The weather promised to be spectacular today and I decided that I was going to take a nice bike ride. Not around the neighborhood as usual, but somewhere that I could enjoy the area without being disturbed by traffic. Since I have been hiking Lake Fayetteville, I decided to go and check out the Hidden Diversity Trail located in the Hobbs Conservation Area located very near to the War Eagle Mill. I needed something different.
It takes about an hour to get there from where I live and the back roads were pretty empty; I enjoyed the drive. Surprisingly, I found the side road (Townsend Ridge Road) off of Highway 12 very easily and the access road, while not paved, was very well maintained, as you can see in the photo below
This access road is 2 miles long before you arrive at the parking area for the Townsend parking area trail access. I was not going very fast but it sure seemed a lot longer than 2 miles. Finally, after a curve I arrived at the parking lot.
I took this photo of a fellow and his horse, there were several other groups of folks in some stage of saddling up. This is truly a multi use trail, horses, bikers and hikers there was evidence of all three as I found the section for car-biker parking.At the end of the parking lot is the sign for the trail, also there is a weather proof sign-in sheet. this is a very good thing to use. If you go out on the trail and for what ever reason don't make it back, the rangers can know that you are there (somewhere) and can locate you and assist if necessary at the end of the day. It is important to also sign out once you are done with the trail use. This area also has a newly build comfort station.
I got copies of the maps of the various trails and hopped on my bike and headed into the forest. As you can see the trails are narrow and very leaf covered. This is not a problem if you find yourself on the top of a ridgeline, but it is definately a challenge going up and down the numerous switchbacks that I found on the trail. The leaves make it difficult to gain traction and hide lots of little challenges like roots, branches and rocks. You have to stay alert for these trails or you'll find yourself ditched.
The trails here are quite challenging and somehow I managed to take the wrong trail at the first juncture. I thought I had selected the War Eagle Trail which loops for about 3 miles but I actually selected the longest trail available at that point...the Little Clifty Creek Loop (this trail is nine miles long I did not know that at the time). By the time I realized that the trail I was on was not the one I wanted it was too late to turn back.
It got a bit scary after I was on the trail for an hour and a half and had no idea of how much longer it would be before I got back to the starting point. What compounded the problem is that I was running into switchback after switchback, all tedious uphills, covered with leaves and I was too tired to try to ride them. The trail is very narrow trying to walk while pushing the bike was very difficult.
My energy was fading fast. It got to the point where I could go maybe fifty or a hundred feet and needed to stop and rest. Water was starting to run low, no energy and no idea of what was still ahead of me. Several people (all 30 years younger than me) passed me coming from the other direction. I finally asked a very trim and athletic young lady how much further to the Townsend parking area. She looked ahead, then looked at her watch...I knew I was in trouble now! She said forty minutes.
I felt pretty good about that. I was heading downhill and was hoping there would be a lot more of that to come, but no. There was a lot of uphill, gravel covered with leaves which was just too much for me to try to pedal on. More walking, pushing and resting. I kept thinking; forty minutes for her...what will it be for me? It seemed about a mile of this uphill drudge before I got to a ridge line again and riding was at least possible. Not fast, mind, just possible. More ups and downs and for the most part I was able to handle them, but I was tired and sure wanted to get back to the car.
It was now about thirty minutes since I passed the young lady and there was nothing that resembles the parking area. At least I was beginning to think I may actually make it back before dark. I had been on the trail for a little over two hours. I stopped and checked the map one more time and realized that there was still a pretty good distance to go. It would not have been so bad if it weren't for the up and down switchbacks, but there were so many and it sapped all my strength.
I made a little more distance and noticed that the trail was taking a turn to the right. Ah, this must be the last turn in the loop and now I am heading back to the lot! Wow, it felt good, but I still saw many switchbacks in front of me. I took a look to the left and noticed a gravel road. Hum, could this be the access road I drove in on? Oh...Please!
I took a good look and decided that it was. I picked up my bike and walked through the brush for about a hundred feet or so and pedaled happily the last two miles on this road. It was not totally flat, there were some ups and downs but nothing like the switchbacks.
I made it back to the car in a total of two and a half hours and only two sips of water left in the jug. Glad I had the good sense to bring some energy gels and bars with me. I felt good that I was able to do this trail but am not looking forward to doing again any time soon. I still don't know how I missed the three mile loop that I originally wanted. I am very grateful that I saw the road from the trail and was able to use it. I honestly don't think I could have stayed on the trail and done all the switchbacks that would have been required to get back to the car. My energy level at that point just wasn't there.