Sarah and I went to Fort Wayne this weekend to visit her mom. They planned to do some bridesmaid/flower girl dress shopping on Saturday, so I planned a bike ride based on this route to Chain o’ Lakes State Park:
I added in a jaunt to Blue Lake, changed the route a little bit, rode around the state park, and ended up riding over 68 miles instead of the 40-50 I intended. My actual route ended up looking a bit more like this:
It was a ride of fierce headwinds, cool weather, tackling gravel roads on a road bike, a plethora of lakes, horses, cows, and pigs — and heck, even a few hills (surprising, for northern Indiana).
Let me start at the beginning. Since I was riding in an unfamiliar area, I printed the route the best I could, highlighted it as presented online. I made some changes in a pen and wrote in road names since they were hard to read on the printout. I also brought my Indiana Gazetteer and bought a Fort Wayne map once we got there. I really can’t recommend Gazetters highly enough for riding, hiking and other recreational activities. I only wish someone made a smaller one. I poured over the maps for a good 20 minutes or so before I left so I had some idea where I was going.
The ride started deceptively easy. I had to work my way through a high-traffic area (Washington Center and Lima roads) to get away from our hotel, but drivers were courteous. While stopped at a red light in the left turn lane, the woman in the car in front of me even got out of her car to warn me she was about to pull a U-turn. It didn’t affect my riding at all, but it was nice of her to warn me.
After that, I was on lower-traffic roads for a long time. Cook Road was pretty pleasant to ride on; the speed limit was fairly high, but there were almost no cars. Once I got a little further from town, it also had some pretty nice scenery. The road surface was pretty rough — but it didn’t have many potholes or cracks, just rougher pavement. I rode fast, I had a stiff tailwind out of the east and I was headed due west. Riding on flat land with a tailwind felt fantastic and I hammered it in the big chainring most of this time.
After a while, the route I had chose diverged from the one I found online. My idea was a more direct route, so I wasn’t sure why the one I found didn’t go that way. I soon found out: the way I went was gravel. There was no transition, I was just riding along and the pavement suddenly ended, so I didn’t have time to debate whether to ride on it. My road bike did surprisingly well on the gravel road. I was lucky in that it was very smooth and well-packed, for gravel, and didn’t have a lot of large, loose gravel chunks. I was cruising along at 20mph on a gravel road on my road bike and I have to say, it felt great. Maybe I shouldn’t shy away from offroad surfaces so much on my road bike. I was glad to have 28mm tires instead of the 23s or 25s that most roadies run. I hit a loose section and things got sketchy, but it was very brief and soon my traction improved again.
I missed a turn and ended up a little off course. I meandered around a little bit and once I figured out where I was I headed back toward where I needed to be. This took me onto another gravel road, this time straight into the wind. It was pretty grueling trying to stay upright on gravel and fight my way into the wind, but once again I was pleasantly surprised with my bicycle’s performance.
I made my way over to the Blue Lake area, where I had once again modified the route so I could hopefully get a little closer to the lake. This worked but I only got a few glimpses of the lake. I wonder where the main recreation area is there, but I figure there must be one, but I sure didn’t see it.
I saw a fantastic tree and thought of Sarah and her affinity for solitary trees.
I soon got a little off course again, but I knew I was headed in the right direction, so I just kept going. To my surprise, once I passed highway 33, the terrain got hillier. Not as hilly as what I’m used to in southern Indiana, but there were more hills than I expected to encounter. They were all middle-ring climbs, and a nice change of pace.
Before long things got smellier and I started seeing a lot of pigs.
I stopped to photograph this pair and they were pretty interested in me. Often horses or cows will come over to say hi when I stop to take photos; these pigs did the same, waddling in my general direction and munching the whole way.
I finally hit the state park boundary and I was a mile west of where I was supposed to be. I wasn’t sure if the route I looked at took me to the park entrance or just the boundary. I decided to head east to see if there was an entrance there; if not, it’d be a longer trek west, and then north on a busier road. It was very challenging trying to ride due east as the winds were picking up and still coming straight out of the east. I found that there was not, in fact, an entrance on the south end of the park, and headed back to go find the entrance I knew about, on the west side.
I road on the main road for a bit and saw a sign for Norman and Miller lakes (I think) and turned on it. Soon, it turned to gravel. Again it was a fairly smooth surface, but there were numerous potholes, and the whole thing was wet and even snowy/icy in a few spots. I took my time but once again my bicycle handled surprisingly well, even on a downhill section to the lakes.
This jaunt down a gravel road made the area felt quite remote, even though I still wasn’t far from the highway. I only saw one or two cars in the lot by the water. There were geese and ducks and many other birds.
My bicycle on the pier
I rested for a few minutes by the water. At this point I started to realize how far beyond my initially-intended scope this ride was going to go. I had ridden 40 miles and I had just started exploring the park, after which I had to ride all the way back. I had brought my Yashica Lynx 5000 film camera and took a few photos with it. I noticed my bike had attained a level of filth normally reserved for my mountain bike.
I rode over to the adjacent lake and looked around there for a few more minutes. I saw some cattails and a number of tree trunks that had no limbs and seemed chopped off pretty high up. I wonder what happened to those trees.
I knew the climb up the gravel road wouldn’t be much fun, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. When I got to the top I continued exploring the park and found a few other cool spots. Overall I wasn’t super impressed with this state park but it would definitely be better seen by boat. Maybe Sarah and I can go canoeing there sometime, it’d be great for that. Every so often I saw signs reminding me that bicycles were only allowed on the roads, not on the trails. Alas!
Dear Banjo Brothers: You’re welcome!
I stopped at a picnic area to rest some more and have a snack. I was feeling fairly tired already, and I still had to ride all the way back. I looked at my maps again and decided on a different way back: take highway 33 most of the way back. 33 is a highway but it’s not too busy and there turned out to be a shoulder most of the way. I could always bail onto county roads if it got too busy. so I decided to give it a shot. This also gave me the advantage of not having to ride quite directly into the wind very much, although it was still mostly into the wind. On my way to 33 I saw a few other noteworthy things.
The ride back was, in a word, brutal. The wind was in the 20-30 mph range and while I wasn’t headed straight into it, I was only on a slight angle. I almost got blown over a few times by wind gusts. At first I had to struggle to maintain 12 mph. As I rode further, the winds picked up more and then I was struggling to go 10 mph. The road curves slightly but any minute change in angle was noticeable, and if it put me facing into the wind it slowed me almost to a stop a few times. Eventually I was stopping every couple of miles to regain the strength in my legs. I stopped in the town of Churubusco, IN at a gas station to get some more water and gatorade, and a snack. It was a well-needed break, even if a few short miles later I was stopping frequently again.
Once I got back to Cook Road, I had a few miles exactly into the wind, and this was the hardest part of my ride. For a while I actually wondered if I was going to make it, one of few times I’ve felt that way. I never thought I’d be so happy to get on a busy road as I was when I finally reached Lima Road, a 4-6 lane north/south thoroughfare. Most drivers gave me a wide berth. I made it back to the hotel, exhausted. I enjoyed my ride but felt absolutely beat.
The upside to all of this is that I rode pretty well. I wasn’t really prepared for a ride of this length at this point in the season, but I held up well. Maybe I can ramp up to longer rides faster than I realized.