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.


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