Friday, November 04, 2011

Now that was an adventure ride!

Last night I finished an article out of the recent Bicycle Quarterly, a ride report from an "amateur" rider in lieu of a report or review from the owners. I don't know whether the author is an amateur or a professional writer, but he so greatly invokes the ethos of the Yorkshire Dales with its sheep, hardscrabble hills, desolate moors, impenetrable bogs, vistas and villages. I wish I could evoke a similar response with my own write-up of our extremely interesting foray on Sunday into Henry and Owen Counties, but I don't think I have the same gift for the written word. Suffice to say, our venture of nearly 12 hours total time (driving+riding+trekking+eating) was one of the most interesting of my recent years of gravel reconnoitering.

Our party included Dave, me, and the 'other' Timothy, Barturtle, with whom we rode back in August at our Orleans70. After coffee, a muffin and a superb peanut cookie courtesy of Java Brewing we made our way to our departure location in New Castle, home of Hammer and Mama, parents of my college roommate. Good people, very. The route would be a roughly figure-8, with stints of gravel in both Henry and Owen, a Kentucky River crossing at Gratz, and unknown store stops based on vague information found in our technological ether. The boys had been warned.

We were met with crisp Fall temps around freezing, blazing azure skies, and almost immediately the confusion of technology and a lack of leadership. My gps unit was confused and I didn't heed Dave's exhortations, and as such we missed our second turn. It perhaps was going to be "one of those days", We descended a somewhat gentle slope into a creek run and found our first gravel of the day on Flat Rock Rd., a pleasant, mundane gentle sweep downwards towards the Drennen Creek valley. This portion was bounded to the left by low rock walls and limestone cliff, and the right the open view of a brook, frozen foam flowers. Timothy nicely pushed ahead while Dave and I alternated shot-making along the descent.
Descent on Flat Rock Creek Rd.

Towards the bottom we first noticed what looked to be a run along the right, a definite crossing, albeit one too rough for bicycles. We continued straight, perhaps another .1m, to find signs of construction or merely the results of boredom with a bulldozer. The road had disintegrated into the creek with large piles of rock and trees pushed to form a wall, or merely a large pile of trees and rock. Where had Flat Rock Rd. gone? Both Dave and my gps units showed the road, and I had inspected the KY.pdf, which definitely showed a road along this route, but there was no road. "I don't see any road at all, sir." Timothy wins the gardenia for his initiative, as he set about building a crossing using large rocks across a narrow passage. Without one we would have all been knee-deep or better. Instead, after manly rock throwing and the dainty removal of shoes and socks we made it across, but across to what? I was pretty insistent that there was a road somewhere.
Flat Rock Creek Rd. continues behind Dave's head. It didn't look like a road to me.

Facing west up Flat Rock Creek Rd.

Dave and Timothy inspecting local road-building techniques

Timothy admiring our impromptu bridge-building project of our own. 


After some befuddlement, we ascertained that the road was the creek was the road, so we followed some 100 yards until seeing, for lack of a better term, an opening venturing upward to the right that could have been a road in a past life. We rambled, pushing the bikes, until we found a house, barking dogs and what looked to be Drennen Lane on the far end of our creek escapade. We had made it to the other side.

Bike "Ride"

Yes, this passes for a "road" on most KY road maps

And again I return to the BQ article. Where the author evocatively describes the landscape and how to be within in it, I regale of a military operation of crossing the River Kwai. I would rather paint the scene of a very cold Drennen Creek running, sunlight skimming off with a low sun to the east, bottom land, scrub, roiling landscapes carved from many a creek run, soft terrain underfoot interspersed with Kentucky limestone rocks and boulders. Scrubland, but beautiful scrubland.

The Crosscheck as gravel-grinder. I enjoyed the bike immensely throughout the course of the day. Guess that means it was a good choice.

We soon found tarmac after a meaty 20% climb up Point Pleasant Rd. I felt good here and tempo'd up in my larger climbing gear that the ones sported by my compatriots. Somewhere along this stretch Timothy returned the favor with a powerful uphill sprint to keep the group's pace moving forward. Dave was suffering at this juncture. We stopped at Eastern Elementary school for a snack break and shortly found out next gravel juncture along Joe's Branch Rd., again another creek run descent along a more acute vertical cut of what I can only assume is Joe's Branch. Timothy used the term "baby heads", one I think I observed previously describing the large cobbles of Flanders, i.e. kindercoppen; a most apt description if you ask me. While the terrain of the valley was a bit more severe, the descent more acute, it was the surface that soaked in my attention. Riding 35c Vittoria Randos instead of my more customary 1.75" Contis, I found myself having to more carefully chose lines. On occasion water drainage channels filled with course stone spanned the entirety of the path, disjointing my trajectory like speed bumps in a subdivision, only speed bumps with jagged edges hurtling towards me at 20mph in a barren landscape rife with trees, vermin and detritus instead of cookie-cutter homes, mailboxes and absurd yard art.

Dave in the distance on Joe's Branch Rd.

Joe's Branch was sublime. At the base of the run, after crossing a newly poured cement drainage bridge, we took a left onto Six Mile Creek Rd., a two-mile run of near-perfect gravel riding. The surface provided a bit of variety, but wasn't too stony; the CC cruised with ease. We also found a little climb mid-run to mix up the texture, and best of all, it harbored us blanket-like to the left with a snug hillside. On the right the land opened a bit to fields and then Six Mile Creek. Interestingly, for most of this portion the land to our right comprised a gun range, which during deer season left us jittery and much desiring of bright orange safety vests. "Promise, we're not deer!!". This stretch emptied into tired town of Lockport, with its river malaise, unfortunately-closed-on-Sunday-morning store and dueling church vying for lost souls. Seems the Baptists were winning.

Timothy on Six Mile Creek Rd. ensconced in a cedar 'allée', on of my favorite spots of the day.

Lock at Lockport

Church of a by-gone era in Gratz

After a brief glimpse of the lock we turned north and soon crossed over the Kentucky River and into Owen County, a new territory for my riding experiences. Dave had read of possible food opportunities in Gratz, but our inspections led to nothing more than vine-covered churches, dilapidated homes and the need to find more open terrain away from the unease of a past lost in encroaching modernity. The next stretch along nearly proved Dave's undoing. A rolling road along the  river country pushed him further back. At one point we lost contact only to find him a bit later having wrestled with yet another gps conundrum. His unit stated to turn right. Unfortunately the route I had sent him did not contain the updated deletion of Severn Creek Rd., which local maps had as a dead end. Dave was at his own dead end because we had left him proverbially dangling in the breeze. Somehow we reconvened and set sail for Monterey, down hard by Sawdridge Creek and the river. Another river town. More squalor. Small red brick homes flooded time after time. More derelict buildings devoid of use or benefit. A small empty Christian church on a Sunday morning. Better times had been had. One of us asked a local gentleman about opportunities for food and he gave some in a round about way. I was swept me back to a risible anecdote including my wife, France, teeth and a truck

In 1993 my wife and I took our honeymoon in France where we spent time in Paris and in the Loire Valley visiting chateaux. We reserved a room at one of the many B-n-B's in the countryside as a means to experience 'la coeur' of the country, all cigarettes, vin, and fromage . On our first night we found a delightful BnB that lay adjacent to a local canal bounded by fruit trees and hedges with "du, du, hoele?". Our Savonnierres reservation was at the home of Madame Carré and her large, stupid dog, Sallee. Upon arrival in the town, we found no sign, no indication of any BnB to speak of. We asked a petite maiden at the local boulangerie; alas, we had found the only person in France who seemed fearful of us. We drove to and fro. We took took a right into the countryside along Le Bas Bray until we encountered two Frenchmen who, according to the wife, upon being asked for directions said something about a tree. I think the lack of teeth didn't help hte explanation. We drove back to town only to find that the large white box truck parked at the crossroads in town had moved, thereby revealing a very effective BnB sign, pointing directly to Madame Carré's house just next door. The homemade apricot marmalade was delightful.
I am a language teacher. I teach Spanish and revel in the sounds and intricacies of language. I love dialects, idioms, expressions, and varied diverse accents. I have a generally good ear for the cadences of language. That said, I could barely understand Monterey man. His advice, once deciphered- and much appreciated by the flagging Dave-, led us to a gas station/store up a ways where we feasted on home-made sandwiches, salty chips, scrumptious-yet-disgusting Swiss Cake Rolls, chocolate milk, dried meats, and assorted caloric-rich foods that provide no nutrients to speak of. After our repast, it was time to return.

Our bellies (some ample) girded for yet more adventure, our senses not yet sated for texture, I immediately set us astray, in of all places, Monterey, KY, population 167. Our next appointment was to be Old Landing Rd., another bit of gravel according to our cartographic sources. Exiting on the west side of town we were faced with a ribbon of dirt, even less a "road" in some ways Flat Rock Rd.; it resembled nothing more than a way for tractors to access the low-slung plains with their flood-enriched fields along the Kentucky. I charged, and Timothy shortly thereafter taking the lead.

Logic told me that any possible road marked as "unimproved" may offer numerous textures, be they gravel, rock, dirt, grass or fading pavement for that matter. Once our progress was halted heavily along the banks of the Kentucky, with nary an exit in site, I knew that my own piloting skills had been revealed as suspect. We had no choice but to return to the bustle of Monterey to reconvene. With no obvious evidence of Old Landing road in plain sight, the obvious albeit boring solution was to return via 355, our outbound path.

Kentucky River locks from afar, next to Lockport where we had been 1hr previous.

*Not* Old Landing Rd.

Before making our mundane way back first Dave had an encounter with a muddy puddle, from which his shoulder and neck became intimate with the hard, crusty bottomland of Owen County. Wracked with pain he crawled well over 75yds and pulled himself free of his crankset via a roll of bailing wire and an axe handle.

No, no, no. Dave did meet the Owen Country floor, and I did have to straighten his right brake lever a bit before we commenced further inspection for our textured route. We seem to have found remains of the Really Old Landing Rd., but this portion wasn't remotely passable, and with heads hung low in resignation, we slowly pedaled towards 355. On a whim Timothy veered to the left on Taylor St. and I, seeing a potential turn at the next block, took a turn at the front where, by excellent fortune, the rumpled pavement plunged down a slight swale and onto Old Landing Rd., a highlight, at least, of my day. It abutted a cliffside leading along the river bottom, with varied fields to our left of dried corn, pasture grasses and more scrub. Unfortunately my pics reflected the bouncy nature of gravel terrain; my favorite shot is out of focus. Old Landing shortly left the bottom lands and began to climb somewhat abruptly onto an escarpment, with the river below and classic, rolling Kentucky woodlands to our right. Signs indicated land belonging to some type of state program, later to be revealed as the Roberts Tract of the KY River Wildlife Management Area, which are basically state-owned hunting areas. We paused briefly to adjust our garments, as the sun had finally joined us and helped to warm our efforts. The labors experienced  finding Old Landing Rd. proved well worth it, at least for me, as revealed in the sensations of the river, the varied nature of its gravel under tire, and the gentle transition from bottomland to a kind of woodland parkway tucked nigh on the Kentucky.

Out of focus, but I have to include it anyway. The orange of the leaves juxtaposed with the gravel make it worthwhile regardless of image quality.

Old Landing Rd. with the Kentkucky to the left and a WMA to the right. Outstanding!

Our return continued, although slowly. Timothy experienced a little sponginess in his rear tire, which turned into a mostly flat tire. I, stopping for the boys, made an attempt to alight by a traffic sign to adjust something, and instead found myself adjusting my momentum in my descent towards the ground, still clipped in. Dumb! Dave, however, was rallying. We stopped at Lockport and availed ourselves of a picnic table in the park where Timothy could change a tube. Dave availed himself of the store across the street for more sustenance. I availed myself of the table bench. In short order we were ready for further gravel, first meeting Six Mile Creek Rd. on the return leg, and then turning left followed SMCRd to its terminus.

Aces Grocery in Lockport. Googlemaps makes no mention, and  Mapsource has it located 6 miles away. Technology.

Dave wondering how he can get a 'boss' gravel grinder like the Crosscheck.

Six Mile Creek Rd's western leg proved to be one of the main challenges of the day. While as flat as mamaw's kitchen table, the texture was a rough as papaw's mood at breakfast after third shift. Timothy's preferred 'baby heads' became inveterate shards of cow bones and entire stone fences dumped in the middle of the road just to make the trip more interesting. As the denizens of Paris-Roubaix are wont to know with their teething ring still moist, the more efficient way to make war with the road is to trample it, Genghis Khan's horde running roughshod across the Asian steppe. I geared down and stomped, praying that the 35s would support the onslaught. Eventually I danced around Timothy- who was now experiencing shifter issues- and Dave, who rode a smart and steady line and who remained as the rearguard in support of Timothy. I rode those four miles as aggressively as I could muster, stopping twice to gain a rearward glimpse of my colleagues. While Dave was providing support at the rear, I did the group a service by engaging two growling river mutts in a grand game of chase for well along a half-mile. By the time they acquiesced they had nary the energy to confront further prey and tucked tail home as Timothy and Dave rolled by.

Crosscheck cockpit, with Salsa Bell-lap (already coveting Salsa CowBell2, with usable drop), 2 mountain feedbags and Vittoria Randos 35s. A change in bar angle at mile 6 (the creek) made all the difference.

As the superb SMCRd came to a close, Timothy needed to attend to his onerous shifting. Emptying his luggage of all contents (foreshadowing), he found his extra master link and replaced the stiff link which has befouled his SMCRd traverse. Once completed we began our final leg, this on the paved 573 all the way to New Castle. Our previous hours had been dominated by a landscape of rocks, puddles, rivers, woodland, serrated cuts along old pathways made for rough, manly work. We enjoyed our newfound smooth tarmac, but we suffered consequently given the need to climb away from creek bottoms and towards the town which is always built on a hill. I climbed relatively comfortably on the Crosscheck, which was a prior concern, but Timothy and Dave used the good fortune of easier gears to spin along while I fought my machine to eek out the necessary forward momentum. We reconvened several times, but we became malleable points along a slinky as we ebbed and flowed from hillcrest to trough to hillcrest. At some point Timothy rallied, his mechanicals behind him, and the three of us paced forward. I took the final runner into town and we finished quietly, satisfied, and a probably a bit tired. Now *that* was an adventure!

1.1 And poor Timothy lost his phone along the route, probably during the tire change in Lockport or the link change at Six Mile Creek.
1.2 I talked Dave into McDonalds on the road home, ravenous. Never again. Never.

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