Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Three golden hours

Friday, September 11th, 2009

There is a time every day when the sun hangs low in the sky, and its rays take on a warmer hue and a softer feeling as they filter through the atmosphere. The rays hit the earth at an acute angle, enshrouding certain objects in shadows, while brilliantly illuminating others. The feeling can be quite magical, and photographers refer to this time as the “golden hour” because the lighting is flattering to all kinds of subjects.

This time of day is also great for cycling, so long as you’re not riding directly into the sun. In addition, some bike rides which you expect to be routine can turn out to be absolutely incredible. Being in the right place at the right time is part of it, but more than anything, sometimes a ride just feels especially great, for no apparent reason.

I had a ride like this the other day, starting at around 6:00 pm (before the “golden hour”) and continuing on into the night, but the entire time I was in a state of bicycle-induced bliss. Three golden hours of bicycling.

I had decided to explore McGowan Road, which I had seen on some maps, and read about a few times on Mitch Rice’s blog. He claims it’s the toughest hill in the area, and I had to see if he was right (the short answer is “yes”, but we’ll get to that soon enough). I set out later than I normally would for a ride of this length, knowing that I would probably be finishing the ride in the dark. So, I brought lights.


View McGowan 09/09/2009 in a larger map

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My ride started out routine, on familiar roads. Less than eight miles from town, I turned onto the incredibly beautiful and wild McGowan Road. For around four miles, the gravel road followed low-lying wetlands around Salt Creek. The scenery consisted of woods, hills, soybeans, goldenrod, and Salt Creek. During this time, deer frequently crossed the road, or ran along side it, and I encountered many wild turkeys as well. The photographic “golden hour” was in effect, and the riding was wonderful. I couldn’t help but stop frequently to take photos, and I noticed several side trails and mown paths across the wetlands which would make for great exploration later. This area is closed for waterfowl resting October through mid-April, so if I want to explore it any time soon, it’ll have to be before October 1.

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The road went very close to the creek, and I saw a place that looked like it must be a popular fishing spot. The light was truly incredible, and I stopped for more photos. I wasn’t making good time, but I was truly stunned by how beautiful this area was.

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A short, steep climb, followed by some more gradual climbing and some rolling hills, took me above water level and I caught glimpses of Lake Monroe from above, through the trees. After a while, I reached the notorious main climb. Try as I might, I could not conquer the steep, loose gravel that went on for a very long time. Total elevation change was around 250 feet, but it felt like much more. I had to push my bike, and my ankles were at quite an uncomfortable angle as I tried to do so. I could barely even walk up this hill — and I am a rider who very rarely walks a hill.

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Once I reached the top of the ridge, I followed a wide, flat, fairly smooth gravel road for a while.  There were some nice views here on Gilmore Ridge; unfortunately, they were provided by cuts in the forest due to some intense logging. I never like to see logging, but I did appreciate the views of distant hills that it provided. By this time, the sun was setting, the air was cooling, and some fog was beginning to set in. I saw a number of side trails that looked like they would be fun to explore.

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I switched my lights on and hit the paved T.C. Steele Road. Here, the riding was easy, but it was really getting dark. I rode down off the ridge and had a wonderful time along the way. The road had numerous twists and turns to make the descent interesting. I didn’t go too fast, since the light was fading.

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By the time I reached the valley, the sun had set but there were still fantastic hues of pink and purple on the horizon, which filtered through the fog. A rather flat road across the lowlands yielded great views of surrounding hills. I could hear insects buzzing hissing, and chirping all around me. At one point, a bat flew close to me, probably attracted to my headlight.

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I spent a little while on State Road 46. I couldn’t see much at this point beyond what my lights illuminated; there was still some color in the sky though, some visible fog and the silhouettes of the hills. I had to breathe through my nose, as I kept riding through clouds of insects. I noticed a strong earthy smell.

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I turned onto some back roads. My light was adequate, but only showed me the road directly in front of me. This made a few small hills challenging. I stopped and looked around and could just barely see some hills looming above me. They appeared black, against a sky that was now almost completely black.

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I had one large hill to climb, and then a mile or two of tame singletrack. Riding through the woods at night is always eerie, but it can be quite enjoyable as well. It was completely dark at this point. All I could see was a circle in front of me. I heard some animal noises in the woods, but just kept on riding.

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Soon, I was in a residential area and just had a couple of miles of easy riding to get home. This allowed me to relax and just spin at an easy pace to wind down the ride.

This was one of those rides that shattered the expectations I had going into it. I set out to explore some new roads that I hoped would be interesting, and it turned into one of my favorite rides of all time. The route, the scenery, and the conditions all came together and added up to quite an experience.

7 Responses to “Three golden hours”

  1. Chris Says:

    Epic. Poetic.

    Thanks for capturing it, and communicating it to us.

  2. Mitch Rice Says:

    Great Post! I am so happy that others find this route as amazing as I do, it truly is a gem, and you captured the outback beauty of it in your post. Since I know there is no chance that I can climb the hill, I had the brainstorm to run the loop backwards and ride down rather than up, which is really quite exciting, check your brakes before descending! You mentioned the paths cut in the in the grass valley, and I’ve explored these as well, I went there just 2 weeks ago. My favorite approach is from Duke Rd, you may have noticed my post about it. It drops off the ridge to the southwest side of the fields and dykes. (For parts of some years, the fields are flooded). Give me a call if you want to go out together sometime, it’s doable in the evening as the ride back is easy, even in the dark.

  3. David Crowell Says:

    Welcome (back) to Indiana. I had no idea you were from Indiana. Although following your blog, I’ve been slacking recently due to being in Florida for my wedding.

    Those are some wonderful pictures.

  4. Tim Says:

    I’ve read quite a few of your entries, but it is one of the best yet. Simply great stuff, and motivating to find the open road and the nooks and crannies that make the bicycle something special. Be looking at the calendar for something this Fall if you’re interested.

  5. John Says:

    I only looked at the pictures with no time to read this one. It’s was still nice to peruse.
    As usual of course.

  6. Jon Grinder Says:

    I particularly like the color picture of the Trucker. The lighting, particularly on the bags, is phenomenal. Good show, old chap!

  7. Ear to the Breeze » Blog Archive » Duke Road Says:

    […] week, after reading¬† my blog post about my ride on McGowan Road, Mitch Rice (whose Biking the Hoosier Uplands blog I have followed for some time)¬† offered to show […]

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