When Drew Jordan first had the spark of an idea for having a timed race on the clay-packed FATS (Forks Area Trail System), he wasn’t sure whether he could pull it off.
The owner of Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse (and Andy Jordan’s son) had heard a lot about how difficult it would be to get a race going on the land in Sumter National Forest, because it is managed by U.S. Forest Service. But a little more than a year ago, after hearing that the local mountain biking group that maintains the trail system was looking for funds to improve it, he said, “OK, this is it, we’ve got to go for it.”
“So (Paul Farrow) and I were working on it for a few months and getting involved with the ranger out there,” Jordan said, “and honestly it was a little easier to do than I was expecting, because everybody said, ‘Oh, you can’t get it approved,’ and it’ll just be so much work, but … it’s gone pretty smooth, I feel like.”
The FATS Flow Master (named for how the trail is described as having good “flow,” by bikers who use it) is the first event of its kind on the FATS trail system. There is a maximum of 125 riders, and Jordan said it’s filling up, so bikers definitely should register at andyjordans.com before the Oct. 8 deadline if they want a spot in the race.
Jordan already had experience with running a race series, as he and Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse have put on The Canal Crown at a mountain bike trail off of the canal for nine years now.
Farrow is a member of the Board of Directors on the local chapter of Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA-CSRA). The group’s prime objective, Farrow said, is to have fun riding mountain bikes, but with that comes the need for trails, and the group spends a lot of hours and needed funding to maintain the trails.
So the two friends collaborated and came up with the FATS Flow Master, coming Saturday, Oct. 21. Registration is $50 and can be completed online at andyjordans.com. All of the proceeds will be used to make the trail better for all users, which Farrow said is more than just bikers.
“Not only are there a lot of mountain bikers, but there’s a lot of trail runners, there’s a lot of hikers, there’s a lot of people just going out and walking in the forest,” Farrow said. “And it would be great if they would connect with SORBA and help perform some of this maintenance of the trails. A lot of people will go out and use trails (in the area), and I will see some people on the trails and they’ll say, ‘Well, I’m glad the land manager did this or did that,’ but no, the land manager didn’t do that. We, SORBA, are the ones that did that. It would be nice for Joe Public to understand that while the land manager will do what they can, they’re very restricted in their resources, and they depend on volunteer organizations like SORBA to go out and perform all this trail maintenance.”
The trail needs maintenance because over time, biking trails become weathered. FATS was built in 2005, and Farrow compared trail maintenance to the kind of maintenance people would routinely put into their house.
“FATS was built per IMBA — that stands for International Mountain Biking Association — standards. But yet we still have from Mother Nature, from all the rain that comes down, some erosion that goes on,” Farrow said. “And so we want to raise funds to bring back in a professional trail builder to go in and repair the sections that have started eroding. I guess you can do an analogy back to your house. Your house is built very fine, but as it ages, you have to go back and repaint it and you have to do minor repairs. So we’re doing these minor repairs so that these trails will last way into the future, and future generations will be able to keep using them.”
He said right now, he anticipates that the cost of updating the trail would be about $20,000.
“The land manager has told us that we should go and develop a master plan for the FATS trail head, and once we develop this master plan, the Forest Service will review it, and if it gets approved, then the Forest Service will allow us to add trail amenities like a picnic shelter, a changing room, a bike-wash station,” Farrow said. “And if we’re able to get additional funding, then we will go and do these trail amenities. This will make the whole experience of using the FATS trails a whole lot better.”
FATS is considered one of the top trails of the world, Jordan said.
“It was one of the first purpose-built trails — it was built specifically for mountain biking,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t a hiking trail that was turned into a mountain bike trail, or a hiking trail that could also be ridden on. They call it “flow trails”; a flow trail, as the name implies, is all about keeping the trail as flowing as well as possible so you’re constantly maintaining good speed. The turns might be slightly less, like it won’t be as tight as a radius so you can maintain more speed through it; you’re constantly going up and down the hills without any extreme changes on the trail. Some of the trails out there do feature that type of riding, but what we’ll be doing on the race course is very flowy, single track. So you can maintain a pretty high rate of speed the entire time out there, so the guys that’ll be racing and going for the win, they’re gonna be moving along quite quickly.”
Jordan’s advice for anyone wanting to do the trail race is to get out there and ride it themselves first, and to also be prepared for the almost 20-mile distance. The trail race course can be viewed online at andyjordans.com.
“It’s a good idea to have ridden 20 miles off-road before. Or at least close to that, because riding 20 miles off-road is a lot different from riding 20 miles on the road or on bike paths,” Jordan said. “It’s a little bit more physically demanding. It requires a little bit more upper body strength because you are having to overcome obstacles and ride over little roots and rocks and things like that, that make you engage your upper body and core a little bit more.”
Although the race is meant to raise funds, Jordan and Farrow both said they really want people to just come out and have a good time.
“We’ll have a little bit past the halfway mark an aid station with water and infinite sports drinks and then (athletic fuel) food like waffles and gels and stuff that’ll keep them going,” Jordan said. “Everything’s included in the price of entry. All the racers will get a T-shirt; the top three in each age group will get a really cool glass that’s shaped like a can. And then we’ve got some other cool prizes for the top racers. So, everybody should be pretty happy when they leave here. We’re trying to raise money for the trail, but we’re also trying to make sure everybody’s got their money’s worth, too.”
Jordan said the date will be an emotional day for him, as well, as it will have been exactly two years to the day that his dad, Andy, passed away.
“This’ll be a good way to tip my hat to him because he taught me a lot,” Jordan said, “and he was always very active in the bike community, and I try to do the same thing and make him proud, and I think this’ll be a perfect way to do it.”
To get to FATS from North Augusta, head north on Martintown Road to Sportsmans Corner, and make a left on Woodlawn Road — it will be down that road on the left. From West Augusta, go north on Highway 28 and take a right on Hopewell Church Road.
Sponsors for the FATS Flow Master include: Metro’s Best 2017 winner Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse, SORBA-CSRA, the Metro Spirit, Paragon Services, Fireside Outdoor Kitchens & Grills, Robert J. Buist D.M.D Family Dentistry, Tri Coach Georgia, Mr. Tees Screenprinting & Embroidery, Go Race Productions, USDA, U.S. Forest Service, Booz Allen Hamilton and Publix. Visit andyjordans.com for more information about the race.
Anyone who would like to volunteer to help SORBA-CSRA maintain the FATS system can email Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.