Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Put Out the Thanksgiving Decorations It's Labor Day!

I didn’t labor too hard over the weekend.  The long holiday started off sluggish.  Well, sort of.  I took a mental health day on Friday and spent a good long time working on trails in Bald Rock.  My current project is to extend Hillbilly Hayduke (formerly known as “Flat Hollar Trail” from its upper end, down to the Drive-By/Bob Marley Trailhead and back along Bald Rock Fork to the Flat Hollow Trailhead.  I’m making pretty good progress, but I’ve whittled it down to mostly just the hard bench cutting.  So Friday I labored a bit.

On Saturday I had intended to work around the house all day and catch up on stuff I have put off for too long.  However, I started the day early with a headache and it never seemed to subside enough for me to get much done.  I felt wretched enough that I just sat in the recliner and binge watched the last season of Justified.  I finished up the series as I composed this half-@$$ed post on Monday afternoon.

The weather on Saturday was depressingly nice. It pained me to no end to be cooped up in my infirm state.  Sunday was almost as nice, but a tad hotter, and I finally felt okay enough to install a new dishwasher and putter around putting laundry away in the afternoon.  That put my recreational plans off until Monday, but I was okay with that.  And my patience (ha!) paid off.

Last week was rough. I really needed that mental health day and a long weekend to reset the ole synaptic network.  I had intended to ride the Sheltowee Trace from Turkey Foot at some point, and that’s what I woke up to do on Monday morning. I’d made an effort to get Jeaph to go along with me, but he had family plans so I opted to go solo.  I wasn’t sure what state the Trace would be in down in the heart of Redneckery where the trail is legal and well-traveled by ATVs.  I hoped for the best but was sure of the worst.

It’s about an hour from my house to Turkey Foot.  Would be quicker if there was a four lane modern highway connecting me to it, but then it probably wouldn’t be the diamond in the rough that it currently is.

The free campground was quiet and hardly used despite the major holiday weekend.  I did get there at 7:30am, but I saw not a soul on the trails and hardly anyone on the roads.  I took off with a morning full of promise ahead of me.  My intent was to ride north on the Sheltowee toward Arvel.  As I pulled into the campground I saw the connector trail.  Once I was awheel I headed for the trail and found myself on a very nice ATV trail.  Of course there were some drainage issues.  I didn’t trouble myself with the fact that I saw no split in the trail.  I assumed I was headed north and kept pedaling.

Despite being ATV legal the trail was enjoyable.  I was able to skirt most of the mudholes and ride through a few. The tread was rocky and rooty. It was Appalachian mountain biking goodness at its best.  I rode steady but slow.  It was hard to manage the four and a half miles an hour I averaged.  There were three mandatory detours around massive deadfalls—all recent—and the techy nature of the trail hung a weight around my neck I could not shake.

But even still…the ride was perfect.  On one hand I cursed every side-by-side, Gator, Razor, dirtbike and ATV ever made as I negotiated my way around intermittent mudholes, but then I marveled at the incredible trail that is the Sheltowee Trace.  I hadn’t noticed the climb much.  It was gradual enough, but eventually I found myself on a ridge and paralleling a gravel road.  My memory of the map didn’t seem to gel with where I found myself, but I cranked along, following Trace blazes along a really nice and sandy section of trail.  And then I dumped out on KY 89. 

As soon as I hit the pavement I knew exactly where I was.  I’ve passed that trail crossing a few times in the past three years.  It took me a couple seconds to process what had happened.  I’d ended up going south on the Sheltowee instead of north.  Two more seconds and I turned my wheel back toward Turkey Foot on the asphalt. It didn’t take long to get back to the campground.  I swung by the Jeep and added some air to my tires, ate a Clif Bar, and then turned back toward the trail intent on finding the Trace north.

I headed back onto the spur where I started earlier aiming to look for the trail to the right that I must somehow have missed.  I rode for a few dozen yards but when it didn’t seem like I was going to find a side trail I decided to turn around and follow the gravel road which I knew the Trace paralleled and eventually crossed.

After a short ride along the road I found the trail coming in from the left.  I continued down the road a few more yards and saw a marker on the right, but the trail was overgrown.  I rolled up to it and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Sheltowee north of Turkey Foot is only open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians.  I dropped into the singletrack to find a hidden gem.  There was hardly a whisper of even a bootprint along the trail much less hoofprints or bicycle tire tracks. 

The tradeoff is that the trail is in rough shape.  The tread seems fine for the most part, but the undergrowth and deadfalls are thick.  I rode until I hit a deafall that covered the trail.  I stopped, whipped out my small folding saw, and trimmed the tree back until I could get through on the bike.  

A few yards later there was a rotted log across the trail.  I threw it over the hill.  I little further another, and I gave it the same treatment.  Again and again as I continued north I came across logs and branches. I could have gone on, but eventually I came to a short road that connected back up to the gravel road to the campground.  I opted to cut short my trail maintenance and rode back to the initial section I had missed and rode it to its junction with the ATV trail. 

I can see why I missed it the first time.  The sign had been knocked down and was leaning against a tree facing south.  Shortly thereafter I was back at my car and loading up.

I rode about fourteen miles and had a great time.  It’s hard to believe that a free campground in the National Forest had so little traffic on a major holiday weekend. 

The trip to Turkey Foot was strategic.  I’m hoping for a thru-bike bid on the entire Sheltowee Trace next fall.  I’ve wrestled with what my next big scheme would be.  Motivation is absent in my recreational/fitness life, and I doubt Leadville is going to be in the cards anytime soon.  The Sheltowee is a worthy goal.  Strategy and tactics will play a big role.  Fitness is key.  And in the end a successful unsupported thru-bike of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail would be a serious mountain biking feather for my cycling cap.  Bucket list.  

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