Opening My Trail Eyes: A Weird, Wet Night Ride in Atlanta

A surprising interpretation of mountain biking is found in hidden, forested pockets around Atlanta, GA.

photo: Jeff Barber

As soon as I stepped out of the airport terminal in Atlanta I was sweating into my hat. I had spent some time in the south when I was in the military, but went right back to the West after training. After a while, you forget what the humidity feels like.

This time I was back for a different kind of training. Jeff and Leah, who founded Singletracks, hired me as their new staff writer in May, and it was time to dive into Singletracks history, and find out what makes this website so special.

They sent me an itinerary for the week that included training along with two mountain bike rides. One, a night ride with a group of Atlanta locals that Jeff does every Tuesday, and another ride in Alabama the day after. I was stoked for every part of the trip. Even though it was for work, I’d get to ride some new trails in a location that I wouldn’t have sought out on my own. And, I’d get to show my new bosses that hired me to write about mountain biking full-time that I did in fact know how to mountain bike, and I hadn’t catfished them into the position.

photo: Jeff Barber

“It’s usually 15 – 20 miles,” Jeff said about the Tuesday night ride. “There’s a bunch of urban trails that we link together around the city, and then we get pizza and beer after.”

“Sounds good to me,” I replied.

I wasn’t worried about keeping up. I come from elevation and most of my rides take place somewhere between 5,500 and 7,500 feet above sea level. Plus, I’m versed in riding technical trails, or at least the type of technical trails that are popular in Colorado.

Tuesday after work I rode back to my AirBnB, charged my bike lights, set up the mounts, put a snack in my pocket, and filled up a water bottle. Jeff showed up around 6:30. I grabbed my gear and we went to get some food before we met up with the group.

Outside of a biscuit shop, in a shady, well-treed, in-town Atlanta neighborhood, we waited for the Tuesday night crew. There were seven or eight of us total. Once we were sure no one else was coming, we pedaled out onto the streets and headed toward the first trail.

“Watch out for poison ivy,” said Paul as he rode by my side. “You’re going to come into contact with it at some point in the ride, so just be aware and try not to veer off the trail.”

We hopped up a curb and rode up a grassy bank toward the first set of trails. Hell yeah. I filed into the back of the group, so I could follow the others’ lines.

The woods were dense. Diggers had carved their trails through these urban sections of forest and the forest fought back. Vines draped down from the canopy, leafy branches smacked you in the face, and thumb-width roots on the ground made sure that your tires slipped away from their intended path.

photo: Jeff Barber

If a drone flew above us, the trails would resemble a spilled bowl of noodles. It was turn after turn after turn. Just as I figured out how to counter-balance on the rooty switchbacks, it started sprinkling. Then it rained. Then it poured. And, then it got really slippery. I had no idea how to ride any of it. On a descent, I depend on momentum to get me over stuff. Since these trails were pretty flat, it was a type of technical that I’d never dealt with.

Now, I was drenched. The fresh rain pushed the dried sweat on my forehead into my eyes and they started to burn. Right as I was about to wipe my eyes, I remembered Paul’s warning about the poison ivy, and how many leaves and branches came across my gloves. I put my hands back on the grips and kept pedaling.

I’d fallen all the way to the back of the group. I navigated using my best guesses, and finally popped out onto concrete. Up ahead, the group was gathered under the awning of a darkened elementary school. I checked my iPhone and made sure the rain hadn’t fried it yet. The others discussed the plan for the ride.

“Is it time for a beer yet?” someone asked.

“Nah, let’s keep going!” someone else said.

Just like that, we rode into the next set of trails, denser and more jungle-like than the last ones. My eyes weren’t burning as bad, so at least I could see better. But I still slipped over roots, and had to put my feet out over corners and steeps like I was on a Strider bike, so I didn’t fall into a bush of who-knows-what.

I looked around with disorientation, not knowing where the trail went, and saw clusters of the other riders’ lights moving up and down and around the trails. Steam formed above the hot lights as the rain hit them. I picked up my bike and pulled it over a downed tree, the same one I had to climb over on the way in, which meant we were on the way back out.

photo: Jeff Barber

Now back onto the city streets we pedaled toward the pizza place. We stacked our bikes up against each other on the wall of the restaurant. Inside, we sat at the table and water came off of our shoes and shorts and made puddles underneath.

“Well, that was different,” I said.

“That’s different than most of the riding around here,” said Jeff. “It’s a pretty unique ride. I’ve actually written some stories about it on Singletracks.”

Then he told me about two different times they were in the proximity of gunfire on the Tuesday night ride.

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The only danger I was in that night was slipping off the trail into a wet bush or getting poison ivy in my eyes.

Recently, I interviewed cross-country racing legend Geoff Kabush for an article about World Cup courses around the world.

“Every place in the world has a different interpretation of what mountain biking is,” he told me.

Going on the Tuesday night Faster Mustache ride in Atlanta exposed me to an interpretation I’d never seen before, and widened my perspective of what mountain biking could be. Not surprisingly, I didn’t speak the language and the skills I brought from Colorado didn’t hold up as well as I thought they would. I brought some new skills home, though.

And, also a poison ivy rash on my arms and legs.