There is that moment, usually as you feel the heavy pull of G’s in the first sweeping turn, that you wonder if “Highway to the Danger Zone” should be played 24/7 along the length of Sand Hog Hill. It’s as close as most of us will get to being in a dogfight from “Top Gun.” By the third banked corner, the bike leaned over and the ground at a sharply tilted angle, you almost hear yourself asking Goose if he has missile lock.
When talking about the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, located within the Cuyuna Country State Recreational Area in Crosby/Ironton, Minnesota, Sand Hog Hill is often on the list of “must ride” trails. That isn’t just something recognized by locals anymore, either. During the 2012 World Mountain Biking Summit, the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has awarded Sand Hog Hill its Model Trails Flow Country Trail Award.
To understand the uniqueness of this accomplishment, here is a little background information.
Sand Hog Hill is just one trail in a system of over 25 miles of trails that are part of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails. Built on the remains of an abandoned open-pit mine, the trails reflect the mining heritage of the area. They wind up and down the imposing overburden piles left by the open pit mining, which have since filled with water and become crystal clear lakes. In names, too, the trails reflect the past, hence “Sand Hog,” a term to describe miners that worked in pressurized environments, becoming the name of a hill. All this uniqueness in one location helped make the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails be considered a “Ride Center” by IMBA. There are only 10 Ride Centers in the entire world, and only one in Minnesota. A Ride Center is mountain bike trail system that offers a little bit of everything for a mountain bike rider, allowing them to experience many types of trails in a single location, with enough mileage to take a day or two to ride.
The concept of “Flow Country Trails” was first conceived by Hans Rey, one of the early greats in mountain biking, having been involved in mountain biking since the early 1980s. He retired from competition in 1997 and began traveling the world to mountain bike in different locations. In his travels he saw the need for a new type of purpose-built mountain bike trail. Something that would allow beginners to gain confidence and experienced riders to push the limits of what they could do. Something with a lot of “flow,” a term describing the almost organic way a trail curves and winds around. Hans Rey describes Flow Country Trails thusly, “narrow, natural singletrack trails (1–3 ft. wide), with diverse and appropriate elements such as; berms, rollers, rocks, roots, small jumps and drops.”
That perfectly describes Sand Hog Hill. After a long, but not taxing, climb to the top, riders are rewarded with a spectacular view of the surrounding area and mine pit lakes. After a moment or two of soaking in the sights, they can point the bike onward. Sand Hog Hill then begins to wind its way downhill, with rocky jumps and whoopies through the woods before busting out into an opening filled with a series of plunging back-to-back bermed “S” turns. As they reach the bottom quarter of the hill, it’s back into the woods for a long series of curving ups and downs. Because all of this is happening on a downhill slope, riders can push themselves because they don’t have to focus on maintaining momentum. The ghost of Sir Isaac Newton does that.
Flow Country Trails are not something any trail can claim to be. They are awarded by IMBA for meeting a strict series of requirements. Before Sand Hog Hill was awarded this status, there were only five in the entire world. Hence, Minnesota’s only Ride Center with a Flow Country Trail within its system is pretty much the white whale of mountain biking trail systems. A fact that is not lost on the Crew.
“With Sand Hog now being a recipient of this Flow Trail Award it’s another testament to the founding fathers and mothers of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails,” says Aaron Hautala, president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew. “We, as a community and a club, tip our hat and thank these volunteers who spend countless hours ensuring these mountain bike trails are nothing but best-in-class.”
So the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew is taking it easy now, right? Quite the opposite actually. The Crew is setting up for three big projects at the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails. The first, dubbed “Yawkey Overdrive,” is a skills building addition to the already popular Yawkey Unit of the trails. The second, the City of Cuyuna Pumptrack, is a pump track to be placed on a formerly empty city lot at the corner of the Cuyuna Country State Recreational Area. The third, and most ambitious project, is a master plan encompassing the next 10 years of trail expansion. That expansion could potentially double, if not triple, the size of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails.
While the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew celebrates the Flow Country Trail Award, they also know there is more work to be done to keep the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails special, not just within Minnesota, but also in the world. Because the Crew knows, probably more than anyone, that every now and then in life you need to hear “Highway to the Danger Zone” in your head.