Monday, January 21

Impromptu Singlespeed Cyclocross Bushwhack Classic

Sometimes memory doesn't serve my sense of adventure quite so well. I've been desperate to get back on the mountain bike, and when I saw the forecasted high temperature for today I realized most of the mud would be frozen. A narrow window of opportunity...

My plan was to revisit one of my old haunts and favorite places in the world: Spaas Creek and the Short Creek/Spaas Creek rim. Things have changed in five years. Mandy dropped me off at the junction of Spaas Creek Rd and North Fork Rd. As she drove off toward town I pedaled into the woods up the long gravel road.

The off-roaders have torn up Spaas Creek Road north of the forest service boundary. There are massive mudholes. There was a time I could drive my '85 Honda Accord far up the valley. Now I don't even think I could get high clearance Gump very far up the road.

The mandatory creek crossings went well. I knew each one like an old friend. It was the new tank trap mudholes that annoyed me. There was no riding through them. I had to portage.

By the time I reached the mouth of Bee Branch I knew I didn't want to stick with my original plan to go straight up Spaas Creek Road to the head of the drainage. I knew another way that would avoid the water and mud.

I bushwhacked up Bee Branch along a vague horse trail, mainly because I knew it wouldn't be a rhododendron-slog, and gained the eastern Short Creek ridge.

Die-hard cyclocrossers would have been weeping trying to keep up as I climbed a muddy horse-torn hill, then slogged over logs and through greenbriar thickets, before finally gaining the ridgetop.

I'd been steaming on my ascent. I generate a lot of heat when I exert myself. But on the ridge a mean west wind came cutting through me. Suddenly the forecast seemed accurate. I dropped down a steep slope to the old fire road I remembered.

I discovered my shifter cables were encased in frozen mud and fused in place on the underside of my downtube. I hadn't wanted to simulate riding a singlespeed when I left this morning, but sometimes you make lemonade with the clumps of mud life gives you. I pushed off down the road.

Equestrians have torn it to pieces riding on the leaf matted gravel road when it's been too wet to do so. I'll bite my tongue against the rant I want to go on.

Anyway, I pedaled along, passing through a surreal landscape of memory and present. Little has changed along that road where I've spent so much time exploring, climbing, biking and hiking. But it's been neglected as well. There were lots of blowdowns, and the aforementioned hoofdamage. I was somewhat sad that I couldn't just ride.

Where I'd hoped to cruise along and make up time I found myself laboring in ragged frozen earth and heaving my bike over fallen trees.

The perception of distance has compressed in my mind. I worried it would take me a long time to reach the better road surface at the forest service gate. But in short order I was pedaling around the steep posts and crossbeam onto the hardpack gravel. Then I cruised.

I'd forgotten the short steep climb at the head of Spaas Creek Road to get over to Hatton Ridge. My thighs burned as I cranked up in my middle chainring. I was huffing and puffing at the intersection of Spaas Creek Rd and Hatton Ridge Rd. I considered jumping out to the pavement at Fagan and riding back over Cane Creek Mountain to Stanton. In retrospect maybe I should have, but I continued out Hatton Ridge.

Hatton Ridge Road was much as I remembered it. The initial hill has been recently graded and had a nice grippy surface, but since I couldn't take advantage of my front derailer I ended up walking.

The ride out Hatton Ridge was comforting. I didn't think much about what lay ahead in my scheme. My intent was to follow Hatton Ridge out to the upper terminus of the Powder Mill Branch Trail which would drop me down into the Indian Creek valley where I could follow a gravel forest service road back to the pavement. Powder Mill is the lone designated multiuse trail in the Red River Gorge area. I'd tried to ride up it in the late '90s on the Cannonball, but did a lot of hike-a-bike. It had been overgrown and I'd not been much of a mountain biker. Today I wanted to ride it with perspective.

Upper terminus of the Powder Mill Branch Trail

The upper section is unrideable either up- or downward. When the grade lessens there are a few gully crossings that are too steep. When the trail was constructed it hardly met decent hiking standards. But when the USFS designated it is a multiuse trail (hikers, bikers, and equestrians) it most definitely didn't meet standards for a sustainable trail.

The one pro to the Powder Mill is that it doesn't seem to be suitable for horses either. There were some nice sections that were completely rideable, but the number of blowdowns made it an onerous ride.

After what seemed like an eternity I finally reached the lower terminus of the trail. The last obstacle was a crossing of Indian Creek.

I paused long enough to decide that the only course of action that made sense was to go barefooted. I stripped off socks and bike shoes and leaned on The One as I quickly sloshed through the frigid water.

Gee-yah that was cold water!

At that point the epic-natured portion of my adventure seemed to be over. I rolled out of Indian Creek and picked up North Fork Road and headed west down the valley. That's when I noticed I was riding into that cold mean west wind.

I texted Mandy:

If you're bored and need to go for a ride I'd sure accept a ride from a pretty stranger, but if you wanna make me suffer I'm on my way back along the way you drove in to drop me off. And frozen like a popscicle

She texted back:

Lily says make you suffer. ;-)

So I pedaled on, Halt!ing one aggressive dog and outrunning a couple. The I saw Gump coming up the road, full of smiling faces and bearing a plate of greasy Wilcy's pizza to warm me up.

Best darn SAG crew ever!

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