Monday, July 22

The Leadville Saga: Finding Corona in Backwoods Kentucky


"I'll go climb Drip Rock for you," I told Jeff as we parted ways.

When we met on High Rock Road and he said he didn't think he was going to be able to ride at first I thought he was joking.  Originally the plan had been to do a stout Cumberland Plateau century, from the familiar roads of Powell County, across Estill, up Drip Rockand into Jackson County and beyond.

I wussed first, having ran four miles the day before, but Jeff was still game for a jaunt over to climb Drip Rock and/or Barnes Mountain and even the heavy century I'd proposed over Drip Rock to McKee then east to Booneville and finally north to Slade through Beattyville and home...until 5am when I got the following text:

Only 3 1/2 hours sleep. I might have to start later.

We agreed to both head out at 8am, and I decided a century bid was out due to the forecasted heat and rain later in the day.  I was up early, so it occurred to me that I could head out at 7, take the long way to Jeff's, and get in a few extra miles.  Later in the day those "few extra miles" would become heavy in my mind.
I climbed High Rock via Cow Creek—finally getting it clean—and was feeling good.  The irony was not lost on me as I surmounted the short, severe crux and saw the sign for Mountain Rest Cemetery.  My rock climber's morbid sense of humor kicked in for a big smile.

With the Cow Creek climb behind me I made quick work of the last pitch of High Rock and rolled up to Jeff and Casey's front door.  The place was quiet.  I’d inadvertently roused Casey only to discover Jeff had already gone.  We finally deduced he'd gotten ready early and had struck off for Furnace to meet me.  I'd not told him of my plan to ride over High Rock to meet him at his house.
I took off in humid pursuit and met him headed back toward home within a mile.  That's when he told his joke.  But the punch line was that he really wasn't up for a ride.  It was unlike Jeff to turn down a bike ride for beauty sleep, no matter how badly he needed it. 

I decided I wouldn't ride to Drip Rock alone, but as we talked I kinda changed my mind and decided I would go on to Drip Rock.  As we parted ways I let Jeff know I'd dedicate my ascent to him.  So, Jefe Mozhican, while you lazed upon your couch I subdued a moderately mighty dragon for you.

But the story doesn't end at the top of Drip Rock.  As I stormed Ravenna for the second time this summer I decided if I felt good at the top of Drip Rock, and if the weather held out, I would venture on toward McKee.  By deciding to go on past the climb and not return directly home I was setting myself up to depend on a SAG call at some point.  I was creating a situation where I might need to impose on my lovely wife.

After making my way over to 89 via Red Lick Road I rolled up toe to toe with my adversary.  Heat blasted down off the ridge.  I'd been sweating for 39 miles.  Up I went.  Thankfully the road snakes up the western-ish slopes and was still mostly in the shade.  For a mile I climbed easily, thinking if the whole ascent were like the first mile it was in the bag. Another tenth of a mile and I saw the easy part was over. 

I think by then the scheme to ride on to McKee had solidified in my brain, so when I saw half a sign advertising food at Drip Rock I began thinking deeply about food to carry me on:

Gah!  How far?!
I kept on pedaling through the switchbacks, upward and onward, until eventually I reached a point where the road dipped down.  Wha?  Was I at the top?  And then I was gearing up and picking up speed.  The thought of food had distracted me enough that I’d not suffered through the “big climb” of the day. 

Very soon I saw a little country store.  It didn't seem to be a "dwich" and pizza joint, but it would do.  As I dismounted the Dogrunner I noticed the skies were heavy with growing clouds.  The forecast had been for blistering heat until thunderstorms would blow in during the afternoon.  With some simple sugars in my belly (and an ambivalent attitude toward the weather) I continued on deeper into my folly.
Drip Rock P.O.
It was soon after leaving the country store at Drip Rock proper that I found myself committed.  The descent from the ridge past Drip Rock on the Jackson County side is long, steep, and long and steep.  Partway down I knew there was no going back.  In retrospect maybe foregoing the dramatic finality of such thoughts would have been prudent.

At the bottom of an unbelievable descent I discovered another long heartbreaking climb up out of the South Fork of Station Camp Creek.  Other than the road itself there was no sign of human influence on the landscape.  But as I climbed up the wooded slopes of the holler I heard gunshots close by.  Someone was target shooting.  I hoped.

Near the top of that climb my head felt like it was going to burst into flames so I stopped pedaling and walked for a few dozen yards.  There was no good place to stop in the shade and rest so I pushed on.  Looking back on the profiles for the second climb and the prior descent that seemed so bad, the side I actually climbed was twice as long with the same gain.  Back on top of the ridge I cranked back up to cruising speed and urged my sporty sport bike on to McKee.  I figured I could get some real food there and decide on a course of action.  SAG or wag.

I enjoyed another air conditioned descent to where I hoped to pick up Sandlick - Foxtown Road to avoid crossing over another ridge by dropping down a valley to 421 and go into McKee from the west.  Sandlick - Foxtown turned to gravel just after the first curve.  With a sigh I turned around and went back to 89.  I'd be climbing once again to get on to McKee.  I still felt pretty good, and the ridge beyond passed through the National Forest and along the Sheltowee Trace for a short distance.
On the edge of town I saw a picnic shelter at the city park.  I stopped there hoping for water but there was none.  In fact, there was police tape wrapped around the enclosed portion of the shelter and the whole place looked more misused than appreciated.  It was somewhat disheartening that in the middle of summer the city park was scattered with litter and the shelter had no light bulbs in its fixtures.  It's a common misconception in this part of the state that "you can't have anything nice" because of vandals.  The truth is you can only have nice things if you don't abandon them to the vandals.  It made me think of all the trash is seen along the pavement as I crawled up Drip Rock.  In such a beautiful area people had the audacity to drop their kitchen garbage and used mattresses.  I mean…what the heck?!

McKee has the full range of services including a Subway sandwich shop.  I didn't want to go into a store because I didn't have any way to lock up my bike and I didn't want to eat a sub because I didn't want to vomit in the heat 50 miles from home.  So despite needing food and water I stupidly rode on past the aforementioned Subway, an IGA and a Save-a-Lot.  As I rolled out of McKee I believed I had two full water bottles.  I'm not sure where this myth was conceived because when I rolled into McKee I knew I needed to refill my bottles pretty desperately.
McKee, KY

I wanted to check out Mr. Bill's "Grocery Gun Shop"
...but didn't?!?
There was an unexpected—but fairly tame—climb out of McKee on 421.  I got so caught up in looking for my turnoff (Soaptown Road) that I passed the very inviting and oddly named Deer View Mart (I thought it was “Beer View Mart” until I was really close).  I didn't know it but the Deer View would be my last chance for food or fluid for a long way.  I knew it was 27 miles from McKee to Booneville on my chosen route, and I had no idea what I'd find in the rolling farmland of Jackson County.
Nothing.  Nothing was exactly what I found.  Oh, it was scenic and quiet.  There was little traffic and the landscape was very picturesque.  With all his beauty sleep Jeff would have made the experience like one of those commercials with Fabio.  "I can't believe it's not buttah."  And he would have enjoyed the pure unadulterated obscurity of it all.  Sorry folks of Jackson County!  To me your home roads are obscure.
Anyway, just before Privet three things happened:  I realized I was completely out of water.  I felt the first hints of cramping in my thighs, and I saw a hand painted sign that read: "Booneville 23."
I knew my suffering was about to begin.  Privet was promising.  On the map it almost looked like a town at a crossroads.  On the ground it was nothing but a cluster of houses and an old stone building that might have been a store back when cars had fins and bikes had fake gas tanks.  I was bone dry, and the day was getting on in its length and heat.  Those heavy clouds I'd seen from Drip Rock never became rain nor did they provide any shade.  And the roads were now all open, with only patches of shade.  I was beginning to think if I didn't find a store soon I was going to have to knock on someone's door and beg water and bananas.
This is all Privet had to offer...
Continuing east from Privet on 1071 (named simply “Grassy”) I discovered a generally downward trending landscape.  There were rollers, but I didn't have to expend as much energy to get over the humps.  My next turn would be onto 30, which looked to be a busier road.  I dreaded getting caught up in fast rural traffic.
It was somewhere around Privet where my rear derailer started pissing me off, too.  It would shift fine into lower gears, but when I tried going into a higher gear it hesitated.  By the time I got to Booneville (spoiler alert!) it was hesitating a loooong time before swinging over.  I could have been making good time over pleasant rollers, but because of the derailer I was losing a lot of momentum at the apexes.
At Sturgeon Creek I crossed into my fourth county for the day: Owsley.  The road paralleled Sturgeon Creek for a short distance and I passed a very picturesque and inviting pool where the stream passed over bare sandstone.  It looked cool, and a dip would have been nice, but I really needed water in my bottles not my bike shorts.
As an update on my progress I texted the following to SAG central:
Dyin’ in the middle of nowhere.  Must.  Reach.  Booneville.
That seemed a bit overly dramatic so I added:  I’m in Owsley County.
Mandy responded a few minutes later:
We can meet you somewhere if you need us to.
In code I responded:
She called me soon after for clarification.  In my defense, all of my good judgment had been sweated out.  We agreed she would come bail me out in Booneville, but she’d been watching her cousin’s little boy and had to find out if they were on their way to come get him before she headed out.  I pushed on weakly toward Booneville.
I’d discovered a shortcut on the map that I’d not seen when planning this big epic swelter tour.  It avoided the point on the map called “Travellers Rest.”  I debated with myself whether or not I should detour or see if there was aid there.
Me: Self, we’ve really !@#$-ed up this time.
Self: This was your brilliant idea, don’t drag me into this.
Me: Hey!  You never said nuthin’!  Why didn’t you pipe up in McKee?  We could’ve had a meatball sub.
Self: [Retch!]
Me: Okay!  Okay!  I won’t talk about food!  It’s a little longer, but there might be…food…and water at Travellers Rest.
Self: Ha! Oh, sure!  With a name like that how could we go wrong?  It’s not like fate would be luring us into some Deliverance kind of situation with the promise of food, water, and rest.  Stranger danger! Stranger danger!
Me: Oh, shut up!
[Long pause]
Self: What were we talking about?
Me: I don’t remember.  But I’m calling it in Booneville.  Done.  Finito.  Kaput.  Done.
Self: You said “done” twice.
Me: Shut up!
I took the shortcut.  Chadwell Road follows a wooded corridor over a slight ridge.  I’m saddened to say I walked the “hill” to the crest.  It felt like Powerline going up, but when I looked back down I couldn’t see a significant grade.
Now, I need to mention that even at this point I still had plenty of strength to turn the pedals.  My main problem was thirst, followed immediately by the potential for cramping if I pushed too hard.  I was trying my best to conserve my energy and minerals (precious bodily fluids) and treading a fine line.
After the apex of Chadwell it was a nice long cruise down to KY 11.  I had to check the map at 11, and I’m glad I did because my inclination was to go right, but actually I needed to go left.  In no time flat I was rolling into Booneville.
I saw a restaurant, but made the same mistake I made in McKee.  The front was not open so I wouldn’t be able to see the bike from inside and I went right on past.  I did stop at the gas station next door and seeing a text from Mandy that she hadn’t left home yet I responded:
I might be able to make it to Beattyville.  9 easy miles from Boone
I could do it.  Booneville was 81 miles into the ride.  Beattyville was another 9-10 if I took Fish Creek Road along the South Fork of the Kentucky.  I remembered it being fairly flat.  I guess it’s been 15 or so years since I visited Booneville though.
There was a water spigot (pronounced “spicket”) outside the convenience store but it was locked.  I went inside and bought a liter of water and a 16 oz Coke.  The thought of food didn’t really appeal to me in an immediate sense.  Hunger was growing, but that long distance gastro-intestinal shut down had settled into my gut.  I was racing the bonk at that point. 
A local guy stood by the door and I asked him if he knew Fish Creek Road.
“Yeah, right up here?” he indicated the road out of town and said he did.
“Do you know if it’s paved all the way to Beattyville?”  Of course I pronounced it “Bate-uh-vull” to avoid owfending the young man.  Perhaps I should have said “blacktopped” instead of “paved.”  He lied to me and said it was.  Now, in his defense, it’s possible that his deep familiarity with the road caused him not to have noticed details like two full miles of unpaved roadway.  And when I asked him if there were any hills on that part of the road he might have been thinking of something other than the two stout little climbs that ended up threatening my successful crossing over to Lee County.  I don’t know, and I don’t hold it against him, but I was mumbling some not-so-nice things as I fought my way on to Three Forks country.
As I walked the last hill before Beattyville I noticed my cyclocomputer.  93 miles.  I was trying to decide if Beattyville was big enough to lap around until I hit 100.  Not for seven miles.  No way.  So when I crossed the Kentucky River for the last time on Saturday I kept on going right through town and I started up the long, long grade out of town north toward Slade.  There was a DQ near the top of the hill.  I wasn’t stopping until I reached it either.
I then did something I almost never do.  While riding I called Mandy and told her I would be waiting for her in the restaurant.  94 miles would be my finish line for the day.  At the time she still hadn’t left home.
There was shade on the far side of the building, and I clipped my helmet strap through the frame to a railing to at least slow down any potential bike thieves that might be roaming Lee County.  I entered into the cool restaurant, ambled up to the counter and then…absolutely did not see anything on the menu that appealed to me.  Ice cream seemed too sweet.  All the cooked food seemed too greasy for the heat. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d actually eaten.  I think I may have finished off the half a Clif Block with my cold water in Booneville, but I couldn’t even choke down the Coke I’d bought.
Her look said: “I’ve asked you once; don’t make me ask you again.”
Oh, the cashier had asked for my order.
There had been something I’d thought of miles ago.*  What was it?  Can’t remember…
“How ‘bout a…”
Bored look?
Smack this crazy man in tight clothes with sweaty, twisty hair?
“…grilled chicken sandwich combo.  Plain.”  I added plain because I wasn’t sure I could handle mayo or tomato. 
I paid and told the girl I was going to run to the restroom.  I splashed cold water on my face repeatedly until I didn’t taste salt anymore.  When I went out my food still wasn’t ready, but an empty cup was.  I dragged it over to the fountain and filled it with Ale-8.  That’s what I really wanted!
Then my food was ready and I carried it carefully to a corner booth where I could keep an eye on my bike and sweat all over the seat.  I just stared at the food.  It was too hot.  My gut was still clenched against any more abuse. 
So I texted Jeff and told him where I was and that I was done at 94.6 miles.  He texted back that was ironic because he’d only ridden 6.  Between the two of us we’d managed a century.
Mandy was on her way.  I finally nibbled away the dwich and fries and sucked down a refill of Ale-8.  I guess I’d been at the DQ for half an hour or so.  The food hadn’t caused any adverse reactions.  My legs felt fine other than the ghosts of cramps that had never really materialized.  I was going to finish.  I was going to bag another century.
I called Mandy and told her I’d be heading her way, to look for me along 11.  From Beattyville to Zachariah 11 has wide shoulders.  I clipped my helmet to my handlebar bag, snugged down my Campy cap, and pedaled slowly across the parking lot and onto the shoulder.  I was going to bag another century.
The remainder of the long pull out of town was moot.  It wasn’t steep and I was closer to the top than the bottom.  Once on the ridge 11 goes away straight and flat toward Slade.  I got up to a respectable cruising speed, knocking along at 17-19 mph for a while.  It was hot.  11 is so wide no shade falls on it anywhere.  Finally I was ticking over 97 miles, 98, 98.2, 98.3, 98.35…
I began to worry that I’d see Mandy before I hit 100 miles.  I was hoping I could make it to Zoe or Zachariah so I could at least say I rode to a place, not just to a number on my odometer.  But I was worrying that I’d see her before 100 and she’d have to turn around and follow me until I ticked the magic number and that would have felt so contrived.

On I pedaled.  At 101.5 I saw my car, and saw it turn into a side road.  Knowing Mandy would be looking I crossed into the drive lane and pumped my two fists skyward as if I were crossing the finish on a decisive Tour stage.  I was done.  Zoe was less than a mile away, but I was good with the effort.  I’d found my Rollins Pass for this year.
Sunday I felt pretty good.  I wasn’t sore.  I only felt tired.  I’ve taken it easy and plan on relaxing for the most part early this week, and working back toward running some as the week rolls on.  I don’t feel like I need any more long rides.  I’m done with riding until August 10.  I’ll be on the bike, but I’ve really done everything I need to do.
The century that I pulled off wasn’t really well executed, but in retrospect it went off without a hitch.  Despite riding for 20 or so miles in 90F degree heat with no water I kept going.  Despite a malfunctioning derailer at mile 70 or so I still finished a hundred.  Despite slacking off on my eating toward the end I had enough energy and spirit to go on.  I know what I’m doing.  I have the experience and the knowledge to mitigate the potential disasters, and truly I have the mental fortitude to keep going when I really want to give up.
But my lesson from Turquoise Lake still seems untested.  I tried to bail; it was just that circumstance didn’t allow immediate SAG support.  Mandy would have been waiting in Booneville if she could have gotten there faster, and I would have bailed at 81 miles instead of 87.  Or 94.6.  Or 98?  No, oddly, my second wind came at 94.6 miles after a good meager bite to eat.  I wasn’t going to settled for less than a full century once I got back on the bike for the final push.  But that resolve came almost at the very end.
It took me just shy of 10 hours to cover the ground.  I was on the bike for about 7 hours and 20 minutes.  According to Strava I climbed 9,000’, but according to MapMyRide it was more like 4,700’.  I’d like to believe I had a near-Leadville experience on a road century, but I think the MMR numbers are closer to the truth.  Still…
There were no less than 7 significant climbs though Drip Rock, at 2.3 miles in length and 670’ in gain, was the biggest.
I found my confidence.  I dug deep and uncovered a treasure of good miles to carry me on toward the red carpet and a belt buckle.

If I had closed the loop and ridden the perfect loop from home it would have looked like THIS.
* As I approached every potential refueling spot I thought I should try and find orange juice and a banana.  I even remember as I pedaled up out of Beattyville toward the DQ thinking they should have both, but when I got to the counter I totally blanked and didn't remember ever having those thoughts.


  1. There are easier ways to do a century ;)

  2. I hear there are easier ways to do a century!

    You might want more food and water in Leadville ;)