Monday, January 13

Designing Trails For Cyclo-Ascentionists

Today's post is simply a sequel to THIS post from 2011.  I'm not going to talk about working with bikes in today's post, but in using bikes as a prelude to climbing and also designing climbing approach trails to incorporate those that would come by bike.

Reasonably priced and powerful LED to-see lights.  The bikepacking movement.  Fat bikes.  Winter cycling for fun.  Night riding.  Cargo bikes.

In the past five years cycling culture in North America has been rapidly evolving.  Companies like Surly and Salsa are building bikes designed to maximize adventure.  And their customers are driving and being driven by the possibilities.  Mike Dion and Hunter Weeks' Ride the Divide and Reveal the Path are only the two most well-knownmoving pictures that have been an expose on this new type of cycling approach.  In ten years when we look back I imagine Ride the Divide will get the most credit for inspiring a movement though I'm certain the movement was already in motion when we all saw the movie.

I've written about choosing the bike.  What I envision is not simply substituting a bicycle for your car, but in committing to using the bike any time you can, and even in contriving circumstances through which you can ride your bike.  And there are many others out there like me.  I am but one of thousands.

A new (for me) opportunity has arisen.  The Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition (RRGCC) owns 1,000+ acres over three non-contiguous parcels in the Kentucky River drainage in Lee County.  The original purchase was 750 acres in the Big Sinking area called the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP).  Recently the Coalition has purchased another nearby parcel called the Miller Fork Recreational Preserve.

A friend of mine was responsible for developing mountain bike trails in the PMRP.  He'd had some injuries that prevented him from fully actualizing the potential there, but he got things off to a good start.  There's about 2 miles of singletrack right now.

My friend is moving away.  A few weeks ago he sent me a message on the Book of Face asking if I wanted to take over mountain bike development there.  How could I say no?  Recently he and I walked the land and he showed me some forgotten projects and pointed out his vision for the property.

I'm not writing to go into my plans and dreams for a potential MTB park.  That will come soon enough.  But what I wanted to write about is this resolving thought I've had:  What if the trail system was designed so climbers could bike all the way to the crags?  What if cycling became a more integral part of the Red River Gorge rock climbing experience?  I know most climbers are going to rely on their rolling dinosaurs to get to the trailhead parking lots.  But I know of four locals that would ride to the crags.  I know there are plenty of outdoor adventurers out there that would take full advantage of cycling amenities in a climbing dominated environment.

You could say this is another windmill for me to tilt at.  You'd probably be right.  My focus in this new realm of opportunity is going to be to develop a world class mountain biking destination in the wilds of Lee County.  As collateral damage I fully intend to affect the climbing community in subtle ways.

It's funny, in pondering the shelves of my memory for this post I initially believed I'd used a bike to get to climbs only a couple of times in the past.  But once I'd taken a full inventory I realized I had accessed seven different climbing areas multiple times on my bike.  

There were the two instances referenced in the link in the first paragraph.  Then there was the time I had my folks drop me off with my bike and climbing gear at Long Wall for a full moon ascent of Big Country.  I rode back to Slade under the light of the full moon that illuminated my climb and my hike back to the road.  One time I rode up to Emerald City to boulder with crashpad strapped to my back.  We frequently rode out to remote Wild Country Wall because the hike was so long.  One time Dave L. and I biked through the old campground on Swift Camp Creek (before the USFS bought it and it became part of the designated wilderness) to climb at Funk Rock City.  And when I lived at the top of Slade hill I often rode out Tunnel Ridge Road to trail run and scramble up Haystack and Courthouse Rocks. And it’s possible I biked out to Pocket Wall before it was closed and destroyed.  That's been long enough I just can't read the label on that memory anymore.
Mark and I discuss this reality often.  There are a few climbing areas that are between 15 and 20 miles from my front door.  Expand that out to 25 miles and the vast majority of crags within the Red River Watershed fall within that radius from the Red River Regional Bikeport. The Coalition land—the PMRP—is a 30 minute drive from my house.  28 miles.  While that would be a haul for a day of mountain biking or rock climbing it is not unrealistic.  The PMRP is a mere 15 miles from the popular Miguel’s Pizza Protest Camp and Tanning Center.  It’s a measly 6.5 miles from the climber friendly Lago Linda.  
The CTL and I both agree that it’s hard to justify driving to the Gorge area to climb when we live so close.  And we both have the experience to drive the point home.  What we need to do now is begin influencing the community and climate.  What if you could ride 15 miles with a sport rack right up to the base of the wall or very near it?  I would do it.
By choosing to use the bike to get to a day of climbing you are only enhancing and increasing the level of adventure.  Some would say you’re wasting your energy by pedaling when you might need it for sending that heinous project.  I disagree.  I think by doing this you only make yourself stronger in the long run.

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