I’ve always known granny gear as a truck term for the often ultra low 1st gear in many 4 speed manual shift trucks, a gear meant to allow trucks the ability to get heavy loads moving or to keep them moving up steep slopes. However, the max speed in that gear may be no faster than a granny can walk. Granny gear made its way into mountain biking because mountain bikes often have an ultra small chainring up front, or an ultra large sprocket out back, that in effect create a granny gear so that you can keep pedaling up the steepest of slopes. In planning this ride up to the towers on Lookout Mountain, I anticipated the use of my Stumpjumper’s granny gear. The road is about 8 miles long, with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain so I didn’t kid myself about how much uphill there would be. What I didn’t know though, was if the road was a long steady grade or a lot of flat punctuated by some steep sections. I could have looked more carefully at a map, but I was planning for a good long workout type ride, so I just went into the ride knowingly blind.
I arrived at the trailhead early Sunday to a completely empty parking lot which is just the way I like trailhead parking lots. An empty lot means that I won’t be slowly passing hikers and I won’t be getting passed by other bikers. An empty lot can also mean that I am the one who gets to see all the deer, birds, etc. The “etc” today was in the form of a very large kitty cat which ranked this ride as one of my more memorable rides. I will get back to the kitty encounter in a second.
The gravel road ride itself was like I said, uphill. From the parking lot it was immediately uphill then instead of flattening out a bit the uphill was followed by more uphill which eventually gave way to even more uphill punctuated with a few steeper sections. Granny gear was good for most of the uphill sections, but proved to be insufficient for the few steeper sections, because they were not short steep sections, they were long steep sections. Well, you get the idea. I wanted a good workout on a ride that I hadn’t ridden before and this road up Lookout Mountain delivered on both. I liked the workout and I liked that it was a navigation no brainer ride. Stick to the obviously most traveled road and you are golden. There was one fork in the road(pictured) that had me a bit worried because the well traveled section went downhill, not up. I was certain that the road builders had created a trap just for me. I’d enjoy this sweet bit of downhill only to find a dead end leaving me to ride the now uphill track back to the fork. Don’t worry, the well travelled, but downhill, section of road is the correct route.
At about mile 3, the road does really actually have a little downhill, or maybe it was just flat and seemed like downhill when compared to the uphill. And at a little past mile 4 you will come across a fork in the road that has well traveled roads going both left and right. I believe the left goes a shorter distance to the south tower area and the right goes a slightly longer distance to the north tower area. I took a right at this fork, which for my ride also proved to be the short route because it was within site of this fork that I ran across the kitty. I had just made the right turn, but wanted to double check my navigation decision against the map, so I stopped. It was as if the cougar just appeared out of nowhere on the road in front of me. It appeared right there while making absolutely no sound at all. I was startled by our sudden meeting, the animal wasn’t. I was thinking about how to use my bike to fend off a cougar attack, it was like, oh hey a person, then continued on it’s way up the hill, again making no sound at all. I had my phone right in my hand, but the encounter was over in a blink of my eye without so much as a even a blurry photo. Guess I’d never make it as a Sasquatch hunter. I did include this artist’s rendition 😉
In hindsight, I had a couple of thoughts about the cougar. I had just gone around a switchback leading to the right hand turn which meant the cougar had been behind me or very near to me only moments prior to our meeting. I like riding solo early in the morning and have wondered in a passing thought, if I’ve ever unknowingly been followed by an animal.
Fatal cougar attacks are extremely rare and occur much less frequently than fatal snake bites, fatal lightning strikes, or fatal bee stings.
Yah, I get that, but even so, I turned around after my kitty cat encounter. It seemed the prudent thing to do. I also find it prudent to avoid snake pits, riding on mountain tops during lightning storms, and stealing honey from bees. Here’s something else I’ve been doing for quite a while on my rides, I ride with blinky red light on my pack, even offload. I reason that I’d like to be seen as something weird, rather than a cat treat. Maybe it worked this time? Maybe?
The ride down was quite uneventful whether measured relative to the cougar encounter or not. I did try out a couple of the loop trails listed as hiking and biking trails, but really they are just nice little hiking trails. One of the trails went by a nice waterfall which was a bit of a treat for so close into Bellingham. I did see a crew up there working on those trails as I was leaving so maybe they got the signs ahead of the trail making and they will be a little more expansive and dual use in the future as these two links show. Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and Proposed Trail
Is this ride worth it? yes, if you want a long gravelly workout ride.
Will I do it again? Yes, and all the way to the towers, both sets.