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Archive for September, 2008

Nighttime mountain bike ride

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Last night was a milestone: my first mountain bike ride since my accident back in June. My finger has been ready for a while, a few weeks at least, but my mountain bike had some problems and it took me a while to take it in to the shop (which was silly, they fixed my main problems in about 15 minutes, while I waited).

I met my mountain biking friend Dave at Brown County State Park, probably our favorite and definitely most-ridden mountain biking location, around 6:45. We were on the trails by about 7:00. With the days getting shorter, the sun sets around 8:00 now. This didn’t give us as much sunlight as it would have a month ago. But we brought lights, so we weren’t worried.

We started our ride with the climb up the parking lot connector toward the North Tower Loop. I expected to feel a bit awkward on the mountain bike after so long off it, and so much road riding, but it felt completely natural to be on the trails again. The bike didn’t feel sluggish, and I felt strong.

We rode the parking lot connector and the North Tower Loop without incident. We were moving at a good pace and really enjoying the fantastic flow of the trails. I won’t say it was effortless, there was definitely effort involved in riding, but everything just clicked and we glided through the woods, at times making conversation and at others simply riding quietly. We came around a bend and saw three deer mere feet from the trail, two adults and a young lady who still had her spots. We encountered them again a minute later after going through a couple of switchbacks and coming back in their direction. The trails were in fantastic shape, a little dry but some small rains in the past few days kept the dust under control.

We finished the North Tower and started riding the Aynes Loop. We were losing daylight quickly, but figured we could ride the hardest parts at least before needing our lights. We made the long climb, which never seems to get any easier, no matter what kind of shape you’re in, in pretty good time. I made it up all the rocks on the way up and through the rocky switchback at the very top. I just tackled them enthusiastically and handled them very well.

The sun was setting just as we reached the top of the hill and stopped at our usual resting place. We caught our breath and gazed at the sun setting behind the neighboring hills, its warm light filtering through the trees. It was quite a sight to see. I wished I had my camera.

We started down the other side of the hill while the sun was still in sight. All that climbing pays dividends when it comes time to descend, but we wanted to at least make it past the hardest part before dark. It’s a narrow, sketchy off-camber section with some sizable rocks in the trail, including some rather loose ones. Last time I rode here I choked and just narrowly avoided disaster in this section, but this time I rode over the rocks with confidence, stayed off the brakes and allowed momentum to carry me through. Sometimes, riding is 90% confidence.

Once past this tricky part, the rest of the trail is less technical, mostly downhill and full of switchbacks and a few short climbs. We were both riding very well and moving at a good clip. It got darker by the minute, but we made an unspoken decision to try to see if we could finish the Aynes Loop without our lights. It went well for the most part but as we approached the final descent, which is right on the edge of a steep ravine and fraught with rocks and roots, we couldn’t see much.

Fortunately we’ve ridden this enough times that we have a pretty good idea where the obstacles are, we went a little slower than usual and were able to navigate it safely. It was so dark I was tempted to close my eyes and just focus on riding. Obviously that would’ve been worse, but it didn’t seem like it’d make that much difference. I’m not a Star Wars fan, but I am pretty sure we used The Force to get down this hill safely.

Once at the bottom, we rode to a clearing and were surprised by how much more light there was there. We put our lights on our helmets, a process which took a while due to our jury rigged “system” of flashlights, velcro zip ties, and helmet vents. I have a handlebar-mounted light, but it’s not enough on its own.

By the time we started riding again, it was dark. The moon was big and bright and provided some light, but we were pretty much fully reliant on our lights at this time. As soon as we started riding, I was reminded of how much I enjoy riding at night. It’s not something I simply tolerate to allow me to get a few extra miles in, I truly do enjoy it. I wouldn’t want all my rides to be night rides, but it can be a lot of fun, and the trails seem completely different under these circumstances.

We had some climbing to do, and then a few minutes of descending. We were riding through a thick forest and when we weren’t on the edge of a ravine, the trees formed a tunnel through which we rode. Or at least it felt that way. It probably wasn’t a complete tunnel, but when all you can see is what’s illuminated by a couple of flashlights, it really feels like a tree tunnel. Ravines seemed bottomless, as we could not see very far down. Dave described it as “precipitous,” which I thought was apt. Falling down one of these ravines could have dire consequences, but it seems even more that way when they look like an abyss.

As we made our way back we passed a point where there is a root sticking out of the trail. You have to pay attenton and ride on either side of this root, known to us as Collin’s root,  you’ll be in a lot of trouble. (Collin didn’t heed our warnings about this route and ended up having an off-the-bike experience.) I always know to look for this root, but this time, it took me by surprise as I couldn’t even see it until it was about 6 feet in front of me, and we were careening downhill. I still managed to miss the root. Dave commented that it wouldn’t be a night ride without at least a couple of “oh shit moments.” I couldn’t agree more.

Just as we approached the parking lot, we saw three other riders just starting a ride. They told us to go ahead, and got off to the sides of the trail to let us pass. We were of course blinded by their lights. It was a little hard to figure out where to go, since we couldn’t see, but we made it past them safely. I hope they had a good ride.

It was fantastic to hit the mountain bike trails again, and I hope I can do so again soon. The Brown County Breakdown is just about a month away and I need some more practice (plus, it’s fun).

Farr out

Monday, September 8th, 2008

I planned to ride on Saturday. I wanted to ride early to beat the heat and finish my ride while Sarah was at work. Unfortunately I had some digestive issues and was feeling pretty crummy. I got up early but went back to sleep for a couple of hours. Even after that, I still felt a bit funky.

However, I really wanted to do a little exploration by bicycle. I looked at Google Maps for a while to try to figure out roughly where I wanted to go and came up with a 60-mile route or so. As usual it took me longer than I expected to get out the door, and I quickly realized that a ride of that length wasn’t going to happen.

No problem, really. I just adapted my plans. I figured I’d ride until I felt like I needed to turn around, since I still wasn’t feeling great.

My usual camera is in the shop. It was damaged in my accident and we just now located the paperwork for the extended warranty I purchased, which covers accidental damage. I may be without that camera for 4-8 weeks, they said, which has me pretty bummed. But at least I can have it repaired or replaced without any additional cost to me. So I brought my old Yashica Lynx 5000 camera with me. It’s heavy and the light meter doesn’t work, but it takes unique photos. They came back looking a little weirder than I expected; I think CVS messed up the processing somehow.

I rode out 45 to Bethel Lane, and took this to Boltinghouse, one of the steepest hills around here. I was going down it, which isn’t as bad, but I’ve mostly avoided even going down it this summer because it was in terrible shape the last time I rode it and I really felt it was dangerous. I am happy to report that they repaved the worst part of it and now I can descend there with relative confidence.

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Hills

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My bicycle by Anderson Rd.

I hadn’t really decided yet exactly where I was going to ride. I wanted to take Anderson to Low Gap and go back down on Bear Wallow, but that was pushing it, distance-wise.

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Field and hills

I headed in that direction anyway and suddenly noticed a small gravel road. I’ve ridden past this very road dozens of times but never paid any attention to it. I decided to see where it went. There was no street sign, but I later discovered it was Jack Weddle Road, which turns into Farr Road. It was a gravel climb for quite a while, but mostly it wasn’t too steep.

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Curvy gravel climb

There was one section where it was steep enough that my rear wheel was spinning out as I attempted to climb. I managed to shift my weight back and keep riding, but I almost had to push the bike up that steep part. I saw logging roads all along this gravel one, mostly overgrown. I believe the land lining the road was part private property and part state forest land.

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Meadow

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Curvy climb on a hard-packed gravel road

I found one old fire road (or logging road) and decided to explore, even though it was overgrown. I rode my bicycle a ways down this “road,” which really was hardly recognizable as such. There were still ruts/gaps in the grass where vehicles had once driven. I rode through the tall grass for a while just to see if I could do it and if I would see anything cool. I saw a wild turkey run away from me. Shortly thereafter, I turned back. This was fun, but I didn’t necessarily want to go too far on a “road” like this.

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Overgrown fire road

This of course made me think of part of the Chris Whitley song “Fireroad For Two”:

Satellites rise power lines grew
A million miles of fireroads for two
Now she awake the ride on my skin
Drop into drive fueled on the wind

I been making this song tresspassing home
Engine of blood flywheel of bone
Illuminate me illuminate you
We could escape fireroads for two

(Full lyrics here)

The road alternated seemingly randomly between paved and gravel sections for a while. I came upon a (cell?) tower of some kind.

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More gravel

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Tower

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A home with a gated driveway

I soon found myself on Old State Road 37 again. Farr Road ended at Old 37. Looking at Google Maps now I think there’s a way I could’ve ridden another part of Farr up into Morgan-Monroe State Forest on either gravel or fireroads. Might be worth trying sometime.

At this point I decided to go ahead and ride up into the state forest. I rode through and came down Rosenbaum Road (I think) on the other side. This is a long, bumpy, curvy descent. I picked up a lot of speed going down this hill and had to dodge potholes, cracks in the pavement, etc. It was challenging, but fun. A car was behind me much of the way, but I was going faster than the speed limit for some time. There was no need to let the car pass. In fact, I got to the bottom of the hill significantly before they did. I took this hill a lot faster than I would dare on my road bike. Once at the bottom, I got on Low Gap Road and started heading back toward home.

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Low Gap Road

Low Gap is pleasant to ride on. It’s been repaved fairly recently, and it’s flat for a while, but surrounded by hills. There’s an “end county maintenance” sign which I believe is a recent addition. It’s a bit odd because the road is actually very smooth right past that sign. I wonder if they laid a fresh layer of asphault and decided not to maintain it any longer. Time will tell.

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Surrounding hills

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End County Maintenance

The “gap” for which Low Gap is named involves a decent climb, and I stopped at the top to rest. I saw some hikers come down the hill on one side and go back up the other. They were hiking the Low Gap trail, a 10-mile hiking trail in Morgan-Monroe State Forest, and were coming out of the wilderness area, headed back toward the main part of the state forest.

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Low Gap Trail to the left, the road to the right

From here I decided to take a fairly direct route home. Of course that meant a good 25 more miles or so. My trip home was mostly uneventful, but I decided to attempt to climb Boltinghouse on my way home. Note to self: do not attempt to climb Boltinghouse after over 40 miles of riding. It’s not wise. I didn’t do well, and had to stop a couple of times. That’s the first time I’ve stopped while climbing any hill in a long time. And I felt pretty crummy once I finally got to the top. It was only in the upper 70s, but it felt a lot hotter than that when trying to climb grades of more than 20%. Boltinghouse really destroyed me this time.

I don’t often attempt to climb Boltinghouse because well, it’s just not a lot of fun. But now I have a score to settle. I’ll have to go back soon and attempt to win back my pride.

Part III: Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest

Friday, September 5th, 2008

On Sunday, I rode from Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest. Once again, Sarah met me there by car. Previously, we had discussed camping again at one of the state forests that night, but we decided against it, due to the heat and the fact that we wanted to have a restful day on Monday. I had a route planned (view it on Bikely) and expected it to be about 25 miles. I told Sarah we should probably allow two hours for me to make it there, as I expected to take my time.

Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest
Annotated route overview

I got a later start than I planned. This is typical for me. Getting up, having breakfast, and breaking down the tent and everything took a lot longer than I expected. The main downside to this was that it was already heating up by the time I hit the road.

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Riding

Despite the heat, I was in good spirits. It felt good to be back on the bike, and not being in a hurry makes the heat more tolerable.

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Riding through Jackson-Washington State Forest

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A pond on the way out

Jackson County is a very interesting place to ride. Most the land is flat, but huge hills (“knobs”) surround you. Sometimes there will be cornfields on both sides of you, and it just feels like you’re riding down the middle of a cornfield. Sometimes there are soybeans planted instead, which give you better views of the hills.

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Soy fields and hills

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A church

The route I planned was mostly on back roads. I rode a bit on State Road 39, and it was quiet, but you never know with the state highways. Some are nearly vacant and have relatively low speed limits. Some are very busy and have fast traffic. There’s generally no way of knowing which kind of road any given state highway will be until you get there. I stuck with my planned ride on back roads.

It wasn’t long before I hit gravel. Quite suddenly, the pavement ended and I was riding on gravel. It was fairly tightly-packed gravel, and I had a tailwind. I rode around 20 mph on gravel for some time — I was flying, and it felt great.

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Where the pavement ends

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My bicycle by some corn.

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Cornfields and hills

I got a little confused about the route. I thought I went the right way, but soon started seeing things again that I had seen earlier in the ride. I was going in circles. Fortunately, I had brought my Gazetteer and a compass with me. I highly recommend carrying both, if you can. I was able to figure out, fairly easily, where I messed up and where I needed to go. I otherwise would’ve had to make a series of guesses to get myself out of this mess. And I went a good 30 minutes without seeing any cars, so asking for directions wouldn’t have worked too well.

Unfortunately, I had gone several miles out of the way. It took me a while to get back on track. Fortunately, I was really enjoying the scenery and it didn’t bother me too much. I knew that given this mistake, I’d be late to meet Sarah, but there wasn’t much I could do about it at this stage.

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Dilapidated barn

I got back on track and had some more gravel riding to do. It wasn’t as smooth this time around, but it was still fun. This road was a bit curvier, and the turns kept me on my toes. It would have been easy to have a wheel wash out, on a bicycle less suited to gravel.

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Hay bales

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More gravel

I spent quite a while on Waskum Bridge Road. I was hoping this meant I’d be hitting a bridge soon. I went over one small one but I couldn’t imagine they’d name the road after such a small bridge. Sure enough, I soon reached a bigger bridge, with one stream to the west, which branched into two on the east side of the bridge. I looked around for turtles or other wildlife but didn’t see any. I did, however, see a dirt road running alongside the stream. This was awesome, because I’ve been wanting to try riding my new bike on a dirt road, but have had a hard time finding any.

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The stream splits

I didn’t ride on the dirt road for very long, but the bike handled quite well while I did. I simply didn’t want to waste too much time, since I was already behind schedule. The tires had good traction, even in the loose dirt. It had been a long time since the last rain and things were quite dusty.

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Dirt road

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My tire treads in the dust

After a while I ended up back on paved roads, and spent some time on Pumpkin Center Road, a fun, curvy country road. I was hoping I’d get to see a bunch of pumpkins or something, but no such luck. I did see yet another interesting hilltop cemetery.

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Pumpkin Center Road

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Gater Cemetery

It was around this time that the rolling hills started. No single hill was all that big, but I rode over many hills, one right after the other. It was really getting hot at this point, so I didn’t tackle the hills with as much fervor as I normally would. I was content to spin over gradually. The Trucker’s lower gearing really came into play here and while I was moving slowly, I was able to take on the hills without exhausting myself too much.

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Rolling hills on Pumpkin Center Road

I ended up on State Road 39 for a little while, and there was pretty much no traffic. I could have ridden that road most of the way down and it would’ve been more direct and an easier route to follow. However, I really enjoyed the back roads. I soon ended up on Bloomington Trail Road, which had more rolling hills, some of them much bigger. I got turned around a couple of times but soon found my way. The Gazetteer came in handy once again. I also got to ride through the Leota covered bridge, which was pretty cool.

Several times I had tried to talk to Sarah by phone to let her know I was running late, but doing fine. Eventually I managed to communicate that to her, despite the fact that our phones both had poor reception and most of the time, we were only able to exchange greetings before our signals were dropped.

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Bloomington Trail Road, with big hills in the distance

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A knob

The hills continued getting bigger. Still nothing too hard, but again, cumulatively I was feeling it. But I was almost there. Sarah had told me she and Rob were waiting by a church. When I was in the right area and saw a church, I figured I must have found them.

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Arriving at the church

When I pulled into the parking lot, they were waiting for me.

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What a greeting!

The ride ended up being longer than I expected by about 10 miles — about 35 miles total. My bicycle was a mess from all the dirt and gravel roads. And so was I. I had a great ride, but I was glad to be done. The heat was getting to me.

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Dirty bike

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Me

We hung out in the parking lot a little bit. A guy went by repeatedly on a tractor, hauling hay bales one at a time. Sarah said he’d been at it for quite some time. He waved every time he went by.

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Hauling hay bales

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Brooks saddle, Keven’s Bag, and my Indiana Gazetteer

We put my bike on the bike rack and drove into town to get some lunch. We found a local restaurant where my beef Manhattan looked suspiciously like Sarah’s turkey, except for the color of the gravy. It was one of those small diner-type places where everything is bland and inoffensive. It’s always nice to know where the local mediocre generic American food restaurant is. On our way out we saw the following sign.

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FREE FLOYD!

We had planned to hike in Clark State Forest, but it was really hot and we were exhausted. We opted just to drive through. We’ll return there someday soon, I’m sure. The drive through the forest took us to the top of one of the knobs, and it was a steep, twisty climb. I simply must attempt it by bicycle sometime. The car was struggling with it a bit at times. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to believe this is the midwest with views like this. The elevation at this point was over 1,000 feet.

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View from the top


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Another view

It was a beautiful trip. I wished it hadn’t been soon hot as I would’ve loved to explore the area some more. But we were exhausted already, and drove home. We took the scenic route and I showed Sarah some of the things I saw on my way to Jackson-Washington State Forest.

All in all, I’d say the trip was a success. We need to streamline things in the future, but this worked fairly well. I can’t wait to go camping together again. And the touring bug has bit hard, and I’m itching to do an unsupported trip sometime soon.

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