Published on October 30th, 2014 | by Richard Hunt0
Cycles and Seasons
It’s that time of year when we’re aware of both impending and immediate changes happening around us. The leaves on the trees flare with color, then mute to duskier shades. The temperature bounds up and down, winsome when it warms, warning us that winter’s on the way when the wind blows cold. Sunshine grows more fleeting, and it’s that measure of less light every day that seems to carry the most weight.
The end of October is when political, personal, and holiday schedules collide. We all carry our own internal calendars, which can either bend towards or be oblivious of whether it’s the start of school, the end of baseball season, the autumn equinox, Columbus Day, or candy splurge-palooza, a.k.a Halloween. For me, it was daylight savings time about to fall back that triggered my quest to find the right way to cap off what had been a remarkable outdoor season.
Good news recently arrived as a gorgeous stretch of Indian summer. We got to furlough the furnace for a week and shed the layers we’d been wearing for the last month. Buoyed by the warm temps, I searched for a physical challenge to benchmark 2014 while simultaneously affixing a goal for 2015 that would keep me focused during the dark months.
Here in the middle of the country, we’ve been lucky to have had a lot of quality mountain bike trails built, improved and/or enlarged in the last five years. Bordering on being blessed is having our office located just a couple miles from one of the one of the very finest trail systems in the Midwest; it’s an incredible gift to be able to stash the mountain bike at work and ride out the back door when opportunity beckons. Designed and developed by an IMBA-trained local wunderkind, Chad Irey, he kindly passes on the credit to the City of Covington and “thousands of volunteers donating millions of hours” over the years as the Devou Park Trails have gone from drawing board to reality.
After a long string of 60-hour work weeks, it was time to put some slack in the line, at least for a couple hours. Wanting to luxuriate in Mother Nature’s glory, I slipped out late one afternoon with the aspiration to ride every sanctioned trail in Devou. While certainly not a quest on par with world peace or universal health care, it was nonetheless a fitting conclusion to the summer.
Knowing that this would most likely be my last chance this year to attempt this rigor, the first order of the day was to spend some time with the map to plot a route that didn’t double up, or miss, sections. I suspect many hikers and bikers would confess to the same enjoyment of poring over maps in preparation for an undertaking that promises to both test and delight. I love tracing the meandering blue lines of rivers as they cut through and encircle the large blots of green. Then, a thin line within the color appears, and the trail, wispy like the smoke from a campfire, separates from the flatness of the map to become in our minds’ eye…Our 3-D Destiny. That probably begs the amplification of a soundtrack, but I wanted to restrain from the complete Tinseltown cinematic treatment. Nonetheless, it’s pretty special when based on a squiggly line on a screen I can visualize the rise and fall of the pathway, as well as the sights, sounds and smells, that awaits.
For this sojourn, I started in downtown Covington, an urban area just across the river from Cincinnati, OH. It’s a good warm up to zip down the paved streets leading to the first section of trail, which features a shale-like trailbed not found elsewhere in the park, with some big berms cut into the hillside that drain well plus make the return trip fast and fun. Unfortunately, this was my first leg, not the last, or more precisely, the climb, not the descent. When confronted with this sort of incline, the rider is forced to shift down, shut up, and forget about fun while churning up the grade. Doubly grateful for the golden carpet of leaves that led to the first creek crossing, the iridescence took my mind off the hard labor involved in hauling myself of the hill.
Via ta short paved connector at the top, the next section was as flowing and wild as a whitewater river, cascading down the backside of the park. I barely needed to pedal for over a mile as the trail swooped down, which meant gravity worked its magic and spirited me down the hill. Occasionally technical rocky transitions slowed me, but for the most part, it was a wide-grin ride that made me forget the lingering fatigue in my legs from the climb to the top.
This brought me to the site of the Devou Park Trails Phase I, where the grizzled veterans recall it all began with a handful of volunteers armed with shovels and rakes. The well-groomed path climbs via a series of switchbacks from the map board at the base to a section of trail called Devou-tion. This part is the only one-way section of trail in the system; both hikers and bikers are warned against trying to climb Devou-tion as the grade is too steep and those descending are moving fast through some tight corners. My first few times on this section had me jumbling the name from Devou-tion — which suggests polite homage to the gods of balance and stability – to De-evolution, which in my mind more suitably applied to the crazy idea that the shortest distance between two points is a line, albeit not exactly straight, but one that runs smack downhill.
At this point I was roughly (and feeling rougher) a third of the way done. Forging forward, it was back up the top half of the hill, bouncing over familiar roots and rocks while negotiating a few tight passes and an equal number of fast troughs. Cresting the ridge, a loop trail encircles around the top – a welcome chance to catch my breath while racing around the rim. By far the longest stretch of trails, it takes a little topographic homework to connect the spurs off the top to the series of trails midway up the hill, which is how I found myself flying down and flailing up various sections then reversing my initial clockwise passage on the loop so that I could cover the mile or so my route missed the first go-round.
Only three sections remained, all of them comprising the newest section that just open a month ago. Beginning just beyond the locked gate that keeps cars and trucks from driving a stretch that was clearly graded and traversed by motorized traffic at some point in long-ago history. Now, it is the most gentle rise in the park, like the rope pull up the beginner’s slope at the ski hill. Next, a second creek crossing and then more churning up a series of hills to the peak. Here the trail goes through a hairpin turn and, picking back up the skiing metaphor, it’s as big and bold as a mountain run in Vail, CO. Sculpted from a remarkable hillside, I literally flew down this section, up and down-down, a little up, and down-down, turn, down, curve, down, and across a final creek crossing. Wonder of wonders, it then opened up into an even wider section of more downhill, more gravity, more fun. Truly, amusement park roller coasters hold little allure after running these trails time and again. For free. No lines except for the one I was focused intently on following down the run while not falling down.
Soon, I had covered every inch of the trails as intended. I was dirty and tired, but unfortunately not quite done as I had to now climb what had been the fun part of the first downhill, then truly finish by zipping down the rocky return into the heart of Covington.
I wish I could say that I rode every inch, but there were four different five-yard transitions that proved too challenging for me. But I had anticipated more sections that defeated me as I had done a race over these trails a couple weeks prior and more often than I would have liked, found myself pushing the bike uphill. It was rather remarkable to me that when free from the haste and hurry of a competition, my eye could see a line through the rocks and pitches that I missed when riding fast and furious, with other rides fore and aft. This time, I dialed back a bit, concentrated on balance plus having a little in reserve to pop up and over the obstacles. But I know for sure that the four short sections that humbled me this time will be the parts I focus on when running the tape in my head to review during the winter. A flawless, foot-free ride in Devou is now my goal to start next year with.
Looking back, it was a fair amount of numbers ( >12 miles of gorgeous trails, plus countless smiles and panting gasps) and a lot of fun. Devou Park can now rightly claim to be a “destination” location for riders throughout Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. For those coming in from far-flung locations, these trails will prove to be an economic boost for local hotels, eateries and other businesses since many visitors will stay overnight to get in two full days of riding (with hopefully a shower in between). This abundance of outdoor riches right in town will attract relocation within the region, especially for empty nesters, boosting property values in the area. For residents, this is a huge recreation bonus that should be utilized as often as possible. For me, though, it was a perfect way to while away a couple hours immersed in the metropolitan area’s crown jewel of greenery and healthy escape.