Thursday, March 7

The Red River Gorge Loop

I’ve mentioned the (Red River) Gorge Loop before. When I visited Kentucky from Colorado and had opportunity to ride I typically chose that route. I don’t want to focus too much attention on it because there are so many good rides in the area, and I know a lot of Bluegrass Region locals see it as the cliché big ride of the year during the Red River Gorge Rally.

While it could be a bit cliché, and easily overshadows many other good road rides in the Red River Valley, it is a fantastic ride. The centerpiece to the 27-ish mile ride is Sky Bridge Hill. No matter if you plan your ride to ascend or descend it the steep hill it is a factor. The gain/loss is 425 feet in 0.7 miles. The average grade is over 10%.
Jeff told of riding with a roadie from Lexington who stopped at the base of the climb to empty his water bottles before starting up Sky Bridge Hill. That’s a bit extreme, especially since Clydes like me or Jeff can climb the thing. It’s not about weight, it’s all about keeping the pedals turning.

Top of Sky Bridge Hill
Over half the loop is in the National Forest. You have to ride through Nada Tunnel, a 900’ one lane unlighted tunnel carved into the living stone of the escarpment. Then there is Sky Bridge Hill (at mile 14 if you begin at the Slade interchange and ride clockwise). It’s the beast hidden in the trees.

But along the way you get to see some pretty amazing scenery, including a long ride along the National Wild and Scenic Red River. You pass through Clifty Wilderness and the Red River Gorge Geologic Area. You’re rewarded with views of rock formations like Cloudsplitter, Tower Rock, the Sky Bridge arch, and Hen’s Nest Rock.
If you ride during the offseason, when the tourists are less thick, you can get in a nice peaceful ride. Even during the busy summer months you can ride on weekdays and have the roads mostly to yourself.

Crossing the Red River
I bring all this up because my lovely wife rode the Gorge Loop with Jeff’s wife not too long ago. She’d never ridden the loop before and she loved it. I was excited for her. It’s a good ride, and a good local feather to have in your helmet.
There are at least a couple of good variants as well, the most notable is to cut over from Pine Ridge to Zachariah and descend highway 11 back to Slade instead of rolling along highway 15.  (Also, a much bigger loop that avoids most of the popular sections of the Red River Gorge.
I think I might try to write up different local rides as I have opportunity. There are some phenomenal rides out there that should be a big draw for cyclists from all over. A few little hills shouldn’t dissuade people from doing the good rides the edge of the Cumberland Plateau has to offer.

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