Underexposed is a series dedicated to showcasing trails around North America that fly under the proverbial radar for most riders. PEARL iZUMi athlete Brice Shirbach has seen firsthand what sweat equity can mean among mountain bikers and its impact on the places we call home, and this series will look to help open eyes and shift our attention to some of the brilliant riding that exists in places both unexpected and unheard of.
Pisgah National Forest isn’t exactly flying under many radars. For many, it is the quintessential east coast, big mountain riding. Pisgah National Forest is also quite massive, stretching across much of western North Carolina and encompassing over half a million acres of land in total. Many are quick to think of the small mountain town of Brevard when discussing this massive along the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, but there is quite a bit more to Pisgah than the lovely Transylvania County hamlet.
The northern tip of PNF ends just to the southwest of the college town of Boone, NC, the largest population center near what is called Pisgah’s “Grandfather District”. I’ve been to Boone several times in recent years, and it stands as what may be my favorite town and community of riders in all of the American Southeast. For all intents and purposes, it is the hub of Wilson Creek riding, the collection of trails located within the northern boundaries of Pisgah. Wilson Creek provides a rugged, beautiful, and total sensory experience aboard two wheels, but technically speaking, Boone doesn’t actually touch it. There are a number of very small, very rustic towns that dot the map through Pisgah’s Grandfather District, and it’s the incredibly small town of Globe that sits near the start of the trail I’m about to show you: Upper Wilson Ridge.
Mike Thomas of Terra Tek Trails was recently tasked with the job of rebuilding the Wilson Creek classic also known as 21 Jumps, as it had been suffering from numerous drainage issues and overgrowth for some time. Mike worked his magic, and the result is a 3-mile long trail that drops riders over 800 feet through stunning old-growth forest. While most of what you should expect to find in this corner of the country are rugged and raw, which is really the kind of riding that speaks to me personally, the amount of joy that comes from sending one “drainage solution” after another for miles is undeniable. Upper Wilson Ridge and the rest of Wilson Creek benefit a great deal from people such as Mike Thomas putting so much work into these trails, in addition to the incredible stewardship of the Boone Area Cyclists and the Northwest North Carolina MTB Alliance. Wilson Creek is the rare type of gem that offers an honest to goodness backcountry experience, combined with a bit of trail building ingenuity, terrain for most types of riders, and year-round rideability. This isn’t the kind of gem that is stumbled upon by happenstance either. Instead, it took years of hard work by mountain bikers to gain the trust of local land managers, and a perfect combination of people with the right mentality to make it all happen. 21 Jumps is about way more than tossing your bike and body through the air for three miles. It’s tangible evidence that mountain biking is truly moving the needle for communities both big and small.