It’s an8 hour drive from Pensacola to Augusta, GA. I got to the Augusta Marriot around 6:00, unloaded my stuff and went in search of a free beer. I wandered down the levee that holds back the Savannah River and I found said free beer (Fat Tire) at a restaurant where all the IMBA staff and guests were socializing. In a case of mistaken identity I was given a wrist band by Ryan Schutz, IMBA’s Program Manager, that enabled me to get a free beer (he thought i was from Pennsylvania. Maybe it was the PORC shirt I was wearing). I met several people and got a good vibe about the whole event. I hurried back to the hotel to get my name badge and sign in. The opening ceremonies happened at an amphitheater by the Savannah River. The Mayor, City Manager and the City Sports Director were in attendance and were thanking IMBA for choosing their city for the event. Lots of IMBA’s leaders and other dignitaries gave speeches. A bluegrass band played afterwords. I found food and went to bed.
Downstairs at 7:00 for breakfast in the main conference room. It was a pretty good crowd, maybe 300 people. Probably as many tattoos. Some big agencies were present such as BLM, National Park Service, State Parks, National Forests, State Forests, ACOE. A lot of the big manufacturers were there such as Trek, Specialized, SRAM. Publications like Dirtrag and Mountain Biking. I’m basically in a room with the whole cycling hierarchy. I was more than a little intimidated. I can’t begin to remember all the people I met but they were all very gracious and curious about what we have going on in the Pensacola area. I do remember meeting an older gentleman from IMBA whose name I can’t remember whose father lives in Navarre and may look us up when he comes down on vacation. Sweet! Mike Van Able, the IMBA Executive Director who I met the previous evening but didn’t know who he was, gave a nice introduction and Mike Mercuri from SRAM gave a talk about bike advocacy. Pretty motivational. We took a short break and then broke out into different sessions such as ‘Bike Park Maintenance’ or ‘Public Land Initiative’. I chose ‘Funding Trail Projects’ presented by two incredible speakers. Tom Sauret, the IMBA- SORBA Regional Director moderated the discussion. The first speaker was Ellis Alexander from Woodstock, GA SORBA and his topic was how to get money by asking for it. He was very well spoken and enthusiastic about the topic. His plan was to ask various members of the community for cash to fund a project. Granted they are on the outskirts of Atlanta but they raised $60k just by having a good plan, passionate leadership and great execution. I was impressed. The next speaker was Rick Moon from Northwest GA SORBA. His club puts on the Snake Gap Series out of Dalton. He was a completely different speaker than Ellis. His southern drawl was almost unintelligible but he turned out to be hilarious. His topic was fund raising by having an event (the aforementioned race series). Lots of good advice that we might be able to capitalize on. Next was a lovely lunch back in the main conference room. I sat and chatted with more people I can’t remember but I enjoyed it none the less. I need to remember to get business cards from people I meet. After lunch I hit the ‘Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking’ by Jeremy Wimpey of Virginia Tech. Super smart guy that knew his subject inside and out. The thrust of the talk was that biking has about the same impact as hiking but there are many more studies that need to be done. Lots of cool ‘trampling’ studies and observing antelope reactions as bikers approach. The next talk was about building and designing all-weather trails. Woody Keen of Trail Dynamics was suppose to be part of the discussion but he was injured on the job so his co-worker Valerie took his place. Trail Dynamics is the company doing all the work on the Tallahassee trails so I was anxious to meet them. Dan Hudson and Rich Edwards of IMBA did most of the talking and they were full of knowledge. They recommend avoiding anything that looks like it won’t withstand heavy use. That said they showed the best and worst ways to overcome this if there is no other choice. Money can solve lots of problems. Rock armoring and boardwalks seem like the best solution for our wetland issues. There were lots of examples from Scotland where the ground is constantly wet so the trails are heavily armored. At 3:15 we were out the door to go ride. I changed, grabbed my bike and headed downstairs where the buses were waiting to take us to FATS. The Forks Area Trail System is in Sumter National Forest and is an IMBA Epic Ride. I sat on the bus next to Valerie from Trail Dynamics and had a good conversation with her about Tom Brown and Munson Hills. I chose not to do the guided ride as they said we couldn’t get lost. I hopped in behind a couple of guys I met the night before and off we went. At the end of the ride we were all beaming. What a fun trail. Lots of rollers on hard packed clay through the woods. I followed a Bike Patrol guy for a different route and it was better than the first. I’m guessing I did about 15 miles but I can’t be sure. Back on the bus there were several guys with some good scrapes and storied to tell. After showering I went out in search of dinner. I ran into Cleo and Matt, two other people there by themselves. We wolfed down dinner and a beer at Nacho Mama’s and headed to the Mountain Bike Film Festival at the Imperial Theater. More beer was served (1554) and a silent auction was underway. There were several short films, one about a pump track program in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of the guys I was talking to the first evening was in that flick. There was a movie preview that was being done for IMBA to help with funding and to present to legislators. ‘Women of Dirt’ was the feature. I think most of the guys were in love after seeing the film. One of the main players was in attendance and she had black hair with a blue streak and crazy eyes. I wandered back to the room about 11:00.
Another lovely breakfast and a keynote address by Bruno Maier about People for Bikes. Nice presentation about bicycling advocacy. Their website has a petition to get 1 million signatures to promote bike culture. As I was getting up to get another cup of coffee I ran into Collins Bishop of the trail care crew that helped us out a year or so ago. As I was talking to him I ran into John Darrohn. He and his buddy Chip were there for the day. Surprise! Next was Hans Rey. He talked about his past and showed some slides. Not a good speaker but funny. His new concept is Flow Country Trails. Not something we could do here but FATS was a perfect example, fast and flowy but not technical. A quick break and then we headed off to new sessions. I sat in on ‘Bicycle Friendly Communities’. Kelly and Collins were part of this talk as they work for the TVA as part of the community outreach in Chattanooga, TN. They are super excited about there town. Jill Van Winkle also spoke about Portland, OR and their 300 miles of bike lanes. They spent $60 million over the years to accomplish this goal. That much money buys very little roadway. Next was a group photo out at he amphitheater and then lunch. I ate with a guy from Washington DC that was part of the National Parks. He wasn’t a rider but there for land management issues. Next up was ‘Unauthorized Trails’. Very enlightening. Tom Ward of IMBA is a great speaker. His thought was that illegal trails are a result of riders not getting what they want from legal trail, basically a failure of the legal trail. I can now appreciate the struggle of all those land managers. Lots of good stories. The last session was by our insurance guy Scott Chapin of RJF Insurance. He went through the story of how they got the insurance after Mackay dropped the ball. This could have been an all day session. So many questions but at 3:15 it was time to ride. I did the same laps as yesterday except with John and Chip. Just as fun as yesterday. After the ride I said goodbye to John and Chip and climbed aboard the bus for the ride back to the hotel. I ran into Cleo again and chatted with her for a while. Her boyfriend is an up and coming frame builder out of Tulsa, OK. I saw her bike and it was nice except it was unpainted. For dinner I hooked up with some trail building guys and we hit the Mellow Mushroom. There were probably a dozen of us so the wait was an hour but we had a good time waiting. Tony of Arrowhead Trails said there was a guy at the meeting from Florida that was with the Nation Forest. I also talked with his coworker Ted about riding in Alabama. So many people and not enough time. Craig was an old guy that lived in a Sprinter Van. Shrimper was another trail builder that lives in Brevard, NC not far from Valerie. I hit the bed around 10:00.
Up at 6:00 and wandered around with a cup of coffee. Today was a day of riding and relaxing so breakfast was a little later. I sat with a couple from Australia who were heading off to Boulder after the meeting. I caught the second bus and headed back to FATS. I forgot my credit card so I couldn’t demo any bikes. I wanted to compare the Specialized and the Gary Fisher. Bummer. I hooked up with a group that was doing a loop I hadn’t done. I hung with them for about a half hour until they pulled away. The trail was much the same as the rest of the trails and at some point I rode with a larger group. We did another section of trail that I had already done but we did it backwards. Back to the parking lot and rode to the barbecue about 2 miles away. It was at a beautiful house that abuts the National Forest. he home owner was part owner of the trail building company that built FATS. Some people are so fortunate. There was a bluegrass band and good food and more beer so I grabbed a plate and sat back and enjoyed for a while. I ran into Tony again and asked about the guy from Florida I needed to meet. After searching for a minute I was introduced to Jim Schmid of the Federal Forestry Service of Florida. We had a really productive discussion about the projects he has going on throughout the state. I got some good tips on dealing with the university and people to contact for help. The one thing I didn’t care for was his dislike of ‘rake and ride’ trails. He likes to see built up trails that are smooth and fast and not technical. He’s not a fan of exposed roots. I told him that was how we rolled in Pensacola. Before I left I made it a point to thank all the officials I could find. Maybe they will remember me or at least associate NW Florida with some form of primitive mountain biking. I grabbed the bus back to the hotel and made loose arrangements to hook up with the stragglers for dinner. Somehow the wires got crossed so I spend the evening with several guys from Arkansas. It sounds like they’ve got a lot going on there and might be worth the drive to the Ozarks. I got up early Sunday and headed back full of big ideas and energy. Of course an hour back at work on Monday erased all that but it was still a great vacation.