Author Archives: Bob Jenkins
It was the Wednesday before 4th of July weekend when a coworker asked how I planned to spend the “3 day weekend”. Until that moment, I had no idea we were gonna be closed. Even better, I already had Thursday afternoon off. This was a golden opportunity to strike out into the unknown.
I’ve always wanted to bikepack Marble Creek, and now I had the opportunity. The ozarktrail.com website lists Marble Creek trail as “lightly used”… so hopefully I’d find some solitude. I loaded my gear, pointed the truck South and started ticking through the mental list of things I may have forgotten.
Printed maps and Compass: Wow, I can’t believe I forgot those….but I’m not turning around for that shit.
2-3 hours later, when I drove across the Marble Creek bridge entering the campground, I knew this was gonna be a good time.
The Ozark Trail (OT) Trailhead is across the street from the campground, so that gave me a relatively safe place to stash my truck. Normally I try to stealth-stash or hide my beautiful 2006 Chevy Colorado, but on this day I stayed legal…paid my money and left the truck. If the moss growing on the collection area was any indication, I didnt need to worry about a ton of people peeking in the windows. There was a warning posted about bears being in the area. Guess I better take the pepper spray..
Thanks to some bikehacks I learned on pedalingnowhere.com, my bike was loaded out with 90% of the weight spread across the handlebars and a rear seatbag. I had a few things in a backpack, but I was really only taking it along as a security blanket, “just in case.” I’ll go into my bike setup in a future post when I’ve got it completely ironed out, but for now let’s just say I’ve ‘almost’ got it figured out.
The trailhead was easy to find, and a hiker was coming out of the trail just as I was going in. Hopefully that meant there wouldn’t be any spiderwebs for a few miles. Awesome.
The planned route can be seen at this link and below. Basically, I was gonna ride about 9-10 miles to a glade overlooking Crane Lake. Once there, I’d set up camp and watch the sunset with my good friend Jim Beam. It seemed like a pretty straight-forward plan at the time.
Entering the trailhead, it was obvious that basically noone uses this trail. It definitely had a “Cedar Creek” feel to it, if you know what I mean.
About 30 feet into the trail, I began a long hike-a-bike which was an absolute beast. I thought it would never end, and pushing that heavy-ass bikpeacking rig was no picnic. There was a lot of loose rock and downed trees, but I was hopeful the conditions would improve as I got further into the ride.
It didnt take long to figure out this was going to be a hard-earned ride to see the sunset. I was never on the bike for more than a minute or 2 before I’d be lugging it over another woodpile or downed tree or some kind of bullshit. It was exhausting. The layout of the trail looked like it would be a blast to ride if it werent for all the litter.
But even with all the extra work, there’s something I love about being on a neglected trail. The thought that maybe noone else has been there for months or years, and it could be just as long before anyone is there again. After all, who would actually want to ride through this shit?
Eventually I got to a gravel crossing with enough cell signal to check the map on my phone. Signal was shitty so I took some screenshots and went on my way. The trail just never got better, and it was really kicking my ass. For such a short ride, this was one for the ages.
Finally, FINALLY, I came to the next road crossing. By the map, I was only about 3 miles from the glade. I was definitely going to miss sunset, but whatever. The “trail” became a fire road and suddenly I could ride. A short climb lead to a long, magical downhill and I was loving it. It felt good to finally be covering some ground. I began to notice the absence of OT trail markers, but like a fool I rode on. The fire road turned into a chunky, rutted-out shitbag of an atv trail. By now I was fairly certain I’d gone the wrong way, but just kept riding anyway, somehow convincing myself that the trail I was on would intersect the OT. So stupid.
At the very bottom, I popped out onto a nicely groomed gravel road. Crane Lake was to the West, so I turned right. By now it was completely dark, and I was almost out of reasons to give a single shit about seeing Crane Lake. A little while down the road, I ran into a MASSIVE pile of trees and brush covering the road, making it impassable.
I shoved my way through the treeline next to the road, (which sucked) and went around it. Coming out of the other side, I looked up and saw this:
Well shit…what now? The road turned past the gate and looked to be going North. I rolled the dice and followed it. Surely there was a trail crossing somewhere, right?
The road dropped down into what seemed like a flood zone of some kind. It dawned on me this was probably the overflow stream for Crane Lake. Everywhere I rode, there was between 3-6 inces of water over the road. Luckily it was solid underneath. The realization that I was lost and “deep in the shit” began to take hold. Then the road started climbing. And climbing and f*cking climbing, until I saw this:
**BTW, that’s a photo of a gate when it’s barely illuminated by a dying headlamp**
There comes a time when a man has to admit he’s failed. I mulled over my options and decided to go back to the first gate. The road had seemed flat there, and it was dry…which was the opposite of what I had to ride through *again* to get there.
I may have felt a little bit defeated, but that quickly faded as I set up camp. The beauty of bikepacking is the absence of urgency. Everything you need is strapped to your bike, so you can eat or sleep anytime you want. It was July and I’m obese, so I’d sweated through every piece of clothing on my body. It wasn’t hard to rig up a clothesline and hang my stuff., and I figured it didnt really matter if I was sitting around naked while cooking dinner…given the fact that I was completely lost in the middle of nowhere.
After the food was gone, I noticed a small amount of hot water left in the stove. Realizing I’d be a fool to waste it, I put it in a cup, dumped a Gu pack in there and topped it off with some Jim Beam. I’m not gonna say it was delicious, but it wasnt terrible either.
Then I crawled in the tent and spent the rest of the night trying to sleep.. with a knife in one hand and pepper spray in the other…suddenly convinced that every sound I heard was an approaching bear.
I made a point of waking up early since there was no telling how far off-course I’d gotten. The morning was vibrant and I felt pretty good. Standing bare-assed looking at my laundry line, I noticed something peculiar in the tree above.
Somewhere in southern missouri, there’s a guy with a game-camera on a remote gravel road. And now he’s got pictures of my fat naked ass setting up a tent and eating rehydrated sweet & sour pork. All I can say is I’m sorry and I didn’t know.
Heading out, I pushed back up the steep atv trail I’d descended the night before. It was a real bitch to be honest, and I’d become disenchanted with the shitty trails of Marble Creek. One highlight was arriving at the spot where I’d made my massive navigational blunder the night before:
But now I was on a hilltop and Google was with me once again. Google maps showed a *road* going North that wasn’t too far away. I went for it…and rode past it up a giant hill. Doubling back, I found the “road” which was clearly not a road, but a thorn infested corridor of pain through the weeds.
The alleged road was super sketchy and paved with grass and fallen rees. Google maps was clearly wrong. One might say that Google was really starting to piss me off with all its broken promises. I followed along, trying to follow the most northward path along the non-existent road.
This part was particularly challenging, but I was grateful it was mostly down hill:
Eventually I came to creek crossing.
Directly behind the creek was a mud bluff and a tall barb-wire fence. By then, I was moderate-to-severely pissed off. Looking back now, it was a really epic trip. But in that moment, I was just really annoyed with Google and their shitty “road” maps.
Eventually I decided that bushwacking boldly was my only option. Fences were jumped, and I may have trespassed a bit but I can’t be sure. After all, according to Google I was on the road.
When I finally made it back to the road, a bald eagle flew right over the road ahead of me. Totally badass.
Making my way into the campground, I had to stop for a “holy shit I made it” photo:
Back at the campground, it was time for my victory celebration. I found a nice spot along the creek and slid right into the water. After all the struggle from the “trails” and “roads,” the cold spring water felt amazing.
I’ll admit that during this ride, there was a significant amount of time that I just wasn’t enjoying myself. But now that I look back on all of it, (and all the shit I’m leaving out of this post), I realize this was a true adventure. I’ll definitely do this trip again. I hope to see that sunset, but I don’t know if it’ll match the joy I felt sitting in that cold water after such a hard overnighter.
Oh, and fuck you Google maps.
Last weekend, Kate and I toured the gravel roads of Jonesburg. The following is a brief account of the awesomeness that took place.
The proposed route was roughly 25 miles, boasting scenic river views and glamorous upscale housing.
Since neither of us had saved the route ahead of time, (y’know, cuz we’re dumbasses), there was a bit of confusion as to the actual route. But like things usually do, it worked itself out and we were on course in short order. A bit of pavement led us to the beginning of Massas Creek road, which we followed to Tower road. Tower road lived up to its name with some nice climbs, but the scenery was worth the pain. We saw a lot of run down homes and unleashed dogs, but there were also a LOT of really nice homes out there.
I had told my wife we’d be doing this ride at a “training pace,” but that turned out to be a dirty lie. We did a fair amount of picture taking and non-race scheming, so time got away from us a bit. It was totally worth it though, because we found a LOT of cool shit…like this sun-bleached rib-cage for example:
Scenery abounds along this road. Check out this bridge..
The road cuts through a fair bit of National Forest area, and highlights some really great landmarks along the way, like the old house in the picture below. There’s a big “No Tresspassing” sign on it, so we didn’t walk inside and see evidence of fire damage and a pillow on the floor where someone’s been sleeping inside. But if we had walked inside and seen that, it would’ve been really interesting.
Further down the road we encountered a few more respectable climbs, but you’d never know it by the way Kate flew to the top and waited patiently for my fat ass to catch up. I’m gonna blame my sub-par performance on knobby tires, but it would’nt have hurt to be a few dozen pounds lighter.
And what’s the deal with all of these plastic bags on the barb-wire fence? Is that to keep horses away or something?
The downhills. Oh, the downhills. Toward the end of Tower road we began our descent toward the Katy Trail and it was a face melter. Fast and furious, I loved it. Here’s a shot of Kate before the big drop.
It’s really sad the way pictures do such an injustice to the beauty of nature. Anyway, when we got to the bottom of that rip-tastic downhill, we turned east onto the wet, soft Katy Trail. This was probably the only part of the ride I didn’t like. Riding the Katy when it’s soft just sucks. But eventually that part was over and we were on our way up Massas Creek road.
Massas Creek road is totally badass. There are times when it’s so rocky and loose you wonder if it’s even a road at all. There’s definitely a felling of remoteness.The creek crossings and rock formations are a visual treat, as was the bald eagle we saw overlooking the creek. No pics of him though; he blasted off as soon as he saw us.
This rock face was enormous, but you’d never know it from looking at the photo.
….And Kate got to try out her fancy new waterproof cycling boots in this creek. I took the easy way out and rode across.
The rest of the way back to the truck was almost all uphill, so that was a peach. And while we both could’ve ridden further, I think we were glad to call it a day. This route was fantastic, and I mean that. Total mileage was just under 29 miles, but that included some wrong turns and a few off-course exploring rides. This ride could easily be streched to 30-50 miles, and I think it’s safe to say we’ll be riding it again very soon. Hopefully next time we’ll see you there.
The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.
Being as I have moved to the St. Louis area, I suppose it’s time we established an East-side (of Missouri) Virtuesday tradition.
In addition to the weekly Thursday night ride, there will now be a gravel ride leaving from the Mound every Tuesday at 6:30. Distances and effort levels will vary, but the level of awesomeness will remain at a solid 10 out of 10…unless Chuck brings another flask of his homemade booze, in which case the Awesomeness will be elevated to 11 out of 10.
Tonight’s ride will be approximately 20 miles long at a moderate pace.
The only 2 requirements for these rides are as follows:
1.) If you’re a dickhead, don’t show up.
2.) We like to have a craft beer potluck after these rides, so bring a few bottles/cans of something to share with the group.
People of ALL fitness levels and body types are more than welcome to join us.
I would submit to you that there’s no greater form of cycling than Monstercross. Riding a quilted frankenbike across gravel, singletrack, grassy fields and (insert surface type here) is, in my opinion, as good as it gets.
On Black Friday of 2014, Dan Fuhrmann put together just such a ride. Links were posted, tape was hung and the party was in full swing. I think it’s worth mentioning that Dan accepted no money for his work, insisting that all he wanted was to “share this slice of heaven with as many people as possible.” What follows is a very brief description of the ride in hopes that you’ll be there next year.
Pulling into the parking area, I was surprised and pleased to see Travis had made it, along with Jim Phillips and a whole slew of strong, fast cyclists.
The ride started out on a bit of dirt road along the Piney River, which was incredible. The pace was brisk, but I did manage to chat with Travis for a few minutes before my first mechanical of the day.
A dropped chain early in the ride had me off the back quicker than usual, but I did eventually end up riding with Ron Chinn and Shawn Bleiler. Ron was obviously the strongest in our group, but he didn’t rub it in too bad.
The gravel eventually gave way to some double track/atv paths and was an absolute blast. There were plenty of mud/water holes and a lot of sandy spots. I will confess I did some walking, but that’s only because I’m a raging fatass. All of the roads/trails were rideable and very fun.
At one of the gravel/pavement intersections I saw a bit of animal bone that could not have been from a deer:
…and a few feet from there I spotted what I presumed to be a poached black bear’s hide.I would later learn from Shawn this was actually a legally-killed feral hog. If I’d only had racks on my bike I could’ve gathered the pelts and made a pair of ass-less chaps for Casey.
^^Look at the fat layer on that thing! –(TWSS)
The ride was full of kickass scenery and jeep-trails. I couldn’t help but wonder how Dan found all of this stuff and laced it together into such a great ride.
Not having ridden much leading into this weekend, I was a little bit smoked when I finally rolled into the Elbow Inn Bar and BBQ Pit, but a fried pork tenderloin sandwich and Stag beer had me refueled in no time. As always, greasy bar food after a hard day on the bike is pretty amazing. I have to say this was a fantastic ride and I would have been a fool to miss out on it.
But the real fun hadn’t even started, because as soon as this ride was over I was in the truck on the way To Sutton’s Bluff for a bikepacking weekend with Luke and Dave. More on that later.
Sometimes , a hot cup of coffee and a quick trip into the woods is all you need for a short, pleasant escape from life’s bullshit. Yesterday afternoon’s hike was no epic adventure, but it was a lot of fun and I’d like to share the experience, so here goes.
Lately, most of us at Virtus HQ have been bitten by the bikepacking bug. The idea of strapping a ton of gear to your bike, riding great distances and camping under the stars with friends is overwhelmingly appealing. Thusly, we’ve been accumulating some untested gear.
One such item is the Vargo Hexagon Woodstove. I saw this thing on http://www.pedalingnowhere.com and had to have it. Its low weight, very packable, and there’s no fuel to buy…you simply load it with wood you find laying around. Win-win.
So like I said, I needed a coffee break. The plan had been to ride my bike to an undisclosed location and test out the stove. Unfortunately it had been raining all day, so I decided to go for a nice trail-friendly hike.
Arriving at the trailhead, I saw two shirtless men grappling in the parking lot. Awkward. I hiked past them slowly, avoiding eye contact.
With no clear destination, I simply followed the trail and tried to enjoy my surroundings. Barking squirrels and passing geese took over my senses and it just. Felt. Great. A pair of nearby deer were also fun to watch.
A small rock ledge overlooking the river seemed like a good spot to stop, so I set up shop and got the stove going. With all the recent rainfall, finding dry sticks was slightly challenging, but using cotton soaked in hand sanitizer, the fire was burning in no time.
Water was boiled, coffee was brewed and life’s bullshit was forgotten. I even brought almond milk and splenda for that extra something special. I sat there until dark, just stoking the fire, sipping the brew and listening to squirrels bark.
At first I was glad to be alone, but it didn’t take long before I was wishing there were friends to share the moment.
When it was time to go, all I had to do was pour water over the fire, pack up my crap and hike back to the truck. Thankfully there were no shirtless men wrestling in the parking lot this time.
If you’ve got a few hours to kill, you should treat yourself to a short trip like this. All it takes is a little bit of time and a little bit of coffee.