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Arachnophobia on Sharp’s Ridge

A view of Knoxville's giant disco ball from Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park. Photo by Clay Duda.

Editor’s Note: Have I been slacking? It doesn’t feel like it. Even though I haven’t posted in nearly two months now, I’ve been busy. You may remember in one of my last posts I laid out our month-long itinerary for a trip across Europe. We made the trip, and as soon as we got back to the states we hit the ground running, officially making the move to Knoxville, Tenn. and starting work in a four-day window. At any rate, expect journal-style entries from our European adventure to start popping up soon, and for now there’s this: 

I can’t believe there’s nobody else on this trail. It’s 10 a.m. on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning in Knoxville, Tenn. and the pooch and I are virtually the only ones out here at Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park just north of downtown. What’s going on here, Knoxville?

This place is a mountain biker’s paradise. The first thing I see after finding my way onto one of the unmarked trails running the south face of the ridge is a sign for the expert-level mountain bike trail that cuts off to the right. “No foot traffic” it warns, so I go left.

Trailhead on Sharp's Ridge, a park in North Knoxville. Photo by Clay Duda.
The entrance to the “upper trail” at Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park. Follow the road until it ends, park, then walk around either side of the cell tower to find a trail head.

None of the trails are marked here (pro tip: look for the “no motor vehicles” signs to find a trailhead), but a pair of mountain bikers help point me toward an entrance under the thick canopy of trees. Then they take off in a different direction and it’s just me and the dog for the next couple of miles.

It’s not long before I hit our first spider web. Good God all the spiders. Peaches is walking out front and I’m holding her leash up high in an effort to cut through all the webs. Most are just a string here or there across the trail, but every once and a while we hit a full web face-on. The dog doesn’t seem to mind. I kind of freak out.

Effing spiders. Photo by Clay Duda.
Effing spiders.

I have to wonder if I’m the first person to walk these trails today. There’s no way all this spider infrastructure was built back if someone else had come through within the past few hours.

I was planning to map our hike using this handy little app, but I dropped my iPhone in some water last night and now I’m hoping a bag of rice will work some magic and bring it back to life. We’ll see. At any rate, the Peach Pit and I take off down what I think is the “upper trail.” It cuts tight against the ridge line. For most of the hike we can see the edge of the roadway above, and some other meandering trails below. There are all sorts of trail intersections, switch backs, and cut throughs along the way, and eventually we double down and double back along one of the lower trails.

Mountain bike and foot paths hug the hillside through a ravine at Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park in Eastern Tennessee. Photo by Clay Duda.
Mountain bike and foot paths hug the hillside through a ravine.

But from this vantage point up high there’s a nice view of the expert mountain biking trail as it dips and dives and intimidates below. While there’s nobody riding it right now, word on the street is that the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club eventually hopes to expand the 3.5 miles of trails in the park to an 8-mile free-for-all of awesomeness. However, that may take a while as the group works to gain access to land on the north side of the hill.

Thankfully the trees are keeping us shaded for the most part. There’s been such steady rain this year that a few wildflowers are still in bloom at the first of August. It’s a narrow and rocky trail that opens up at times with views of downtown Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains beyond. There’s even a scenic view point on the road accented by some nice cables from a nearby TV tower.

Downtown Knoxville from the overlook at Sharp's Ridge.  Photo by Clay Duda.
Downtown Knoxville from the overlook at Sharp’s Ridge.

I figure we cover about two miles over the course of an hour before making it back to the car. It’s only 11 a.m., but it’s already hot and muggy in these East Tennessee hills. My shirt is covered in sweat and the Peach is panting her eyelids off. We’re heading for home.

It’s really nice having such a robust — and secluded, come to find out — trail system practically at my doorstep, and I’m not just talking about Sharp’s Ridge. There’s also a ton of walking paths at Ijams Nature Center, which is on my immediate to-do list, and a number of other urban forests, greenways, and even old quarries turned swimming holes all within city limits that I can’t wait to explore. Then, of course, there are the mountains.

Knoxville, it’s good to be home.

Looking toward Knoxville from Sharp's Ridge north of town. The Smoky Mountains in the background. Photo by Clay Duda.

Sharp Ridge Memorial Park. Photo by Stephen Clay Duda.

Dog hiking. Peaches leads the pack. Photo by Clay Duda.

A flower blooms in Knoxville. Photo by Clay Duda.

The upper trail at Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park in Knox County. Photo by Clay Duda.

Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park. Photo by Clay Duda.

 

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Clay Duda is a freelance journalist specializing in investigative reporting, feature writing, editorial photography, and digital media.