Thursday, August 28, 2014

25km Sandilands Singletrack Loop

Sandilands Forest is littered with singletrack trails created primarily by dirt bikes. There used to be more trails, but the big forest fire of 2006(?) ate up the best of them. Anyhoo, in my journeys out there I've stumbled across threads of different trails and always assumed that it would be possible to string together a loop. This past week I decided I'd give it a shot and loop together the pieces that I'd ridden previously, starting from the Sandilands race loop parking lot. The race course doesn't overlap the loop I hoped to ride, but I figured that would be a logical starting point.
I packed up my 3L Camelbak HOSS in anticipation of a long day of riding with no pressure other than to ride trail and enjoy the woods. 

In short, I was able to string together a loop that is about 26km long, although you could extend the length of it by starting from the Labbe Road spur. Here's a map from my Mountain Bike app from Runtastic.

Btw; the mountain bike app from Runtastic is a top performer when you're mountain biking. As you can see from the map, it provides a lot of detail in terms of contour lines, clear cuts(light green spots), power lines (there are 2 that traverse the forest and provide great reference points when you're turned around out there),logging roads and atv trails (dotted lines). Another huge plus is that you can download maps so that when you're out of cell range(virtually 10 miles East of Steinbach), you can run off an offline map and still know where you are.

The trail I rode is typcial of what you'll find in Sandilands Forest. It's a softish mix of soil and sand. I tried to time my ride after some heavy rain, as that leaves it in great riding shape, but I don't think I beat the dirtbikes to the trail after our latest rain, and so the trail was a little soft in spots. It's fun to ride, but it takes away just enough roll so that you have to work. I would definitely recommend 29er's as they carry way more speed on this surface. There were a couple of hike a bike sections, mainly when the throttle twisters pin it up a sandy hillside, leaving it unrideable for cyclists. Fortunately, this isn't common - maybe 5 times over 26k.

Gives you a sense of the trail surface.

A clearcut section that feels like you're riding through a savannah.
Here's a quick rating of the trail...
  1. Epic Factor - 4/5 . You sure have the feeling that you are far from anywhere at times. The potential for getting lost is pretty high, although there are enough landmarks that should help you regain your bearings. The length of the loop makes being prepared a little more important. A gps device/app is a real good idea.
  2. Fun Factory - 4/5. Would get a 5/5 if it were hardpacked. The rolling sections are fun, and the ferny undergrowth and open spruce forest sections are awesome. There's a lot of variety over the full loop. The clear cut area is actually kind of cool - it's been replanted, so it'll be interesting to see how different it feels over the years. 26k of singletrack is tough  to come by, so that's a plus.  A chainsaw crew would increase flow in some spots, as there are sections with logs crossing the trail, esp the stretch after the Beaver Pond. 
  3. Wildlife Factor - 3/5. Did not see a cougar, although rumour has there are some. Did see bear scat and a big paw print. Did see some huge deer, and a snake. Did see hawks and a woodchuck.
All in all, a good day on the trails. If a person wanted, they could tack on the 7k race course for a 32k day. I know that at one point there was an 80k enduro style race held in Sandilands, I wonder if any of those trails are still rideable? I also wonder how much more is out there that I haven't yet stumbled across.  There was one small spur that I followed for a little bit but ended up turning around on. I guess exploring that trail will be left for another day.

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