Wednesday, October 17

Posse-bilities: Hillbilly Mountain Biker

For those of you that are familiar with my mountain biking history this may be review. For those that are not please see the following posts: Epic Bike Ride #1, Many Helmets, Finding the Path, Singletrack Dreams, Working With Bikes, and The Leadville Chronicles: Why Leadville Why Now?.

Okay, now that we're all up to speed, let me fill in all the gaps I have failed to write about in the past four years.

I once owned a Huffy Mountain Storm. I don't think I ever rode it on a trail or even off the pavement. Then I was providentially blessed with the Cannonball, bought from a friend at a good price. I subjected the Cannonball to the indignity of not riding it off road very often.

Early on I mostly rode it for transportation. If that transportation involved traversing some gravel or dirt road to access some trailhead for a rock climbing area then I did manage to get the bike dirty. But as I've mentioned previously, the national forest near my hometown does not allow bikes on official trails. There were few obvious attractive nuisances for me to ply on my trusty aluminum-framed steed.

When I lived in Slade, Knetucky and ran my climbing guide service I rode the bike a lot for both transportation and recreation. I had a few road loops I liked doing, and there was one loop with some fun dirt that I discovered and did as often as I could. It had a mile long climb from the paved road up a nice 4WD dirt road to the ridgetop, then it picked up the Sheltowee Trace and headed north to the boundary of Natural Bridge State Park where it made a hard turn to the west and then lost all of its elevation in a steep technical descent. The fun stuff ended on another oil access road and out an obscure valley.

Just before I bought my first real road bike I asked Dave L, the only friend I had who "knew" bikes, to tune up the Cannonball. I think I had intended then to start riding it off ride as it had been designed and built to do. Dave and I had biked out an old abandoned road to a moderately remote climbing area once and I'd been using the bike more and more to access the backwoods of Eastern Kentucky.

The day I went to pick up the bike I realized what a truly stellar bike it was. We walked it out to the street in front of his house and he said to try it out.

I swung a leg over and slammed down on the pedals, rocketing away down the street. Dave marveled that I could take off like that with the chain on the big ring. I glanced down. "Oh..."

If memory serves, I believe Dave and I did one real mountain bike ride together after that. I had previously ridden a fun but not so obvious loopand wanted to get someone else's opinion on it's quality. The ride had challenged me a bit, and had been far more fun than I had anticipated.

What had been so good about the ride was its flow and it's variety. It first followed a low traffic oil field access road west above the north bank of Big Sinking Creek in Lee County, Kentucky. One section early on was a bit technical, and had a short steep section that took me a couple of tries to get clean.

Then eventually the road dropped down and followed the dry creekbed for a bit before climbing back onto the northern bank. Finally, just before reaching New Virginia Road it crossed to the south side of the creek and then continued along the rushing water. The climb from Big Sinking up New Virginia was too technical for me then: a series of very small limestone ledges with lots of loose rocks thrown in for fun. I'd give it a solid go now, and hopefully would be able to pull it off.

After the initial technical crux it's just a grunt up to the intersection of New Virginia and another unnamed road that heads back east along the south side of the valley. This next section is fast along a good dirt road that gets more vehicle traffic than the north side. Eventually you return to the confluence of Big Sinking and Bald Rock Fork which is a good place to start.

There's no singletrack at all, and the roads are maintained by the oil companies operating in the area, but the ride has a nice taste of technical terrain. Those roads aren't maintained for passenger cars, NO! It's trucks and earth moving machinery and the like. So getting on them on a good mountain bike is actually a pretty novel experience...when they're in the right condition.

I can't remember Dave's take on the overall ride, but I do remember him commenting on the crux climb up New Virginia Road, saying he knew guys that could climb up it on their bikes. I was both envious and skeptical.

After that, with a nicely tuned bike (thanks Dave!) I tried getting my wife into mountain biking. She had inherited a small-framed Bianchi Lynx from her dad, so we struck out on some easier rides. At the time, Mandy didn't ride much at all. We climbed and hiked a lot, but rarely rode.

One of the more fun and notable rides was a ridgetop roller that began near Fagan, Kentucky and traversed out the divide between Short Creek and Spaas Creek. It's a nice and scenic road with continuous ups and downs. We rode out and back, and by the time we'd returned to the car she was content and I was jonesing for more. I asked if she wanted to drive home, and I'd ride down the forest service road through Spaas Creek and then pick up the paved North Bend Road and return home. She was game.

Spaas Creek Road is a 4WD road. There were times I could drive the whole thing in my '85 Honda Accord, but then there were other times the road had washed out in places and/or the creek was too deep. One time I remember going through one of the creek crossings in my Honda and seeing a tsunami coming over the windshield. It hardly stalled.

On a bike...dropping down from the ridge and riding out the valley...the road is a blast. And again, somewhat technical in places. That day was just a blast, riding with Mandy and then taking the long way home. It fertilized that mountain biking seed a little more.

I found some obscure little road that dropped down from the ridge near Mountain Chapel into the Billey Fork drainage near a popular cave. The road had grown over so much it was as close to singletrack as I'd ever ridden at the time. On another day I explored the opposite side of the valley from Greely (Kentucky) to the "ghost town" of Audry and Smith Cemetery. All of these explorations were on either abandoned roads or very obscure roads. Some were in good shape and some were 4WD only.

I tried singletrack at Cave Run Lake. If you read the Epic Bike Ride #1 story above you'll get the first account. I took Mandy back to do the infamous Caney Loop. I liked the ride, but was disappointed that the equestrians had torn the trails up so much that you couldn't just RIDE.

We took another couple back to do that ridge road above Spaas Creek...friends of ours. They seemed to enjoy it, but nearly as much as we did. Soon after that we moved, and my Kentucky mountain biking days would come to (at least) a temporary end.

When I first moved to Colorado, before Mandy and the kids came out, I only had my road bike. I'm not sure why, but I had chosen the less versatile of my two bikes. Obviously, the Cannonball would have been much more suitable for winter riding along the Front Range.

It was shipped out with some of our furniture a few weeks before the family was scheduled to arrive. I took it out the very next weekend and rode at Alderfer/Three Sister Open Space and summited Evergreen Mountain. My fledgling mountain biking mind was blown.

I've grown in fits and starts as a mountain biker. I really haven't ridden as much as I'd like to. But I've ridden much more than I could have ever imagined back when I was trying desperately to find the Path back in the auld days. I'm a different cyclist. My perspective has drastically shifted, and I see different possibilities now. 

Oh, and I don't think I ever wore a helmet during all that time. I started regularly wearing a helmet in 2007. 

What's spurred this cruise down memory lane was being reconnected with Dave. I hadn't seen the lovable gearhead in about five years. Just recently Mandy's dad bumped into him and gave him my number.

We've exchanged a few texts, and my synapses have been firing like crazy. I gotta say, I want to take my MTB east over the holidays and carve up some of my old haunts, maybe drum up some Eastern Kentucky posse action.

We'll see. If you'll remember, I have put The One up for sale. And then there is the question of what mode of transportation we'll choose for our holiday travels. I'm not sure if the airlines have bike racks on their planes.

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