Monday, November 22, 2010

Clear Springs

"Clear Springs always kills me."

I'm quoting myself with that one. When I first started riding in Baton Rouge back in '99, the closest trials were the Hooper Road/Comite system and Clear Springs. Clear Springs is so much more strenuous than Hooper, it's not even funny, but we kept going back, hoping one day it would be easy. I wondered if I'd ever be strong enough to really enjoy riding there. At the time, it just killed me. It always killed me.

Last night I got in touch with Charley Rome, a buddy of mine that I met through the Fools Gold and TNGA, who happens to live in Baton Rouge. There was a group getting together to ride at Clear Springs this morning. Sounded great.

This is how you do it. Meet up at the crack of dawn...

 Crack of Dawn

...hit the road, make a pit stop at the only gas station in the world that requires you to wear sagging pants...

 Sagging Pants

...and get to the trailhead when the rest of the world is just waking up.

 Bike Riders

Ladies and gentlemen! The legend, the rock star, the 24 hour solo champion, the generally fun guy...

Charley Rome.



There are 2 loops at Clear Springs and a trail that connects them. You can make three loops if you ride a few miles of each loop twice. That's what we did. Everybody split up into small groups. Me and Charley rode together. Charley is fast. It wasn't easy to stay on his wheel.

First we hit the Mill Branch Trail. The first mile or so was clean, but past the Richardson Creek Trail turnoff, it was clear the trail got less traffic. It was three-quarter track, a little rough, but a lot of fun. Not as tough as I remember. Maybe it would be fun all day.

I forgot what the scenery was like in Mississippi. Maybe I just didn't know enough about the woods back then to notice or maybe I just didn't pay attention because of how much I was always suffering, but today I noticed. It's very different than Georgia. There's a lot of space between the trees. All that space is covered in grass or cane. There's very little scrub. The soil is all loess or something like that, and convoluted into ten billion twisty little hills. From the top of any one of them, you can see the rest, but they're hard to understand. It's impressive that anyone figured out how to make a loop through them.

We spun a loop, counter-clockwise around Mill Creek, kept looping until we got back to Richardson and hung a right. The last time I rode there, Richardson didn't even exist. There was talk of building it, but at that time, only talk. Mill Creek is an old-school trail, there's bench-cut here and there, but it's mostly fall-line or ridge-line. Richardson is IMBA all-the-way. Fast and flowing, but still a little rough, as rooty loess is prone to become.

At two spots, the trail wound around and passed right by the creek. I climbed down to take a look at the second one.

 Richardson Creek Looking North

 Richardson Creek Looking South

It seemed like 5 miles long, but it was more like 7. At some point, there's this big bridge spanning a deep draw. From either end, there's a spot where you have to turn sharply, carrying a lot of speed. Right there somebody had shoved branches through the railings, blocking it off. Charley almost ran into it. From the other direction it would have been very dangerous. You could easily have hit it and got chucked over the edge, down into the ravine. No good. We dismantled it.

At the Tally's Creek Trail, we hung a right, spun a few miles back to the car, resupplied and started a lap around that loop.

Tally's is really, really hard. Two hundred hills. Maybe more. I remember it being steep, worn out, rutted, and generally just hard. Well, Tally's has healed up a bit, and with Richardson drawing most of the traffic, it gets little enough that the pine straw never really gets worn through. Pine straw holds a little water on the trail, makes it a little soft and sinks or gets pressed down slightly into the surface. When it dries, it's like kevlar. If a trail gets remotely moderate traffic, even foot traffic, it wears away, but if it's light enough, it makes even horribly placed trails sustainable. Over the years, people laid concrete pavers in the really badly eroded hills and now soil has filled in around them. The trail was in the best condition I've ever seen.

And the woods was beautiful...

 Tallys Creek Trail the swamp was yesterday. It's hard to describe. There was a lot of yellow near the ground. The trail is grey, not brown. Just different than Georgia. Georgia is pretty too, but you get used to what it looks like where you live.

I really love my tires too. There wasn't a hill out there I couldn't climb. Even when I was sure I would slip, I just kept climbing. At the "bus stop", it got tough. Either Charley attacked a little, or I was just getting blown, but there's a long climb there, he started putting distance on me and I struggled to keep up. If there is one thing the new tires aren't as good at, it's plowing through leaf duff. More contact area and lower pressure means more traction, but that also means rolling resistance, and when you're pushing through soft, slow tread, it takes even more effort.

Toward the end of that loop, we ran into some teenagers who'd gone out in the woods to smoke a cigar. They seemed surprised to see us, but they played it off cool.

At the very end, my thighs were twinging a little. On Tally's it takes 24 miles worth of effort to go 12 miles. I was tired, and ready to be done, but it didn't kill me, not even figuratively. For the first time ever, I had it. Woohoo!

Back at the truck, Charley received a ticket for public nudity; the local USFS law enforcement officer had seen him changing clothes in the parking lot. I only changed in the bathroom because we were there with a bunch of people that I didn't know and I wasn't totally sure what they'd think. My lucky day. Then the guy harassed one of the campers and followed us until we were out of the forest. The speed limit is 15, though you just have to just know that because it's not marked except once, on the way in. It took like 45 minutes to get to the highway. I could have ridden out faster.

The last time I was there, like 6 or 8 years ago, the Ranger had told us how aggressive that guy is; sneaking up on campsites in the dark to see if they've got alcohol, following people in and out, and other things that I forget now. Well, I wasn't disappointed. He certainly lived up to his reputation.

It was really cool hanging out with Charley, it was like we were old friends or something. I'm hoping that we can get together again for a road ride later in the week. We'll see. I've got quite a few items on the to-do list. Speaking of which, I've got some maps to make for the Southern X.

I'd better get back to work.


  1. remember that time i lost my keys somewhere on the trail there? good to hear that place gets ridden still!

    man, we *almost* came over to baton rouge, but beht's sister (who still lives there) came over here instead...bummer, it would have been great to catch up!

  2. Yeah, I was telling Charley about that time you lost your keys when we were riding. I still can't believe we found them.