My cross-country mountain biking trip was off to a great start – and it got a lot better when I was able to visit the “Ride Kanuga” bike park in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I arrived in town a day early for the “Seth’s Bike Hacks (Berm Peak) Red Wolf Tours Weekend”. Several others also arrived early and we hit the park to see what it had to offer.
Swimming to the Top
The day was very hot and very humid. Most of the locals who frequent Ride Kanuga were used to the conditions. Coming from the west coast, the air hit me like a hammer. It was hard to breathe and even harder to stay cool. I had to drink extra water just to keep from overheating because none of my sweat was evaporating.
Riding to the top of Kanuga was not too tough. There are two routes; the singletrack and the road. The singletrack, “High Rocks Climb”, is a winding trail that gradually takes you to the top of the 500-foot hill. Coming in at just over one mile long, climbers pass some of the downhill sections and often get to watch other riders drop in and speed past. There are some drops, a few rollers, and a whole lot of up.
The alternative climb is the access connector “Copperhead Road”. This is a wider, smoother climb but is a bit shorter (about one mile). It climbs the same amount as High Rocks, making it steep enough in certain spots to necessitate pushing the bike up. I was able to clear the climb without dabbing, but I was a hot mess when I got to the top. Personally, I prefer the singletrack. Your mileage may vary.
We wanted to hit every trail on the hill (there are only eight of them). From the easy starter “Evergreen” to the fun jump line “Tortuga” to the technically challenging “Paint it Black”, all of the trails have something to offer. Unfortunately, each downhill must be earned and we only had so many climbs in us before we started to wonder to what extent our riding was going to affect the following three days’ rides (many of which would be FAR more challenging!)
We cleansed our riding palettes on “Evergreen” and “First in Flight”. Both were easy rollers that allowed us to shake the road (or air) miles out of our collective systems and prepare for the bigger stuff.
“Rhodo Ruckus” and “GNCC” were a fantastic and fun romps through the brush and dirt. They had some fun drops and made for exciting rides. Both deserve their blue colors and are a great example of clean, fast, and safe trail design.
“Paint it Black” was our only black run of the day. We attacked it with tired enthusiasm, and it chewed us up and spit us out. Skinny, loamy dirt, techy drops, jumps, rock rolls, and steep descenders carried our fearful souls down to the bottom half where we were greeted with the meat of the trail. Two HUGE dips – one right after the other – sped us along and launched us into the air and into the bush-covered trails beyond. We were all able to finish the trail without incident, but it was a lesson for us. We were excited but humbled.
After four runs (and 2000 feet of climbing), we decided it was time to head back into town and look for a meal. We wanted to ride more, but we were overheated and we knew we still had three days of hard riding ahead of us – one of which was to be back here at Kanuga!
Return to the Scene
On day #3 of the Red Wolf Bike Tour, we returned to Ride Kanuga for a day at the park with the whole team. Seth, Barrett, and our trusty guides joined us and helped us ride these trails with a bit more conditioning under our belts and a lot more confidence. I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There’s nothing better than having a local pro cutting a line for you when you drop into a tough black run.
We started the day riding laps on “Tortuga”. The blue jump line is only a part of the mountain’s total elevation (maybe half?), but it presents its own challenges. Some fun risers get you warmed up, but the big lifter at the halfway point has the potential to throw you into next week. I caught some air on it, but I couldn’t approach the daring and prowess of the locals who use this booter to launch them into orbit.
Feeling suitably humbled (and recovering from a HARD day of riding the day before), we dragged ourselves to the top of the hill and rode “Hemlock Epoch”. It was a hard ride that was filled with rocks, berms, and fast drops – not all of which I was prepared for. This was the point when I should have stopped for the day.
My last run before lunch was down “Paint it Black”. I felt confident on this run, having ridden it three days earlier. I felt I knew what to expect. Although this was true, I was far too tired to make an effective effort and I ended up smashing a berm and going over the bars into some soft, sandy loam. I was completely uninjured, and my guide told me it actually looked like a “good” crash, but it shook me up and I decided to call it – at least until I could get some food in me.
The Wake-Up Call
The Red Wolf crew were preparing a barbecue lunch at the parking lot. I rode up to the wood deck where they all were relaxing and I collapsed in a heap of tired. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.
After a hot dog and a few bottles of water, I felt my strength increase. I wanted to take it easy, and I wanted to ride again in the afternoon, but that plan was put to bed the moment I woke up on my back in the gravel.
People tell me I was just standing there, listening in on the myriad of conversations and taking in the atmosphere, when I went limp and fell into a crumpled pile on the ground next to the deck. I don’t remember any of this. I do remember dreaming (briefly) and opening my eyes to see several people standing over me – some with water bottles and some telling me to roll onto my side. I felt fine, but it took me a minute or two to recognize that I had just passed out. Apparently, the previous days’ rides were more than I was ready for, and they finally took their toll.
With no lasting ill effects, I decided to cap the day and call the rest of the riding off. I relaxed and enjoyed the company of all the great folks who were with me and felt a pang of regret that I didn’t know when I would be able to ride with them again.
Kanuga is a well-planned and professionally-built system that is amazing fun. The trails are easy to follow, they are well maintained, and the jumps are easy to telegraph. If only all bike parks could have this level of commitment and planning from their respective crews.
These tours are great fun. I encourage anyone who has a bit of riding skill and a sense of adventure to sign up for one. The people are great, the trails are amazing, and it is an experience you will carry with you as long as you live.
I’m thankful for my new riding buddies and I’ll try to keep riding with all of them, somehow.