We had a very full Memorial Day weekend — we went down to Jackson-Washington State Forest for some hiking, camping, and canoing, and I went for a bike ride on Sunday. I’ll just cover the ride in this post and the rest later.
I had printed a route I found here called the Round Barn Ride. I modified the route a bit so I could ride on Skyline Drive, an aptly-named road through the state forest that climbs a huge hill and has vistas overlooking the farmland below and other big hills in the area. I wasn’t sure I could make the climb, as it’s very long and steep and the road curves a lot while ascending this hill. I brought my commuter (old mountain bike) instead of the road bike, in part for a change of pace, in part so I wouldn’t have to worry about my road bike getting stolen while camping, and in part for the lower gears.
I started riding from our campsite and within less than two miles I hit Skyline Drive, which I anticipated would be the hardest part of my ride. It was a long, hard climb, as I expected. I took photos when I could but many parts were too steep. Even in the lowest gear (mountain bike gearing, mind you) I had to stand and pedal hard — during some parts it was difficult to keep my front wheel from popping up as I climbed. I almost ran out of breath a couple of times, but I managed to make it all the way to the top without stopping.
The vista at the top of the hill made for instant gratification and gave me a good place to rest for a few minutes. You can see for many miles from this point some 450 feet above the farmland below, and it’s especially rewarding when you realize you just came from all the way down there.
The road has some rolling hills and a little more climbing once at the top, but no more extended climbs. I enjoyed the rolling terrain and stopped at another vista.
As I was riding along, despite the fact that I’d gone out of my way to look like a normal human being and not some kind of cycling cyborg for this ride, I heard someone in a van going the other way comment “Look, it’s Lance Armstrong!” I’m still not sure exactly what this means, but I’ll take it as a compliment.
A few minutes later, I saw an unpaved fire road branching off to the side and rode on it for a bit to see where it went, but it soon ended. I saw a few other fire roads but decided not to explore them at this time. Maybe next time. The descent down the other side of Skyline Drive was a sketchy, twisty, steep ride. I kept my speed pretty low — with the tight turns, I had to. And the brakes on my old bicycle don’t work quite as well as the ones on my road bike, so I didn’t want to pick up much speed. It’s just as well. It was still a fun, thrilling descent.
Once I reached the bottom of the hill, the ride got very flat for a while, although there were big hills on either side of me. It was interesting to see how different the topography is in this area, even though it’s only about an hour’s drive from Bloomington. Most of the Bloomington area is hilly, with a lot of rolling hills and some longer climbs. In Jackson County it was much different, with long flat stretches of land but relatively few huge hills spread out.
The ride remained quite flat for a while, and I enjoyed this opportunity for some easy riding on a warm summery day on low-traffic county roads. I saw some kids riding their bikes around the countryside, and I was glad I wasn’t the only one out enjoying a ride on this beautiful day. After a while, I came to the Starve Hollow Lake SRA. I went in long enough to get a few glimpses of the lake, but I knew Sarah and I would be returning later for some canoing, so I didn’t stay long.
After I left the lake area, I rode by some pretty interesting DNR areas I didn’t know were there. First was the Driftwood fish hatchery.
Next was a nursery where, based on glimpses I got of a few signs, they seem to be experimenting with some kind of hybrid tree cross-pollination, and some kind of genetically-modified plants. I should really try to learn more about what they do there, it seemed pretty interesting.
At some point the ride got hillier again, there were still no big climbs but I enjoyed some rolling hills that let me let loose a bit more on the downhill sides. It was a lot of fun, even though I wasn’t on a fast bike. The scenery was mostly farmland for most of the rest of the ride.
I soon learned why this ride is called the Round Barn Ride when I saw … well, a round barn. It turned out to be one of three I’d see on this ride. They’re pretty odd, and cool.
I also started seeing some Dan Henrys marked “RB” which I figured must be Round Barn. I didn’t even realize this route was for an (annual?) event held here, but having the markings on the road made it a lot easier to finish the ride. I didn’t need my map after this point. Actually there seemed to be 62 and 100-mile routes (I was just doing the 32-mile route).
I spent a few minutes on a busier state highway, but fortunately I wasn’t on it for too long. I saw an incredibly huge covered bridge, now decommissioned, alongside the road.
I rode off to the side after I passed the bridge and went back to check it out. There was an access point to the river here where people were fishing. For some reason, the road was covered in straw, which crunched as I rode over it.
Before long I arrived in the small town of Medora
After passing through Medora (which took about five minutes at about 10 mph), it was back to more farmland. It got a little bit hillier, but not much. I did see some very cool abandoned and/or dilapidated buildings.
I saw a cemetery on a hill that was pretty strange — the stones were not really arranged in rows or in any other coherent fashion — just strewn about seemingly randomly.
As I crested that hill, I was greeted with a great view of more farmland.
Many fields in the area were flooded; one particular field had a couple of Great Blue Herons in the water, and some white ones (egrets?) further back. Unfortunately before I could get my camera out, a car drove by and they all flew further back.
Just a few miles later I was in Ewing and then Brownstown, and I was almost done with my ride. Ewing looked pretty crummy, with mostly run-down industrial buildings.
It was interesting to ride through Brownstown, and see more of it than I had before. It seemed like a big city compared to Medora.
This ride was strange because I saw a variety of things: huge hills, a lake, experimental DNR properties, small towns, cemeteries, and of course round barns, in only about 35 miles of riding. It felt longer than that, in part because I wasn’t on the road bike but also because I saw so many different things. At the same time, parts of the ride felt a little monotonous, when there were long stretches of flat farms. Overall, though, there was a lot of beautiful scenery, and I really enjoyed the ride.
I also liked the slower pace my old mountain bike forced on me, as it allowed me to take in the scenery a little better. And being dressed like more of a normal person made me feel more likely to stop without being self-conscious. This worked well, and I’ll have to do more rides in this spirit.