dismounts in the beginning. The more we climbed, the more my Surly began to creak and I had visions of the Kelly's broken fork. At one point it got so bad that I stopped to let Jay catch up and did a serious inspection of the frame and fork. With no obvious cracks I hoped it was just the bottom bracket and tried not to get crazy like I tend to do. Ride with a bit of restraint and you won't be walking home I told myself.

We were returning on the part of the Abbey trail that we had somehow missed earlier and it was just great, tight, rock strewn singletrack. It reminded me of the Frederick Watershed in both terrain and the vegetation. Which made perfect sense since we were just further north on the same mountain range. Eventually we intersected with familiar trail and found where we made our earlier mistake: after taking the Abbey trail and beginning to descend early in our ride, the trail took a hard left but we were tracking straight on and kept bombing down into the pine needle new cut, not even seeing the unmarked turn.

Sorted out and info stashed in our memory banks for a return trip we retraced the beginning of the ride and made our way back to the cars. A couple of beers and we left Michaux. Absolutely recommended as a place to ride, but local knowledge is like gold. I'll be back soon.

Next up: the Liberty Jamboree Single Speed stage race was this past weekend. Stay tuned for the blow by blow account.

- riderx


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