Thursday, June 24, 2010

Levis's Best: Sidewinder

Photo: AJ Heil.
Straight from the mouth (keyboard) of Steve Meurett, one of the two masterminds behind Levis Mound:
My favorite- Sidewinder, bar none. It isn't the longest singletrack, but it does have the most "visually challenging" sections. If you fall, you WILL get seriously hurt. I try not to fall. It is the last whole trail to be built at Levis and the one with the best layout-it will last for many years, and it has the best features-rock, drop offs, several levels of elevation. It is the only [one] way trail, which made building it easier and creating a "flow" simpler.
With that rave review by one of the guys that knows every inch of the singletrack out at Levis, what more can I say?  Oh, I guess I can give you details about the trail to show you how right he is, and that he's really understating how fantastic that mile-long piece of singletrack truly is!

Sidewinder begins off of the top of Buck Hill near the beginning of Upper Hermosa, and as Steve already mentioned, it is the only one-way trail at Levis (you'll find out why soon enough). The trail starts out on a northerly facing aspect, and is deeply bench cut into the side of the steep hill. Memories of North Face come to mind.  As the trail reaches the end of the knob that it is about to turn around, a massive boulder looms up directly in the middle of the trail!  There's no bailout route, and commitment to the maneuver up and over must be total, otherwise a tumble down the hill side is in order (which I've witnessed before, but thankfully only as an observer).

After going up and over the rock, the singletrack turns left around the knob and passes beneath a string of sandstone cliffs. I often get a sense of deja vu when riding that section, but then I realize that it's just the striking similarity to the section of Upper Hermosa that's up along the ridge.

The Bridge. Photo: AJ Heil.
As the trippiness of the deja vu passes, you round a corner while climbing over a rock and "Bam!" are presented with a high bridge over a gully between two sandstone outcroppings.  Like the boulder, the bridge is wide and easily rideable, but the visual challenge of coming upon it so suddenly and committing to riding so high off the ground becomes a mental barrier that is tough to overcome for many riders.

Shortly after this bridge comes the section of trail that I personally find the most challenging.  The singletrack tilts upwards, and heads for the top of the mound that you've been riding around.  The trail climbs up several smooth slabs of sandstone, but those chunks of sandstone are part of a trail that is bench cut into the hill directly atop a cliff! As you're worried about traction up and over these slippery sandy stones, you also need to worry about keeping your tires on a trail that is literally no more than 18-24 inches wide at its widest point. There was one time when I was cranking up that climb and had my rear tire spin out on some sand and slide towards the edge of the cliff.  The tread finally caught and held right at  the edge of the cliff--my contact patch, that is. I'm fully convinced that the back part of my tire was hanging out in the air.

After cleaning (hopefully) this climb, the trail winds around on the mellower side of the mound for a bit, and then returns to the cliffs that you rode under in the dega vu section, only this time the trail tread is directly on top of them. A fall on this section of trail could result in about a 30 foot drop to the ground, and then a long rag-doll tumble down the steep, treed hillside.  It would not be pretty. 

Looking back at the rock in the corner
after having passed it. Photo: AJ Heil.
While slowly traversing this harrowing section of trail, you'll glance up and see the trail apparently disappear into thin air! The boulder and the bridge were very "visually challenging," as Steve put it, but this, this takes the cake! I guess I'll spoil the surprise and let you know that no, the trail doesn't just disappear.  It does turn tightly right around the large flat rock and dip back into the hillside.  You won't be able to see the turn until you're coming right up on it.

Rider:?. Photo: AJ Hei.
That blind, sandy corner is technically simple to ride, but man does it get the heart pumping! I've actually witnessed first-hand a rider falling off of that corner. (The rider will remain anonymous, but no it wasn't the same person I saw fall off of the boulder.) Remember though: the trail is still traversing above a cliff line!  This rider fell off the cliff and landed flat on their back with their bike on top of them. Fortunately, the rider was caught by a couple of tall pine trees which had a small ledge and some branches between them and the cliff, and only suffered a fall of about five feet instead of the possible 25+. S/he escaped with just a few minor scrapes, but wasn't able to ride that trail for a long, long time.

Following that truly epic corner, this sweet singletrack which has left a permanent mark in your memory traverses the cliff for a while longer, and then turns again onto the backside of the mound. Several swoops and turns head down and around the backside, and inevitably lead to the finish at a junction with Upper Hermosa back near the top of Buck Hill.  If you're riding with a group, someone will be sure to say "Dang, what a rush!" (Or something to that affect.)

From there, you can head right back towards the main parking lot on Upper Hermosa, or head left back to Buck Hill to head out further on Goat Dance, pick up Yellow Jacket... or to do Sidewinder all over again!

The Bottom Line:
Sidwinder is truly a work of art, and I applaud all of the people that had a hand in designing and building this trail! After having ridden in many different states all across the nation, I now realize how uncharacteristic it is for there to be a mountain bike trail with that level of exposure hidden away in Central Wisconsin. For all of you Midwesterners, this is one mountain biking jewel that you can't afford to miss!

Note: One thing lead to another, and when the group I was riding this May got out to Buck Hill, we had to turn around and head straight back to the parking lot. I wasn't able to get any helmet cam footage of Sidewinder. It's a shame, because it would make for a great video!  Oh well, I guess the next time I'm up in Wisconsin I'll try to capture some awesome footage to share with you all!


Post a Comment



Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

About This Blog

Mountain biking, plain and simple. Trail reviews, ride reports, and philosophical musings induced by delirium from grinding up way too many vertical feet.

Read More

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP