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.


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