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Our bikes parked at the trailhead map.

Until recently, my entire MTB experience has centered around my local trails. This past August, my friend and riding partner Bryon took me to the Forks Area Trail System (FATS) for a weekend of riding. It was an epic adventure that gave me some great memories, and provided me with some valuable lessons. Here are five lessons that I learned from my first mountain biking trip.

It’s great to travel with someone who knows the trails you’ll be riding

Bryon was an excellent guide for the trip, and just fun to be around.

FATS has excellent maps and signage. It’s hard to get lost on the trails there, and, even if you did, there are plenty of riders who could help you out. Still, riding the trails with Bryon heightened the experience for me. Not only was it great spending time with my friend, but Bryon knew the trails well. I simply followed his lines and listened to his instructions. As a result, I enjoyed two great days of riding without any crashes.

It changes your ride expectations

I was quite content to follow Bryon and soak in the scenery.

Because I ride the same local trails consistently, I always have certain expectations for my rides. I expect to clear certain features, and ride at a certain pace. I get frustrated with myself when I fail to meet those expectations, and that makes the ride less enjoyable.

On the trip, however, I had no expectations whatsoever. I had no idea what the trails would be like, so I had no baseline to work from. Instead, I was determined to have fun no matter what, and I exceeded my expectations in that regard. Even when the conditions on our second day of riding were less than ideal due to a heavy rainstorm the night before, I just rolled with it and soaked in the experience.

Make sure your conditioning is up to par for the trails you’ll be riding

One of the many uphill sections I encountered that weekend. This one was quite tame compared to some others.

I learned this lesson the hard way. My local trails have some steep climbs and descents, but they are nothing compared to what I encountered at FATS. By the end of our second day of riding, I was walking my bike up the climbs instead of riding them. In total, we packed two weeks worth of climbing on our local trails into two days of riding at FATS.

Bryon had warned me ahead of time there would be a lot of climbing. I just failed to adequately prepare for it. Doing extra rides and more cardio at the gym would have made a big difference. When I got back from the trip, I started to focus more on powering up climbs, and doing more running on the treadmill when I went to the gym in addition to lifting weights. Now I know what to expect when traveling to trails in higher altitudes, and will prepare myself accordingly before my next trip.

You can never take too many photos or videos of your trip

I wished I would have taken more pictures of the scenery like this one.

My only regret from the trip is that I got so caught up in the moment that I failed to document the experience as well as I would have liked. When I did take the time to shoot photos and video, I quickly ran out of memory because I did not have enough storage space for all the images I wanted to capture. This caused me to miss some great shots and footage of one of the trails we rode on the second day of the trip. Additionally, I am a mediocre photographer at best, so I need to take a ton of pictures in order to come away with a few good ones.

Thankfully, Bryon took a bunch of photos too, so together we had a fair amount of good pictures. Next time, I will definitely have larger SD Cards for my action camera, and shoot more footage. It’s easier to delete the extra shots you don’t need than to go back and shoot the shots you missed.

Use the high of your trip to build momentum when you return to your local trails

Balance beam? No sweat.

I learned so much about myself and my new bike on the trip. When I got back home, I was brimming with confidence, and went wide open on my rides. I now know what my bike and I are capable of, and that has been a huge momentum builder. My weekly rides have been faster, and are way more fun than before the trip. Plus, I gained the confidence to conquer a trail feature that had previously intimidated me.

My first MTB trip was more than just a weekend of riding

Riding new trails is an amazing adventure.

I had a mixture of emotions going into the trip. The excitement about seeing new trails, as well as a fear of the unknown. I never imagined I would have had such an epic experience, or learned so much about myself as a rider. The lessons I learned from my first MTB trip will make future trips even better, and I hope they will benefit you on your next (or first) trip as well.

What lessons have you learned from taking a mountain bike trip? Please feel free to share your tips in the comments section below.

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# Comments

  • Eric Story

    Great story Richard. I was very interested to read this considering FATS is 10 min from my driveway. Absolutely love my local trail system and very much enjoy seeing out of town riders there every weekend. The pics were good, and the one you shot by the bench with the Savannah River in the background is at the bottom of Brown Wave Loop, and is one of the most popular spots to get a pic. The skinny feature you showed is not at FATS though. I would love to see some in the future. Glad you had a blast! Happy riding to you!

    • Richard Shoop

      Thanks for the comments. It was a great trail system. I was really impressed with it. I loved the brick pavers they used to armor the trails with. They were much better than the broken concrete they use on our local trails. The balance beam is from my local trail. I can’t wait to get back up to FATS again. I really enjoyed it.

  • williedillon

    I absolutely love FATS! It’s one of my favorite trail systems, and I’ve biked all around the southeast, in the west, and the northeast. I will say it’s pretty easy riding in terms of elevation compared to most places I ride, and the flow makes it easy to ride a lot of miles, but I can see it being tougher if you haven’t been on hilly trails.

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