Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Exploring Amongst the Stars

As I mentioned in my last post we were whooped from out paddling excursion on Saturday.  Mandy and I discussed options for Sunday afternoon, but nothing sounded too appealing to me except eating, sleeping and watching TV.  I’m getting old I guess.
Finally we settled upon an easy family bike ride.  It took a few minutes but I had my epiphany and we loaded up.  Well, it took a little while, but finally we loaded up.  Boone was somewhere in the wilds of Furnace Mountain so it was again just the three of us.
As an intermittent life-long Powell County resident I’ve traveled most of the roads in the county at some point.  There are few places accessible by car or bike that I haven’t been.  And in these days of Google Earth and publicly available high resolution aerial imagery I’ve “explored” a lot of other places as well. 
One place I have wanted to go is to check out the end of Star Gap Road.  Star Gap Road turns off of Manning Road.  Listen, you don’t know where any of these places are.  I was going to describe them, but let’s just cut the crap.  Powell County is not one of those places with a lot of cyclists or runners and well developed routes for people to use as recreational and health oriented facilities.
Anyway, I had only been on Star Gap Road once like twenty years ago or when I was in high school.  I knew the road went a lot farther than the private campground I could see from North Fork Road across the river, but I didn’t know exactly how far.  Old maps showed it going all the way through the Skidmore farm to the old ford near Schoolhouse Branch.  I didn’t think it made that connection all the way through anymore though.
Some time back I took off from home on the road bike and rode over Sizemore Mountain on Manning Road to the end of the pavement on the other side and rode back.  It was a climbing exercise more than anything, and I had no intention of taking the road bike out the gravel road beyond.  But since then I’ve kept that trip in the back of my mind.  It’s just far enough from home that the thought of riding the mountain bike out the front door to do it just didn’t get me jazzed.
But if we were going to load up the bikes and drive across the county anyway…
We stopped at Red River Campground to inquire about parking there but no one was at the office.  So we continued on until we found a pulloff in Forest Service territory and parked there.  Lil’ took off with her iPod blaring.  We both laughed, indulging her because we weren’t likely to run into anyone else, and then pedaled after. 

There was one burly little hill and descent at a big bend in the river but otherwise the ride was fairly mellow.  The road parallels the river and sits below towering cliffs above.  One in particular is the climbing area Jailhouse Rock.  It struck me that I have no explored this area and definitely should.  It also struck me that the area would be fantastic for a five or six mile mountain bike trail.  Got to explore that idea with the Trails Specialist at the FS.
We rode past the gate onto private property.  I was comfortable doing so because I know the land beyond the gate turns from National Forest to the Skidmore farm at some point.  Henry was one of my teachers in high school and a friend of my dad when they were in high school and for a brief stint at Morehead State before dad dropped out and was subsequently drafted into the army.
I’ve worked on that farm putting up tobacco and have eaten a meal with the elderly Skidmore parents.  I felt comfortable pushing on a little farther despite the “No Trespassing” signs.  In the future I’ll have asked to ride through and be certain.
But we came across an old uninhabited house that piqued my interest.  In the book Past Titan Rock the author, Ellesa Clay High, describes living in a house on a dirt road on that side of the river which was owned or taken care of by one of the Skidmores.  I wondered if that was not the house.  It is just as likely that there were other houses along that road that are now gone, but I have a strong feeling that it was the house she stayed in while writing the book.

Finally we turned back toward the van.  We were 1.7 miles out and ended up riding 3.4 miles.  It was nice and col along the river and in the shade of the north-facing slopes of the end of Tunnel Ridge and its fingers.  The forecast was for a sweltering day, but we enjoyed our ride in the cool of the woods.  On the way home I talked about mowing and weedeating that afternoon, but when I got out of the AC at home I changed my mind quick.
Star Gap Road is a fun family ride or as a destination on a bikepacking or gravel grinding excursion.  I strongly recommend it for those looking to get away from everything.


  1. I always wondered about that road across the river. Thanks

    1. I wish it came out somewhere. Well, legally at least.