In the wake of my 25th birthday (call it a quarter-life crisis if you will), an opportunity for adventure was calling my name. The lure of travelling with my mountain bike has been a lifelong passion, and lately, seemed to be at an all time low.
The idea of quitting my full time office job to move into a van and hit the road sounds a little crazy to some, but, it’s all about the simplicity of adventure. Getting back to the simple things in life and chasing the trails. Let me introduce you to the theme of the adventure: ‘it’s Van Life, not Glam Life’…
My plan was to build a ‘mobile home’ out of a borrowed 15-passenger van (thanks Ma & Pa) to live out of for three months and head to the south west U.S. (Arizona, California and Utah). The trickiest part of all, was that my conversion set-up could not be permanent. A little help from the trusty World Wide Web, and some know-how from my dad, I had a plan for the van, and in a matter of a couple of days the dream was coming to life.
As it turns out, this ‘Van Life’ is a lot more common than one might think. I found a ton of useful information from fellow travellers that had already been through the process or experience. Search the tag #VanLife on Instagram – I dare you. And please note: as much as you plan and save money, you can always plan and save more money.
With Tucson being the first main destination, I had no specific itinerary of getting there, and just wanted to go with the flow of the road trip. My route was not selected on being the fastest or most direct, rather it was based mainly around stopping in Louisville, Kentucky. I had recently heard of the underground bike park built inside a retired limestone mine, how cool (literally) is that?!
Just off the interstate, tucked away near the downtown, lies the Louisville Mega Cavern. The only of its kind. It is home to a variety of underground activities, the highlight being a 320,000 square foot bike park. Rent a fat-tire bike, or bring your own bike, the park boasts a large variety of riding styles – dirt jumps, pump tracks, skinnies, xc-trails and E-Bike tours— choose your own ride.
Having sourced all my information from online, I still found navigating the entrance of the park not overly intuitive. There is a free parking lot down to the left of the main entrance, and you enter with your bike through the man-door beside the farthest left entrance into the cavern. Take the time to read the informative signs on the hallway wall once inside, as it contains a lot of unique information to the mine and cavern itself.
I sent my mom, who joined me for the road trip to Tucson, on an E-Bike Tour of the mine, while I checked out the park. I opted for using my trail bike to save the few bucks of not renting (Van Life highly revolves around a tight budget). It felt like a lot of bike on the trails inside and wasn’t the same as riding a dirt jumper on the jump lines, but it was a great way to ease back into riding after a solid two months off the trails. Spin classes just don’t quite cut it. The more advanced rider may find the xc-trails not overly challenging, but the numerous lines make for a huge variety of fun flowy laps through the park.
Arriving on a Tuesday afternoon, I would allow at least two hours in the park to explore all the areas (did I mention it’s 320,000 square feet?!). The weekends do get busy, and rentals are on a first come first serve basis, so a weekday is the best option if at all possible. Although it is a long haul from the Toronto area, the park was a great reason to make Louisville a destination, or reason to stop if passing through the area. I will forewarn you, the trails are dirt, so it is advisable to use the provided bike washes upon exiting. Happy trails!
Trails on trails on trails.