Better & better for bikers
Muir-Carlin Trails improved; MTB skills courses added
Muir-Carlin is a great trail system that just keeps getting better. This singletrack in Wisconsin's Southern Kettle Moraine State Park take a back seat to no other trail system. And almost unbelievably, they just keep getting better; not in incremental ways, either. Each year huge upgrades are made.
Why am I in love with these trails? First they have great flow. They meet International Mountain Biking Association standards without being overwhelmingly technical or twisting. Second, there are obstacles, such as log piles, that are challenging but not dangerous. There are bypasses around these features for those not wanting to risk injury.
Third, there is an definite gradation in difficulty. The Muir Trail itself is the easiest, but even it has challenging climbs. And for experts, the new version of Muir's Orange Loop is extremely technical. For example, the former long "S" shaped rocky climb can be bypassed. Yet it goads masochists who relish redlining, both aerobically and technically.
The Muir Trail itself is comprised of six different loops of different degrees of challenge for a total distance of 33.2 miles.
The Red Trail hasn't disappeared although the Department of Natural Resources changed its designation last year to the Brown Trail because so-called "red" routes require additional emergency access points. It's the same for the Emma Carlin Trails.
If the Muir Trail is not enough challenge, there's always the Connector and Emma Carlin trails. The Connector is a grade tougher technically than the Muir but quite a bit easier than Carlin, which is designed and designated more for the advanced intermediate or expert rider. But hey, anyone can get off their bikes and walk if they have to.
Before we get into this year's changes that have pushed this trail system to a new level, let's look at the history of the great work done by TrailBlazer Dave Mangan's hard working eSpeCially CrAzy Irregular TrailBuildin' Crew. I will only mention the major highlights, since a complete list could fill the entire issue of Silent Sports.
Over the years, many areas of Muir have been rerouted to bypass low spots that remained wet when the rest of the system was dry, resulting in their closure. Many eroded hills up and down the fall lines have been replaced by winding technical climbs and descents. And if the changes were not that hot or needed tweaks, the crew usually had it changed by the following week.
The most noticeable past project was making the Connector a two-way trail for its entire five-mile stretch. Before then, there were some suicidal sections that seemed to encourage head-on collisions.
Finally, last season they started rebuilding the Emma Carlin, a most daunting job. I'll admit I've never made the entire original Carlin outer loop without a few dabs, usually on the erosion bars crossing those rocky gravely climbs up the fall line.
And in some ways, I'll miss the old trail. It brings back memories of trying to ski that beast with striding skis on ungroomed (read: rock filled) trails back in the late 1970s. You'd be lucky if only your rock skis got trashed. Often my body was ravaged, too.
I'll never forget Kris Maki's comment from those early cross-country days: "Judging from these trails, that Emma Carlin must have been one mean woman."
So that brings us to the present. The trail crew plans to start where they left off last year on Carlin and complete half of the outer loop, starting at the parking lot on Highway Z, a half mile south of Highway 59 east of the town of Palmyra.
But that isn't what has me most excited about once again biking the Southern Kettles. It was what I discovered when I clicked on their website at southernkettles.org. When I scrolled down the page I found two gems of biking footage on the Muir Trail.
The video showed the first section of the new skills area with lots of obstacles. Again, they're not overly dangerous but each can be bypassed.
If that video doesn't psyche up it veiewers, they're brain dead. I, for one, was inspired to dash off an email to TrailBlazer Dave Mangan himself. This was his response:
"The 'features' that you saw are located on a new 'skilz course' that we installed last fall, just off the Muir parking lot. The entrance to this area is also at the main entrance to the trails. The area on the video is the beginner loop of the skilz course, and a few additional features will be added to this area later this spring to complete it," Mangan wrote.
He confirmed that riders do have the option to skip obstacles they feel are too difficult. "We actually recommend that bikers ride the entire course first without riding over any feature so that they can see what each one is before attempting them," Mangan wrote. "The Skilz Area has clear fall zones around each feature so that if a rider should fall, he should not hit anything harmful and thus should not receive any injury."
Mangan said Skilz Area opened last September and its popularity "has surpassed all of our expectations. Some weekend days we watched in amazement as there were continuous lines of riders waiting for their turn to ride the course."
He said phase two will begin this fall with the construction of an intermediate area, "that will appeal to the more adventurous riders."
Credit due to the DNR, too
Finally, I could not, in good conscience, write about the Muir system without mentioning that its constant upgrading has only been possible with the unprecedented cooperation of the DNR and volunteer groups. In fact a book could be written about all the positive changes, not just for mountain biking.
Frankly, the same can be said for Jerry Leiterman and mountain bike and ski trails in the Northern Kettles, especially the ski trail grooming done by volunteers at Greenbush.
So after you check out the video footage of the new skills area at Muir, think about showing up at Carlin at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturdays to help with the trail building. You, too, can become part of this incredible legacy.
Lee Borowski is a past USSA Nordic Coach of the Year, Badger State Winter Games Athlete of the Year and the coach for several junior, senior and collegiate skiers of the year. He has also coached many master skiers who have won both national and world championships. Borowski is the author of several books and articles, and producer of four videos on cross-country skiing technique. He runs the website thesimplesecrets.com. To order Borowski's "NEW Simple Secrets of Skating" or "The Simple Secrets of Striding," demonstrated through footage of Olympic and world champions, and available on VHS and DVD, send $25 plus $1.75 shipping to Lee Borowski, 4500 Cherokee Drive, Brookfield, WI 53045. Wisconsin residents add $1.27 tax.
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