Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Heartbreak in Flat Hollow

I rolled up to the car, speckled with a little mud, and played nonchalance as I dismounted the bike, leaned it up against the car, and started stripping off GPS, helmet, sunglasses, etc, etc.  The couple in the car next to me played nonchalance as well.  They were climbers.  And of course they weren’t going to ask me about mountain bike trails in the area.  But then I heard them conversing and heard European accents and knew for them seeing a mountain biker at a trailhead may not have been a novelty like it would be for so many Red River Gorge climbers.

I changed quick into some jeans and a t-shirt, grabbed a rake and Pulaski and headed back into Flat Hollow to work on clearing my newest brainchild: Holler Flats.  I mean for it to be a small flowy, humpy, skillsy, lollipop end to the creek section of the Flat Hollow Arch Trail.  I intend it to be a destination unto itself. 

See, I have failed in my goal in Flat Hollow.  I had intended for the Arch Trail to be easy.  It most definitely is not that.  Oh, the lower section is pretty easy.  We can knock down a couple of small humps and make it suitable for little kids even.  But the climb from the bottoms (the “flat” part of the drainage) up to the old oil road that accesses the view of the arch is not an never will be an easy ride. How do I know?  Now that all the cutting is finished I’ve ridden it four times.  Two of those were last night.  It’s finally dried out enough that my bike doesn’t get chunked up with freshly turned earth.

It started when my wife got home.  I knew she had a lot going on so I laid into the dishes that had accumulated the night before, hoping that if I could get the kitchen straightened up maybe we’d have time to walk or run or ride around.

When she got home she asked if I was okay.  I felt fine.  Felt darned productive as a matter of fact.  But she said I should go ride my bike in Flat Hollow.  I finished up the sink of dishes in front of me and geared up.

Half an hour later I was yanking The One from the MBDV and before you could say “one by” I was climbing up the gravel road to the top end of the old trail which I now call “Hillbilly Hayduke” after one of a singer songwriter friend’s obscure gems.  It was in great shape and I rode it all the way out, swung around my new little connector section and picked up FHAT (will need to berm the drop into the connector) and started cranking up the creek toward Flat Hollow Arch. 

Despite a little lingering mud everything rode well.  The creek crossings are holding up and my armoring is doing its job.  I need some more creek gravel in a few places.  But then I was at the bottom of the most recently constructed climbing section.  Its two switchbacks separated by long segments in between.  I purposefully stretched the trail out as far as I could and used two natural benches for turns.  Regardless the trail has ended up a lung buster. 

The first pass up I nailed the lower crux.  But by the time I reached the top of the steep stuff I had blown completely up.  I slipped off the bike, took off my helmet and sunglasses, and sat down on the side of the trail.  I never…NEVER stop the bike and sit down to rest.  When it was certain my heart wasn’t going to fail I got on and rode the last hundred yards to the road bench.  Then I finished out the loop on Fire on the Mountain and looped back onto the Arch Trail once again.  The second time I intended to ride out and back and check out the descent now that it was a bit drier than the other time I rode it after the cutting was finished.

The second time I flubbed the lower crux but managed to cruise the upper crux.  It’s a fitness thing for me.  Pure and simple.  But I’m not so out of shape that an “easy” trail would flat out shut me down twice in a day.  No, that climb section is as easy as we could have made it, but its still intermediate at best. 

After my 3.25 mile ride I was even more determined to rough in the Holler Flats loop I scouted the last time I was up there.  I changed into jeans after my ride so the nettles in the flats area wouldn’t burn me alive.  I raked a bit and then threw in some rough flagging to nail down an alignment.  I need to get a wheelbarrow up there.  My goal is to create a fun loop with whoop-de-dos and berms so that you can ride up the creek, do the loop a few times and ride back to the parking lot without feeling gypped.  I’m thinking “Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day” kinda ride with this.  And the arch climb will still be there for the more adventurous and cadiovascularly fit children. 

The flats loop is going to take a bunch of loads of creek gravel to make it rideable year round.  I think it’s going to be worth it though.  There are some natural dips and berms already.  That’s what drew me to the area to include into our growing trail system.

As I returned to the car and stowed my tools in the trunk and prepared to head out I was really satisfied.  Its been a lot of work to get the Flat Hollow Arch Trail built this past winter.  And there is still a lot of work left to finish Fire on the Mountain and complete the loop that we’ve been working on this past year, but in the end I think the Flat Hollow section and the remainder of the Bald Rock trail system (yet to be built) is going to be an amazing loop that will be even more satisfying to shoot up and ride after work.  

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