Riding a mountain bike at Sesquicentennial State Park used to be a two-pronged challenge.
First you had to deal with the sand. Just when you worked up a good head of steam on the trails, you would spy a white patch ahead. On a straight section, the sand slowed you down. On a corner, it could slide the tires right out from under you.
But sand is a hurdle you expect at a park built on a geological formation called the sand hills.
The other challenge was more maddening: It was nearly impossible to follow the trail.
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"If you didn't already know where it went, you ended up on firebreaks or (other) trails," park naturalist Stacey Howe said. "Who knows where the trail was before."
"Before" as in before park workers put up new blue trail markers. Hikers might be annoyed at these arrows nailed to trees every 100 feet, but they are a godsend for bikers flying down a trail.
I had explored the trail several times in recent years. To my amazement, a recent trip revealed probably two miles of curves, climbs and contours I had seen before only on the map.
Twice in recent years, I had tried to find that outer ring of the trail. Both times I ended up back on the dirt road loop, baffled. Now, following the trail is easy.
The trail starts at the parking area to the left of the entrance road near the old cabin and the dog park. The full 6.1-mile loop starts and ends with long stretches on a dirt road. Families with young children might want to stick to the dirt road, which has few sharp changes in elevation.
Start out counter-clockwise on the loop, and the skinnier portion of the mountain bike trail will be ahead on the left. It’s suitable for beginners, as long as they are not embarrassed walking their bikes up the handful of rugged climbs, over the occasional log obstacles or down the couple of steep drops.
Chances are, nobody will see you wimping out on the hills. Unlike the popular trails at Harbison State Forest, the bike trail at Sesqui seldom is crowded. And you are just as likely to see somebody wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes as the Lycra and toe clips of serious mountain bikers.
Of course, that meant in the past there were few people to ask for help when the criss-crossing trails befuddled you. The new markers solve that problem.
Alas, the park managers cannot do anything about the sand.
Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.
IF YOU GO
Sesquicentennial State Park
WHERE: 9564 Two Notch Road, Columbia
DIRECTIONS: The park entrance is three miles north of exit 74 on I-20 and two miles north of exit 17 on I-77.
COST: $2 for adults; free for ages 15 and younger
HOURS: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (7 a.m.-9 p.m. during Daylight Saving Time)
INFORMATION: (803) 788-2706