I met Bob, Anet and Wes Lamberson yesterday for my first ride in Rocky Fork, a 10,000 acre tract of pristine forest that has been the object of local scrutiny for the past several years and has just been acquired by the USFS jointly with a advocacy group. What happens next with the area is a question but one thing is certain, it has been saved from the hands of developers and big timber companies.
Although there are no trails there (yet) except the AT that runs through a portion of the property (and is waaay off-limit to bikes), there are plenty of FS roads and abandoned logging roads to explore. I was excited to get to ride there after hearing so much about it from my buddy Bob.
The first thing he asked me upon arrival at the trailhead, "Didja bring your climbing legs?" Yes to ride in Rocky Fork means you will climb, a lot and for a long time. Much of it steep too.
We headed out and the climbing began almost immediately. For the first several miles, it wasn't too bad. The road ran along a really nice creek that had several water falls and I am sure more than a few Trout swimming around. We got the opportunity to cross the creek a few times. At the first crossing, I looked long and hard at it remembering the last time I crossed a creek in the Winter and ended up losing my shoes . While everyone else took off their shoes and socks and walked across, I threw caution to the wind and rode it. The water was surprisingly warm(ish) and the air temp wasn't too bad either so I could deal with wet feet.
The more we rode, the higher the stakes got however. The air temps were dropping and the creek was getting deeper.
The last one was a lot deeper than the others (over my bottom bracket) and colder too. Still, I rode the others, might as well try this one too. I made it. By now, the road was really starting to kick up. We climbed and climbed with no end really, in sight.
It is as steep as it looks.
After riding (climbing) for over an hour, I had a snack. My legs felt great at that point and we were having a good ride.
Snack time (why yes that is more climbing coming up).
The final mile or so pitch before the "top" (there is no top - ever. No matter how much or long you climb, there is still more to climb so forget about reaching the top. It's a myth), was a real beast. It was probably in the neighborhood of 10-15% in gradient and really was tough. The reward for two hours of solid climbing was some incredible views.
For all y'all living in the flatlands and concrete jungles, this is what you are missing.
Obligatory "Rocky" pose ( a little soon for celebrating though, you'll see why)
Although it looks like we were at the top of the world, we still had more climbing to come. We rode on to see a massive wild blueberry patch and some grassy bald just at the AT. The climbing there was kinda messy as the "road" ( I use that term loosely now) was loamy with some evil rock gardens thrown in for good measure.
It was finally time to turn around and descend for awhile. We went back through the rock gardens and the mucky muck and lost elevation pretty quickly until we came to......... wait for it.
Yep, smack in the middle of our nice descent back to the cars was a mile long beast that had all of us whining. Not long after that, Wes flatted and Bob stayed back to help him while Anet and I went on. We eventually did get more downhill stuff and overall a great day of riding.
Hopefully, Rocky Fork will develop into a paradise for multi-use trails and anyone that enjoys being outside. It is a gemstone in the crown of what makes the mountains of East Tennessee a great place to be.
As far as a place to train, it is perfect. I enjoyed the climbing even though it did hurt quite a bit in places, I know it is what I need to make me stronger. I suck at climbing. My 32X18 gearing was bitch-slapping me all over but I defied the misery for the biggest part and only walked a few spots that were either too slick for traction or just too steep (hey, everyone cracks under pressure sooner or later).
I plan to get back over there soon.