Monday, October 27, 2014

The Ride I Should Have Taken Twenty Years Ago

"When did you start mountain biking?"  Mitchum asked.
"Late '90s.  Buckskin was the first real trail I rode," I nodded out the window in the general direction of the lake.
Mitchum, Jeff and I sat around a table stuffing our faces at Pops BBQ below Cave Run Lake after a grueling seventeen or so mile mountain bike ride.  It was grueling for me and Mitchum because we're not Jeff.
"He's a beast," Mitchum said as we trailed behind Jeff on Big Limestone.  Jeff and Mitchum had been friends since they were nine, so they had a lot of stories of adventures and misadventures to share as we rode.  And Jeff and I have packed in a lot of epic miles in the past two years.  Our three hour outing was quite the jaw session.  Mitchum and I were meeting for the first time, but Jeff had been slanderizing us to each other for a while it seemed.
By the time I was stuffing the massive pulled pork sandwich from Pops into my craw I had decided that I was pretty doggone satisfied with life despite bemoaning my lack of mountain bike fitness all day.  I didn't feel inadequate in my blatant weakness on the bike, and I was finally coming out of my headcold funk.
The fall colors seemed to be at their peak.  Jeff and I hadn't ridden together much except for the Preservation Pedal and the Hub City Tour.  And we were all out at Cave Run for the day because my wife—I love her so—had suggested the trip earlier in the week.  I was apprehensive of riding with someone new after my deplorable couple of laps at Veterans on Friday, but it didn't matter.  I had been frothing to ride for a few weeks. The stars had finally aligned.
I grumbled about by my 1x9 gearing as we climbed up from the visitors' center.  I shook my head in frustration as I walked the crux.  Mitchum accompanied me on more than one walk of shame, so we comforted each other in our non-Jeffness.  Our trio stopped too often, but that only meant more time out in the beautiful weather under the golden light streaming through the autumn canopy.  I know I only need to ride more and the 1x9 will seem fine.  I should resist the urge to go back to 3x9 wussitude.

The conversation ran the gauntlet.  Jeff and Mitchum talked about riding around Lexington as kids and at Cave Run twenty years ago.  We ended up comparing our respective experiences at Cave Run as we rode together.  Mitchum and I also talked about the possibilities of bikepacking along the Sheltowee.  As we parted ways at the end of the day he admonished me to get ahold of him if I wanted to give it a go sometime.
It was a relaxing day because we had no real agenda and weren't training for some race.  We ran some new trails and considered taking the Sheltowee into Morehead.
"We could ride into town and get Jimmy John's," Jeff repeated each time we had to decide whether to turn toward Morehead or away. Jeff was all about getting food at the new restaurant; I wanted to check out a couple of the trails that climb up out of town, but was fairly certain I didn't have those kinds of miles in me.

Mitchum didn't vocally resist, but I think he leaned more to my camp of wussitude.  In the end we turned back toward the dam and away from town.  The long fast descent down Clack Mountain West was more enjoyable than I'd expected.  We turned on the pavement and I couldn’t help but think the ride could be over if we just pedaled straight back to the cars.  But we had one more trail to ply before the day was out.
It took a little effort to find the Lakeview Trail terminus at the paved road near Twin Knobs, but soon enough we were headed back into the woods.  Just before the long brutal climb back to the ridge crest we crossed a wooden bridge.  The bridge made me think that Cave Run has a mountain biking renaissance coming.  We all agreed that things were better than they had been around the turn of the millennium and into the twenty-teens.  Recent efforts to sort out the different user groups in the area have awakened interest in the trails around the lake.  A new day has dawned for certain.

Mitchum on Lakeview Trail
The climb up Lakeview was taxing.  We paid for the long miles and sorry preparation.  I vowed silently to get back on the bike more.  I mean to keep the promise to myself.  But I mean to keep the promise while staying in running shape too.
As I listened to Jeff and Mitchum talk about riding Caney Loop before the horse people destroyed it I couldn't help but wish I'd been more of a mountain biker earlier in my life.  I try not to regret things like that too strongly because my life could have been far different if I'd been a hardcore mountain biker instead of on the path to becoming a climbing guide.  I might not have met my future wife.  And I don't want to imagine what that life would have been like.
Maybe I should have been more open to riding my bike at Cave Run twenty years ago.  Or maybe the other day was as perfect as it gets: eating damn good BBQ after riding til it hurt with good friends, and then eagerly anticipating my return home to a loving wife and kids. 
Cave Run is less than an hour from home, and I can justify making the trip and spending most of the day riding there because there are enough miles of trails and gravel roads to make it worthwhile.  The Sheltowee Trace between the visitors' center to Big Limestone is worth the trip alone.  The area's not close enough to home to get old quickly, and there's this great little BBQ joint below the dam.
I guess I'll be telling more Cave Run tales in the future.

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