The Highland Rides: Scottish MTB guide Euan Wilson rides the Southeast U.S.
Euan Wilson, owner of our operator partner H&I Adventures, recently came to visit our staff in Chattanooga and take a grand tour of some of the best trail systems in the Southeastern U.S. Euan, our tour specialist Richie, and our marketing coordinator Candice all took to the forests and trails and the highways in between for 10 rides in 9 days, inviting along the locals to show off their home trails. Here’s Euan’s recap of that crazy road trip and some insight into how some of these trail systems compare to riding he’s done elsewhere around the globe. Be sure to check out the video of his reviews at the end, too!
It’s late September as I set off from my home town of Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland, the Autumn winds are starting to build, the leaves are being blown from the trees and scattering the streets with their multicolored offering.
I am on my way from the turmoil of changing seasons in Scotland, to the south east of the United States of America. Tennessee, Alabama, North and South Carolina and Georgia to be exact. To be honest it’s an area that I have never been to, or know that much about, other than that world famous bourbon that is produced in this area, but I don’t need to explain this to you — I’ll just say JD!
It is late when I arrive at Atlanta airport, it has been a long day since leaving Inverness some 24 hours earlier, but I am here and my luggage has arrived with me, cue the sigh of relief…
I meet Richie from BikeToursDirect.com at the airport, it’s always good to see a familiar at an airport in an unfamiliar land. Richie has been busy planning my tour for the past few months and promises me that I am going to cover lots of the highlights of the South East, but sadly in ten days we will not cover them all. The plan for the trip is to ride ten SORBA rides with local riders that can show me around their local trails and I can talk to them about traveling around the world with their bikes, sounds like hard work..
We set off in the car in darkness, so I am unable to get my bearings or appreciate the land in which I am surrounded by, oh well I will just need to wait until the morning.
On arrival to our hotel we set about building my bike in preparation for our early morning start and first ride at Bull Mountain. After what was a very welcome sleep, we pack our ride bags and head for Dahlonega where we meet the first group of locals who are going to show me around their trails. The sun is shining and the air is very humid, my thoughts turn to ‘if I can handle this humidity’, I have ridden in Ecuador a few times and in the cloud forests of Ecuador it can get humid, but this is a different level!
Once our motley crew are assembled and we are sure that we have collected any stragglers we set off into the forest. Upon climbing the first trails Richie comments that we will interview you later and one of the questions will be ‘What other trails around the world are these trails similar too?’, my mind starts searching for a similar trail of technical ability, trail surface and flora and fauna. All of a sudden my mind finds it, Mexico, the Sierra Norte mountains in the State of Oaxaca.
The rest of the trip was based around the same blue print, drive to a new location, sleep, ride, eat, chat and move on. A great way to see a big area in a short time, but sad that I couldn’t stay around getting to know my new friends and riding buddies in each location.
So to give you a flavor of each day,
Sunday – First ride at DuPont, we had a big group turnout and we didn’t waste time before hitting some truly awesome fast and super flowing trails. I left these trails with a few fond memories and some life long friends, a day to remember!
If you like this ride see also: Cairngorms Adventure
Monday – A completely different ride to DuPont, and only 30 mins along the road. This is a technical ride and not for everyone, but similar in some ways to what we ride at home. Anyone from the south east that hears that name Pisgah, knows that the trails are technical.
If you like this ride see also: Torridon and Skye Mountain Bike Tour
Tuesday – We set off early so that we can fit in a morning blast around the slick rock of DuPont before heading to Blankets creek, in Woodstock. The Slick rock was great fun and made for a completely different trail from anything that we had ridden so far on this tour, a must if you are in the area. Upon arriving in Woodstock we met with a great group of riders that had convened to show us all the trails at Blankets creek before the sun went down, a tall order, but we managed it! A great mix of hand cut, machine cut and natural singletrack that made great use of the limited space available in this area, big smiles all around.
If you like this ride see also: The Yukon: Canada’s Wild North.
Wednesday – It was great to visit Mullberry Gap mountain bike retreat and the Pinhoti trails, these are unique and loved by people all over the south east, on the climb there was a stunning view point and the trails did not disappoint. Our time was limited here, so only scratched the surface, but I enjoyed the flowing and technical level of these trails, without frightening myself…
Thursday – We spent the day around Birmingham and visited the local bike shop Cahaba, they told us how to get to the night ride location of Oak Mountain. It has been a long time since I last rode my bike at night, and an even longer time since I rode a new trail at night. One dab on a technical trail is not bad given all of the odds that were stacked against me..
If you like this ride see also: Nepal Mountain Biking
Friday – After arriving in Chattanooga (BikeToursDirect’s hometown) for the first time, we landed at a local bike shop before setting about riding the newly opened Stringers ridge with one of the major driving forces behind the trails, Jim. These are a great resource for the local area, good amount of climbing with great reward of what can only be described as ‘Flow trail’. And upon arriving back at the bike shop they had pizza and beer waiting on us. Well if you insist!
If you like this ride see also: The Yukon: Canada’s Wild North.
Saturday – Raccoon Mountain, with a group of around 30 people on the ride, some of the group were on their second and third ride with me this week, and had travelled up to 4 hours to be part of this great ride! Right from the car park this trail delivered fun, challenge and big smiles. Would this trail make trail of the week? Watch this space….
Sunday – 5-Points trail system, we are all riding a little gingerly today due to a great party the night before, but truly unique trails. These trails are built around an abandoned quarry and you get to ride along the tops of old piles of waste rock from the excavation, this makes for physically demanding trails, but great fun! What a fantastic trail to finish my riding in the south east.
Monday – Sadly no riding today, just packing the bike and lunch before embarking on my trip home to Scotland and into a full on winter with snow on the hills.
This trip in the south east of USA has opened my eyes to the high quality of riding that exists down here. We all hear about the riding in the north west, but not the south east. I think the main difference in these trails are the views, and most definitely not the quality of riding and trails that are on offer.
I truly had a fantastic time and rode such a wide variety of trails that my head is still buzzing from my trip. I would also like to thank everyone who worked on this trip (Richie and Candice), came out to ride and showed me some fantastic southern hospitality.
Oh, and you may be interested in what trail I liked the most during my time in the south east?! Raccoon Mountain was awesome! It has everything required to make a great day in the mountains, technical sections, flowing trails, challenging climbs followed be a long descent = Bliss!
I hope you can all join me at some point to ride out bikes in another wonderful location around the world.
Until next time, adios!