There's something magical about the Fork Area Trail System. Supernatural meets nature on this ridge leading to the Savannah River in Edgefield County.
How else to explain a mountain bike trail through a forest of trees with hardly any teeth-rattling roots? Or an 11-mile ride that leaves your muscles feeling like they've been on a trip half that long? Or how you can coast for much of an uphill trip?
A story in The State a few weeks ago focused on this culmination of years of mountain bike trail building in the central Savannah River region. Descriptions of the new trail were based on walking a portion of it before it officially opened to riders and on the testimony of Bill Victor, who helped plan the trail and had ridden it.
When I rode it, a month later, FATS was even better than envisioned. I haven't had as much fun on a bike since back in 1969, when a group of 12-year-olds took turns launching off clay mounds into a water-filled quarry pond.
A month ago, Victor said the Fork Area system probably would lure mainly locals and wouldn't be a huge tourism draw. Since then, he has changed his opinion. The parking area has been crowded on weekends, with scattered license plates from outside of Georgia and South Carolina. A Pennsylvania couple making a 10-day tour of mountain biking venues on the east coast enjoyed FATS enough to spend the night at Hickory Knob and try other trails in the area.
What to Expect
Only a few hundred feet out of the parking lot at FATS, you start rolling up and down hills. Many are natural gullies, the result of erosion a century ago when the slopes were cleared for cotton fields. Some bumps were built by the fun-loving trail architects.
They also pushed up berms on the tight turns and placed mostly flat chunks of concrete in moist areas. The result is tight corners that are easier to navigate than some of the rocky straight sections.
If you like to push the envelope, you can take the seemingly never-ending series of bumps at full speed, going airborne on many peaks. But the more cautious will want to ride the brakes in places. I wore down the brake pads, yet still felt I was going fast enough.
The magic of the trail is that you pedal just long enough uphill to start sucking air, then you hit a downhill section that prompts you to release that precious air in a roller coaster-like scream of exhilaration. A few technical devices, such as logs across the trail, are thrown in to keep things interesting and make it a little too difficult for rank beginners.
The main 11-mile section open now forms a modified loop. You pedal out on a nearly one-mile section before taking a right on a convoluted circuit that runs to the river. Another five miles is built but has been closed off and on until a few good rains season the trails.
Amazingly, the section of the loop moving up the ridge from the river seemed to have nearly as much downhill as uphill slope. I was beginning to think the trail builders had defied gravity before I hit the last section heading back to the parking lot. That last mile or so left the legs and lungs burning.
Still, I felt less worn out than after a six-mile ride in Harbison State Forest a week earlier. The next day, I was sore in unusual places. The crouching on the pedals during the rolling downhills stressed the arches of my feet and the upper quadriceps more than most rides.
Before you take off for the Fork Area system, consider a few caveats. Because the trail is new and still being seasoned, it will be closed quickly during wet periods. Also, hunters have used this land for years. This time of year, bike riders can avoid hunters by not riding early in the morning and late in the afternoon Monday through Saturday. If you ride during those times, just in case wear bright colors, preferably vivid orange.
Also, there aren't any trail maps to carry with you or markers indicating distances. Of course, you'll be having so much fun you won't care how much farther it is to the parking lot.
If You Go
The Fork Area Trail System has nearly 16 miles of mountain bike trails.
- Where: In Edgefield County, near the Savannah River.
- Directions: From Columbia, take I-20 west to Exit 1 (S.C. 230). Take a right on S.C. 230 and go about five miles and turn left on County Road 53 at Sportsman's Corner. Go about four miles. Just past the sign for River Plantation Farm, the parking area for the trail is on the left. If you pass the Fury Ferry sign, you've gone too far.
- Information: Go to www.sorba.org and click on "Chapters" and the Augusta-Aiken chapter.
- Eats: There's a barbecue place at the turn on County Road 53 and there's a fish camp just off S.C. 230 between Sportsman's Corner and I-20.
To reach Joey Holleman: 803-771-8366. For more news or to subscribe, please visit http://www.thestate.com.