Dirt Rag Magazine

The Ultimate Ride to the Ride Part 7: Southern Illinois


Catch up: This is a cross-country bike tour with a twist: Chris Reichel pedaled a road bike towing a mountain bike from Colorado to North Carolina and hit all the best trails along the way. If you missed earlier installments of the Ultimate Ride to the Ride, see them here.


By Chris Reichel

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I know that there are a few really good trail systems around St. Louis that I didn’t ride while I was there and that hurts me a little, but I chose to rest my legs and be a tourist, instead. I had never spent any significant time there and wanted to check out everything the city had to offer. I visited some bike shops, bellied up to a few great bars and, of course, went to the City Museum. The City Museum, despite its bland sounding name, isn’t your typical snooze-fest of a museum. It is a fully functional and user-friendly piece of art, open for everyone to play with and on. It was truly impressive.

Schedules and bike touring don’t mix…

Finally saying goodbye to my travel partner and setting off again alone, I crawled my way out of St. Louis on a Monday afternoon. Coincidentally, there happened to be a few breweries along my route and I couldn’t just ride by without stopping. It wasn’t until 10 p.m. that, with the bridge to Illinois in sight, I swerved away from Alpha Brewing.

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Halfway over the bridge, I stopped to take in the St. Louis skyline. I was now officially east of the Mississippi. I congratulated myself out loud on the arbitrary milestone and coasted down the other side of the bridge toward a giant casino complex. It seemed like an odd place to find a casino, but there it was. Its garish lights reflected off a barge being pushed up river and it looked to me like some sort of sad Las Vegas reject.

Once on the streets of East St. Louis, I couldn’t help but note the juxtaposition between the “haves” and the “have nots” I had just experienced. Fifteen minutes prior I was in a bustling, hip and affluent urban neighborhood. Now, only a river away, I was riding through what appeared to be a modern day ghost town. The streets lined with abandoned buildings and no real signs of life, sans for a few stray cats or the occasional person sitting on a porch. It was a lot to mull over as I rode south into the night, finally making camp in a town park around 2 a.m.

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Up at dawn, I tapped out the miles toward Carbondale. Some friends of mine were driving across the country and I convinced them to come find me and camp out for the night. We made our way to Lake Murphysboro State Park and had a real nice time fishing and catching up alongside this pretty little lake. I was up early the next morning to beat the heat, but even at sunrise the humidity was suffocating. I said goodbye to my friends and pedaled the few short miles to Kinkaid Lake.

The area called The Spillway is better known as a spot for keg parties and swimming holes, but there is also a nice little piece of singletrack there. The trail didn’t look like it had seen much use lately but that just made it a little more challenging. I rode for a couple hours, smashing through hundreds of spider webs all while the sounds of high horsepower boats rumbled like thunder from the lake.

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Flying high from riding a new trail and a dip in the local swimming hole, I loaded up the White Buffalo (pictured below) and rode into Carbondale. I needed to swap a bottom bracket on my tow bike, and I obviously didn’t have the tools on me to get the job done. I polled social media for the best bike shop in town and all opinions sent me to The Bike Surgeon. Being a former bike shop wrench, I would never expect this repair to be done on the same day. So I spoiled myself and got a hotel room for a couple days before dropping my bike off.

Much to my surprise, the crew at the shop turned my repair around in a couple hours. With my trusty steed back in working condition I used my down time to sample local restaurants and sample a few beers I had never heard of. The biggest find/surprise was Scratch Brewery. They are doing some great things and their brews are worth seeking out.

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In case you forgot what his rig looks like…

Rested, refreshed and well fed, I pointed it south toward Kentucky, but not without a stop at the Cedar Lake trails. I had intended to only ride these trails for a couple of hours in order to make an arbitrary mileage goal for the day but, before I knew it, the sun was setting and I was still on my mountain bike. Schedules and bike touring don’t mix, so I found myself a good place to camp and saved the pavement and traffic for the next morning.

Up with the sun, I tapped out 70 miles to yet another state line. In some ways, borders are just invisible lines drawn on a map. But when you are on bike tour, they are significant measures of progress and usually provide a much-needed mental boost. As I crossed the Ohio River, on one of the most sketchy steel deck bridges I have ever seen, it felt like I was starting a new chapter in this tour. The final and best chapter yet to come.

 

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The Ultimate Ride to the Ride, Part 6: Missouri and the Katy Trail


Catch up: A cross-country bike tour with a twist: Chris Reichel is riding his mountain bike from Colorado to North Carolina and hitting all the best trails along the way. If you missed earlier installments of the Ultimate Ride to the Ride, see them here.


R2R Mo1By Chris Reichel

I never thought I would say this but, leaving Kansas City was hard. Moving on, with Kansas sufficiently in my rear view mirror, I knew that mountain bike trails would become much more common as I headed east. Saying goodbye to friends old and new, I set out across Missouri with another ride–along partner, the infamous Cog Fairy, Shanna. We had hundreds of flat miles ahead of us and the theory was that if she rode her singlespeed, she would go about the same pace as me towing the trailer. It was a good idea … in theory. But in reality, it just resulted in her dropping me and having to wait at every town for me to catch up.

In the late 1980’s, the railroad companies grew tired of repairing flood-damaged sections of tracks along the Missouri river and re-routed all trains to other tracks. The right of way was to be abandoned. Instead, following the lead of other communities in the state, the entire line was eventually acquired by Missouri and turned into a state park/recreation trail. The Katy Trail was born.

In total, it is 237 miles of flat, car free bicycle pleasure. Probably the coolest part about this route is how bicycle-friendly all the towns are (with the exception of one). There are a variety of inns, motels, restaurants and bars scattered along the route. You can also camp for free at the trailheads at the end of each day, if you so desire. It seemed like everyone in the towns wanted to talk about our ride and every single one of them credited the Katy Trail with providing a significant economic boost to the surrounding area.

R2R Mo4The first objective of this leg was to get to Columbia, Missouri, in time for my birthday so that we could get a proper hotel room, enjoy the local breweries and ride some singletrack. We were a little behind schedule, due to all of the distractions along the trail. We started referring to these distractions as Trail Sirens: wonderful small town novelties that would lure us in with their sweet song of comfort food and ice-cold beverages, then steal hours of our day.

My personal favorite was all of the music we would stumble upon. It could be an old timer playing his guitar on a porch or a whole band playing inside the local breakfast joint at 7:00 a.m. Music was everywhere and it always made my day.

R2R Mo2By the time we arrived in Columbia, it was dark and pouring rain. The rain was surprisingly warm so it wasn’t too terrible, although the lightning was rather unnerving. Soaking wet, we pulled off the bike path and into the welcoming arms of Flat Branch Brewery. Great beer, food and a warm bed felt like high-class living. But unfortunately the rain would not let up until well into the next day. I’m not one to rut up a trail system in the rain, so there would be no mountain biking for me on my birthday. A few beers at another little brewery were a sufficient backup plan before rejoining the Katy Trail.

Leaving Columbia, we were treated to the best Trail Siren yet. Cooper’s Landing is famous amongst Katy Trail veterans for, of all things, its Thai food. Right there, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, is a small Thai food truck situated amongst some campsites and a general store. With big views of a bend in the Missouri river, tasty food and a super friendly vibe, this place is well worth stopping for.

R2R Mo3By day three, the monotony of a flat trail was starting to get old. There are very few opportunities to stand up and coast and your sit bones pay the price. We developed a rhythm of stopping every so often to walk around, nap, destroy absurd amounts of ice cream and shoot pebbles with a wrist rocket my buddy Burnsey gifted me before we left KC.

The trail seemed to be extra flat along the eastern half. We trudged on, swatting mosquitoes and dodging countless baby frogs, newly hatched from the nearby swampland. A side trip was made to the quaint state capital, Jefferson City, to visit Prison Brews. It was a worthy detour.

As we got closer to St Louis, the amount of bike traffic steadily increased. It was amazing to see so many people utilizing the bike path. With the added people came an increase in questions about the ridiculous rig I was towing. My explanation was always greeted with a smile and a “good luck.” But by that time, I was already about half finished with the trip. Spirits were high and I didn’t really need luck. I just needed to keep pedaling.

R2R Mo5The final day on the Katy Trail began with a message from an old friend saying that he was at a trail system near St Louis hosting a mountain bike demo. When I looked up the location, it was only a few miles off the route. We would be there by late afternoon with just enough daylight to get a good ride in with friends.

The Lost Valley trails were quite a treat after five days of flat, crushed limestone. We had a blast chasing each other through the singletrack on this small but action-packed trail system.

The Katy Trail was such a unique experience that I would recommend it to any cyclist looking for a mellow, multi-day ride. Free camping along the route and super friendly towns make it the perfect gateway drug to bike touring. A couple hundred miles of car free riding doesn’t hurt, either!

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The Ultimate Ride to the Ride – Part 5, Hello Single Speed Kansas City


Catch up: A cross-country bike tour with a twist: Chris Reichel is riding his mountain bike from Colorado to North Carolina and hitting all the best trails along the way. If you missed earlier installments of the Ultimate Ride to the Ride, see them here.


By Chris Reichel

I didn’t have much of a schedule or timeframe for this trip, but the one place I really wanted to be was Single Speed Kansas City. I begrudgingly left Wilson Lake, Kansas, on a 95-degree afternoon and pointed it toward Kansas City. That same morning I also got a message from my buddy James wanting to know where I was, because he wanted to meet up and ride along. James owns the bike touring oasis, Newton Bike Shop in Newton, Kansas. It is conveniently located smack dab in the middle of the Trans American touring route. One part bike shop and one part hostel, it’s a great place to take a rest day in the middle of the country. Although I was about 100 miles north of his shop and it was the busiest time of year, James still snuck away to ride with me for a couple days.

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James is one of those guys that has contagious stoke and it was just what I needed. The miles and heat were finally starting to grind me down and it was great having his positive energy around. We proceeded to laugh, drink beers, curse the wind and pedal our way across the prairie for two days. When we finally went our separate ways outside of Salina, my batteries were recharged and I was ready to knock out the last miles to KC.

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Single Speed Kansas City was born out of an internal feud amongst the singlespeed community over who would host Single Speed USA for 2015. What resulted was the best solution to any feud, ever. The race was held one week before Single Speed USA in Wisconsin and, if you were an ambitions driver, you could make both events back to back. I was really looking forward to this event. I would be hanging out with the 8-Lumens crew members, who know how to ride some bikes and throw a party. They would not disappoint.

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I arrived in KC to a surprise delivery from Oskar Blues Brewery. They must have thought that I looked thirsty riding across Kansas so they sent an actual truck-load of beer for me to share at the event. That’s enough to bring a man to tears after towing a trailer for 600 miles.

We all met at a bar downtown on Friday night for a little registration party and some socializing. The night then degraded into a local-led group ride around the industrial side of town. Stairs were ridden and new friends were made. It was the perfect warmup for a proper singlespeed death march the next day.

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Saturday morning came too early and I was sufficiently late for the start of the race. Riding across town, following the map on my phone, it was hard to believe that there were mountain bike trails around. But much to my surprise, when I arrived at Swope Park, there was just that. Punchy, rocky and technical singletrack right there in the middle of Kansas City! I jumped in the course a half-hour late and went for a little mountain bike ride while everyone else raced, including stalling out at a classic heckling spot on one of the final climbs. It was complete with a drummer and a guy playing the dobro.

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After the race was finished and awards were handed out, the after party moved to the Pirate XC skills course, a Kansas City tradition and the sick brainchild of frame builder Sean Burns. We faced a mini time trial on skinny bridges, teeter totters and over a series of small jumps. It was more fun than should probably be legal and the winner received the biggest prize of all: bragging rights.

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Kansas City knows how to throw a bike party and the trails inside city limits are downright amazing.  I wanted to stay a little longer but St. Louis was calling and 300 miles of Missouri was standing in the way.

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About the author: Chris is the chief stoke officer and head cat herder at drunkcyclist.com.  He has recently escaped the grip of Corporate America and set out to see all that FUNemployment has to offer a mountain bike addict. Follow him on Twitter: @dirtybiker, and Instagram: @dirty_biker

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The Ultimate Ride to the Ride – Part 4, Kansas Singletrack Surprise


Catch up: A cross-country bike tour with a twist: Chris Reichel is riding his mountain bike from Colorado to North Carolina and hitting all the best trails along the way. If you missed Part 1Part 2, or Part 3 of the Ultimate Ride to the Ride, you might want to start there.


By Chris Reichel

I struggled to find motivation after getting pummeled by Mother Nature. What should have been one, long day to get to the trails took me most of two. The reality of what I had just gone through took a little while to sink in. My mind started playing tricks on me. I reviewed my bailout options as I pedaled across the emptiness of the prairie.

Alone with my thoughts in the baking sun, I would occasionally pass a humming oil well or an abandoned farmhouse. I could ride down to I-70 and hitchhike back to Denver or B-line it to Wichita and fly home to Arizona. The mind is a funny thing when you are exhausted. The truth of the matter is that I really didn’t have a home to go back to. I had given all that up and gone fully mobile weeks ago. I am a glorified bike hobo that was now lonely and tired in the middle of Kansas. I might as well push on. What else am I going to do?

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My destination was Wilson Lake and the relatively well-known Switchgrass trails that surround it. I approached the lake from the north and when I crossed the dam at the eastern terminus, I suddenly knew that things were going to get better. Before me was a large clear lake and tons of people everywhere seemingly having a blast.

I rolled into the campground in the heat of the day and picked out a site close to both the lake and the trails. Relieved to be settling in for three days of relaxing and mountain biking, I quickly met the neighbors who instantly offered me a cold beer. Then I met Randy, who was on a similar cross-country mountain bike pilgrimage but in a car. He was stopping along the way to ride anywhere and everywhere he could. We chatted about the places we had been and the people we have already met along the way. It was nice to talk mountain bikes with a fellow traveler.

We rode a bit together and explored the trail system.  I didn’t get many pictures of my stay at Wilson Lake because my camera gear spent most of the time desiccating in a giant bag of rice (after getting flooded in the tornado storm). But on the final night, I rolled the dice and put the batteries back in the cameras. Much to my surprise (and relief) everything worked!

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I convinced my new friend Randy to go out for a little sunset ride to get some photos. We were treated to a most beautiful sunset and great trail conditions. Randy was even nice enough to crash right in front of me  so I could get an action shot!

I rode over 400 miles towing a trailer/drunk show to get to these trails and I have to say it was worth it. It is a well-laid-out trail system that somewhat resembles Phil’s World in Cortez, Colorado. The luxury of a great campground plus a lake to jump in and wet a fishing line was a bonus. What a pleasant singletrack surprise!

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The Ultimate Ride to the Ride – Part 3, Punishment on the Prairie


Catch up: A cross-country bike tour with a twist: Chris Reichel is riding his mountain bike from Colorado to North Carolina and hitting all the best trails along the way. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 of the Ultimate Ride to the Ride, you might want to start there.


By Chris Reichel

I want to start off by saying that I never once thought eastern Colorado and Kansas would be easy. I have heard enough stories from other riders to respect the difficulty of the prairie. But I had no idea just how much it would try to destroy me.

I must admit that most of my suffering was my fault. I came into this ride completely underprepared and out of shape. I could only laugh at the fact that while I was spending so much time arranging my life to exit society and live on my bicycle, that I had no time to actually ride.  As I rode away from Longmont, Colorado, to start the trip, I hit the eastern Colorado prairie like it was training camp. There is no better way to get into riding shape that to ride all day. Every day.

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The slow pace towing a trailer was a test of patience and I quickly learned that this part of the country might not be mountainous, but it is far from flat. Straight roads and fields of wheat as far as the eye could see create a unique kind of boredom. The July heat and the lack of shade made life pretty difficult, even for a seasoned desert rat like myself.

Day three of any tour is the hardest. It is the physical and mental barrier that will bring down even the strongest of riders. By this point soreness has caught up with you and the realization that you have a long way to go finally sets in. I have lived through it dozens of times before and this time it was no different. I punched through it and by day six I was in Kansas. My mileage was steadily increasing and by day 10 I was in full touring mode. Training camp over. Time to really ride.

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Hitting my stride at that point, I was having a blast. I rolled into the town of Hill City with 70 miles behind me and feeling great. This was already my biggest day of the trip and I didn’t see any reason to stop now. I was stuffing my face with ice cream in a gas station parking lot when a man stopped to talk to me. He introduced himself as Jeramy and said he was cyclist too. I told him my planned route for the rest of the evening and he said that it was a bad idea and recommended better way, a way that had less traffic and no gravel roads. I thanked and decided to take his advice.

Sure enough, he was right. It was a beautiful ride through the countryside at sunset. I had just pulled over to switch on my lights when a truck slowly pulled up along side me. It was Jeramy and a buddy. They thought I could use a beer so they drove out to find me. We hung out in a cornfield talking bikes and beer until nearly midnight. My riding was obviously done for the day and I decided to camp right where we were standing. It was a 5-star day of bike touring.

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I woke up suddenly at 4 a.m. to my phone ringing. I was a little foggy listening to the voice mail, but it was Jeramy and he sounded serious.

“Man, there is a really bad storm coming your way. It’s on my house right now or else I’d come get ya. Please find shelter. It’s REALLY bad!”

It was a little breezy around me, and I could hear some thunder in the distance, but nothing seemed very serious. I started to pull up the weather radar on my phone when, all of the sudden, I lost service. Just like that, the wind picked up and the thunder was right on top of me. There were some culverts near by, but how bad could it be? It was a beautiful night when I went to sleep.

I made the decision to stay in the tent with all of my belongings. I put my back to the wind and braced the side of my tent. I spread my legs as wide as I could to secure the corners of the tent and one hand held the cross bar in the ceiling. The wind was getting ferocious and with a single gust all of the stakes ripped from the ground. The rain fly started whipping me in the back so hard that I felt the zipper break the skin.

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Then the rain came like a wave and I was instantly sitting in two inches of water. When the lightning flashed I could see the water rushing into all of my dry bags that I had poorly sealed before falling asleep. There was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t let go of the tent. This was starting to get serious. The wind speed continued to increase and I was now getting hit with debris. A few gusts were so strong that they caught the tent just right and started to lift me off the ground.

Then I heard a sound that I will never forget. Imagine standing next to a freight train. Now turn that sound up to 11 and mix in the demons of hell. It sounded like pure evil. It was so loud that at one point I let out a scream just see if I could hear it, and I couldn’t. At that moment the tent poles finally broke and I instinctively rolled myself up like a burrito in the rain fly. Funny thing is that I remember being so calm, that I actually wondered why I was so calm. All I could think to myself was “Is this really a tornado in Kansas? How cliché.”

The noise passed as fast as it came and by the time the rain stopped it was dawn. I assessed the damage and it wasn’t pretty. My tent was flattened, all of my possessions were soaked and my cameras were under water. The whole White Buffalo bike rig had been moved about 15 feet down wind and my helmet was nowhere to be seen. I busied myself with spreading my gear out to dry. Jeramy drove out to see if I was okay and handed me a beer to calm my nerves. I guess I looked a little shook. He informed me that the news reported a tornado touched down “just over there” and pointed at a field close to where we were standing. That was heavy news to hear. I just rode out a tornado. In my tent.  Suddenly I wasn’t so upset about my ruined camera gear. I was just happy to be breathing.

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At that moment I was done. Get me out of here and take me home now. If there was a big red button that I could press to end the trip I would have pressed it. Transport me back to the comfort of my home trails and my neighborhood pub. Back to my comfortable little house and my mediocre job. But I didn’t set out on this trip to be comfortable. I did it to ride bikes and have unique experiences. I have to chalk up that crazy night to another experience and move on down the road. Plus, after 400 miles, I am almost to the singletrack. I can’t quit now, I have worked so hard to get this far.

So I sucked it up and pedaled on down the road. Like a moth to a flame, I went to the trails.

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The Ultimate Ride to the Ride – Part 2, The Setup


Catch up: A cross-country bike tour with a twist: Chris Reichel is riding his mountain bike from Colorado to North Carolina and hitting all the best trails along the way. If you missed Part 1 of the Ultimate Ride to the Ride, read it here.


By Chris Reichel

This trip became a reality faster than I could have ever expected. For years, it was all just one big impossible daydream. All of the sudden I had a to-do list as long as my arm and only about a month to make it happen. I have done plenty of touring so I knew what gear to pack and how to choose a route. That’s the easy stuff. But I had no idea how I was going to mount the bike on a trailer.

I grabbed my old BOB trailer out of the garage and marched down to my local bike shop to enlist the help of my friend Joey. He is far more creative than I will ever be and that special breed of bike mechanic who always seems to find a way to make things work. We sat and stared at the ingredients for a bit: the trailer, a roof rack tray, some U-bolts, an old handlebar and a few chunks of aluminum of various sizes. We cranked up the tunes and in couple of hours later, a monster was born!

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After a few coats of white paint, I assembled the whole rig in my living room. A contraption this ridiculous needed a name, and the first thing that came to mind was The Great White Buffalo.  Not for the Ted Nugent song, the folk singer or even the beer made by Oskar Blues. It’s just a rare white beast that will be lumbering across the middle of America. It seemed appropriate.

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The White Buffalo has some business in the front with my Vassago Cycles Fisticuff, which is towing the party in the back, a REEB Dikyelous singlespeed. Throw in some camping gear, leave a little room for some beers and hit the road.

With no return date in sight, I said goodbye to my friends, put the last of my possessions in storage and headed north. Since the official start of my tour was Longmont, Colorado, I did my best to mooch rides from Arizona to the Denver area. I even managed to stop in Moab and Fruita for some mountain bike rides along the way. That road trip alone was enough to make a ton of memories for anyone. This trip was off to a good start

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My first real shake-down ride of the whole rig, fully loaded, was from Denver to Longmont. As I rode the rolling hills and country roads between the two cities, it quickly occurred to me that this is going to be really hard. This might have been a terrible idea.

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I arrived at the Oskar Blues headquarters and went straight to the REEB frame shop. Chris Sulfrain, the craftsman responsible for all of the frames, met me at the door. He quickly put a beer in my hand and we proceeded to geek-out about frame building and music. I hung out for a couple of days drinking great beers, seeing just how my frame was made and meeting dozens of great people.

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Loitering for days at a brewery with a frame shop was pretty cool. But I had to hit the road. Time to get this show on the road. So at sunrise, on a quite Saturday morning in Longmont, I put my feet on the pedals and pointed it east.  The Great White Buffalo is in motion and let’s see where we end up! Kansas, here I come!

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The Ultimate Ride to the Ride – Part 1, an introduction


By Chris Reichel

I have decided to do something I have dreamed about since I was a kid. I’m going to ride across the United States.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking, me and 10,000 other people this summer. But that’s just it, I don’t really want to do one of the same old cross-country routes and I’m not concerned with going ocean to ocean. I want to add my own twist on a long US tour and have a truly unique experience exploring my country.

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I already have a habit of turning simple ride ideas into what I like to call “great bad ideas” and this particular bad idea has been a long time in the making. It originally started out as a scheme to ride touring bikes between skateparks while towing trailers full of camping gear, skateboards and BMX bikes. I’m a little older now and I don’t bounce like I used and I now have a full-fledged mountain bike addiction. So singletrack sounds a lot better than cement these days. So why not tow a trailer with a mountain bike on it? Better yet, a singlespeed!

The only thing left to do was to pick the route. I was chatting with some of my friends from Oskar Blues Brewery about this idea when the light bulb went on above my head. In addition to their headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, they have a new facility in Brevard, North Carolina. I will use the breweries as bookends for this ride and I try and hit as many trail zones as possible across the middle of the country. Now this is a great bad idea.

I have spent the better part of the last decade trying ride in the most remote places I could find. I have chased solitude from the deserts of the southwest to the Himalayas and I have loved every minute of it. But this tour is going to be the exact opposite of that. I am seeking out smaller, less popular trail systems. Places that aren’t necessarily destinations but the trails that people would ride on a weeknight after work.

All trails are good and I want to ride all of them. I want to get my legs ripped off by the locals and then have long conversations over beers at the trailhead afterwards. Basically, I just want to go mountain biking and to get to the trail by bicycle.

So I quit my job, moved all my possessions into storage and I have hit the road for the Ultimate Ride to the Ride. Follow along as I drag my junk show across Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Southern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

About the author: Chris is the chief stoke officer and head cat herder at drunkcyclist.com.  He has recently escaped the grip of Corporate America and set out to see all that FUNemployment has to offer a mountain bike addict. Follow him on Twitter: @dirtybiker, and Instagram: @dirty_biker. 

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Continue reading this series in part 2 here.

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