Words by Ambassador Jon Strom. Photos by Ambassador Kate Strom.

Social Distancing.  The phrase itself conjures images of sitting at home alone, panic-binging social media and generally being afraid of the world at large.  In the face of a worldwide pandemic, this is a crucial step to help flatten the transmission curve and allow hospitals and healthcare professionals the opportunity to catch up to the disease, but taking care of one’s mental health is just as important.  This article started as a carefree story about taking a new bike out into the woods without getting properly acquainted first, but as the news continues to get more dire, we wanted to shift gears and remind everyone that its ok to escape once in a while.  If you’re reading this site, you probably take care of your mental and physical health by spending time outside—don’t stop!  It will do you a world of good.  

It’s not a stretch to say that the beginning of 2020 has been pretty challenging, even before the coronavirus made its way into our lives.  Like a lot of people, Kate and I started the year dealing with our own struggles and were probably more distressed than we were willing to admit.  When the local weather forecast showed a particularly perfect Sunday on the horizon, we knew we needed to escape for a little bit, so we grabbed our bikes and wandered over to the Red River Gorge Geological Area for some outdoor therapy and a chance to baptize our brand-new Kona Libres. 

While we’re familiar with Red River Gorge from camping and fishing trips, we had yet to explore much of it on two wheels.  So, we called in a ringer—our adventure racing friend Casey.  Casey has a “unique” perspective on both life and outdoor activities and, maybe most importantly, a talent for motivating a person through a tough situation while making them laugh at increasingly inappropriate jokes. Her favorite loop was put together by a group of sadistic adventure race organizers and really did give us an incredible mix of riding.  We climbed gravel roads alongside Indian Creek, picked our way through dense singletrack including several hike-a-bike sections on Powder Mill, explored the scenic Forest Service doubletrack atop the ridgeline, inched out to the edge of the palisades and dropped down the cratered, mud-soaked Spaas Creek 4x4 trail before meandering back to the cars for a snack and a sip.  The ride left us covered in mud, blood, sweat and tire sealant, but also made things back home seem much more manageable.   

As we laughed, cursed, huffed and puffed, we took note of a few things that seemed important at the time:

  • No matter how hard you try to level pedal on a creek crossing, you will end up with wet socks.
  • If you’re riding clipless pedals off-road, you will get distracted by something pretty, you will forget to unclip and you will tip over onto the hardest and/or pointiest object in your radius. Guaranteed.
  • Horses may be comfortable with big trucks and loud 4x4s, but many will come unglued at the sight of a person on a bike—make sure to dismount, move to the side of the trail and be friendly to the rider. Removing a helmet doesn’t hurt either.
  • If you do the stuff mentioned above, you’ll probably get to pet a horse!
  • Whiskey and Moonshine in particular just taste better in the woods.
  • Libres are backcountry monsters! We were blown away with how well these drop bar bikes handled sections that would have been fun on a Process and at the same time…
  • A Libre is definitely the bike to have if you’re facing a hike-a-bike or long climb; a bike this fun shouldn’t be that light!
  • Kate does not trust Jon near the edge of a cliff.
  • Watch out for Devil’s Snare, it’s evil and has a way of getting thorns stuck in everything: clothes, socks, bare skin, tire sidewalls, everything.
  • Plugging a tire is an art. Not a science.
  • Sealant spurting out of a tire is pretty damn funny after several hours in the woods (as long as you have a tube!).
  • It’s easier to point out cool trees on two wheels.
  • Waterfall water tastes so much better than whatever hydration science is in your bottle.
  • Processing things inside and alone isn’t always healthy, but a day full of fresh air, exercise and good friends can help put a lot of things into perspective.

We could all use an escape right about now, so make time to get out into nature.  It doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) an epic road trip or vacation, just get a little fresh air and vitamin D in the areas close to home while we sort this mess out.  We’re in this together and we will beat it.  Take care of your health, wash your damn hands and, for god’s sake, go outside for bit—we promise it will help.