Monday, June 29, 2009

5 Banjo Rated Shawnee State Forest Gravel Road Ride Adventure

All too often I hear riders describe themselves as roadies or mountain bikers. Personally, I love the middle ground, a foot on the pave' and the other on the hard pack. I shouldn't have, but I missed out on a real adventure on Sunday, June 21st. This ride was a fire-road oddessy through southern Ohio's Shawnee State Forest, an adventure featuring gravel roads through pristine Ohio wilderness with pitches of 29 to 34 percent, with nary a soul in sight, except for the dogs. Welcome to Banjo pickin' country. Today's post comes from guest blogger, ride organizer and dog dodger Jim Katenkamp.

This past Sunday, June 21st, I recruited a few asphalt loving road biking friends and coerced them into going back in time, when roads were skinny and paved only with hard packed dirt and loose stone. For our adventure we were heading to ride the unpaved double track and gravel roads of Shawnee State Forest. The course profile is pictured above.

I have ridden road bikes for years but never have I gone off road. I was a little uneasy about this ride in the beginning. I thought to myself, "I’m going to do 50 – 55 miles on a 36 pound mountain bike with the forecast calling a high in the upper 80’s?" To compound the issue, at the start of the ride our tour guide Michael informed us that some of the areas we were going to ride through are classified by banjos with five banjos being the worse. Nice. That really calmed my nerves, especially while wearing spandex in the woods.

After riding 10 miles we regrouped at a church. As we left the church and started down Carter Run Rd, I quickly realized we should have stopped in, said a prayer and lit a few candles. Only a couple hundred yards down the road I went around a bend and I almost ran into Michael. He had slowed abruptly because the road was so steep and in such a poor shape. I went around Michael and could not believe the size of the ruts and the steepness of the road. After getting to the bottom of the hill I took pictures of everyone else as they descended. Later when I got home and looked up Carter Run Road on Topo USA I found out it has an average grade of 29 percent with a maximum grade of 34 percent. That's a five banjo hill.

As it happens on so many rides, the riders in front stir up the dogs and those in the back fend for their lives. Near the end of the ride and finally back on asphalt, peacefully rolling down a hill this really big mean dog comes running at us full tilt from a nearby house. He wants a piece of somebody real bad. Guess who's in back? Not as easy to outsprint a dog on the mountain bike compared to my road bike. I sped up and eyed a bridge with a turn on the other side. The big gnarly dog was closing. Within seconds of reaching the bridge, it didn’t look like the boards were fastened properly. Some, in the middle, bowed badly. Michael and I went flying across the bridge! I yelled “right” to those in front. I had never ridden this road and hoped I made the right call. I didn’t want to back track past that dog. Thankfully the bridge acted as one of those cattle crossings stopping the dog in his tracks after we had made the turn.

PS: All dogs aside, Jim's planning a return trip in the fall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds great. I love long rides on dirt/gravel/pavement, and wanted something faster than my old "comfort hybrid" - any bike recommendation for these types of rides?