Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for October, 2007

The Nashville Ninety

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Sarah and I had a wonderful day outdoors on Saturday, going for a drive and stopping to take photos of anything that interested us. We hadn’t gone on a good photography outing for quite some time, and we’ve both missed it. I’ll write more about that later, once I get some of my photos back from being processed.

Having spent Saturday driving around taking photos, what would be a good way to spend a beautiful Sunday? How about riding 90 miles on my bicycle taking photos? Riding the Nashville Ninety had been a goal of mine for some time, and I felt confident that I could do it. But I never took the time to attempt it. Thinking this might be one of my last chances this year to ride 90 miles in relatively comfortable weather, I decided to go for it. Here’s a Bikely map of the route. Don’t forget to go to Show -> Elevation Profile to see the hills.

In addition to completing a goal, this ride would be a good way to test my new Rivendell Roll-y Pol-y tires. I wanted to do a shorter trial run with them first, but I never got a chance. So I set out anyway, hoping that I hadn’t messed anything up when I mounted the new tires, which had been quite difficult.

As soon as I started riding, I could tell I was going to like these tires. They’re wider than my old ones, so I can run them at lower pressure. This gives me better traction and a smooth, plush ride. In theory, the tradeoff is higher rolling resistance, but I didn’t notice any such problem. The fact that these tires are lighter than my old ones probably balances out any rolling resistance concerns. These tires handle great when riding on rough sections of road.

I rode down State Road 446 as I had done a few weeks ago when I cracked my rim riding Dr. T’s Funky Fifty. I went a little further this time to where it intersects with State Road 58. I didn’t take many photos since I had just taken some photos of this stretch recently.

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Going downhill with a great view on 446

I was going down a hill on 446 and saw a big climb ahead of me. Fortunately, I got to turn onto 58 right before the climb! I felt pretty lucky.

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A tough climb that I didn’t have to do. Scale is deceptive — the speck at the bottom of the hill is actually a big truck.

446 can be kind of dull, but 58 was awesome. It’s a narrow, winding road with some flat sections and some hilly sections that goes through some truly beautiful country. There was little traffic, but the wind made things pretty challenging, changing directions randomly and going from still to blustery and back in moments.

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Hills surround me as I ride on the flats

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Approaching a short, steep climb

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Self portrait

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Handlebar bag with map pouch

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I swear I’m not a mouth-breather — except when riding. Check out the reflection in my glasses.

The winds got increasingly weirder to the point where I had a hard time telling what direction they were blowing and how strong they were. I turned 90 degrees and headed toward the town of Norman when I looked at some flags to see if I could figure out what the deal was with the wind. What I saw startled me.

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Two flags, right across the street from each other — blowing in opposite directions!

I pretty much gave up on trying to understand what was going on with the wind at this point.

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Norman Post Office

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A run-down building of some kind

After a few more flat miles, the route got hillier. There were no monstrous climbs but a number of decent ones. There were much bigger hills all around me but the road managed to avoid climbing the biggest ones. All in all it was a surprisingly flat route for southern Indiana.

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I was glad I didn’t have to climb the huge hill on the right.

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A fun hill on State Road 58

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Hay bales

Suddenly, the road swept up and curved to the right. This was the toughest climb for a while. I saw a sign indicating a cemetery entrance coming up on the left side. The driveway was gravel and steeper still than the road climb. I went ahead and attempted it, and my new tires handled the gravel very well. I was impressed.

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Sweeping climb

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Great cemetery on top of a hill

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My bicycle, with some impressive hills in the distance

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Another shot of the cemetery and the gravel road

I saw a sign on the way out of the cemetery indicating that this was the Kurtz Cemetery. I hadn’t heard of this cemetery before, but I knew I was approaching the town of Kurtz. I couldn’t be far now.

As expected, I reached Kurtz just a few minutes later. Sarah and I had stumbled on Kurtz by car previously in a photography outing. I took some photos of some of the same things we had photographed at that time as I rode past. I had to slow down, because this is the kind of town you’ll miss if you blink as you pass by — even by bicycle. I thought about our trip there together and how much we enjoyed exploring and taking photos.

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The abandoned Kurtz Market

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58 Cafe

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Abandoned house

I was past Kurtz a minute later and on my way to Freetown. The next section of 58 was the most fun, with some good climbs and an incredibly fast, curvy descent where I got to test the cornering abilities of my new tires. I kept my speed conservative, but I could tell the tires would have held very well with a lot more speed. I think these will even do reasonably well in the spring when the roads have a lot of sand left on them from the winter.

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Incredible house on a hill

After a few more miles I turned north on State Road 135. In a few minutes I was in Freetown, and I took the detour suggested by the map to go to the Freetown Grocery store. It was closed, but I got some water from a vending machine in front of the building. A few neighborhood dogs stopped by to say hello. I was a little worried when I saw them approaching, but they were friendly.

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Freetown Post Office

I went back through Freetown and got back on 135. I saw a sign that said 25 miles to Nashville and this drove home the point of just how far I had left to ride (Nashville is a good 25 miles from home). I had been on the road about 2 1/2 hours at this point and still had 50 miles to go.

135 ended up being my favorite part of the whole ride. I spent a long time on it and it took me along flat ground and up into the hills several times. A few times it goes up the side of a hill and the road follows the edge of the hill giving you great views of the valleys below. It also has many twists and turns making it a lot of fun to ride.

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Lawrence County water tower

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Valley alongside the road

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A roller coaster ride
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Meandering climb

It was quite a ways to the next town (Story) and I had a lovely ride through the countryside. This road is becoming one of my favorite parts of this whole area. There’s really very little there. It’s wonderful. I rode by the entrance to a cemetery Sarah and I had found on Saturday. I’m looking forward to seeing how those photos turned out.

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Big house on a hillside

One thing that’s interesting about 135 is that since there are very few things along the road and it’s so hilly and windy, it’s used by a rather eclectic group of people. I saw a lot of motorcycles, and more of them waved to me than have in any other area, sports cars, and classic cars — people who are on the road for the love of the road. Some of them like to go fast and some like to go slow. There are a couple of horse camps nearby, so I also saw lots of trucks hauling horse trailers. These generally move slowly and often encroach upon the other lane (oncoming traffic).

I also saw a couple of cars with mountain bikes on the back, which is not surprising since the Nebo Ridge and Hickory Ridge trails are nearby. I didn’t see anyone else riding a bicycle on the road, although I have seen road bikers along this section of road before. You also see a lot of old people who of course drive slowly. They are usually going, as far as I can tell, to the Story Inn, a small restaurant and bed & breakfast-type place. So you end up with an assortment of motorists, some out for a leisurely drive and some wanting to drive as quickly as possible. This can sometimes lead to tense situations; fortunately, everyone I encountered was courteous.

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Village of Story sign — one of three signs I saw upon entering town. I guess they don’t want you to miss it.

I soon arrived in Story, a town of (last I heard) 26 people that consists pretty much entirely of the Story Inn. I think there’s also an art gallery there and “The Old Mill,” whatever that is. The whole “town” is situated at a single intersection with a stop sign, often with a bunch of horses near the inn. I stopped to rest and have a snack.

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The Story Inn / The Old Mill

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My bicycle in the small park across the street from the inn

I was a little disheartened when I looked at my odometer and realized I still had 40 miles to go. I was getting pretty tired at this point and although I still had plenty of riding in me, I could tell I should have paced myself a little better. A Balance bar and a PowerBar Gel reenergized me. I hate those gel packs, but on a long ride I haven’t found a better way to replenish lost electrolytes, so I use them when needed. I watched some sports cars and motorcycles ride by as I rested. They were pretty cool to see, but very noisy. When I started riding again I smiled at the silence of my bicycle.

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Beautiful, wooded road

I rode a bit and after a while saw a sign saying it was eight miles to Nashville. This made me feel a little better about how I was doing. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy eight miles, but after that I’d be riding on roads I had ridden on before, and I considered the stretch from Nashville to Bloomington to be sort of the home stretch. I picked up the pace a bit and had a blast with some climbs that paid off with great twisty descents. It was more roller coaster riding until I reached State Road 46.

Once I reached 46, I had only three miles to Nashville. This road has a high speed limit (50 or 55) at this point but it does have a shoulder, so I rode on the shoulder. The only other time I had to do that during this ride was a few miles of 446. Once in Nashville, I stopped at a familiar gas station and bought some Gatorade and another energy bar. I sat inside to warm up a bit while I ate the bar and called Sarah to let her know where I was and when I’d be home. It looked like I wouldn’t be late for dinner with my family. I also took a photo of this very amusing sign in the bathroom.

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Hilarious sign in the bathroom

I took a few more minutes to gather my stuff (and more importantly, my thoughts) and started riding again. The climb up Helmsburg Road was harder than I had anticipated. It’s a long, sweeping climb that just doesn’t let up for quite a while.

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Light filtering through the trees along Helmsburg Road

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Weird pavement surface with more incredible light

I was rewarded for my climbing efforts with an incredibly fast descent which unfortunately was broken up by a car stopping in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. I would have had to slow down anyway, though, as there’s a 90-degree turn at the bottom of the hill. It was relatively flat for a while now and I rolled into Helmsburg and got on State Road 45.

The sun was getting pretty low in the sky now and I spent a good portion of the rest of the ride heading straight into the sun. Even with my sunglasses it was really bright and made it difficult to see where I was going. I did OK, though. I was in familiar territory now and getting anxious to get home. My legs just kept on spinning, at this point seemingly without intervention from me.

I took South Shore Drive and took the causeway over Lake Lemon. I really enjoyed it as always. There’s a big climb at the west end of the causeway, but it’s easier than the equivalent climb on 45.

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Riding alongside Lake Lemon

I took it slow on the climb, putting my bicycle in its lowest gear and just spinning until I reached the top. It was tough, but I knew the climbing for the whole ride was basically over once I reached the top. There are some small hills along 45 after that but nothing too hard.

The rest of the ride home is more or less a blur as it was all on familiar roads and I was basically on autopilot. Which is not to say I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing — I was. But sometimes rides on stretches of road where I’ve ridden dozens of times just sort of run together in my head.

As I approached Bloomington, I enjoyed one last descent that curves around and then a brief climb. I rode to my apartment, not quite believing that I had just ridden almost 90 miles. I was gone for about 6 hours with a ride time of about 5:15. I had dreams of doing the Nashville 90 and extending it by about 10 miles to make a century, but I didn’t have time to do that this time around. Someday, I will — or I’ll find a proper century route.

A lovely evening ride

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

I got home from work a little late yesterday. I’ve been riding my old mountain bike to work the past few days since it’s been raining. I wanted to go for a ride, and I decided to take the old mountain bike and see how it’d do on a bit of a longer ride. I didn’t even take the pannier off as it had the pump and patch kit and whatnot in it and I didn’t want to take the time to transfer them to a smaller bag.

It was in the 50s, with 20 mph winds gusting to 35 mph. I felt those winds even more than usual because of this bike’s upright position. I soon regretted leaving the pannier on as the wind really grabs it and for a while I was having trouble riding into the wind, barely even moving along State Road 45.

Things improved a bit once I turned onto Mount Gilead Road as it’s shielded from the wind a bit. It’s hillier and curvier and surrounded by more trees than 45. I ride on Mount Gilead road often and while sometimes I get a little tired of it, everything looks different now that the leaves are changing and the sun was getting low in the sky. I knew it’d be setting soon, but I wasn’t worried about that since I had lights. So I took some extra time to watch the setting sun and take a few photos. The sky near the sun took on a yellow glow and was speckled with a multitude of small clouds.

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Speckled glow

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You can see how the sun hits only the top of the tree line ahead of me.

The yellow glow crept up as the sun fell, and the winds somehow blew the clouds into a radial pattern as if they were spokes originating near the sun. I have never seen clouds quite like these and was surprised that the clouds changed form so quickly … although with the winds, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

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Radial clouds

Mount Gilead Road takes you to a high area where you can see far into the distance.

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View from the ridge. I’m not sure what the red flowers in the lower left are.

Then, the road plummets into the valley below. I rode this decent as fast as I could, but my less-than-aerodynamic profile prevented me from going as far as usual. I still picked up enough speed to bring tears to my eyes and to have to hit the brakes pretty hard as I neared the bottom.

I took my time riding through the valley as I was none too excited about the climb up the other side. This bicycle is geared pretty low since it’s intended to be a mountain bike; I knew I could make the climb, but it’s never fun.

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Mount Gilead Road right before the climb

I actually found the climb pretty easy. I even did it in the middle chainring, that’s how low the gears on this bike are. They go way too low, although I suppose they’d be good if the bike were loaded down with a lot of gear. Hmmm …. I might have to test that.

As I came out of the steepest part of the climb, I noticed the sky ahead of me was turning pink. I still had some climbing to do so I continued riding, and as I did, the sky became more and more pink with hints of purple creeping through at times. It looked completely unreal, a Monet-painted sky. By this time everything was basking in a surreal pink glow.

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Changing trees bathed in pink light

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Monet joined me for a few miles on this ride

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Road, fence, sky (I swear this could be oil on canvas)

I was absolutely stunned at what I was seeing — and looking at these photos now, it’s still hard to believe. I have ridden on this road dozens and dozens of times, and it’s never looked like this. To think, if I had let the cool temperatures, waning sunlight, or high winds stop me, I would have missed this spectacle.

A few minutes later, I stopped to take some photos of my bicycle. It was getting pretty dark at this point and I wasn’t sure if the photos would work. But I’d say they did.

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My bicycle by an old shed or something. A building permit was present so I assume they’ll be building something here.

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Another shot of the bike

I turned on to 45 to head home. It was getting dark so I turned on my front light — I had my rear blinking light on this whole time. A couple of cars honked but I didn’t care. I got to see a little more sunset but then the moon became visible and it was nearly full, with the wind blowing clouds across it. The clouds dispersed the moonlight, giving it an eerie glow. This has to be the best sub-1-hour ride I’ve done. Sometimes I wonder if rides that short are even worthwhile; this is proof that sometimes, they are.

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My streets

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

My commutes the past few days have been cold, rainy, and dark — and wonderful. Let me tell you why.

I wake up and begrudgingly get out of bed, stretching and peering out from behind the curtain to see what kind of day awaits me. Each day is a bit darker than the one before due to overcast skies and as a result of the days growing shorter. The parking lot glistens with rainwater as I look out on another dreary day and water flows through the gutters to drain below, dripping audibly. I shower and get dressed, gather my things for work, turn on the front and rear lights on bicycle  and set out for work.

I begin to feel more alert and awake as I pedal. Even though it’s raining, I stay mostly dry thanks to my water-resistant jacket and pants. My face gets wet, but it’s cool and refreshing. I watch the world awaken around me and the leaves seem more colorful as my eyes finally start to focus properly . I cross the railroad tracks and turn onto the bike path, on my way seeing the old man, with his wide-brimmed hat and his dog. They walk through here frequently and I always watch for them.

The path is usually vacant and I’m protected by trees creating a tunnel in which I ride. I am surrounded by leaves, some brilliant and some already dead and dull, both above me and on the path below. I ride cautiously since wet leaves can be hazardous, but I take advantage of this time to smell the fallen leaves and the moist earth. I have this path to myself and even though I pass between apartment buildings and railroad tracks, it feels like I’m riding on a path through the woods. There’s an especially intimate feeling riding through here on a dark rainy day when many people worry about getting wet on the way to their car. I embrace this chance to connect with the world on my way to work.

Soon, I come to the end of the path and ride on the road once again. I cross a busy street and then ride on some residential streets. I may see a few cars and another bicycle or two, but by and large these are my streets. I haven’t seen the old couple on their daily walks for a while but I have been riding later than usual. I am sure they’re still walking.

I come to campus and ride through carefully. This is the most populous part of my ride, but motor vehicle traffic is light; it’s mostly pedestrians and bicycles. I pass through a nicely-landscaped path and go by the fountain and see several buildings with contrasting architecture from a bit gothic to more contemporary, somehow sharing the same space harmoniously. Pedestrians walk every which way without paying any attention to what they’re doing, but I have a finger on the pulse of their movements and anticipate them, choosing a straight line through the crowd despite their irregular, dynamic traffic patterns.

For most people, campus is their destination so as I continue past it I am on largely-deserted streets. I climb a long but gradual incline and stop at the stoplight, one of two along my commute route. It turns green but I take my time, knowing that if I hurry to the next light I’ll just have to stop. Instead, pedal at a leisurely pace to the next light and it changes as I arrive. I go down a hill, darting past a left-turning car, and turn toward my workplace.

I enter the building, getting strange looks from some as I walk past with my helmet. My clothes are wet, but I feel quite dry and comfortable. Clearly they think it’s dumb to ride to work in this weather. I can’t help but agree — it seems completely silly. I shouldn’t have ridden to work, I should have ridden to the edge of town and continued past it, ambling through the countryside and seeing more of what the world has to offer.

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