DBNF 2015 Atop the infamous S-Tree

Two days down, two to go in our DBNF 2015 tour. We had completed our southern loop, combining some new-style bikepacking with traditional tent camp just outside of Livingston on night two. With the change in venue so did change our route for day 3, but not by much. We began the day fording the Rockcastle, which put on onto Wildcat Mountain Rd. An interesting note about the ford is that there is also a railroad bridge crossing that can be used. Both options initially scared me, but I used the magic of social media and Strava to contact a KY-based rider who has segments all over the C.KY area. He commented that the river was cross-able and the bridge not a terrible option. He was right and modern technology wins again!

Rockcastle River by morning

Trail marker before crossing the Rockcastle. More on that later.

Nice legs

Rockcastle Rides. More on that later.

The railroad bridge option. Note the little walkway to the right. This looks doable. And an older woman in town later told us that it was crossable as long as you hurried.

The ford over to Wildcat Mountain Rd. gave the morning a little bit of pizzazz, and the climb up the mountain itself gave a hearty wake-up call, although the grades were never so steep or miserable as to ruin our early morning mood for adventure. At the top we were greeted with a variety of exhibits about the Battle of Wildcat Mountain, a Civil War battle taking place early in the skirmish. We took a bit of time to read up on the local history and to use their much appreciated facilities. Afterwards our route rolled on via Wildcat Trail, which depending on the the source was a real road, a trail, something else, or nothing at all. The only sure thing was that it was part of the Sheltowee, so something existed.

Gentle slopes up Wildcat Mountain. 

Gazebo and exhibit at the battle memorial. 

Interpretive trail atop the mountain. 

What we found in the first section of Wildcat Trail was some near perfect mixed-terrain riding, with its mixture of sandstone, gravel, sand, mud holes, contours and such. It was evident that the road rode the ridgetop, and especially to our right (north), we occasionally were treated with big vistas across the forested hills. This lasted maybe a couple miles. The next mile or so changed complexion. There was a large, obvious construction project to the left, and from then on the road widened and was furrowed with heavy truck tires; my guess is logging with gusto. What was a perfect road was turned into a kind of scar.

Not long after the cemetery the road turned to pavement and then opened up to a mixture of small farms and occasional homes, although the land was still pretty sparsely populated. At some point the Sasquatch, oops, Patrick asked a couple porch sitters for some water and we entered into a fun conversation about their preferences to get to S-Tree. I recognized a few roads, but the locals never realize that out-of-towners have no clue what they're talking about, and that's fine. They, like so many of the folks we encountered, were very nice and generous, and I'm thankful for the kind treatment we received.

Winding Blade Chapel 

Feel free to chime in on this set-up. Is that a hanging table in the pavilion next to the church? It is for sacrifices (joking)? I've never seen anything like it. 

The next 20 miles of riding involved lots and lots of rural paved roads with pleasant vistas and increasing heat. The 20 miles were split sort of equally in two, descending every so for miles, bombing down to the South Fork Rockcastle River, and then grinding up the other half. I feel a bit better after seeing the profile because that 7-mile climb took its toll. I walked some, had to rest under some shade, had to grab more sketchy water from a church parking lot and generally fell behind Patrick on a regular basis. At the end of our road section I saw a nice little church with a shaded porch and informed Pat that I was resting. And we did, and did very well.


Jones at Eberle Rd. and South Fork Rockcastle

Mas vista 

Rest stop under the shade. 

At several distinct times during our week we came across singage for the Redbud Ride, which takes place in April and leaves out of London. It must be a stunning ride given the roads we sampled. Bike goal right in the middle of tennis season. Tough one.

After our porch stop we faced some unknowns, you know, "no roads". Laurel Creek Rd. (and I believe Forest Rd 454) is definitely a road on many maps. In the middle of the forest, though, mysteries abound. Some had trails or roads, others nothing, and so we went. Laurel Creek Rd was a nice, gravelled, sometimes two-tracked gentle descent, which I needed after the rough last hour or so. We came to a gravel clearing and saw that the "road" continued, albeit in rocky, distorted form. We went for it and found some of our most technical terrain of the week. Rocks, rocks, ruts, rocks, ruts, and more washouts. Right at the bottom I got skered and took my only tumble of the trip. Fortunately the other damage was a shifted gps which took 1sec to shift back.

Laurel Creek Rd. doubletrack. Nice and downhill.

The end of Laurel Creek Rd., just behind Patrick. The mud bogs opened the chute downwards. 

I feel probably 15ft above the exit here.

Even stranger, at the bottom we found a lovely lake, as usual, in the middle of nowhere. The "road" turned grassy for a moment and then dirt along the bottom land by a creek. Our "no road" had been quite the success. And who trusts boring ol' maps anyway?

Day 3's heat and climbing was proving arduous. Our turn onto (or into) Mill Creek WMA hurled a nasty grinder of 1-mile with no shade to speak of. For some dumb reason I tried to clear the entire thing and instead put myself into the suffer cafe. The top of Mill Creek was actually quite pleasant and maybe deserving of a return visit, but that sunny, baked climb. Ugh.  Afterwards we passed through the "Federal Gov't town" portion of McKee, KY, with the many clinics, public housing units, jails, and pharmacies. The local IGA did not make sandwiches but had some of the best AC every. I had a hard time leaving. McKee became a multi-hour stop to avoid the heat. I was *insistent* that I wanted a cold sandwich- no fried things- for lunch, so we posted up at the local Subway and later under the local park shelter for another mid-day siesta.

Mill Creek sun, and more sun. 

Our last leg had us more or less coasting down 89 toward S-Tree Recreational Area, this being the first time for an overnight camp.  Disturbingly we found a "road closed" sign at the road but rode up to investigate the real status. Patrick was suggesting all kinds of crazy plans that would add miles upon miles, and I was pretty close to just giving in leg in town back to Livingston. At the road washout  I explored a short bit to find that motorcycles had opened something passable through the landslide. We cleared the impediment and then slowly and steadily clear the S-Tree climb up to the campground, which was virtually if not entirely empty.

Patrick rolling along 89 in the shade. I'm only ahead because he let me. 

Wash-out in question

Never so thankful for a discarded oil container, which gave me trail crumbs to negotiate the cut-through. 

We had the run of choices and set up camp just about at the top of everything across from the privy. With no running water, part of our McKee stop was to water up so we would have enough for the evening and next morning. We set up tarps again and both of us had to resort to bug-netting techniques, PJ with a real bug net he hung under his tarp, and I wearing a bug headnet for much of the evening. A highlight of the evening and trip was watching the dance of the fireflies from under our tarps. Enchanting.

I named this dude Cletus. 



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