Big South Fork Day #1

This past weekend, for me, was a series of firsts: my first bike-centered camping, my first "buddy" camping trip, my first trip to BSF and my first destination bike trip.  I had spent hours researching and scouring, google maps, the KY Transportation site, and and my Trails Illustrated BSF map. I've developed a real passion for Vitamin G. I think that riding gravel opens up something primal and something young about riding a bike. We know that (paved) roads are full of pissed-off cagers and that the trails are often daunting for those who don't want to incur injury. In turn, gravel provides the perfect balance of "freedom" between road and trail disciplines. In the modern age, gravel is also found in the outoftheway places which cars rarely visit. I don't know. I just feel good when I take to the rough stuff.

Our weekend consisted of two days of bike-centered activity. We drove down *early* Saturday to claim a camp site and to put in one day of riding, in this case on the FreedomChurch/RattlesnakeRidge route. Saturday night we camped at Great Meadow campground in BSF Recreation area, and Sunday we rose to take on the Divide Rd. in a long loop down into TN.  I've done long rides. I've done long gravel rides. But I've never taken on two heavy days such as this, so the plan was a bit of a crapshoot, but damn well I had my maps planned.

Apertome joined us from Bloomington, staying at FatGuy's house Friday night. I was involved with family plans, so I stayed out of their preparations. I did show at 6.00a.m. Saturday to load up and hit the road for the 4-ish hr drive.  We found GreatMeadow pretty easily and decided on the 2nd campground, which only had 1 other site occupied. From there it was preparation time. One *huge* benefit of these campgrounds was the availability of water. Remember that.

As you can see from the pics, we left in glorious weather, maybe 70F and full sun. Could it be any better? The first portion of our ride took us out Rock Creek Rd., which followed Rock Creek- which is known for trout fishing- downstream to our first junction. I can't imagine a better intro, with an easy grade, smooth or even hardpack conditions, 5 miles to wake the legs up and no traffic to speak of. RockCreekRd. joined Parker Mt. Rd. with a nice, no, spectacular cemetery on a hilltop overlooking the creek valley. (Hopefully somebody else got the name). One could also take this- the specter of death- symbolically, because what we found shortly thereafter was decidedly macabre.
Leaving Great Meadow campgroun on Rock Creek Rd. Nice morning, eh?

Rock Creek and Rock Creek Rd.

rather patriotic cemetery near Bell Farm Rd. junction. Nice, eh?
We left the rough stuff and joined 1363/Bell Farm-Yamacraw Rd. The picture below barely contains the misery: 1.9m, maximum pitch of 17%, and a nasty little pitch at the top of 14%. I'm personally glad I encountered this early in the weekend, because it was a real killer.  We made our way to the top and turned onto Skullbone Tower Rd.  The maps all suggest this was a long graveled road, but we found adequate surfaces. What it lacked in texture it made up for with really nice views, especially to the west.  I would say SkullboneTower had a really nice flow to it as well, lacking the vicious climbs we found elsewhere during the day.

Climbing 1363/Bell Farm Rd., here around 17%

East McCreary Fire Department has looked better

Skullbone Tower Rd. decay. Notice the satellite dish.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Skullbone Tower power lines
We met KY-92 and made our short way to Jones Hollow Rd., diving down into the valley at speeds I wasn't real comfortable with. After a bombing descent, Jones Hollow became a really, really nice valley road which skirted hillsides and hollers. Fact is, it might have been our flattest road of the day. We had an especially nice moment meeting a family on a big horse-drawn cart. They were as, or more, surprised to see us down there as we were to see them.

Dave in Jones Hollow

Jones Hollow Rd. Very nice.
Our turn onto Ritner Rd. brought our first pleasant surprise of the day, excluding the great warmup and brutal 1363 climb. Ritner Rd. proved inconclusive on various maps as to whether it actually joined in the middle of a creek bed or not. Without complete confidence we dove down the road and found something almost magical, at least for us city slickers. Ritner crossed right in the middle of a fork of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Confused? Once we turned onto Ritner, we immediately ran into 2 trucks coming up, so we knew we could cross. It was a bucolic scene, replete with a footbridge for high water and generally was devoid of trash. The pics do a better job than I, but we did stay here for several minutes while we ate a snack. Great Stuff! From the creek we climbed steadily out of the valley, where we found a more manageable exit after the difficulty of 1363. This section of Ritner and Upper Turkey was paved and very reasonable.

The Three LHT's at Ritner crossing

Ritner footbridge

Obvious, isn't it?

Ritner crossing in low water. We saw three vehicles besides ourselves during out time here. 

Michael gives it a try.

So does Dave, sans shoes

Notice the truck and the incline, supposedly 13% here. It certainly felt like it going down.

Up Ritner Rd. Brilliant!

Oldness at the top of Ritner Rd. after nearly 2 miles of climbing.

Looking across the valley of Denny Turkey Creek Rd.
At mile 23.5 we descended a quick hill down to a one-lane bridge and by the cross road of Brammer Hill Ridge. The next portion of our trip transitioned quickly and became perhaps the most amazing 8 miles of the weekend. Upper Turkey turned to gravel and viciously climbed for a while (max at 20%). I don't think anyone realized that we had climbed most of a mile; I sure didn't until looking at stats later. From the top we began our descent onto Freedom Rd., a graveled backroad that I personally found magical. Really. It had all the elements of great gravel, including a good surface, fun flow, descent (or even ascent) but not one too vicious, farms, scenic valley views and even a church near the bottom.  We stopped for a bit and soaked it in before heading towards the bottom, in this case in search of Water.  If you remember, I mentioned free water earlier, and at this point it became an issue. Temps reached 80F with earlier heavy sun. Michael was running out  and Dave wasn't too far behind. In such difficult and remote areas, it was going to become an "issue". At Freedom Baptist Church we found a spigot, but there was evident construction so to no avail for us.

Wow!  We missed this one! Careful study would show Freedom Rd. ascending for a mile, but with the first .3m no lower than 10% and topping out at 20%!  Sneakily brutal.

We earned the pleasant descent.

The Three LHTs resting along fence on Freedom Rd. This valley was one of my favorites of the weekend.

Looking north along Freedom Rd.
Michael and Dave bombing the chicane down Freedom Rd.

We found our return crossing at the bottom of Freedom Rd. We messed around a bit and began to climb, and climb, and climb. Freedom Rd. provided us almost 2 miles of climbing with heavy gravel, dirt and rocks and pitches up to 15%. It was simply amazing as a cycling experience. I still felt quite good here and made solid, steady progress, at least until a short chicane at the top where I could hold an rear tire exposure. It was my first walk of the day.
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Freedom Rd. at crossing

Not so ridable this time.

The early pitches of Freedom Rd.

In honor of the Duke. If I were more ambitious, I would research what it is, but I'm not. 

Michael somewhere along Freedom Church Rd. Notice the sketchy surface.

Dave chugging up as well.

My pictures become a little more rare after the Freedom Church experience. The road flowed directly into Cowhorn Rd., which I enjoyed very much. It was more gravel including a really long downhill during which we met some ATV riders coming up. Dave used an inventive descending technique where he would intentionally skid his rear wheel to help curb speed. At one point Michael made a leaping dismount off his bike in heavy gravel. I bareknuckled it to the bottom and we steadily plowed Cowhorn, working our way back towards 92. I was surprised just now to learn that one of our climbs on Cowhorn was a half-mile long with gradients up to nearly 18%. That would make a top-10 list here in Louisville. Instead it was just another short climb on the day.  My legs started to feel it.

rock formations along Cowhorn Rd.
We revisited 92 via another 2 miles of climbing (ughh!) and found water at a fire station. Michael and Dave were both ecstatic to rehydrate b/c they were out and we had several miles to still ride. From there we bombed down the 92 hill before making a hard right onto Wolf Creek Rd. We saw some classic Appalachian scenes along this portion, including one gentleman who invited me to kill his pack of dogs in front of his house. Sometimes you gotta learn to jaw with the locals.  On Wolf Creek we found *another* 1-mile climb (hitting 15% again) and at the top of this I was done. Done. I made it nearly 40 miles over so many climbs, all of them putting my head down and getting to work in the stump-puller, but once we met Rattlesnake Ridge I was done. Done. 

church at junction of Rattlesnake Ridge Rd., getting closer to our destination.
I crawled along Rattlesnake Ridge, knowing that we still had 13 miles to put in, but I was empty. I'm sure we were all tired, but I just couldn't manage, exhausted and spent in every way. I even walked on some incredibly minor hills b/c I just couldn't turn the legs over any more. I don't remember much of anything else here except suffering.  We finally descended 1363 and met our flat- but less flat than this morning- Rock Creek Rd. It was getting dark and we made tempo on the 5 miles home and made it back to Great Meadows in one piece.

For me at least, it was truly an epic ride, and I couldn't imagine pushing myself any more.


Apertome said…
Excellent ride report! You captured some scenes I missed ... I got a good laugh out of the side-by-side trailers. Somehow I hadn't noticed that when we were there. I also forgot about the guy with the pack of dogs. I'm still mulling things over in my head. Have day 1 photos ready but no idea how to write about the trip yet. I think I just need to start in on it, and see what I end up with.
Pondero said…
Wow. You guys are a hardy bunch.

I'm with you on your excellent characterization of riding gravel. It's great, of course, in manageable doses.

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