Friday Group Ride #169

After a late breaking winter and bright, cold spring, the summer heat (and humidity) arrived yesterday like a groom late for his own wedding. I opted to get out and ride solo early this morning and still managed to work up a lather worthy of a Kentucky Derby winner.

Instead of the regular Friday morning soft-spin out to the green suburb and back, I opted for a route that took me up along a pair of small lakes. I was feeling adventurous, and the warmth hadn’t settled on the asphalt like a wool blanket yet.

Dancing (plodding really) up a short, sharp climb I spied a road I’d seen before, Agawam Road, a steep spur I’d wondered about, so I swung my front wheel onto it’s narrow ramp and headed up. Less than a quarter mile in I reached a cul-de-sac hemmed by large, neat homes, each with a driveway worthy of an Italian stone mason. One of the residents, looking bored and pre-warm, lifted her gaze to meet mine, her eyes asking, “Really? Why?”

This is the second time in the space of week I’d tried a new road and found only a dead end. “Very clever, New England,” I thought. “How about next time we just call that a court and save each other the trouble? Thanks.”

It got me thinking about detours though, those unexpected other ways that sometimes lead to paradise and sometimes to the withering gaze of the intruded upon. I have taken good ones and bad ones. Some have helped me get where I was going that much more quickly, and others have left dog-chased and regretful.

This week’s Group Ride asks: What have been your best and worst detours? What adventures have you found and what disappointments have you courted? On balance, it seems, my meandering has been positive, because I keep turning down roads both obvious and forbidding in search of a better way to go.

Image: Matt O’Keefe

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  1. Bart

    I’ve taken a lot of detours that look promising at first glance, but then fizzle out due to dead ends, bad roads, or going no where. My ability to take detours is limited by how much time pressure I’m under to get back home. Most of the time I ride I’m due somewhere at a specific time at the end and I’ve planned my route to meet this expectation. That makes it hard to head down unknown routes. But when I have the time, I love to do it!

  2. Scott

    We had a dead end once that backed on the Keystone Golf Club in Colorado so we decided to take on the back nine… Perfect Tarmac twisting and turning, rising and falling, single track for roadies with very few actual golfers out there to disturb. Phenomenal flowing unadulterated fun!

  3. spiff

    In Loudon county VA there are roads that turn into gravel if you don’t know where you are going. I like to tell folks that I know every paved road in western Loudon county. The hardest climb was gravel over the top until 10 years ago. But I did not know until 5 years after it was paved. Now I ride in Maryland and have discovered the roads that people have mentioned in passing to my benefit.

  4. Diesel

    I have limited paved road options around my neck of the woods in Central PA. Because of the prevalence of gravel roads (or worse yet, horrible paved roads in disrepair), I have shifted my bike choice away from race bike frames to relaxed geo and ‘cross bikes that can fit a fatter tire. Now, I seek out such detours hoping to find gravel, wooden decked bridges, hillbilly forest art (rusty old cars), and large expanses of….nothing.

  5. Drago

    I thought it was a steep bike path. Turned out to be a long flight of stairs. Inappropriate amount of air time for a road bike.

  6. gmknobl

    In SW Virginia there are many back country roads. The small roads in town I don’t care about too much by now since I’ve taken them all. But out in the country you can find many short or long roads. The best one was a short road that dipped down then gently sloped up for about 1.5 miles and ended next to my formerly favorite restaurant in Floyd. Talk about convenient! I wouldn’t say it was the worst but the toughest was one that unexpectedly climbed a hidden ridge about about 12% for a leg breaking 1/4 mile. I don’t think I’ve gone back there again after doing it once. Since I don’t live out in Floyd anymore, I’d love to but just don’t have the time. As a side note, exploring norther New Zealand in a borrowed car (an old triumph 4 door rambler or sorts – who knew they made those?) I found a windy broken tarmac and occasionally dirt road that ended near a perfect startlingly blue lake. It had many, many seagulls diving into it for fish and a nice little convenience store stocked with fishing gear. Oooo, if I’d only had the time I would have spent the rest of my vacation there, or at least long enough to catch dinner. New Zealand, I miss you.

    Seems that country roads offer the best vistas.

  7. MattC

    Recently I was on work-travel (with bike), and on a beautiful Saturday I had a tentative super-century route planned. Saratoga (CA) to Big Basin Redwoods, Little Basin, Jamison Creek, Empire Grade, Ice Cream Grade, Pine Flat Rd, Bonny Doon Rd to Hwy 1 (my turnaround point) and back (had never done any of this before). On my return a fellow cyclist suggested a detour onto China Grade (thus skipping a big part of the Little Basin/Big Basin loop). It was obvious my brain had written a check my legs might not be able to cash, so a few less miles sounded great.

    Turns out the detour was wicked-steep, narrow, horrid pavement that seemingly climbed straight up Mt Everest (isn’t one side of Mt Everest in China?) Can’t describe how relieved I was to find Big Basin Rd, and grind the final climb up and over to Saratoga. Won’t ever do THAT little detour again, but I’m sure glad I did it once! That was a HUGE day in my book.

  8. Jesus from Cancun

    I have always had the “hmmm, let’s see where this goes to…” attitude.
    As for paths that other readers can maybe relate to, I remember a set of trails just off Chatsworth, past 118 and into the hills. One was off Topanga Cyn. Blvd, the other, nicer one was up off the end of DeSoto.

    I’m talking about 20 years ago, but those were some smooth trails and single tracks that could be done on a road bike with training tires. There were only a handful of walking spots; most of it could be done riding.
    Steep, but almost nothing you couldn’t do on a 39X25.

    What I remember were some of the most beautiful sunsets, and sometimes the view of a gray cloud blanketing over the city, and the top of some buildings arising to the blue sky over it. And peace.

    I didn’t go there very often, but sometimes I needed a day off the road and a little change of pace. That was the place.

  9. Wsquared

    I’ve become jaded since the invention of Google maps & their availability with GPS on my phone. I have obsessively pored over my area many times, checking out potential routes. I use it to plan new rides, and if I come upon a new fork in the course of a ride, I’ll whip out the GPS to see where it goes. That’s pretty much eliminated Magical Mystery Tours, but on the other hand, it’s helped me find roads & trails I may never have discovered just roaming around like I used to before the Digital Age.

  10. Michael

    A couple of weeks ago, a good friend and my brother and I rode down the Coast Ranges in CA for four days from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo. We rode big-tire road bikes with not-that-big tires (28s) and rode a lot of dirt as well as pavement. On Mothers Day, we stopped for breakfast at a restaurant, getting out of there as the mothers started arriving. We decided to take a little detour – figured it would add maybe five miles and half an hour to the day’s ride. It was gorgeous winding and rolling through ranching country, and the ranchers were in great moods as they loaded their animals up for the feedlots. But the road ended at a locked gate, which was surprise – not what the map showed. We rode back to the last major dirt road that went off in the direction we wanted. That took us up over a couple of passes and eventually down to the backside of an isolated little vineyard, and we found our way to pavement, a couple of hours later than planned. The day grew hot and our planned dirt roads over passes were a challenge, so that was a late but wonderful day. We saw a great deal of back-roads California, and found another winery and a nice bottle of syrah at 10 minutes to closing for its tasting room. That made the difference.

    Bad detours? I can’t say any are entirely bad, but this morning, I was riding my new 29er in the hills above town. I decided to go see if there was any water in a dry lake I had not visited in a while, but was distracted by a rolling swerving little singletrack trail I’d never seen and followed it instead of making the turn to the lake. It was a great trail, until it dropped off a near-cliff for half a mile, becoming an illegal downhillers trail. Being alone and on a hardtail, I walked most of it, shouldering my bike and jumping down off one 6-foot-high rock at one point when I could not get traction with my shoes. Unrideable for me, but someone has fun on that detour!

  11. Eto

    Some of my best personal adventures have been on the bike in unfamiliar counties, states and/or countries. Before mobile GPS devices, I would familiarize myself with a good map and take off with a general plan and a small compass tethered to my vest zipper.

    The results were always great!

  12. Q

    I also use online mapping tools to plan new rides, but there’s a wide variation in road quality that’s not even necessarily apparent from Google street view (despite my best efforts), so you still have to go ride the roads to see if they are any good. Sometimes a little exploring on a ride leads to checking the online mapping tools after the ride and discovering other possibilities nearby. Exploration is perhaps not quite as spontaneous as it used to be, but it might actually be more productive with the new tools.

  13. Nelson

    On a solo ride in KY. The correct road I needed turned out to be nothing but pot holes, so I took a newly paved road that turned into a 7 mile descent to a washed out road. Only way back…7 mile ascent. turned 84ish ride into an epic 124.

  14. Full Monte

    Twenty years ago, took a shortcut through a rough part of town, on the west coast of Florida, heading inland (which means, shorthand, redneck country). This is the land of jacked up trucks with rebel flags in the back window. Single-wide trailers surrounded in trash. Old Camaros on cinder blocks.

    “Sic ‘im! Git ‘im, boy!”

    I turned and saw to shirtless young men, beer bottles already in hand first thing on a Sunday morning, letting a pit bull off his chain. The dog’s feet were clawing at the ground, and once freed, he came at me like he was shot out of a cannon.

    Threw myself up and forward, trying my best to sprint away. The math was stacked against me and I knew it. The dog would reach his terminal speed of around 30-35 mph within three seconds, while it would take me twice that long to get there. He’d catch me in 20 yards, and he did.

    The pit chomped down on my foot, and thankfully, got a bunch of Shimano pedal, too. But he had a good hold, and wasn’t going to let go. I jerked away but stayed upright, and managed to turn the pedal over with my opposite foot. This rolled his neck over, then flipped him on his back. Then he drug along till my back wheel hit him. He let go and my rear wheel ran the dog over, a squirming speed bump. Knowing this was my chance, I stood on the pedals again and accelerated away. A look back over my shoulder confirmed the dog had enough, but the good ol’ boys were running to the trailer, whether to get the keys to the truck to run me down, or find a gun (or both) I don’t know. I rode harder and faster for the next 10 miles than I ever have before or since.

    Once my heart calmed, I pulled under an old oak to assess the damage. The skin wasn’t broken, thank goodness. The pedal showed teeth scratches. Hopelessly lost, I rode generally east till I found a promising highway which took me back to town. Lesson learned. There’s places where a man in lycra on a bike ain’t nothing more than a raccoon hunt.

  15. Sam findley

    Bad detours? definitely the one involving (another) pit bull and ending in the downtown Memphis ER. That said, the woman in the bed next to me had flipped her car that morning, so I felt lucky by comparison.

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