Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for November, 2007

Two fantastic rides

Monday, November 19th, 2007

It was a great weekend for riding, sunny most of the time with temperatures in the 50s. I went mountain biking at Brown County State Park on Saturday and hit the road to Morgan-Monroe State Forest on Sunday.

Mountain Biking at Brown County

Saturday was a stunning day with temperatures approaching 60 degrees and some sun. I rode a lot later than I planned but late afternoon was a great time to be out. I rode “the trifecta” — what used to be all three trails (there are some new ones now that I didn’t ride). I took my time a bit riding up the parking lot connector but once I reached the North Tower Loop I kicked it in gear and rode hard. It felt so great to ride during the day after the past few rides being night rides and I was able to go a lot faster. I was pushing the envelope as the leaves hindered my traction and even felt my rear wheel drift a few times. But I kept it in check and managed to learn the limits without wiping out. I don’t normally ride this hard but it felt really good and I was just hauling through the woods. I attacked logs aggressively, clearing them in one smooth motion. I was on fire.

However, I knew I couldn’t maintain this pace and once I finished the North Tower Loop, I rode a little toward the Aynes Loop and stopped for a minute to make some adjustments to my saddle. It felt too far forward. I rested for a few minutes and caught my breath. I knew I’d need it for the long climb just ahead, and for the remainder of my ride. I paced myself on the climb and even stopped to take a few photos.

A switchback on the Aynes climb

There were a lot of leaves on the trail but I was surprised by how colorful a lot of the trees were. Some were completely leafless but others were shades of orange and some even had burning bright red colors. It was beautiful, and I had the trails almost completely to myself. I almost didn’t take any photos because part of me selfishly wanted to keep this moment to myself. But I couldn’t help myself. Even if the photos can’t do it justice, they remind me of how it felt to be there.

More of the Aynes climb

The leaves on the trail slowed me down a lot but I wasn’t in a hurry at this point and even enjoyed this difficult climb, spinning up it slowly and not pushing it too much.  Still, I stopped at the top to rest for a few minutes and take some more photos.

My bike at the top of the Aynes climb. You can see the hills in the distance behind it.

I rode fast, but not hard, on the descent. Since it’s mostly downhill I let gravity pull me and tried to use my brakes minimally. Once again I was pushing the envelope but keeping my bike under control. My suspension fork was working overtime absorbing rocks and roots and other bumps I couldn’t see through the leaves. As I went through switchbacks and rode along the edge of the hills I knew I must have a big stupid grin on my face. I was having a blast.

As I passed a pond on my way to the Hesitation Point trail, I passed a couple hiking with their dog. They moved off the trail to let me past and we traded greetings as I rode past. They were very courteous and really seemed to be enjoying the trails. These trails were built for mountain biking but seem to be capturing more and more interest with hikers, which is not surprising because they are just incredible trails. I wish all the hikers were as courteous as these.

I reached the Hesitation Point trail and continued riding. Sometimes I take a break at the trail intersection, but I was having too much fun to stop. I saw another couple hiking with their dog and they were just as courteous as the other couple, letting me by and saying hello as I passed. I rode down into the valley, eating up the double switchback along the way and some steep downhill sections. I had fun following the creek on the trail and once again attacked some log piles aggressively, riding over them about as smoothly as it’s possible to ride a bicycle over a pile of logs.  I stopped for a snack before beginning the long climb out of the valley.

I handled the climb better than I expected, given that I’ve ridden so little lately. The Hesitation Point trail is only a bit over two miles but it’s almost all climbing in this direction and there are numerous technical features on the way up that can really make a dent in your momentum, making the climbing a lot harder. I didn’t clear everything on the way up but I kept on riding as much as possible. I did well in the two sharp switchbacks and on some of the rock features. Other rock features I had to walk. I’m OK with this. I remembered how hard the climb was this summer when it was in the 90s and was grateful for the cool temperatures. By the time I reached the top I was pretty tired and stopped to take in the view and catch my breath.

The view from Hesitation Point — well worth the climb!

My bicycle at Hesitation Point

I was more than ready to let gravity do its part on the way down and cleared every technical feature — even a log dropoff that I had never cleared before. It’s not even that hard if you know how to ride it. Now, I do. There’s another dropoff that I’ve cleared before but that always scares me and it felt easy this time around. I’m gaining more confidence on this trail.

As I flew down this trail I achieved a certain connection with the trail where dodging trees, weaving back and forth and going through switchbacks became a rhythmic action, not repetitive exactly but when you know exactly where you’re going and when to go there you can really feel a sense of harmony with the trail. Instead of having to think “turn left, go straight, jump that rock, duck under that branch, carve that switchback, dodge that rock” it becomes one fluid motion, simply riding. It’s hard to describe but I’m sure some people who read this blog will get it. I had that feeling through most of my ride but especially going down Hesitation Point.

I passed the hikers again on my way back and once I finished the Hesitation Point trail I went directly back to the parking lot. That’s a few miles but I was still in the zone and it’s in my memory as one action.  This was the best ride I’d done in quite a while.

Road Ride through Morgan-Monroe State Forest

Sunday was another great day for riding, with a high of 50 degrees it was cooler than Saturday but still not bad. There were winds, headwinds at first that made my ride tough from the start. It was only a 35-mile ride but I was surprised how hard this was for me. Maybe I was worn out from riding the day before and maybe I just haven’t ridden enough lately, but I had to work hard at it. That said, after the first 10 miles or so I felt more warmed up and rode better, but I still felt a bit sluggish.

Old State Road 37

Farmland by Old 37

I won’t go into as much detail about this ride. Once I got going I felt a bit better but like I said it was a challenge. I’ve ridden this route many times before although it was a little different this time because it went by the Hilly Hundred route. This brought back memories of riding the Hilly which I really enjoyed. But I forgot that hunting season started and my peaceful ride through the state forest was marred many times by gunshot blasts, and once by a jeep hauling a buck carcass away. I have no moral qualms about hunting but I can’t understand the motivation behind it — why people take so much pleasure in killing something beautiful. It’s their prerogative, but I didn’t need to see it. Fortunately before long I rode the fantastic descent down Beanblossom Road (a big hill that we climbed during the Hilly Hundred) and out of the forest. All in all it was a beautiful ride on a slightly hazy day.

Me, being a mouth breather once again

Farmland along Anderson Road

Another self portrait

Climbing into the distance

Brisk commute

Friday, November 16th, 2007

I had a great commute today, the first sub-freezing one so far (27 degrees). It was brisk but if anything I was a little overdressed in the torso with a Columbia Titanium shirt (I love these for almost any physical activity), cheap Merino Wool sweater from Target and my Descente Element jacket. My normal full-fingered gloves were great, and I wore my ear-covering headband thing to keep my ears warm. The only part of me that was cold at all were my feet. I am pretty frustrated with the lack of cold-weather cycling shoes available. You can get boots but they’re insanely expensive. I really wish I could find some cycling shoes with little or no venting for use in cold weather and rain.  Pretty soon I expect to commute full-time on my old GT Timberline mountain bike and/or put platform pedals on my road bike for the winter.

It was a beautiful morning and I saw a guy on a recumbent tricycle. I said hello but didn’t strike up a conversation. I presume the guy was on his way to work because he had an Arkel pannier on the back with RCA cables sticking out of it. He also had a faring on the front; I wonder how well it works to block the wind. I’m sort of surprised I haven’t seen this guy before.

The number of cyclists I see continues to dwindle. Even on campus, most people must have taken to walking or riding the bus, because I only saw a couple of other people on bikes. It’s too bad because my ride was fantastic this morning. There’s still plenty of color in some of the trees and I wished I had brought my camera. The light was also a fantastic yellow glow because the sun was still a bit low in the sky. It would’ve made for some fantastic photographs.

Fantastic nighttime trail ride; interesting road ride

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Mountain Biking at Brown County – last night

My mountain biking buddy Dave and I met at Brown County State Park last night at a little before 7:00 pm. When we arrived, I was surprised to see some other cars in the lot. I shouldn’t have been surprised; while not a lot of people ride at night, we certainly aren’t the only ones who do. It took us a few minutes to get everything ready.

A few words on lighting: I used an LED mini Maglite mounted on my helmet with velcro zip ties as usual (see my past post on how to do this), and my CygoLite Hi-Flux 100 light mounted on my handlebars. Dave used two flashlights attached to his helmet. He used to use duct tape but is now a velcro zip tie convert. The flashlights he uses are not Maglites, and while they are about as bright as mine, they seem to be less durable as they have been becoming less reliable over time. The switches don’t always work well anymore and sometimes they’ll flicker when we go over bumpy sections of trail. I think it was worth a little extra money for the Maglite brand lights, which have given me absolutely no trouble.

Once we got our stuff ready to go, we headed out. Dave wasn’t feeling too well, but he was hoping a ride would help him feel better. He had a headache and was trying to fight off the cold that’s going around in his family. The first mile and change is climbing but it’s pretty gradual. Still, it certainly got our hearts pumping. I felt a bit sluggish since I haven’t ridden much recently, but once I got warmed up, I felt a lot better.

In fact, I rode a lot better than I had last week. I did pretty well climbing but the descents were a lot smoother this time. I’m a little more accustomed to night riding now and I think that’s what made the difference. I was able to anticipate the twists and turns of the trail, flowing over it smoothly and only braking when absolutely necessary. I modulated my brakes better, too, slowing myself just the right amount when necessary, rather than braking too hard and slowing abruptly. I also did better hopping logs, taking more speed into them, shifting my weight and letting my momentum carry me over them. Last time, I approached them too tentatively and while I still made it over them, it was a lot rougher and less graceful.

Once we reached the connector to the Aynes Loop, we decided to ride the connector trail out and back but not the whole Aynes Loop. It was a good way to add an easy mile or so to our ride as that’s the flattest section of the whole trail system. After that, we rode the North Tower Loop in the opposite direction. Dave asked if I wanted to take the lead (he almost always leads) and I took him up on the offer. I was both excited about it and a little nervous. It’s a lot easier to follow someone than to have to try to follow the trail without any help. It’s often very difficult to figure out which way the trail goes at night, especially in the fall when everything is covered with leaves; everything just blends together in the small area of light in front of you.

I soon felt more at ease as I realized that I could mostly see where the trail went and even when I couldn’t, I am familiar enough with these trails to anticipate what’s coming next. I did have a little trouble finding a good pace; I didn’t want to hold Dave back but sometimes ended up riding too fast.

This was the best part of the ride for me as all I could see were the woods in front of me and sometimes the trail. Sometimes I couldn’t see the trail at all but could see where someone had cut out part of some logs to make room for the trail. We climbed for a while and were rewarded with a twisty descent in what we call the “Wapehani” section, as its whoops and turns remind us of the Wapehani mountain bike park in Bloomington.  I kept my speed up, leaning into turns and throwing my weight around more than usual in the turns but also in straight hilly sections, bombing down hills and pulling my bike up under me when going over rocks and mounds, floating over them rather than hitting them like dead weight.

Now we had more climbing to do and we kept a good pace, enjoying this opportunity to drop the intensity for a few minutes but looking forward to the next burst of speed. The wind was really picking up, blustering and swirling around us and blowing leaves back and forth almost looking like schools of fish traveling unpredictably but as one. As the climb intensified so did the wind and we rode steady into it for the rest of the climb.

But soon, we were treated to more great downhill riding as the trail followed the edge of several ravines with near 180-degree switchbacks at the end of each. As we followed the contours of the land the trail alternated between being banked in our favor and off-camber. At times it was very banked and the leaves on the side of the bank made it impossible to see where the trail was. We were riding on faith, trusting that the trail wouldn’t let us down. It was tough to tell where the trail was but having ridden here many times before we just kept on riding and soon enough the trail became more visible again. The banked switchbacks allowed us to keep our momentum through the tight switchbacks and we continued to pick up speed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird fluttering into the air from a tree. I couldn’t tell what kind of bird it was but I’m thinking it must have been an owl. It was beautiful, whatever it was.

The trail flowed down into a valley and across a creek and we started the climb up the other side. This gave us a respite from the intense focus we had to maintain during the fast descent. But coming up was one of our favorite sections of trail, the connector back to the parking lot. I took it faster than I usually would at night this time around. We pretty much know every twist, turn, and hill on the way down, or so I thought. I came flying around a turn and got out of the saddle to climb a small hill and almost went left where the trail goes straight. I corrected my mistake — no harm done — but I nearly went flying off the trail. We had an exhilarating trip back down to the parking lot.

Road Riding – Tuesday Night

I did a night road right Tuesday night. I did a modified version of the Water Works route, which is one of my regular training routes. I headed out Smith Road and things were a little dicey from the start. Smith Road is not a high-traffic road, but it’s not an empty rural road, either. It had just enough traffic to be a little scary at night and to drown out my headlight, but it’s not urban enough to have a lot of street lights, either. Once I got out past Smith Road, things got better as the traffic thinned and my headlight was fairly sufficient at this point. I also had a blinking light that made trippy strobe effects as I rode, mostly on my feet and pedals, freezing them at various times in the pedal cycle.

Handy Road was great, with almost no traffic. It’s a pretty easy road to ride on, although I couldn’t see things like potholes, cracks or sand very well. I was really glad I had put wider tires on my bike, because I went over a lot more rough stuff than I would during the day simply due to a lack of light. But my new tires soaked it up pretty well and gave me fantastic traction nonetheless.

On my way back I decided to take Sare Road instead of Smith Road. This turns into College Mall Road and goes by the mall; normally I try to keep my riding rural as much as possible, but at night everything is different. This worked a lot better; Sare Road doesn’t have a lot of traffic but does have a lot of street lights. College Mall Road is four lanes (total) but not very busy at night, so I had a whole lane to myself. I cut across behind the mall, although I could have safely taken 3rd Street since there was so little traffic. I think I’ll have to ride different routes in the winter staying close to town to take advantage of the street lights and other city-generated light.

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