Monday, December 28, 2015

Weekend Ride Report: Bowen Loop

This is what I need to get back to doing. Writing about riding. There are hundreds of miles of fantastic roads within a day's ride of my house. I need to be riding them, and I need to be touting them to the wide world (albeit ineffectively since this is the back alley wall of the internet).
I am a big proponent of “front porch” rides. Why subject your bike to the indignity of being hauled on your car (phrase blatantly stolen from Bike Snob NYC) when you can just use the bike to get where you want to go?  The problem is that to me my front porch rides are mundane. Yes, I ride from the house almost 100% of the time unless I'm mountain biking or traveling to some organized ride like the Redbud. 
I've lived in Powell County most of my life so I take our scenery and great roads for granted. For my own sake I need to learn to better appreciate the roads within striking distance and to better enjoy what I have at my immediate disposal.

Enjoying what I have at my immediate disposal
I live about a mile southwest of Stanton on what used to be a quiet county road.  To get from our house to a main road involves one of two steep ridge crossings or a short but steep descent down to KY 11/15 at Turkey Knob.
Excluding the Mountain Parkway there are two major state highways that bisect the county from west to east and south to north. In truth there are five, but there's overlap with two and the fourth is KY 77 that splits off of KY 11/15 at Nada and heads north into Menifee County through the Red River Gorge. Number five is KY 82 between Clay City and Hargett and I wouldn't recommend that as a bike ride even to my idiot ex-brother-in-law.
KY 11 and KY 15 merge in Clay City. KY 11 comes south into the county from Montgomery County and KY 15 from Clark. They run together to Slade where they split again and 15 climbs Slade Hill toward Campton and KY 11 dives south toward Beattyville through the Natural Bridge state park area. KY 213 runs south to north from Furnace Mountain (with origins in Estill County) through the middle of Stanton and continues north to the Montgomery County line.
Almost any road loop of consequence is going to involve a significant portion of time on KY 11/15 and/or KY 213. While low in comparison, the average daily trips (ADT) on those roads is locally high. The roadway geometrics are third world in comparison to what most Americans are used to: no shoulders, steep drop offs, narrow travel lanes, and excessive motorist speeds.
For my post-seasonal ride of desperation (too much pie!) I chose a modest nineteen mile loop. No, that's not true, I chose a twenty seven mile loop with enough climbing to make a mule puke, but bailed at Bowen for a shorter ride with enough climbing to only make a roadie puke.
My intended ride was to approach High Rock from South Fork and return home via the rolling ridges of the Furnace Mountain area. Instead I dropped across the river bottoms at Bowen and returned to town on North Fork/North Bend.
North Fork is the absolute best cycling road in the county. It has low ADT, passes through picturesque farmland, and the road is in pretty good condition. North Bend has a lot more residential development and a few problematic dogs, but for the most part riding east to west they're not a problem as you can maintain pretty good speed through the cluster of dog-cetric homes and avoid the worst of it.
I sound like a wuss. I know. There's no reason I couldn't have gallantly climbed High Rock and surfed Furnace back to the Red River Regional Bikeport. But at Bowen my rear end hurt from lack of riding and I wasn't able to find my bike gloves before leaving the house. Wah, wah, wah, I know...
Normally I dive headlong into endurance activities regardless of how long I have been on hiatus. This past year has taught me nothing. But I have decided to ease back into long road rides instead of cramming the whole proverbial energy bar down my throat at once.
Going forward I'll try to make a solid format to highlight some good rides in the area. This ride is a fairly straightforward loop from Stanton and is a good one to build up to for beginning road cyclists or to built up from into longer rides.

My ride was 19+ miles, but the loop is 14.7 miles as described.
If you come from out of town you can park at the Stanton City Park behind the High School or at the Park n Ride near the Parkway interchange. Take KY 11/15 (Campton Road) east from the intersection with KY 213 for 6.2 miles. Turn left on KY 613 (Little North Fork Road) and then another left at the tee intersection beyond the river and Parkway (KY 599/North Fork Road). At the next tee turn left again onto KY 615. Ride on KY 615 for 5.6 miles to yet another tee intersection—this time with KY 213. You guessed it, turn left. Take care crossing the narrow bridge (will be rebuilt within the next three years) and you'll quickly hit the town limits for Stanton. Continue south on 213 to the main intersection where you began (per these directions).
I take the lane on the narrow bridge. Cars do not have room to pass you if there's oncoming traffic. It's statistically the most dangerous spot on the ride described, but it's short and manageable for the road savvy cyclist. Once the new road is constructed there should be wide shoulders with bike gaps in the danged rumblestrips (the District 10 planner assures me) but until then just pray and ride with purpose.
That said, the Bowen Loop is a great ride and is worth checking out if you have an hour or hour and a half to explore in Central Powell County.  

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