Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Winona Lake

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I took Sarah up to Fort Wayne to visit her family this weekend. I brought my mountain bike so that I could go ride at Winona Lake, which is in Warsaw, IN (about an hour’s drive west of Fort Wayne). I had tried to ride there last year, but that didn’t work out. Needless to say, I was excited to ride on this trail. It was also a bit of a scouting mission to help decide whether to ride in the 24 Hours of DINO race.

The first thing I noticed as I was getting ready was that it was cold. I wasn’t really prepared for how much cooler it was there. I was pretty comfortable, though, even in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. I felt a little bit cool, but I don’t mind that. Of course, the first thing the trail did was go through a creek. By the time I had gone less than a quarter of a mile, I was already drenched and freezing. I knew I’d warm up and dry out, so I wasn’t worried. It was really hard to shift right from the start; I did a number on my derailleur cables on my last mountain bike ride, which was very dusty (see the Pre-Breakdown Shakedown).

Winona Lake is an interesting trail because it has numerous points where there are more difficult sections of trail, and you can choose whether to go on the harder part or take an easier bypass around the obstacles. I checked out the first difficult section, and it had a pretty big drop-off. I decided against riding it. I knew I could probably make it, but the consequences for messing up would have been pretty severe, and I was riding alone. If something happened, getting help would have been difficult. So, I backtracked and took the easier way instead.

I got a bit confused a couple of times about how to follow the trail. It’s an overlapping network of trails, with signs, and I had a map, but it was still pretty difficult to follow. I figured out a good way to go. I rode some more and came across another difficult section, and rode it. I went flying down a hill, up a ramp to a narrow wooden bridge, and then dropped back down and crossed a big log. The trail wound around, and I had a little trouble keeping good traction. The soil was sandier and looser than what I’m used to, and it took me a while to figure out how to keep good traction.

The trail wound around some more and spit me back out on a paved road. I saw that the trail continued on the other side, and kept riding. I saw a drop-off coming up, but didn’t realize how big it was until the last moment. I almost tried to stop, but instead kept going, catching some good air and landing safely. The trail wound was a bit straighter for a few minutes, with some small climbs and descents. I looked up and saw a huge deer. At first, I didn’t even think she was real, she was huge and standing very stoically and looked statuesque. Then she moved and I realized that she was the real deal. She was pretty different from the deer I usually see at home, much bigger and with grey fur instead of a reddish brown.

One thing that took me a while to get used to at Winona Lake is that it goes near a paved path and a bunch of subdivisions and other signs of civilization. It’s clear that they had a pretty small piece of land and wanted to cram as much trail on it as possible, because the trail loops around in sort of weird ways and you often find yourself going back in the direction from which you came. At first, I took this to mean I was going the wrong way, until I realized the trail was doing a bit of zig-zag action. This also means sometimes you’ll ride right by a section of trail you already rode on. It’s a little disconcerting when you’re used to trails that go somewhere.

I kept riding, and took another one of the difficult trails. I stopped short when I saw a cascade of 3-4 big dropoffs. I wanted to try it, but I didn’t have the nerve. Again, maybe if I hadn’t been riding alone, I would have given it a shot. Alas. I took the easier way and then found myself on the very interesting Field Trail, which is appropriately named. Suddenly, I found myself out of the woods and in an open field with tall grasses growing in it. The trail wound through this field for a while. It was pretty cool, and reminded me a bit of the balds we saw in the mountains. I took the wrong trail at the other end of the field, but corrected my mistake and went flying down a big hill with a banked turn at the bottom of it.

The trail followed a creek for a while, which was really pretty. Then, it crossed a bridge and got twistier on the other side of the creek. There were a couple of difficult trails in this section, including the Caution Trail, which has a lot of extremely sharp turns. There were a number of logs and big roots to jump, some short, steep climbs, and some really fun descents. My memory is a little hazy on this section of trail, but the thing I remember most is all the sharp turns. There was also a fun mounded dirt jump at one point, and a “Black and Blue” big dropoff that I didn’t attempt. The trail followed the creek some more and spit me out at the beginning.

I decided to ride the loop a second time, now that I had a sense of the trail and which technical features to attempt and which to skip. I got a little past the narrow wooden bridge when I noticed my tires making noise. I thought it was just the slightly-crunchy rocks in the soil at first, but I looked down to check my tires. The front was fine. The rear had gone flat. Crap!

Fortunately, I had a pump and patch kit in my Camelbak. I got to work on finding and fixing the leak. I found a small hole in my tire, and a matching one in the inner tube. There was no sign of anything still being stuck in the tire. A couple of runners went by, asking if I needed help. One of them even had a pump! But I had everything I needed, and they continued running. I messed up putting the first patch on, but got it right on my second try. I got anxious and tried to put the first one on before the glue was completely dry. I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes through all of this — I hadn’t noticed them while I was riding, but as soon as I stopped, they attacked.

The second patch took, and I seated the tire and tube and started pumping. My pump worked surprisingly well. I say “surprisingly” because it doesn’t work well at all on my road bike. It probably took a couple hundred pumps, but I think I got my tire up to around 50 psi, which is where I normally run it. I didn’t have a pressure gauge to check.

Once I got moving again, the rest of my ride went very smoothly. I was finally getting used to the loose, rocky, sandy soil and learning how to get better traction. I also did better on the technical features. I enjoyed my second lap a lot more than the first, since I was more familiar with the trail and was able to really let loose a couple of times where I had to be more cautious the first time around.

All things considered, I really enjoyed my ride. The Winona Lake trail was not what I expected — I was hoping for something that would cover more ground, rather than zigzagging across the same small piece of land — and it didn’t even go by the lake. But it was a lot of fun in its own right, I enjoyed the twisty sections, technical features, and the dropoffs I did do. I’m still not sure if I’d want to ride on it for 24 hours (or 12), although that’s still under consideration.

8 Responses to “Winona Lake”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Flyboy bonus!

  2. furiousball Says:

    Are you sure it wasn’t 49 psi, and wait, aren’t they on the metric system there?

  3. Christy Says:

    Jinkies! Was it a reindeer!?

  4. John Says:

    A runner with a pump? Was is a schrader or presta valve? I’m trying to think of a reason for a runner to be carrying a bike pump. (humm jepardy song now). ………. ok stop. What is ????????

  5. Apertome Says:

    I don’t know what kind of pump it was. I figure they must’ve also been cyclists, because they had Camelbaks and the one guy had a pump. Maybe they just don’t clear the unnecessary crap out of their packs before running. Why anyone would run with all that extra weight is beyond me, but there stood two runners, more prepared for a flat tire than many cyclists.

  6. John Says:

    The last sentence is hilarious. I’m sending a deserving soul a link to this post and refering him to your response.

  7. Deserving Soul Says:

    Hilarious indeed. ;-D

    Maybe they WERE just joggers, and double as Good Samaritans of the Trail, being prepared to help Cyclists who are not. ;-D

  8. The Cycling Dude Says:

    Do More Runners Carry Bike Pumps than Cyclists?…

    …. and WHY? Over at the Blog called Apertome – Ear to the Breeze, the writer shared a wonderful story about a trail ride taken on a Mountain Bike in an area that also had some paved sections, too. I…

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