Stuck in a rut

 

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Steve Fox has been mountain biking for 15 years, and most years he rides 200 miles on trails by the end of March.

This year, it took him to mid-June to rack up 250 miles of riding.

The rainy spring has made Fox and the other members of the Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club cranky.

"It’s terrible," Fox said. "It’s the worst year I've ever been involved with. Some of the people doing it longer than me say it's their worst year in 25 years. It’s hard to get motivated to do a lot of racing when you can't get in shape to push yourself."

With so much rain this spring, "it doesn't do us any good to have one day of dry and then rain again. It takes a good three to four days of dry weather, then the trail surface starts to firm up," he said.

"We probably watch the weather more than farmers. You look all over the state, where it's raining and how much, trying to find dry dirt to ride on."

This spring, Fox rode 10 times at Wildlife Prairie Park, west of Peoria. "The soil is a lot rockier and tends to dry quicker," he said.

Kickapoo State Recreation Area, where Fox usually rides, has 17 miles of singletrack mountain biking trails, including three miles added this spring.

Volunteers for the Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club -- for which Fox has been president for a decade -- have put in 1,000 hours so far this year, building the new section of trail and four bridges.

The grand-opening ceremony for the new 3-mile trail section was rained out.

"We design them so they are all sloped one way or another so water will run off of them, not just pool on them or run down the trail," Fox said. "If someone rides on them when they’re soft, it creates a rut on the trail surface and now the water can no longer drain off of it. It stays in the rut. Even after the rest of the trail dries, the rutted area remains soft.

"What happens is every time it rains, those areas hold water, and they take forever to dry."

And those ruts can be dangerous, particularly if a rider gets a wheel stuck in one on a descent, Fox said.

The mountain-bike club uses rock to shore up the areas that remain wet after a rain or are damaged by someone riding on a wet trail.

Or the club members might reroute a section of trail to avoid a problem area.

Fox said the club continually tries to educate new riders about staying off wet trails.

"They haven't seen what it takes to fix them. Just a handful of riders can go out and rip everything up," he said.

"If riders see an area that is wet and can get damaged, they’re supposed to get off the bike and walk around that so they don't have all this weight on these two tires making this big rut. We have to rely on people being responsible," Fox said.

The storms with heavy winds this spring also meant downed branches and trees that took time to get cleared from the trails.

"When we get a dry day, everybody tries to jump out to ride," Fox said. "It opens up your mind again as to why you work so hard to do it, because it’s so much fun to go out and ride the trails."

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.

Photo: The wet weather of late has kept portions of mountain biking trails closed at Kickapoo State Recreation Area. Photo courtesy of Steve Fox

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. Her email is jheckel@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on twitter (@jodiheckel).