Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Big South Fork: Part 1 (Saturday)

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Last weekend, Tim,  David and I went down to Big South Fork National Recreation Area for a camping trip, and two epic days of mixed-terrain riding in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee.

Note: this is Part 1. Read Part 2 here. Also, Tim’s Part 1 is here. David has a writeup here.

I had never been down to this area before; I found it beautiful, rugged, and extremely hilly. We rode 54 miles Saturday and 60 on Sunday, but we underestimated how difficult it would be. Between the rough gravel and the wild changes in elevation, we ended up riding 8 hours or more each day.

Saturday started early. I had driven down to Louisville Friday night and stayed at David’s house. Tim arrived around 6am Saturday, with a box of donuts. We loaded up on coffee, put our gear and bikes in/on Tim’s car, and made the 4-hour trip down to Big South Fork, eating donuts along the way. A glorious breakfast. Once we arrived, we found a campsite in the remote Great Meadow campground and got ready to ride. Here is our route from Saturday:

Our ride began on the road to the campground. Since the campground was at the end of a long, flat gravel road following a creek, we had a beautiful, easy warmup/cooldown on this road for each of our rides.




After our warmup, we found ourselves on a paved road with a big, long climb. This first climb of the ride actually turned out to be the longest, and probably had the most elevation gain of any climb we did. But that is not to say that it would be the hardest. Far from it. This hill was paved and mostly not too steep, unlike some of the others.

We started to get a sense of the scenery. We were pleased to see more fall colors than we expected, big hills, and a lot of interesting rock bluffs.


Here is Tim climbing. You can see David in the background, coming around a switchback.


This climb reminded me a bit of my favorite climb out of the valley in Pennsylvania. Long, but fairly gradual. In a low gear you spin your way slowly up the hill. The PA climb was bigger, but this had a similar feeling.

There’s a nice view of distant hills, behind David.


We turned onto Skullbone Tower Road, and almost immediately saw this bicycle perched on a roof.


Despite its morbid name, Skullbone Tower Road was actually quite pleasant, and not overly difficult. It was a meandering ridgetop road with some minor fluctuations in elevation, some fun twists, a good flow, and some fantastic views.







After a brief stint on a very quiet state highway, we turned onto Jones Hollow Road for our first major downhill of the weekend, and it was spectacular. It was a paved road, so we were able to go quiet fast with good traction. The road descended some 500 feet over the course of nearly two miles, with numerous twists and turns along the way, all the while skirting rock cliffs and offering some wonderful views. I had a stupid grin plastered on my face the whole way down. I couldn’t be bothered to attempt to take photos … the riding was just too good!

I did stop at this intersection. I would continue riding downhill in the left fork. Later, we would return via the gravel road on the right.


Once in the valley, we would have some relatively flat riding on smooth pavement for a while. The scenery just kept getting better.




At one point we passed a horse-drawn wagon. The folks in it were friendly and enthusiastic, and quite curious about what we were doing.  One girl charmingly exclaimed in a sweet southern belle voice, “We never see no bikes!”



We rode on.


Eventually we turned down a steep gravel hill, on a road we weren’t sure would go through. This shot is looking back up at the road we came down.


We were all amazed by this suspension pedestrian bridge over the creek.


We could also see that the road did in fact go through … straight through a rather wide creek! It was shallow, however, and passable.


But we took this opportunity to explore a bit and have a snack. David climbed up on the bridge. I didn’t. I sort of wish I had, it was quite cool.


Tim and I rode through the creek. David decided to take his shoes off. This SUV came through and had a bit of trouble getting through the creek — but he made it.


Here’s Tim, having already crossed the creek. If you view it larger, in the background you can see the bridge, and David preparing to ride across.


David rode across barefoot. Apparently the pedals hurt his feet. Ouch!


We had quite a gravel climb up from the creek (~400 feet), then some easier, paved riding.



This easier section was enjoyable because it afforded us more opportunity to pay attention to the scenery.


We got to see quite a few more interesting rock cliffs and bluffs and other formations.






As well as some beautiful bucolic scenes.


We tackled a quite challenging gravel climb.




Soon we found ourselves on a ridge with some wonderful views of some fields and hills, and had some really fun, flowing gravel riding on the incredible Freedom Road. But not before getting a photo of our three Long Haul Truckers first. Yes! We each rode a LHT. It was a great bicycle for this ride.








Soon the road entered the woods and took us down a hill.


We rode past a church … there were tons of these little Baptist churches in random places, and they all looked nearly identical. White, mostly with green roofs. This one had a white roof I guess, so not exactly identical to the others, but it’s still the same basic design.


We reached a creek — the same creek we had crossed before. Now we had to cross it again.


Another suspension bridge was quite interesting.



A man was sitting by his pickup truck down by the creek. We never were able to figure out what the heck he was doing there. He was a little creepy …  a bit of a Deliverance moment. We needed water but with the old guy creeping me out, I didn’t think to filter any from the stream. This creek crossing was rockier, slipperier, and harder than the first one.


After the creek is where an absolutely outrageous climb began. Nearly two miles and 500 feet of elevation gain, all on a very rough, rocky, loose gravel road. Some sections were so steep that our tires could not get purchase on the gravel and they spun out beneath us as we attempted to climb. This was the toughest climb of the day for me. Being basically out of water, relentless climbing in the heat, on basically a mountain biking surface, I was at a low point. I stopped a few times to catch my breath on the way up.




To make matters worse, once we got to the top, we had some more major ups and downs. These were fun but each time we would start to lose that elevation we worked so hard to gain, it was a little disconcerting. We also saw several 4-wheelers along this section, whose vehicles kicked up untold amounts of dust. More interesting rock formations presented themselves.



Somewhere along here, on a steep loose gravel downhill, I braked too hard and I felt my front wheel wash out from under me. I managed to do a leaping dismount and land on my feet! I’ve only been able to pull off that maneuver a couple of times … previously when mountain biking.

The riding was brutal, but at least the scenery was good.



Eventually we made our way back to Jones Hollow Road. What was a blistering downhill before was a very slow climb now. I took advantage of the opportunity to get better views of the rock cliffs.



We reached KY 92 again and spent a few minutes on that, with some more good views. I missed most of the photo ops here though. By this point, we were in dire need of water.





Finally, we found a fire department and got water from their hose. We had a snack while we were at it and tried to rehydrate.


When we got rolling again we enjoyed another incredible paved descent. This one had great flow, and it was absolutely exhilarating!


We turned onto Wolf Creek Road which had a very tough climb. As we were climbing several dogs gave chase and their owner yelled something like “I’ll let you kill them for $20! Or, you can just take them!” I guess he didn’t much care for his dogs.


Here are some scenes from the climb. It was long and brutal, but I was feeling better after getting some water. I felt surprisingly decent at this point. The sky was clouding up which to me was quite welcome. The sun had been so bright and hot, earlier.





After what seemed like forever, we reached the top and turned onto Rattlesnake Ridge.


This road had some mild rolling hills and I was feeling pretty good. By this time Tim was cooked. I’m not sure how David was feeling at this point. I enjoyed the gently meandering road and even the climbs a bit. I guess I got a second wind after we got more water. A few nice views along the way didn’t hurt, either.






Next we got to ride back down the paved climb from the start of the day, and it was a hoot! A paved road with no traffic and lots of twists and turns had me leaning into the turns and really having a blast. I guess this must’ve been the third absolutely blissful paved descent of the day … and I sure felt we had earned it!

Once at the bottom of the hill, the road turned to gravel and we were on the flat 6-mile road back to our campsite. It was a pleasant way to wind down the ride, though at times it felt like a very long stretch of road, because we were tired and it was nearly dark. Still, it was lovely.






It was an astoundingly great day on the bike. We were all tired when we got back to our campsite. We set up camp, made dinner and goofed around for a couple of hours, before crashing. What a day!

Note: this is Part 1. Read Part 2 here.

4 Responses to “Big South Fork: Part 1 (Saturday)”

  1. Scott Loveless Says:

    Do I spy 3 Truckers? Looks like a grand time.

  2. Chris Says:

    Beautiful. Three long haul trucker compadres sharing colorful autumn countryside. What could be better?

    Well, maybe leaving the creepy guy out.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    I’m so jealous of the beautiful part of the world that you get to ride in. But, it’s nice you share the great photos with us! 🙂

  4. Ear to the Breeze » Blog Archive » 2010 Retrospective Says:

    […] the best two rides of the year were the two days of riding in Big South Fork with Tim and David. (Part 1 | Part […]

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