Car Less Ohio

Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State

Unexpected Epic Ride at Mohican State Park

I rode the mountain bike trail at Mohican State Park today, which is always a good time. The 24-mile loop is arguably the best mountain biking in the state, and may someday qualify as an Epic Route by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

With the two friends I went along with, we were pretty evenly matched. You’re never completely evenly matched with anyone; one person is typically better at some skills compared to others, such as climbing, riding fast downhills, or through rock gardens and other obstacles, but in the end, it pretty much evened out. In keeping up with my friends in the sections where they were better than I, I re-discovered a basic principle about riding with somebody better than you.

The common wisdom is that if you ride with somebody faster than you, you’ll end up better for it, because you’ll push your own boundaries in order to keep up. This can apply to road cycling as well as mountain biking, and can be applied to many other activities as well.

But along the trail today, I discovered a few more subtle aspects of this notion. First off, when riding behind somebody, whether they are better than you or not, you get to kind of “cheat,” because you can see what lines they pick, how their bike and their body reacts, and what works and doesn’t work. You get a couple of seconds of “preview” of what you’re about to hit, and can adjust your strategy accordingly. If the person ahead is a better rider, chances are they’ll be more successful at clearing obstacles and tricky sections, and seeing this gives you aids in your internal visualization, and provides a fraction of a boost in your confidence, even if it’s on a trail that you’ve ridden dozens of times before. Both of these factors increase the chances that you’ll clear the tricky stuff yourself.

Around the 12-mile mark in the trail, it follows a paved park road for a bit as it crosses a covered bridge over the Mohican River. We didn’t know until we arrived there that the bridge is closed for construction, with the only access to the second half of the trail being by wading across the river (a dubious proposition at best), or a several-mile detour on a road around the outer edges of the park. We opted to follow the park road back the way we came, to pick up the trail again at the 8-mile mark.

The first 8 miles of the loop are sometimes called the “Original 8 Trail,” as this was the only complete trail several years ago, so riders would ride this out-and-back from the start. We had not ridden the Original 8 in the reverse direction for several years, ever since the whole 24-mile loop was completed. We were disappointed at first that we wouldn’t be doing the whole loop, but once we headed back on the Original 8 in reverse, our disappointment turned to delight. Riding a familiar trail in the opposite direction as usual is almost like riding a brand new trail. The flow is different, the scenery is different, and the challenges and rewards come to you in unexpected locations. It wasn’t long before all three of us were whooping for joy as we reveled in the swooping, flowing curves of the trail. The final reward came in the last 1.5 miles, which at the start you endure as an almost-continuous climb, but coming at the end was a thrilling, almost pedaling-free descent to the finish.

On that return ride, I had another revelation that I think enhanced my riding skills. On rough uphill sections, I found that I was able to more easily pick the best line up, because I remembered what the line was that I had previously ridden it downhill. Conversely, on rough descents, I found that I was usually taking a different line than what I had taken when it was uphill the first time through, leading me to believe that I was probably picking the wrong line the first time. The lesson for me here is that if you have a hard time climbing a rough section, practice riding it downhill to find the best line. When you’re riding downhill, you have gravity on your side, so you’re less likely to get hung up trying to pick your way and muscle through the rough bits, and you’ll more naturally just choose the shortest distance from point A to point B. Then, try to follow that same line when going uphill from point B to point A, and chances are, you’ll get it right.

In the end, we rode 23 miles of first-rate trail, only about a mile less than we would have ridden if we had been able to do the complete loop. The main parking area for the Mohican State Park mountain bike trail is just south of the town of Loudonville on Ohio State Route 3. The trail is clearly marked with signs all through the loop, so a map is really necessary to ride it, but you can download one here anyway.

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