Monday, October 22

Origins

"I'm gonna show you a hill that would choke a mule."
--George W Bush on a MTB just before flying over his bars down a steep dropoff.

I'm ate up with mountain biking these days. I wasn't always like this though. There was a time I was ate up with rock climbing. Before that it was hiking, and before that I guess you'd have to go back to high school when I was obsessed with military aircraft. No, really.

Yesterday I had a strong bout of homesickness for Kentucky. I couldn't help think about what it would be like to go back now with my MTB obsession and revisit my home stomping grounds on a bike with suspension and clipless pedals.

That line of thinking led to this revelation: I didn't obsess over mountain biking then because the environment wasn't conducive for it.

I obsessed over rock climbing because I lived within biking distance of the world class rock climbing of the Red River Gorge. I didn't obsess over the world class mountain biking of the RRG because that doesn't exist. Only the potential is there.

 The view from Pinch Em Tight Ridge

I think I am more a mountain biker by nature than a rock climber. I've been riding a bike since I was seven years old. Well, not the whole time...

Anyway, I can fulfill the same urges through mountain biking that I had as a climber, but I don't think the opposite would be true. I can climb and summit on a bike. I can challenge my endurance, my technical prowess, and my self-reliance. In fact, despite my high level of confidence in self-reliant rock climbing I am far more comfortable going out on my bike alone.

So why didn't I develop as a mountain biker sooner in my life? Simple: the combination of a lack of inviting and legal singletrack with the absence of a mountain biking community left a void in my life that I filled with rocks.

I tried. Instinctively I sought out good mountain biking. I explored my favorite backwoods looking for fun rides. I don't guess I knew what I was looking for.

 Dave L in an undisclosed location

The Red River Gorge has dozens of miles of good trails. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of them are restricted to foot travel only. There could be some great singletrack trails there, but they are not administered as such. It's a shame really.

Still, there's a lot of potential, and even currently legal potential, there is just no community to develop and promote it.

In the past couple of years things have started to change, but on a geologic timescale. It will be a long time before my hometown becomes a mountain biking destination. But there's no reason it can't, and no reason of shouldn't.

It's really a chicken and egg conundrum.

If there was a willing community the infrastructure would follow. If there was only infrastructure a community would grow. In a sense, both exist, but are held apart by administration and red tape. The cyclists of Lexington, Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbia, Indianapolis would all come to ride, just as their climbing counterparts have, if suddenly the trails were opened to bikes.

We went through it all with climbing advocacy. The bulk of the climbing routes that were developed were unregulated. Once the land managers (USDAFS) realized the scope of the development they attempted to slow or halt all future development.

 What was I thinking?! Well, it's only 5.7

They claimed they didn't have the resources to perform the appropriate studies that were required prior to any recreational development. Since the area is primarily a geologic and archaeological preservation area there is no mandate to develop recreational opportunities. Despite the status of the designated areas, it is a hugely popular recreation area serving a big percentage of the Eastern urban population.

Ironically the entire area was clearcut around the turn of the 20th century. In a way, to me, the idea of preservation, of wilderness protection even, is absurd. Don't get me wrong, I love the place dearly, and hate to see it overly developed.

The area is criss-crossed by abandoned logging roads, old rail beds and in some areas oil access roads. Many of those roads need only the cutting of deadfall and a little raking and they'd make an amazing backbone to a mountain biking trail network.

 Big Sinking Oil Field

I think it's coming. Other parts of the state are embracing their closet mountain biking Meccas. Even my beloved Red River valley is beginning to feel hints of singletrack development. Recently a good friend helped get a grant for the development of a mountain bike park in my home county.

Talk about being homesick...

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