You find yourself on a trail in the woods. It flows. It surfs the contours of the hillside. You pedal along the top edge of a sandstone cliff overlooking a fog-filled valley. Dimly visible across the hollow are spectral walls of ochre, tangerine, and sand mirroring the cliffs below your knobbies. It’s quiet, cool, and the day promises to be a bluebird of happiness in your life.
Three hours earlier you drove out from the city. First you turned off the interstate onto the parkway. Another half hour you were pulling off into Slade as the land began to be revealed by the growing daylight. Twenty minutes deeper into Eastern Kentucky the low rumble of gravel under your car tires perked you up. You down that last sip of coffee from your Klean Kanteen and crack the driver’s side window to smell the morning air.
From the car you warmed slowly as you climbed the first easy hill on an obscure Forest Service road. Your clacking hub seemed overly loud in the shadows of the mist shrouded hills. But then for a the longest time the only sound was your breathing as it increased in intensity and volume as a result of the efforts you were putting forth to climb on your mountain bicycle from the valley to the ridgetop some four hundred feet higher. Having a 44t granny gear can only help so much. Once the grade hits a certain threshold the climbing is just hard.
At the top of the long climb you pause at an intersection to drink from your water bottle. The trail you seek is still another mile or so out the ridgeline. You’ve heard about a hidden network of trails—all legal—but not promoted widely nor written directions provided. There were simply photos revealing amazing vistas, brown dirt ribbons of earth through untrammeled forests, and the promise of adventure.
The local told you to go straight through the four way intersection at the top of the grueling climb. But that way looks the least well-travelled. It’s an old doubletrack that almost fades into invisibility in the forest. There are thigh-high weeds, pearled with dew, and inviting you deeper into the shadows of the forest. You urge the bike onward.
True to the rumors you heard there are trails where the road finally disappears into the landscape. You’ve had to ride around and over fallen logs, skirt historic mudholes in the road, and your arms bear freshlets of blood from the greenbriars that reached out to grab you as you pedaled the road. But all of those obstacles guard the trails from interlopers. They appear to have been built for your fat-tired bike. And within the first couple of minutes you know that someone who loved mountain biking and loved adventure had a hand in building them. There is no turning back.
The morning is spent learning the system. There is an inner and outer loop on the broad forested ridge. The outer skirts near the cliffline but is wider and easier. The inner loop has tighter twists; it carves and surfs the terrain near the crest of the ridge and incorporates more rollovers, skinnies, and rock obstacles. You marvel at the work that has gone into the trails. It had to have been a true labor of love. And you are grateful that a friend shared with you the knowledge of these trails.
Your lunch is eaten on a rock promontory overlooking the valley where the fog has finally lifted, revealing miles of sandstone clifflines, bare patches on the valley floor where oil tanks with blue peeling paint stand in a sentinel line along a gravel road far below. Somewhere in the distance is the echoing clank and hum of a pumpjack bringing crude up from deep below the Appalachian vista. There is the faint scent of pines and sulphur on the light breeze.
On the way out you take your time. You don’t want the moment—or the day—to end. Another lap around the ridge trails takes an hour at your slower pace. But the turns feel right. The views keep bringing you up short. And finally, reluctantly, you head for the exit road and the descent back to the valley where your car awaits.
The dream ends.
“How was your ride?” your significant other asks when you return home, crusty and dusty from your efforts. The smile is still distinct on your lips.
“It was a dream,” you reply.
It is. It could be. Everything you just read is as described except the trails. The land is there. The access road is there. The views, the sublime mornings going unnoticed almost every day…all there.
But right now the story I just told is still only a dream.