In Mid June a group of 14 met in Grayson Kentucky for my 19th year of remote road rides in the mid west. Riders from MI, IN, KY and one from OR returned for a dose of back country riding on the most remote paved roads I can find. Pitfalls for this year were services along the way. Lodging was not an issue however getting lunch daily became a challenge.
*Day 1 Grayson KY to Louisa KY* We had intended to eat at Paw Paw's near Willard run by locals however, a followup call earlier in the week found that the locals tired of the effort and were only open on the weekends. Staff at the hotel in Grayson recommended Weavers Market / Bakery run by a mennonite group.
This turned out to be great allowing us to purchase deli sandwiches and wonderful homemade fig bars for a picnic along the route.
Speaking of the route most attending the ride have dumbed down after a few years of attending and aren't interested in map reading, que sheets or GPX tracks. They return for some of the best road riding around; with narrow paved roads, very minimal traffic, and scenery that can knock your socks off. So for me it's a piece of cake after wintertime research and a GPS. This year started off with a little operator error in that I had not turned off the auto-reroute on the GPS. We had taken a diversion from the planned route to the bakery and the GPS then rerouted us on the shortest route to Louisa. All were cruising along while I was scratching my head thinking "why are we on KY 1 so long". Stopping the group a few miles further I fessed up that the leader had messed up and we were now heading out on uncharted roads to get back on the route. All were fine with maybe a little concern from two new members. The rest of the first day went well with a stop for our deli sandwich at a beautiful family cemetery along the way. A couple of dogs joined us first then Harvey stopped over to see what was up. He lived behind the cemetery and took care of the family resting place. Harvey told us of his seven brothers only two remained. I asked him if he wanted a beer which got a quick "sure" and a trip to the cooler. He looked among the darker beers scratching his head then picked out a Sam Adams and smiled.
We traveled on in the back country and interesting road names arriving at the Louisa Best Western with 60 miles or so and ready for some cold brew. Dinner at a local Italian restaurant.
*Day 2 Louisa KY to Chief Logan SP WV* The group started out in Louisa KY along the Tug Fork River then across the river into West Virginia.
Most river crossings are on highways but the chance to get on Tug River Rd came quickly. A narrow paved road along the railroad and river then on to Salt Petre Rd
and finally Mill Creek Rd all of which were true backcountry. A quick stop in Dunlow due to threatening skys and a brief conversarion with local James.
Dunlow station and we're on the railroad bed!He talked of his mother catching the train there when she was a child. James talked about the book "Last Train to Dunlow" a definitive history of Wayne County, West Virginia during the turbulent time following the Civil War and through the coming of the N & W Railroad. Includes history of the CCC Camps in Wayne County, history of the land speculators, train wrecks and collisions. After leaving James at the Dunlow Station, we stopped for sandwiches at Copley's Deli South of Missouri Branch then backtracked to 12 Pole Rd which is a paved abandoned railroad bed, now a road.
12 Pole Rd
*Day 3 Chief Logan SP WV to Matewan WV* The day started out with a great downhill from the lodge only to head back up, cross the highway and back down into the back country. The route was again beautiful and remote following along the creek however, too soon, the valley began to narrow and we were headed up. The hill on Smokehouse Fork-Harts Creek Rd turned to be a killer and quite possibly the worst hill most of us have ridden. Making it up requires good low gears, strong legs and determination. A stop at the top to refresh then right back down only to climb again going to Dingess. The Dingess Tunnel was to be a high point of the day and did turn out to be a scary experience. The unlite tunnel is 3,327 feet long, paved, one way and supposedly haunted.
Well Ms Ralf, is it haunted or not?Being on bicycles we had prepared for the tunnel by placing the SAG in front of the group to keep oncoming traffic from coming at us. We also had headlights and flashing tail lights on each bike. Even with these precautions we found the trip through the tunnel to be dangerous with water and some gravel in places. Should we return to the area on a bicycle we'll SAG through the tunnel or flag down a local pickup truck and beg for a ride through the tunnel. As friendly as most locals were in WV, the request would probably be honored. After passing through the tunnel we verred off and on Old NW Railroad Bed Rd and 12 Pole Creek Rd passing Laurel Lake. It's worth the time to use 12 Pole Creek as much as possible. While there is minimal traffic on the main road and it is downhill most of the way to Lenore and lunch.
Cheech's Pizza is run by Bev and Robert Adkins and their menu fit the bill well. Robert was on his way to work, driving a coal truck, when I talked to him in the parking lot. Bev was in the kitchen doing a great job of preparing our lunch. She had thought we were coming the next day however they did a great job of fueling our engines. After the rush Bev joined us in the dining room with many stories of the area and people. She was a hoot! Leaving Lenore the only way was on WV highways and four miles of US52. We maintained single line with space between the riders for safety but we found that traffic was fairly low on both highways. At Delbarton we turned onto WV65 to cross over the mountain heading to . There's a new road plus a closed road that is not maintained! As we rode toward Matewan we turned onto Chaffin St and used the paved trail under the highway and railroad entering the town through an open gate in the floodwall.
Entering Matewan through the floodwall!
Sharon had many goodies including two cakes, drinks and other snacks. We were in heaven with her hospitality and facility. Five nice rooms in the main house and a bunkhouse in the back. Her breakfast was clearly the best on the trip! To prepare, serve and cleanup the breakfast, she had three others helping out. In town we found several interesting character, a bear of a dog
and a bluegrass singer in the pizza place across the street. I walked into the place and found her on a small stage playing a guitar and singing to an empty room. After a few minutes I headed back to the B&B to get an audience. Several joined in and enjoyed an hour of great music and bonding with a local artist. What fun!
*Day 4 Matewan WV to Jenny Wiley SP KY* We passed through Matewan then across the Tug Fork River into Kentucky. Now we were in the land of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. Several historical plaques and a nice museum in Matewan's old train depot are worth a visit. We biked SW out of town on secondary roads with great views of the valley and many interesting sights! On road 1056 we left the Tug Fork River valley on a seemingly endless climb to a spectacular view of the countryside.
Leaving Sidney we headed North for around five miles again on Big Creek Rd. This was Saturday when the coal trucks did not run from the two local mines which we passed on our way to Rockhouse Fork Rd. At this point began a 25 mile route meandering through some fabulous country. Only periodic residences with imaculate gardens, well kept simple homes, and seemingly endless rolling traffic free road. None of the group pushed the pace as we bathed in the scenery heading to Jenny Wiley State Park. Arriving at the park the more energized boys hauled the cooler full of refreshments down steps to a patio overlooking scenic Dewey Lake. A comfortable stay at the lodge refreshed the group for the last day into Grayson.
*Day 5 Jenny Wiley SP to Grayson KY* Leaving the lodge we rode along Dewey Lake for eight miles then crossing the dam on our way to Paintsville for a stop at the IGA for lunch fixins! Well the IGA wasn't open so we sent the SAG vehicle on past the town to find food. The peleton charged on with great scenery, couple of stiff climbs and interesting Kentucky roads with no traffic. The SAG van caught up with us near an abandoned strip mine where we refreshed with cool drinks. On to Boone where the, closed on Sunday, grocery made another convenient place to regroup. We then pedaled on looking for a nice lunch stop and around the corner was the Cherokee Baptist Church which had just wrapped Sunday morning service. The pastor talked with several of the group and offered coffee and restroom facilities to the group.
A sermon on the way to Grayson?
After lunch, and around the 45 mile mark, the route slowly straightened and flattened, and suddenly a paceline was formed with the speed nearly doubling the last four days rate. It was going home time and they wanted to get there. It was a good feeling to know that everyone experienced a great ride through apallacia.
Starting in 1994 a group of friends from Lafayette Indiana had been attending seven days rides in the midwest and were weary of doing the camping scene. I proposed that we do a five day ride in Southern Indiana staying at state parks and hotels while being followed by a SAG to carry the essentials. The ride became Charlie's Southern Indiana Ride or "CSIR". This ran through 2000 when there were 22 attendees. The next few years I planned several different rides in Kentucky and Southern Indiana along with Copper Canyon, Maah Daah Hey trail in North Dakota, Blue Ridge Parkway and Natchez Trace. All were great experiences and wetted my desire to do more. In 2010 Phyllis and I relocated to Union Kentucky near Cincinnati where I found a lot more remote roads to ride. In 2011 we had the first Ralf's Rural Ride in Kentucky or "RRRiKy" and followed it up with RRRiKy 2012 and RRRiKy 2013!
This trip was the 19th annual ride that I have had with friends and I'm already looking at 2014! More than likely it will be in the SE Kentucky area with some of the days being surrounding states like Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. This winters scouting will turn up something.
For those of you who have read the entire blog, I hope you have a desire to try some of the riding in Kentucky. It's totally different than other areas that may be high on cyclists lists to visit. I think I like it because it is ever changing. Beautiful scenery, struggling old towns, mules in the barn, a junk pickup beside a trailer, tobacco fields, tough hills, paved one lane roads and wonderful people who are bike friendly.
Ralf's ultimate road conditions!