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Biking to Burkesville via Hwy. 704

by John Cox from issue 41

The cycling gods must surely be smiling down upon me. Not only have I been able to take great advantage of the spectacular weather of late, but I have reasonably solid plans for a week-long bike trek this summer and I just completed the fabled 704 loop from Columbia to Burkesville and back.

Although the weather this spring has produced more than a fair share of thunderstorms and rain, I have managed to work in several quality rides. There are quite a few 20, 25, and 30 mile loops from my house, and a short drive to Bernheim Forest opens up myriad choices for low-traffic spinning.

These excursions near home turned out to be excellent training for recent trips to Owensboro and the surrounding area where I felt like I had somehow found an exception to the law of gravity. The flat in that part of the state goes on as far as the eye can see. At least as far as my bespectacled eyes anyway. I always knew it was flat but I didnt know it was that flat. A fifteen mile jaunt in my neighborhood would be relatively equal to a forty mile spin out there in terms of energy expenditure. When there is the unusual encounter with a hill, the roads just run right over them.

There is no meandering around and up and around and up in Western Kentucky. The pain is quickly resolved with a long coast onto another stretch of seemingly endless flat. Wind is the only formidable foe, but when you can get in front of it the sensation is surely what cycling on the moon would be like, if the moon has blazing fields of Golden Rod and the occasional country store with ice cold Gatorade.

With the sublime satisfaction of flat spins fresh in my memory, I set out for Columbia, bike in tow, with aspirations of conquering my favorite ride. It had been at least a year since I biked from Columbia to Burkesville on state highway 704, so all I really remembered about the ride was the beautiful scenery, the wildlife encounters from previous trips and the glorious spin along Crocus Creek. I had completely forgotten the rolling terrain that makes biking in and around Adair County so very different from cycling in other parts of the state.

I thought I was in pretty good biking shape until 704 pounded me relentlessly. I had the Hadley Community Church in my sights before I felt relatively comfortable. Once I got to the bottom of the hill, I settled in for a nice afternoon ride. An obligatory circling of the square in Burkesville marked the halfway point before I stopped for refueling at one of the chain mini-marts. My legs were sluggish after the break but I made good time back to the bottom of the hill.

I would like to be able to say that after a short rest I cranked my way up, but I cannot. I didnt really even make a half-hearted attemptI knew I had been beaten on the way out. So I walked up, while a huge fly buzzed victory laps around my head. The rollers that had been such a shock at the beginning of the ride were a thrill at the end, as they greatly favor the northbound cyclist. Later I sat on the front porch at my parents house, banana in hand, listening to the clucking frogs warming up for their nightly overture, and I felt a great sense of relief. The Burkesville ride had been calling to me for weeks but I hadnt been sure why until I rode it. It was, as Willie Nelson said, ...just a little old-fashion karma comin down. I guess my head had gotten a little too big for my helmet, what with all the splendid rides I had excelled on.

That Superman complex that cyclists get when they unwittingly find themselves in front of subtle but inspirational headwinds had taken over. I needed a good humbling experience and I got it. Ill be back for another shot at it, but the hill will always be there, waiting for its next victim.


This story was posted on 2002-10-29 05:00:00
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