Highlights of an Amazing Journey on the Underground Railroad Trail

Posted on 19 May 2016

If you are looking for something unique and different in this world of endurance training, consider a long distance multi day bike-packing trip. As a cyclist for over 30 years, this self- journey experience was exceptional and was very helpful with respect to the uniqueness of self-supported long distance racing and no aid stations (Trans Am Bike Race). The longest self supported ride I had done in the past was a 350 mile 2 day ride on the Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.

Post ride thoughts - I will definitely include this ride annually as an after tax-season stress relief ride. I would highly recommend the route to anyone looking for a unique challenge and check out the maps for various sections of the route if you are interested in a different Midwest/Southern USA hospitality self contained ride.  There are so many food stores, campgrounds, www.warmshowers.com, hotels, restaurants, etc. along the route that it’s very manageable for anyone, if you do 25 miles a day or 200 miles a day.

Pacing – This was a bit of a personal learning process. Trying to slow down was not that difficult on the hills with the extra 20 pounds of supplies on the bike but the mindset still was to push a bit too hard early on (just like a race)until I found the groove after 4 days of riding.   Going downhill is a thrill beyond (50 mph) with all the extra weight as descending is a blast and also with any tailwind. I would call the ride – fast-paced bike packing and definitely taking in the sights and sounds was clearly a goal to do this ride. IMG_0565 Maps and GPS methodology – Using the Garmin 1000 (I am not a techy with regards to the bike and don’t even use a cyclometer and just ride) with the Adventure Cycling Association’s maps (exceptional maps) it took a bit to get used to figure out the best process (I am anal) to not just keep looking at both the maps and GPS. It’s like everything else and after a few days it became second nature and I stopped missing turns, etc.  The maps offer various “spur” sections – additional loops and rides to see historic sites and I took full advantage of them and would recommend not just staying on the route the entire time. Actually it’s quite easy with the maps from Adventure Cycling Association Garmin 1000 GPS Quick Review – The device has many features but the most important, is the ease of use for the GPS function for me.  It does not come with a 200-page book on how to program and set it up which was a relief.   Again, I am not a computer/tech person with respect to the bike – just pedal and have fun has been my mindset.  The Garmin was fine with wind, volumes of rain and several days of hail however the battery life changed based upon the weather. When it was raining and a bit colder (40-50 degrees Fahrenheit) it lasted around 5-6 hours. Better weather got 7 hours until charge time.   So, it’s important to have chargers with you or a Dynamo hub set up.   I used portable chargers (solar and non-solar) and it worked well. Batteries– Using a battery charger – it worked well to keep the GPS charged.  However, the maps were so detailed that a GPS is not necessary Routine– Morning routine became like a work day and very similar to racing in a DECA– 7AM was the start time every day and the goal was to ride 10-12 hours a day and it was very easy to manage with respect to food/water locations and places to camp/stay. Day 1 Memory– what a way to start as I started with driving Rain from Pittsburgh to Lake Erie then over to Ohio   it was tough 170-mile ride to begin the journey that’s for sure. Must Do Campground – Eagle Valley Resort in Eagle Station, KY.  Great general store can get a small cabin real cheap for an option out of the rain for a change. Memorable Camping in Ohio at a lake – once into Ohio, first campground was fabulous and had a perfect setting on a lake.   The owner of the campground was so nice, they ordered me pizza and invited me to dinner with their family.  It was a great reminder that there are so many great people in the USA that it’s sometimes overlooked with all the negative news, etc. Getting into the groove – After day 4, the daily process remained the same: Breakfast, ride 5-6 hours, lunch, then ride 5-6 hours, and eat dinner, rest and repeat.   It actually was a blast doing this day after day! 2 Things I would not take on next trip – The leg warmers were fine and it was not necessary for bringing rain pants for the bike.   Even with driving rain and cold, legs never got cold.   For this trip, I needed only charging device vs. the 2 that I took along. 1 Thing I would take along on next trip – Because of the pulling on cleats because of the toe covers, the cleat screws do loosen and I would bring along a couple extra screws just in case if I might lose a few.   I had a screwdriver on my multi tool and it worked fine keeping them snug. People saying hello – All the worries and pre-ride warnings of dogs and trucks in Kentucky was way overblown in my experience. I did carry some pepper spray (I have been bitten on the bike before – and pepper spray will not harm a dog) just in case.   I had about 6-8 dog chases but just by slowing down, they were fine and were just playing – including Rottweiler’s.  In regards to no shoulder on the roads in Kentucky and the worries of trucks everywhere, this was a non-issue.    The roads were spectacular in terms of surface conditions.  The trucks yes plenty of F150 pickup trucks but they all moved over (coming from behind) and the opposite direction almost ever truck driver waved to me.    Bottom line, I loved Kentucky and hope you have a similar experience. Open country roads – The Underground Railroad trail is a series of open country roads, a few cross overs of state roads, and some rails to trails. Overall, the vast majority of the ride is on country roads.  Interestingly, through Ohio and Kentucky there were sections of riding for 3-4 hours without even seeing a car. Road Kill  – This was eye-opening!   As cyclists, we all know there is a different perspective of seeing things while on the bike vs. an automobile.   This was clearly evident by the massive amount of road kill, from opossum’s, raccoons, birds, deer, fox, cats, skunks they were everywhere. Interestingly, in Kentucky there is a road kill pickup truck and they just come along and scoop up everything. It’s amazing what we notice; the small things such as vultures are everywhere and eat the road kill down to the bones. IMG_0625 Amazing Towns– (sorry I did not write down the names of all the places).  Definitely stop in the local town diners and restaurants for sure and eliminate all the chain restaurants for learning about the local culture. Ohio riding through Amish country rounds was 10 star road conditions. Ashtabula, OH – great coffee shop in town that’s a must. Medina, OH – great location to load up on food and some sites West Jefferson, OH – the Rails to Trails starts here and nice with no traffic but after 100 miles it becomes a bit mindless and could not wait to get back on the roads! Cedarville, OH – great Inn on the trail (if you need a break from camping), which has everything for cyclists. Milford, OH – Just a cool town Corydon, IN – a must visit is Emery’s Ice Cream Jeffersonville and Clarksville, IN – great towns, views of Louisville and plenty to see Owensboro, KY – exceptional town, great waterfront Owensboro, KY Experience– This was to be a stopping location on my journey and what a weekend to arrive in Owensboro. I grabbed a few items to eat at a convenience store (Yahoo drink, almonds and a protein bar) and the lovely owners started to chat with me about the journey and invited me to be their guests at the International Barbeque Annual Festival in Owensboro. This was an amazing festival and the food was perfect after a very long day of riding (13 hour day). Rain Fun – There was plenty of rain because of all the storms in Texas and Oklahoma that continued to move to the north and Midwest. I had a few days of driving rain and hail but it lasted on 3-4 hours so it was not an all day rain. One thing that happened with good timing after the rain was normally wind and then the sun would come out – best solution for drying out soaking shoes, toe covers, cycling gear was the wind and sun. Wind Fun – For all the benefits of drying out clothes as I mention above, as we all know so well there are few thing worse on the bike than climbing hill after hill in a 20 mph headwind. All I could do was literally laugh, as I could not ride faster than 6mph even on the flats. One thing you do notice going that slow in the wind is more details of the road kill! Crash – Only one bike crash and typical road rash. Stupidly, I took wet train tracks not at a perpendicular angle and slid out. Of course, all that really mattered was the bike condition – it was fine and not even a scratch! Saddle sores– used Hammer Nutrition saddle balm product vs. Bag Balm only because it was a bit more packing convenient and worked extremely well. There were plenty of other great stories, but one thing stands out above anything from this experience – the people. The breakfasts (where the owners would not allow me to pay), personal food care packages, dinners, story telling, meeting athletes, and recommendations of places to see, are the reasons I will be back again next year for this ride. Please let me know if you need ideas or background related to the Underground Rail Trail ride it’s well worth checking out!

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