What really got me into mountain biking is basically the complete opposite of the whole Nature vs Wild stance (see Part II). To be completely honest, I initially got into mountain biking to fill that void of living in the city and no longer having easy access to the mountains on my dirt bike. Access to trails in the city was 95% of my motivation for buying a bicycle - the other 5% was to train for moto. Although I wasn't close to mountains I had trails and I had two wheels, a pretty damn good compromise.
That's one of the best things about mountain bikes: If you have a forested area you can build bike trails. You don't need acres upon acres of land dedicated to vehicles that are just going to rip it to shreds. You don't need a lot of elevation change to make flowy trails and you don't need big equipment to carve out those trails. Some shovels, some mattocks, and some other folks dedicated to riding and you can start building.
There's a lot of Appalachia that could really benefit from having access to bicycle trails. 99.999% of towns in Appalachia have the elevation to make extremely fun and challenging terrain. They also have downtown areas that aren't exactly restrictive in regard to what you can build around them, or are small enough that a trail system a mile from Main Street could be built into an empty hillside.
Knoxville TN has turned a rundown waste lot into celebrated bike trails. Asheville is, well Asheville. Chattanooga, Brevard, Roanoke... Towns in Appalachia that have thriving mountain bike communities. I'm not saying Pikeville KY can be the next Knoxville or Whitesburg can be the next Asheville (being slightly hipsterish) because of a couple hundred mountain bikers a year... But it damn sure ain't gonna hurt.
What all of those places have in common, that I don't always see here, is that they welcome outsiders. Red River Gorge, right here in our backyard, is the subject of many rave reviews and positive headlines. From local newspapers in other states to the New York Times and the Outside article that started this series of blogs, they've all dedicated time and space to RRG. Driving through Slade during peak climbing season is a big License Plate Game. City Slickers and Yuppies, Climbers and Dirtbags, Locals and folks from all over the world flock to Red River Gorge for its beauty and recreation opportunities. It takes all walks of life to make a place special. A town can't succeed without its people embracing the types you would typically crack jokes about while sitting around a bonfire.
Even if mountain biking isn't the answer to our economic distress it can improve the quality of life of those living here. A small bike shop, a tiny campground, and a craft moonshine distillery (we've got those!) to celebrate a solid day on the trails is better than none. A small community of people getting out on the trail is better than an entire community falling deeper into unhealthy inactivity. Look over at Norton VA's Flag Rock Area Trails (FRAT, awesome name) for example - and the sudden Facebook fame of the Devil's Bathtub, a hiking trail just over the mountain from Norton. Look at the community involvement surrounding Prestonsburg KY's Sugarcamp Mountain Trails - incredible! Western North Carolina has prospered for decades because of their dedication to outdoor recreation.
So why not Pikeville? Why not Whitesburg? Why not Huntington WV or really anywhere else? Lets just pump the brakes on the whole "Mini-Gatlinburg" BS. I throw up in my mouth every time I hear that cheeseball phrase.
We aren't going to find a silver bullet or a golden ticket. What Appalachia needs is to continue making small steps in a positive direction. What we need is to hear more of the good news hidden beneath all of those depressing headlines. The truth is there are some wonderful grassroots movements happening right now in Coal Country - in outdoor recreation and in general. Lets keep developing those OHV and horse trails but we need to also keep thinking outside the box. Lets grow the Breathitt County Hiking Club. Lets keep growing the community surrounding and building the Sugarcamp Mountain Trails. But we can't stop there. Educate yourselves on the Great Eastern Trail, specifically the Pine Mountain Trail right here in our backyard. The Sheltowee Trace is also an awesome trail right here in East Kentucky. Some allow biking, some allow horseback riding, but most are for hiking and that's okay. Adventure is out there but it's up to you to take advantage of it.
So take a weekend and park that Rzr. Slow down and enjoy nature. It may open your eyes to a whole new opportunity.