Macon Magic - Three Mountain Bike Rides in Middle Georgia
Macon, 80 miles south of Atlanta, is in many ways the heart of Georgia. In Macon you will hear the soft, sweet accents of Southern speech and find yourself in the midst of cherry blossoms and redolent magnolias—and some mighty bodacious mountain biking.
True to Georgia's character as a place of unexpected delights for outdoor enthusiasts, Macon offers three very unusual biking destinations. One is Pine Mountain, a vestige of the more northerly Appalachian Mountains. Bikers can enjoy a 7.5-mile single- and double-track ride through the Thunder Boy Scout Camp at Pine Mountain, complete with big rocks and radical climbs.
An even more unlikely place for a bike ride is at an industrial park. The L. H. Thompson Company Trail is a classic mountain bike path, hand-built with picks and shovels to retain the natural fun the good earth offers to the adrenaline-addicted. Very few trails in the Deep South have been built with the care and sheer artistry of this one. Finally, when was the last time you rode a gorgeous trail on the grounds of a children's home? The Hephzibah Trail is just that, adjacent to an institution that has been serving children since 1900. The trail is part of the kids' recreation program and is open to the public.
Thunder Scout Trail
Centrally-located Upson County marks the beginning of the Pine Mountain chain of ridges whose steep sides suggest the more northerly, mountainous regions of the Deep South. The mighty Flint River rolls through the valleys below on its way to merge with Georgia's chief river, the Chattahoochee, which is called the Apalachicola River as it leaves Georgia in the southwestern-most corner.
Here the mountain biker can ride 7.5 miles of single- and double-track combination looping through the Thunder Boy Scout Camp. The rocks and radical climbs make this a good workout for the experienced rider. The narrow, steep single-track down to the Flint River will exercise forearms and balance in a descent more daintily done by horse, but it was my favorite part of the trail.
The Flint flexed its muscles during the great flood of 1994 when it spread out for miles around, carrying downed trees so numerous and violently swirling, they reminded two young boys I talked to of an armada of alligators. Sand bars and scarred trees will no doubt remain for many years as a reminder of this waterway's dominion over the landscape it has helped form.
If you choose to set up camp in this wilderness either along the Flint's banks or in the more developed sites inside Camp Thunder, a sense of the region's unbridled nature will come creeping out from the dense woods and grab you as suddenly as a coyote's call. Or it may pad softly up to camp on the paws of panthers. Or it could just as easily roll up on the worn rubber tires of two country boys on bikes.
Justin and his brother, who lived in a house nearby, came to visit me as I was eating supper. "Hey, mister. You goin' fishin'?" one of them asked me. After I told them I was there to collect information on the bike trail and ride it the next morning, they started to give me the lowdown, but not before they took a look at my bike and said, "It looks like it's been through some stuff."
For the next 20 minutes, while dusk settled along the river bank, they described the good fishing and hunting to be had in these hills. They told me not to worry if I heard the sound of a woman being killed; it was just the sound of a panther screaming. As we slapped and rubbed at skeets digging in on our skin, the boys pointed across to the other side of the river where an obvious fire had happened and said, "Yesterday the smoke was so thick on the ridge it's a wonder there are any mosquitoes at all."
They also informed me that I could get good water dripping right out of the rock up on the bike trail. "That's where they get the name of the road from. There's rock steps leading up to it." With that, they rode back to their house.
That night, as I lay awake listening to the gurgle of the river and the mosquitoes whining outside my tent, I heard what I could have sworn was a desperate woman's scream far off in the woods. As I rode my bike alone up into the secluded mountains the next morning, my ears and wits were nimble with the memory of that sound.
General location: The trail goes through property owned by Flint River Council, Boy Scouts of America, east of the Flint River.
Elevation change: 800 feet of climbing for each 7.5-mile lap; most of it located in two sections, which made me yearn for a weenier gear.
Season: The dense shade provided by the forest keeps the sun off your back in the summer, and except for the hottest days, this trail is suitable for year-round riding.
Services: Wilson's Grocery on Highway 74 is a good stop for most basic provisions. Water is provided at the scout camp.
Hazards: If you are a biker who is half mountain goat, this trail with its wide assortment of rocks scattered all through the trail will roll you to ecstasy. The switchbacking descent to the river has some twists and turns you will need to finagle your way down.
Rescue index: You are in a mountainous, fairly remote area. It could take an hour or more to get help if you slip up on one of those rocks.
Land status: The 2,000 acres are owned by the Boy Scouts of America.
Maps: A detailed topo map of Camp Thunder showing the trails is available at the scout office. A copy of this map is also posted on the bulletin board under the hanging canoe.
Finding the trail: From the west, go to Woodbury and head east on Highway 74 for 4 miles and turn right at the Camp Thunder sign shortly after going through the intersection at the stop sign. The eastern approach calls for finding Thomaston and taking Highway 74 west for 13.5 miles and turning left not too far after passing Wilson's Grocery on the right. Turn right onto Dripping Rock Road at the sign about 200 yards. About another mile or so farther, you will see a soccer field on the left. Turn to the left on the dirt road up the hill. The trail begins on the road underneath the canoe, or you can start off on the other end of the loop by taking the first left on a gravel road, go 50 yards, and take a right on the service road past the cabins.
Notes on the trail: Parts of the trail use access roads for the camp, but the majority follows single-track. The first section has a two-part climb: The first will test your endurance over a sustained climb of approximately 300 feet in 0.75 mile, and before you catch your breath, you'll see the ski slope to the right awaiting your throbbing thighs, which will take you up another 100 feet in about 200 yards.
Once on the ridge you will be treated to some fantastic views and relatively moderate climbs on the circle around Double Branch. The next two lefts go to Thundering Spring Road and Lake Ini-To, which will add approximately 4 more miles to your trip should you decide to ride them. The 7.5-mile loop is completed by taking the next right along Muddy Slash Ridge. Steep switchbacks will be found on this last section that begins nearly 1,140 feet above sea level. The descent to the rocky roadbed running along the Flint River will strain your forearms, as a loss of altitude of over 400 feet occurs in less than 0.5 mile.
The rock garden, masquerading as a road along the Flint River, will be a long trip without good front shocks. The flood of 1994 made this section worse as it was under water for much of the summer. You'll soon—but not soon enough—wind up at the gate where you began. Take a shower tip at the bathhouse inside the camp if you want to and bask in your bike-worthiness.
Sources of additional information:
Gerald I. Lawhorn Canoe Base and Training Center
P.O. Box 173
Griffin, GA 30224
For camping reservations: (770) 227-4556
For Camp Thunder: (706) 647-9539
Thomaston Mountain Bike Association
1104 South Green Street
Thomaston, GA 30286
or (706) 567-8970
or (706) 647-5199
2905 North Expressway
Griffin, GA 30223-6497
3901 Miller Road
Columbus, GA 31909-4701
Arnold's Bicycle Sales and Service
4613 Warm Springs Road
Columbus, GA 31909-5439
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication