Where’s My Charley?: A Black Mountain tale of stupidity, woe, adventure

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by lousgoose, Apr 18, 2021.

  1. lousgoose

    lousgoose Been here awhile

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    And now for something not entirely different. Where’s My Charley? This thread doesn’t have glowing pictures of gorgeous vistas with a fantastic bike parked on top of them. This thread does not have an engaging story of man and machine conquering Earth and odds, the opposite in fact. Rather, this is more the boring story of one man’s dumbass day spent stranded on Black Mountain. I hope you’ll enjoy it for that. As Merle once sang in Kern River, “I might cross the highway but I’ll never climb Black Mountain again” or something like that. This is gonna be long, and somewhat pointless, so either totally ignore this whole post or save it for some evening when you are being challenged by unrest at the bedtime hour. Reading it will certainly have a better effect than counting of sheep.

    So this weekend I go back home to visit my mamma in my hometown of Mayking/Whitesburg in southeastern KY, Appalachia. I haven’t been back there in over 2 years (though mom has visited me in that time here in Louisville). I decide to take the SMT and do day trips in the morning/afternoon while there, and visit with family and food in the late afternoon evening. Each day I get up and plan my route(s). In over 250k miles of road riding these last 18 years, I’ve surprisingly done little of that in or around my hometown so I’m looking forward to it, right, as I know there is some good riding there. My ride in and my first 2 days were very good. I probably covered about 300 miles total in the area which included the top of Little Shepherd’s trail on Pine Mountain - a single lane paved road in bad condition but easily traversable to the top. I even spot some black bear about 50 yards off on Pine Mountain that, thankfully, seemed to be going away from me and my loud bike. I included some of the roads there that have been marketed as Dragon Slayer (160) and other such. They are pretty good and fine, not fantastically awesome, but good riding and I’m enjoying myself and the scenery some of which is here.

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    Flash forward to my last day of riding before returning. I plan my ride that morning where I typically use REVER, Google Maps, etc. and I usually use street view G maps to get an idea of most roads I want to ride. I see a road called Black Mountain Ridge Road and I’m intrigued as it’s listed as the highest road in KY and from my brief glance at the street view it seems like a paved single lane road similar to LST above. I plan to include it in my route that day. I keep my phone mounted on the handlebar with the app(s) open for navigation.

    I start on the north side of Black Mountain outside of Cumberland. I reach the base of BMR Road but, surprisingly, it is in fact NOT paved; instead, it’s very large, loose rock and gravel being slightly washed here and there. Now would also be a good time to say what a skilled motocross and dirt rider I was from the age of about 8 to 18, which was, uhhh, about 35 years or more ago as I’m 50 now. :-)Additionally, while I’ve driven over 250k road miles in the last 18 years, of those exactly and only about 28 were hard packed gravel on a relatively easy and well traversed road in Arkansas. That's it. Though I really enjoyed my dirt riding days years ago and I can easily understand why it’s so appealing to many, I personally have never had a yearning to return to them nor have ever had a hunger for “Adventure” riding even during the continued height of it now. Regardless of all this, I think to myself, why not, the first hill doesn’t look that difficult and I know it’s paved up there so maybe just give it a shot.

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    Getting to the top of the first hill is a little shaky but I’m surprised and I fatefully tell myself, “Yeah, I still got it”. There is still no paved road and I think, oh well, must be around the corner here somewhere because I know I saw it on street view. I look at the first descent ahead of me and it seems more challenging but I’m kinda excited and give it a go. Again, a bit shaky but I make the descent to the bottom of the next hill in front of me. This continues for a while, maybe a mile. Still no pavement, the road is seemingly getting much more difficult and I then choose to glance at my street view to see where the pavement starts. But my signal is bad and there is either no image to the point I choose or I just figure my signal is too bad to pull up an image. I decide to keep going a bit, but as I said, the road is getting a lot more challenging and there is nobody and nothing out there near me as I steadily climb. The road itself is now becoming more washed out with large trenches with jutting rock in the middle and then high banked on the left and right of the trench. I’m also beginning to encounter a number of water/mud soaked areas as pictured, a couple of them over my pegs deep and another one that doesn’t seem deep but nearly sinks me to mud but I manage to fish tail it and power out.
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    By now let’s say I’m over 4 miles out, no other roads, no people, and still no pavement. Because of the nature of the roads I’m going very slowly and it has maybe taken over an hour and a half just to traverse those 4 miles. I’m getting tired, hoping for an end soon, and good bit worried because the idea of the road abruptly stopping, me turning around and doing it all again is scary and exhausting. I’ve had so many close calls that my ass is probably getting chafed from repeatedly squeezing the seat. It’s been a big struggle. I’m way up and I’m still picking up navigation on the phone though it seems like I’m maybe three miles away from the other side of the mountain and the end of the road. And too, though I’m going up and down inclines constantly, I don’t seem to be descending, the opposite in fact. I keep going and at about 6 miles out the road starts to seemingly get a little better, less washed out but still having a lot of large, loose gravel and rock. From glancing around, I know I must be at or near the peak and I see a radio tower a bit off in the distance. I enjoy a brief Chevy Chase/Vacation/Grand Canyon moment of here I am, top road in KY, now let’s GTF off here. I’m hopeful because the road seems to be getting better and I figure there is probably a paved road near that tower.

    A little over 7 miles out and it all turns to shit as I come upon a large, non-traversable gate stretching across the whole of the road and boundary; there is no getting around it. Now over 2 hours out, there is no option but to turn around and do it all again. I text a buddy of mine my coordinates and I tell him I hope I can make it out because there is literally nobody up here and nobody will be coming to get me. Now for most of you adventurers here, that 7 miles probably doesn’t sound like anything but keep in mind I’m new at this, stupid, and it took me 2 hours to get there. I’m a little spooked. Even said, I turn around and begin the trip back. I make it about a half mile and dump the bike for the first time in the whole journey on downhill descent in loose rock.

    And then. I can’t get it back up. This mainly because I’m about a 155lb weakling librarian with a bad back, it’s downhill, the left soft box has collapsed, and I’m exhausted. Also, it’s hard to explain, but the way the tracks in the road are I’m not lifting it from a regular pavement position, I’m having to try and do a total lift from nearly the ground up and the bike wheels just slip in the dirt and rock when I try to get it up. The typical back against the seat, one arm on handlebar, other on seat handle, is not working because it’s a lift from a complete ground position and the bike wheels just scoot in the dirt. There is also gas now leaking out of the nearly full tank. No pretty pictures here to demonstrate as a man does have some small bit of tiny pride to preserve.

    After what has to be 10-15 efforts and probably 30 minutes or more I start thinking I should probably explore my options. I’m 7 miles out on the highest peak in KY and on roads that barely a 4wd will successfully climb. Anyone I know there, family or otherwise, are 40 miles away, they are all over 70 years old, and none of them have a 4wd. Ridiculously embarrassed but too scared to do nothing, I call my riding buddy in Bowling Green to touch base and send him my coordinates again. Also then telling him I might need his help if I lose signal or go out of communication. We both work separately, placing calls to the local police who send us to the state police who send us both to a specific tow guy who reportedly has tons of experience on the mountain. I’m thinking this will be expensive but simple. While there is no literal way a standard car is making up there, it’s on Google Maps, right? I’ll just send him my coordinates and it can bring him right to me. The guy says he has no idea where Black Mountain Ridge Road is and his phone is old; however, he thinks he might know where I am and that he and his son will bring their four wheelers up to try and find me. They also agree to bring some water as I’m getting really thirsty and to compound my own stupidity, I did not bring water with me. He says it will probably be an hour and a half at the soonest. It’s about 4pm. I am feeling like an idiot and trying not to panic but happy there might be a solution on the way.

    Meanwhile, I keep working to try and lift the bike. I find dead limbs to try and use as leverage to lift the bike. No good. After about 45 minutes of more trying, my muscles are all shaking and near done. I do eventually get the idea that if I can just drag the front end of the bike sideways/perpendicular on the hill with seat upwards, I can then use angle/downhill gravity against it to help lift. It works. I get the bike up, coast it to the bottom of the hill and start back off on my journey hoping to maybe meet this guy and his son coming for me. I get about a mile, still only doing about 5-10mph tops, and going through a muddy patch I had traversed fine earlier, I dump the bike at the end of the puddle.
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    Annnnnd I can’t get it back up again :doh This time it’s just the mud that slides out from under me, though the bike itself is not much moving. I take a moment to send my buddy my coordinates again and I try to send the guys who are coming for me my coordinates though they say their phones can’t pull it up on the map nor can they find this Black Mountain Ridge Road I’m telling them. They don’t have Google maps on their phones and I’m using it to send my coordinates. We talk more about the roads leading to BMRR and so forth. He says they are now on their 4 wheelers and trying to find me but not having luck, telling there are hundreds of trails on the mountain and that I could be near anywhere on there. I’m not understanding why they don’t see this road that is clear to me. Regardless, they think they might know from my latest description. They are going to split up and try to find me. I keep trying to lift the bike, trying every and all sorts of angles, methods, etc. I text my buddy, “Where’s my Charley?” He needs to come lift this damn bike for me”. We have a good laugh but I’m starting to get worried sick. And thirsty as shit. My muscles are shot and my back is killing me. Another 30 minutes of trying to lift the bike with what had to have been at least 15 or more tries. Using rocks placed behind my feet in the mud and using another rock that I shoved under the bike once I got it partially up (to hold it there until I had more strength to lift it the rest of the way), I manage to get it up. I load up again and head off.

    I make it another mile or so and ascending a super washed out road I drop it for the final time. Oddly, all of these are on the left side and they are just drops because I’m not traveling fast enough for a real wreck per se. Lucky in that there is no harm for me with any of them and only cosmetic harm for the bike. But anyhow, from this point there is no lifting the SMT back up. It’s pointed uphill, in bad rock, not budging, and I’m done. I check my phone. No service. I know from last glancing at it on the handlebar that I’m about 4 miles from where BMRR starts. Since these guys looking for me don’t know where I am, I make the tough decision to start walking. I think hey, if nothing else I can probably hike the 4 mile journey back to pavement but leave the bike there. That was a tough decision but the right one I figure. And besides, I run 20-25 miles, I’m in shape, right? But I’m physically beaten, now dehydrated, and every step is getting harder. I also begin to recall the bears are out now, having seen some the previous day. That’s not helping my mental state. After a half mile I have to dump/shed my jacket and pants gear as I just can’t carry it on me much more. At three miles out I finally pick up a signal and quickly call the guys coming for me. They say they’ve been all over the mountain and can’t figure out where I am nor find it on the map. The dad says his son has a better phone and for me to text him the coordinates. He also said he had a gun with him and would shoot it for me to try and determine his location. I certainly heard it but deciphering from where was no good. I told him I was just going to keep walking on the road towards the beginning. We talked about a couple plans of action. By then it’s 6:30, the Sun has gone over the north side of the mountain and it’s not dark but it’s going down and so am I. I keep walking while they keep looking and we keep trying to maintain communication but the signal keeps dropping but I can see that I’m only about 2 miles from the beginning of BMRR, though I’m still seemingly on top of the mountain. I can’t jog it, I can barely walk it, and now so thirsty that I can hardly believe I’ll make it the 2 remaining miles. If I see a bear I don’t have the energy to run nor even know how I’d have enough vigor to make noise and scare it. I keep focusing on just keep going though the dehydration, along with everything else, has me so fatigued that I think I would literally drink a stream if I could find one. Not kidding when I say pee was starting to sound good.

    To much relief another half mile or so of walking and the dad finds me. I drink two bottles of water, begin to get some of my senses back, he phones his son, they discuss location, and five minutes later his son shows up. He then tells me that he gets people off the mountain each year, most on motorcycles but even a few with standard cars who head out on a various dirt road and then getting stranded. He told me that a couple bikes they even had to use the 4 wheeler to tow the bike out the whole way. I was happy to not be alone in the Stupid Club.

    With some new renewed energy from the water, I hop on the back of the 4 wheeler and we head off to pick up my gear and bike. Upon finding the bike the dad told me he knew I was exhausted, that he had a lot of experience on the mountain with bikes, and asked if I would let him drive it out while I take the 4 wheeler. I had a pride thing going at that point and I actually, ridiculously had to think about it, but in the end I knew we were just trying to beat the dark and I knew there was a good chance I was going to drop it many times more, so I said sure. And my embarrassment was not finished for the day, as I watched this guy head up the trail at about 4 times the pace I was carrying, at a speed that even me and the son couldn’t keep up with on 4 wheelers. Finally, at the bottom of the hill, back down into Cumberland, I told him I was going to come back next week for lessons. He seemed to be a well known guy there in town and several people stopped by his flatbed/sled tow truck to say hello, one fellow even saying, “Got another one, eh?”. By that point I could laugh with them; I was just happy to be alive and have the bike off the mountain. He was actually kind and a good liar, saying he found it hard to believe I had traversed the whole of the 7 miles before the gate with my limited experience. He also said they only tend to ride the area on 450s or smaller. He added that he himself had cut/broken many gates on Black Mountain roads, and that a local hunting club, with no right to do so, had put that one up on top that I encountered. Regardless, I was visited a little more with them and headed home.

    I bike just had cosmetic issues and was more than fine for driving.


    I made it back to my mom’s place that night after dark. She said, “Looks like you’ve been dirt riding?” I said I was but that I didn’t have a Charley to help me out. The next day I was mostly sore and had bruises on my arms, back, and even chin where I was using all of those to push agains the bike on the many lift attempts.

    I hope this story hasn’t bored you beyond measure. If nothing else, it’s an amusing example of stupidity and a strong argument against inexperienced solo riding in remote areas. Nothing that anyone with half a brain on here would likely attempt anyhow. I took another day of rest and drove the 250 miles back to Louisville with a still aching back and muscles but the paved road seemed like a magic carpet. I’d say my just started “adventure” riding days are already over.

    :jack
    #1
  2. ifstewart

    ifstewart Adventurer

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    Great tale!
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  3. Vrode

    Vrode Still half-fast... Supporter

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    A great story! Glad you survived.

    But as someone once told me...."What you did there....don't do that again."
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  4. tominboise

    tominboise Long timer

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    Experience is a great teacher - she gives you the test first, and then the lesson. Sounds like a learning experience to me. Good job surviving. If it didn't kill you, then you'll do better next time.
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  5. td63

    td63 Been here awhile Supporter

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    Great story! Thanks for having the humility to share it and humor to share it well.
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  6. Ginger Beard

    Ginger Beard Instagram @motopossum Super Moderator

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    That was a great read, thanks for sharing! :clap
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  7. Surcease

    Surcease Fng

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    Excellent storytelling! Thanks for sharing your cautionary tale. I could easily see myself in a similar situation.

    Is it bad to hope you go on more "adventures" ?
    I dig your writing style.
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  8. MCGMB

    MCGMB Been here awhile Supporter

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    ".... I also begin to recall the bears are out now, having seen some the previous day. That’s not helping my mental state..."

    I *know* how one's mind can be sneaky during stressful situations. Glad things worked out for you with minimal injuries.

    Excellent story BTW.
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  9. dualindalton

    dualindalton Been here awhile

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    Good story and well told and a memory that you will probably relive for some time to come. A friend and myself got stranded on some Colorado single track in 2017 and ended up having to spend a unplanned night in the forest. Next morning La Plata county SAR came in to assist us in getting out. One of the volunteers told us that we were not the first ones that they have had to come bail out and y'all want be the last. That really made us fell much better about the situation. Going on 4 years now and the details are still etched into my mind. And one of the best memories in my 51 years of riding. Glad you made it out safely. Live and Learn!
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  10. DesertPilot

    DesertPilot Long timer

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    Great story! Thanks!
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