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Fating the Smokies

A little fat-bike southern cooking for you from our Asheville, Norte del Carolina correspondant ~ Katy Snaks!

While it’s fantastic that some cyclists enjoy hacking through the wilderness or tackling long races on their fat-bikes, that’s not quite my natural inclination. When charged with writing an article for fat-bike.com, it took a few minutes to think of something that I wanted to do that other people might find interesting. I thought about what I liked about other trips I’ve done or read about, and came up with a personal checklist. I wanted:

  • Easy to read maps
  • Interesting things to see
  • Within an hour or so of Asheville, NC
  • Not directly up or down a mountain

I eventually landed on doing a tour of the waterfalls in DuPont State Forest, which straddles Henderson and Transylvania Counties, NC, a little over an hour away. As a bonus, there was a trail work day that morning. I had only ever worked trail days in Wisconsin with hand tools, and this was a shocker! It’s the same problem with quite a different answer. On an off-camber trail, there are low spots and worn-in tracks that start to collect water, and the trail has to have a slight pitch to it so that water keeps running down the hill. Well, Wisconsin’s answer (as far as I’d experienced) is to get a big group of people together with a bunch of cool tools like Pulaskis, McCleods, shovels and rakes, and go at it. The answer here, in North Carolina’s State forest (I hear different rules apply to Pisgah National Forest), is to hire a contractor and arm volunteer groups with a small army of machines and tools.  Pisgah Area SORBA are not fooling around.

First, this machine comes along and digs out problem areas.

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Next, this one comes along and grades and smoothes it by pushing and pulling dirt around.

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Third, this comes along and tamps everything down. You know how new trail gets all bumpy before it gets ridden in? Not in this case. Plus, the vibrations from this machine make you feel funny in your pants. Bonus.

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After the machines go through, it’s up to the hand tools to tidy things up and smooth any little things out. I occupied my time doing this with a McCleod, my weapon of choice.

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I helped build a few features, like a short rock garden here. We tried to design it so it helps keep the trail mud-free, too.

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After the major fixes are done, volunteers take industrial-power leaf blowers and make an initial pass to blow leaves from above the trail to down the hill, to cover that piles of dirt that have been pulled off of the trail, so the place doesn’t look so raw. Then a second pass is made to blow the leaves off of the trail. Special attention is paid to areas with broken-down leaves that are getting slimy and starting to make mud, which will usually get pushed down to a low area to start a mud puddle. What’s left behind is an obviously ‘new’ trail that looks suspiciously tucked-in with leaves brought right up next to it.

I would really suggest getting into some trail work if you haven’t tried it yet. (Ask around, check online, look on facebook. There’s a good chance your local trail builders/maintainers will have something out there.) As a kid, I liked manipulating spring-time melt puddles, digging them deeper, damming them and creating lochs, etc. I’m guessing at least some of you were just as cool (weird). I guarantee you that if you start making a feature, you’re going to get into it and want to groom it to perfection, like the little dirt nerds we still are deep down. I also really like learning what goes into planning and maintaining a trail. It’s cool to be able to recognize what you’re riding as you go along. I’ve got a Pro Tip for you, though; if you get a ride in to the work site with someone, don’t let the early deserters leave without you, lest you get stuck out in the woods with blossoming blisters and a sunburn as you enter your fifth straight hour of trail work. Jerks. (Ok, not really. They were actually very nice people. That’s the sunburn talking.)

I eventually got a ride back to my car in the Fawn Lake parking lot and took a nice half hour break, scarfing down some food and chugging water, before I got Snowflake out of the car to go for a ride. I took the map out (available from nearby businesses, also online and available in GPS form) and planned out my first moves. I set coordinates for Bridal Veil Falls via fire roads. There’s certainly elevation in DuPont, but it’s all totally doable. As I biked along, I was very happy to find that all of the trails are so well-marked, even idiots (me) can figure it out. Since Bridal Veil Falls was the first I saw, I got a little snap-happy with the camera. This is on the short approach trail to the falls.

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Then I wrangled some poor tourist into taking a photo for me. (This was a theme of the day, and I started thinking of this little adventure as The Romantic Waterfall Tour for One.) It’s nearly impossible to resist climbing around on these falls, and then of course soaking your feet and hey, why didn’t I bring a bathing suit? I forgot about the tour for a few minutes of frolicking.

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In May or so there will be some neat little amphibians in the high pools, too. (Photo from the archives to simulate May 2012)

She turned me into a newt!

Of course, you must resist riding down the dry rock of the falls. I have a feeling it would be frowned upon. Successfully resisting what surely would have been awesome (especially awesome, because it’s not allowed), I made my way to High Falls and Triple Falls. At one point I dropped down along the creek and felt the temperature drop considerably. Nature, you’re neat.

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And excuse the implied language, but MotherLover is HUGE. Do you see the people in the lower right hand corner?

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Triple Falls is a lot of fun to climb around on, too.

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Below is a photo from a previous visit, to give you a sense of the scale.

Triple Falls

While Hooker Falls was a short walk from Triple Falls (right across a road), bikes were prohibited, and it had started getting a little frisky out. Clouds rolled in, the wind picked up and it threatened to rain. I said ‘bring it on’ and rolled on to Grassy Creek Falls, where I had heard that it would be less impressive, but also less crowded. Right on both accounts! Not a person in sight.

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Looking down the creek, there was more of the same slow, rolling ‘falls’ for a couple hundred yards or so, with a great looking little swimmin’ hole at the bottom. While it would have been fun to walk around on the falls, I had noticed a creaking coming from my bike and decided to check it out. As it turns out, Snowflake heard me telling people how heavy she was, and had decided to surprise me by losing a little weight. Three out of five bolts worth of weight, actually (note the missing bolts on the spider of my crank).

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I moved the remaining two to be roughly opposite of each other and started limping back to the car, stopping twice to tighten things up. It sprinkled a bit but never really let loose, so I consider the day a success. I had a great time, even if I didn’t get to see either of the old cemeteries – definitely on the list for next time.

I would suggest this as a laid-back day trip, and would definitely recommend taking a pic-a-nic pack, sunscreen and a swimsuit for a hot day. The creeks and waterfalls are great to play around in. (Just mind that where the rock is wet, it is most likely as slippery as ice.) This ride is definitely less ‘adventure’ and more ‘vacation’. You can ride exclusively on easy trails and fire roads or mix it up a little with some more difficult (still totally manageable) singletrack. While you have to have a little fitness to get up and over some hills, I think it would be a great motivating trip for new (but again, somewhat fit) riders if you wanted to bring teens or your less experienced friends/lover/hairdresser’s cousin’s sister along. The trails are easy to navigate, and if you needed to cut it short, you can pick a conservative route with bail-out points.

As a side note, there are a lot of trail users on the DuPont trails, and you should be ready for gaggles of hikers, other mountain bikers, and horseback riders (watch out for horse apples on the trails). All trails are open to all users; bikes yield to hikers and horses. From what I’ve seen everyone gets along and will help you pass if need be. So be courteous and have a little patience, and if you have a fear of (or, let’s say, a healthy respect for) horses, be warned.

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