Red River Gorge Bike Camping Trip

"Tomorrow is my day off," was the text I got from Jason on Monday. We had discussed a camping trip since I was off of work all week. The equation was simple.

Jason's Day Off - One Night = The Day We Need to Leave After He Gets Off Work

So texting me, "Tomorrow is my day off," meant that we were going to camp that night. Angie was good with that plan (I assure you that wives don't get any better than the one I have) and it was a go. Meet at Jason's house at 7pm and head to the Red River Gorge to grind some gravel under our tires.

It took A LOT of debate in my head as to whether I would take the LHT or the Troll. The Troll would be great on that gravel. But I'd need to install a rack since I don't have a good backpack. On the other hand, the Troll has been neglected so far this year. When you miss a bike, you want to ride that bike. On the other, other hand, the LHT was completely ready for a camping trip and would perform just fine on gravel. It is definitely the bike to end all bikes, in my mind. So the LHT made the trip.
As with any plan, we got a later start than usual. We probably weren't in the gorge until 10pm or so. The Nada Tunnel (pictured above) was the only respite from rain until about midnight. Yes, rain. Lots and lots of rain. We parked the truck and pedaled a couple miles on pavement before we hit gravel. Super dark and buckets of rain make an interesting ride. Visibility was probably about four feet. But once we were on gravel, we didn't travel too fast anyway. Jason knew the route well enough to get us there in the dark. I, on the other hand, had no idea where we were going as we squinted our way through the downpour.

Hammocks and tarps were hung via headlamps. Building a fire was a pipe dream. But it was a pipe dream I was going to attempt. But my aspirations of flame were thwarted by the sopping wet wood. No fire. So I moved on to dinner. A couple hotdogs and a dehydrated camp meal kept us fueled for the evening. No photos were taken due to the dampness of it all. The iPhone stayed stowed safely away in the drybag.
I slept like a baby. And not a baby with a wet diaper. I was totally dry all night thanks to my homemade Tyvek tarp. When I woke up, I had one of those, "Hey, I've never actually seen this place before," kind of moments. We were camping in a great little spot right on the creek.
Plenty of tree coverage kept us in the shade and the creek played a rockin' soundtrack of babbling water as breakfast and coffee were prepared.
Coffee is a camping must for me. If you're a coffee fan to begin with, the joy is multiplied by one thousand when it comes on a cool, wet morning in the woods.
We slowly made our way through the early morning and packed up the bikes once again. I packed all the wet, nasty crap into one pannier and all the dry stuff in the other, as to not contaminate one with the other. A wise choice, I discovered, when I unpacked later in the day.

A loaded bike on gravel can be a bit squirrelly. I would compare it to a naked infant after a bath. Slippery and unpredictable. There was more than one instance when I was trucking along and the front wheel started to wash out on me. No spills were taken on the making of this camping trip, though.
We did lots of exploring on the gravel. We racked up miles taking turn after turn and hitting dead end after dead end, but loving it along the way. Over and over we would meander over, through and along the creek. But every route had it's end.
At one point, we locked our bikes to some trees and headed out on foot on a hiking trail. As long as we were at the Red River Gorge, we figured we should probably take in the views.
The trail we headed up was called Pistol Ridge. Jason's keen on climbing rocks. So he knew it as a climber destination at the Gorge. It was a short hike but a steep one.
If you've never been to Red River Gorge, I promise you that the views always deliver.
Evidence of a climbing route. The Gorge is a nationally known destination for climbing. My scrawny arms and robust gut keep me off of the rocks and on a bicycle saddle, though. But I respect the heck outta someone that can scramble up these rock faces.
Climb that? Go ahead. Not me, though.
As a climber, Jason admired the stone walls.
As a non-climber, I admired the slimy salamanders.
By the time we made it back to the bikes we were hot and bothered. A rope swing tempted us to take a dip. We swang... swunged... swinged on the rope. But stayed in the air. The swinging was enough to cool us off. No water was necessary.
We eventually made our way back to the truck to unload the bikes. The LHT was hauling two semi-loaded panniers in the rear and some random whatnots in the basket. I'm learning to load the basket with soft goods. The previous night's journey was quite rattly. But the morning ride's front load consisted of hammock, Chaco's and camp pillow. It was a much quieter load on up front.
Wet gravel makes for a dirty bike. But fenders certainly do a splendid job keeping the crud off. Signed, sealed, be-fendered is the way to go.
We unloaded the bikes and put the unnecessary cargo in Jason's truck. And with lighter burdens, we pedaled to Gladie. Smooth pavement, light traffic and sprightly bikes made it a delightful ride with the illusion of fresh legs.
The bikes soaked up the sun, which we saw very little of due to tree coverage. This is also an opportunity to note Jason's rig. You see that purple goodness? Hims went and got himself a Troll frame. As I snapped this photo, I confessed to my jealousy for the purple. His intent for the frame will eventually be realized as a wide-rimmed, 26" do-it-all touring/commuter rig. I hope he'll write a guest post to map out his plans. But I'll say this; I like where he's headed.

Both bikes, as different as they may be, handled the trip beautifully. Each bike leans one way in it's purpose (the LHT towards pavement and the Troll towards dirt). But we've both torqued their builds with more versatility in mind. In actuality, they are very similar builds. And trips like this really highlight the fact that Surly builds their frames with both diversity and versatility. I like that.
But I'm back now, at my kitchen counter, while my gear dries out in the back yard. It was a quick trip, and incredibly last minute. But it was awesome. Big thanks to Angie who suggested I go (man, have I mentioned how spectacular I am at choosing a wife?). She wrestled all four kids solo while I was gone. That's a big sacrifice.

I'm thankful for buddies like Jason (of which I have few) that will leave work at 6:15pm and be pedaling through rain on a loaded bike just a few short hours later. When you're a pastor and a father of four, trips like this are rare. I'd be doing this stuff solo, or not at all, if it weren't for a "Let's-Just-Do-It" attitude. Way to be awesome, Jason. You should write a guest post about your Troll to prove your awesomeness.

This trip made me crave more gravel. But I'm no map junkie. So it'll be tough to find the good stuff around here. But I'd love to do more trips like this in the future.

Get out there.


  1. Replies
    1. When we were thinking about heading to the Gorge, I was gonna shoot you an email. Then we ended up leaving so abruptly that I forgot. Next time you'll have to show us some new routes out that way!

    2. NO problem. Been a crazy couple of weeks for me anyway. It's be cool to meet up sometime though.

  2. Fantastic post, made me want to be there, pouring rain and all. Sounds like a perfectly fine adventure.

    1. Rain didn't bother us a bit. In fact, it would have been a lot hotter without it. It may have made things better!

  3. Great, great, great. I'm trying to clear the calendar a bit to do some touring or gravel myself. Your bit if inspiration didn't hurt.

    And as fir that

  4. As for that LHT, sure is one inspired ride!

    1. I'm loving that bike! It's difficult to choose another.