I’ve been riding a bike since I was seven years old. Well, not the whole time. I’ve been a mountain biker since sometime around 1996 when I bought a 1994 Cannondale M300 mountain bike from a friend. Those were the days when Cannondale proudly displayed the “Made in the U.S.A.” sticker on their frames. The bike was light, nimble, and fully rigid. No squish. I typically rode in a cotton t-shirt, surplus army fatigues or cargo pants, hiking boots with no toe clips, and I didn’t own a bike helmet until 2007.
My earliest mountain biking adventures took place on what would become the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway, a 90+ mile ORV/4WD route through my home county of Powell and the other four “Gorge counties” of Menifee, Wolfe, Lee, and Estill. The loop of the DBBB encircled my stomping grounds. It’s the boundary of my spiritual home.
I moved to Colorado in 2008 seeking a conventional career path. I accepted a cubicle sentence in exchange for financial stability for my family. But always my heart was out of doors. I stopped by the windows on my way to the restroom or to lunch to look longingly at the mountains that were out of reach for forty hours every week.
Into my daily commutes I incorporated mountain biking detours. I was a full time bike commuter. My wife and I sold our second car after moving to the Denver area, and I rode my bike everywhere, year round, in all kinds of weather and conditions. The shortest route from our home to my office included a singletrack trail over South Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado. I quickly fell in love with mountain biking on trails. Then I discovered the Leadville MTB Trail 100.
The first year I pitched my name in the lottery I got in. In 2012 I scratched at mile 87. It was heartbreaking, but that failure instilled a stronger resolve in me to prepare for the difficult race the next year. I managed to get into the 2013 Leadville 100 through a qualifier.
Then we moved back to Kentucky chasing a better career opportunity. I went back to those old roads I used to ride to train for Leadville and found them in rough shape. Some had been closed by land managers. Some were torn up by poor user practices. Always in the back of my mind was the idea that the Red River Gorge area would be a great place for a 100 mile mountain bike race. We have terrain and the opportunity.
Part of my job as a Planner in Colorado was the review and coordination of special event permits. I was involved in the planning of many large events such as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the Triple Bypass Cycling Tour, the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk for the Cure, and other walking, running, cycling, and festival type events. This background and my diverse background in guided rock climbing, cycling, hiking, and my unique career experiences in planning and GIS led me down a path that would logically end in a focus on trying to develop more and better tourism and recreation opportunities in the Red River Gorge region.
I knew I could plan and execute a 100 mile bike race back home. What thwarted me was finding a reasonable route that didn’t involve a lot of pavement. I struggled for years trying to work out a route that would be interesting, enjoyable, and logistically viable. All of my routes came up short in miles or functionality.
In 2016 I was at a low point in my cycling activity and fitness. I was looking for inspiration. I had stopped tracking my annual mileage. I wasn’t bike commuting. And my bike was breaking down and needed serious overhauling or replacement. The pedals had not been turning.
Then…epiphany. I heard about the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway opening. At over 90 miles in length and almost literally right out my front door the DBBB presented a worthy cycling challenge. Could I do it in a day? Initially I wasn’t considering it as a race course. But the route was well established, used public roads, and was marked with signage.
I went out on an early fall scouting ride along Spaas Creek Road and then over and down Pumpkin Hollow Road near the Powell/Menifee County line. It was good. Really good! I decided then that I had to do the entire DBBB in a day. That was my goal for 2017.
In some random conversation not long afterward a friend mentioned the possibility of a mountain bike race in the Gorge area and everything clicked. I finally had my route. The Red River Gorge MTB 100 was going to be a reality.
The terrain of the Red River Gorge is challenging. It’s located on the rugged edge of the Cumberland Plateau: the Pottsville Escarpment. Resistant sandstone caprock has eroded in jagged ridges with overhanging clifflines leaving behind deep and narrow valleys. Every climb and descent is steep; most are rocky and technical. The Red River Gorge saps the will and hollows out the legs and the heart of even the most determined cyclists.
I hope that by accepting the challenge of the Red River Gorge MTB 100 you’ll share in at least a little bit of my love of this place, and of mountain biking, and of the world under the sun. I also hope that in your journey to ride your bike one hundred miles on some of the toughest terrain Eastern Kentucky has to offer you’ll discover things about yourself, you’ll find strength that you did not know you had, and that you’ll leave this place a better person than when you arrived.
I’ll close with a quote by Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, from his book The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances:
“Running [and riding] is not about building strength and wearing it like a fashion statement. It’s about finding strength and measuring yourself every single day. I run long distances to feel good, not to look good.”
Find your strength. Feel good.