Walker Creek tried to eat me. Walker Creek didn't know what it bit into. Chris Chainring doesn't walk (or ride) lightly into anything. I know my $#!+.
I needed to do some preliminary course marking for the Red River Gorge MTB 100—it's coming up fast like a log on a steep downhill—so I loaded up the Slutty Single Speed on which I have recently installed a Redshift Sports ShockStop Suspension Stem. I was eager to see how it performed on the RRG MTB 100 course.
While our race isn’t strictly a gravel ride, it does have a lot of gravel and technical dirt roads as well as long stretches of pavement. That’s the nature of the beast. That’s why I wanted to put this race on in the first place. We need more singletrack and we need better riding opportunities in the Red River Gorge area,
Last year I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover Walker Creek. What I simply call “Walker Creek” is the old Kentucky Union Railway alignment. Or rather what’s left of it along Walker Creek of the North Fork of the Kentucky River.
Walker Creek shows up as an interior spur of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway loop. I juts north from about 6:00 on the loop and connects up to KY 715 between Zachariah and Rogers. The route drops in from the ridge between Zachariah and Rogers off of KY 715 via a gravel road and a ridiculously steep and rugged jeep road. If you ride in this way or do the RRG MTB 100 take care with the descent into the Walker Creek valley. This will be the first dirt descent after the long paved section through Red River Gorge proper.
Following the race course along KY 715 there will be a left onto gravel Smith Road. Take care making the left and climb a short and moderately steep hill. Continue past a cemetery, bear right at the first fork (Paradise Valley) and travel a little further to a less well-traveled dirt road that disappears into the trees on the right just before a second Paradise Valley sign. It’s best to ride in from the park and ride at Zachariah or the Hollerwood trailhead at Standing Rock as there is no good public parking in this vicinity.
|Approaching the turn onto Smith Road|
The descent is steep and rough. There are huge ruts in the road and there are big ledges. It’s okay to walk down a little bit, as the steepest sections are short, and you’ll quickly find yourself at the bottom even if you do end up walking. Go all the way down to the creek, turn hard left, and you’ll be on the old railroad.
Follow the mostly arrow straight abandoned railroad for four miles to reach Old Fincastle Road on your right (to the west) across Walker Creek for a climb out of the valley which will put you close to the descent into Hell Creek and a continuation of the race course. On race day only there will be the option to continue two and a half more miles down Walker Creek and climb out of the valley via private property. You can ride the railroad section anytime, but you’ll have to backtrack to Old Fincastle Road to get out. Or, you can do Walker Creek as an out and back ride which is what I usually do.
Which is what I attempted to do yesterday afternoon. I wanted to try out the Redshift Sports Shockstop Stem. I had installed it on my fully rigid 26” single speed Redline Monocog (dubbed the Slutty Singlespeed). My original intent had been to take it to Veterans Park in Lexington for a lunch time ride, but I decided I needed a better test of the stem and I also need to be doing race prep…so why not go for a quick jaunt down Walker Creek after work?
I walked most of the descent and tied off a few ribbons to mark the route. When I got down to the railroad I was stoked to have that long line stretched out ahead of me. And I want to explain a little more about Walker Creek…while this is an abandoned railroad it is by no means a cushy multiuse path along a greenway. Walker Creek is remote, rugged, and has been unmaintained for decades. While there are nice straight, flat sections that are fast and smooth there are also sections where old trestles are simply missing and you have to detour down a steep and loose rocky slope to a creek crossing and a mirror climb back up to regain the railbed. The surface is not fine crushed stone, but big rock base mixed with finer stuff. It’s a rough ride. There are a lot of decades old water holes that ride like flowy sections of trail. Walker Creek is a technical rail trail.
The first thing I realized once I got the bike up to speed is that the Shockstop Stem does not have a subtle impact on ride quality. I ride the fully rigid singlespeed to get bucked around. That didn’t happened with the Redshift stem on the bike. It was a much softer ride than I’m used to on the singlespeed. I ride regular sized knobby tires and had about 20 psi in them. They typically don’t take much of the chatter and chomp from the trail or gravel.
I’m forty three years old and have abused my knees and elbows throughout my adult years. It took almost a decade after being an obsessed rock climber for the tendonitis to heal in my elbows. I could greatly appreciate the dampening effect of the stem over the ragged surface of the railbed. My elbows felt good. My teeth didn’t chatter. The bike handled fantastically.
That was the other thing. My other 26” hardtail has a suspension fork. While it does wonders for my old bones and ligaments I find that my sloppy riding is better with rigid forks. I have better front wheel control and I tend to stay in better position over the bike. The Shockstop Stem maintained that stiff feel in the front end of the bike and I had the same control I would have with no dampening or suspension.
In short, I love the Shockstop Stem. I wish it came a little shorter. I would put it on my plus bike if it did. But for now I’ll leave it on the singelspeed and that is reason enough to ride my slutty bike more.
I intended to do an out and back ride. When I had about three and a half miles to go I there was a funny feeling in my pedals. I stopped the bike and looked down to find a huge sidewall tear in my tire right along the rim. The tube was bulging out like a bubble of black gum.
|Not a bad walk at all|
Walker Creek had taken a chunk out of me. And so I walked Walker Creek all the way back to the car.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be riding more as I scout out and mark the race course. Also to note: Redshift Sports has provided three Shockstop Stems for the race winners. We’ll give the top male and female their choice in lengths and raffle a third stem to some lucky racer.
In the meantime you can use the code RRGMTB to get 20% off anything in your cart from Redshift Sports through October. I highly recommend the Shockstop Stem.