Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Brown County Breakdown 2009

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

On Sunday, I headed down to Brown County State Park for the fifth annual Brown County Breakdown. This has been my favorite ride of the year all four years I’ve ridden it.

When I arrived at the park, it was cold and dark, and the ground had a layer of frost on it. The area had received nearly six inches of rain in the days leading up to the event, and only had a day or two to dry out, so we were all a little unsure what the trail conditions would be like, although reports were positive. The fall colors are really coming in, in some areas. Others still look mostly green.

After a meeting explaining the route, rules, etc., we got moving, just as the sun rose above the hills. In our group this year were Dave, DJ, Ken, and Jeff. So, it was the regular core group, plus Jeff, who I had not ridden with before.







Ken was well prepared for the cold, as you can see in this next shot.


The ride attendance grows every year — this year I think there were over 500 riders. And while the ride used to start with a tough road climb that thinned the pack, this year it started on trails from the very start. I definitely preferred this approach, but the first few miles were more congested and slower than usual, because we frequently got stuck behind slower riders. I didn’t mind at all, but it did become a problem a few times when someone stopped unexpectedly, which forced everyone behind them to stop suddenly as well. This was unavoidable, though, and I think everyone was patient.

We started on the newest trail in the park, the Pine Loop. I’ve only ridden this once or twice before, and I absolutely love it. This trail has great flow and while it climbs for a while, it’s so gradual that you hardly even notice. It’s an easy trail, but today it was muddy and quite slick, which made it considerably more challenging, especially since I’ve discovered that my current rear tire (a Kenda Blue Groove) is useless in wet or snowy conditions. The trail meanders through a beautiful pine forest, and the sunrise painted yellow rays across the scene. This would’ve been a great time to stop and take some photos, but I didn’t want to stop.

The next trail, the North Tower Loop, was in much better shape — nearly perfect, really. I was surprised how great it was, given how muddy the Pine Loop had been. The North Tower Loop is the trail we’ve ridden the most, so it was uneventful, and a lot of fun. We reached the connector trail to the Aynes Loop, where we had to cross a creek. This creek often has little to no water in it, but it was quite deep and flowing quickly today. I got my feet wet crossing it and felt quite a chill. I was glad I wore wool socks; my feet didn’t feel cold for long.  The connector trail was very muddy and slick and even though it’s flat and fairly straight, the poor traction made it challenging. A couple more creek crossings kept us on our toes.

We stopped at the base of the long Aynes climb for a break. We usually stop at the top, but this time we decided to rest for a few minutes before tackling the climb, and not spend much time resting at the top.



Our plan worked, although we did have to stop briefly at the top of the hill. Like last year, there was a guy playing the banjo at the top of the climb. Great stuff!

I didn’t get to enjoy the descent as much as I would have liked. There were too many riders stalling on the technical parts or the smaller uphill sections scattered throughout. Still, I was really enjoying myself, and I wasn’t in a hurry. I fell behind my group for a while when I got stuck behind some slower riders.

Once I reached the intersection with the Hesitation Point trail, I saw my group waiting for me. They took off as soon as I arrived, so I tried to follow. I went down a slight incline and into a turn that appeared to have nothing unusual about it. Suddenly, my rear tire slipped out from under me, and I went down. The trail surface had looked fine, but it turned out to be very slick. I was muddy, but not hurt. I got up and got back on my bike.

So, as soon as I had caught up with my group, I fell behind again — although it turned out that Ken was right behind me, and saw the whole thing. We rode on, down to a creek, and through the creek bottom. This part was muddy as well, but not too bad. I did have some more traction problems with my rear tire. It seemed every time I rode over a rock or root while climbing, my rear tire would spin out.

Toward the base of the Hesitation Point climb, Ken and I rejoined our group. They wanted to take off right away, but I needed to stop and eat a little before the climb. They were cool about it, and waited. There was a fiddle player standing in an old foundation of some kind … again, like last year. I love these little touches to the event, they add a lot to the fun atmosphere of the whole thing.


I had more traction problems while climbing Hesitation Point.  It’s a more technical trail than the others so far and my rear tire continued to spin out while riding over rocks and roots. We all made it to the top, where we took a break. The view is wonderful at the top, although most of the trees you could see from there were mostly still green. A hammered dulcimer player was there.




After a while, we started riding again. The Walnut Trail was next, and it is a fairly technical trail with a number of rock gardens and tricky creek crossings. I had to walk a lot of the technical stuff, but the rest of the trail had better flow than I remembered. I enjoyed it quite a bit.


The Limekiln Trail was next, and this is an absolute roller coaster ride. I think we all rode well during this part, and had a blast. Soon we took another short break and headed over to the campground and got onto the next trail, a horse trail that is normally closed to bikes, but is open for this event.

This trail is a real challenge every year, but this year, it was harder than ever. It was a muddy mess; even when riding downhill, sometimes I had to pedal hard just to keep moving through the muck. During the downhill sections, our tires carved into the mud and I could feel my bike fishtailing or sometimes just drifting through the mud. The best chance for staying vertical was to ride in a straight line and hope you wouldn’t have to turn. Sometimes I would ride through existing ruts and my wheels would get stuck in them and alter my trajectory. I managed to stay upright throughout all this, but it was not easy. During the climbs, my rear wheel spun in the mud. Some climbs were doable and others I had to walk. Even walking was difficult in this deep mud.



During this time, Ken and I fell behind the rest of the group. I don’t know how they were able to ride so fast through the mud, but they were moving a lot faster than we were. I felt very discouraged by how much this trail was wearing me down. The last short trail down to the next SAG stop (which is at a cabin) was, as always, narrow, steep, on a sideslope, and rocky. Adding in the mud, it was really difficult. I had to walk a particularly steep part toward the bottom. We also had to ride through a deep creek to get to the cabin SAG stop.

We tried to nourish ourselves at the cabin. I had a sandwich, some chips, granola, a banana, and a couple of other things. I was feeling a bit better, but Ken, DJ, and I decided that we would turn back at this point. We had intended to ride further, to the Nebo Ridge Trail, which would have given us 60 miles of riding for the day. Turning back here would mean we’d “only” ride 40 miles, but as Ken put it, “If I turn back now, I will have enjoyed the entire ride. If I ride another 20 miles, I’ll be suffering.” I felt the same way. This left just Dave and Jeff to continue past the cabin. We went our separate ways.

After we started heading back toward the start, I started having a lot of shifting problems. I also noticed that my chain lube had worn off, and my chain was squealing terribly. I didn’t bring any extra lube, so I just had to deal with it the whole way back. This led to some chain suck problems … I am going to have to switch to a different chain lube. That’s a topic for another time.

On my way up the thin, steep trail from the cabin, I pushed my bike up the steepest part and got on my bike. I was trying to ride up the hill when I hit a root or something and stalled. I tried to lean toward the uphill side, but instead, I fell a little bit down the hill, landing with my bicycle on top of me. I laid there for a second, trying to figure out how to get my bike off me. Eventually I was able to push it off and pull myself up. I was a little embarrassed, but not hurt.

The horse trail was even harder on the way back. Four miles of mostly-uphill riding through that horrible mud. I had to push my bike up many of the climbs along the way.  DJ was a ways ahead, and Ken and I took turns passing each other. This was the most demoralizing part of the entire ride.



Eventually, we made it back to the road. We enjoyed a mile or two of easy road riding that gave us a break.

Even though we had decided to turn back sooner than planned, we still had a lot of trail riding ahead of us. In the past, we’ve done a longer route, but we’ve always ended up taking the roads at least part of the way back. This way, we were able to ride the trails back. And they are a blast. We did skip the technical part of the Walnut Loop.

As we approached Hesitation Point, a rider behind me told me my rear tire looked soft. I looked back and sure enough, it was low. I stopped at Hesitation Point and replaced the tube with an old one that I had previously patched. I pumped it up and we headed down the Hesitation Point trail, which is mostly downhill in this direction. Unfortunately, this tube was losing air as well. I had to stop and DJ gave me a brand new tube to use. This one seemed to be holding, and Ken and DJ waited patiently as I changed tubes for the second time.

This time, it held air, and we were able to ride all the way back to the start point. I was lagging behind and eventually told Ken and DJ to go ahead. I caught up with them at the bottom, a few minutes after they had arrived. We finished the 40 miles of mountain biking in a bit under nine hours.

We headed over to the starting point, where they were serving up BBQ. We had brought some beer, so we sat and enjoyed some delicious BBQ and a cold beer and talked about the ride.

We had been sitting for a while when Dave and Jeff rolled up. They had ridden an extra 20 miles (but taken the roads back) and got back maybe 45 minutes after we arrived.  I was glad that I got to see them before I left.

As always, the Breakdown was an awesome ride. However, it was a bit more frustrating than usual for me. I am in worse shape this year than I have been the past two years, and I had done very little mountain biking throughout the year. I’ve ridden a lot of road miles, but road miles alone don’t translate too well into mountain biking strength.

The mud also caused a lot of problems for everyone. I found my rear tire was terrible in the mud, something I knew before but had hoped wouldn’t be an issue for the Breakdown. But, it was. Still, everyone in our group fell at least once, and we saw a lot of other people go down as well. So, it’s not just me.

My mountain bike really frustrated me during this event. Every year I have shifting problems, and my drivetrain was an utter mess once the chain lube wore off. The flat tires were inevitable and no fault of the bicycle, but still frustrating. And even though I have tweaked things a bit, the bike still doesn’t fit me very well. I still had some back and arm pain during most of the ride. I think I’m reaching the limits of what this bicycle can handle.

View 2009-10-11 Brown County Breakdown in a larger map

9 Responses to “Brown County Breakdown 2009”

  1. Myles/ rattrappress Says:

    I remembered reading your post about last years ride when you mentioned the banjo player.

    500 riders! That’s alot of people to squeeze onto singletrack.

  2. Tim Says:

    Looks pretty challenging. I do 20m in the park near the house and come home with a tired back, so 40+ seems substantial. good effort.

  3. Bill Lambert/Big Oak Bikes Says:

    Looks like fun, although a tremendous amount of work. Brown County SP is a beautiful place. I’d like to try riding the trails there sometime.

  4. Bob & Pat Gregoire Says:

    As always Pat and I fully enjoy your pictures and narrative of the ride. Looks like Brown County had some nice
    color already! Your pics are superb!

  5. Griff Says:

    It’s interesting to read the ride from another persons perspective. I did 60 miles in just uner 8 hours, got back at 15:51. I rode solo most of the way testing myself and testing a few things for endurance racing. However one tip I would like to provide: fit full rear derailleur housing from shifters to derailleur. I now change my rear cables once a year whether they need it or not. I lubed a day before the ride heftily on a very clean chain with some lube that comes in a black bottle available from all good bike shops. Kept me going all the way back to Walnut when I reapplied. I suspect you have a worn middle chain ring. Also I replace my chain twice a year on each bike. I have 2.
    Just hope these tips help make the ride smoother next year. Thanks for blogging.

  6. Apertome Says:

    Hey Griff, thanks for the input! I’ll definitely take that into consideration for future rides.

  7. Bentcrank Says:

    Good write up and nice pictures.

    I second what Griff says about a solid housing. Shifting is something that drives me nuts when it does not work. That is one of the big reasons I ride a SS as much as I do.

  8. bill pickerel Says:

    thanks for the pix for those of us that couldn’t make it this year but will be shooting for next year!!!!!

  9. Joel Gregoire Says:

    Very Cool!! Great to hear the breakdown of the ride and the pictures are excellent. Looks like it was a beautiful day to ride. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed it! Joel

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