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Riding Corn Country: Trail Tale of Opposites

On my way to Wisconsin, i had the opportunity to ride trails in Nebraska and Iowa. Of course, my expectations were limited, but i was intrigued to see what cow country had to offer.

As i began my entry into Nebraska from Colorado, i was first struck by the fact that its not as flat as i was anticipating. In fact, to the south of the I-80 were of some hills of elevation and depth. I saw plenty of opportunity for good ridding in that kind of terrain. MTB project had the trails pinned in them thar hills, so i headed 45 minutes into the forested sand hills.

The trail head and the ride were on private property. The trails are rated green to black diamond. I headed into the rolling grazing hills with the trails a series of spurs off of a ridge line access trail. This was gonna be unanticipated fun. Quickly into the ride, i came across my first bunch of cows that quickly spooked and began to lead me along the trail. As the herd “stampeded” in front of me, they picked up other members of the heard and soon i had 50 plus cows in front of me. Not one cow veered off the trail, so my entire ride was done looking at the crapping butts of a hundred cows. At every “trail” junction, the herd would split and then continue to pick up more members. There was no way to get out from behind the mass of behinds. Of course, with every cow behind comes loads of excrement. Do you know how when you ride through mud, the tires pitch the mud onto your legs and back? Yep. It was as gross as you can imagine and as unavoidable as breathing. Only reducing my speed kept most of it off my face.

I got to the technical sections of the trails, all obviously made by cows wanting to get from the ridge to the valley below, or vice versa. These deep V shaped gullies could only be descended and were impossible to ascend. Keeping the handle bars from hitting the six foot deep, narrow, trenched walls was the majority of the “technical” skills used. The cow trenched gullies, shoulder high in depth, offered no opportunity for control or any kind of options. The bottom of the trench was as narrow as a cow hoof (Pedal strike), and the top of the gully was as wide as a cow’s flank, 4 to six feet deep (Handle Bar strike). Exposed roots with unexpected drops made the descent that much more terrifying. The only way to navigate from top to bottom was to slide down, increasing the already entrenched erosion.

Honestly, I quit the ride early. I’ve ridden crappy trails before and managed to find some fun somewhere, but I could no longer tolerate theĀ  wet, soupy cow feces clinging to my bike and body. It was as unpleasant an experience as I’ve ever had.

Possibly the downhills are more fun for locals who have the experience, but letting cows design and build your MTB trail does not result in an enhanced, positive riding experience. Other than the the good signage, I could find no positive examples of quality trail building to apply to our trails here in Northern NM. Also, I’ll add, that even though they might be the best trails around, that don’t make them good trails. Sorry Nebraska. I’ll keep looking.

On to Iowa and a place called Beverly Park. Off of I-80 in South West Cedar Rapids. The second stop of my MTB Cow Tour.

Before i hit the trails, i stopped into a grocery store in Cedar Rapids. These Iowans are VERY organized and linear. All the displays were uniform and in “marching” order. Every display was square, neat and massive. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to their MTB trails.

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise. As soon as you enter the parking lot, you are immediately in the midst of a mini-features park. The parking barriers were all built or modified to be features for bike skills. Every parking bumper was a roll-over; the barriers to keep the cars out of the ball park were a series of bridged rocks, stumps and logs. The entrance to the picnic area were large boulders placed side by each with ramps providing easy access on and off the feature.

On the trails themselves, the area doesn’t boast a lot of elevation change, but the Iowans made the best of the limited geology. It was encouraging to see how fun a riding area could be, evenĀ  without large mountainous terrain. All of the trails were built with multiple lines for multiple skill levels. The trails were both accessible and challenging, thereby creating a democratic approach to usership. Green riders to Black Diamond riders could all ride together with something for everyone. I especially liked the use of downed logs and trees. A downed tree was an opportunity to build a long skinny, complete with access and regress; or a fun roll over, some being three or four feet in elevation. There were not a lot of gaps to jump, in fact I can’t remember one, so all of the potential good size airs also had roll over options. Turns were armored with rocks and dirt. In a couple of places they had built wooden high banks out of 2x6s, again with multiple lines for all skill levels. A nice thing about these purpose built features is that they all looked like art. They never seemed out of place and in fact had a way of enhancing or drawing attention to the surrounding natural setting.

My overall impression of the Beverly Trails was, “Multi Optioned; Multi skilled; Non exclusive.” Way to go Buckeyes.

I did notice one additional element about where the trails were built. These Iowa trails weaved in and out of the areas around power transmission lines. I had seen this before in Bend, Oregon and Squamish, BC where large riding areas were built in an otherwise unusable space. No issues with access, ownership or Environmental Assessments.