Monday, April 7

First Cargo Bike Ascent of Cobhill

A quick bit of news: over the weekend this blog reached 100,000 pageviews.  Combined with the old version of this blog ( and my old Ascentionist blog I have nearly 150,000 pageviews.  The taint on my celebratory mood is that I know a good bit of these numbers represent trolling bots. 

Doubt crept in.  It's true, I'd ridden the Cannonball X(tracycle) up a hill simulator called Furnace Mountainto train for the Redbud Ride's signature climb Tussey Hill.  Maybe it wasn't enough.  Maybe I needed another climb under my bottom bracket.  Maybe I needed to go and drag myself and my longtail cargo bike up Cobhill.

In preparation I brewed coffee and sealed it up in my insulated Klean Kanteen.  I tucked as many calories as I estimated I'd need to carry me to and fro into the cargo sacks.  To all that I added crampons, an alpenstock, and a natural fiber rope.  Then I overdressed.

Once I was sufficiently laden with expedition gear I headed off for Cobhill, 16 or so rolling miles distant.  I had to stop at the top of Furnace to shed layers.  As an avid armchair mountaineer I'm used to the notion that the temperature should drop as you ascend higher, but in this particular case just the opposite seemed to be true.

I dropped my sodden jacket into the trunk and pushed on.  It felt like it was going to be a long slog into Estill County and back.

The ride could have waited until a more convenient time after the Redbud, but I really needed a good shakedown run for the bike a week before the big ride.  I wasn’t sure if I’d get another chance for an extended ride and I had to jump through the narrow window of opportunity.

One thing I needed to do with the bike was move the shifters forward of the crossbar on the Titec (Jones) H.  That meant fiddling with angles, rewrapping the bars, and trying to come up with the best balance of comfort and usability.  I needed to move them because the original position of the shifters on the H-bar didn’t allow for a comfortable resting grip on the bars.  That was fine for shorter rides, but for a century I wanted maximum comfort.

Once repositioned, with the bike cleaned and mostly tuned, I wanted a good solid ride to shake out any other lurking bugs.  I’ve only recently started riding the bike with any frequency since we moved back to Kentucky.  Last year the bike suffered with chronic rust and a mysterious shifting problem.  Late in 2013 I finally got it all lined out, but a few weeks ago I was shocked when I discovered more rust on the bike after a long dark winter sweating in the Bike Cave.

The obvious solution to my cyclo-ailments is to just ride the danged bike.  And that’s what I’ve been trying to do the last couple of weeks.  A couple of weeks ago I took Boone to town for both of us to get haircuts.  I’ve been to town for an errand or two.  And then I cranked up Furnace Mountain last week to satisfy my curiosity.  Cobhill was next in the natural progression.
It's definitely spring on Furnace Mountain
I wasn’t moving fast.  Just before I reached KY 52 for the descent into Fitchburg I checked my average speed: 10.5 mph.  I said I had everything lined out, but the shifting is still slow compared to the sporty-sport bike and The One.  But those bikes have much better quality shifters.  I assume it’s all relative.  The important thing is that they work, and the new position on the bar works more effectively than I had hoped.

To give away the ending let’s just say I am 100% confident in the bike that it will carry me through the 2014 Kentucky Century Challenge.  But…Cobhill…

The Tipton Ridge Road descent from the top of the ridge down to Furnace Fork where Cobhill looms is always a fun bomb run.  Last year when there was still a chance for ice in the shade it was a little sketchy, but this past Saturday I had no worries; I let gravity have the full mass of me and the CBX, and we screamed toward the center of the earth.  It feels like such a huge loss in elevation, and the truth is the bridge over Furnace Fork at the bottom of Cobhill is 636’ (Kentucky River watershed) and my own house is 664’ (Red River).

Bottom of Cobhill: full stop.  I got off the bike.  I took a quick photo.  I tried to text Mandy but then remembered there is no cell service in the center of the earth.  I drank a bit of water (having chawed down some energy chews at the top of Tipton Ridge), and I took off my helmet and sunglasses and stowed them.

Listen, I average between 3 and 3.5 mph crawling up Cobhill.  It has an ADT of 182 cars per day.  It’s a paved road.  So yeah, I took off my helmet to ride up it.  Get over it.  My head overheats if I wear it.  Or if I don’t for that matter.  I only do this on Cobhill.

182 cars per day and I saw four of them during the fourteen minutes and forty-three seconds I was crawling up the face of it. 

It was a grueling ascent.  At times I thought the summit was hoped for in vain.  The first bad omen was the road sign with multiple bullet wounds.  But then as I got closer I could see the injuries were caused by a small caliber weapon.  Amateurs.  I pushed on.

The crux eventually loomed and I was feeling pretty good as I slithered along in my granny gear.  The first crux fell easy and I felt no molten agony in my lower back.  Between the first and second cruxes the mental crux attacks.  You barely get a reprieve after the steep curve and you can’t ignore the obviously steeper pavement ahead while it feels like you’re going to fall over backwards on steeper terrain below.

Slow and steady wins the summit.

Through the first, the second, the third, and the long, long fourth crux finish that looks like it might go on forever…and I pedaled a few yards further for good measure, did a u-turn and paused on the brink looking back.  I parked my faithful steed and extricated my celebratory coffee.  It was worth hauling it up that murderous face to suck down some good coffee out in the wilds of Estill County.

It was a good, leisurely ride home afterward.  I enjoyed just being out on the bike, taking in the pre-spring forests and greening fields.  I had much to do at home (that never got done) and so I pedaled my happy self back to civilization and rest. 

Redbud…here we come.


PS, after returning to town I headed over to KY Auto Parts and picked up the goods to perform an oil change on my four-wheeled conveyance.  Hauled on a cargo bike #45.

I noticed this morning that Chris Warren and Wesley Thelen, both of Michigan, did almost the same loop I did ON THE SAME DAY!  That's insane!  And Jeffro Mozhican did it that day too!  Ironically that's the second biggest cycling day we know of on Cobhill.  The first saw both the Chainring and Mozhican couples and the CTL for a total of 5 bicycle ADT.  Nuts!




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