Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Brown County Breakdown 2007

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Sunday was the Third Annual Brown County Breakdown, and the second time I’ve ridden in the event (read my entry about last year’s Breakdown). This is an epic mountain biking ride through Brown County State Park and parts of Hoosier National Forest. My mountain biking buddies and I have been looking forward to this event and training for it all year. It was a blast last year, but I really felt prepared for it this time. Last year, I had quit smoking only two months before, and I wasn’t in very good shape. Now, I’ve lost 45+ pounds, gotten in shape, and regained my lung capacity — not to mention becoming a much stronger rider and improving my bike-handling skills. I knew it would still be hard, but I felt ready to kick some ass.

Getting Started

I arrived at Brown County State Park a little later than planned, around 7:20 am, but I still had plenty of time. I enjoyed a really beautiful sunrise in the country on my way to the park. Once there my day got off to a bit of a rough start when I learned that the metric century (100km, or 62 mi) route that some of us were planning on doing no longer existed; instead, you could do 60 or 75 miles. However, we figured out a way to make it 70 miles and ride on the trails we planned to ride. I’m not sure what the reason was for this last-minute change in routes. It was a little disheartening to have such a change at the last minute, but it wasn’t a big deal.

I signed in and got my bike and SAG bag ready to go. I brought less stuff than last year, since I felt like I brought too much and should have counted on the SAG support more. I’d later discover that the SAGs weren’t as good this year and I should have brought more stuff. Maybe next year I’ll get it right. I joined up with the group and was introduced to Scott, who works for the same company as DJ and Ken. He rode with us a few times and went off on his own a few times as well.

There was a mass start with four waves of riders: really fast, fast, moderate, and “just having fun.” We were in the “just having fun” group again this year — that’s the way to go. The ride isn’t intended to be a race and while some people will turn any ride into a competitive one, I like that the spirit of this event is just a bunch of people who want to spend a day riding on some fun, challenging, and very beautiful trails. The ride starts with a big climb on the road, which is unpopular and not as much fun as starting on the trail, but it does a good job of thinning the pack so the trails don’t get too congested. Unfortunately, most of my photos are from road sections since I could safely get out my camera and shoot when on the road, but not on the trails. There were actually only a few miles of road riding in the whole ride (paved and unpaved), the rest being singletrack, doubletrack, and horse trails.

Waiting to start Faster groups departing
Riders getting ready / a faster group starting

Road start We're off!
Watching riders at the road start / our turn to head up the road

Riding the Brown County Trails

We rode at a pleasant, leisurely pace through the Brown County trails. These trails are very familiar to us and made for a good way to get our ride started, ambling through familiar forests. It was a beautiful, cool morning. The sun had risen just minutes before we started and as it continued to rise, angled light cut through the canopy and illuminated our surroundings with a warm glow. DJ commented “I think my bike is purring,” referring to both the setting and the fact that he had just had it tuned up.

I held my breath as we rode by the part where Dan had broken his chain last year. I mentioned that spot to some of the others, as they had gone ahead. Everything was very different from last year, from the weather to the people in the group. But possibly I had changed the most, being so much healthier and happier and better prepared for this huge ride.

Rider by pond on Aynes Loop
I’m not even sure who this is, but he rode by as we took a break at the Aynes Loop/Hesitation Point intersection and the photo turned out well

Riders were very courteous for the most part, everyone being very happy just to be out on the trails. However, as we rode up Hesitation Point, there were some speed demons behind us (not sure how that happened!) and I told them I needed more space due to some upcoming technical features. They didn’t back off and I missed a feature, which made them stop abruptly behind me and lose the chance to ride it themselves (you need momentum for a lot of the rock gardens and whatnot). I told them that was what I meant and they seemed bewildered that I knew what was coming. I have ridden that trail multiple times. I shouted warnings to them a few times about upcoming technical obstacles, which they seemed to appreciate. I walked a number of the rock gardens because I wasn’t feeling like taking chances. However, I actually did pretty well with some of the technical sections.

We reached the top of Hesitation Point, and while we were there, Scott came riding up. He had gotten a flat tire and we passed him on the way. We had some other rider take a photo of the group.

The whole group
The whole group

After a break at Hesitation Point, we got to ride some brand new trails that had just barely been opened in time for this event. They aren’t completely finished yet, but they were very ridable. First was the new intermediate trail, which is a really fun rolling ride along the sides of some ravines. It has numerous rock features which are very impressive, but not as technical as those in Hesitation Point. Just a couple hundred yards into the trail, after some short steep climbs and a bunch of rock features, Scott, who was riding in front of me, rode over a rock and got a pinch flat right in front of me. We were probably 12 miles into the ride and he had already gotten two flats. He said we should keep going, that he had everything he needed, and started fixing his flat. He had a great attitude about the whole thing, not complaining at all. I definitely would have been a little more irked than he seemed to be.

We continued riding through some more rock sections and quick climbs. My favorite rock feature was a narrow rock bridge right on the edge of a ravine. It was harrowing riding over it because it was so narrow, but it had some loose rocks that made it even sketchier. But it was fun, and I made it safely across. A few other rock-armored sections were very impressive, including a rock-armored switchback. Some of us dabbed and half-walked it, but DJ didn’t and he wiped out. He was OK and we continued riding.

After the new intermediate trail we skipped an in-progress trail that was described as “expert” difficulty in its current state of completion. “If you’re a really aggressive rider, you might be able to ride it,” we were told. This sounded too hard so we went half a mile on the road instead.

Next we came to the new beginner trail, which some of the others had ridden before. I hadn’t. Somehow, we got ahead of Ken and Chris and waited for them to catch up.

Chris flying past
Chris flying past me

This trail was a real roller coaster ride. Ridden slowly, it would be great for beginners because it doesn’t have a lot of climbing or anything very technical. But we were going pretty fast and some humps that at low speeds would not affect you much became awesome jumps. I’m not great at jumps, but this will be a great place to go to practice. There’s even a tabletop jump in there, and this trail features a couple of very impressive wooden bridges. The only thing a beginner might have trouble with are a few switchbacks, but they are wide and sweeping and help make the small climb up to the road much more gradual. I think they did a great job making this trail ridable for beginners, but still fun for more advanced riders. It’s also very scenic, going by some very deep ravines.

Horse Trail

After the new beginner trail we spent a few more miles on the road, went through part of the Taylor Ridge campground, and got on a horse trail that normally isn’t open to bicycles. They secure access to this trail for the Breakdown every year, and while it’s better suited to horse use than bicycle use, it allows us to go from the campground to the cabin that serves as SAG Stop #1 on a trail instead of finding a route on the road (if there even is such a route). This trail is fairly easy on the way out to the SAG stop, as it’s mostly downhill in that direction. But it still has some scary descents with loose rock, and a few climbs, and it’s pretty bumpy. During one climb, I saw DJ’s gears slipping as he was trying to climb. I passed him and got to the top, riding a little further. I stopped to catch my breath and wait for DJ, but he didn’t show up. I rode back a bit to see him walking his bike up the hill. It looked like he had broken his rear derailleur cable. Soon we realized that it wasn’t broken, but the housing had come detached at one of the cable stops. DJ managed to get it back in place, but he continued having shifting problems.

We went pretty fast through the rest of the horse trail, got onto a tough trail on private property that goes down to the cabin. We could hear bluegrass music playing and knew we were close to the cabin. We went down a steep hill and arrived at the SAG stop around 11:00 am.

SAG Stop #1 – The Cabin

Cabin with bluegrass band
Live bluegrass music at SAG Stop #1

I enjoyed this SAG stop a lot. The music was great and lent a festive atmosphere to the proceedings. There wasn’t really that much in terms of food, some PB&J sandwiches, Clif bars, water, and Gatorade. I checked back a few minutes later and found some pizza. It seemed like sort of a weird choice for fuel for athletes, but I ate some anyway, and it was pretty good. One thing I had been hoping to pick up at the SAG stop were some gel packs, which they had last year, but I couldn’t find any. I had only bought three. I normally don’t use them as they can be kind of nasty, but I really needed electrolytes, and Gatorade wasn’t cutting it.

We all ate some lunch. DJ waited in line at a tent that was set up with a guy doing bicycle repairs. He was still having a lot of trouble shifting.

DJ waits in line for repairs
DJ waiting at the repair tent

Dave also made use of the repair tent, as he was also having shifting problems. The guy in the tent really seemed to know his stuff and fixed Dave’s problem. We were all very impressed. The guy didn’t even charge them … pretty damn cool. We all filled our Camelbaks with the well at the cabin.

Once we were all ready to go, we discussed our plans. Ken turned back at this point, as he wasn’t feeling up for going further. He wanted to, but his body told him not to. I felt bad that he had to ride all the way back alone, but there wasn’t much to do about that. He was cool about it, and I’m glad he didn’t push it if he wasn’t feeling up for it. The rest of us headed out toward Nebo Ridge.

Nebo Ridge

Departing from the cabin toward Nebo Ridge
Dave, DJ, and Chris on the dirt road heading away from SAG stop #1

We spent a few minutes on a “dirt road,” which was really just a field with some tire tracks in it. Then, we went a little bit on a couple of gravel roads to reach the Nebo Ridge trailhead.

Gravel road toward Nebo
Gravel road toward Nebo Ridge

The Nebo Ridge trail starts with a long climb (about 1-1.5 miles). This climb felt a lot harder this time around than it usually does. Of course, usually when we ride Nebo Ridge, this is where we start, whereas this time we were already well over 20 miles into our ride.

However, once we got to the top, the seven descents/climbs that follow went a bit easier than usual. The hardest climb there is long and steep, with a lot of loose rocks and dirt and erosion that forces you to go a bit on the left, cross to the right, go further, and cross back, all while still climbing. It’s difficult, but I believe we all made it up that climb successfully.

Nebo Ridge trail
Part of the Nebo Ridge trail

We stopped to rest where the trail intersects another one that comes up from Combs Road. We saw a rider come from the Combs Road side and turn right onto the trail in front of us. It took us a minute to figure out that the guy obviously didn’t know where he was going. Given where he was coming from, he should have been headed back, but instead he went further from the trailhead (i.e. in front of us). We caught up with him a few minutes later and learned that he had taken the road that goes to the Nebo Ridge trailhead too far and ended up in Elkinsville. Basically, he bypassed the Nebo Ridge trail on the road and started heading back, but then almost got on the trail which would have taken him back to the end of the road he already took. We pointed him back toward the trailhead and he said he was sure his team was waiting for him so it’s a good thing we did.

Somewhere on Nebo Ridge, I started having trouble shifting. I had to push really hard on the shifter to get my rear derailleur to shift. This trouble lasted the rest of the ride. This is exactly the problem I took my bike in for a couple of weeks ago. Since they failed to fix it, I’ll have to take my bike back into the shop.

Dave had borrowed a helmet cam from a coworker of ours. With a few miles left of the Nebo Ridge trail, we tried to set it up so we could get some footage of the rest of that trail. We’ll have to see how that turned out. Dave had me go ahead of him so there would be a rider adding some perspective to the footage. If it worked, you’ll get to see me riding on Nebo Ridge. Chris and DJ went ahead while we messed around with the camera.

I rode really well on Nebo Ridge. I was climbing well, especially since I’m getting better at climbing out of the saddle on my mountain bike. I also made it over some technical obstacles that I sometimes botch, and did so more smoothly than I have in the past. One part has a fairly steep climb with a large root at the top. You have to do a wheelie at the top of the hill to get your front wheel over the root, and then power over with your rear tire. On your right this whole time is a dropoff into a huge ravine and the tree to which the root belongs. So if you screw up, the best case scenario is that you run into a tree. In the worst case scenario, you fall into the ravine. I powered up the hill, hopped the root and just kept right on riding. I also did really well on some short drop-offs and bunny hopped some logs with confidence, and threw my weight into tight turns, fluidly riding through windy sections.

SAG Stop #2

We caught up to DJ and Chris a little before the end of the trail. We rode down the steep hill to the parking lot at the end and turned onto the road to SAG Stop #2. After only a few minutes, we arrived at this SAG stop and learned they were out of water. They told us someone should be back soon with more, but we decided to go ahead and do our loop in Hickory Ridge and then get water on our way back. I was pretty irritated that they were out of water. The whole point of SAG stops is to provide you with things like Clif bars, Gatorade, and water. We signed in and told the person there that we would not be riding the prescribed 15-mile loop for the 75-mile route, but instead doing the 10-mile loop that’s technically only part of the 100-mile course. They had no problem with this so long as we checked in again on our way out. No arguments here.

Chris said he was heading back at this point. Dave was ready to go do the Hickory Ridge loop. I felt good and said I’d do Hickory Ridge too. DJ wasn’t so sure — he was feeling pretty tired and I assured him he wouldn’t be left behind. He seemed to be afraid of that for some reason, but I would never leave another rider out in the middle of nowhere … who would? I’m not sure where his anxiety came from, but he decided to ride the Hickory Ridge loop with us.

Trail 19 in Hickory Ridge is not too exciting, it has some mild descents and climbs but is pretty bumpy. And my butt was really starting to hurt by this point. I tried to stand and pedal or coast as much as possible but that’s not always an option, especially when climbing when you need a low center of gravity. A short gravel road trip took us over to trail 18, which is the real gem of this loop. Most of the climbing is behind you now and it’s flat or downhill for a while. We passed a couple of riders taking a break, one who works at Indy Cycle Specialist where I bought my mountain bike. He remembered me from there and from seeing me on the Brown County trails a few times. We exchanged greetings and Dave and DJ and I kept riding. A few fun descents and a sweeping curve down the side of a ravine was absolutely thrilling, the switchback after it keeping us in check and reminding us to be ready for anything. We approached the climb out of the ravine and stopped to take a break.

Scenery on Hickory Ridge
Cool shadows along Trail 18

We were in a deep ravine
The hills around us

Dave and DJ resting before climbing up trail 18
Dave and DJ taking a break

As we were stopped to eat some snacks and drink some water, the riders we had passed before caught up with us and one of them powered his way out of the ravine. It was really impressive, because we had tried that climb before and had to push our bikes up due to all the loose rocks and erosion, and the steepness of the climb. But this guy was a real badass and nonchalantly put us to shame. The other rider had to walk, so I didn’t feel quite as bad about hiking it.

We hauled our bikes up until the trail conditions improved and rode out of the ravine. After a short trip down Trail 20, we were back on a gravel road for a very short distance and then back to SAG Stop #2. They had water this time, but they were already almost out again. We were not able to completely fill our Camelbaks. We got enough water to make it back to SAG Stop #1, but just barely. I really hope they fix this problem next year. There is only ONE thing that you really need when you’re out on those trails, and that’s water. Even with a 100-ounce hydration pack like mine, I need to refill it every few hours. We cracked jokes like “At least we don’t have to worry about draining the well at the cabin.”

Combs Road and back to SAG Stop #1

After visiting SAG Stop #2 again, we took Combs Road for a while to reach where it connects with Nebo Ridge. We stopped to take another break. We were all getting pretty tired by now and my butt was absolutely killing me. We rested and ate and drank some more, trying to stay hydrated. It was a pretty warm day, about 82 degrees, which is good riding weather but a little on the warm side. We had to drink a lot of water. Dave and DJ were both getting cramps in their legs, DJ’s 14-stitch wound from the previous week had started bleeding again, and one of Dave’s knees was swelling up. I was doing better by comparison but I was very tired and I really needed to get out of the saddle.

Taking a break
Taking a break before climbing back up to Nebo Ridge

DJ arriving to take a break before rejoining Nebo
DJ catching up

We watched a couple of riders look up at the big hill that takes you back up to the trail. They shook their heads and walked up.

Other riders hiking the climb
Some riders hiking up the climb

Combs Road Climb
The climb

We rode up, Dave walked two sections but DJ and I made it to the top. You can’t really tell this from the photos, but there are several humps/dips on the way up. It’s very difficult. Dave’s leg cramped up and he had to stop.

Once we reached the top of this climb, there were a few hills on Nebo Ridge on the way back, and then the big descent back to the trailhead which was a 1.5-mile climb before. This is always a lot of fun, although it’s extremely bumpy with many rocks and roots and you have to pick the right line or you’ll practically get thrown from your bike. At the bottom I commented to Dave that I managed to take the smoother line at several points. DJ caught up a minute later and said that he was pretty sure he hit every bump on the way down. I usually do, but Dave and I have ridden Nebo several times more than DJ has, so we have had more practice at that descent.

Sag Stop #1 (again) and getting back to Hesitation Point

Before long, we found ourselves back at Sag Stop #1 (the cabin), and we only stopped for a few minutes. There was hardly anyone there this time, and the musicians were gone. We talked to the owner of the cabin for a minute, who said that his well was starting to sputter a little bit. Our earlier joke about draining the well came back to haunt us. There was still water there, but it’s incredible that people used enough water to impact the well.

I felt pretty energized when we left the cabin, but we immediately had to hike partway up the very steep hill leading away from the cabin. It’s a very tough section and we felt exhausted once again once we reached a ridable part of the trail. It was more detrimental to morale than it was physically difficult, but once you reach this state of exhaustion, everything becomes psychological. But we got to a suitable point to start riding again. We were really dragging our feet at this point and the ride took on a death march feel for a while. Once we got to the top of that hill, we were on the horse trail again, and it’s pretty tough to ride. What was mostly downhill on the way to the cabin the first time made for a lot of climbing this time around. The first half or so of the trail wasn’t too bad, but I was standing almost the whole time because my butt hurt so badly and we were all pretty exhausted. The second half of the trail was a lot harder, with quite a few steep, loose climbs. Dave and I walked most of them, but DJ tried to ride most of them. I was impressed with his tenacity as he tackled climb after climb, mostly successfully. There was one climb in particular that was extremely difficult, and none of us made it up that one without having to hike-a-bike. DJ called it the “mother of all climbs.”

Brutal horse trail climb
Dave and DJ hiking up the “mother of all climbs.” Keep in mind that this photo is from about halfway up.

When we got back to the Taylor Ridge Campground, we agreed to take the roads back to Hesitation Point instead of taking the new trails. The official route had us take the new beginner trail again, but it’s not really any more mileage than the road and we were really just ready to be back by now. And we still had to ride down Hesitation Point, which has the most technical features of the entire ride. They’re easier on the way down, but they are still extremely difficult. The sun was also getting low in the sky and while we knew we’d get back well before dark, the fact that we had been riding basically since sunrise and the shadows were getting long again was wearing us down.

As it turned out, the few miles on the road were exactly what we needed to get our legs spinning easily and get our second wind (or 47th wind by now) and boost morale. We were still exhausted, but we felt more refreshed.

The Home Stretch

Once we reached Hesitation Point, we felt like we were on the home stretch, and we knew it was only 45 minutes or so of trail riding back to the start. I planned on walking most of the technical features on Hesitation Point, but I felt good on the way down, so good that I attempted most of them. I did walk a couple of sections, including one with a log and rock pile you have to jump, and a rock dropoff with a derailleur-eating rock lying in wait. But I rode all the rock gardens. Dave watched me ride one of them, and I rode it a little differently from how I’ve done it in the past. Instead of entering it slowly and trying to pedal through it (which often doesn’t work due to the rocks sticking up all around), I entered quickly and modulated my brakes to control my speed. In the process, I did near-trackstands a couple of times, turning my bars while stopped and then releasing the brakes to continue down. Dave shouted encouragement and said he’d never seen anyone ride it with so much control. I think he was exaggerating, but I did ride it very well.

I also did well on the other rock gardens, a big rock dropoff followed by a log jump, and the two tight switchbacks. I couldn’t believe how well I was riding. I was behind DJ and he set a bit of a slower pace than I’d normally take in some parts, but that was probably a good thing given how tired I was. Still, adrenaline kicked in and I rode Hesitation Point about as well as I ever have. I also did particularly well jumping a log pile, which I attacked and rode more aggressively than usual. I pulled my front bars over it and shoved them down to pull the rear wheel over, in one fluid motion. It felt great. I flew over a rock-armored creek crossing and jumped a root stuck between two rocks like it was nothing. I rode along the creekbed, down and back up and down again, went through another switchback and creek crossing, then climbed up a short but steep hill. I flew down the other side and swooped through a double switchback.

But the climb up to the intersection of the Aynes Loop was hard — much harder than usual. It’s not that steep or that long, but I lost a lot of steam. I had one last gel pack and used it. We did some more climbing on the Aynes Loop, and then took the descent down to the North Tower Loop slower than usual. It’s riddled with rocks and on the edge of a ravine — in fact, that’s where DJ got his 14-stitch wound on his calf. So we took it easy and got back to the North Tower Loop.

Next came the long climb back out of the valley. DJ asked Dave to warn him when we got close to the climb so he would have plenty of time to get in his granny gear. Dave warned him but it wasn’t enough, his front derailleur was acting up now and he couldn’t get in the little ring. He was stuck in the middle ring. This climb is doable in the middle ring, but very hard after almost 70 miles of riding. DJ did OK, though. We reached a log pile that Dave and I almost always walk over when we’re going uphill. We stopped and got off our bikes, but DJ attempted it. He got all the way to the top of the pile and got stuck, falling over with his bike landing on top of him. It looked to me like his bike landed on his knee. But he dusted himself off and said he was fine.

Once he was sure DJ was OK, Dave busted out laughing and said “DJ, that’s what I love about you, man. You’ve got a bandage on your elbow and one on each leg, and 14 stitches in one leg. Now we’ve ridden 70 miles of trails and you’re still riding every feature. You might make it, you might not, but you always try.” And it’s true. DJ always tries to ride everything. I sometimes question his judgment, and all his injuries seem to back up my belief that it’s better to be cautious. But there’s something to be said for being that stubborn and always at least trying.

We reached the parking lot connector soon and the descent back to the parking lot is always one of my favorite sections of trail. It’s also an awesome way to end a ride, with a mile and a half of sweet downhill that’s just twisty enough to keep it interesting without slowing you down too much. Someone had cut out the trees that fell down a week or two ago, so we were able to keep our speed up. We went down five awesome rounded stairstep-type features and really got flying. We were riding right along the edge of a ravine, with great views. Then a switchback took us to the edge of another hill which we climbed, then going down and sweeping over a rock-armored section. Finally, the trail twisted around some more and gave us one last great downhill run back to the parking lot.

Once we reached the bottom, we just had to ride about a quarter of a mile on the road back to the start. We got there and heard applause and cheers. It was great to be welcomed back with such fanfare. We had finished our 70-mile ride in 10 hours, 20 minutes. From what I heard, our route included some 6,000 feet of climbing. Ouch. A volunteer gave us our T-shirts and pointed us to the showers and food. The food was much better this year, with fried chicken, BBQ pork, beans, biscuits, and all kinds of other stuff.

Surprisingly, Chris and Ken had stuck around and were waiting for us near the finish. They had finished hours earlier, but stuck around so we could all hang out after everything was over. It was really cool that they were still there. We all got some food and drank beer that someone had brought and talked about the ride. I only ate one plate of food and stayed about 20 minutes before leaving to go eat dinner with Sarah. It was an incredible day of riding, and the Breakdown went much better than last year (and it was awesome last year). It took a while for everything that happened to set in, and in some ways, I think it hasn’t set in yet. Some others accomplished more impressive feats, like the guy who rode 108 miles on a completely rigid single-speed. But this is by far the most impressive feat of riding I’ve accomplished, and I feel ready to ride more — except that my butt still hurts even now, 48 hours after the end of the ride.

I still have work to do to prepare for the Hilly Hundred, a two-day, 100-mile road ride the weekend after next. But I think this will remain my shining moment in riding so far. I can’t wait for next year’s Breakdown!

5 Responses to “Brown County Breakdown 2007”

  1. Christy Says:

    Does that cabin have a tin roof? If so, that’s pretty awesome. It almost requires there be a blue grass band playing on the front porch.

  2. Apertome Says:

    Christy: you put your comment on the wrong post — I moved it. That’s what I get for writing so much. Yeah, the cabin does have a tin roof. It’s too bad my photo of the bluegrass band didn’t turn out better. Oh well, maybe next year.

  3. John Says:

    I can appreciate the group you began the ride with. I always start an AARP coasters group. We are usually right behind the woman towing kids in trailers.

    I would love to begin organizing rides like my favorite group in St. Louis

  4. furiousball Says:

    great shots. that cabin looks so in place, bluegrass band on the porch. they only are missing a lazy bloodhound sleeping on the steps.

  5. Jett Says:

    You’ve gotta be feeling good about that ride. Distance, climbing and technical challenge.

    I’m still plugging away on-road, but your post gets me thinking about trying the mountain bike.

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