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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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!”

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We rode on.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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As well as some beautiful bucolic scenes.

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We tackled a quite challenging gravel climb.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Another suspension bridge was quite interesting.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ride around Lake Lemon

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

On Saturday, I rode around Lake Lemon with Dave. This was a paved-road ride, and Dave is more of a mountain biker, so this was a bit different. I rode my Long Haul Trucker, and he put slick tires on his full-suspension Cannondale Prophet mountain bike. The bike disparity certainly put him at a disadvantage, but he rode very well despite this.

I rode to Dave’s house before the ride (7.5 miles or so). It was rather foggy, and the roads were wet. It was a weird week; the roads were wet all week, even on days when it didn’t rain. It was just VERY humid. It was also a very warm day, in the 40s. It may have even topped out around 50. It felt luxurious to ride without a ton of layers of clothing.

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I got to Dave’s house, and we rolled out, right down a big hill to Lake Lemon. The water level was very low, and we saw a couple of people with a high-end video camera taping a group of riders. I wonder what that video was for. The lake looked especially beautiful, with the fog.

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After debating which way to do the loop, we started riding, counter-clockwise. This is the way I prefer to do the loop … but each direction has its challenges. Going counter-clockwise, there’s one VERY steep hill, but it’s over before long. Going the other way you suffer for a lot longer, even if it’s not as steep.

We rode across the causeway.

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After this, we rode around to the other side of the lake, and over some rolling hills. Then, up the very difficult hill described above.

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As we made our way along the north side of the lake, Dave suggested we make a trip over to the spillway. I’d never been to this part of Lake Lemon before; it was rather small, given the size of the lake. We saw a couple of Great Blue Herons and some geese, and had some nice views to other parts of the lake. I had ridden very close to this spot many times before but never knew it was there.

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We headed back toward the main road.

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Once there, we had a few more hills, and then we reached a flat road for a few miles. We enjoyed the easier cruising on flat ground, after all the hills.

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But, it wasn’t completely flat.

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We turned onto another road, where we had quite a bit of climbing to do. It was very steep toward the bottom, and got easier after that, but it sure was a lot of climbing. Along the way, I took a photo of my favorite sign in the area …

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NO TRESPASSING
VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT
SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.

Once we finished climbing that hill, it was just a few more miles back to Dave’s house, and then another 7.5 miles home. My total for the ride was about 37 miles.

This was a great ride. It was a route I’d done before, but not for a very long time. It was cool to do a road ride with Dave for a change, I love the gravel/mountain bike rides we usually do, but this was fun, too. And now I have a new spot to go to, the spillway.

It felt great to do some more road riding, I haven’t done enough of it recently.

In search of a pond

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

On Saturday, Dave and I went hiking at Yellowwood State Forest. He had spotted something on the satellite view in Google Earth that looked like an undiscovered pond, so we set out to see if we could find it.

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We started on a horse trail, and hiked up a hill. Once on the ridge, we bushwhacked down into a ravine. We saw a creek at the bottom, and worked our way down. Along the way, we saw bare spots where turkeys had made their beds.

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We didn’t find a pond, instead, we followed another, very muddy horse trail out to a nice view of the lake.

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We turned around and got on another trail … just because we didn’t find the pond didn’t mean we couldn’t hike more.

We climbed a bigger hill on the 10 O’Clock Line Trail, a 14-mile trail that ends in Brown County State Park. Once we reached the top of the hill, we followed some horse trails for a while on some narrow ridges.

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We looked through the trees and thought we spotted a pond. Dave got out his binoculars and it was pretty clear there was SOME kind of water down there. We couldn’t tell if it was a wide creek or a small pond, and the ravine was too steep to go down and check.

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We got to the bottom and followed the road back to the car, getting some more views of the lake.

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Later, we looked at my GPS and realized we had been pretty close to the water we spotted from the top of the ridge. We just turned the wrong way. Next time, we’ll be able to go there and see if there is, in fact, a pond.

It was a fun hike of about three miles, with a couple of good climbs and some great scenery. And it was great to see Dave, I hadn’t hung out with him since before Christmas since he was sick, and we’ve both been busy.

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