Named after Albert Sabo, a previous director of the City's
Department, Al Sabo is a land preserve in Texas Charter
Township (right next to
Portage in Kalamazoo county in Michigan). It is a scenic
trees, fields and streams. It has an observation deck, as well
hiking and biking trails. My discussion will focus mostly on
According to the Texas Township website, Albert Sabo was
in the purchase and preservation of this
land for recreation purposes as well as groundwater protection.
While the total length of the trails in the preserve is estimated at
25 miles, only seven of these are available for mountain
Previously, all of the trails were accessible by mountain bikes, but
many of the paths could not withstand this and the use of mountain
bikes took its toll on the paths, requiring a great deal of restoration
effort. As a contingency to reopening the trails to mountain
bikes, a restriction on which trails could be ridden was enacted.
Four separate trails, named Moab, Atwater, Lookout and
Mandala, comprise Al Sabo and intersect in such a way as to allow
for the picking, choosing and combination as per the rider's
The only official entrance to the preserve, Moab is a wider
trail that winds through a forest and is connected to an
unmarked, dirt parking lot off of Texas Drive / Milham Road.
the path becomes a two lane "tire tread", which is likely used for
vehicular access by preserve maintenance crews. After about
half a mile, the trail splits, with a winding loop about a mile long
that goes through forest as well as open fields, or an alternative of
one eighth of a mile that shortcuts this loop. As the trail is
extremely narrow on the loop, it is necessary to travel the
shorter path when returning. Moab is an easy trail composed
primarily of solid dirt with only a slight grade and not many
obstacles (mostly only scattered roots). It is a good warm up for
Moab leads from the preserve entrance to the Atwater trail.
Distance to Atwater is about 1.75 miles. Back to the
about 3/4 of a mile.
Atwater is a a longer trail which is a larger loop which could be
completed on its own. Yet, it is
more common not to travel the entire Atwater trail, instead leaving it
either three quarters of the way through to take Mandala, or nine
tenths of the way to take Lookout. With a downhill section which
can be difficult to navigate, covered with roots and gravel on "steps"
going down steep
slopes with multiple turns, Atwater offers an increased difficulty, yet
still not extreme if care is taken. Atwater winds through forest
and fields, up and down hills and
is a serene trip. The trail is about 2 miles to the
Mandala trail, 2.5 miles to Lookout trail, and 2.85 miles all the way
The most popular route will take you to this trail, which is named
after the observation deck that can be found about 0.2 miles from the
start. This trail is, by far, the most difficult. Obstacles
include lots of roots, trees that grow in the middle of the path and
encroach upon you
from the sides, thick areas of sand, and steep hills. Lookout is home to the most difficult portion of the trails: a large
at the base of the steepest, largest hill on the trails, which I call the
Hill. Once you navigate through the sand, you are
confronted with a large hill to battle. It would be unlikely for
a beginner to
successfully get to the top without walking at least part way.
While it is tempting to skip this area, it is not recommended; it
constitutes a good deal of the entire trails available, and it is
one of the few challenging areas.
While there is only one official entrance, at the start of Moab, an
entrance from 12th street can be found by taking Hickory Hill until
comes to a gated service path. While the gate is closed, it is
easy enough for bikers and hikers to go around. The drawback to
this is that there is over a 2 mile ride to the trails along the paved
service path before you can even begin with the real trails.
However, it is convenient if you want to avoid
riding along main roads
(such as the dangerous 12th street). The service road enters onto
Lookout less than a tenth of a mile after the end of Mandala.
The Mandala trail exits
onto Lookout about .78 miles along. The entire Lookout trail is
about 1.85 miles, exiting back onto the Moab / Atwater
Mandala is a lesser traveled trail. Only
.28 miles long, it is
a shortcut from Atwater to Lookout (not skipping the most difficult
area of Lookout, the Hill, though). However, it can be
useful for doing an additional "half lap" if one lap isn't enough, but
two is too much. Mandala, though short, is a very interesting and
fun trail. Lots of vegetation and deep in the
lays claim to the steepest (though not largest) hill. The hill
can be easily conquered, however, just by building up enough speed
prior to its climb. It is worth a look and can be useful when
needing to make
a trip shorter.
The following are routes I have taken as well as some tips I have
learned regarding the various parts of these trails.
- Beginner - Starting on Moab, take the entire Moab trail,
including the loop,
to Atwater. Take Atwater to Lookout and Lookout back to
Moab. Retrace Moab back to the parking lot. You will
encounter the Hill once, after which Lookout trail merges back
into Moab, taking you back to the start. A good starting trail,
what is nice about this is that it lets you see almost the entire trail
without a lot of backtracking. The only trail missing is the
- Intermediate - Starting on Moab, take the Beginner trail
above, with the difference being at the end of Lookout; instead of
going back along Moab to the exit, go back along Atwater again, this
time taking the Mandala trail. This route is more intermediate,
not only because it takes you along a longer path, but also because you
will encounter the Hill twice.
- Advanced - Take the Beginner route, but instead of taking
the exit, take the Moab loop again, then go back onto Atwater,
essentially taking the Beginner route a second time. This will
hit the Hill only twice as above, but is a much extended
trip. While a Beginner route could be considered a lap, the
Intermediate is like a lap and a half, while the Advanced is two
Of course, you can mix and match the different routes I've listed,
or even create your own routes from the trails, for varying degrees of
difficulty. My suggestion is to try and incorporate the Mandala
trail at least every once in awhile for a nice change of pace, although
watch out for unmaintained trails, as it is not traversed as
frequently as the rest of the trails are.
While Al Sabo is definitely not what would be considered an advanced
set of trails, there are
still some places that can be tricky.
- the Hill - As described above, this Lookout obstacle is a
large, steep hill, with a sandpit at the base. The temptation is
to build up momentum prior to the Hill with the idea of being able to
get a head start on it before the need to expend a lot of effort.
Unfortunately, the sandpit is pretty good about sucking up any momentum
that you have achieved and not propelling you very far up the hill,
leaving you with an already exhausted energy supply for the remainder
of the grueling ordeal. What works better is contrary to what
would be expected; take the whole hill, including the sandpit,
slowly. Instead of spending a great deal of energy trying to fly
through the sand and up the hill, take it easy and drop into a very low
gear, but not the absolute lowest. As you progress up the hill,
continue dropping the gears as you start to encounter difficulty
continuing. Since you didn't waste energy building up momentum
that would only be lost, you should have much more energy, and a much
greater chance of making it up the hill.
- Atwater downhill - Atwater has an area with a steep slope
downhill. There are many roots, short step-like drops and
gravel. Additionally, the path has several winding portions and
trees that may get in the way. Mostly, this is just common sense,
but it doesn't hurt to be reminded; use your brakes. If you have
shocks on your bike (which I would highly recommend), you won't need to
brake as much, but you will still need to on the turns. That
being said, this is a good place to get a lot of momentum and you
should try to preserve as much of the speed that you safely can, as it
will help with the next couple of hills.
- Lookout Sand - Or, "Lookout, sand!" - there are a couple
areas of sand on these trails, with the most concentrated, inconvenient
ones being on the Lookout paths. There are two areas on Lookout
with lots o' sand right before a hill. The trick is to use a much
lower gear than you normally would, and try to keep most of your weight
above the back wheel. When going through sand, always keep
peddling (even going downhill) to keep yourself from losing your
tracking and wiping out.
- Atwater at the Mandala entrance - if you are planning on
on the Atwater trail instead of taking Mandala, you will need to make a
sharp left turn at Mandala to stay on Atwater. This turn is in a
surprise sandpit, so just be warned and don't take the turn too fast.
(My only fall on these trails occurred here when I was being
careless. Consider this my little PSA,
the More You Know.)
- Moab twists - just a warning that Moab has a lot of twists
turns. You can take a lot of these at a pretty good speed, but be
ready to use your brakes.
- Pedestrians -
All of the mountain bike trails are also
trails. While the hikers are supposed to travel in the opposite
direction as the bikers and get out of the
way when they see a bike, they don't always value their lives
do that. So, stay alert and keep an eye out for those on foot.
- Texas Township website (http://www.texastownship.org) for
trail map and preserve background
- Route Ruler software (found at
http://sourceforge.net/projects/routeruler) for distances