Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fire and Brimstone Creek

Back in May, Jeff Bauer and I scouted Big Bottom Road on a dreary Sunday, discovering a quiet shady lane that turned to gravel, rolled past calm streams and quiet farms, and then became paved Brimstone Creek to climb up near Moss, TN. It took a few weeks, but I eventually filed this with RUSA as the Brimstone Creek 200K permanent.

And nobody rode it.

I wanted my last weekend in Tennessee to include a great ultra ride, however, and so I invited a bunch of folks to come out to Cookeville to ride this permanent. Ultimately, Jeff Bauer, Jeff Sammons, and Steve Phillips were able to fit it into the schedule, as we set off Sunday at 7 am from the Key West Inn on Hwy 135.

The first miles of the route follows my 400K, heading north towards Gainesboro. As we passed through Dodson Branch, you could see fog down in the Cumberland River valley.

Somebody -- either the county or the state -- has paved this road on the descent, which made it a lot more fun. Once down by the Roaring River, the morning chill continued to lift as we rolled through the lush pasture.

We were all riding strong. Jeff, Jeff, and Steve all had plenty of leftover fitness from Paris-Brest-Paris, and I have loads of untapped cycling potential, not being allowed to ride much in the past few weeks.

Mostly through course knowledge, I even managed to grab the first four county-line sprints. Jeff Bauer got the rest, of course, since he had long-term power.

We skirted the edge of Gainesboro, staying north on Hwy 135. Just over the Cumberland River, we turned right on Big Bottom Road.

As we zipped down the quiet road, we saw signs saying that the bridge ahead was out. Jeff Bauer and I had seen these signs last time, however, and knew that the road was only out for cars. We had been able to bike over the old bridge easily ... although we saw one or two cars that must have done the same.

Big Bottom has just enough ups and downs to keep it interesting, and Jeff Bauer and I decided it would be really fun on a tandem. When the pavement ended and the gravel began, however, I wondered if the road might not be as much fun for a skittish stoker.

As we neared the old bridge, we saw a new "Bridge Closed" sign, and when we came around the corner we realized that they weren't kidding any more.

The state or county had torn up the far end of the old bridge and begun putting in a foundation for a new bridge. I guess you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

The creek here was obviously too deep to wade, and we couldn't tell how far upstream we would have to go before it became passable ... if it ever did.

Jeff Bauer -- who also climbs -- shimmied out to the edge and declared it manageable, saying we might be able to pass the bikes from one person to the next, drop them to someone at the bottom, and then clamber out. Acrophobic as I am, this idea didn't appeal to me. I frankly had trouble standing near the edge of the remaining portions of the bridge.

So, we retraced our route back towards 135. A gravel "short-cut" near the bottom of Big Bottom Road gave us an opportunity to shave off a couple of miles, plus get in more of our gravel-road fix. The short-cut required a long climb out of the gap, followed by a steep slippery descent, and I thought more than once that it may have been faster -- and easier on our nerves -- to have just stayed on the pavement.

Once back on Hwy 135, the route was simple. We were now on another permanent that uses almost the same route: Honest Abe. These two routes differ only with the Big Bottom/Brimstone Creek section, since Honest Abe follows the old Avery Trace road race route up to Union Hill-Moss Road. The mileage of the two permanents is otherwise identical.

Hwy 135 stayed quiet on the climb out of the river valley, and Union Hill Moss Road is pretty and rolling. There were a number of suicidal locusts in the road, jumping as we went by. When we got to the first control, I found the partial remains of one still stuck in my front tire's spokes.

Steve Phillips took a picture and posted it on Facebook.

We got a sandwich at the control -- Cherry's Grocery in Moss, TN. This store reminds me so much of Mr. Fly's store down in Fly, TN, with the main difference being that Cherry's has gas pumps out front, but doesn't have a pot-bellied stove inside.

The trip down Hwy 52 to Celina was fast, thanks to the gradual descent and a tailwind. We stopped for a quick ice cream at the Dairy Queen, and Jeff Sammons told us that he would need to cut the ride short. He continued down Hwy 53 towards Gainesboro, while Jeff Bauer, Steve, and I stayed on Hwy 52 east to Standing Stone Park.

After crossing the one-lane bridge, you have a tough climb back up, followed by some nasty rollers as you pass through the rest of the park. On the other side, we stopped at our next control, the Hilham General Store, where Jeff Bauer bought me a pickle. I didn't think that I needed one, since I wasn't having any muscle cramps, but the salt perked me up and I pulled us at a fairly fast pace all the way west on Hwy 85 back to Hwy 53 at Gainesboro.

Our control there was the Subway, one mile further west on Hwy 56. I bought a sandwich and wolfed it down to stave off a caloric deficit. We then retraced our route back to downtown Gainesboro, and got back on Hwy 53 to suffer on the steep climb out of town. On the way up, you pass the turn on to Hwy 262 and the "real" Avery Trace, which was once the main road between Knoxville and Nashville.

The next few miles roll through quiet farmland, with one last tough climb on the way to Granville. This portion of the ride has less shade than some of the others, but Granville makes up for it with good ice cream on Saturday's at the H.B. Sutton store. Since it was Sunday, however, we had to make due with a fresh bag of ice and lots of water.

From here, we headed up Hwy 96 -- a cool sun-dappled road leading to a gentle shaded climb that ends at US 70. We took this semi-busy road to Baxter, where we turned on to Buffalo Valley Road towards Cookeville. Jeff Bauer was smelling the barn at this point, and he got up front for a fast pull to the finish.

Maybe it wasn't the ride that I had planned, but it was as good a ride as I could have hoped for ... even with the extra 15 miles. I hope all my friends here make it a regular part of their randonneuring.

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