Holy Rollers Batman! It's my Old Kentucky Home

Since it appears that the Tombstone 600k in Arizona is somehow just cursed for me, and I wanted the last of my SR to be in the Spring, I was left to find another ride to put in its place.  Looking around, there were many options, but I finally settled on returning to the place I originally learned how to ride a bike in the first place.

I actually grew up in Southwestern Ohio, but there are no randonneurs there.  There is a group in Columbus, but I lived there for 10 years and Central Ohio is totally different in terms of terrain and it just doesn't feel like home.  Much more to my liking were the hills of Kentucky, where I spent countless vacations as a child.  Mom actually still lives in the area and I launched a brilliant idea, I would ride the Louisville 600k on April 30.   This ride starts and ends in Shelbyville.

I contacted Steve Rice, the local RBA and asked about the climbing on the ride and the weather expectations.  Having a 10 year old's memories, my perceptions were likely to be tainted (they turned out to be correct).  I remembered giant hills in Kentucky, and they are still very big.  His response to the elevation, "well, you really can't measure it, I could root around for some maps".  Note to self, whenever and  RBA says you can't measure the elevation on their 600k, it's going to be a big number.  As far as the weather, I remembered it right: anything could happen.  I got my plane tickets and made arrangements to ship the princess to Mom.

About a week before the ride, I noticed many weather warnings about Kentucky having records rains and flooding so I called Mom.  "Well, it's the most rain we've had since 1937 - it's been raining every day for the last 3 weeks but I am sure it has to quit sometime soon".  I responded thinking of the devastating storms in the south, "How about tornadoes?  Any of them around?".  "Oh no", was the happy response, "those were last week".  I commenced packing some really heavy duty rain gear.  "One more thing", she said before ringing off, "we're having real problems here with bedbugs, they've infested most hotels".  Should make for a more interesting sleep stop.  I made reservations at the Days Inn and warned mom that I typically look like hell after these rides (it's only polite to warn your mom before she sees these things).  IronK decided to come as well with the plan that she and Mom would do the tourist thing and see Mammoth Cave while I was riding.  

Shockingly, the forecast solidified into a call for sunny and 70 degrees on Saturday, but with some possible thunderstorms on Sunday.  Steve Rice warned solidly against attempting to ride through.  There were NO facilities on the last 200k and the turnaround was informational.  I decided to take his advice up front.   That was a very good move (and good advice).

We arrived in Shelbyville on Friday night and treated ourselves to dinner at Claudia Sanders Dinner Room (yes, the Colonel's wife had a restaurant herself).  When else can you eat a meal with fried chicken, mashed potatoes with milk gravy, and baked apples guilt free?  The Days Inn had just steam cleaned the entire second floor, changed all the bedding, mattresses and just about everything else.   I laid everything out that I would need for the turnaround the next night and we had a cooler full of food.  With everything fumigated we decided this was definitely a good week to stay there.

The ride started at 4:00AM which turns out is a great time to start a 400k (the distance of the first section).  Temps were in the 40s and 21 riders started out including another woman and a tandem.  I had counted on everyone being faster than me (the local advantage) so I wasn't surprised when most people rocketed away into the darkness.  It was cool, but not cold enough for long fingered gloves and the stars were really beautiful.  There were lots of steep, choppy rollers even at the beginning, but I was able to navigate them pretty well despite the darkness.   We turned on to Pea Grade Rd and up a very steep road that reminded me of my friend Gary's Wisconsin permanent, it was the first of many, many very steep climbs.  As we descended down into a valley, I looked over to see a GIGANTIC dog about to pounce on me!  This was the first of many dogs to give chase and I am actually much more comfortable around them now.  I got good at throwing things at them; I actually wanged a schnauzer on the nose with a fig newton on day 2.

It gradually got light starting around 6:30 and I finally got a really good look at my surroundings.  Lush, verdant grass, budding trees, flowering honeysuckle and dogwoods were everywhere.  The sun was out, apparently for the first time in about 3 weeks but I have to say that a foot of rain sure gets things growing.  It is an early spring in Kentucky so many flowers were out as well. 

The route winded its way next to a creek before ascending out to a flat area.  The route tries to avoid busy roads as much as possible by ducking off of them onto quiet, narrow roads.  The pavement on these was outstanding.  It was smooth with far fewer potholes and mealy areas than in Minnesota.  A real joy to ride in.  I was by myself as I descended along Oregon Road.  There had been some concern that flooding would have caused a re-route and I am glad it didn't.  Oregon winds along the Kentucky River and the sun was just burning the fog off of it.  I stopped to take pictures and enjoy the scenery for a few minutes. 
The Kentucky River at Dawn

Oregon Road winds through a bit of a hollow and then has a long, steep climb about a mile total.  I hit tempo easily and made my way up.  More rollers greeted me for the next 10 miles into Harrodsburg, the first control at 65 miles.  I got there around 8:45 and one other rider was just finishing up.  I bought some chocolate milk, happy to find no problem finding whole chocolate milk (so much better than the lowfat stuff).  I was getting ready to leave when the tandem and a recumbent pulled in.  The tandem was ridden by Jody and Steve from Louisville.  The recumbent was a guy named Ken from Columbus, Indiana (birthplace of Road Pixie's father).  They were doing a turn-and-burn so I waited.  Going to far with no one else around does some odd things to one's brain that I wanted to avoid.

The four of us stuck together until Stanford.  The rollers flattened slightly but there were lots of steady, false flats and extended climbs.  The tandem was slow on the uphills, but just flew down the hills.  I can't wait to get on the tandem with IronK this summer.  We all had pleasant conversation and even though I could have gone faster, it really picked up my spirits.  We rolled into Stanford around 11:45 to be greeted by a very unhappy randonneur with a bad tire.  Steve was a bike mechanic and the tandem stopped to help.  Ken left very quickly, but I felt like I needed food so I had a chicken sandwich and took a few minutes adding some oatmeal cream pies.  I couldn't help with the wheel so I took off for Liberty alone, 30 miles away.

The next 30 miles were rolling and pleasant though uphill and into the wind for the most part.  About halfway there, I was passed by several groups of riders on the return trip.  These are the aforementioned local riders who probably have bionic legs too.  I stopped to take more pictures of the bucolic scenery. 

There was a 4-5 mile shallow climb up the ridge before Liberty followed by a 16% grade twisting descent into town.  Traffic was also heavy but at this point I realized just how polite Kentucky drivers are.

At the turnaround, I ran back into Ken who was finishing a danish.  I grabbed some water and stayed a scant 15 minutes and left with him.  He was a stronger climber on the 16% grade going up (it was easier going down).  Cars simply lined up behind us and patiently ascended at 4-5mph.  Even though it was a mile long and steep enough to really hurt, I never felt like gasping (note to self, nominate the asthma doctor that changed the meds two weeks ago for saint hood).  I got to the top and sped along quite quickly.  The ride back was again by myself.

This was where I encountered my first curiosity of the ride.  A pickup truck politely passed me, driving very slowly.  After they got about 600 yards in front, guns started going off.  At this point, I realized they were actually firing out of the moving truck!  It must have been some kind of hunting thing because they traveled fairly slowly (I gave them lots of space too) and I would see a rifle poke out the side and open fire.  Kind of interesting.

Back in Stanford, I again ran into Ken and we chatted for about 15 minutes while scarfing down more food.  Gas stations on this route are for the most part Mom+Pop shops where they still have price tags on goods.  The food is good too.  Ken is also planning on doing PBP and had some very interesting stories of how he came to ride a recumbent.  My hats off to him, he's a fast rider on it.  We pulled out again and were within sight of each other for about 20 miles until I got stuck by a train crossing. 

Shaker Stone Fence near Harrodsburg
 Riding alone again, I picked up the pace and cooked along, pleased at how well I was feeling.  At this point, it was only about 6:00 pm and I pulled back into Harrodsburg (Ken was there waiting) about 30 minutes before the sun went down.   Ken and I made a sort of tacit agreement to team up in the dark, but he road ahead for some time, nearly to Oregon when I caught up with him again.  The descent on Oregaon was in twilight which made it almost ethereal.  The climb out was in the dark.

Ken was about 50 yards ahead when a jeep pulled up behind me and someone whistled at my butt.  I might have been freaked anywhere else, but I decided to just wave them past and take it as a complement (hey, after thousands of miles, my butt should be worth whistling at).  I caught back up with Ken at the top of Oregon.  By this time, it was dark and clouds had moved in, a harbinger of the day to come.
More hills and rollers all the way to Hammonds Creek Road wore me down a bit and we separated briefly.  At this point, two pickups buzzed me (which was odd at 11:00 pm).  I was almost dozing on the bike and picked up my pace, drank some water, and hummed the Carpenters "We've only just begun" to keep awake.  Ken waited for me ahead and was concerned about the pickups.  We stuck together the rest of the night "no solo cyclists should be on this road" was his statement.  That giant dog chased us again as we returned; we pedaled fast.

It rained for long enough to make us uselessly put on rain gear along Pea Grade Rd.  Then it stopped and we pulled into the Waffle House (400k) at just before 1:30.   A respectable time (21:30) for a total of 16,960 feet of climbing by my GPS.  I went straight to my room, threw off my clothes, devoured about 1000 calories and hit the pillow by 2:00 am after making a wake up call for 5:15 am.   I was instantly asleep.  Mom really helped me out by making me a sandwich, pouring my chocolate milk and making sure I took all my meds.  If you ever want a first class support crew, take your mother.  IronK pretty much slept through the whole thing. 

I awoke to the sound of what I thought was someone dropping their bike box.  I realized quickly that it was 5:35!  Mom got up too and started making coffee and breakfast.  I wondered what the weather was like so I threw open the door to "Night on Bald Mountain".  Sheets of rain blew sideways in a howling wind with lightning, thunder, the whole 9 yards.  I half expected the wicked witch to ride by.  I started laughing as I closed the door and got out the laptop.  Sure enough, a mushroom cloud of thunderstorms was over the area.  I mused on the fortune of having ridden in so much crappy weather; no one can wax philosophical on weather like I can.  Mom loaned me her rain pants (I had given them to her for Christmas) as temps were in the 50s and mine were going to be a bit on the warm side.  I discarded my rack bad (it was just going to turn into a soggy weight) and took my tool back and plenty of lights.  I only had 200k to go and I wasn't missing it.  Mom gave me a hug goodbye.

As I took the first turn onto Pearce Industrial Blvd, the 18 mph wind blew hard in my face and the lightning cracked very hard.  I continued on thinking "at least it isn't sleeting".  It was a south wind which meant a headwind for the next 62 miles.  As I hummed alone down Zaring Mill Road, I noticed that the lightning had stopped and the rain wasn't so hard.  The wind was tough but I made my way through Breshears Creek where the worst of the flooding had obviously been.  Mud covered the road in placed and the recent rain had turned the creek into a murky rush.  Rocks and sticks littered the road and I was careful to avoid them.  The rain lessened somewhat.  The area was beautiful in the soft rain at dawn and I was actually enjoying myself immensely, even the very steep hills didn't get me down.  The narrow, twisting roads seem to have a calming effect on me, perhaps a vestige of my childhood?

I got to KY44 and the next 15 miles were not fun.  Still pretty, but the narrow twisting roads gave way to big, long rollers along with a descent to the Taylorsville Dam.  It was still raining, but my gear kept me pretty dry.  Finally, I turned east on 1066 and marveled at yet more huge descents and ascents, as though the baby rollers from the previous day had grown up.

1066 turns from a big, highway like road back to a narrow one and has several major climbs.  I was happy to turn along a creek towards Chaplin.  At Chaplin was a tiny gas station with several bikes out from and a bunch of guys eating outside (yes, I again ran into Ken).  I jumped off the bike, grabbed a Yahoo, used the bathroom and was back on the bike before any of the guys were ready.  I was on a mission at this point!  There was a screaming, twisting descent out of Chaplin into a beautiful little valley.  Another long set of climbs put me on top of a ridge for about 6-7 miles.  At this point, two of the guys from Chaplin caught up, these were Dave and Jeff.  Sadly, I didn't get to talk to Jeff very much because shortly, he was chased off by dogs.  Dave was a really nice guy from Lexington who has done the Shenandoah, a ride with 50,000 ft of climbing that gives me the shivers.  Ken had crashed on the descent out of Chaplin and was okay (a little road rash) but continuing at his own pace.

We made our way to Perryville across Battlefield Road, named for a large Civil War battle that happened there.  A plaque stands to commemorate one of the bloodiest and most important battles of the Civil war in 1862.  It was a strategic Union victory as it forced the Army of Mississippi out of Kentucky and left it under Union control for the rest of the war.  Ironically, generals on both sides had their honor severely damaged due the way that the campaign was conducted.  Today all that is left is rolling hills and a State Historic Site.  Most of the towns on this route are civil war era which is fascinating unto itself.  I do have a history degree so these things stand out to me.

At Perryville, I stopped for almost 45 minutes as the Informational control was open and I was hungry after 6 hours and about 4,500 ft of climbing.  I might have stayed a little less time, but it was fun talking with the others.  I had an entire can of Chef Boyardee ravioli right out of the can.  This proved very rejuvenating, although I think it may have actually been really gross too.  Sometime, the hunger thing can eclipse a lot.  At this point, the rain had been gone for some time and it was in the mid 60s.  I took of my rain pants and stashed them in a pocket and pulled out at 1:30 with Dave and Jeff.  Now the 20 mph headwind was a tailwind!  Ken was arriving as we were leaving, but I wouldn't see him again until the finish.

Being from a plains state, I am used to tailwinds that strong being a huge help.  Not so in such hilly terrain.  It took about 45 minutes to digest lunch, but I found myself picking up the pace afterwards.  Dave and Jeff had gone ahead at this point and I chatted with another man before getting worried about time and picking up my pace.  By 3:00 pm I had 40 miles left and 5 hours to do it in, but there were lots of hills so I decided to push the pace more.  I passed Dave and Jeff in Chaplin and retraced my steps on the hills of 1066.  I stopped to call Mom and IronK about 18 miles from the finish to let them know when to expect me.

Breshears Creek was even prettier and hillier on the return, and I made good time through the hills.  Several wall-like climbs greeted me on way and in past years, they would have been really tough.  But not this time.  I spun up patiently and arrived at about 6:40 PM at the Days Inn.  Mom and IronK were there to welcome me back, they had kept the room until 8:00 pm so I showered and got some recovery food going.   They had been at a winery all day (nice life) and enjoyed the tourist thing.

This was by far my best 600k ever in terms of riding.  Getting the asthma treated was simply huge as well as spending so much time fitting the bike correctly and rebuilding my hamstring.  I marvel at how many parts have changed on my bike since last summer.  No coughing or weakness at the end.  I am certain I could have gone much farther at this point.  The real question now is how much farther.

This was also a ride where I knew food stops would be an issue so I brought quite a bit of my own.  I wound up nibbling on fig newtons and pecans about every 20 minutes as a result.  I suspect this helped me avoid the stomach upset that so often comes by preventing my digestive system from shutting down (it was nearly always doing something small at least).  I probably rode two thirds of the route alone which also was really nice.  All the people I met were really wonderful to ride with.

I chatted with Steve Rice briefly at the end, the 4 guys I had seen in Chaplin all finished as well which was excellent.   Steve and Jody on the tandem had quit after 400k, but this is their first year and I am certain they will be back.  On a sadder note, one guy did attempt to ride through the night against advice.  He crashed near Breshears creek in the middle of the night alone and went to the hospital with a concussion - a reminder of my favorite saying "there is a fine line between bragging rights and a Darwin Award".  Several DNF'd upon waking to the thunderstorms, but they really were not an issue for me.  All that winter riding in Minnesota paid off.

I've heard this ride was early because of PBP.  It's usually in June.  I shudder to think of that route in 90+ degree temperatures.  Now that I don't live there, those temps would be tough to acclimate to.  My hats off to the local riders, every one of them was in fantastic shape, you can see the effects that riding hills all the time has.  I will have to spend much more time climbing in Wisconsin this year if PBP is to be a success.
200k Adventures in May
A Pair Of 200ks

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