Words: Chris Lesser
Photos: Morgan Meredith
A quest for singletrack south of the Mason-Dixon line reveals a cast of unlikely characters, a hearty riding culture and a hollerin’ good time. Over the course of nine days and 1,500 miles, we mercilessly flog a rental van and live off deep-fried food as we search for the South’s finest trails.
Bill Victor had six tickets to Grateful Dead shows in California, and after that he was planning to become a ski bum in Breckenridge. But then he got a job offer to use his accounting degree from the University of Kentucky at a thoroughbred racehorse operation out of Aiken, South Carolina.
That was 1991—Bill sold the tickets and took the job, and it’s a good thing he did, because otherwise the Forks Area Trail System, a 35-mile network of purpose-built singletrack in Sumter National Forest, simply wouldn’t be here.
After driving through the early morning, Morgan, Porter and I step out of the cold morning air and into the warm home of Liz and Bill Victor, which is buzzing with the energy of three young Victor children and at least as many dogs. There’s a palpable hum to the home that even the entrance of strangers doesn’t interrupt, and Liz welcomes us with a smorgasbord of shrimp n’ grits, eggs, bacon, sausage and orange juice.
Bill, a fast-talking 38-year-old, tells us how he got the state of South Carolina to pay his trail-building company nearly $300,000 to build an IMBA Epic right out his back door.
“It’s wild man,” he says. “South Carolina is so pro-business they opened up their state trail-grant program to for-profit businesses.”
Being a Deadhead from the South, Bill was accustomed to bucking convention well before he started a trail-building company. He also set up his own chapter of SORBA, which has grown from 30 members to 300 in the last 10 years.
“Bill is like a Jack Russell terrier, and when he grabs onto something he ain’t gonna let it go,” Liz says. The comparison is fitting—it’s plain to see that Bill is smart and tenacious, and, I realize as we start riding, he’s fast, too.
“Hoot-he-hoo! Hoot-he-hoo!” Bill yelps in his twangy Kentucky timbre. He’s leading us around a blind corner, the four of us riding the FATS like a line of roller-coaster cars on a series of endless banked rollers. The trails are like one of those Pixar cartoons—easy enough for a toddler to giggle through, but entertaining enough for anyone to enjoy. And the best part is that these trails are a public resource, paid for by a state that historically has used its land to grow tobacco.
The new Tower and Big Rock loops hug the contours of the land and are riddled with grade reversals—built for mountain bikers, by mountain bikers. It’s the kind of place you can ride all day and not even realize it—the miles just disappear underneath our wheels as we chase Bill through his masterpiece.
“If you ride everything in here you’ll end up with 40 miles with 2,700 feet of climbing, and none of it’s hard,” says Bill, with an intensity that tells you that 1) he means it, and 2) he wants to ride it all—right now.
This content was originally published in Bike’s November 2009 issue.