I had yet another super weekend of trail-filled fun. My son and I were fortunate enough to ride two different trails and experience two different events this weekend. We went north to the 1st Annual Cross Timbers Backcountry Bikefest on Saturday, then headed to Horseshoe on Sunday to help out at the DORBA Beginner Clinic.
Bikefest @ Cross Timbers
If you missed Bikefest on March 17-18, 2019, you missed the North Texas mountain bike event of the spring—if not the year. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of a Cross Timbers—a fantastic NTX trail—Greg Broussard and company planned and executed a fantastic event that brought together a great cross-section of the North Texas mountain biking scene.
Seriously, it was a great day with tons of support from DOBRA (including free food prepped by Chef Nick Castro himself) and NTX MTB (some of the most friendly and laid-back MTBers you’ll ever meet), free parking and use of the facilities by Cedar Bayou Marina, and a great show of support from half a dozen or more area bike shops and repair services (RBM, Mad Duck, Cadence, REI, Ray Jay’s, Miles Mobile, and more).
There were groups rides, hundreds of riders, giveaways, bike demos (my son got to grab a Giant Trance from Cadence for the afternoon group ride), free grub, free repairs, giveaway swag, and lots and lots of stoke to be had. I can’t imagine the sheer amount of work it took to put this together. Greg Broussard deserves tons of praise for his vision and action to put it all together.
Special kudos go to Jim Branson, Jim Hall, and all the others who spent countless hours on trail work. Listing to Jim Hall describe some of the work they put in was really humbling. The long and short of it is that they essentially repaired miles and miles of erosion to get the trail back into a state somewhat similar to what it was in its heyday. It sounds like they hauled in a ton of dirt by hand to fill in cracks, crevices, and shore up eroded sections to make the trail more approachable for unfamiliar riders.
Beyond the work involved, there’s something you need to understand about Cross Timbers trail. Yes, the trail remains one of the toughest in all of North Texas—and it’s not for the faint of heart—but it’s actually not as bad as you might think. If you can somewhat comfortably and confidently ride trails such as Waterloo, Binkley, or especially Northshore, then you should really give Cross Timbers a try.
Honestly, the most difficult thing on the trail when you head west from Cedar Bayou Marina toward the Lost Loop/Found Loop split is climbing. Even both Lost and Found Loops get their difficulty rating mostly from climbing rather than technical features or exposure.
Make no mistake, the further west you travel the trail the gnarlier it gets with increased exposure, tech sections, and mandatory drops. On top of all this, if you head east from the marina and make for Juniper Point you’ll experience what is possibly the most difficult and dangerous section of trail in North Texas—a segment some rate as a double black diamond.
Don’t let any of this scare you off from making the drive to Gordonville and giving Cross Timbers a try—though I recommend NOT going alone. I still struggle quite a bit as a rider—especially with cardio-intensive climbing—and I made it to Lost Loop and back without any trouble beyond breathing hard. I would have done more milage but wanted to be sure and save plenty of legs for Horseshoe the next day. In retrospect, I honestly wish I had gone for it and done both Lost and Found Loops. I’m pretty sure I would have been just fine.
I’m already looking forward to next year, but something tells me I’ll be back at Cross Timbers long before then.
Beginner Clinic @ Horseshoe
The next day would prove to be just as much of an adventure, just not in the way that was planned—and that’s a good thing!
Similar to our previous experience helping out at a beginner clinic, my son and I headed out to Horseshoe after church, eager to help newbies gain confidence and get hooked on mountain biking.
We arrived at the trail before the class began and were able to let the clinic leader, Jerry, know we were there to help. This month’s clinic was much smaller than the previous one—with only 20-something folks in attendance. On top of that, the previous clinic probably had close to a dozen volunteers while this month there were only three.
Yep, including me and my son. A grand total of three.
“No big deal,” I told myself. I figured the group was small enough that we could ride out in one group with Jerry in the lead, my son in the middle, and me sweeping the back. (Have I mentioned I’m a fairly slow rider?) It wasn’t until after the run through the obstacle course—while I was helping an attendee with a mechanical issue—that I heard Jerry utter the words, “We’ll split into two groups.”
Yep, do the math. That meant Jerry would lead one and I was probably going to lead the other.
Wait a minute…I only showed up to sweep not lead a ride. I’m not qualified, competent enough, or experienced enough to lead a group of beginners. I’ve only been riding trails for two years…
Yeah, those were the thoughts running through my head, but there were only two options available: Step up and lead or pack up and run away.
Long story short, I’m glad I stepped up. I found myself pushed out of my comfort zone, putting everything I’ve learned on the bike over the last two years into practice. Never mind the fact that there are a couple of climbs at Horseshoe I’ve yet to conquer. Never mind that I’ve only cleaned some of the features at Horseshoe once or twice.
There’s something magical about being forced to teach or demonstrate a skill. I was careful to point out to my group that the possibility for failure was high whenever I demonstrated how to navigate certain trail features. In the same breath I made sure to tell them that it’s worth the risk to go for it and that there was also no shame in failing while making the attempt. I also assured them there was no shame in walking the bike and living to try again another day.
Several in my group rose to the challenges and attempted some of the technical features. While my group was supposed to be the “non-technical” group, I wanted them to see every inch of the trail and be given the opportunity to try every feature. We fell, we failed, we succeeded, we ended up caked in mud, and we laughed and smiled all the way to the end of the trail.
I’m confident most or all of my group will be back on the trail soon. Not because I’m a great teacher, but because I encouraged them to keep trying. Because I kept repeating the phrase I tell myself all the time. “The more you ride the better this stuff will get.”
Before we were back to the trailhead, several members of my group were asking where to find other good trails for their skill level. I told them about a few they should try out and made a point to direct them to the DORBA website and app. Since I was essentially acting as a de facto representative of DORBA at the time, I made absolutely no mention of this website.
Along the way we met up with a fellow rider named Kyle who asked what we were up to, then decided to join us the rest of the way through the trail. When we offered to move aside and let him through he declined, saying his legs were tired. When I asked if he was on his second or third lap he replied, “My seventh.”
This young man was really a fantastic addition to our group. He caught up with us just as we were approaching the most technical bits and steepest climbs at Horseshoe. When I was unable to show the group how to conquer a feature, Kyle humbly rose to the occasion and showed us all how it was done. When it was all said and done, he joined us back to the trailhead and mentioned he would probably try to volunteer for some clinics in the future.
Kyle and his wife wanted to do one more lap of the whole trail, so my son and I joined in. We had a fun time blasting through the trail, and Kyle’s pace pushed my limits— enough so I let myself get dropped. After leading the clinic group I was more in a mode to just get a solid ride and not worry about being super fast. Wouldn’t you know it, as has happened on my rides before, when I focused on simply having fun I ended up not only having a great ride but set several PRs in the process. That second lap was almost ten minutes faster than my previous record.
I highly encourage those of you who are experienced riders to come out and volunteer at one or more of these beginner clinics. Not only is it another great way to give back to the sport, support your local club, and encourage others to get off the couch, but you can also be of great benefit to these new riders. Sharing your knowledge skills will encourage newbies more than you can imagine, so I challenge you to come out and lend a hand as often as you can.
Next up is Rowlett Creek Preserve on Wednesday. I’m so glad it’s finally (partially) open, and I’m going to carve out some time to hit it before the rains shut it down again.