Story By Wil Crews
Photos Contributed By Ray Colley
For those local to Auburn and the Lee County area, Chewacla State Park is a special piece of land. Labelled as the last foothill of the Appalachians, Chewacla transports its visitors from the grassy Plains of Auburn to a vast, rocky and natural landscape that epitomizes “the great outdoors.”
With miles of trail to explore, lake views, creeks and historic features, outdoorsy men and women can experience this unique state park in any way they choose. But one of the best and most distinct ways is it to bike it.
“One of the great things about Chewacla, really two great things, but one is proximity,” said the Director of the Auburn High School Mountain Bike Team Brian Prowell. “It’s right in Auburn, so it’s easy to get to. But then it also has trails for really all levels of riders — it’s got something for everybody.”
Whatever your reason for visiting the park, mountain biking is a great way to find the nuance in nature and it’s also one of the most unique ways to get a great workout.
“In mountain biking, you’re best not sitting in your seat the whole time,” Prowell said. “Your whole body is moving. You think of cycling as a leg workout but mountain biking is kind of a full body workout. You need good core strength, some upper body strength. Just getting comfortable with what ‘we call it bike-body separation,’ being able to let the bike be in one position and your body balanced in another really helps on trails to keep traction and to be able to go over obstacles like rocks and things. That can be a lot of the fun.”
Like any sport, mountain biking can take years to master, but it’s really for anyone who knows how to ride a bike.
“I think mountain biking is very approachable,” Prowell said. “That’s one of the advantages of Chewacla. It has trails where you don’t need those skills. You can start out on where you would be transitioning from riding on the road or an easy trail, and as you start to build confidence and skills you can go progressively ride harder and harder trails.”
Prowell said he rode over 5,000 miles last year. A lot of it was at Chewacla.
“Even though I ride the same trails, you ride them in different directions,” Prowell said. “You can put different loops together; you can keep it interesting.”
There are many things that get people hooked on mountain biking, but Prowell said he loves it for two reasons.
“One, I don’t have to be worried about being run over by a car or someone messing with their cell phone while driving that’s not paying attention,” Prowell said. “But at the same time, mountain biking, at least to go fast, takes a lot of focus. So it’s like you know you might be worried about work or school or whatever, but when you’re flying down a trail you need to let all of that go.
“You just focus on where you’re going. It’s not like planned thinking. As you get more experienced, your body is reacting. It knows what to do, and it kind of sees what is coming and just reacts to that. You get in a state where you’re concentrating and you’re just flowing along. That to me is just a great deal of fun.”
Another avid mountain biker, cycling coach and Auburn resident Bill Perry, said he loves the sport for similar reasons.
“It’s all great: the people, the endless opportunities to travel and see great places as well as the healthy lifestyle,” Perry said.
Mountain biking has a unique way of helping you literally run — or ride — away from your earthly troubles, but you just might find something unexpected in it too — a welcoming community.
“Mountain bikers for the most part are very friendly people,” Prowell said. “Friendlier than a lot of the people in the road-cycling world. The other times I’m riding slower it’s just a social ride in talking to people and that’s also fun in different way. But being out in nature, just being focused on all that without any other cares is really awesome.”
The Auburn area has seen a mountain-biking boom over the last decade.
“2011 is when the current trail system began to be built,” Prowell said. “The Lake Wilmore trails were built in 2010, and that really started a mountain biking movement in Auburn and then went on to start Chewacla.”
Chewacla is the site of CAMP-SORBA’s main trail system. It’s a system that features over 30 miles of single track. The park provides these first-class mountain “tracks” thanks in part to its great partnership with Central Alabama Mountain Peddlers (CAMP). CAMP is an official IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) chapter that is centered in the Auburn/Opelika area.
The park has two faces — the lower and upper Chewacla system — both great for mountain biking. The lower features old-school, hand-built trails that range from beginner to advanced. The upper system is home to flow trails, a free-ride area and some extended technical rock sections. Furthermore, the upper system features elevation gains and losses with a number of wooden features to keep even the most experienced riders on their toes.
Chewacla’s mountain biking trails range from 0.15 to 8 miles. According to camp-sorba.org, there are 20 total mountain biking trails at Chewacla. Many of the trails sub-categorize into alternate paths so there are plenty of options for both beginners and experts.
Take the “For Pete’s Sake Trail,” for example. It’s Chewacla’s longest trail, at eight miles. As the rider runs along former farmland and weaves through stands of pines and hardwoods, the trail features steep slopes, technical climbs, narrow bridges, loose rocks and short climbs. Furthermore, it has five alternate “off’s” that make sure returning riders always have something new to look forward to.
“The best part of mountain biking at Chewacla, for me, is the fact that I have been a founding CAMP-SORBA board member so I have been watching the trails, the sport and the enthusiasm grow from its beginnings,” Perry said.
So, if you want to improve your quality of life, find a new community to be a part of or just switch up the way you experience the great outdoors, mountain biking may be for you.
“You can ride one mile and put up your hammock or ride 25 miles and make it a great workout — or anything in between,” Prowell said.