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Riding Royal Blue Trails

There are many different ways to enjoy nature and not all of them include the traditional ways of baseball, golfing, hiking and the like. One of those ways that more and more folks are discovering is riding ATV, or all-terrain vehicle, trails.

No matter where you live, you are never very far from an ATV trail. Where you choose to ride depends on what kind of terrain you prefer. Naturally, mountainous terrain is totally different from riding trails through forests or on sand dunes. What kinds of trails fit your liking also dictates what kind of ATV you choose to ride, whether it be a Polaris Ranger, a 4-wheeler, dirt bike or countless other variations. Each type performs better on different terrain.

This is a fact that I learned this past weekend when we traveled to Pioneer in eastern Tennessee to ride the Sundquist North Cumberland OHV (off-highway vehicle) trails, more affectionately known as Royal Blue. These trails, managed by the state of Tennessee, consist of more than 200,000 acres with 600 miles of marked trails. The trails offer scenic views, boulder formations, abandoned mines, waterfalls and elk viewing. Elevations rise from 1100 feet to 3200 feet. All trails are marked for difficulty.

We headed down with my Polaris Ranger, which provided a totally new experience for me. I had been used to riding on trails in northern Michigan, which are pretty much access roads that wound through forests and wilderness. Some are narrow with overgrowth and a few are hilly, but most of the trails are on sandy soil. I am also not one that likes to drive, but rather, I prefer to enjoy the ride and see what photos I can capture.

Royal Blue provided a totally different experience. The first evening out the temperature was in the 40s and the rain they had been having throughout the week was just beginning to taper off. Needless to say, everything is colder when you are riding with being wet added to that factor. Even though we had our rain gear and heavy winter layers on, it was COLD. The next day was as promised, the rain had subsided and was replaced by beautiful sunshine. However, the rain had left its lingering effects; mud, more mud and then more mud.

After a big rain, every trail was a step up in difficulty. Even though we chose to ride the ones marked easy, they turned to moderate and the moderate ones were turned into difficult ones. There were gullies where trails had washed out and the smaller rocks that were in the path became boulders that needed to be hurdled over. This is sheer joy for some riders. They come to see how muddy they can get their machines, how steep of muddy hills they can make it up and how large of boulders their machines can navigate over. There were machines and drivers that were literally covered in mud.

It certainly didn’t take me long to learn that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. This was a whole new ballgame from what I had been used to. Mind you, it wasn’t bad nor good, just different. A Ranger, unlike some of the other ATV’s, was not made for the real rugged terrain. For one thing, it doesn’t have as much clearance underneath to navigate over larger boulders and we had trouble with the fuel and air filters getting plugged so the machine wasn’t running at its maximum efficiency.

This was the downside. Some was our fault and some was not. There is no way we would have started out without a trail map. But we soon learned that, although the trails were marked, some markers were easy to miss. Because of this, we ended up on a couple of the more difficult trails that caused us trouble. Also, the rains had turned parts of the easier trails into more difficult areas.

Would I go back? I definitely would, especially since the first time makes one a little smarter. I would not do it right after a big rain, I am not into mud. I would hope that the trails would be marked a little better and I would definitely keep a better eye where the trails switched up.

There is something about being in nature and being surrounded by others that are there for the same purpose that is a good feeling. Look out, Royal Blue, I will be back, just a little smarter next time!

Photo property of Lois Hoffman

Published on Apr 11, 2018

Grit Magazine

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