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Archive for November, 2007

Black Friday rides

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Oriole West and Tipsaw Lake trails in Hoosier National Forest

Last year, Dave and I spent Black Friday riding at Versailles State Park. This year we decided to head south instead of east and discussed possibly going to Ferdinand State Forest, but ultimately settled on riding in Hoosier National Forest which is in the same area. Dave picked me up at around 9:00 Friday morning and we set out on the two-hour drive there.

The drive was particularly scenic since once you get past Mitchell things get even hillier, with some beautiful karst topography. We passed some pretty interesting places and it was great to have Dave as a guide as he is familiar with the area and told me about how the town of English, IN was built on a flood plain and after having the whole town flood many times, they decided to move the whole town to the top of a nearby hill. They let a lot of the buildings stand in the flood plain and I really wish I could have gone to see the strange ghost town. The remains were torn down several years ago. Nowadays, there’s nothing but a golf course in the flood plain.

We also stopped at the Orangeville Rise of the Lost River. The Lost River is a river that runs mostly underground, going some 40 miles underground before surfacing briefly near Orangeville. The river is very low now since we’ve had so little rain, but it was still cool to see. I can imagine how it must look in the spring when it’s strong.

Orangeville Rise of the Lost River

We stopped at a small liquor store along the way to pick up some beer. We were surprised at how decent their selection was and walked away with a six pack of Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss. We also considered Goose Island’s Honker’s Ale and some Upland brews.

One really cool town we passed through was Paoli. It’s a small town nestled in the hills with a beautiful square dowtown. The courthouse looked impressive against the backdrop of the surrounding hills. I’d definitely like to go and spend some time in Paoli sometime.

We passed several other trails on our way to The Oriole West trail. There are many trails in Hoosier National Forest, and a lot of them are open to bicycles. Most of them are “multi-use” trails though so they are also open to horses. Still, it’s pretty impressive just how many trails there are in the area.

Oriole West trail

We arrived at the Oriole West trailhead to find a bunch of hunters. We decide to park a little further away so we could avoid too much interaction with them. We got ready to start riding and we both felt pretty cold as it was in the 30s. I knew we’d warm up once we started riding, but that was little consolation at the moment. To keep us visible to hunters, Dave had a bright yellow vest but I just had my blue jacket. Fortunately, he brought a bright orange shirt for me to borrow. It looked completely stupid, but I was glad to have it.

Yea, though I ride through the valley of the shadow of hunters, I shall fear no gunshots; for I wear bright colors.

Our ride started with a brief jaunt over to the trailhead almost immediately followed by a screaming descent into the valley below. Leaf cover was thick and it was very difficult to see the trail and completely impossible to see most of the roots and rocks and other obstacles on the trail. This meant riding over a lot of rough stuff we’d normally try to avoid simply by virtue of not being able to see it.

There’s a trail here, I swear

Throughout this downhill section, the trail stayed pretty straight and had a number of whoops which allowed us to catch some fantastic air. I had been pretty groggy during the drive down here but it didn’t take long before I woke up, flying down the hill and jumping a couple of times per minute. The bottom of the hill was particularly steep and sketchy with a lot of rocks to navigate. It also dumped us directly into a tricky creek crossing.

While that descent was a real blast, after a few minutes of riding in the valley we had a ton of climbing ahead of us. We figured we probably climbed for the next three miles solid. And while it wasn’t super technical, there were a lot of rocks to deal with in the trail and traction was poor; the leaves made things slick but the ground was a bit muddy beneath the leaves. I had a lot of trouble with my rear wheel spinning out while I tried to climb. And we really didn’t expect the climbing to go on for so long.

Taking a breather during the long climb

The scenery was really great though throughout all of this. As we climbed we could see into the ravines below us and eventually could see some of the surrounding hills through the trees. Unfortunately we didn’t get to enjoy it too much as we were getting our asses handed to us by the climb. We walked a few sections we couldn’t seem to make it up and few others to conserve energy, as we knew we had a bunch more riding ahead of us that day.

Walking part of the hill

We rode along the ridgetop for a little ways but even then we continued climbing gradually. However, before long our efforts paid off with an absolutely incredible descent. For a while the trail wound back and forth as it swept down the side of this huge hill, with some fun switchbacks and rocky technical sections. We had to keep our speed in check due to the traction problems I mentioned, but the turns were wide enough that we could keep moving pretty well.

After a bit of this twisty descent, the trail leveled out a little bit and gradually descended as we rode across the side of a hill with whoops allowing us to get some more airtime and then went into a full-bore straight ahead downhill run. Most of the downhill sections on most of the trails we ride don’t offer many runs straight down the side of a hill, so we really relished bombing down this hill. Unfortunately about two thirds of the way down the hill I saw Dave move over to the left and slow down to stop and I saw a puddle ahead of me followed by a dirt mound. Dave had just moved to the shallowest part of the puddle, so I couldn’t go there, and I couldn’t stop in time. I thought I could just ride over it but the puddle was deeper than I thought and it sucked my front wheel in. My bike stopped and I kept on going, flying through the air but still landing partially in the puddle. My landing was surprisingly soft considering I must have been going 15-20 mph on impact. But my fork absorbed a lot of the impact and I had shifted my weight pretty far back, so most of the energy was absorbed by the fork and by pivoting my body over the bike.

I wasn’t hurt but I was very wet and cold and this being a horse trail I knew that what I had landed in wasn’t the purest of water. It was quite disgusting and my body and my bike were covered in mud and water from the puddle.

My bicycle and my self, post-crash

Gross stuff coating my wheel and my legs and feet

Dave didn’t crash, but it was a close call

The culprit. You can see bunched up leaves where I tried to brake. The puddle doesn’t look very deep … does it?

Dave and I dusted ourselves off and regained composure, laughing about what had just happened. I have to say, my crash was surprisingly invigorating and fun. Of course I wouldn’t have felt that way if I hadn’t escaped unscathed.

The rest of the descent had a lot of twists and turns as before and we took it a little easier. As we rode, Dave noticed his front tire was going flat. He had had a slow leak for a while, but it became a fast leak. He pumped up the tire and rode a little more but it wasn’t holding air. I had a patch kit but we decided to walk back because we had reached the bottom of the hill anyway and now just had to go about a mile back up to the car. I would’ve been fine fixing it there but after this we were going to a cabin a friend of Dave’s owns and could fix the tire there over a beer. That sounded pretty damn good to me.

My bike alongside the trail as we attempted to fix Dave’s tire

Weird tree

Walking back to the car

Next time I wouldn’t mind trying this trail in the opposite direction (we went clockwise). I it’d be a lot of climbing either way but I do think the parts we had to climb this time around would be a lot of fun going in the other direction.

We went over to the cabin which as it turns out isn’t really a cabin — or it’s a cabin with one wall. It’s more of a shelter. Dave showed me around his friend’s property where they gather with a bunch of friends several times a year to have parties. It sounded like there had been a lot of good times there. I got to see where the outhouse had burned down a few weeks before and a new one was already being built in its place. Dave was going to just replace his inner tube but realized he only had tubes with Schrader valves and his new bike takes Presta valves, so I offered to patch his tube. He accepted and before long he had a functional wheel again. The Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss hit the spot after our ride … very refreshing and tasty.

To make a long story short, we went over to a bar (I should say *the* bar) in this tiny town of Magnet, Indiana and ran into a friend of Dave’s there. It was a little weird because this guy actually lives in Indianapolis, which is further from Magnet than Bloomington. Quite a coincidence.

BettyRay’s Landing on the Ohio River

The Ohio River

This place reminded me a lot of the Port Hole Inn near Bloomington, a dive mostly filled with hollering rednecks although one table of guys had arrived in a limo. This was pretty puzzling but I didn’t try to understand it. I guessed it was a bachelor party but really, who knows? Anyway lunch took forever but I had a fantastic double bacon cheeseburger. I only ordered a single but I was glad to have the double and the waitress only charged us for a single. The same thing happened to Dave.

After eating and talking to Dave’s friend it was getting surprisingly late in the day. The flat tire had also been a setback. We debated whether we had time to ride one other trail. We had three planned for the day and while I knew that was ambitious, I thought we’d certainly get to ride two. We decided to go for it even if we were a little tentative about it since neither of us brought lights.

Tipsaw Lake

Unsurprisingly, the Tipsaw Lake trail loops around Tipsaw Lake. We didn’t see the lake at all until we had ridden a bit. This trail was covered in leaves like the Oriole trail but was a lot flatter. There were some small descents and climbs but it mostly stayed close to the water and therefore stayed flat. This trail has something like 21 creek crossings and while most of them were dry they were still quite a challenge. In fact one of the first things you do on this trail is cross a pretty wide creek — this one wasn’t dry and I was worried my tire would slip on a rock and I’d fall into the icy water. But we both made it across safely and without getting wet. Even though it was fairly flat the trail had a lot of rocks in it which kept traction to a minimum and since we couldn’t see them through the leaves it was difficult to know how to handle the technical sections. I kept my weight back and tried to keep my speed up so I could roll over the rocks. It seemed to work pretty well.

Before long we got our first glimpse of the lake. The golden late afternoon sun angling over the lake and casting long shadows made for some breathtaking views.

First glimpse of Tipsaw Lake

The trail. Seriously. I swear it’s there.

I was glad Dave had ridden here before because it was damn near impossible to follow the trail. He knew more or less where it went and it was very helpful being able to follow him.

Trees basking in golden light reflected in the water, accented by the moon

The trail was very different from the Oriole trail although both are pretty rugged, and I really enjoy these more rugged trails. The pristine trails at Brown County are fantastic and are incredibly well-designed , but these trails have a character of their own. As I put it to Dave, “At Brown County, you aren’t going to bomb down a hill hitting a puddle, flying over the handlebars and getting drenched in horse urine. You have to ride at Hoosier National Forest for that.” Seriously, though, these trails may not be as well-designed but the scenery is incredible and riding on rawer trails has a different set of challenges. It also sometimes feels more natural to me than a well-groomed race track through the woods. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder what these trails would be like if they’d been designed by the HMBA folks.

Tipsaw Lake

It kept getting darker but we got a little more confident that we would make it around the lake before it got too dark to ride. As the sun went down the moon was coming up and it was almost full. We could have finished the ride by moonlight if necessary and in fact for the last few minutes it was mostly the moon guiding our way. We were cold and struggling to see, hitting every rock and root along the way. But it had been a great day of riding and even if we didn’t get to ride as much as we had hoped, it was quite an experience and much better than spending Black Friday fighting hordes of people at the mall.

I’d really like to return to this area with Sarah and explore it more, taking some photos and going hiking and doing some more riding. Tipsaw Lake in particular was fantastic and I wish they rented boats there because it’d be the perfect place to go canoeing. They also have a beach and a campground complete with showers.

Sun setting over a hill as seen from the dam

Dave on the dam

Thanksgiving ride

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

It’s been unseasonably warm here but all that changed on Thanksgiving. I woke up Thanksgiving morning to find temperatures in the lower 30s and a bit of drizzle. It had rained some overnight and was sprinkling a bit. But I checked the ground when I walked Rob and it seemed solid — we shouldn’t have any problem riding. I got ready and drove to the state park to meet up with Dave.We were dressed appropriately but unfortunately this means feeling quite cold at rest so we got going quickly and before long we were much more comfortable. But the trails were completely covered with leaves. If we hadn’t been familiar with them, it would have been extremely difficult to figure out where the trail was. I don’t think I’ve ever seen these trails so covered with leaves. The leaves add a lot of rolling resistance and make it impossible to see roots and rocks in the trail.

The real problem, though, was that the leaves were wet and destroyed our traction. We rode pretty conservatively so our wheels wouldn’t slip out from under us and got through the whole North Tower Loop without incident. The Aynes climb was tougher than usual with the leaves slowing us down and making the steeper parts of the climb very difficult as our rear wheels kept spinning as we rode. But we got to the top and as usual took a breather.

It was the kind of day I’d often just want to sit inside, overcast and cold and drizzling. A great day to stay in bed all day. But it felt so good to be outside and enjoying the fresh air and a quiet ride through the woods.

Dave asked if I wanted to take the lead on the descent, which sounded fine to me. The first part of the descent is the hardest, with a lot of big rocks and eroded trail right on the edge of a ravine. We made it through this section but it required intense concentration and a bit more care than usual. At this point, I thought we were pretty much home free and let loose on some fast flowing sections. I went through an off-camber turn and felt my wheels starting to slip out from under me. I dabbed and managed to keep myself upright. A few minutes later another off-camber turn got me. My wheels washed out and I wiped out, laying my bike and my self down to the uphill side of the turn. I wasn’t hurt but I got a little frustrated with my mistakes.  The same exact thing happened yet again a few minutes later, really taking me by surprise as I was riding pretty slowly at this point. Dave said it looked to him like I pedaled too hard coming out of the turn and while I’ll bet he’s right, I was surprised by just how little traction I had. I didn’t have any more problems after that and I wasn’t hurt, but some damage was done to my pride.

Thanksgiving plans; Ghost town

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Sarah’s mom came to pick her up and take her back to Fort Wayne for Thanksgiving. I don’t pick Sarah up from the bus station in Indianapolis until Sunday night, so it’ll be a few days of just Rob (the dog) and myself. Last night I rode my bike to Subway, hung out with Rob and worked on a side project I have brewing. I tried to watch a little TV, but I wasn’t feeling it and turned it off.

Tomorrow morning Dave and I are planning on mountain biking at Brown County; I’ll spend Thanksgiving afternoon/evening at mom’s with mom, my sister and my nephew. Friday will be a day of mountain biking with Dave a couple of hours south of here in either Hoosier National Forest or Ferdinand State Forest. On Saturday I plan to do a road ride with Dan on Bike. And interspersed with all the riding and family time will probably be a lot more work. I have two side projects to work on at the moment so I am keeping very busy.

My commute was really weird this morning. First of all, something just isn’t right about riding to work in a short-sleeved shirt in late November. It’s pleasant, but strange. Secondly, Bloomington feels like a ghost town right now as apparently almost all of the IU students have already left for the holiday. I was expecting to see fewer students, but technically IU has classes today and I figured at least a few people would stick around and go to class. Apparently, I was wrong.

The maintenance people have already taken advantage of the lack of students to put up some wreaths in a few places, and there are some lampposts that I swear weren’t there before. The fountain by the auditorium has been turned off so that area looked particularly dead, with no students and the now-inanimate fountain.

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