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...

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