People have all kinds of preconceived notions of what it’s like to write a trail guidebook. How many times have I heard, “That must be really cool, you just get to go out and ride your bike or hike all day!” Yes, that is what I do all day—sometimes. But it’s not quite what you might imagine. I ride everything I write about, and that’s time consuming. Efficient trail research typically demands several days of riding at a time, getting in several long trails per day. Here’s a page out of my trail log from last April.
4 am Up early and out the door. I packed lunch last night, so I just boil some water and make a pot of tea to pour into a thermos. I’ll drink most of it en route to the first trailhead (two hours away), washing down that waffle that thawed on the kitchen counter overnight.
6:30 am Arrive just as the sun is coming up. Fortunately it’s a beautiful morning and the sunrise through the trees is pretty much gorgeous. I’d like to get in three big mountain bike rides today, so I’m racing daylight on both ends. I’ll also be shooting photos as I go, and the light will only be good until around 10 or 11 am. I hit the trail, alone. All the other early birds are chirping louder than me.
1 pm Finish the first ride—Heartbreak Ridge outside of Black Mountain, 25 miles long, and pretty darn difficult—it climbed forever. That waffle is long gone and I’m starving. I was having so much fun on the long downhill that I didn’t stop for a snack. I’ve been taking notes as I go, but I take a break to save my GPS route and write out impressions of the trails I’ve just been on. Then I chow down on the lunch I made last night—good old PB&J.
1:40 pm Back on my bike and riding Kitsuma from the same trailhead. My legs are still post toasties from this morning and this route starts with a steep half-mile climb. Great—now my legs are really screaming. Another fun downhill follows, and I forget my legs for a while.
3:30 pm Finished Kitsuma. I write up my notes and save the GPS—can’t forget that. Feeling pretty good, though I’ve sweated off several pounds. Load up the car and drive back around Asheville, heading for the Coleman Boundary near Barnardsville. It’s a beautiful drive, but I’m extremely disappointed when I find the ice cream joint in Barnardsville is now a thrift store. I was excited about that ice cream.
4:30 pm Coleman Boundary trailhead. I’d planned on spending the night in a nearby dispersed-use Forest Service campsite, but it’s too early to camp now. The ride is 14 miles. Even though I didn’t get the ice cream, I decide to go for it.
7 pm Coleman Boundary ended up being fairly easy. Good thing, or I’d have had to bail and do it again in the morning. After finishing up my notes I head over to Hot Springs to find a place to sleep near tomorrow’s first ride.
7:30 pm Downtown Marshall. I ditch the dehydrated dinner I brought with me and eat a huge pizza instead—good decision.
9 pm Grand total for today: 45 miles on the bike, 4 hours in the car—but who’s counting? Right now I’m curled up in a sleeping bag in the back of my 1995 Subaru wagon, parked right at the trailhead. There’s a whippoorwill about two inches from the window next to my head and I think he got into someone’s coffee supply—he’s pretty hyped up. Doesn’t matter, I’m zonked. Up for tomorrow: more riding—about 21 miles on the bike and 3 hours in the car.
Jim Parham became a guidebook author 1n 1992 when he wrote the first mountain bike trail guides for the Southeastern United States. Now the author of more than a dozen titles on biking and hiking, he’s still at it. Jim is currently working on a brand new mountain bike guidebook for western North Carolina and the South Carolina Upstate, to be released in 2016.