Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Brown County Breakdown 2008

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Sunday was the 4th annual Brown County Breakdown mountain bike ride, and my third time doing the ride (see my blog posts from 2007 and 2006). This is always my favorite ride of the entire year, and I was really looking forward to it. However, between getting married and getting ready to move, I have had very little time to ride in the past month, so I didn’t feel quite as prepared as I was last year.

We had a great group of riders: Dave, Doug, DJ, Jason, and myself. Doug planned to do the 35-mile route; the rest of us planned to do 50. However, with the new trails they’ve built, those routes were more like 40 and 60 miles.

The day got off to a bit of a rocky start. I arrived later than I planned, and had to rush a bit through registration and getting ready. Then, we had some trouble finding each other. This hasn’t been a problem in the past, but with over 300 riders this year, it was a little more difficult. We managed to get everyone together in time for the mass start. We rode in the slowest group, which started last. We were riding by about 8:20 am. It was a lot warmer than usual, about 55 degrees when we started riding. In the past it’s been in the 40s.

The 100-milers waiting to start

As in past years, the ride started with a road climb to thin the herd a bit before entering the woods. However, this year the route joined the trail sooner than in the past — a welcome change, as the road climb is tough, and really not much fun on a mountain bike.

Soon, we were on the North Tower Loop. Trail conditions were fantastic — while it’s been a very dry year since this spring, we got some rain earlier last week that kept the dust under control. The trail was smooth and fast, and it felt great to be riding. We stopped to make a few adjustments to our bikes.

The North Tower Loop

Making some bike adjustments

The ride on the North Tower Loop went by quickly and uneventfully. We got on the Aynes Loop and started the long climb to the top of the hill. It’s about 10 minutes of solid climbing, and as we neared the top, we started hearing what sounded like a banjo. We climbed some more, and rode over the rock gardens and through the switchback near the top. As we crested the hill, sure enough there was a guy in jeans and a tattered flannel shirt leaning up against a tree and playing the banjo. He had fake buck teeth and long, nappy hair that would become the source of much debate over the course of the day. Was the hair real, or was it attached to his hat? And how did he get there? Did he ride his bike?

After exchanging a few Deliverance references, we stopped for a break at the top of the hill with quite a few other riders. They’ve always had a bluegrass band at the main SAG stop, but the banjo player on the Aynes hill sure added to the atmosphere.

Banjo player at the top of the Aynes hill

We started the descent, which begins with some sketchy rocks. A couple of people had stopped to walk over the rocks, but we powered on through. It’s one of those situations where it looks scary, but if you just let your bike do the work, it’ll roll over the rocks without any problem. We enjoyed the long descent. We had earned it.

As we reached the Hesitation Point trail, I realized that this may have been the first time I’ve ridden it all year. I simply haven’t gotten out to Brown County as much this year, and with my finger injury and night riding I’ve done, I kept to the easier trails.

While I was thinking this, I once again heard music. This time, a fiddle player was standing in the forest, fiddling away. And once again we wondered how the heck he got there. It’s such a unique experience to ride through the forest and suddenly be taken surprise by a fiddler. I’m sure it was an interesting time for him, too.

HP went better than I expected. It’s a couple of miles, mostly uphill, and I handled it pretty well. I even made it up a couple of technical features I’ve never conquered going uphill before. One was a tricky rock garden, the other a large rock that is tough to climb.

It wasn’t pretty, but to climb the big rock, I picked up some speed, did a wheelie to get my front wheel on the rock, and then shifted my weight forward to pull my rear wheel with me. However, I didn’t have quite enough momentum, and I stalled for a moment. There I sat, precariously perched on a rock, wondering if I could get moving again or if I was doomed to fall. I probably only stopped for a fraction of a second, but it felt longer. I concentrated on not falling down into the ravine) I fell slightly to the uphill side of the trail, but pushed off of a tree and managed to get moving again. Phew!

We finished the climb and found ourselves at Hesitation Point. We stopped to rest for a few minutes, and have a snack. A hammered dulcimer player was looking out over the land and playing for us.The view at Hesitation Point is a beautiful one, and the music enhanced the experience.

Hesitation Point view

Hammered Dulcimer player

DJ, Doug, Jason, Dave, and me at Hesitation Point

After a brief break, we continued. Next were some more trails in the park. These, I hadn’t ridden since last year’s Breakdown, and one section I hadn’t ridden at all. I had heard that the new intermediate trail was pretty technical, and as I found out, that’s true. .Threre are a lot of rocks to deal with, many during uphill stretches, and some optional huge rock piles you can ride over. This section of trail was more draining than I expected, and we walked a large portion of it. This trail also contains a long, beautiful wooden bridge and some tricky logs to hop. I did well on those parts.

Shadows by part of the new intermediate trail

I had forgotten how much fun the new beginner trail is. It’s easy enough for beginners to ride it, but for us it was a real hammerfest, with many opportunities to catch some air. However, I mostly kept my wheels on the ground. I don’t have a lot of confidence while jumping yet, and I was worried I wouldn’t land quite straight. I need to practice this.

Next was a brief section of road riding, followed by the horse trail down to the cabin that serves as SAG stop #1.


As always, the horse trail was challenging. It’s mostly downhill in this direction, but the surface is loose dirt with many large, loose rocks to deal with and some sketchy descents. It was also a lot dustier than the other trails so far, but still a lot of fun. As we were riding on a ridgetop, we also got some faint views of surrounding hills through the trees.

Horse Trail

Before long, we reached the cabin, where the first SAG stop is. As in the past, there was a bluegrass band playing on the porch, some food and drink, etc.

Bluegrass band on the porch

I saw a dog wandering around and remembered furiousBall’s comment from my post about last year’s breakdown:

that cabin looks so in place, bluegrass band on the porch. they only are missing a lazy bloodhound sleeping on the steps

Well, it was a basset hound, not a bloodhound, but look at this guy. He’s awesome. I never did learn his name.

Basset hound

Basset hounds, bluegrass, and bicycles

We stayed at the cabin long enough to rest, eat, and have the mechanic there fix DJ’s back wheel. It had been making some weird noises, and the mechanic said all his spokes were loose. Since he had just gotten it back from the shop, he was none too pleased. But the mechanic got him going again.

We headed out for the next section of our ride: Nebo Ridge. The trailhead was just a few minutes away. We stopped in the parking lot to make some more bike adjustments, and then started the grueling 1.25-mile climb. We made that and had several descents followed by climbs of varying difficulty. It was getting pretty hot at this point and by the time we finished all that climbing, I was really feeling sluggish. Fortunately it was mostly downhill for a while, but I was getting tired and put it on autopilot for a while. Dave and DJ were still going strong and rode ahead a bit. DJ fell behind me for a while. He was suffering more than I was, but he too managed to keep moving.

The Nebo Ridge trail

This normally fun, fast section of trail was sort of a low point for me in the ride. It was still fast and fun, but I was feeling neither. I enjoyed the downhill parts but felt incredibly sluggish while climbing. I was a bit loopy and just concentrating on the trail immediately in front of me. I never felt out of control, but I was a little disoriented at times. I really don’t even remember this section very well. I do remember that in areas almost all the trees had turned a brilliant yellow color, and as usual I really enjoyed riding through the pine section.

Another part of the Nebo Ridge trail

We finished Nebo and headed down the road toward the second SAG stop. We passed some fields that I always enjoy. They were bright yellow with goldenrod the last time we rode through here. By now the colors had faded to dull browns.

Field by Nebo Ridge

Road section

We got to SAG #2 and took another break. I ate a sandwich and a couple of bananas and some energy drink. We rested here for a while, and the shade felt great. A refreshing, cool breeze blew through. After this stop I felt slightly more energetic, but not much. We had some gravel/dirt riding to do, then a huge climb up Combs Road. I made the climb, which is pretty hit or miss for me. It was rewarding, but I felt pretty drained after doing so. Next we had a long, bumpy descent back down to the trailhead. A couple of riders passed me with no warning, the only rude riders I encountered all day. But they passed safely and soon we had finished Nebo Ridge and were back to the cabin (SAG #1).

Some riders climbing Combs Road

We took another break at the cabin. There was now pizza there, and I ate quite a few pieces. I had been feeling hungry and this was just what I needed. I refilled my Camelbak and put some more energy drink in my water bottle. DJ was really hurting at this point, and I had been, too. Dave’s knee was acting up. We were all suffering more than we expected. And we knew we still had a lot of climbing to do on the horse trail.

So, after a long break and some good food, we headed up the trail, first pushing our bikes due to the steepness of the trail. Even pushing our bikes was hard. Once we got to a point where we could ride once again, we were still climbing for some time. I rode well here. I even got a second wind of sorts, but it didn’t last too long. By the time we made it back to the other end of the horse trail, which involves a lot of tough climbs, we were all pretty tired. Except Jason, who has ridden less than most of us yet is still a stronger rider. I have yet to figure that one out.

Anyway, we decided to take the road back most of the way. We dropped back down to the trail by the North Tower and enjoyed about a mile of fast, flowing downhill riding to the end of the ride. While we rode through this very-familiar section of trail, I marveled at how the trees were changing, and how beautiful they looked, the awesome flow of the trail, and looked back on all the great rides I’d done there, with my awesome riding buddies. I’ll miss those trails, and friends, so much. I felt sad, but what an awesome and fitting last ride before my upcoming move. I spent all day on my bike (over 9 hours), covering over 50 miles (mostly trails), a great time with friends, some good music, and even a beer with some great barbeque afterwards.

The Breakdown has been my favorite ride of the year every year I’ve done it. I hope I can come back next year to ride it once again. My friends have even offered to cover my registration fee, if I can find a way to get back here for it. What a group!

10 Responses to “Brown County Breakdown 2008”

  1. Myles/ rattrappress Says:

    Great report. I’ve never come close to riding 50 miles on mountain bike trails in one day, that would kill me.

  2. Cas Says:

    Inspiring report — even for an Event Director! You’ve got some great buddies (I know David G. some but not the others), you all are in fantastic shape to have made the loop you did, and it looks like you guys did the ride the right way by stopping and enjoying the sights and sounds. It truly is beaufiful. Good luck in your move, and we hope you can return for the ride next year.
    p.s. the cabin sag hound’s name is Obie. He is a sweetheart and loved meeting over 300 new friends on Sunday.

  3. Chris Berry Says:

    Michael, thanks for hte recap! Why am I not surprised you were running a bit late! ; )

  4. furiousball Says:

    awesome buddy, that looks like a fun time. i may have said this last year when you did it, but i would love to get out there and do that with you one year

  5. Dave Says:

    Excellent recap. It was great to see Tim Cassady comment on your blog! I’m so sad that we won’t be able to ride together regularly, but I look forward to those special occasions where we reunite for an epic ride…like next year’s breakdown.
    Best of luck to you and Sarah in your new home state. Please keep in touch!

  6. Jon Grinder Says:

    Sounds like you had a more successful weekend than I did. Looks like a fun ride. Maybe I’ll do it, instead of the 24 Hours of Moab, next year.

  7. Pedalman Says:

    What a fantastic ride. Yet again the pictures are amazing. I think I would be walking the majority of it and then parking myself beside the banjo player and pulling out my harmonica.

  8. John Says:

    I’ve never done and mountain bike riding. Someday maybe. I like your decision on forming a slow group. Right up my alley.

  9. Marty Says:

    Sounds like a great ride, complete with musical accompaniment (in multiple places). And the basset really added to the bluegrass band at the cabin. Sounds like it would have been a cool place to just hang out, even if you hadn’t been doing the ride.

    Hopefully you’re recovered and doing well in your new place. I’ll email you about getting together soon.

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