Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Trip report: Carolina in my mind

Not that Carolina, although I have enjoyed visits to the beautiful Outer Banks and the refreshingly liberal oasis of Asheville, N.C.

No, the Carolina of which I write today is here in Richmond, R.I., practically in my backyard — the Carolina Management Area, a 2,359-acre expanse of woodlands, wetlands, fields and fun. This past weekend was a real beauty, the kind we haven't seen too many of in these parts this summer, so Marge and I loaded up the mountain bikes and headed over to the management area to ride.

Like the Great Swamp Management Area that I wrote about last month, the Carolina Management Area doesn't offer much in the way of technical riding, though I would rate it as more difficult than the swamp. There are a few places where the trails narrow and become rocky, and as Marge discovered, there are some hidden hazards for those who decide to ride over things despite not being able to see what's on the other side. That's her at right, picking herself up after nearly going over the handlebars after her front wheel fell into a hidden hole on the other side of a fallen tree. (Not to worry: she was startled, but fine.)

But mostly you'll find wide, smooth, pine-covered trails through the woods, and some doubletrack through meadows and cornfields. A word of warning about those meadows: if riding through high grass creeps you out, you probably won't like it here. There were moments when, with Marge leading the way, all I could see was her head amid fields of wildflowers and grass, the trail barely discernible.

One of our favorite parts of the ride is an old cemetery that is in danger of being claimed by overgrowth. If you're not looking for it, it's pretty easy to miss. It seems like it's in the middle of nowhere, until you realize that years ago, this was somewhere.

We always like to stop and poke around the gravestones, many of which are practically illegible by now. I know it might sound a little macabre, but sometimes nothing makes me feel more alive than being surrounded by the dead.

We had to laugh toward the end of our ride when, as Marge set up to take a photo of me entering a cornfield, I was nearly blown off my bike by two shirtless teenage boys on bikes who came screaming around the corner out of nowhere. We were laughing both because we hardly ever see anyone riding here, and also because of the contrast in our ages. As Marge said, "How many women our age do this kind of thing?" We wish there were more, because it is a lot of fun.

The management area is bordered on the south by Route 91 and the north by Kenyon Hill Trail. It's bisected by Pine Hill Road, and there's good riding on either side. Parking can be found in two small lots on Pine Hill Road, including one by the hunter check station. On the north side, you can also park at the Carolina Trout Pond, whose entrance is off Switch Road on the west side of the management area.

I wish I could provide you with detailed directions for riding in the management area, but I've always been one to just wing it. Fortunately, I have a good internal compass. Unlike the Great Swamp, Carolina is a vast area that has been known to be the scene of search operations when hikers have been lost (this usually occurs, I might add by way of reassurance, when people set out on their hikes late in the afternoon or early evening and are surprised at how quickly it can become dark).

You can find some rudimentary Department of Environmental Management trail maps here. But if you're still a little hesitant, detailed maps can be purchased at places like Agway on South County Trail in Exeter and URE Outfitters in Hopkinton.

And one last warning: If you decide to ride in the fall after Oct. 1, just be sure to wear 200 square inches of blaze orange. It seems like there's always some kind of hunting season going on in this state.

Although I know there are some hikers and equestrians who would like to see an open season on mountain bikers, I've never understood that mindset.

This land belongs to all of us. Why can't we respect one another and get along? There's plenty of room for all of us.


  1. Looks like a nice place to spend some time.

    BTW, I love cemetaries and headstones, too.

  2. Wow, it looks beautiful. Unfortunately, I'm an indoorsy person, not an outdoorsy one. But if I were ...

  3. Great write up. Makes me want to put the road riding aside and head to the trails. Thanks for sharing!