Origins of the Red River Gorge MTB 100

In 2010 I went and watched Race Across the Sky 2010 in the theater.  My father-in-law (Tomahawk) recommended that Mandy and I watch Ride the Divide after he saw it on the Documentary Channel.  We watched it, were hooked, and then shortly thereafter heard about the premier of the Leadville movie.  Before I even got home from the theater I had decided I wanted to do the Leadville 100.  Over the next two years as I schemed there was also the idea that maybe the Red River Gorge would be a good place to put on a hundred mile mountain bike race.

Mandy and I had never put on an event before.  Part of my job in Colorado was to review special event permits which included a lot of road rides (including the first two years of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge) and the Bailey HUNDO.  I knew what it took to put together a good event.

We had volunteered at Leadville, the Copper Triangle, the Denver Century and others, and both of us always watched and critiqued the events we participated in.  After we moved back to Kentucky in 2013 we volunteered for the Horse Capital Marathon, I proofed for the Mohican 100, and we began volunteering at trail running events and helping our friends Mike and Brandy Whisman with their Next Opportunity Events.  And in the meantime we rode the KY Century Challenge, the Mohican 100, and did a bunch of other cycling and running events, always keeping an eye on the logistics and the nuts and bolts of how events were being run and categorizing them.  Except for the Next Opportunity Events we always felt like we could do as good or better a job than the organizers.

After we moved back I ran in and then we got involved with the Rugged Red trail half marathon.  I’ve told the story elsewhere, but that fell through.  During the time we were helping Joe plan I mentioned more than once that we should also plan a hundred mile mountain bike race like the Leadville 100.  Joe (supposedly) reached out to Ken Chlouber and invited him to come visit us in Kentucky.  That never materialized.

However, the seed had been planted.  I didn’t have a route.  That had always been the problem.  I had been trying to come up with something for at least a couple of years going back to the time we still lived in Colorado.

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This original version was all over the map…literally
I had chosen the name we ended up with way back in 2012

 

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Before I knew anything about the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway
I was getting close to tracing it with this configuration

 

By 2014 we were kicking around the idea of putting on a road event.  We invited a member of a central Kentucky cycling club to discuss it with us, but we felt like the meeting was more about maintaining control over events in the area and not really in helping us succeed.  We were told that we—the local cyclists—weren’t welcome to put on a road event in October because it would compete and potentially interfere with a club ride they put on.  The club was made up of folks outside the Gorge geographic area.  We decided no one was going to tell us when we could plan an event in our own hometown, but didn’t want to burn any bridges. At the same time Cliff Cantrell had given me the signs left over from the Tour of the Red River Gorge race.  Those signs were a constant reminder of the unplanned race.

The dream to put on a one hundred mile mountain bike race on my home turf was always there in the background.  I would sit at my computer at work and map routes on Map My Ride, but nothing ever seemed to be a good enough route; too much pavement, too much work to make broken connections, too many sections that would not be consumable for a race audience.

When I rode I dreamed about some day in the future when it would be possible.  I started working toward getting new trails built…looking for opportunities to make connections, trying to work out and develop stretches of forgotten roads and old trails.

In late 2016 it all finally came together.  I had been riding sections of the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway with the personal goal of doing it all in a single day on my mountain bike.  I wasn’t sure of the exact mileage or route that fall, but when I saw a social media post with a map of the byway and the length listed as “90+ miles” it all clicked.

Over the next couple of months I kept riding little sections of it and trying to map out something reasonable.  There was a progression of course configurations before I finally settled on one that was fairly close to the final route.

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Back when I was still considering it as a virtual race
This is about 60% of the final course

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With this one I hadn’t yet decided to use the tunnel or
Walker Creek and was still looking at routing through Hollerwood

 

I had been working on new singletrack in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) owned by the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition.  I was also exploring possibilities within Hollerwood Park (motorized off-road).  After a couple of rides with friends through Hollerwood they talked me out of using that area.  It was simply too muddy, and there is too much off-road traffic and issues that I wouldn’t have time to solve before a fall race.  At that point we had decided on fall…late September…though I can’t remember if we had announced it yet or decided on an exact date.  But the prospect of trying to build new trail in two different locations (PMRP and Hollerwood) was daunting as I was already having trouble getting help in PMRP.  I decided to abandon the Hollerwood area and focus on one system of singletrack to maximize the distance for the race.

The original format of the race was going to be a virtual, underground, grassroots type race like those in the Colorado Endurance Series.  I had participated in the Cougar Slayer after my first Leadville attempt and I figured that format would work and that way I wasn’t on the hook to a bunch of mid-packer and elite racers who would expect too much.  There would be no overhead on my part and it could just be a way to get folks together to see what the Gorge area has to offer.  Initially my working title for the race was the Red River Gorge Epic.  That never really pinned it down for me.  It left too much unexplained.  But that didn’t matter when it was a virtual race.

Then I heard that Joe Bowen was planning on putting on a hundred mile mountain bike race in the Gorge.  Without really consulting Mandy I put it out there that we would put on the first ever one hundred mile mountain bike race in the Gorge.  I didn’t know at the time if that meant the underground race or a legit paid event.  It didn’t matter.  I had to get it out there.

Joe eventually told me he would bow out, and by then we had committed to a full blown paid event.  From early summer on the race loomed and there were so many unanswered problems that just wouldn’t get solve until early to mid-September.  I had my moments of doubt.  There were a couple of times I did the math and figure I could refund most of people’s money as we hadn’t spent much yet.  And then we bought the finisher belt buckles.  Then we ordered t-shirts.  Then registration was growing.

Folks kept asking if there was going to be a shorter version.  Out of the gate I responded with a resounding NO.  I tried to map a viable shorter option, but nothing materialized that would be efficient without including a lot of extra pavement.  I finally decided it would take a lot more resources to try and put on an event with multiple distances spread out over the region and that it wouldn’t be a good idea.  People still ask for a shorter distance.  I stick to my guns for now.

The course at that time started at 4 Guys RV Park in Nada, then it went through Nada Tunnel, turned west on North Fork Road until it picked up the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway (DBBB) on Cane Creek and followed it all the way until it hit KY 11 near Zoe.  There the course deviated into Bald Rock to access the singletrack before rejoining the DBBB at Caves Fork.  I was never happy with the section that went into Campton on a long stretch of busy paved road.  I finally decided to explore Walker Creek, which was an internal spur of the DBBB shown on the official maps.  Walker Creek turned out to be pretty amazing.  It’s an old railroad alignment through amazing terrain.  I decided to deviate onto it, picking up a few more miles of off-road and bypassing the bad section or paved road.

A couple of days later I had a meeting with Wolfe County Search and Rescue and one of the members asked how I was getting out of Walker Creek.  I told her, and she said “Oh no, you need to come on down Walker Creek and come out through our property.”  Mandy and I went the next weekend and met with Carol Schoolcraft and walked through her horse pasture and down a steep road through the woods to where it met with the old rail line over two miles further south from where I had originally intended to climb out for a total of six miles on the “rail trail” in Walker Creek.  We had our final course minus the singletrack which was still under construction.

For three years I had been working on trails in Flat Hollow and Bald Rock Fork.  I had a few successful trail days, but progress was slow and frustrating.  I built a lot of trail alone, clearing old logging and oil access roads and establishing treads to form a four mile loop around the valley.  With the help of a few dedicated friends we managed to eek out a couple of miles of actual trail, but I never could seem to get the other two miles on the north end finished.  Finally it came down to needing 0.2 mile of singletrack cut to make the crucial connection to pick up the north side for the race.  I schedule two trail days.  No one showed up for the first one and no one expressed any interest in the second one.  To say I was fed up is an understatement.  I was downright pissed, and burned out, and just tired of begging people to help me.

My vision for the race was to bring more mountain bikers into the area.  I figured if we could boost some interest maybe we could get more people to come help build trails.  I know it’s a long drive for a lot of people, but that’s absolutely no excuse.  The Red River Gorge became an international rock climbing destination because climbers drove from Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Columbus and beyond to develop and promote the routes that have become known throughout the world.  The excuses that it’s too far to come and build trails or come and ride don’t hold water.  And once the nearby Sugarcamp Mountain Trails stated gaining popularity and Cave Run began seeing a revival mountain bikers from Central Kentucky and points west have been flocking to those areas which are deeper into Eastern Kentucky than the Gorge area.  I began to take it personally.  A month before the race I decided I was done building trails.  Someone else could take up the torch.  Four days after the race I’m not sure yet if I’ve changed my mind on that.

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Final version of the race course without singletrack section

 

There was one final course consideration to make.  Mountain Springs Road on the Powell/Estill County line was a contentious segment of the DBBB.  Legal access had been tied up in court since soon after I began seriously planning the race.  I held off putting out a course map for a long time waiting to see what would happen.  Finally I put it out with a caveat to be careful riding it for training.  Two weeks before the race and a couple days after the judge determined the road should stay open for public use I rode Mountain Springs road from the 90 mile point on the race course.  I remembered why I enjoyed it the few times I had ridden in in 2013 and 2014.  But it was tough, technical, and it would come late in the day.

In the end I decided to drop Mountain Springs Road from the course because I didn’t want racers to be going in there late in the day into a remote and difficult to access section of the backcountry and risk getting seriously hurt and then pulling search and rescue into a night extraction.  I opted to drop it for safety reasons even though it meant trading those few miles for more pavement.  I still feel like it was a wise choice and will stick with it in future years unless conditions change favorably.

Anyway, the cutoff for registration was coming up and we still had a lot to do with only three weeks to go.  At the last minute registration spiked and we ended up with 102 signed up for the inaugural race.  Immediately after registration closed we had quite a few people ask if they could sign up late, so we decided we’d allow a Friday night late registration at packet pickup.  It looked like maybe we’d have another ten to twenty sign up Friday night.  We mighty actually have one hundred racers start on Saturday morning.

Most of our volunteer and aid station commitments came within the last month.  Almost all of the volunteers confirmed in the week leading up to the race.  In a way that was better for me because I have a feeling even if I had people committing six months earlier likely I would have had to be pinning down the details that last week again anyway.

With each new item checked off our to-do list in that week it was looking more and more like things were going to go extremely well.  By Thursday everything had kind of fallen into place.  On Friday evening I told someone “I’ve done everything I can do to make this a success; at this point its up to the racers and the volunteers to carry it home.”  Don’t get me wrong, Saturday was a lot of hard work, but the ball was rolling determinedly down the hill at that point.  Nothing was going to stop the race.

It went off relatively without a hitch.  We had a few small issues, but really nothing to write home about.  All the complaints and issues raised were things that didn’t affect many people or things we had thought of but were unable to incorporate into the event the first year.  In the end we were both incredibly happy about the outcome and so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that our hearts near burst with gratitude.

2017 was a test run.  We needed to see how the course was going to be received and I have heard almost unanimous positive reviews of it.  We needed to see if w could rally enough volunteers to make it a safe and enjoyable event and we pulled that off too.  Going forward there is no reasons for us not to pursue this event like a full-fledged mountain bike race with everything you would expect including sponsors and prize money.  And now that we have a successful inaugural event…

The race is a vehicle.  I want to see it improve the communities it passes through.  I want to see it bring sustainable tourism business into the area.  I want to see it support the construction of new purpose-built bike-optimized singletrack trails in the area.  I want the race and any other events we develop to raise and channel money directly into the hands of local young people and to be a conduit between the communities I love and the outside world in a positive way.  And the truth is I would love for this race and other events to be an opportunity for me to get out of office life and back into the outdoors more.  Whether that happens or not is secondary to my other visions and dreams for the race, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I hoped for.

The race is finally starting to wrap up, wind down, and demand less of my time.  I figure in a week or so everything will be organized and put away and folks will stop asking about drop bags and the kudos and comments will taper off.  That’s a good thing.  I feel really good about what we did.  And it was a big WE effort.  Maybe it was my vision to begin with, but I get the distinct feeling it’s not just my thing anymore.  A lot of people are invested in this now, and a lot of people are looking forward to coming back next year.  And I don’t mean just the racers.

There you have it, the whole story, or as much as I care to tell, of how the Red River Gorge MTB 100 came to be.  I’ve chronicled the personal struggles I went through during that time, but that part doesn’t need to go down with this more concise summary of this past year.  If you care to go back and read I won’t stop you, but it’s unnecessary to understand or enjoy riding your mountain bike in the Red River Gorge.

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The Race Director’s Dream: 2017 RRG MTB 100 in the Books

“It’s like we’re supposed to be doing this.”

That became our mantra from about Thursday on.  For six months or more Mandy and I had fretted over being able to pull off the first ever one hundred mile mountain bike race in the Red River Gorge area—for certain—and likely the first ever in Kentucky.

As the weekend and race day rocketed toward us things were falling into place like precision tooled components into a well-oiled machine.  Those months of uncertainty and worry had paid off a hundredfold.  Instead of my anxiety mounting, with each new development, each new confirmation text, each eager volunteer, each milestone of early registration, late sign-ups, and finally packet pickup passed it seemed more and more like we were going to pull it off.

Mandy and I got to this place because for the last decade we’ve participated and volunteered in numerous running and cycling events.  Also, in my previous job I was the planner that reviewed special events permits for a county of 500,000 people.  USA Pro Cycling Challenge?  I reviewed that permit in 2011 and 2012.  I’ve got the cred to pull something like this off, but the Red River Gorge MTB 100 was the first “from scratch” race Mandy and I had attempted.

Let me just say this…she can throw one heck of a party.  The after party, the organized packet pickups, the results and registration…all her.  She ran the admin and numbers side of the race like someone who has been doing it for a decade.  I was the logistics and volunteer coordinator, but truly we shared race director duties.  She was not my co-director.  We were both co-directors.

I grew up in the Red River Gorge.  And I’ve explored more than the normal weekly visitor to the area and honestly more than most natives.  And I have a knack for geospatial awareness.  My memory of the terrain, my extensive lifelong encyclopedic knowledge of the roads and backroads allowed me to put together a course that connects all of the best backcountry riding in the area with some amazing rural country roads.  No one could have come up with a better 100 mile mountain bike course in this area.  I’m owning that.  It’s my intellectual property.

Unfortunately, what this meant for me was there was no one else I could count on for coordination into some of the remote areas where we needed volunteers to make sure our racers didn’t race into the wrong county.  There were places that if someone had taken a wrong turn we’d still be looking for them.  I absolutely did not want that to happen.  I dropped a really fun, but tough and technical section of road two weeks before the race because it came at mile 90.  I decided we couldn’t have people hitting it that late in the race, tired and frazzled, and risk people getting deep into the woods late in the day and getting hurt or lost.  That would have put many out after dark and potentially put our emergency responders in dangerous and difficult situations.  And while I have complete trust in them, I didn’t want to ensure that we’d test their readiness and resolve.

Going into next year I know I have a team of volunteers who will be able to help me lay out the course and keep everyone rolling the in the right direction.  Having so many people I could trust out there gave me peace of mind.  They also were the heroes of the day, adapting and making sure all the racers stayed safe.

I can say we met all of our course goals.  The vast majority of racers loved the course. I was called a “sadistic bastard” a couple of times by people who also shook my hand and said they had a great time.  We met our after party goals.  The awards setup looked amazing.  The venue was stunning and perfect (when I get a little more time I’m going to add to this post a list of everyone who helped us pull it off—we did not do this on our own and owe our success to our community).

I told someone on Friday that at that point I had done everything I could to make the race a success.  From that point on it was on the volunteers and racers to make it happen.  And strangely, on Saturday, I felt like I had nothing to do at a couple of points.  Everything was moving like a well-oiled machine.

Volunteers….wow, we know good people.  Great people.  Our local friends who care nothing about mountain biking or bike racing came out and supported us far above and beyond anything we expected.  I’m not even going to try to list them by name because I absolutely do not want to forget and leave a single person out.  They all stepped up and helped us pull it off without a serious hitch at all.

As of Monday morning I’m aware of four people that had medical treatment.  No one was transported off the course by ambulance and the ones I spoke to were doing well and in good spirits.  There were no serious issues out on the course.  There were some mechanicals.  At least one person went off course early on.  But otherwise everything went according to plan.  The race was a success.  A dream come true.

I realize that every year won’t be this smooth (oh yes, we’re doing it again!) and I realize that there are probably issues that I’ll be made aware of over the next few days.  But when it’s all said and done the event and the experience far exceeded our expectations.

We had 88 folks start on Saturday morning in the fog.  An amazing 74 finished!  Brian Schworm of Morehead won with a blistering time of 5 hours and 55 minutes.  Our last racer—Winchester native and good friend of mine—Rob Lootens came in at a respectable and inspiring 12 hours and 12 minutes.  I asked a few people if the course was too easy because people were finishing so fast, but no one would concede that.  It was hard in its own unique way.  The pavement sections let people recover from the brutal and technical dirt climbing and it also allowed them to make up time and keep a high average pace.

This was our test run.  We made planning decisions based on that.  Next year will be different.  The course will be the same.  The venue will be the same.  The difference will be that we know we can do it, and we know we can do it better.

Thank you–and I know I speak for Mandy when I say: thank you ALL–anyone and everyone, who gave us moral support, who wanted to help or race and couldn’t make it (life happens and life is important), and thank you all who raced, who volunteered, who helped us with awards, food, signs, t-shirts, the venue, traffic control, promotion, behind the scenes support, and most especially for all of you who I approached quietly when I wanted to quit and you told me no, that I needed to do this.  You all bought into my vision and you wouldn’t let me quit on my dream.  I owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.

I picked up a guy long after the cutoff at Aid Station 5.  He was walking up the hill.  He had a smile on his face and pushing his bike.  I walked down to meet him.

“Hey man, this is the last hill,” I said with as much compassion as I could manage.  He took a couple of more steps and then stopped.  He realize what that meant.  He started pushing the bike again and there was a hitch in his voice.  His eyes were welling with tears.  He apologized.  I told him no.  “No, don’t apologize.  I’ve been right where you’re at now.”  I walked with him up to the jeep and loaded up his bike.  On the slow ride back as we paced Rob in the last few miles we talked and I got to hear the story of how he found out about the race and came up from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to do the race with his step-father.  And I heard the steel determination in his voice when he said he was coming back next year to finish.  That’s why I do this.  Those moments are powerful.  It was incredible to watch Brian Schworm come powering over the finish and look fresh an hour later (he ran four miles the next morning according to Strava!), but it’s the moments with the people in my part of the pack who are there to test themselves that inspire me to do what I do.

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I realized after the race that being a co-race director means you can’t quit.  You’re in it until the last person finishes.  You can’t give up at Aid Station 3.  You can’t even really push your bike up the hills.  You’ve got to be there every pedal stroke to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to find within themselves the strength to keep going.

Thank again to everyone who helped make this possible.  We can’t wait to do it with you again next year!

 

PART II

The Story I Told With A Race Course

After three days we’re still digging out from under the race.  Mandy got our living space mostly put back together on Tuesday.  I rounded up the last few loose items in the yard and threw them into the trailer this morning on my way to work so our guy could mow the yard today.  Our basement is a wreck with piles of signs, race debris, and the random collection of junk from our lives that was unorganized before all this chaos.  Tonight, I wade in to put things in order.

The Red River Gorge MTB 100 was a great success.  Next year is a go.  October 13, 2018 will be the date.  Same venue.  Basically the same course unless singletrack miracles happen.  Same folks.  Same friends.  Same racers and then some.  It’ll be grand again.  We’ve learned a lot and we’ll make sure to incorporate everything we learned into the race next year and into anything else we do.

I’m going to throw my name back into the Leadville lottery.  It might be stupid with our event coming up, but I think I can balance it.  The key will be just being healthy.  I’ll ride what I can and do my best to eat well and have good habits.  That’s the thing I never did right before.  If I don’t get in that’s okay.  I’ll pick a different race to throw myself up against.  Probably something shorter and closer to home.  Maybe I’ll try to improve my Mohican game.  But I think I want to do something different.  And no, I won’t be racing in the RRG MTB 100, lol.

I do intend to ride the course this year though.  I had fully intended to do it before the race, but I never got the opportunity.  Well, I’ll have it now.  I’m going to do it before next year’s race.  Probably solo.  Probably unsupported.  That’s just how I end up doing things.  Or, I’m certain, my lovely wife and the real Race Director will run SAG for me.  We’ll do it all quiet like.  No fanfare.  No timing.

Maybe that’s the only hundred mile race I’ll need to do…the one against myself on the course I came up with.

The course is autobiographical.  I’ve mentioned this to a few people, but I want to explain it.  My earliest memories in life include the Red River Gorge.  The first dream I can remember having was a nightmare about colors swirling in the muddy river, reds like blood and browns as I was used to seeing as my parents drove me around the county.  Nada Tunnel has existed in my awareness since I became aware.  And it was on Cane Creek where my child’s mind began to remember and process the world.  The race goes through the tunnel, up North Fork, and then onto Cane Creek past the trailer where I lived and the farm my family owned.  I remember playing while they stripped tobacco and cut soybeans.  I remember playing in the creek, climbing fences, and sledding in the big snow of ’77.

Then the race drops over into Menifee County by way of Pumpkin Hollow and then returns into the woods to drop into Spaas Creek.  Spaas Creek was the first place I mountain biked with intention; riding around in my surplus camo pants, hiking boots, cotton tee-shirt and no helmet.  From there it follows pavement through the Red River Gorge.  The Gorge has been my solace and refuge throughout my adult life.  And as a child my family spent a lot of time there hiking and canoeing, picnicking and going for drives.  The Gorge is my home.  I am native to this place.  I’m not at peace anywhere else.

From Sky Bridge Station the course takes KY 715 past the small community of Rogers before dropping into Walker Creek.  Walker Creek is a new discovery for me, but it is part of the old Kentucky Union Railway which I have been familiar with my entire life.  Railroad Street in Stanton follows the same line.  The tunnels at Natural Bridge and Torrent are part of that line.  Old buttresses I’ve seen from the car window across farm fields and while paddling the river were part of the KU line.  So discovering that I could ride my mountain bike for six miles on a fairly unspoiled section of that old railroad was exciting to me.  I had to include it on the course.  And in my opinion it’s the best part of the course and the section that makes it all worthwhile.

Then the course climbs onto Shoemaker Ridge, traverses Hell Creek, and then winds its way to Bald Rock Fork of Big Sinking Creek.  Bald Rock is part of the Big Sinking Oil Field and my maternal grandfather—“Papaw Lacy”—worked all over that area for Ashland Oil until he was too sick from cancer to keep working.  He told many stories of his exploits there, and in my adult years, after he was gone, I found myself continually drawn down into that part of northern Lee County where my mom grew up and where Papaw made a living to support his family.  As a rock climber I spent time in Bald Rock and exploring the greater area.  As a mountain biker I have always gravitated to Big Sinking Creek and the first time I rode with another person was to show my good friend Dave Lutes a four mile technical loop I had worked out.  Back then I rode a fully rigid 26” Cannondale M300.  I still have that bike, and I still ride that loop.

From Big Sinking (Fixer Road) the course climbs up to KY 1036 and passes through Leeco and Standing Rock.  My Lacy grandparents owned a store at Standing Rock and I have dim memories of the time I fell off a stool at the lunch counter there.  The course runs with the Sheltowee Trace for a mile or so on the pavement, and the Sheltowee is a bright line of light in my mind most of the time.  I want to see it developed into a more mountain bike friendly trail.  I was stoked with Josh Patton and friends thru-rode it a few months back.  Josh designed our race logo.  The threads are tangled in this story, I know.

From Standing Rock the course turns onto Barker Branch Road and eventually crosses what locals call “The Narrows” (generally pronounced ‘Nars’) which is not the Narrows at White’s Branch Arch a few miles away.  My mom tells stories of freaking out in a school bus crossing that narrow saddle of rock and sand.

The course turns onto the last dirt and gravel section into Stump Cave Branch.  Doc Townsend lives just a little further down the road—just out of sight of the turn—and he is the father of one of my best friends from high school. The first (and one of the only) time I rode a dirt bike I almost wrecked it turning around at that course intersection.

After crossing into Red’s Hollow and exiting onto the pavement at Mountain Chapel (where I have family buried) racers pick up Pilot Road.  I hate Pilot Road.  I’ve ridden Pilot Road after many miles of road and mountain biking myself; cursing every hill, bonking, wishing I could call for SAG but having no cell reception… Pilot Road represents ultimate suffering on the bike in my mind.  I’ve never ridden it fresh, and I’ve never enjoyed riding it.  So, it’s fitting that it comes after mile 90.  I know the darkness you feel in your soul out on those lonely roads.  I know it well.

And finally, somewhere in the mid-90s you hit the bottom of High Rock on the Rogers Chapel side.  Our cycling friends that live nearby call it “Ray’s Hill” because Ray lives at the bottom.  It’s not the toughest road climb in the area, but it’s tough enough.  High Rock is one of the highest points in the county and is the location of a long gone fire lookout tower.  Four roads intersect just beneath the cliffline around the massive promontory of this high country landmark.

From High Rock it’s seven miles of mostly downhill back to the finish.  By the time you reach the main road at the bottom of the Cow Creek descent you’ve ridden through my cycling history.

What I’ve described is mostly the highlights of the course.  Folks who know me know I like to tell stories, and there are hundreds more stories I could tell about the course along all parts of it.  This is not just a few lines on a map I pieced together and marked for people to follow.  The course is a tour through my psyche.  I may not be an elite mountain bike racer, but I’ve suffered on those roads.  I understand why that race should be appealing to people, and it was incredibly satisfying to have people come up afterward and compliment me on the course.  I worried a lot about how it would be received, and all of that worry is gone.

I have to say it again though, while I am the master of the course my incredible wife threw the rockin’ party back at the Barn.  We are a pretty good team.  It’s like we were meant to do this.

Four days later I’m still basking in the afterglow.  Putting on the first ever one hundred mile mountain bike race in Kentucky was fulfilling.  It was hard, and stressful, and time and time again I wanted to give up.  But it was worth it.

~ Chris

 

Chainring Dispatches: Bike and Tire Choices

 

As I sit here enjoying a fine spring evening on the veranda at the Red River Regional Bikeport (the carport of the old Chainring homestead) I can’t help but reflect on the great ride I had finished just a couple hours earlier proof testing the first third of the Red River Gorge MTB 100 course.

Now, I’ve ridden the entire route over the years, but never in sequence, and usually not in the configurations the course dictates.  That puts some pressure on yours truly to get out and ride as if I were racing to get a feel for and better plan the upcoming race.  Also, questions keep coming in, and I feel like I should offer the best answers and provide the best info for our racers as I can.  I’ll be offering up these Chainring Dispatches between now and race day to help you better plan and prepare for the race ahead.  I’m not now nor have I ever been a pro mountain bike racer, but I can offer perspective insight from a mid-packer who might have been a little obsessed with endurance racing there for a while.

Without further ado I will attempt to tackle tires:

Some folks have asked what kind of bike and what kind of tires are going to work best in the race.  There is a high pavement to dirt ratio.  We utilize the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway and the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway to connect the best adventure gravel and dirt in the region.  Personally I’m not picky about my tires.  I tend to narrow it down as to what tire works best where I ride most and then just go with that until I wear them out and then replace with the same tire.  I play around with pressure, but otherwise I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to tire sizes and tread patterns.

But knowing the nature of this course I realize tire choice is going to be crucial for optimum performance at the Red River Gorge 100.  In general on my old 26er I ran 2.4 Specialized Controls.  Tubeless of course.  But the knobby 2.4s aren’t conducive to longer stretches of pavement even at high PSI.  My recommendation if you’re going to ride a mountain bike for the race would be something more like a 2.1 or 2.2 Kenda Small Block 8 (that’s what I ran before and what I raced my first two Leadville 100s on).

I don’t ride a gravel bike so I can’t speak to narrower tire choices and maybe some of you with more experience in that realm can chime in.  But the conclusion I came to is that if you choose to ride a mountain bike with fatter tires you’re going to suffer on the longer paved sections and if you choose to ride a gravel or cross bike you’re going to suffer on the gnarlier loose and dirt sections.  While there is more pavement that dirt on the course likely the time spent in each will balance out and then the choice becomes more important.

Basically, it’s going to come down to what you’re most comfortable with.  I suspect for most people a hard tail or fully rigid mountain bike with skinnier tires is going to be the best bet.  On the paved sections you’ll be able to really make up time if you are set up to maximize your output.  Tires with lower rolling resistance and a 2x gearing will be really helpful.  Having said all that rest assured I’ll be suffering right along with you over the coming year on my plus sized tires and 1×11 gearing as I ride around the course to report back to you all.

For the next Dispatch I’ll talk in depth about the course profile and what type of climbing you’ll need to train for.

Partners Update

We have secured a venue for the race! 4 Guys RV Park will be our start/finish/awards area and our base of operations on race day. 4 Guys are locals. We’ve known them for a long time and are proud to call them our first official partner of the race.

You can start booking with them now for race weekend. They offer (obviously) RV camping with full hookups and they also provide primitive tent camping with access to a bathhouse, cabin rentals, playground, pool, wi-fi, and a great atmosphere! If you stay with 4 Guys you will be on site for the start and finish and after-race festivities. They are also centrally located to the Gorge area if you want to spend an extra day or two pre-riding the course, hiking, or just checking things out.

Another important and long standing partner is Red River Outdoors. Craig and Wendy Bentley provide an array of services from lodging, to guided rock climbing, to yoga and acupuncture with Natural Bridge Acupuncture. They have cabins that are a little more removed from the hustle and bustle of Slade and the Gorge. Again, they are centrally located and offer a lot of different services and activities while you’re not out racing around the Gorge. They’re strongly supportive of our efforts to bring mountain biking to the area so please consider staying with them and letting them provide a really great experience while you’re in the area.

And while we don’t have an official business partnership with Next Opportunity Events I would encourage you to support them if you are looking to participate in great trail running races in the Cave Run/Morehead and Red River Gorge area. This year they’re offering four races of varying distances: The Big Turtle 50 Miler, the Hot, Hot Hundred, the Reaper 30k, and the Rough Trail Ultramarathon.

Finally, if you’re interested in, supportive of, or have been dreaming mountain biking would come to the RRG for as long as I have (a long time) then please follow the Cave Run – Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance on Facebook and watch for the official roll out in the near future. The Alliance needs all the support we can get!

More updates will come as we bring on new partners and sponsors. The course is basically finalized but at this time conditions are absolutely wretched. We’ve been getting moderate but almost daily rain. Some of the normally drivable and ridable roads are just rivers of mud with the consistency of peanut butter. As conditions improve we’ll update and start sharing the course to a wider audience.

 

Not Much of an Update…

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While the following post won’t offer you much new information please be assured that we’re working toward putting on a great race for you!

We’ve secured a venue for the packet pickup, start/finish, and awards. We’re really excited about this and should have an announcement shortly on that.

I’ll put out a listing for area lodging options this week. We’re firm on the date of September 30, 2017 and our venue is going to be near Nada Tunnel, so the Slade area will be a good place to look for lodging in the interim. We’re trying to keep all of our operations in a condensed area to facilitate better communication and coordination during the race.

Also we want all of our racers, family/crews, and volunteers to have a good time and not have to run all over the place trying to figure out where they need to be or find each other.

The course is muddy and sloppy right now. We’ve been getting the typical winter rains and are deep into the Season of Mud here in the Gorge. I’ll keep you updated on the course and conditions and hopefully there’ll be some good riding weather before spring for people to start getting out and scouting the course.

I’ll also be announcing some upcoming trail days for the singletrack in Bald Rock. I was there this past weekend and the trails are in great shape. With the recent winds there are a lot of small branches and its possible bigger things (like whole trees) can still come down. This combination of wet ground and strong winds tends to topple even healthy trees.

If you’re in Bald Rock and come across something that needs to be cut email me at ascentionist@yahoo.com . I’m also going to try to mark the course through Bald Rock this winter so you can familiarize yourself with the configuration. It won’t be intuitive, but it will be well marked.

Chris

Auld Lang Syne 2016

Here at RRG MTB 100 HQ we’re probably going to go radio silent through the holidays.  Rest assured that we’re still working diligently to put on a quality event and provide an excellent experience for all of you crazy mountain bikers out there.  I already have plans to ride some of the course between Christmas and New Year’s and my nine-year old daughter has asked if we can do some trail work over the break.  How can I say no?  We’ll be turning dirt to make your course amazing.

While we’re incommunicado I want to put something out for you to chew on.  This first year we will likely have to limit the field.  Until we’ve had a shakedown run of this race I don’t want to open it up to unlimited numbers of people.  We might get overwhelmed and I want to put on a quality event.  I want my racers to be safe, have a great time, and have a desire to return.   I promise after the first year we’ll broaden the field each year at a reasonable rate.  My inclination is that instead of a lottery or some other kind of jiggery-pokery I will announce the opening of registration well in advance along with how many we’re going to cap the race at. Once registration opens it will be first come first serve.  But I promise there will be no surprises or other trickery.  I’ll make sure everyone has a fair chance at getting in.  I’ll be working on registration early in 2017 and want to open it up as soon as possible so folks can be planning their season.

The other thing I want to throw out is the idea of a shorter distance option.  Again, because we’re starting a new race and this course and area are untested I am not inclined to include a shorter version this year.  Due to the 100 mile configuration and the lay of the land adding a shorter version is going to essentially be like putting on two races in the same day.  I know this is disheartening for those who don’t think they’ll have enough time to train for a hundred mile mountain bike race, and I came empathize, but to put on a really great race I don’t want to risk over-committing and causing the entire event to suffer.

That said, I think I have an option and I’ll be offering more details after the first of the year.  It’ll be a little unique and a lot of fun.  Stayed tuned!

With all that said all I need to do now is wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah, Super Kwanza, and good riding!

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Ready?

 

Is the Red River Gorge ready for a one hundred mile mountain bike race?  A lot of pieces have been moving into place.  I think now more than ever the area is ready.

The winds are blowing more favorably for mountain biking.  We have a new District Ranger in the Cumberland District of the Daniel Boone National Forest.  He and his wife mountain bike.  The Forest Service has hired a full time trails specialist for the DBNF.  The Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition is supportive and open to mountain biking development on their land in Lee County.  Hollerwod Park is on the verge of opening in the four main Gorge counties.  And finally, the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway is open and there is strong support for it to be a multiuse off road adventure route.

We are finally getting a local advocacy group—the Cave Run – Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance.  Statewide there is a push for more trails and more outdoor adventure events.  Other nearby areas are getting a lot of attention like the Sugarcamp Mountain Trails and the Dawkins Line Rail Trail in Prestonsburg, the resurgence of mountain biking in the Morehead/Cave Run area, and new developments around London and Somerset.  Eastern Kentucky is ripe for a mountain biking renaissance.

In the Gorge area we have some great local elected officials who are supportive of outdoor recreation.  We have active tourism folks who are working hard to promote new events and whatever attractions we already have.  And there is finally a small but determine local community of outdoor enthusiasts that just love the Gorge and the landscape around it.

There is a buzz about this race.  People come to me and ask if I’ve heard about it.  Word is getting back to Kentucky from other states that people are interested and looking forward to this.  I have people demanding more information and I am doing my darnedest to get things in order to a point where I can share more details.

And why the Red?  What makes it special from a long distance mountain biking standpoint?  I’ve raced my mountain bike in three states.  Most of my experience comes from the big mountains of Colorado, but I’ve also raced around some hills in Ohio, and I’ve ridden shorter events in Kentucky.  While the Rocky Mountains are grand on a scale unlike anything in the east, and the unique challenges I’ve faced in the shallow hollows and farmland of Ohio have been memorable, the Red River Gorge region of Eastern Kentucky offers a rugged and unforgiving experience.  The climbs are short but gut-wrenchingly steep. They come at you relentlessly.  Our course will pass under towering cliffs, wind through the shadows of majestic trees, and pass over clear and fast moving streams.  You might see natural sandstone arches.  You’ll be challenged and tested over and over as you race for the finish.  And there will be a unique challenge guarding the finish line of this race.  It will be epic.  It will be unforgettable.

The Red River Gorge is known among rock climbers as a place to test your endurance.  The cliffs are overhanging and force climbers to train for anaerobic endurance. The Red River Gorge is going to become known by mountain bikers as an endurance mecca as well.  Your legs will fail.  Your lungs will burn.  Your heart will pound.  You will suffer long.

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Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?

The date is September 30, 2017. The distance will be one hundred miles. The mode of conveyance will be your mountain bike. The place?

 

Red River Gorge, Kentucky

 

That’s right, long distance mountain biking is coming to Kentucky, and it’s landing in the Gorge this year.

The first questions you might ask: is there really that many miles of trails in the Red River Gorge? The answer is ‘no.’ There is very little purpose-built bike-optimized legal singletrack in the Gorge region. What we have are lots of roughed up and sometimes forgotten dirt and gravel roads. Many are more technical than rocky singletrack. Many are downright tougher than whatever you’ve been used to riding.

There is a little bit of singletrack. Next year there will be more. The year after even more. A group of us have recently formed the Cave Run – Red River Gorge Mountain Bike Alliance (CRRRGMBA) and we’re applying for status as an IMBA chapter. We have trail projects being built. We have more projects being planned. For now we’re relying on the existing network of dirt and gravel roads, the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway, and some of the new trails we’ve built. In the months between now and the race there will be a couple or three more miles of trails built. Mountain biking IS coming to the Gorge. No, it’s here. It’s here to stay.

Whatever money we raise for the race will be rolled back into the local efforts to expand mountain biking. So your participation and your support will help grow the infrastructure and community of mountain bikers in the region. The energy you expend and the dollars you spend will help to create more mountain biking opportunities in one of Kentucky’s iconic outdoor destinations.

The potential for new trails in this area is unbelievable. There is no reason we can’t have great trails in the Red River Gorge area. Nothing is preventing it but the will to act.

Mark your calendars. If you don’t want to race consider volunteering. If you can’t make race day consider helping us out on trail days. If you can’t make trail days please consider contributing to CRRRGMBA.

No matter what…this is going to be EPIC and unforgettable.

So why should you race the RRG MTB 100?  Only you can answer that question.  Only you can decide if you’re up to the challenge.

A Little Bit About Me…

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.

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Finding a little redemption in the mountains after DNFing at Leadville in 2012.

 

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.

~ Chris