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Archive for September, 2008

Hickory Ridge

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Since our first attempt at a pre-Brown County Breakdown “Shakedown” ride was such a fiasco, we decided to try again. On Saturday, Dave and I planned a ride in the Hickory Ridge trail system in Hoosier National Forest. Accompanying us was Doug, a longtime friend of Dave’s.

Hickory Ridge is a multi-use system of about 20 different trails, totaling 46 miles of trail. Until Saturday I had only ridden 3 of the trails; it’s a shame I haven’t explored more of it. But since these trails see a lot of horse traffic, and there are so many great mountain biking trails in this area that don’t allow horses, a lot of times those seem more appealing. That, and the Hickory Ridge trail system is very remote. It took probably an hour for us to get to the trailhead where we started.

First, we rode a loop involving trails 9 and 2. This was the first time I had ridden either trail.

Hickory Ridge 9-2 loop
Hickory Ridge trails 9 & 2 loop

We started near a Horse Camp, and passed quite a few people camping with horses on our way in, and some horsemen riding down the road. As we were getting ready, three people on horses came out one trail and rode onto the other one that was right by us. They said they had been riding all day (it was 3:00 pm).

We got our bikes ready and headed out. Doug rides an old (mid-90s?), steel Trek mountain bike. I was impressed with how well he was able to ride on that old, heavy bike. I forgot my jersey and had to ride in a cotton shirt. I figured I’d be miserable.

Dave and Doug, heading out

Doug and I were both having some mechanical issues, though, so we stopped to fix them. He had to adjust his saddle, and my front brake wasn’t working very well. I’m still learning all the adjustments I can make on my disc brakes, but I’m getting better. I was able to figure out the problem.

Making some adjustments

Once we started riding, we had some fun downhill riding pretty much immediately, with several opportunities to catch some air. A great way to start a ride, as it really got my heart pumping, in a more pleasant way than starting with a long climb, as some trails do. Within minutes, we were already filthy from the dust (the trails are very dry) and we were doing our best to avoid the horse droppings in the trail, but hitting some is inevitable. It’s all part of riding on the Hickory Ridge trails, and I try to look at dodging feces as a little extra challenge.

Riding again

After riding for a bit we entered a large stand of pine trees. I always love pine forests, so I really enjoyed this section. The trail was wide and the riding was easy for a while, but we were moving at a good clip. In some ways having an easier ride was nice as it allowed me to appreciate the forest a little more, rather than having to focus only on the trail ahead of me.

Pine forest

After a fun, curvy, flowing descent, we had stopped to rest by a creek (currently dry) and a small bluff.

A bluff just beyond the creek

After discussing how dry everything was, and bracing ourselves for the tough climb ahead, we pushed on. But we were no match for this hill. It was long and steep and while there were a couple of switchbacks, it was just too steep. Our rear wheels spun out as we tried to climb. This would be the first of several hike-a-bike sections we’d encounter, but we expected it. These trails were designed with horses in mind, not bikes, and some sections simply aren’t rideable.

The climb. You can see Dave partway up, if you look carefully

Pushing our bikes

Loose, gravelly, steep switchback

We reached a place where we could ride again and got back on our bikes. We enjoyed another fast descent, and a shorter, but still very steep climb. I started to notice a pattern. Big climb, big descent, creek crossing, repeat. But the length and steepness of hills varied quite a bit, and each descent got a little sketchier, narrower and twistier, and more technical, especially toward the bottom, where there was a lot of erosion. The bottoms were characterized by steep terrain, dropoffs, and roots and rocks. The fact that the creeks were dry made things a little easier, but the creek bottoms mostly consisted of babyheads and other loose rocks and were still very challenging to cross.

Creek crossing


Next we had a very long, hard climb. This one was doable by bicycle, but just barely. The trail went into a long, meandering climb alongside a deep gorge.

The climb started gradually … but steepened…

Provided views of the ravine …

Before finally leveling off at the top

The descent that followed was the best one yet. We were careening through the woods, weaving back and forth, bouncing over logs and rocks, and snaking our way between the trees. The bottom required careful brake modulation to shave speed but still allow us to roll over thick roots followed by dropoffs. Tricky stuff, but a lot of fun!

After some easy riding for a few minutes, we took a break in a large stand of pines. Doug pulled all manner of snack food out of his pack. I tried some of the dried pears he brought, cooked at home from pears off a tree in his yard. Delicious.

Doug’s bike


After that we had a bit more climbing, and a stint on a gravel road during which we passed a huge hornet nest.

Hornet nest

My tire on the gravel road

We reentered the woods and after a few minutes of easy riding, encountered a steep descent that gave us just enough speed to swoop up the hill back to the parking lot.

After that ride, we loaded the bikes in Dave’s truck and drove over near the 19/18 access points for the second loop of our ride. There were other, closer trails that we could’ve ridden, but Dave and I have done the 19-18-20 loop a couple of times before, and it’s a blast. On our way there, we took some crazy, narrow, curvy, hilly gravel roads and had one stint following a paved road on a ridgetop with great views of the surrounding views. We could see over to where the Nebo Ridge trail comes down, and it was cool to see that huge ridge from a distance. I wish I had my camera handy.

Hickory Ridge 19-18-20 loop
Hickory Ridge 19-18-20 loop

In the map above, we started at about the rightmost point. We parked by Salt Creek and started on a gravel road, which climbed for probably around a mile.

Cool clouds blew by overhead as we climbed on the gravel road

The road passed some large bluffs

Looking back down from the hill

We turned onto trail 19, which is still mostly climbing. There were a few flat/downhill sections, but overall it was a lot harder than I remembered. The trail surface was rough and chewed up by horse traffic, and there was still a lot of debris on the trail surface from Ike’s winds. Still, it was a fun ride, but it helped knowing that all the climbing was going to pay off.

Resting by a pond

The sun gets lower in the sky

After maybe 20 minutes on trail 19, it unceremoniously spit us back out onto a gravel road. We followed this for a few minutes and passed some deep ravines along the way. Dave pointed out one of his favorite campsites, which is in a stand of pines on top of a hill.

We turned onto trail 18, which is where the climbing really starts to pay off. The trail descends, gradually at first, and has a gravel surface for a while. As you ride the trail gets steeper and steeper and the surface changes to dirt. It’s a tricky situation, though, because as you pick up speed you encounter more and more twists and turns, and the trail surface gets more rugged. There are quite a few opportunites along here to catch more air, although by this time I mostly tried to keep my wheels on the ground, as I needed the agility and traction to quickly maneuver around or over obstacles.

Doug on trail 19

The trail also gets continually more eroded. In places it’s almost like a chute, which can actually be a good thing, as this effectively means the turns are banked, and you can really fly through them and lean into the turns. As you descend and near the bottom of a ravine, the trail takes a sudden, sharp left turn, drops down a little further, and then steepens and throws you into a switchback to the right. It’s a fun, challenging ride.

Looking back up the hill from the bottom

Right as he reached the bottom of the ravine, Doug’s front break stopped working. Fortunately it happened in the last few feet of the descent, and he maintained control. We were able to do a trailside repair and get moving again without incident. Phew.

After the long, awesome descent, we had some flat but still tricky riding. It was quite eroded, and there was a ton of debris on the trail and a creek crossing. Next, you guessed it, more climbing. This was a loose, eroded hike-a-bike section partway up a long hill and then getting back on the bikes to finish the climb. It sure felt like we did a lot of climbing that day.

Resting on trail 18

We got on trail 20, which I believe was mostly flat, with a bit of descending. A short, but fun trail, and a great way to end the ride.

We returned to Dave’s truck and looked at Salt Creek while we wound down and packed away our stuff. We rode back on the gravel road, over to Tower Ridge Road, which took us to 446 and back to Bloomington. A great ride, that felt like a lot more than the 20 miles or so that it involved.

Salt Creek

The gravel road where we parked

I was struck by the beauty of the Hickory Ridge trails, the ruggedness of the area, and as always, I really enjoyed the do-anything atmosphere of Hoosier National Forest. The trails are a nice change of pace from the perfectly-designed and maintained Brown County State Park trails and give you more of a backcountry experience. Both types of trails are fantastic, and I feel lucky to have both nearby.

I wish I had more time to explore more of Hickory Ridge. But since we are moving soon, I probably won’t make it back there again before then, unless I am feeling particularly energetic on the day of the Brown County Breakdown.

A side note: I thought I’d be miserable in my cotton T-shirt, but most of the time I didn’t even think about it. It makes me wonder if all the money I’ve spent on jerseys was really worth it.

Anyway, it was a great day of riding. I always enjoy riding with Dave, and Doug was a lot of fun to ride with as well. I can already tell the Breakdown is going to be awesome this year.


Friday, September 26th, 2008

I have some big news. After almost six months of searching and sending out 40+ applications, Sarah has accepted a job in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (pronounced like “Wilks berry”).  It was a long, arduous search, but I’m proud of her for sticking with it.

Wilkes-Barre is a city of about 40,000 people in eastern Pennsylvania, although it’s part of a larger metro area with Scranton and some smaller towns. It’s situated between the Endless Mountains and the Pocono Mountains,  about 2 hours from New York city, and two hours from Philly.

At this stage, I don’t know a lot about the city, or the area, but I’m learning. I will keep the job I have and work remotely. (I just realized this will mean no more commute! Horror of horrors! Oddly enough, I’ll actually miss my commute.)

I’m very excited about her job, and about living in a new place near some mountains, and exploring the area. It’s bittersweet, though, because we also love this area, and we’ll miss our families, friends, and riding buddies.

This will also mean finding all new cycling routes and mountain biking trails … I’ll miss some of the rides we have here, but I am betting that the mountains will provide all kinds of fun new challenges. I’m used to hills, and I enjoy them, but this will be taking it to the next level.

Also of note, we’re moving just late enough that I will be able to do my favorite ride of the year here, the Brown County Breakdown. It’ll be one last excellent hurrah with my mountain biking buddies (until I come back to visit). I won’t be able to ride the Hilly Hundred, but while that is also a fun ride, if I had to pick between the Breakdown and the Hilly, I’d choose the Breakdown every time.

It looks like we’ll be going to Wilkes-Barre next weekend, hopefully, to look at apartments and whatnot. It’s hard to believe this is really happening. It’s very exciting.

Another great evening ride

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Last night I did a modified version of a route I’ve done before. It had me riding longer on trails, and riding a more difficult section of trail. In the past I’ve gone out Smith Road to Moore’s Pike, down Lampkins Ridge, and then over to the trail, taking a flat, direct route through the trail. This time, I went the opposite direction and took the hillier, more overgrown and more technical section of trail. I’ve ridden the Long Haul Trucker on the easier section of trail several times now so I knew it handled well there, but how would it fare on something a little more intense?

I rode over to the trail, where the first thing I had to do was go down a hill on an eroded, root-filled trail. I had to take extra care to avoid pedal strike, since the Trucker rides so low to the ground, but I found I could roll over the roots quite well. I made it most of the way down the following hill, although I did walk the  dropoff at the bottom, as it was just too eroded. If I had knobby tires, I might have tried to ride down the sloped section you can see on the left side of the photo.

Eroded trail down a hill

Once down the hill, I had to go up the other side. It’s only a small hill and I had no trouble. I’m continually impressed with how well these Continental Contact tires handle, even offroad. They do have a tread pattern, but it’s pretty tame. Still, they grip well even in dirt. Once up the hill the trail was flat for a while  and curved gently through the forest. The main challenges here were avoiding the overgrown brush and the walnuts and sticks on the ground.

Enveloped by trees

I stopped where the trail intersects another trail. I am very familiar with these trails so I know that the connecting trail goes alongside a ravine and then very steeply drops down into the ravine before climbing out the other side. Parts aren’t even ridable on a mountain bike, so I didn’t try going this way.

Stopped by the ravine

Instead, I continued in the direction I was going. The trail made a long descent into a valley. The Trucker handled well, but I kept my speed down because I felt hard braking would not work too well with these tires. Also, the last time I rode here there was a tree down across the trail toward the bottom of the hill, and I didn’t want to hit it. But the tree is no longer there. My thanks to whomever moved it!

I was pretty surprised how well I was able to just roll over rocks, roots, and the numerous sticks that still cover the trail after the winds Ike sent our way. At one point, a stick got stuck in my front fender. I have to be really careful about this, if it got stuck the wrong way, it could lock up the wheel and wash out or send me over the bars. There was one log I would hop on the mountain bike, but on the Trucker I’d probably smash the chainring into the log. Not something I want to deal with, so I walked over it.

Lots of sticks on the trail

The Trucker in the woods

By the creekbed. The creek is completely dry.

Looking toward the trail

Next came a long climb out of the valley. I had to walk the steeper parts, as my rear wheel spun out beneath me. But once past the steepest part, I was able to ride the rest of the way. It took a lot of effort, but it was doable. It’s a tough hill.

The trail spit me out onto a gravel road.

Gravel road

I rode down this and pretty soon it turned to pavement and went down a steep hill, curving on the way down. I’ve ridden up this hill several times but never down it. I had to ride the brakes most of the way, it’s just too curvy to let loose.

I was on familiar roads for a while. Kerr Creek Road is very bumpy and my front light broke during this stretch of road. The light snapped right off of the bracket that holds it on the handlebars. I really need to get my lighting situation squared away on this bike.

I saw three deer grazing on a lawn and actually managed to get a photo. After I took a photo, they ran off but were running in the same direction I was going, so I rode alongside them briefly.


The sun hides behind some hills

I rode over to Friendship Road, which again I have ridden, but not in this direction. It’s flat and easy gravel riding for a few minutes.

Friendship Road

Fields, hills, and wildflowers line Friendship Road

I turned on Lampkins Ridge Road, knowing it would be mostly climbing in this direction. It climbs around 300 feet, mostly in the first mile and change. Only one section is steep, but it’s a lot of climbing and pretty tiring. I saw a few more deer while I climbed.

Climbing Lampkins Ridge Rd.

Almost at the top

It was getting pretty dark, although I could still see well enough to ride. I was mostly worried about being seen. Fortunately, my rear blinky was fine. I just had to be careful of cars going the opposite direction, who might turn in front of me. Lampkins Ridge has very little traffic anyway but I knew there would be more closer to town.

It was especially dark on Lampkins Ridge as it’s heavily wooded. Once I reached a clearer part, there was more light. And more still when I hit Moore’s Pike. I was treated to a gorgeous sunset over the hills as I headed back toward town.

Sunset on Moore’s Pike

All in all, a short ride, at under 15 miles. It felt a lot longer, though, with the trails and gravel roads, and a couple of long climbs. I’ve been doing shorter post-work rides these days; I really need to figure out my lighting situation so I can stay out longer. I’m loving these fall sunsets though and the air cooling significantly over the course of my rides.

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