Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for September, 2009

Duke Road

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Note: I added a map.

Last 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 me another way to explore the same area. His route went out 446/Knight Ridge Road, then onto Duke Road. This is a narrow, paved road that follows the top of a ridge for a couple of miles before the pavement ends and the “road” plunges steeply down toward the Salt Creek valley. It’s a rocky, eroded descent, and I really had to go slowly. The Trucker handled well, but I had some traction and pedal strike issues on the way down.


View Duke Road 09/16/2009 in a larger map

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After that insane (but fun) descent, we spent a while in the valley, riding through fields, exploring trails, watching and listening to wildlife.

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At one point, we stopped by the creek and looked across. We could see McGowan Road, where I had ridden during that previous ride.

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We rode on, and took a path which just looped around. Now we know. Not that we were complaining — the area is just incredibly beautiful.

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Eventually, we made our way over to Friendship Road, a gravel road which took us to the base of Lampkins Ridge. We climbed for some time, finishing the ride in the dark.

Exploring some gravel roads in Hoosier National Forest

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

On Saturday, I went for a long ride into Hoosier National Forest. I had planned to ride a lot of gravel roads there. I ended up taking a different way home than I had planned and only rode about 14 miles of gravel. The ride was about 65 miles total. Here’s a map and elevation profile.


View Hoosier National Forest 09/12/2009 in a larger map

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My ride started with 14 miles of paved and chipseal roads, and only one large climb (though there were rolling hills most of the way). I had a nice tailwind and made good time. For this ride, I brought a small stuffed moose that my nephew gave me, as a sort of mascot/hood ornament, if you will. He didn’t have a name yet, but after the ride, I named him Norman after the small town of Norman, Indiana.

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After about an hour of riding, I reached Tower Ridge Road, a gravel road that goes through Hoosier National Forest. Along the way, it passes a horse camp and a few trails, and takes you to the Deam Wildnerness area, and to a fire tower. The scenery during this time was pretty, but really rather static. As you ride through the woods, all you can see is … well, trees. However, it is a nice ridgetop ride, with deep ravines on either side. It’s not extremely hilly, although there is some loose gravel in places that makes things challenging.

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I stopped at the fire tower for some lunch. After that, I had quite a bit more gravel ahead of me, but the riding got more varied. To my surprise, I had a descent of about two miles toward Maumee. From there, I took some more gravel roads, and the scenery also showed more variation, with some fields, creeks, and limestone bluffs mixed in with the forest.

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I turned onto a rather flat paved road and once I did, the riding got easier. I enjoyed the gravel roads, but it was fun to really get moving on the paved roads. I had great views of corn and soybean fields and the surrounding hills.

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After a while, I reached State Road 58 and turned west. By this time, I had decided that I was not going to ride gravel roads back; rather, I would take paved roads. This should shorten my ride, which was running rather long. However, I was getting hungry again and stopped at the 58 Cafe in Kurtz for a slice of blackberry pie. By this time, I had ridden a bit over 30 miles.

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The pie was pretty good. Not the best pie I’ve ever had, but it felt like such a luxury to eat pie during a ride.

I started riding again and after a few decent hills and one big one (nearly 300 feet of climbing), things got flat. During this time, I realized that the paved road went further out of the way than I realized. The gravel roads probably would have been a bit more direct. However, the riding would’ve been much harder. I think I made the right choice.

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After a while, I reached State Road 446, which would take me back to town. Unfortunately, I now had a headwind, and the chipseal was really slowing me down. After I rode a bit, a mileage sign reminded me just how far out I was. The sign said it was 18 miles to Bloomington. I had already gone nearly 50 miles, so this was a little disheartening. Effectively, the last 20 miles were a slog into the wind on chipseal with a couple of good climbs and many smaller ones. Pretty harsh.

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My trip home was broke up a bit when I came across a woman whose truck had broken down. She was just sitting in her truck and chain smoking. She seemed surprisingly calm about the whole thing. I offered her my cell phone so she could call for a ride, but there was no signal. So, I rode a few miles down the road and called someone for her. I believe they found her OK.

One last note, the traffic was pretty unpleasant coming back into town on 446. I really did not enjoy riding this way. It’s not as bad when riding away from town as the busiest part of the road is downhill, so it’s possible to mostly keep up with traffic. Not so, on the return trip.

Overall, a really fun ride, and it felt great to get some longer miles in, and explore some new areas.

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.

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