Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for April, 2007

Mad Dog

Monday, April 30th, 2007

I had a great weekend — seriously, it was damn near perfect. On Saturday, I rode with the Bloomington Bicycle Club and had a great time. The ride started from the Bryan Park Pool parking lot — I rode my bike there; it’s only two miles from my house, and a pretty easy ride. Probably around 20 people or so showed up, and we hung out in the parking lot for a few minutes before starting the ride.

We took some bigger roads where I wouldn’t normally ride my bike, but they really weren’t a problem. Of course, with a big group, we were a lot more visible. I’m not used to riding in groups, and that took a lot of adjustment. Much of the time, we rode two abreast. The large group naturally splintered into about three smaller groups based on the pace people rode, although I ended up toward the back for a while, even though I would have liked to ride a bit faster. I was a little unsure about passing others in the group, both logistically and from an etiquette standpoint. I mostly rode in the middle or back of a 6-person group for about half of the ride, and rode on the left and right sides at different times. It can be a little stressful at times because riders can be very close together, and one mistake by one person could cause a lot of problems.

However, I got used to it before long, and started to appreciate the benefits of drafting. I didn’t realize what a huge difference that could make, and it allowed me to ride a little faster at times, or ride easier at others. They kept a good pace that I had no trouble holding, although I fell back a little on some of the climbs. I also moved ahead on other climbs, so it evened out.

We rode a similar route to the one I did on my recent ride to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. Our ride to the state forest flew by from my standpoint — it was very smooth an uneventful, although I was learning the whole way about riding in a group. On the way back, I joined the “Mad Dog Division,” the faster riders who also usually ride a bit further than the rest of the group. After riding with them for a while, into a strong headwind and really enjoying drafting off them, they started losing me.

At this point, I realized even more the benefits of drafting, as they got further and further ahead of me and I had struggle just to keep a constant speed. Just as I was about to give up on catching up with them, I started gaining ground, pushed a little harder, and a couple of minutes later, caught up. I didn’t let them get far ahead of me after that, as it’s a lot easier to keep up than it is to catch up. We stopped to rest for a few minutes, and I told one of the Mad Dog guys that they were just killing me. He said that they were riding really hard too, and that I should feel good because I just dropped the whole club. Of course, they dropped the whole club — I just drafted, and it’s not the same.

After riding most of the way back from the state forest, most people headed back, but the Mad Dog Division and I took a small detour and did a climb on Boltinghouse Road that’s notorious around here for being the steepest hill. It’s not a terribly long climb, but it gets steeper as you go up, reaching about 20-22% grade at one point. I didn’t make it up the hill — as I learned on this ride, I need to work on my out-of-the-saddle climbing — but made it probably 2/3 of the way up, walked a little bit, and started riding again. It took a few minutes before I caught up with the rest of the group; I felt bad delaying them, but they didn’t seem to mind too much.

We rode some more, ultimately riding across the causeway over Lake Griffy. There’s another big climb on the other side — it’s not as steep as the Boltinghouse Road climb, but it’s longer. I made it up this one without too much trouble, although I climbed a lot slower than the other guys and had to catch up with them a few minutes later.

We took the “scenic route” back, which I soon realized meant riding by the sororities. I didn’t go all the way back to the park with them, instead opting to head home along part of my commute route. My grand total was over 42 miles. This ride also put me at over 300 miles for April, and over 100 last week alone.

I enjoyed riding with the Bloomington Bicycle Club, and riding with the Mad Dog guys really made me push myself in ways I don’t normally. I learned a lot, especially about my weaknesses, which was both humbling and useful — now I know what to work on. I’ll probably ride with the BBC again, although I doubt I’ll ride with the Mad Dog Division all of the time. It was fun and exhilarating, but I generally prefer a more leisurely pace.

Morgan-Monroe State Forest

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Sarah and I drove through Morgan-Monroe State Forest this weekend, and I really liked that whole area. I knew I wanted to ride my bike there. We often go for drives on weekends, usually with photography as a goal. These drives are also a great way to think of new places to ride my bike. And there’s something rewarding about taking a solid Sunday afternoon drive and turning it into a bike ride. I had planned a route in Garmin MapSource, but had no immediate plans to ride it. The planned route was a 32-mile loop with one section shared on both the way out and on the way back.

Yesterday, I decided I’d go for it. I got off to a slightly later start than I wanted because I was trying to get my GPS handlebar mount to fit on my road bike’s handlebars, with no success. The bars just seem to be too thick at the point where I could put it.

My ride to the state forest went by pretty quickly. I was moving at a good clip, but still really enjoying the scenery. I rode on several really cool rural roads. I didn’t take any photos for a while, as I knew I would be a little pressed for time and need some photo breaks later anyway. As I arrived in Hindustan, Indiana (I kid you not, that’s what it’s called), I just cracked up. Sarah and I were laughing about the name of the town this weekend — it’s just so ridiculous being in rural Indiana and stumbling across “Hindustan.” Even better, though, is this:

Hindustan Christian Church
Hindustan Christian Church. As in Hindustan, Indiana. Seriously.

Somewhere between Hindustan and the state forest, I went down a pretty big hill, and the road leveled out, but I was still going pretty fast. There was a group of probably 20+ cyclists going in the opposite direction, and I think I heard one of them say “Michael?” as I passed. I looked back to see who it could be, but my eyes were still watering from the decent, and I couldn’t really see very well. I think it was one of my coworkers. Also, around this time, the odometer on my bike computer passed 500 miles. That’s 500 miles on the road bike since probably the beginning of February (and I didn’t ride much until March). I feel pretty good about that.

I passed Bryant Creek Lake. Some people were fishing nearby. It’s a pretty small lake, but still cool.

Bryant Creek Lake
Bryant Creek Lake

I saw a guy picking up trash along the side of the road as I approached the state park entrance. He had been doing the same thing just a little ways down the road when Sarah and I drove by last weekend. In hindsight, I should have taken his picture.

Sign
State forest entrance

Riding through the state forest itself was fun, and there’s some beautiful scenery, but it wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d imagined. It’s pretty flat, although the road does curve quite a bit. Actually, it was a really nice ride, but the photos all turned out looking pretty similar to each other.

Main Forest Road
Riding along Main Forest Road

I decided to change my route slightly, passing the road where I had planned to turn, because I wanted to see if I could get some more water somewhere. I brought two water bottles, but I finished the first one and drank some of the second one, and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t run out. I went to the state forest office, thinking they would have some water there. They had a small hose for water, but the water was turned off. I rode over to the nearby Cherry Lake and saw a sign that seemed to indicate water.

No Water
A cap on the pipe instead of a spigot.

I knew I would be OK, but I was a little irked no water was available. I assume that they’ll turn on the water at the office and put a spigot on this pipe at some point, but it would have been nice to have had more water. Lesson learned: bring more water, somehow. I only have two water bottle cages, so a third would have to go in my rack bag or something. I took a brief break at Cherry Lake, which I really enjoyed. I had it all to myself except for a couple on the other side of the lake who were sitting in lawn chairs and drinking beer. They may have been rednecks, but they sure had a good idea how to spend an evening.

Cherry Lake I
Cherry Lake

Bike at Cherry Lake
Obligatory bike shot, by Cherry Lake

I headed back to ride the second half of my planned route and got on Bean Blossom Road. I hadn’t been on this road before, and it was really cool as it followed the top of a ridge. It was mostly downhill and winding, making it a fun ride. It was also very smooth, as it had obviously been recently resurfaced (along with the rest of the roads in the state forest). I picked up a lot of speed, the only downside being that there were a lot of bugs. I had dead bugs stuck to my forearms and forehead by the time I got to the bottom of the hill.

Bean Blossom Road
Bean Blossom Road

From there, I took Anderson Road for a while. It was very pretty, and there were some people jogging in the opposite direction. I greeted them.

Anderson Road I
This shot doesn’t do it justice, but there was some really beautiful light on the trees on the small hill.

I turned onto Shilo Road, which I rode on for quite a while. In sharp contrast with the state forest roads, Shilo Road is very rough, with a lot of potholes, rough areas, cracks, etc. In one section, I had to ride all the way over on the left side of the wrong lane just to get around the rough spots. I tried to get a photo of that, but it didn’t turn out so well.

Shilo Road
Part of Shilo Road, not nearly as bad as some of the other sections, but it’s the best shot I have.

I didn’t take many photos after this, as it was getting a little too dark. Despite Shilo Road’s rough surface, it was still a fun ride. It has some decent hills, but mostly, it’s just very windy. I was looking for an easy way to get some water, but didn’t see one. I could have asked someone working in their yard for some water, but I figured I had just enough to get home (and I did). One driveway had a sign at the end of it that read, “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.” Friendly, huh? I think they were kidding, but possibly not. I also had a dog chase me. This happens from time to time; Usually, it’s easy to get away. But this dog was much faster and more persistent than most — I had to ride as hard as I could, up a hill, and not until I hit 20 mph did he finally start falling further behind me.

Tunnel Road, which would take me back to State Road 45, came up sooner than I expected, and it was a welcome sight. It was getting darker every minute, and I was low on water. I rode the rest of the way home, through part of Unionville, then New Unionville, without incident. I got a bit tired, but after that much riding, it was pretty easy to just keep spinning.

It really was a great ride, and also the longest I’ve done on the road. I need to replace my saddle, as it really gets uncomfortable on rides of this length, but otherwise, my bicycle was fantastic. All told, I rode 35.5 miles, averaging 16.5 mph (not counting breaks). I’m looking forward to riding similar routes, and doing longer rides in the future.

Fantastic weekend

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Sarah and I had a great weekend. On Saturday, we slept in, had lunch with my sister, and then went to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. We mostly just drove around there, but we did stop at a cemetery there that’s notorious in this area for being haunted: Stepp Cemetery. We took some photos there. More on that later, once I post some photos.

I hadn’t been in that state forest for years, and I never spent much time there before. I think Stepp Cemetery is the only part of it I had been to. I definitely want to go back and do some hiking and possibly camping there. It’s more rugged and not as groomed as the state parks, so it feels more remote and I think we could connect with nature better there.

We debated what to do next, hiking was an option, but I really wanted to go for a bike ride. We ended up heading to Brown County State Park — I rode the North Tower Loop and the Aynes loop, and Sarah sat in the North Tower and read. I was worried she might get bored, but she really enjoys reading there, and needed to do some reading for class anyway. As she puts it (I’m paraphrasing here): “If you have to read, why not do it in a log cabin with a beautiful view?”

My ride was incredible. I was just flying, all these road miles pay off in ways that aren’t always obvious. But since I hadn’t ridden on the trails in almost a month, I felt a huge difference. I was climbing better than ever, and my average speed for the ride was about 7.8 … very fast for me for trail riding. The trail conditions were great, too, parts were so dry they were dusty. I am digging the new tires I’m running on my mountain bike, a Kenda Blue Groove on the front and a Nevegal on the rear. They grip very well, and I have more confidence in turns and whatnot. I might switch out the Nevegal for something a little less aggressive in the rear at some point, but for now I’m very satisfied. I had to hurry a bit toward the end of the ride, because the sun was setting and I didn’t have lights with me.

Sunday was another great day; I rode at Brown County again, this time with Dave. I had been planning a road ride one day this weekend, but my trail ride on Saturday felt so good that I wanted to do another one. Plus, I hadn’t ridden with Dave for a while. We had a great ride, although I was feeling Saturday’s ride more than I would’ve expected. Mountain biking really does take a lot more out of you. We kept a pretty good pace, although it was slower than Saturday’s. We took our time and took several breaks. It’s good to be out there and not be in a hurry.

On our way back to the parking lot, we saw a kid with a flat tire and tried to help him fix it. I had a pump, and we tried to see if we could just inflate the tire, but it definitely had a puncture. There wasn’t much we could do. The kid said his dad was around but went to ride some more.

When we got back to the parking lot, I saw a couple unloading some bikes, one with a child seat on the back of it. They asked if the “moderate” trail was a good one to take a baby on, and I immediately told them no. Dave agreed with me, but proceeded to tell them the part of the trail that is the flattest and smoothest. When he finished, I reiterated, “But I wouldn’t do it with a baby.” They didn’t listen. At least the baby had a helmet, but the parents weren’t wearing any, and their bikes were really insufficient for trail riding.

It always astounds me when I see people doing stuff like this. I’m glad they want to ride their bikes, and want to ride on trails, but I see a lot of people with inadequate bikes, not wearing helmets, simply being reckless. I’m not one of those guys who thinks everyone needs a $1000 bike (hell, I don’t have one myself), but still, the bikes you get at Wal-mart are not safe for mountain biking. And it’s one thing to take risks if you’re an adult, but putting children at risk is something else entirely. In this case, we’re talking about a baby on a mountain bike trail. These trails have rocks, roots, sticks, logs, and other hazards on them. We’re not talking rails-to-trails smoothness here. Even the “easy” trails are physically demanding and technically challenging. They’re no place for a baby.

Finally, we took Rob for a hike in the woods yesterday afternoon. I only took Sarah’s old point & shoot digital camera, so the shots aren’t great. Rob was a lot more into it this time around, and did more running and sniffing and checking things out. I tried to play fetch with him with a stick, but it couldn’t hold his interest. He really wanted to drink out of the pond, but it’s pretty nasty, and we stopped him.

Sniffing by the pond
Rob thinking about drinking from the pond

Rob loved running in the creek bed. I threw some sticks to get him to run, and while he didn’t fetch them, he did take them as a cue to run in that direction. He slipped a couple of times, but just loved splashing and getting wet and muddy.

Rob running in the creekbed
Running in the creek bed

The woods are really looking like spring, with lots of budding trees, green ground cover, some flowers and other things.

Fiddlehead
Fiddlehead ferns

Mayapples
Mayapples

Yellow flowers
Small yellow flowers that lined part of the trail

Again, we had a great hike. This was in “my woods” in the neighborhood where I grew up. Some parts of the trails are in pretty good shape, but others really need some TLC. I used to go mountain biking back there fairly frequently, I should do so again, even though there are only a couple of miles of suitable trails.

Rugged trail
Particularly rugged part of the trail with big protruding roots and erosion

I wish I knew how to fix the above section of trail. I suspect some of the roots aren’t doing any good anyway and could be cut out, and then maybe things would smooth out. But I don’t know the proper way to do it, and I don’t have any way of getting permission to work on these trails, as far as I know. Rumor has it they’re private property owned by John “Cougar” Mellencamp.

Sarah and I both have a renewed interest in hiking after all that, and we’re hoping to do more of it soon. We are thinking about possibly hiking with the Bloomington Hikers.

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