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.
Georgia: Getting Dialed
Exiting I-575 on the northern outskirts of Atlanta, a series of large municipal signs direct us to the trailhead at Blankets Creek: Mountain Bike Trails, This Way. The large parking area is one of the most institutionalized I’ve ever seen—a kiosk displays trail information, lists corporate sponsors, has a donation box for contributions and informs riders of a third, $75,000 loop that was recently added to the two already established here. This display of civic responsibility smacks of Berkeley or Boulder, or even Portland, Oregon. But Georgia?
Skills-building planks and skinnies greet riders, and we climb the newest loop, which clings to a hillside high above Allatoona Lake. The switchback ascent is well buttressed and wraps up one of the steepest pitches we’ve seen so far.
Haro-sponsored rider Eric Porter, who joined us in Atlanta, leads the charge, and we plunge down leafy descents after each short, punchy climb. Wooden signs with carved alien heads offering maxims like “SKID = SQUID” and “Gravity Cavity” line the trail. It is fast and swoopy and littered with more rocks than we saw in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama combined.
Judging by the traffic on the trail, the signs off the exit ramp seem to be working, and we see more than one rider sporting the brand-new-department-store-bikeand-sweatpants look.
But newbies didn’t build these trails. SORBA, the southern-fried branch of IMBA and the organizational muscle behind all this civic integration, built them.
“A lot of people in the South own bass boats. I don’t—I’ve got bicycles,” says Jay Franklin, who began volunteering with SORBA shortly after its inception in 1988, and served as club president during the lead-up to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. “Helps now we have trails in the metro area. Used to be we were just in the national forests, but now we’re building on Corps of Engineers land, and city land and parks have opened up, too.”
Just before the Olympics, membership hovered around the 400-mark, but today SORBA’s roster tops 3,800 paid members, and Jay says that’s not counting volunteers who come from outside the organization.
Luckily for riders here, the notion of southern hospitality extends to trail building, and SORBA tallies a considerable number of volunteer hours every year. How? Easy: organize militantly, rally around year-round riding, and tap corporations and churches to help with volunteer days.
“One of the local church groups may bring 300 people,” says Jay. “You get a lot of trail work done with 300 people.”
This content was originally published in Bike’s November 2009 issue.