THREE WEEKS AGO today, Andy and Andy, and I woke up in a train tunnel. We had laid our sleeping pads and bags straight on the ground. It was dry and warm in the tunnel when we had made camp, but now there was a breeze and the temperate was below freezing.
Shortly after waking up, we quickly came to a consensus: get out of the tunnel. We picked up all of the things we had strewn about to air out/dry, then headed for the light. As soon as we got out of the tunnel, the breeze became imperceptible, and better yet…SUN! It was the first time on the trip we’d felt its warm rays. Good thing too, cause the rock was freezing cold and we were hoping it would warm up quickly.
Burr had been nursing a slow leak for the last few days, but since it only needed to be pumped once or twice a day, he had waited to fix it. He threw a new tube in the tire while Chasty and I packed our things. The energy was positive and we were excited!
Our goal was to climb one classic route in each of the four gorges. Since I am a novice climber, the guys chose routes we’d all be able to complete, even if that meant they’d have to pull me up. According to them though, I was in a small percentage of climbers that would have even climbed the first route in the wet. I didn’t know the difference, but it made me feel more confident. Our route for the day, “Fred Sauceman”, was the trad 5.7 single pitch. The guys assured me this one would feel easy after “The Daddy”.
They were right. The climb was short. And fun. I mean, there were icicles and the rock was cold. But that stuff doesn’t really matter. I should add that I’d never get up these climbs if it weren’t for the guidance of my comrades. Chasty was full of tips about finding great footing and where to balance my weight. Burr generally stayed quieter, but when he had something to say about the climb it was concise and smart, and usually meant getting past a problem rather than feeling as if I was about to fall off the wall!
We got on our bikes a bit after noon. We’d just try to get as far as we could. Day after day we had missed our 100 mile daily goal, and although we hadn’t figured out our new plan, we knew we should just enjoy where we were instead of stressing about what we couldn’t control.
I remember the day feeling so chill. The roads were flat, and we were in the sun.
Right up until we came to a No Trespassing sign that threatened 24 hour surveillance. We had run straight into a coal mine. Chasty pulled up the route. Yup, this was the only way.
Before the fence, there was a little security building. I started thinking we could just let the guard know and maybe they’d be okay with us riding through. But as I approached, I could see clearly that there was noone inside. Actually, there was nothing inside either. This place was abandoned! Back to chillin’!
We spent a little too long playing on the equipment and taking pictures. Can you blame us?!
As the sun went down, the road pointed up. We climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Burr was the first one off his bike, then Chasty. The grades were not made for cars. And they definitely weren’t bike friendly when the bikes weighed more than 60 pounds each! From bottom to top, we climbed over 1700’, with the pitch often ascending into the teens. It was dumb. But the light was incredible, we were dry (sweating), and not even the hardest climb of the trip could take the joy from our hearts.
After the summit, we were in the dark. Not only were we on the shadowed north side of the pass, but the sun had gone down and it had snowed the day before. Normally this would be considered fun. Never mind…it still was!
When the sun disappeared, the conditions quickly transitioned to treacherous. Although it had been warm all day, the temperature was now at freezing point. The snow and ice patches started to freeze. The road hadn’t been maintained in years, and it was seriously bone jarring due to the massive rocks and ruts that had washed out. Additionally, there were many sections where streams had formed out of the eroded roadway, so our feet quickly got soaked. I’m not normally a brake-heavy rider, but after white knuckling that descent in the cold, my hands hurt.
As soon as we hit pavement again, we were into this little town called Eolia, KY. It was our first town after crossing the boarder into Kentucky, and we weren’t getting a great impression. We just wanted food. But there wasn’t any. We stopped into the only store that looked open, and upon walking in, we were asked if one of us would loan the owner a cell phone. What?! Chasty is a really good dude, and pulled his out right away. After the guy was done using it, he started telling stories and generally just talking about nothing. Burr and I were able to sneak away, but Chasty had been caught. After 10 minutes or so he finally got away only to observe the obvious: “That guy seemed really lonely.” Out there, I’m not sure if there was an option other than solitude. Okay, we were probably all just hangry.https://www.strava.com/activities/2000794447/embed/21c029d0c7d4da0bae858164400d390898cd87a3
We had one more pass until a place that would have food. It was paved, moon was bright, and we’d be okay.
Burr’s achilles tendon was giving him a hard time, and wanted to cruise easy. I was in a go mode, so I climbed it pretty hard. It just felt so good to make my lungs burn and feel the cold and dry air move past my face. I went over the top, and descended the other side into town. At the bottom, as I waited, I found a place for us to eat.
The bar and grill picked looked upscale compared to our past dining experiences. At least it did before we took off our shoes, socks, jackets, and other layer to dry them on and around the fire place! Incredibly, we didn’t get weird looks. Instead, multiple people came up to us inquiring about our trip, in awe and full of praise. One gentleman and his wife, after listening to our story about sleeping in a retired train tunnel, gave us detailed directions to a barn they said would be a great place to stay the night. The owners of the house and barn had put it up for sale, then moved out of town.
I called home to tell Hannah our plan. She was worried. Really worried. She hadn’t met the couple that had told us about the barn, so it seemed similar to the plot of a horror movie.
We pull all of our fire warmed and dried clothes back on, mentally preparing for the cold temperatures that were waiting outside. It wasn’t far now and we’d be able to crawl into our nice, warm sleeping bags. I’d been telling the guys I wanted to sleep on a pile of hay all week. “Would there be hay in this barn? What kind of barn doesn’t have hay?” And other similar thoughts repeated though my mind.
Alas, a few minutes down the road and there it was: an unlit house, big red barn, and most importantly a for sale sign!
The hay in my mind was in reality wood boards and dust, but we weren’t going a single pedal stroke further. This was the bivy of our dreams!
All words and images ©Adam Koble