This article was written in 2014. As of 2016, the race is now under new management, and you can find out more at RoostRacing.com.
Over the past decade, Chattanooga’s burgeoning reputation as a mecca for outdoor recreation has spawned a full slate of signature events. For trail runners, the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k is now in its 13th year; for climbers, the Stone Fort leg of the Triple Crown Bouldering Comp is celebrating its 12th. You can Swim The Suck, SUP the Chattajack, or cycle 3 Mountains. But, for many years, a major piece was missing from that puzzle: a long-distance mountain bike race.
“The trails just weren’t there,” says Michael Long, Lynskey / SORBA-Chattanooga Race Series Director. “It took the hard work and vision of the Lula Lake Land Trust, Cloudland Canyon State Park, and Friends of Cloudland Canyon to link things together.”
There were plenty of trails, of course, just not in any one place. Raccoon Mountain and its 30 miles of fantastic singletrack is, essentially, an island. Enterprise South Nature Park , Booker T Washington State Park , and the White Oak Mountain trail system at Southern Adventist University are within striking distance of one another, but not conducive to hosting a long-distance event. Nearly all of the trails on the north end of Lookout Mountain are closed to mountain bikes, as is the Cumberland Trail and most of its neighbors on Signal Mountain. Five Points , featuring 18 miles of singletrack clustered tightly on an old coal-mining site, wasn’t much different.
The Cloudland Canyon Connector Trail (CCCT) changed that. With the construction of the CCCT’s final segment, however, an opportunity was created to design a long race course without repeating anything. The Five Points system could now be linked to the new trails to the south near Cloudland Canyon, as well as to the east and beyond toward Lula Lake and the 7 miles of trails on the Land Trust’s core property.
The Five Points 50 -- this October 11, 2014 -- takes full advantage of this situation, as it did for last year’s inaugural race. I raced it myself, and can personally vouch for the course being a great one! Starting from the main gate of the Lula Lake Land Trust, the race begins on pavement to thin the pack before hitting Five Points; it then combines every trail in the Five Points system with multiple segments of the CCCT.
By the time racers find themselves approaching the Nickajack Road trailhead, they’re 35 miles into the race, have ridden about 25 miles of prime singletrack… and then the fun really starts. Those final 15 miles of the race combine several miles of trail on private property, linking the CCCT and Five Points to the trails at Lula Lake. It is through the grace of these private landowners, including the Long Branch Homeowners Association, that the race is possible.
It’s these three private-property sections of the race which are closed the other 364 days of each calendar year, making pre-rides of the race course impossible and prompting race organizers to withhold a course map entirely.
“Due to the significant amount of trails on private property, we initially thought this would hamper registration numbers,” Michael explains. “As it turns out, it was quite the opposite. The mystique of riding never-seen-before trails was too much for some people to resist.”
For 2014, the organizers are upping the ante with a “Fat Tire Festival” and post-race events. Racers can expect food and beer at the finish line, while families and spectators willing to pay $10 can enjoy the same. After the podium awards at 2PM, fun events with names like the “Huffy Frame Toss” and the “Night Time Dirty Crit Race” will take place. Spectators hoping to cheer racers on will have several opportunities to do so.
This has largely been a year of triumphs for SORBA-Chattanooga – and not just at Five Points. The 8-mile High Voltage / Live Wire phase of the Raccoon Mountain trail system opened this summer. Enterprise South’s MTB trails were modified to eliminate all two-way traffic, and work on a trail expansion is set to begin this fall. Even Booker T State Park, perhaps the red-headed stepchild of the four systems SORBA-Chattanooga maintains, saw a new trail map and updated trail blazes that should make navigation much easier.
When the general public imagines “mountain biking,” it may always be the gravity-defying air of Red Bull Rampage or the preposterous speeds of the UCI Downhill World Cup . Yet the vast majority of mountain bikers aren’t adrenaline junkies in full-face helmets; they’re regular men and women seeking a similar experience in the woods as other trail users. That Chattanooga features some of the best mountain biking trails in the region is no secret among those of us who ride them, and the Five Points 50 shouts that message from the rooftops. See you there!
The photos which accompany this article are from a recent ride at Five Points. Special thanks to Veronica Borne, Richie Daigle and Kyle Gochenour for granting permission to publish them.