Wednesday, July 22, 2015

To Build a Trail

Just before Tackett left the Bluegrass State he walked me around the PMRP to see what work had been done and to talk about what he had intended to do.  We had just moved back to Kentucky from a stint in Colorado where I had become a rabid mountain biker.  I was somewhat enthused about moving back to my home area only to discover that since I last rode knobby tires on the Cumberland Plateau things had changed.
ATVs and ORVs had destroyed some of the prime off-road cycling in the area while the USFS had intentionally destroyed other parts.  There was little enjoyable real estate left to ride.  Most of the old rugged roads were nothing more than stinking cesspools of mudholes and hillclimbs left naked to the sky to erode and fester.
NOT a world class mountain bike trail
Cave Run had evolved into a cage fight between mountain bikers and equestrians with hikers and the federal land managers caught between.  Impotently managed, the area went from crown jewel of Kentucky mountain biking in the ‘90s to a wasteland of lost hopes and a black eye on the whole state.  Very recently that condition has changed.
Lo, one government shutdown I was able to ride some fine trails in my neck of the woods.  But that will never be a normal and routine experience; though it is another reason to go ahead and trigger the apocalypse.
Seeking out opportunities to ride I found that besides a forgotten loop down in the oil fields of Lee County the closest decent mountain biking to my home was 45 minutes away.  Public lands were overrun with anarchistic hordes of blatting motors.  The last, best hope was to try and find some benevolent private land owner friendly to the idea of mountain bike trails or turn to the RRGCC’s land.
A forgotten trail in Sore Heel
It took a while to settle back into life in Kentucky.  I went through some rough and dark patches.  I won’t lie and say I’m free of the dark clouds I tried to navigate through these past two years, but for the most part I think I’m in a place where I have more solid footing.  And so, after struggling with legions of demons I am finally to a place where I can look to creating something.
The land is a blank canvas.  I see trails everywhere.  It makes me think of when I was kid riding in my dad’s pickup truck along Turkey Knob at dusk, fireflies—lightnin’ bugs as they’re called around here—blurring over the river bottoms as we sped past…these days when I drive down wooded back roads I see imagined trails blurred beyond the canopy and columns of trees.  I look at a knob on the horizon and fantasize about a trail winding to its rounded peak.  I see long sinuous ridgelines and wonder how hard it would be to string a miles long trail along its crest.
I don’t want to be a trail builder.  It’s not trail building that fulfills me.  But much like the musician that doesn’t find the music they want to play, I have become the songwriter, I have become the author to stories I want to read.  Finding trail building opportunities is a means to an end where I get to ride my mountain bike off into a distant sunset.
This spring I finally decided I would focus my trail building schemes on Flat Holler.  Why waste my time on dimly lit cul-de-sacs?  The Climbers’ Coalition land is low hanging fruit.  They welcome mountain biking to their land.  Their mission is to promote and preserve human powered recreation.  Mountain biking is specifically listed amongst allowed activities in their mission.
I say “their,” I have been part of the Coalition on and off since darn near the beginning.  It’s “ours” really.  I feel like an outsider because I’ve been gone so long, but now I’m back.
Flat Holler Trail
Anyway, I can be at Flat Holler parking lot thirty minutes from my front door.  That’s driving.  Jeff has ridden out there from his house and hit what he calls “Tackett’s Loop.”  The only major hurdle to my developing Flat Holler is the Motherlode hill.  It’s a beast in a 2WD car.  Getting in is no problem, but much like the roach motel you may check in and not check back out.  But that’s okay.  It’s only half a mile extra.  I can hoof it in from the upper spillover lot to the lower trailhead in seven minutes.  It takes about twelve or so to hike back out.  So it’s an extra twenty minutes to park in a place where I know I won’t be stranded if a gully-worsher comes through and wipes out my means of egress.
After all that…the trail.
The land is steep.  It battles with water constantly.  And so any trails constructed must be sustainable.  There can be no shortcuts.  Doing it right is going to take time and patience.  And there is only the tiniest of mountain bike communities in the area.  Recruiting volunteers is going to be challenging.  My hope is that once there is enough mileage to start drawing mountain bikers from afar that because this is the Red River Gorge area it will be easier to recruit.  That is my hope.
I have co-opted the standard fare reasoning for my Quixotic mission: economic development, community health benefits, a benevolent streak to give back to the recreational community…but the truth is that I want more opportunities to ride.  If I could do that alone and keep the trails to myself I would.  But I can’t.
Saturday we have planned to cut about a tenth of a mile of new trail which will piece together a couple of sections of old logging roads to create a half mile spur trail off of the existing Flat Holler Trail.  The spur will provide access to the amazing Flat Hollow Arch and will be the next phase in a much longer intermediate loop trail around the Flat Hollow drainage.
But I think my next phase after the impending trail day this week will be to drop down into the bottoms and create a stellar beginner loop.  I want a beautiful and accessible ride that would be great to take new riders to and inspire them.  That’s going to be my initial project over the next year after we open up the arch spur.  This is my strategy to “lower the barriers to entry.”  That was my purpose in pushing the bike-ped plan for Powell County.  I think people would naturally ride, run, and walk if it were easier to take the first steps or pedal strokes.  I believe if there were purpose-built bike-optimized trails in the area geared for beginners then more people will take up mountain biking. 
I’ll keep tilting at this windmill.  It’s a selfish plight, I admit.  And so what if there are accidentally positive side effects?  I don’t mind sharing.


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