Sunday, July 17, 2016

Big South Fork Bikepack- Bandy Creek car camp edition

Patrick and I hemmed and hawed as to how to proceed with the trip. In the end we wanted to ride but decided to abandon the "bikepacking" thing. Instead we drove down to TN to the Bandy Creek campground, where I had read about some nice mtbiking. No, we wouldn't be bike touring, but we would be bike riding, which is a good compromise.

I don't know that we did enough each day to really differentiate. We based ourselves at the nice-maintained campground and took trail day rides to inspect some of the different portions than comprise the IMBA Epic. After our first day experience, we realized that we would fall short of  "epic" in 2016. Below are some pics with the strava routes of each day. Outside of riding we mostly sat around and acted like we were 12 again, including the intake of fast food in nearby Oneida. It wasn't a bikepacking tour, but it did involve bikes, bears, copperheads, and really pretty scenery.

His head, in fact, is the color of copper, resting just outside the Blue Heron campground bathhouse.

As we were at BHC, the "snake man" came and took him away. Only about 2 feet. To this city slicker, it looked like certain death.

Scene at our second location, Bandy Creek campground, also part of BSF.

Part of the Collier Ridge trail at Bandy Creek. The first half is old forest road, pretty sedate. At the west end the trail dives into a couple miles of very nice singletrack. 

Collier Ridge at the crossroads. I think most folks turn left and take the West Bandy Creek Trail. We didn't know much and took a right, for the CR return. It was even more sedate narrowed forest road rolling until a quick, fun, open downhill to finish the "lollipop". 

Scene returning from Collier Ridge. Pretty, but also pretty damn hot at that moment.

After our brief ride Thursday we got in the car to head to town and then for a little sightseeing on the way back. Fact is, we had time to kill. We stopped by the lovely East Rim Overlook and then down to the river at Leatherwood Ford, where the old bridge wasn't looking too hot.

We descended down to the start of the Gap Loop in the car the previous evening. It looked intense. Later study revealed favorable reviews of doable singletrack. Several mentioned the trail changing at the cemetery, and indeed there is a random grave deep in the woods along Gap Loop. I'm ever amazed  the remnants of the early European settlers in the area.

This lookout is the big draw for the Gap Loop. I'm utterly chicken of hights, so I'm sure my face is in pain, but the view of this valley here is outstanding.

Typical forested singletrack along the Gap Loop, which did a nice job mixing up cliffside views with non-technical trails farther inland.

Nighttime hammock setup with lots of glow cord. Too bad the glowcord doesn't help when trying to escape from the hammock in the middle of the night. I still think I like the night's sleep better in the hammock than on the ground- no sore shoulders or hips- but it's not an elegant exit, especially with the bug net.

Friday night we went up to the field near the campground, one which had a wide expanse of viewing for star-watching. The moon was a little too bright for really dark conditions, but it was really pleasant anyway. I used my cheap point-and-shoot for these, so no blue ribbons for night photography, but it was a nice space anyway.

Although fuzzy, we have a 3/4 moon, Saturn immediately below, Antares (Scorpius) below that, and a brilliant Mars to the right. Jupiter was much further to the west too. Awe.

One-minute exposure straight overhead. Little dots of distant light.

Exposure fun with moon.

However questionable the sleep, we awoke to a magical moment in the morning. I have perhaps 10 different pictures, all with the same glorious expression of life.

Our last ride included the John Muir trail, which I see as an extension of the Gap Loop. Both are moderate singletrack trails with not much technical terrain but with plenty of flow, and of course some amazing views to boot.

With a reasonable amount of skill this set of stairs is the only required dismount on the backcountry trails at Bandy Creek.

Story needed: So I come around a turn to see this pile of scat in the middle of the trail. It looked reasonably fresh, thought I am no scatologist and took no time to analyze it. I surmised, though, that a bear had indeed shit in the woods. We had spoken to a camp worker just previously that she and/or her boyfriend had recently seen 5 black bears in the area. I was pretty cavalier until I saw this evidence that a big, furry apex predator was along our trail. I made some noise and proceeded a little more gingerly.

Ten minutes later again around a turn I heard a rustling in the woods to the right. Looking down a valley at maybe 50 yds I saw him/her, a big, black, furball in the woods, a damn live bear!! I started hollering but also tried to grab my camera. As I hollered some more he/she took a look and went high speed up the hill and out of site. Again Patrick and high made some noise and took our time, since the bear's departure cut across our future trail course. We never saw it again, which is good. But I wished I had caught the fur ball on film first. 

The John Muir Trail ends up on a gravel climb working its way back towards the campground. I snapped this only because the rest of the route is heavily forested and it was strange to have a sudden clearing.

Bandy Creek is worth a weekend return, to sample the trails, and others again, while staying in a nicely maintained campground. It wasn't what was expected, but we did ride our bikes, and we did not get bitten by copperheads or attacked by bears. We had further plans for a Saturday night camp, but the weather was becoming oppressive and our time was done. Tour 2016 is in the record books.

Big South Fork 2016 The Departure

It's that time of year, the summer bike trip which Mr. Johnson and I have now done 4 different years. Years 1 and 2 centered on the areas around and to the south of Natural Bridge SP. Year 3 moved further south to take in what I'll call the S-Tree environs. The "plan" was to ride even further south in the Big South Fork area of very southern KY, an area I visited with DC and Michael many moons ago (2010), so I thought it would be fun to return, only this mixing some bikepacking with some singletracking too. Given the terrain, I though it best to dial back on the mileage, with rides in the 30ish range, albeit with the usual bushwacking and hike-a-biking.

We left Williamsburg and warmed up with a 1.5-mile climb along Becks Creek Rd. I say warmed up because right away it showed to be a hot day. Foreshadowing and all that.

We hit gravel on Waldroup Rd. at around mile 7 and enjoyed a steady descent into the Jellico Creek valley. We found the creek passable and had a snack on the banks, where many a can of beer had been drunk, I suspect. It was pretty deep in the boonies.

Next began a 5-mile stretch of not-road, listed as Newman-Campbell Rd., but really it was nothing more than a 4-wheeler track. As the pics below show, it presented us with innumerable mud holes and a few creek crossings too. The temps were edging 90F or more, and the oppressive heat and humidity took its (their?) toll. It was a tough section.

The conditions aside, the blackberry snack en route was a nice distraction. 

At the southern end of our mixed-terrain escapade we made a decision to change tack and salvage our day a bit. One in our party was burning many matches and not responding well in the heat. It was hot. We chose to take the main road, 92, towards our destination of Blue Heron Campground and try to enjoy ourselves a bit more, in addition to deal with the heat better. I'll be honest; I hated the next section, a grinding 6 miles in the sun with a bit of traffic. About half of the section included a 3-mile false flat with a kick kind of hill that I just am not good at grinding out. We eventually turned onto 2792, which looks to be the old 92, as the new one involves a huge rock cut which we could see as we turned. We ground up a 1-mile climb until I found some shade at the top next to a cemetery. I waited for Patrick, who was really struggling with the heat.

The entire scene was, I don't know, unusual or encouraging or something. While I lay there in the shade a gentleman came across the (his) field to check to see if I was alright. Once Patrick arrived his son came across the field and offered us two bottles of cold water, a very welcome reprieve from some hours of gross, hot water. At the point the trip turned. Patrick's body just couldn't seem to deal with the heat and humidity; his heart rate wouldn't go down. After some encouragement, he asked for a ride from the nice family back to the car while I decided to continue with the route. We would meet at camp. I assume this was the first tour Patrick has bailed on ever, much less within the first 20 miles. But the body can only do so much.

I plowed on and into Pine Knot where I bought a refreshing cold gatorade and a snack and had a nice rest on a bench in front of a middle school. I'm a teacher and all, you know. From there I made my way north towards the campground and the land got a little lumpier, especially the climb out of Roaring Paunch Creek. While I cleared that climb, it took what remaining reserves out of my legs and the final miles became a brief deathmarch into camp.

No coal. 

Mountain views are always nice.

I beat Patrick into camp, although he arrived shortly thereafter. This trip was the first to employ a full hammock set-up, with both bug net and tarp for potential showers. After checking out a brilliant Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn in the southern sky, we settled down early, considering what our next steps would be the next day now that the bikepack had turned into a car camp. Things happen.

FS Bridgestone RB-1-DONATED

*Donated to a young bike-hungry friend. Good luck!* And to acquaint yourself with the Cult of the RB-1: