I wanted to go for a longer ride on Sunday — something in the neighborhood of 50 miles. It had been a while since I did a ride that length. I found another cool route on Bikely that goes to McCormick’s Creek State Park. Sarah and I have done some hiking and photography there in the past, but I’ve never ridden there. I got up early, intending to ride before it got too hot, but by the time I got dressed, walked the dog, ate breakfast, and printed route maps, it was noon. I really should have prepared the night before.
The first part of the ride was the reverse of what I rode the day before, taking me through town and Cascades park, climbing up Clubhouse Drive (which is oddly not as hard as I thought it would be), up to Kinser Pike, across 37 and on Bottom Road for a while. This time I enjoyed a long descent down Bottom Road, but kept my speed down due to the rough road surface, sand and gravel on the road, and my (still weak and easy to hurt) finger that means my grip on the bars/brakes isn’t 100%. I wasn’t on Bottom Road very long, though, turning off onto Maple Grove Road.
Maple Grove was flattish and curvy for a while, later straightening out and leading into some great rolling hills. I would have done a lot better on those hills if I’d been in slightly better shape; as it was my energy often got sapped two thirds of the way up each hill and I struggled over the top, rather than carrying my momentum through the whole hill. I chuckled when I reached the intersection of Maple Grove Road and Maple Grove Road. Fortunately, I knew I needed to keep going straight. This has been a source of confusion for me in the past when driving through this area.
The rolling hills continued relentlessly for quite a few miles. I enjoyed them, especially going downhill, and savored every bit of shade I could get. It was really heating up and I felt a bit sluggish. I rode up a hill through a new development and threw my chain. I had just washed my gloves the night before, of course. I got it back in place and rode on. This wasn’t a huge hill, but it felt like it went on for a long time. I enjoyed a fast, twisty descent into Stinesville. The Hilly Hundred route went through Stinesville and I passed the park where a band had been playing that day, where the SAG stop had been, by the creek. I could have used a stop but kept on riding, on up the big hill out of the valley where Stinesville sits. The climb was tough, but not quite as bad as I expected.
I felt a bit energized after riding that climb well, and a few more rolling hills didn’t bother me. I rode over to State Road 46, which is a fairly busy road with high speed limits, but there’s no way to get to McCormick’s Creek State Park without taking 46 (actually I learned that there is, but since I was riding in a loop the other way was saved for the ride home).
I rode less than two miles on 46, fortunately, and traffic was relatively light. I turned into the state park, glad to be there, ready for a leisurely ride through the park and hopefully a rest in the shade. In fact the roads through the park were very shady and easy to ride on — smooth and curvy but with very mild hills. It’s a beautiful park and I enjoyed the scenery as I rode through it. You can’t see a whole lot of it from the road, but my ride was strenuous enough; I didn’t feel like doing any hiking, and I was wearing my biking shoes anyway. Normally it’s a great place for a hike.
I meandered through the park for a while, planning to end up at a picnic area.
I reached the picnic area where we had a Mother’s Day picnic with my mom last year. There were some picnic tables in the sun right by a couple in the shade — perfect so I could dry out my gloves and helmet on a sunny table while getting some respite from the sun. I had a snack and relaxed a bit. Even though it was hot, and I have trouble with heat sometimes, it was great to get some good riding in. The ride sure felt longer than the 26 miles or so I’d ridden so far, with the heat and the endless hills, so I took a longer break than I normally would.
After that much-needed break, I got moving again. Almost immediately after crossing 46, I enjoyed a long, winding trip down River Road with probably a solid mile of downhill riding. The wind rushing over me as I coasted easily down the hill felt great and gave just the cooling effect I needed.
Once at the bottom, the road followed the river for a little while, with a few smaller hills. It was nice to ride right by the water, and there was some beautiful farmland as well. The road surface got very rough and heavily scored at a couple of different points.
When I reached Pea Ridge Road, I was in for quite a surprise: it’s gravel. I’ve ridden my road bike on gravel roads before and it does well with tightly-packed gravel, but in case it seemed like the road had been paved but fell into a state of disrepair and someone scored the road and spread a thick layer of loose gravel on the pavement surface. My bicycle felt pretty unstable, and to make matters worse it was a hilly, curvy road. It was extremely challenging riding. I was glad I run relatively wide tires (28s) on my road bike, rather than the skinnier 23s or 25s a lot of roadies use.
There was very little shade on this road. I really wasn’t prepared for this. The sun blazing down on me and the lack of breeze from my slow speed had me worried I’d overheat. I took it slow (not really by choice) and took a few breaks along the way. Even the downhill parts were tricky because my traction was so poor and I had to keep my speed down, knowing if I picked up too much speed I wouldn’t be able to stop. Through all this hard braking on a loose gravel road, my finger felt surprisingly good — it’s healing well. I tried climbing out of the saddle a bit but my rear tire spun out when I did so. I sat back down and spun up the hill, ever so slowly.
What a remote area … I only saw one car the whole time I was on the gravel road, and only a couple of people at their homes. The people I did see seemed surprised to see me … I don’t imagine they get many cyclists on this road.
While the gravel was a fun challenge in a way, I was glad when I reached a paved road. I think I spent about 2 1/2 miles on gravel, most of it climbing. It felt like much more than that. However, the paved road didn’t offer much respite. It was flat briefly but then threw at me the biggest rolling hills of the whole ride. 200 feet of elevation loss, 200 feet of climbing, a couple of times, and some smaller hills. I even walked up part of one hill (I can’t even remember the last time I did that).
I about ran out of energy during those rolling hills, but they let up and I got my second (or 17th) wind. Once I hit Vernal Pike I felt I was on the home stretch. It was still hot and there was no shade and I was tired, but I kicked up the energy level and got home fairly quickly from this point. I still felt sluggish but I did pretty well on the remaining hills.
Overall, it was a great day — but I’d say this is one of those rides that’s more fun in hindsight. Next time it’s this hot, I swear I’ll leave earlier. Really. I rode through some beautiful country, learned some new roads and got an excellent workout, but there was plenty of pain involved, too.
Yeah, it was a great ride.