Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for October, 2009

New job!

Monday, October 26th, 2009

My wife and I both started new jobs today. How’s that for amazing? This also marks my return to bicycle commuting. Here are a few thoughts about both my job and my commute.

The Job

I started a new job today, as a Web Developer at the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands. According to their Web site:

The Eppley Institute is dedicated to meeting the needs of park, recreation, and public land organizations. As a unit of Indiana University’s Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies, Eppley combines academic expertise with real-world experience to design practical solutions that work.

I will be working on various projects including building e-courses and working on their Web site, and any other projects that come up.

Those who have been following my blog for a while, or who know me personally, know that I got laid off back in December. At that time, I started my own Web Development consulting company. I decided running my own business wasn’t for me, so I started looking for other options … and ended up at Eppley.

On my first day, I managed to completely hose the copy of Windows XP on my computer (the classic hal.dll not found error). Probably fixable, but my boss suggested another option … so now the machine is running a shiny new copy of Windows 7.  My first impression? Well, I’m not too impressed. However, I’m told that I can install Linux on my workstation if I want — which I just might do. I think it’s going to be very cool to be in an environment that’s not completely Microsoft-centric.

The Commute

I ran my consulting business out of our apartment, so I missed being able to commute by bicycle. Oddly enough, my new commute is nearly identical to the one I had at my last job. Completely identical, in fact, except for the last turn. The distance is about the same — a little under three miles each way. Not an epic commute by any means, but I ride year-round, in all conditions, so things can still get pretty interesting. And, I’m a little more committed to riding every day than I was before, because we are a single-car family and my wife will be using the car to drive to her new job. Previously, she was in school and rode the bus to work, which meant I always had the car as a backup option. I didn’t use it much, but it sort of functioned as a safety net.

An autumn mixed-terrain ride

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Warning: this will be a long post — not for the faint-of-heart. But hopefully you’ll at least look at the photos, even if you don’t actually read the whole post.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been contemplating route options for a long, difficult, scenic mixed-terrain ride. Something to really challenge me, and give me an opportunity to spend all day riding and taking in the autumn colors. I came up with a slightly insane, but promising route of about 53 miles, about half gravel, with a lot of climbing. I’ve certainly done longer rides, but the terrain on this ride would be particularly rugged. Here’s a map and elevation profile of the ride, which totaled over 56 miles, and 3000 feet of climbing. It’s probably the weirdest-looking route I’ve come up with, on the map.


View 2009-10-18 Fall Mixed-Terrain Ride in a larger map

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I decided that to best capture the foliage, I should bring my DSLR. Usually this camera does not go with me on bike rides, but I figured it would be safe in a pannier, with some T-shirts as padding. Also in my pannier were a water filter and some food. I knew I would be in remote areas with no services for most of the ride, so I had to be self-sufficient.

The ride started out easy as I rolled on some paved roads, riding away from town over some rolling hills. Immediately, I could feel the extra weight I was carrying, even though it was only a few extra pounds. And while I usually take photos with my point & shoot camera while riding, I had to stop any time I wanted to shoot and dig my camera out of my pannier. A little cumbersome, but it also forced me to spend a little more time setting up the shots.

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I felt a bit chilly, which surprised me as I felt warm before I left. However, the wind from riding really cut through me at times, and the shady areas were a lot cooler.  I kept telling myself I would warm up from the physical activity. This never quite happened, but I wasn’t terribly uncomfortable, just a bit cool throughout the entire ride.

I took Lampkins Ridge Road across the ridgetop before going into a long, bumpy descent. I always enjoy riding in this area and in the flat lowland at the bottom. Here I hit my first gravel, on Friendship Road.

We are having a strange fall — the trees are turning in stages more than usual. Many trees lost their leaves a week or more ago, but some are still completely green. Others look quite colorful. All this means we are having a less-spectacular fall than usual … but don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite beautiful.

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I was briefly back on paved roads. So far this was all familiar, but soon I turned onto Kent Road, where I’ve only ridden once, and that was in the opposite direction. Kent is partially paved and part gravel, and only has a few small hills, but even those small hills gave a good view of the neighboring fields. It also followed Salt Creek for a while. Just beautiful.

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Soon I made my way over to Lower Schooner Road, a new road to me. It followed the creek some more, climbed some small hills and soon, a bigger climb (~175 feet). Not a huge hill, but more than I expected. I only stopped a few times to take photos. I’ll have to go back sometime and take some more, especially of some higher views of the creek. But I was having too much fun to stop. The climb paid off in a fun descent on the other side.

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Next I had to go about a mile on State Road 46. This is a busy highway that I prefer to avoid, but there are times when there is no other way to get where you want to go. Traffic was really surprisingly light, and a bit of a shoulder gave me more room than I expected. It really wasn’t bad, but I was glad to turn off the highway and onto Yellowwood Road.

As you might guess, Yellowwood Road leads to Yellowwood State Forest and Yellowwood Lake. I had ridden on some parts of the road before, but not this part. The ride had been deceptively easy up to this point, but there were some good hills ahead of me. But it’s an incredibly beautiful area, and also where Sarah and I got married. We have wedding photos of us by the silo in the below shots.

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Past this point, the road turned to gravel. Once in the state forest, I had a couple more climbs, and then I stopped at one of the campgrounds to have a snack and get some water. I was only 16 miles into the ride, but this would be the only opportunity to fill my water bottles without having to filter water.

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I got back onto Yellowwood Road. Now I had a long climb up to Lanam Ridge Road. I’ve ridden here before a couple of times, so I knew it was doable, but it’s a wild ride; the road climbs for 3 miles or so, and even goes through a couple of creeks.

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Eventually, I made it. Right when I reached the top of the hill, I saw a deer across the street. I looked closer, and realized it was a young buck. I see deer quite frequently, but I almost never see a buck. Unfortunately, I missed that photo opportunity. Lanam Ridge Road has a couple hills, nothing too long but they are steep enough to make you work.

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Soon, I reached the gravel Dubois (pronounced “duh-boys”) Ridge Road. Here is where the climbing paid off. After a few rolling hills, the road went into an extended, twisty descent along the top of the ridge, sometimes skirting the edge of some deep ravines. I frequently hit 25-30 mph going down this hill, and on a gravel road, that feels a lot faster. At some point, the gravel turned into more of a muddy surface.

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I turned onto Green Valley Road, a new road for me. My plan was to take this to Bond Cemetery Road, and then take that back to State Road 46.

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However, my plans were foiled when the road reached a blocked-off, rickety old bridge with a sign that once read, “Closed to all traffic.” Some lawn chairs sat on the bridge, and it seemed like people had been there recently. I probably could have crossed safely, but I decided not to risk it — especially since I wasn’t even sure if the road would have gone through once I crossed the bridge. So, I had to take Green Valley back over to Dubois Ridge, instead. This excursion added a few extra miles — and a couple of extra climbs — to my ride.

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This wasn’t a problem, as I just wanted to head back down to SR 46 anyway. Really, this whole Yellowwood / Lanam Ridge / Dubois Ridge section was an extra loop tacked onto the route. I was glad I did it, but it could be cut out to make a shorter (but still quite challenging) route.

So, I took 46 again briefly, over to Crooked Creek Road, another gravel road through a different part of the state forest. It was flat for a while, and I watched a few wild turkeys running across a field. Soon, I reached a brutal climb. I stopped at the base and gawked at the hill.

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But that was just the beginning of it. The road rose sharply, then got steeper before it tapered off a bit. I thought that I had reached the end of the climb, but then the road got steeper once again. The grade let up and I thought I *must* have reached the top, when it got steeper a third time. The repeated teasing was physically and psychologically exhausting.

As soon as I reached the top, the road turned back down. I enjoyed the descent, and stopped when I reached Crooked Creek Lake. I rode up to the top of the dam to rest and eat some lunch. It was a truly beautiful spot for a break. I also took this opportunity to filter some water from the lake.

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After a rather long break, I got back on the bike. I passed some fields and hills, and reached an access point for Lake Monroe, with a great view.

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The road turned and became paved. The riding was deceptively flat for a mile or two, but then I reached a huge climb on Dewar Ridge Road / T.C. Steele Road. This one was paved, but quite steep. Then, the grade let up … and then got steeper. Having done the big climb on Crooked Creek Road not long ago, I was really hurting at this point. I knew the ride would be hard, but … man! Ouch. I normally try not to stop in the middle of a climb, but I really needed to this time.

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Once I reached the top and turned onto the somewhat-familiar Gilmore Ridge Road, I started playing through the rest of the ride in my head. I figured that I would only have one more big climb, near the end of the ride. There were some short, steep hills to contend with in the meantime, but there was only one extended climb remaining. I felt a sense of relief … but at the same time, sort of dreaded the last climb. I’d deal with that when I got to it. I hoped that I would get a bit of respite and feel refreshed by the time I got there.

I soon forgot about that climb though as I enjoyed an easy ride, rolling a ridgetop on a gravel road with some wonderful scenery.

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And, some logging, sadly.

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Soon, I reached McGowan Road.  I rode here recently, in the opposite direction, and it is possibly the hardest climb in the area. This time, I’d be riding down. Even that was difficult as the road surface was loose, chunky gravel, and there wasn’t much traction to be had. I rode the brakes and rode very slowly. I was afraid if I got going too fast, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Next came a few rolling hills, which were short, but some fairly steep. Once again, the loose gravel made things challenging.

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There were also some longer downhill sections, which were a lot of fun. Once I reached the bottom, I knew the road would be flat for a while. The scenery was absolutely fantastic, and the flat riding gave me a welcome break from riding hard.

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I reached paved roads again and rode a few fairly easy, flat miles.

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Finally, I reached the last big climb of the ride. It was long, and steep, but I made it. Now all I had left was about a mile of singletrack trail, and then a ride home through a few residential areas.

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As you can see, this was a truly stunning ride … one of my favorite rides in recent memory. The fall foliage, the remote gravel roads, and the hills made for some great scenery. And while the ride was very difficult, I never got frustrated with it — I was just glad to be out riding. I’ll definitely have to ride this route again sometime in the future, but it’s difficult enough that I doubt I’ll do it too often.

Sycamore Loop hike

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Sarah and I are getting back into hiking. The past couple of years, we’ve done a lot of hiking during the winter, but not much during other seasons, including fall. Since fall is both of our favorite season, it’s a shame we’ve done so little fall hiking. We’re trying to make up for it this year.

So on Saturday, we decided to do a long hike. It’s a trail we’ve done before (way back in May of 2007), the Sycamore Loop, in the Deam Wilderness found in Hoosier National Forest. Our hike, including an extra out-and-back jaunt to Terrill Ridge Pond, ended up being about 7.5 miles.


View 2009-10-17 Sycamore Loop in a larger map

The hike started with a brief section on a fire road before we picked up the Sycamore Loop Trail itself, which started on a ridge, but quickly descended into a valley and followed a creek for a while. All the while winding through mixed pine and hardwood forests … but to be sure, a lot more pines than you typically see in this area.

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We stopped to rest at one of several walk-in campsites along the way. This seemed to be the best of the designated sites as far as I could tell, in a large pine forest, by a creek, with lovely limestone outcroppings — but no one was using it. It was further back than the other sites, but not by that much. We had a snack and rested for a few minutes.

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We hiked on, the forest transitioned back to hardwoods and the trail turned upwards for a long, gradual climb back up to the ridge. Throughout this time, the trail either followed the top of the ridge, or skirted the edges of ravines. But the foliage was too thick to get any good photos … and really there wasn’t much of a view. This would be a good hike in the winter, if we can access the trailhead (the drive or ride there involves a 7-mile section of gravel road).

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We took another break by a creek to eat lunch and filtered some water from the creek. Then continued on our way.

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We passed a rather large group camping along the trail. They were noisy and disrupted our peaceful hike slightly, but we were soon past them.

The trail reconnected with the fire road, and I talked Sarah into walking down to a pond that we had found last time, Terrill Ridge Pond. Some people were camping there, so we didn’t stay long. It’s a beautiful spot … another place I wouldn’t mind camping sometime.

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By this time, we had about two miles of hiking along a ridge on the fire road back to the car. There were two climbs at the end of the road that we remembered being brutal from our previous hike there. However, since we are more seasoned hikers now, and after some of the monstrous climbs in Pennsylvania, these two hills felt easy. It’s funny how your perspective changes over time.

It was a wonderful hike. We were in great spirits the whole time and perhaps a bit chilly (we forgot to take into account that it was a lot cooler in the shady woods than it was at home), but otherwise we were mostly comfortable. We stopped at the 58 Cafe on our way back (where I ate on a recent bike ride). This place is awesome and very “authentic,” as we like to say (loaded with local characters and flavor). Let’s just say they have not one, not two, but THREE different types of pork tenderloin sandwiches (a Hoosier specialty) on the menu. We each had one, and they were delicious. It’s great to be able to get a tasty meal after a long hike.

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