Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Mountain biking at Frances Slocum State Park

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Last Sunday, I wanted to get out for another ride. I decided it was time to check out the mountain biking trails closest to our house, in Frances Slocum State Park; it felt silly that I hadn’t ridden there yet, and Black Friday’s snow biking put me in the mood for some more mountain biking.

I awakened Sunday morning to some of my least favorite riding conditions: temperatures hovering just above freezing, and steady rain. I’m not a big fan of riding in the rain, but it’s especially bad when it’s that cold. And, I’d rather have snow than cold rain. Snow doesn’t usually soak you as much, and is a lot more fun.

However, I was hopeful. I was heading to higher elevations, and I hoped that there would be snow in the park. I wasn’t really expecting much from these trails; I had read there were maybe 5-6 miles of them, and of all the places people in the area had suggested riding, these trails hadn’t come up once. But, they are just about 6 miles away. Now that’s convenient!

When I arrived at the park, I found that the precipitation on the mountain was closer to sleet than rain, and there was a thin coating of snow on the ground. This was definitely preferable over the rain in the valley. I saw a couple other riders leaving as I was arriving.

Here is a map of my ride. It was about six miles long with about 1,000 feet of climbing. Note: for some reason, not all the photos are showing up on this map. I can’t fix it now, but I wonder what’s up.

View Larger Map

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Light snow by the trailhead

Almost immediately, I had to get off to walk a large log pile. I might have attempted it if the logs weren’t coated in snow and very slippery. The trail followed the edge of the lake for a while, offering some fantastic views. There was a thin layer of ice covering the lake, and it was a wonderful dark and dreary day. However, the trees helped to shield me from the sleet quite a bit. I was a lot more comfortable once I was in the woods.

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View of the lake from the trail

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One of many log piles on this trail

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Frances Slocum Lake

It took a long time for me to find my groove. The trails were riddled with rocks and log piles, and at first I wasn’t sure how good my traction was, so I didn’t even attempt some of the technical parts. At other times, I choked during climbs, thinking my rear wheel was going to spin out under me. I soon realized that in fact my rear wheel wasn’t spinning out — I wasn’t even giving it a chance. It seemed as if surely these wet/snowy rocks would be too slick for my tire to grip, but that proved not to be the case. I love the rear tire on this bike (Kenda Nevegal). If anything, it was probably overkill in Indiana, but I was glad to have such an aggressive tire on this ride.

While I was a little frustrated with my performance at first, I soon came to appreciate the design of these trails. Obviously, a lot of work has gone into them, and there were numerous features that looked impossible but proved to be quite ridable, and even more exhilarating. I could also tell that if I could just find my rhythm even the technical parts would flow very well.

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A scary-looking, but ridable, rock-armored creek crossing

The trails were blazed in different colors, but there were no signs with the trail names on them. I had printed a map, and was glad to have it, but I decided early on to follow the existing tracks on the trail. I figured whomever rode here before me probably knew where they were going. I could always get the map out if I got turned around.

I had a bit of climbing to do, but it wasn’t too bad. The trail followed some strange old stone walls for some time.

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Me

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Stone walls

Suddenly, the trail spit me out in a clearing, with some decent views of the surrounding land. The trail also got smoother, faster, and flowed better, for a while. I was really enjoying myself.

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Riding through a clearing

There was a significant amount of climbing, but it never felt like too much at once. It was broken up by short descents and other fun stuff. This was one of those rare rides where it seemed like I got to do more descending than climbing. I knew that wasn’t so, but it sure felt good, regardless.

By the time the trail started throwing technical challenges at me again, I had found my groove, and I had a better sense of how much traction I had in these conditions. I tackled the rocks, and roots, and log piles more aggressively. I was clearing most things and having a blast doing it. I still had to walk a couple of bigger log piles, and there was one section with four log piles in a row that was just too much. But overall I was riding very well, even flowing over huge stretches of rocks, and liking it.

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This entire section of trail was armored with rocks

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Snowy tire treads on rocks

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Tricky creek crossing

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Fast, flowing trail

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Several log piles in a row

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Now that’s fun!

After a long climb and another fun descent, I found myself back by the lake. I paused to take some photos and just enjoy the scenery.

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Log piles on the way to the lake


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Frances Slocum Lake

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Fern

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Moss

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Another shot of the lake

I rode back to the car, but quickly decided I was going back out. Incredibly, I had ridden less than four miles at this point. It felt like a lot more, but I still felt great and there was a trail I hadn’t ridden on yet, and I wanted to check it out.

I appreciated the first part of the trail more the second time around. Some of the log piles were still more than I wanted to attempt, but I did much better on the rocky stuff, and generally kept my speed up. I reached the trail I wanted to see and followed it. It was a bit less technical than the main trail, but I had a lot of climbing to do, and a whole lot of roots interfering with my efforts.

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Rocks and roots

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More flowing trail

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Boulder

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My bicycle, resting against the boulder

I got a little turned around and thought I had gone the wrong way. The arrows of sorts on the trees were a little hard to follow at times. The trail got very steep and I left my bike to go explore on foot. The trail I wanted seemed to go in two different directions, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I went back to my bike and went the other way, but I soon found myself back at the main trail. I headed back and went up the steep climb, which required some walking. Once I finished that climb, I had a lot of fun descending ahead of me. I didn’t take many photos during this section; I was having too much fun! I went by the clearing again, which had even better views this time around, and the trail turned into a gravel path for a while. It wasn’t as challenging, but I appreciated the fun and easy riding for a few minutes. Around this time the rain started in earnest, although I stayed fairly dry thanks to the trees, except during the clearing.

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Wide gravel trail

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Looking down at my rear wheel

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Reaching the clearing again

There were still a few technical challenges ahead of me, such as a rooty drop down to a rock bridge creek crossing, and loads of rocks toward the beginning of the trail. But I was riding better than I had the whole ride. I found my rhythm and floated over some pretty rough stuff a lot better than I thought I could. But in the midst of all that were more flowing sections of trail. These trails strike a great balance between the technical sections and fast sections where you can really let loose.

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Dropping down to a creek crossing, then climbing immediately back up

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Easy riding alongside the lake

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My bicycle by the lake

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Bike by the trail

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Parting shot of the lake

I got back to the car, and discovered it was raining harder than I thought. Almost immediately upon exiting the woods, I thought to myself, “this is miserable!” And indeed, the conditions seemed worse for the rest of the day than they did during my ride. Partially, they were (it got rainier), but also, being out in the woods on my bicycle kept me physically warm, and mentally comfortable. This was a great ride, on a day in which I easily could have just stayed home (and a day on which road riding would have been miserable).

3 Responses to “Mountain biking at Frances Slocum State Park”

  1. Dave Says:

    Looks like Frances Slocum is working out to be a close, fun place to ride – that’s great news. Those were some great pictures, too. Keep on riding!

  2. Eric Says:

    How did you get flickr and google maps to play so nicely with each other?

  3. scott Says:

    Nice pictures–looks like a great day on the trails. I’m hoping to get a day to do something similar soon. We have one set of informal trails just a few blocks away, and a park with MTB trails several miles away.

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