|Long, steady climbing off road in Iowa?|
Then mountain biking kind of lost its shine, folks did other things, and the horses discovered these trails. I cannot remember the last time I rode there. I thought it wasn't that long ago, but maybe it's been ten years or more. Don't know for sure. At any rate, I have a Borealis Echo here on test for Twenty Nine Inches and I decided that the 29+ wheels it had were going to find the terrain there pretty challenging. An old friend had told me years ago that there were sandy pits everywhere there and that it wasn't any fun to ride there anymore. The area was essentially lost to off-road cycling, even though it once had been a hot place to go. Horses and sand ruled there now, apparently. Sand? Maybe a 29+ could tame it. I aimed to find out.
|Later- still going up!|
The Area used to host a race, as I mentioned, and I thought I remembered how the course was started, so I took off in that general direction. I didn't get far when I felt a fine spray of water on my legs and I got off to investigate. Dang! I forgot to secure the lid to the Osprey Raptor 10 pack well enough. Funny it didn't leak on the way up in the truck! Well, I lost a bit of water, but I figured it out and then I was really on my way! I didn't get far when I was faced with a decision to ford a creek or turn right and go up. I chose to go up....and up.....and up!
Most places in Iowa don't have climbs that are steady and long. Climbing in Iowa is short, steep, and based on momentum, usually. This was rhythm climbing. Find a gear and grind up. Just keep turning over those pedals. It reminded me of the West, except there was copious amounts of oxygen! The trails were wide. Usually wide enough for a single vehicle to pass through, but they were well taken care of here and despite recent rains, the dirt looked to be holding up well under the pressure of horse riding.
|Between the last pic and this, it was ridiculously steep! But I finally came out on top.|
|Then it was down, down, down to this water crossing. Here looking back after crossing it.|
The trails were really pretty fun, challenging with the very steep sections and horse hoof pock marks, and dotted with run-off crossings and a stream crossing here and there. Punching out of the woods you got to see really vast meadows and prairie, which is really odd in Iowa! It used to look like this, but obviously, most of our state is agrarian, so crops are generally the view here during the Summer. To be able to see fields of flowers and sumac taller than a house was really a treat. The Echo was doing well. I was a bit concerned the XX-1 gearing would not be low enough, but the 32 X 42, although used a lot, got the job done.
|The last, deepest, and longest stream crossing.|
The second half of the "big loop", (which is about 20-25 miles now), is pock marked with big sandy traps. The consistency of the sand is very fine, but the 29+ wheels went right through it with a heavy, measured effort. Again- glad for the 32 X 42 combo! There were also two big climbs out there that back in the 90's I could never get up. In fact, I only ever saw one person clean one of these climbs on one occasion. Well, I got both of them! I think partly because I am a better rider now and partly it was the 29+ wheels. By the way, these climbs are far rockier, technical, and more difficult as a result than they were back then. So......probably more the bike than me.
I'm saving a lot back here for the review on TNI.com, but here's one statement I will post here: These trails are not going to be much fun unless you are on a full fat bike or a 29+ rig. The amount of erosion, pock marks, sand, and loose, steep rocks will stymie just about any other rig I know of that is human powered. So, if you want to ride the "Lost Realm", bring the right tool for the job, and defer to all horseback riders. You will be in their playground if you go. (And yes- bicycles are allowed out there.)