I like the big, fat tires of a mountain bike for the rough roads and the occasional ride on the sand. Then last fall, I took a trail ride while camping in Georgia and discovered a new side of bicycling. I still enjoy the road and ride almost every day, but there is something special about tackling roots, mud, sand, steep inclines and fast downhills.
In May, the International Mountain Biking Association sent a trail-building team to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where the team - with lots of volunteer help - created a single-track mountain bike trail off Jackson Bluff Road on the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area property.
A mountain biking club, the Waccamaw Trail Blazers, was formed so a core group of people would be available to maintain and add to the trail.
The single-track trail joins with many dirt roads on the property to provide miles of off-road riding. Markers with colored diamonds in blue, red and yellow signage at the trailhead give distances. They connect with each other, giving the rider the ability to choose different rides and challenges. While the terrain isn't what you would find in Asheville, the Jackson Bluff Trail provides a challenge to experienced riders and a great learning environment for those of us just starting with mountain bikes. Like most single-track routes, this one is about 2 feet wide, with twists and turns between trees, bounces over roots and changes in elevation for a complete workout.
Riding the trail down the slope, you end at the Waccamaw River, which is a great spot to stop, rest and hydrate, because the trip back will be all uphill. You can choose to return on the single-track trail or ride the new boardwalk through the swamp and then on old roads back to the parking area. If you have the skill and feel adventurous, there is a 30-foot gully drop that will get the adrenaline flowing. And with the speed you pick up going down, it is almost a free ride up the other side. The trail makes a loop here, so if the gully drop was fun, you can easily repeat the ride. If you don't feel comfortable with the drop, the trail also goes around the gully.
Gloves, sturdy shoes and a helmet are highly recommended, as is a supply of water or sports drinks. This is a wild area, and you may encounter snakes, poison plants, large hungry flies and, of course, mosquitoes. You may also see deer, squirrels, owls and various wildflowers. Most rides will be 4 to 6 miles, not a big distance for those who usually ride the roads, but a good ride on a mountain bike, especially for the beginner.
To reach the trail from U.S. 501/378: In Conway, take the S.C. 544 exit and drive south, past the Coastal Carolina campus. Turn right at Jackson Bluff Road and follow Jackson Bluff Road past the Grand Strand Water & Sewer Authority. Past the turn for the recycling center, you will see water treatment ponds on the left. The road then makes a sharp left, but you will travel straight ahead on a rough paved road for two-tenths of a mile and turn left at the yellow gate into the parking area.
Details on Grand Strand events and attractions: www.myrtlebeachonline.com.