Monday, November 28, 2016

As God as My Witness...

I paused the mug of coffee just shy of my lips.  My nine year old daughter's growl echoed off the immutable ridges across the valley.  So much for a nice peaceful holiday at the cabin...
I sighed, took one more wistful gaze at the autumn tinged hills and bellowed at my daughter to stop bellowing.  I sighed again.  Surely those hills--the ones still clinging to their foliage--would forgive my sonic trespass on their serenity.  Surely my own echoes fell on the deaf ears of the backwoods and offended no one.  Surely.
Every year my wife's family rents a cabin in a holler in Estill County for the Thanksgiving holiday.  The cabin is part of a church camp at the end of state maintenance in a long valley where cell coverage does not penetrate and the hubbub of the holidays seems to not be able to touch us.  We've all grown to look forward to our time at "the cabin" and we were despondent when the in-laws announced there would be no cabin for Thanksgiving this year.  Then Tomahawk commenced to pouting.  We ended up getting the cabin after all.
My children do not yet appreciate these kinds of experiences the same as the adults.  We enjoy being away from everything. Unfortunately that means bringing the loud teen and preteen kiddos who insist upon rattling the nerves of their guardians.
Anyway, the cabin is less than two miles from the bottom of Cobhill.  In previous years I've brought my bike.  I decided not to this year.  Instead I made plans with Dave, and Jeaph, and Kris (maybe) to ride on Friday after Thanksgiving.  The cabin is painfully close to Bald Rock/Flat Hollow too.  Again, I just didn't want to bring either bike though the cabin is in a great location from which to start many different bike rides.
Kris ended up going to London on Friday and Prestonsburg on a Saturday.  If he had only told me he was planning on mtbing in Floyd County...
Jeff was in until he wasn't.  In the end it ended up being me and Dave for the Turkey Burn 2016.  I think that needs to be an annual RRG event.  Whomever burns the most calories on Friday wins.  Something.
He and I went early before we knew Jeff wasn't coming for the noonday ride to scout the last bit of the DBBB that I'm unfamiliar with.  Due to un-Jeepable (daily driver) terrain we didn't make the Big Andy to Shoemaker connection, but I'm certain it's all a go.  We just need to go ride that section.
After a brief respite for coffee in downtown Beattyville at the Art Factory (amazing baked goods and coffee!) we headed for Bald Rock. En route I got a text from Jeff that he wasn't going to make it.  That turned the ride into a planning session between Dave and I instead of a purely recreational ride.
I showed him my progress on the current section of Hillbilly Hayduke and we rode the unfinished second section of the Shackle Rod Trail.  Then we rode the Escalada Bonita grunt to gain the gravel loop on the north side of Bald Rock.  With a 42t granny I was finally able to overcome my unfitness and rode it clean again.  More on the 42t granny in a few weeks.
Dave slogging through leaves on Hillbilly Hayduke
We finished up on the singletrack in Flat Hollow.  All of the trails are currently buried in leaves.  I'm not a proponent of blowing or taking but until those trails are getting more traffic I think I need to clear them one more time and hopefully by next fall the traffic will arrive.
Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny.  It's was a warmer day so Mandy and Bean and I took off hiking.  We tromped north on the Sheltowee from Big Bend Road toward the Narrows.  I wanted to show my favorite girls a couple of new arches.  Mandy had been to Whites Branch before.  We also checked out the nearby Twilight Arch which was pretty cool.
Bean under Whites Branch Arch
Mandy wasn’t feeling great, but we had a pretty good hike regardless.  Lily always eats up having her parents to herself.  She would have been an awful only child.  I dread the years between her brother moving out and when we boot her out of the nest too.  But I love her all the same.
This shot was her idea
I realize for a four day holiday this post is coming up short.  Get over it.  It was nice to unplug and check out for a couple of days.  More adventures are coming I assure you.  I’ve set myself up for some big efforts this year and I intend to follow through.  And over the weekend Mandy asked me if I was going to do Mike(Whisman)’s trail marathon in April.  He’s putting on a fifty miler and marathon up in Morehead.  Why the heck not; what have I got to lose, right?

Monday, November 21, 2016

What is a Spaas?

Years ago I first descended Spaas Creek from Hatton Ridge on my mountain bike.  Mandy and I had taken some friends out to ride for the first time on FR 167 from near a place called Hidden Wall.  We rode for a mile or two and everyone else was bushed.  While they were ready to go I desperately wanted to get in a few more miles.  As Mandy loaded up in the car I asked if she would mind if I rode home via Spaas Creek and met her there.  She was game, so as she drove off through Menifee and Montgomery Counties to get back home I let gravity drag me straight back to Powell County down a fun and rough road along the creek.

A year or so before I had been riding a loop from Slade, up to White’s Branch, and then down through Pot Hollow, out South Fork, and back to Slade.  The Pot Hollow descent was a fun, but harrowing steep and loose descent and I loved it.  At the time I didn’t own a helmet.  I was probably wearing cargo pants or similar shorts, a t-shirt, and hiking boots.  I may have had a 20 oz. bottle of water in a backpack, but likely I didn’t have anything else.  Back then I didn’t carry tools, a spare tube, or a bike pump.  It was the same on my first Spaas Creek descent.

To further confuse your sense of chronology I this tale my first trail experience on my mountain bike was some time between my Pot Hollow adventures and the post-marital Spaas Creek ride.  A friend in the Forest Service told me about Powder Mill Trail and I already knew about Hatton Ridge Road.  I decided one day to ride from Slade to Indian Creek, climb Powder Mill, ride north on Hatton Ridge into Menifee County, drop off some climbing shoes at a friend’s house there, and then ride to my parents’ house in Stanton via Cane Creek Mountain.  It was my first mountain bike epic and it was in the same area as Spaas Creek.

For a few years before we moved away I spent a lot of time exploring the Spaas Creek, Short Creek, and Indian Creek drainages from the Menifee County side via Hatton Ridge Road and what I call the Short Creek Rim to the west.  I know the area better than most.  I’ve walked miles of cliffline, found untold wonders and features, and I know where all of the weaknesses are.   

When we moved back from Colorado I ventured up Spaas and then down Powder Mill to refresh my memory. I was disappointed at the damage to Spaas Creek from the ORV/ATV traffic and Powder Mill was not the fun trail I remembered and it had been used and abused by equestrians.
Maybe I was looking too much at the big picture.  Maybe I was taking things too personally.  But after that jaunt on a cold and frozen day I was pissed.  I was pissed at the off-roaders and horseback people.  So I started looking for opportunities to build new singletrack trails somewhere near home.  I ignored the possibility of riding on Spaas Creek anymore.

Years pass.  Trails grow slowly.  Burnout creeps.  Finally a couple of months ago during this long drought I decided it was time to go pedaling up Spaas Creek again.  I’d recently revisited Blackburn Rock and it seemed like a worthy destination for the itinerant RRG mountain biker.

You’ve read about my recent adventures.  I’ve now made the ride from the pine grove on Spaas Creek up to the Blackburn overlook about four times.  I’ve taken seven other people by bike to Blackburn.  So far everyone I’ve taken has been impressed with the beauty, the solitude, and the uniqueness of the area. 

Kris and I rode the Spaas to Blackburn trip this past weekend.  He was stoked too.  One thing we did different on our ride was that instead of backtracking Hatton Ridge all the way to the head of Spaas Creek and descending the whole drainage for a sixteen mile round trip we sussed out an old unofficial horse trail I found years ago while scouting for new boulders to climb below the cliffs at Blackburn.  It’s still there and we were able to ride about as much as we had to walk.  More could be ridden for sure.

That secret descent (would be a killer uphill battle) changed the sixteen mile out and back to a nine and a half mile loop with detour to the overlook.  It was a fun adventure in itself.  There were cool boulders and vividly colored cliffs under the stained glass ceiling of the remaining autumn leaves.  Saturday was cold.  I think the fall riding is basically over. 

I still don’t know who or what a Spaas is.  I do know that the entire Spaas/Short.Indian Creek area of southern Menifee County was notorious at one time for moonshine production.  I’ve found many abandoned stills along those forgotten cliffs.  A long, long time ago some climber friends showed me a cliff dwelling where a guy had been hiding out from “the law” in the early 1970s.  I once walked some cliffline with the notorious Johnny Faulkner who used to be the USFS archaeologist and I showed him some sites I’d found and he educated me on what I had been seeing which were niter mines and of course the moonshine stills. 

Most recently as Dave and I have been scouting for a new alignment for Powder Mill Trail I came across a moonshine still in that drainage that had obviously been raided by “revenuers.”  The big fifty-five gallon drums left behind had axe marks in them.

As Kris and I descended from Hatton Ridge I was immensely happy.  Yeah, there was no good singletrack to ride, just an illegal horsetrail.  But the ride was still fun.  The adventure was still worthwhile. And even Kris breaking his chain did little to dampen our spirits.  No amount of mud, or cold, or trackless woods would erase the spirit of adventure in the memory of that day.  I think I’m finally starting to find contentment without fighting so hard to change things. 

I’m not saying I’m out of the trailbuilding and advocacy business.  But my burnout reprieve helped me to find some fun in riding again.  Jeaph and I are back to riding.  We’re talking road riding again.  I think I may have found my cycling inspiration once again.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Last Weekend Tonight

Its a bit of a late post today.  Please forgive me.  Work has been beyond insane lately.  But without further ado...Monday's post:

I have a strategy now.  In order to get more people interested in riding in my area and helping to build new mountain bike trails I’m going to start taking people out riding in the woods!

This is a stunning reveleation.  Our Election Day ride on Tuesday was a good start.  From that I got a trail day planned for December.  Friday Jeff, Dave, and Dave’s friend Rob and I rode Spaas Creek and Hatton Ridge.  It was the same ride Jeff and I did last week.  But I finally just owned it.  The potential is there and obvious.  We just need to have people ride past and through it to see for themselves.

Old men in the mountains
(including the one behind the lens)

It was just another Taking-Pics-of-Jeff-Jumping-Over-Stuff kind of day

So there we went, two Powell County and two Clark County guys riding up Spaas Creek and having a blast picking our lines and cleaning house.  It was a little muddier after the recent rains, but we’ve figured out the trick.  We take it slow and easy on the way up and keep the slop down, then on the return ride after cruising the ridges we bomb back down and split all the mudholes like rockets.

Anyway, it was a great day to ride.  The smoke from recent forest fires had waned so our lungs only burned from the climb and not from the particulates.  We had a good group.  I was the least gear-head of the four of us.  It turns out Jeff and Rob grew up really close to each other in Lexington, though they’re about seven years apart in age.  We got along well and had a great time.

Saturday was the Rough Trail Ultramarathon 50k & 15k.  You’ll remember that last year I signed up for the 50k and ended up running the 25k (marketed as 22k).  This year I decided not to do any big running events, and I’ve managed to keep that promise.  I skipped the Pig and the Iron Horse this year.  No big trail runs.  I only did a few short mountain bike races.  The effect has been a much happier body, if a little fluffier to boot.

50k racer on Auxier Ridge Saturday morning

This year I intended to shoot photos of the racers out on course.  I was able to get out to Auxier Ridge and get all of the 50k runners coming out the ridge, but due to a volunteer shortage I had to then run over to Chimney Top Road and Rough Trail to help my folks out with the aid station there.  It’s the 25k turnaround and the 50k racers go through it twice. It was an important and busy aid station.  I wasn’t able to get photos of any of the 25k runners on the course so I feel like trying to market to the entire race field my photographic products would be a little odd.  I’m going to put out lower quality images for free and sell whatever higher quality pics people want.  I did learn a bit about trying to do something like this for money.  You can’t just throw it together.  And while I had a great plan, and it worked well, there are a lot of things that can go wrong as a photographer that can spell disaster for the day.  Luckily, other than the aid station snafu, nothing else went wrong.

Al running sweep for the 50k and showing off his marking ribbon grass skirt

Things are going to change in 2017.  I hope all in a positive manner.  I do want to start running again but not to train for a 50k trail run.  My mountain biking just got a major shot in the arm, though I’m not at liberty to share just how yet.

This week is the annual KBBC conference and this year it’s in my backyard at Natural Bridge State Park.  I’ll have much more to write about the end of this coming week soon.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

You Can't Be A Christian and Vote for Trump

"Trump's not a racist.  He has employed many people of color in his businesses."
"I voted for Trump, and I'm not a racist."
I've heard both of these statements before and after the election.  I have a huge problem with both of them.  I have myriad problems with Trump in general, but I want to focus my post-election rant on these two justifications people offered to vote for Trump.  Or should I say "Drumpf?"
Let's tackle the first one: Drumpf isn't a racist because he employed people of color?  So did slave owners in the south before the abolition of slavery.  So do many white nationalist business owners because they are prevented by law from discriminating against people of color.  This statement dismissing Drumpf's blatant racism is false logic.  You can be racist and still employ or work beside minorities.  You can be a misogynist and still employ and harass women. You can be a bully and still sit next to the skinny kids on the bus.  The first Drumpf racism defense falls flat on its face.  If you had said: "He takes in homeless minorities and let's them live for free on his properties; he's obviously not a racist" and that statement could be proven to be true then you would have a logical argument.  This first one is not.
Secondly, "I voted for Drumpf, and I'm not a racist."  This is more complex.  But there is still a clear, logical refutation of this statement.  Regardless of Drumpf's personal feelings about minorities, women, and non-"christian" religions he received groundswell support from the KKK, other white nationalists, and other hate groups.  His rallies incited documented criminal violence against protestors, particularly those of color.  His rallies revealed a desire in many closeted bigots to come out into the open.  Obviously they were drawn by his words.  Obviously his rhetoric attracted these human cockroaches.  You can't simply say: "I don't approve of those things but I admire his business acumen."  I'd give you a pass if we were quibbling over his tax or foreign policies, but we're not.  By dismissing the vitriol and hatred that was conceived within his campaign and flung out into the world like a big handful of monkey crap you're allowing yourself to be complicit in it.
If you use the argument "I voted for Trump, but I'm not racist" at BEST you're okay with living in a world where racism exists.  At BEST you're okay living in a world where my daughter can be sexually harassed which is a culturally condoned act or raped in which case she'll be blamed and shamed as the victim.  At BEST you're okay living in a world where the bullies always win.
I am not okay with a world where Donald J. Trump is the leader of any country.  I never watched his reality TV shows because he disgusts me.  I never regarded him with much favor because for as long as I have been aware of the man he's seemed like a sleaze bucket business man who exploits women and does more than his fair share to degrade the moral fabric of the world.  He was a regular guest on the Howard Stern show for crying out loud!  I was appalled that someone like him could get the republican nomination and now to have won the White House?!?!?!
I was taught to hold Christian values, but I've watched so many people I love and once respected throw their shoulders behind Donald Trump for president.  It does not compute.  Trump does not represent my values.  Trump does not hold or value Christian ideologies.  His attempts to portray himself as a moral and God fearing person have been laughable, and most of those people in my life who have espoused Christianity as the one true path have bought his lies hook, line, and sinker.  I can only believe that they must be deluding themselves.  They must be fully immersed in a cognitive dissonance feedback loop.  And I have let go of whatever respect I was desperately hanging on to for those people who voted for Drumpf as a "christian" candidate.  I am disappointed and ashamed.
The abortion argument against Clinton is really of no merit in this case.  Abortion was an issue contrived in order to co-opt Christianity for right-wing political purposes.  It was strategically chosen and developed to put American Christians over a barrel: Vote for a republican or vote for a baby killer.  In that nefarious tactic Christians lost their freedom of choice; not truly, but as taught from the pulpit and as pressured by their peers.  You can't be a Christian and vote for a democrat.  There's a sign in my hometown that says that.  Two actually.  So we've (christians) been conditioned to vote for a single party regardless of the merits of the individuals running for any particular office.  And therefore we feel we must support buffoons like Matt Bevin and Donald Drumpf.
I've been told I need to repent for voting for Barack Obama or my soul is in jeopardy of perishing in hell.  I assume those who feel that way will take my vote for Hillary Clinton as me turning my back on God.  How sad.  How sad that my emotional, mental, and physical well-being have been poison by a political agenda to divide us, to make us distrust each other, and harshly judge, and betray our own beliefs.  How truly heart-rending and soul crushing to know that the lies have Trumped truth so thoroughly that good, honest people will betray the truth for the promise of the liar.
Y'know, the Bible calls Satan the Father of Lies.  Drumpf lies for simple convenience, contradicts himself in single sentences, and ignores logic and fact.  He tells us frequently to trust him.  An honest man wouldn't have to reassure us.  An honorable man wouldn't behave the way this overgrown oompa-loompa does with his crude speech and rude tirades.
I am sick to my stomach with the results of this election.  I fear for the future of my family and of this country.  I feel no patriotism at this moment.  I feel no pride in my country, my state, or my community.  We have failed.
I had intended to end this post with that last sentence, but that’s not me.  Contrary to popular belief I’m not a doom and gloom kinda guy.  I’m not a pessimist.  I consider myself a realist.
Yes, a Trump presidency is going to suck for a lot of people.  But most of us are more resilient than we realize.  I don’t say that to dismiss the fears of women, or brown people, or anyone else.  I’m not saying you just have to accept it.  But in a sense we do.  All of us.  We can either mourn, or we can hitch up our britches and get to work being good people and continue to work on making the world a better place.  Because when it all comes down to it that’s what we all want, we just may have different definitions of what a better world looks like.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Vote is For More Mountain Bike Trails

Jason Monk of Easy Rider Cycling put together an Election Day Ride.  I acted as trail guide for the day and gave Jason, Marcus, and Kris the grand tour of the Big Sinking area.  We rode Flat Hollow to the arch, Hillbilly Hayduke including a bushwhack descent of the under-construction section, part of the under-construction Shackle Rod Trail, and a whole lot more.

The weather was perfect.  The conditions were perfect.  The trails were in good shape except for a fallen tree on Hillbilly Hayduke that I need to go back to saw.  The gravel and dirt roads were also in great shape.  I have to say as much as I’ve been grooving on Spaas Creek and Hatton Ridge lately this was a much better ride.  After a tour of the singletrack and planned trails we returned to Flat Hollow Trailhead for a Sunrise Bakery lunch.  Everyone still wanted to ride so I suggested the Big Sinking Loop.  It’s a four mile technical gravel grind that I rode many, many years ago and eventually dragged Dave out to get his opinion.  Way back then he was impressed with it though he kept trying to get me to go ride at Capitol View Park.  I had no idea where that was twenty years ago.

Bellies full we turned the bikes west, riding along Bald Rock Road, and then picking up Big Sinking Road before diverting onto the unofficial doubletrack on the north side of the creek.  This has always been one of my favorite rides.  It inspired me to get out and ride my bike more for the sake of mountain biking so long ago. 

I didn’t have a ton of energy and my legs felt somewhat hollow despite refueling.  I’d eaten well leading into the day and am still not sure where my get-go went.  That didn’t dampen my spirit as we rode down into the Big Sinking gorge. 

There were sections of dry creekbed full of loose babyheads. While that sounds treacherous, it was actually a fun reprieve from a lot of the stuff I’ve ridden the past couple of years. And that’s a ride experience you don’t get at Veep, or CVP, or Skullbuster.  There was also a lot of flat, bare rock to ride.  And flowing sandy sections of road.  My favorite unridden section of earth anywhere is the climb from Big Sinking Creek up the Sheltowee Trace southbound.  It’s a series of slick limestone ledges that are sick hard. 

Before we reached the really hard stuff near disaster struck.  Marcus, Kris and I rode through a dry section of the creek over some really cool limestone slabs.  I stopped to grab some video of the other guys and waited for Jason to come through.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally the other guys had backtracked and we wondered what had happened.  It was time to go find out.

Turns out he had lost a derailer hanger to a stick that got caught up in his drivetrain.  So we stopped as he converted his 27.5+ bike to a singlespeed.  Once it was all back together we continued on the loop hoping his fix-it would hold.  And it did.

As we approached the crux climb at the Sheltowee intersection I told Kris if he cleaned it I would buy his dinner.  He asked if I would drive over to Ravenna to pay for a meal at Michael’s.  I agreed.  I was certain I’d not have to fork over a single dollar.

When we rounded the turn Jason walked.  I walked.  Marcus rode a little ways, and Kris began pedaling furiously but spun out low on the climb.  He walked back down to try it again.  The second time he made a solid surge on the stopper ledge but rolled onto his back like a turtle.  “Maybe next time,” he said.

The loop finishes with a nice gravel road on the south side of the creek heading east back toward Flat Hollow.  We made steady progress, stopping at one point only to watch the leaves cascade all around like huge dry snowflakes dyed autumn shades.

Shortly thereafter we closed the loop and picked up Bald Rock again. The ride was coming to a close.  It had been a great day and a great ride.  After such a long year and a half of presidential campaign shenanigans it was nice to escape into the woods and not think about politics or the fate of human civilization for a few hours.  I had voted early, then worked with my family on our new 
chicken run in the backyard.  I felt good about blowing off the afternoon riding with the guys.

We all agreed that Flat Hollow/Bald Rock/Big Sinking has yuge potential.  The existing dirt and gravel roads are worthwhile on their own.  If more people knew what was there and where to ride it would be a popular destination as it lies on the ground now.  With ten miles of singletrack as icing on that mountain biking cake?  East coast mountain biking hub.  No doubt!

They’ve promoted me to plan another trail day.  I’ve decided that once we get our IMBA chapter off the ground I’m going to try to have a monthly group ride and rotate through the existing but unknown rides in the area.  Things might be truly ready to change in the Gorge area. 

Tuesday night the rains came.  I hope they wash across all of Eastern Kentucky and put out all these forest fires.  The rain should definitely put out the fire in the Gorge off Tunnel Ridge.  Next Saturday is the Rough Trail 50k, and I’m taking photos.  I’m writing this on Tuesday night before the election results are final.  I don’t know if I’ll write up my thoughts on the results.  I guess it depends on who wins.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Adventures With Jeaph: Back in Black(burn)

Jeaph was gone.  I tried to HTFU and just let go of the brake levers but all of those loose babyheads just tottered maniacally under my wheels threatening to send me to the Broken Collar Bone Hall of Fame.  I’m not ready for that one just yet.  Though at the tail end of our sixteen mile ride I could have almost given up mountain biking for good.  I’d had just that much fun.  Jeaph was gone.  So I let go of the brake levers and let gravity tug me deeper into Spaas Creek.

We met in the pine grove where the Dog People took the wind out of my sails recently.  Just before disappearing into the 4G wasteland that is eastern Powell County I texted Jeaph:  Should get there right at 9:30 meaning our predetermined meetup spot.  

He shot right back: Just now leaving.  Will be a few minutes late.

Ugh.  Last I’d heard Jeaphre was planning on riding from home.  In another time in my life I would have ridden from home too.  But that would have added at a minimum twenty five miles to my day on pavement, and I really wanted to save myself for the grinding that was to come on dirt and gravel.

Not a bad place to kill time (and hide the body)
Pine grove on Spaas Creek

Time would have to be kilt.  I decided I could ride around and get warmed up.  There was frost on the field next to the old falling down barn where the Proofer used to maintain a shooting range.  My blood would have to be pumped and warmed if I was to keep up with Jeaph on the old dirty roads.  I could also hike up to the base of Blackburn as I’ve been wanting to do for a while and revisit the boulders I once climbed there.  But I was dressed to ride, not to bushwhack and boulder.   I didn’t even have time to decide what I was going to do before I saw the Mozhican Suburbaru coming at me through the pine grove.

It worked out good.  Jeaph had lazed around the cabin until he didn’t have time to ride over so he drove. Secretly I was happy that he didn’t ride from home when I had wussed and driven myself. 

Soon enough we were pedaling upstream toward the head of Spaas Creek.  We took each creek crossing and water traverse slow as to keep our feet dry.  It was a bit nipply in the quasi-autumnal morning air.  What with all this climate change its hard to accept that fall has fallen.  We keep having eighty degree days!  But Saturday was pleasant and cool.

Anyway, Jeaph went into deeper detail about his recent Moab trip, and he kept saying that what we were riding was every bit as good as the stuff he’d ridden out west.  He pointed out that a lot of the classic rides they did had a fair amount of doubletrack and it wasn’t all just flowy singletrack, but people still considered it good riding.  Spaas Creek has its share of techy terrain for certain. 

We dodged water and a little mud.  It had rained since my last foray up the creek and oddly enough that made the grit situation better.  The damp sand and mud clumped together, and as long as you kept from splashing muddy water all over yourself and your bike the drivetrain failed to start grinding.

When we reached the final cardio-goat-hill climb I was determined to clean it.  Last time I had flamed out at the crux.  Time before that I had fogged up in my Clark Kents and walked in frustration.  Third time’s the charm.  And it was.  Strangely enough I didn’t feel like I was going to blow up, even though my heart rate was nearly 180.  At the top I just turned right and kept climbing toward Hatton Ridge.  And then I didn’t rest before the crux opening climb of Hatton Ridge Road.  Of course I made excuses to stop at the top and shed layers.  Hey, the sun was up and my radiator was boiling!

I ate and drank a good bit of water then, and we both shed layers which was a good thing because the rest of the day was comfortable in just short sleeves and bike shorts.  As Jeaph and I are wont to do we kept talking and catching up.  We’d not ridden together in a long, long while.  But we get along well and we like the same kind of rides.  I couldn’t keep up with him out the first part of Hatton Ridge.  I can’t say I blamed him.  The morning was perfect for surfing the ridge and he was long gone as I kept trying to find my second wind after the leg sapping climb up from Spaas Creek.  I know if I keep going out and doing this ride I’ll get into phenomenal shape.

I caught up with him at the cemetery.  We’d passed some trucks and horse trailers, but we’d not see a single equestrian all day.  They must have dropped down Powder Mill.  We’d not seen a soul to that point in fact, except two pickup trucks with bow hunters I assumed driving out of Hatton Ridge.

We continued on toward Blackburn.  The ride had a dual purpose for me.  I wanted Jeaph to see the cool overlook and do the short user-created singletrack from the road to the rock, but I also wanted to do the full Spaas Creek to Hatton Ridge to Blackburn Rock ride.  My eventual goal is to bikepack from home and do that ride—overnight—and return.

Of course the overlook impressed Jeaph.  He asked about the trail and I speculated that it had once been a logging road that had overgrown but enough people had hiked it to keep it rideable. When he saw the three foot crack between the main cliff and the big bare flat rock he said he could probably jump it.  The first time I was out there I thought if anyone would or could jump that crack on a bike it would be Jeaph.  So he gave it a try.  And plummeted two hundred feet to his death, bouncing and flopping like a rag doll all the way to the forest floor, his bike a twisted, tangled snarl of metal jammed in the narrow fissure.

Nah, just kidding!  He got wedged about ten feet down and I had to go for help.  It took SAR fifteen hours to extract him and his bike from the crack.

Ha!  No, he actually made it first try.  It wasn’t pretty, but by the fifth time he was getting good air and actually making it look fun.  No, I did not—and will never—try it.

The setup

And the execution

From a different angle

After we got bored of trials riding on the edge of a two hundred foot cliff we decided to head back.  The return out Hatton Ridge was pleasant.  I felt like I could keep up better and we made good time.  And then we dropped into Spaas Creek and Jeaph was gone.  I guess we were a mile into the three mile ride back down the creek before I finally caught up with him again.  On the way out we were no longer trying to keep our bikes or ourselves clean.  I plowed through puddle after puddle and split the creek crossings like Father Abraham on a Pugsley.

It was a good ride.  While I’m sure I’ll grow tired of it soon enough as Spaas is a muddy affair and requires deep cleaning of the bike after every visit—and it’s hard on the drivetrain and brakes—it’s a lot more fun than I would allow it to be over the past three and a half years.  I just kept hating the other user groups who have such a deep impact on the area.  But now I have just decided to accept it for what it is and enjoy the place.  I think you should too.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

Ramming Speed Friday: Keeping It 100 Edition

It’s Friday again.  And it’s fall.  And today it finally feels like fall.  And the weekend looks to stay fall.

Last night I dragged the ol’ Cannonball X out of the cobwebbed corners of the basement.  I’m determined to get it roadworthy again.  I have everything I need to install hydraulic brakes on it.  I’m just leery to start cutting and measuring and measuring and cutting.  I could probably YouTube my way through it, but I’m still hesitant.

Once it’s braked up I need to clean and lube the chain, give it a good going over tightening things and tuning it up, and then it needs to be ridden.  If money were no hindrance I’d go ahead and buy new cargo bags for it to really dress the bike up.  I took off the H-bar and put a regular flat mountain bike bar back on the bike.  I intend to swap out the slick commuter tires for moderately knobby mountain bike tires for off-road fun.  But otherwise the bike is in good shape.  The chain hasn’t rusted despite the humidity in the Bike Cave.  I always wanted to get the SideCar for Xtracycles, but honestly I don’t know if I’d have used it much.  But then again, when I’ve had new bike toys I’ve always made excuses to use them.  Obviously with the SideCar I could fetch chicken feed from the hardware store.  I suspect I could figure out a way to transport my crashpad on it for post-hunting season fun beyond the gates on the Rim or out Hatton Ridge. 

Anyway, with this Global Warming/Climate Change Hoax I think I’ll be able to use the CBX more often.  And I intend to get it rideable and keep it rideable for the long haul.  I can procure eats from town, make the sub-twenty mile jaunt into the Nat’l Forest for camping fun, and really ramp up the bikecragging craze.  It’s definitely time.  I need inspiration, and I need the activity and movement therapy. 

The recent forays into the western wilds has me itching for a bikepacking trip.  Just an overnight.  Nothing too epic.



How about a one hundred mile mountain bike race in Eastern Kentucky?  I think it’s time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

High Country Extended High

The kids stayed home.  Mandy drove and we chatted about the election, our respective days at work, and life in general as we made our way to Hatton Ridge for a run out to Blackburn at sunset.  The gates are open only a short period of time each year and right now--before gun season--is really the best time to take advantage of deeper access to Spaas Creek and the Rim.

Of course the fall colors are somewhat dull.  And I had misjudged how long it would take to get out to Blackburn, so as we approached the overlook we could see the sun touching the horizon over Short Creek through the skeletal trees.  I feared we had missed optimal light.

We lingered close to an hour and I snapped a few shots.  We enjoyed the "unnatural" peace and quiet.  Even for Blackburn the evening was still.  There were no four-wheelers running up and down Spaas Creek below.  No one was target shooting further down the valley.  I had run off the Dog People earlier so there was no barking.  More and more I see that place as a refuge of serenity.


It was nice just hanging with my favorite person.  Originally I had wanted to get some night photos as well, but the kids had stayed home alone so I felt a slight urgency to get back home.  That and it was going to be a dark if still somewhat short hike back to the Jeep.  I remembered headlamps, but we've. It spent much time in the out of doors at night of late.  Bears!!!  Anyway, we hiked out and drove home and the kids had not killed each other which was a bonus.

On Saturday I got up early and loitered around the house eating breakfast and drinking coffee before setting out in a short road bike ride from home.  It had been a long time (since June actually) and I had been itching to get out on skinny tires for a long time.  It was a good ride.  It was cool but not too cool.  The colors under the canopy of trees lining the roads were stunning in the midmorning light.  I don't know why I haven't been doing more of that.
Tharp Ridge

Paint Creek
I rode a loop, heading first along the river to Clay City.  I turned off on Pompeii (pom-pee) Road which sports a nice, short, steep climb.  The house I lived in when I went to Clay City Elementary sits at the top.  I was disheartened to see a Trump/Pence sign in the yard.  I resisted the urge to yank it up.  And the next half dozen I saw on my ride...

From that first hill there are continuous rollers past Beech Fork Reservoir, over Tharp Ridge and onto Paint Creek.  On the far side of Tharp Ridge the ride levels out and traverses the toe of a low slope overlooking bottomland farms along the Red River.  Crossing Tharp always puts me into a daydream of how that ridge needs to be a county park with trails overlooking the reservoir.  But the short Paint Creek part of the ride is incredibly enjoyable and I wish it continued for ten miles.  If you cross KY 213 and keep following the river the road (North Fork) eventually resumes the character of Paint Creek, but there's a long gap to span. 

Instead I turned south on 213 and rode the short, high speed, high traffic section of road into town.  It wasn't terrible on a Saturday morning, but I never enjoy that part of any ride.  If not for the maniacs behind the wheel it would be terribly nice.  Instead it's just terrible.

I tried to be productive at home but a quick trip to the hardware store turned into a catching up and ride scheming session with Jeaph.  I told him about my recent adventures and he told me about his mountain biking trip to Moab.  I'll let that hang there.

Anyway, my intended project for the day was to build a new chicken run for our flock to give them more protected space outside the coop.  I managed two fence posts in the unnaturally warm sunlight of late October.

That evening we took Boone to Lexington for a Halloween party, Bean spent the night with Mamaw, and Mandy and I took ourselves out to dinner at Masala where I ate my weight in chicken curry and naan bread.  I stopped just shy of the wafer thin mint.

Ever since my ride out the Rim on Friday afternoon I had been obsessed with a pencil thin black line I had seen at a distance on umber colored rock through the turning leaves near Wild Country.  Splitter hand crack?  Finger crack?  Fist crack?  I couldn't tell from the bike saddle.

Mandy kicked me out of the house Sunday afternoon (really not really) so I loaded up the crash pad and Bean's bike and we headed for Wild Country Wall.

I opted to drive over Pumpkin Hollow to try and shave off some time.  Ha!  But it was fun following the DBBB for a bit and seeing more of the backwoods as the leaves continue to change.

We arrived at Wild Country and Bean was nearing a comatose state of boredom.  But once out under the sun she ran into the woods and started climbing around on rocks.  I checked out the crack I’d seen and was impressed but intimidated.  I think it’ll go, but I’m nowhere near ready to try leading it.

Wild Country Wall proper


There are some boulders below the main wall and we walked through them and didn’t see anything worth dragging the pad up for.  Then we checked out the wall and I got a couple of pics.  A hike along the cliffline yielded more stunningly colored rock but nothing that looked climbable.  Truly, the Wild Country slab proper is the only decent rock in the area.

Finally we conceded defeat and without having climbed anything headed back home.  It was a good afternoon hanging out with Bean and enjoying the autumn ambiance.

I’ve already been daydreaming about going back out to the Rim to explore a little more and to ride.  Blackburn and its serene promontory calls.  Basically I just want to enjoy life a little more and stop caring so much about trying to change the world.  While I’d love to have more singletrack to ride what I’d love more is to just ride.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

High Country High

What you probably didn't get from my Monday report was a feel for how my actual ride went on Friday afternoon.  I'll get to that shortly, as well as chronicling the rest of my weekend in the out of doors.  But before I do I want to do a needed and (hopefully) brief bit of housekeeping.


I've sort of given up on building trails for now.  No one has stepped up to help.  The people who had been helping me have been kidnapped and the kidnappers have not contacted me with ransom demands.  In short, I'm sick of putting my time and energy into trails, having little to show for it, and never getting to ride, hike, run, climb, or do anything else for myself.

Last week I was at my heaviest ever.  For whatever reason trail building doesn't burn as many calories for me as trail using.

Since I don't have much purpose-built bike-optimized single track finished when I want to get more than three miles of riding in I have to traverse dirt or paved roads.  Friday afternoon I wanted to escape the clutches of adult responsibility, and I saw my chance in a mountain bike ride up Spaas Creek Road and into numerous other options in the high country between Powell and Menifee Counties.

Spaas Creek (Road)
Years ago as I was feeling out mountain biking as an activity unto itself I rode around Spaas Creek, what I call the Short Creek Rim, and Hatton Ridge a lot.  Hatton Ridge and the Rim are made up of three ridges that separate (west to east) Cane Creek, Short Creek, Spaas Creek, and Indian Creek.  The Rim is two forest roads that dead end along their respective ridges as does Hatton.  Spaas Creek Road traces the stream to its absolute headwaters near the junction of Hatton Ridge Road and the other forest roads.

Over the years I've mountain biked, hiked, bouldered, rock climbed, trail run, and basically just dwelt in the area to escape the crowds and drama of the Red River Gorge proper.  In the early days I hardly saw anyone else in the area; mostly only ATVers and infrequently horseback riders.  Mainly I saw evidence of the passage of others but rarely a living soul.

Then we moved away to Colorado.  And the internet discovered the Red River Gorge in a big way.  Whereas a ten years ago it was difficult to find specific and detailed information about the area and the outlying regions were non-existent in the virtual world, nowadays you can find photos, GPS data, and detailed descriptions to places I had considered forgotten by humanity when I roved the area.

When I put the rogue hoe away I needed a place to ride.  I knew if I kept going to Bald Rock to ride the temptation to cut trail would be overwhelming.  I decided to give Spaas Creek a go.

Almost four years ago now after we had returned from Colorado I took a winter ride up Spaas, back out Hatton Ridge and down Powder Mill Trail.  It was a disappointing ride.  Spaas was in the worst shape I've ever seen it.  After years of neglect by land managers and abuse by the motorized off-road crowd most of the fun for mountain biking was gone.  The creek crossings were wider and deeper.  There were nearly impassable briar-bounded mudholes, and erosion scars were everywhere.  By the time I got to the ridge top my shifter cables were frozen to my bike frame in icy mud, and I descended Powder Mill in some single middling gear.

That ride was disheartening.  I went on to discover that most of my old rides had been destroyed in similar or other manners.  My ire toward local land managers and the four-wheeling crowd has smoldered for four years now.  

Make no mistake, Spaas Creek is hard on brake pads and your drivetrain.  There are still numerous creek crossings and a lot of standing water.  The beauty of Spaas Creek over many other such rides in the region is that once in the dim past the USFS hardened the road with geotextiles and heavy road base.  While much erosion has occurred unchecked in the past twenty or so years the perpetual water/mudholes have rocky bottoms.  Hard on the drivetrain...but rideable.

On my previous ride I recognized that Spaas Creek Road provided a technical challenge that even the trails I've been attempting to build will fail to yield.  I wanted to go back with clear eyes and make good on that attempt.  The lower section isn't steep.  It changes character from a flat pine grove to a creek side dirt and rocky road to a gully to a steep slog and interspersed along the way are rocky ledges, bogs to circumnavigate, and the aforementioned mudholes to part.  The last bit is a loose, rocky road with lots of baby skull cobbles and punchy ledge sections.  In finality it defeated me even as the ridgetop road came into view.  I conceded, knowing I could go back and try again soon enough to get the ride clean.  However, I bettered my recent time on the three mile climb from the car by ten minutes.

The next 3+ miles happened or be along one of my all time favorite ridge rides.  I turned left, and west, which would then turn me south for a long rolling, windy, roll along an undeveloped and mostly unknown ridge beneath towering sandy cliffs and shadowy rotten boulders.  In places the well packed gravel road is like roller coaster singletrack.  Just a little wider.  The further I went the more desolate it felt.  But I was happy to be back on old but familiar terrain.

Curiosity led me to a certain point.  The road passes through a wide gap between two monoliths of stone so big they're hard to see in their entirety from any vantage point.  Then the road contours below the massive southern aspect of the western rock where at one point it crests a small ridge and then drops away.  It was probably twenty years ago that I locked up the brakes on the Cannonball and stood with mouth agape, staring at a massive featured slab capped by a dark and foreboding roof of stone.  The left side was bounded by a distinct dihedral, and the wall invited my curious climber mind to look closer.  I took a photo.  I hiked to the base and took two more photos of the wall up close.  And that's how Wild Country Wall had its beginnings.  I'll delve more into that story in my next post as this one is running a bit long.

I had reached my temporal turnaround point for the day.  It was time to head home.  Mandy and I had planned to run out to Blackburn Rock to try to capture in pixels some autumn foliage under the sunset.  Our plan was to drive out since the gate on Hatton Ridge was open and hike the short spur to the overlook.  I needed to get home so we could get ready and head back out.

The ridge ride back seemed to go much faster.  Then I turned on Spaas Creek and began the technical and slightly unnerving initial descent before reaching more moderate ground where I could really open it up.

Despite the water, mud, and loose rocks (and Dog People encounter) I had a blast.  While it was hard on the bike it was good for my soul.  I knew I'd be going back to Spaas Creek more often.  I can gain the mountain biking fitness I want in that valley.  It's close to home and it's the heart of where I gravitate toward anyway.
To be continued...