December 15, 2014
Here in the Greater Cincinnati area, we've been lucky to have had a lot of quality mountain bike trails built, improved and/or enlarged in the last five years. Bordering on being blessed is having our office located just a couple miles from Devou, one of the finest trail systems in the Midwest; it's an incredible gift to be able to stash the mountain bike at work and ride out the back door when opportunity beckons. Designed and developed by an IMBA-trained local wunderkind, Chad Irey, he kindly passes on the credit to the City of Covington and "thousands of volunteers donating millions of hours" over the years as the Devou Park Trails have gone from drawing board to reality.
For this review, I started in downtown Covington, an urban area just across the river from Cincinnati. It's a good warm up to zip down the paved streets leading to the Lewisburg section of trail, which features a shale-like trailbed not found elsewhere in the park, with some big berms cut into the hillside that drain well. Via a short paved connector at the top, the next section (Full Monty) was as flowing and wild as a whitewater river, cascading down the backside of the park. I barely needed to pedal for over a mile as the trail swooped down, which meant gravity worked its magic and spirited me down the hill. Occasionally technical rocky transitions slowed me, but for the most part, it was a wide-grin ride that made me forget the lingering fatigue from the climb to the top.
This brought me to the site of the Devou Park Trails Phase I, where the grizzled veterans recall it all began with a handful of volunteers armed with shovels and rakes. The well-groomed path climbs via a series of switchbacks from the map board at the base to a section of trail called Devou-tion. This part is the only one-way section of trail in the system; both hikers and bikers are warned against trying to climb Devou-tion as the grade is too steep and those descending are moving fast through some tight corners. My first few times on this section had me jumbling the name from Devou-tion - which suggests polite homage to the gods of balance and stability - to De-evolution, which in my mind more suitably applied to the crazy idea that the shortest distance between two points is a line, albeit not exactly straight, but one that runs smack downhill.
Forging forward, it was back up the top half of the hill, bouncing over familiar roots and rocks while negotiating a few tight passes and an equal number of fast troughs. Cresting the ridge, the Bates-Coombs loop trail encircles around the top - a welcome chance to catch my breath while racing around the rim. By far the longest stretch of trails, it takes a little topographic homework to connect the spurs off the top to the series of trails midway up the hill.
Only three sections remained unridden, all of them comprising the Sleepy Hollow section that just opened in late fall 2014. Beginning just beyond the locked gate that keeps cars and trucks from driving a stretch that was clearly graded and traversed by motorized traffic at some point in long-ago history, it's now called the Old Montague Road Trail. Now it's the most gentle rise in the park, like the rope pull up the beginner's slope at the ski hill. Next, a second creek crossing and then more churning up a series of hills to the peak. Here the trail goes through a hairpin turn and, picking back up the skiing metaphor, it's as big and bold as a mountain run in Vail, CO. Sculpted from a remarkable hillside, I literally flew down this section, up and down-down, a little up, and down-down, turn, down, curve, down, and across a final creek crossing. Wonder of wonders, it then opened up into an even wider section of more downhill, more gravity, more fun. Truly, amusement park roller coasters hold little allure after running these trails time and again. For free. No lines...except for the one I focused intently on following down the run while not falling down.
Soon, I had covered every inch of the trails as intended. I was dirty and tired, but unfortunately not quite done as I had to now climb what had been the fun part of the first downhill (Full Monty), then truly finish by zipping down the rocky return into the heart of Covington.
I wish I could say that I rode every inch, but there were four separate short transitions that proved too challenging. But I had anticipated more, for I had done a race over these trails a couple weeks prior and more often than I would have liked, found myself pushing the bike uphill. It was rather remarkable to me that when free from the haste and hurry of a competition, my eye could see a line through the rocks and pitches that I missed when trying to ride fast and furious. This time, I dialed back a bit, concentrated on balance plus having a little in reserve to pop up and over the obstacles. But I know for sure that the four spots that humbled me this time will be the parts I focus on when running the tape in my head over the winter. A flawless, foot-free ride in Devou is now my goal to start next year.
Looking back, it was a fair amount of numbers ( >12 miles of gorgeous trails, plus countless smiles and panting gasps) and a lot of fun. Devou Park can now rightly claim to be a "destination" location for riders throughout Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. For those coming in from far-flung locations, these trails will prove to be an economic boost for local hotels, eateries and other businesses since many visitors will stay overnight to get in two full days of riding (with hopefully a shower in between). For me, it was a perfect way to while away a couple hours immersed in the metropolitan area's crown jewel of greenery and healthy escape.