Last weekend was an incredibly full one. In short: Sarah and I hiked over six miles on Saturday, had a picnic with my family for mother’s day on Sunday, along with a two-mile hike, and after that, I did 15 miles of mountain biking. One thing was conspicuously absent: road biking.
Hiking the Sycamore Loop
Sarah and I hiked the Sycamore Loop trail at Hoosier National Forest on Saturday. We intended to get up early so we could get an early start, but ended up sleeping later than we expected, and then eating a pretty big breakfast. This trail is pretty remote, about a 20-minute drive out of town, and then another 6-7 miles down a gravel road. We didn’t start hiking until probably around 1:00 pm. Scroll down to see a video with some photos I took; this one is a little different from the Photobucket Remixes.
There were more cars than I expected (10 or so) in the parking lot by the fire tower where the hike starts. Still, we only saw one couple as we started our hike, and aside from a few people camping along the trail, those were the only people we encountered during the whole hike. The Sycamore Loop is in the Charles Deam Wilderness area of Hoosier National Forest, and camping is allowed near the trail, in marked camping sites or wherever you see fit to pitch a tent, with a few restrictions. The Sycamore Loop trail is also one of few hiking-only trails in Hoosier National Forest — most are multi-use.
We really enjoyed the Sycamore Loop. It starts with a brief hike down a fire road on Terrill Ridge, and then you turn onto the Sycamore Loop trail. Almost immediately after we turned onto the trail, we saw a box turtle. We had been hoping to see a turtle on our last hike, but we never did, so we were glad to have seen one. The trail winds its way across some ridgetops for a while before descending into a valley. The trail felt pretty different from some of the other ones we’ve hiked because it’s more remote. We couldn’t hear any road noise or other signs of human life — only the singing and chattering of what must have been thousands of birds. Strangely, we couldn’t see very many birds; I suppose the forest canopy was just too dense.
My favorite thing about this trail was the variety of the terrain and wildlife. As we hiked along, we suddenly realized we were in a pine forest. I’ve seen this happen on the Nebo Ridge trail, where I sometimes go mountain biking, but it always surprises me. The pine forest has a completely different feel from the rest of it, and even different hiking challenges since the trail surface is covered in pine needles and has a lot of roots. And given the windiness of this trail, it weaves in and out of pine forests, so the surroundings are constantly changing. It also follows and crosses some creekbeds, which I always enjoy.
If there’s anything I didn’t like about this trail, it’s the fact that it descends into a valley, winds through it for a while, and then begins a two-mile climb out of the valley. There really isn’t much in the way of ups and downs, just one long descent and one long climb. I generally like rolling terrain, but this was still very cool.
Once we got back to the fire road, we followed it down to Terrill Cemetery, a rather small cemetery with some recent and some very old graves. Some of the headstones were so eroded that there was no longer any writing on them. I hope someone has records of who’s buried there. There are also quite a few gravestones from children who didn’t live very long, particularly in one family. Life must have been a lot more difficult back then.
After that, we hiked a little more to a lake. It was bigger than I expected and covered in lilly pads. We rested by the lake and talked about our hike. On our way back up the fire road, Sarah saw a snake, which I believe must have been the same kind as the one we saw last weekend, a black rat snake (thanks, Marty!)
The hike back on the fire road was, as I put it then, non-trivial. It was longer than I expected, and it was all uphill. It was only steep in a couple of spots, but we were pretty tired by this time and were getting anxious to get back to the car.
Here’s the video with my photos:
Mountain Biking at Brown County State Park
Later Sunday afternoon, I went mountain biking at Brown County State Park. I hadn’t gone mountain biking for some time, instead opting for road riding most of the time. Sometimes I forget just how much I love mountain biking. I was also riding really well, better than ever. It seems like every time I do hit the trails, I am able to ride more and more of it in the middle chainring. My climbing abilities have improved a lot, and I can just go faster in general. I pretty much flew through the North Tower and Aynes loops, and then debated whether I should ride Hesitation Point.
I don’t ride the Hesitation Point trail all that often, mostly because I’m intimidated by it. In the past, I’ve had a lot of trouble with it, mostly because it’s a lot of climbing, some of it fairly steep. This time, I had relatively little trouble with the climbing. In fact, I was riding better than ever. Some parts I had labored up in the past weren’t that hard because I was able to keep my speed up and use momentum to get over them.
However, the last mile or so of Hesitation Point has a lot of “features” — technical obstacles such as rocks, logs, tight switchbacks, and rock gardens. I’ve never been able to clear most of them, and in some cases, I’m not sure I ever will. I did better than I expected on some parts, but I didn’t wheelie enough, or at the right time, to get over one set of rocks, and my front wheel got stuck. I went over the handlebars, but didn’t really get hurt. When you are going uphill and fall on the uphill side, you don’t have very far to go. I brushed myself off and kept riding, but I had to walk some more of the “features.” I did make it around a particularly tight switchback and clear some sections I’ve had trouble with in the past.
Finally, I reached the top. There’s an amazing view that I’ve photographed before, but I feel compelled to take a picture every time, if I have a camera with me.
I rested for a few minutes and then headed back down. I attempted to hop this weird log/rock obstacle on my way down, but I messed up and — you guessed it — went flying over the handlebars. This time, it seemed to happen in slow motion, and I remember thinking through the entire process. “Noo! …. shift your weight back … not enough! you’re going over … kick the bike out from under you, don’t let it land on you. That looks like a soft spot, try to land there. Splat.”
I wasn’t hurt badly, but I did fall further this time, and scraped my knees a little bit. I was covered in dirt, mostly on my knees and my right forearm and shoulder. My left knee was bleeding a little bit, but not much. I took a few minutes to calm down and continued riding. Later, I considered taking a photo which I would call What it looks like when you fall and scrape your knee and you don’t have anything to clean it with and you start bleeding right into the dirt and then the blood dries and you have a mixture of dirt and dried blood — but I decided that some things are better left unphotographed. I had to walk over a few more “features” on my way down, but I rode well the rest of the way back.
I stopped a couple of times because my saddle felt weird, so I checked the height and made sure it was straight. It never felt quite right. Once I got back to my car, I realized that I had bent the seat and it was on an angle. If you look a my bike from behind, you can clearly see that one side of the saddle is higher than the other. I laughed pretty hard when I saw that … no wonder adjusting the height wasn’t helping. I also tore up my gloves a bit, which were getting pretty worn anyway. I’m doing fine now, I just have a skinned left knee, a few scratches, and my right arm is sore for some reason.
One day last week, my friend Dave told me that he had ridden Hesitation Point and he didn’t know why he was always so scared of it. I was hoping I’d have the same experience, and in terms of climbing, I did. However, I got some pretty good reminders of why I find the Hesitation Point trail intimidating. These “features” give me something to work toward, I guess, but I really doubt I’ll ever think they’re fun. It’s a shame, because the rest of that trail is incredible, fun riding with great flow. I get enough challenge from the terrain itself that I don’t see why they felt the need to make it more difficult by throwing rocks in the way.
Anyway, it was an incredible and full weekend. I feel like we didn’t waste any of it. I am still pretty tired from all the crazy stuff we did, but it’s a great feeling. Best of all, I got to spend most of it with Sarah and spend some quality time with my mom and my nephew. I’m looking forward to doing more of the same.