I recently had the opportunity to travel to Georgia for the Maxxis Appalachian Summit to test out some tires, check out the local trails, and hang out with others in the mountain bike industry world at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway. Aaron and I were both representing Singletracks at this press camp, and I felt really lucky to know a local who could show me around all the best trails. The ride schedule for the event was pretty laid-back, but Aaron had other ideas. The Singletracks Brutal Loop is his baby, and he planned on showing it off.
It turns out that there were only three others who were up for the challenge–myself, Kyle of Golden Saddle Cyclery, and John of The Radavist. I actually wasn’t even planning on doing the whole ride. After Aaron mentioned that there was almost 7,000 feet of climbing over 35 miles, I figured it would be best if I split off and did my own, shorter version to avoid making my companions impatient if they were stuck waiting for me. Aaron assured me that there was another great ride I could do if I did part of the first climb with the group and then “bailed” (he also assured me it wouldn’t be bailing, as there was still plenty of mileage and elevation gain).
We began to climb up the gravel road from Mulberry Gap. I felt good. It was warm and humid, and I was soon soaked with sweat, but my legs felt strong. I was keeping pace with the guys just fine. The more Aaron talked about the epic ride ahead of us, the more I was tempted to ditch my plans and just stick around for the long haul. We stopped at Barnes Creek Falls to take some pictures, and again at the Bear Creek Overlook, which was still shrouded in fog. There were a couple other mountain bikers at the overlook, some of the only people we’d see all day.
My turn-off was just past the first overlook. One of the guys asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to keep going. I said that actually I did want to, but was scared of holding them up. They assured me that I wouldn’t. That was all the encouragement I needed. I didn’t even slow down as we passed the trail entrance. I just kept climbing, committed.
And we kept on climbing. We stopped at Potato Patch, a clearing at a T-intersection, for a quick break and to shoot some photos in the fog that was still heavy in spots. But we got lucky, and it cleared just in time for the Mountaintown Overlook, about 10 miles into the ride and almost near the end of the long climb. We stopped again and drank the beers we’d all shoved in our packs for this occasion. Terrapin Beer Company from Athens, GA provided a variety of canned brews for the event, which were consumed liberally throughout the weekend.
A few more miles of climbing, and we were finally at the entrance to Mountaintown Creek Trail. Time to get rowdy!
The first bit of trail drops a lot of elevation really fast, and I had a blast getting some air off of the water bars. The grade then becomes more gradual as the trail meanders along the creek and crosses it about a dozen times. We were already saturated with sweat from the climb and the high humidity, and we were about to get even wetter. Most of the stream crossings were easily rideable, but there were a couple that required walking and good balance. There was one that came up to my thighs, with a small waterfall just downstream. Stiff bike shoes with cleats aren’t exactly the ideal footwear in this situation, and while no one ended up falling in, there were a few close calls.
Mountaintown meets up with the Pinhoti Trail about 17 miles into the ride, and thus begins the hike-a-bike section (every good ride needs one of those). This section of the Pinhoti is hiking-only, and most of it is so steep that it’s nearly impossible to ride, anyway. There are also usually plenty of downed trees. But it’s only about a mile or so, and the rest of the ride is well-worth the short hike.
We came out onto an old forest road, which climbs gradually to the top of the Bear Creek Trail, our next descent. Bear Creek was a ton of fun as well. We passed the Gennett Poplar, a massive giant (for the east coast) that is one of the oldest trees in Georgia. We also passed some people from our Maxxis Summit crew riding up the trail the opposite way–the only people we’d seen since the couple at the overlook, which already seemed worlds away.
The Pinhoti Trail intersects Bear Creek in a grove of rhododendrons, where we stopped for one last snack break before the final push. This section of the Pinhoti is known as Pinhoti 1, or P1, to locals. Because the trail is so long, yet also so dispersed (gravel roads and doubletrack are used as a means of connecting all the sections), this numbering system is useful for clarification, especially since this area is seeing more and more visitors, thanks to Mulberry Gap.
The climb up P1 was pretty brutal. My legs were tired, and not eating much was catching up with me. Since I hadn’t planned on doing the long ride, I hadn’t brought much food along. But we were almost done, and a good meal awaited us back at camp.
While Ryan and Aaron hammered ahead, I was in granny gear land. At the end of P1, we rode gravel briefly to hook up with some doubletrack to climb to the top of Pinhoti 2 (P2), the last descent. That climb didn’t seem bad at all the day before when Aaron and I had done this section in a quick loop from Mulberry Gap but this time, the short ascent felt like a mountain. But we made it, and then went bombing down the fast, flowy descent, through the pines and the bright green of fresh spring growth, before exchanging fist bumps at the end.
A mile and a half of gravel and we were back at camp, just in time for dinner and well-earned beers. It was the best kind of day–new friends, awesome trails, and a sense of accomplishment at the end.
Mulberry Gap MTB Getaway, and the trails that surround it, are definitely worth the trip. And be sure to ride the Brutal Loop–it is as its name implies, but every moment of suffering is well-rewarded, I promise.