Editor’s Note: Full disclosure: Aaron worked at Maxxis from 2010 until early 2015, when he joined the Singletracks team. Also, he’s not neutral on his feelings towards Mulberry Gap–it’s one of his “most favorite places.”
Maxxis recently invited a wide swath of cycling publications for a long weekend up at Mulberry Gap in Ellijay, GA. The idea behind their “Appalachian Summit” was to show off some of their new treads in what is essentially their backyard. After all, Maxxis’ US headquarters is in Metro Atlanta, less than two hours from Ellijay.
You may think that I’d feel pretty “meh” about going to a press launch on trails I ride regularly, but you’d be wrong. For one, the trails there (Pinhoti, Mountaintown, Bear Creek, etc.) are phenomenal, and Mulberry Gap is a mountain biker’s paradise. I had high hopes for the weekend, which ended up being surpassed.
Each publication could bring two people along. With Greg out due to injury and Jeff at his brother’s wedding, we called on one of our contributors, Helena, to join in the fun. Helena arrived on Thursday and after lunch near our office in Decatur, we hit the road to Ellijay. It rained almost the entire drive up, stopping just before we got to Mulberry. We checked in, dropped our stuff off in our cabins, and set out for a quick spin on Pinhoti 2 before dinner. Judging by the smile on Helena’s face at the bottom of the descent, I’d say she enjoyed the trail. Thursday evening was spent eating, drinking Terrapin, and hanging out with some of the other media that had arrived.
Overnight, storms rolled in, soaking everything. By Friday morning, the rain had stopped, but it was gray, cloudy, and humid. The schedule for the day was fairly loose since people were still arriving. There was the option to do some shuttles or choose our own adventure. Bobby–our host from Maxxis–told me that a couple guys were looking to do a long ride, and asked if I’d be interested in leading it. To me, this sounded like the perfect time to do a pre-ride for the upcoming #BrutalLoop.
I filled John Watson from The Radavist, Kyle Kelley from the Golden Saddle Cyclery, and Helena in on the stats of the ride. I wanted to let them know–in no uncertain terms–that this ride was going to hurt. With our bags packed, we headed to the Pivot tents to get setup with bikes. All of us ended up on Mach 429 Trails, although I rode a version with 27.5+ wheels and tires on it. The tires? None other than Maxxis’ legendary Minion DHF up front and DHR II on the rear–my current favorite combination. As it turns out, I was the first person in North America to ride these monstrous 2.8″ Minions. Pretty cool. I got to bring home a Pivot Mach 429 Trail with both 29″ and 27.5+” wheelsets for long-term testing, so be on the lookout for a full review in the coming months.
I’ve already written extensively about the #BrutalLoop, and with Singletracks’ event just around the corner, I’ll leave it up to Helena to give you the scoop on that ride. I’ll just say that no one that went was disappointed and everyone that didn’t, was jealous. We made it back just in time for a delicious dinner of pulled pork, sweet potatoes, and mac ‘n’ cheese. With our bellies full, we listened to a presentation from Maxxis’ engineers, the sales team, as well as some tech talk with Pivot’s founder, Chris Cocalis.
After dinner, I headed out to watch some of the others take on photographer Timothy James’ loam track – a series of turns roughly scratched into a hillside behind the mess hall. After riding for 6 hours and finally scraping all the mud out of my eyeballs and ears, I was too tired–and clean–to try my hand at it. However, I enjoyed watching others search for traction on the greasy, rooty track, occasionally losing the battle to stay upright.
Saturday was all about the shuttles, with trucks running riders up to the top of Pinhoti 2 and 3. I got nominated to help out with some photos and videos for Maxxis. While I didn’t get in as many runs as some others, I did get the chance to ride with Aaron Chase and one of Pivot’s demo drivers, Mike. Watching those two send every little rise in the trail, gap things I had never noticed, and take corners at mach-chicken was inspiring and humbling.
For dinner, Mulberry served up their signature dish: beef brisket. As many times as I’ve eaten it, I still look forward to their brisket. It’s always cooked to perfection, as evidenced by the fatty bits that melt in your mouth. With everyone’s pants fitting a bit tighter, we loaded up to head to the Cohutta Overlook for some sunset brews. Trying to herd that many cats took longer than expected, and we nearly missed the sunset altogether. It was clear, cold, and windy at the top. Beers were drunk and moonshine was shared. Some folks had brought their bikes up to ride Pinhoti 3 back down. Without any lights, I opted to head back to Mulberry Gap to ride the loam track.
A dozen or so pushes up the hill later, and I was content to spectate. The rest of the night was a blur thanks to the abundant Terrapin. Some of us rode tiny clown bikes around the mess hall in what turned out to be a mashup of Jenga and a demolition derby. Judging by the smell of my clothes the next morning, I also spent a while hanging out by the campfire.
Sunday morning hurt. When I woke, I debated whether or not to get up for breakfast or try to go back to sleep. In the end, I chose food. Up at the mess hall it was clear I wasn’t the only one worse for wear–lots of bleary eyes, mussed hair, and a generally quieter atmosphere. But a huge mug of coffee along with a stack of pancakes had me feeling better in no time.
There were a few of us that wanted to squeeze one last ride in before it was time to head out. Since all of us had ridden the trails closest to Mulberry, I suggested doing a shuttle on the lesser-known Pinhoti 4 and 5 segments. Andrew was kind enough to give us a ride to the start and then pick us up at the end. It was a quick rip–less than an hour–and we timed it perfectly. Just as we popped out on the gravel road at the end of the trail, we could hear Andrew’s diesel truck chugging down the road. It turned out that the shuttle itself was even longer than the ride! An hour’s drive later, we were back at Mulberry with just enough time to pack our bags and say our goodbyes.
Every trip to Mulberry Gap is special, but this one was especially special. I finally put some faces to names, met a ton of new folks, rode bad ass tires on rad bikes, ate amazing food, and shared some of my favorite trails.
If you want to host your own version of the Appalachian Summit, get in touch with the wonderful folks at Mulberry Gap. They are more than happy to dial in the perfect itinerary to meet your needs.
For more pictures from the event, check Instagram for #MaxxisSummit.
A big thanks to Maxxis, Mulberry Gap, Pivot, Stan’s, Clif Bar, and Terrapin for putting together a great weekend!