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Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part I

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

This weekend, Dave and I headed down to Hoosier National Forest for a camping trip. The trip was an absolute blast, and we did about 24 miles of mountain biking, and 6 miles of hiking. This report covers some of our activities on Saturday.

Arriving

We had planned on starting our trip on Friday after work, but something came up, so we pushed it back to Saturday morning.  This was not a problem at all, we’d still have plenty of time to do the activities we wanted. Dave picked me up Saturday morning and we headed down to Hoosier National Forest. We hit a snag trying to buy trail passes on the way there — the gas station where we stopped had run out — but we checked Crazy Joe’s Trading Post on Chapel Hill Road, and they had trail passes.

Hoosier National Forest has many campsites spread throughout the forest. Really you can set up camp just about anywhere, but there are some nice designated sites along the side of the gravel roads. We found a great spot by a towering, gnarly old Beech tree and some pines. Our nearest neighbors were about 1/4 mile away. This sure beats staying in a crowded campground.

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We parked the car and ate some lunch, then got ready to ride. We could set up camp later.

Saturday afternoon ride

Both of us had cleaned our bikes thoroughly before the ride. Both looked great — in fact, my mountain bike looked better than it had in a long time. That would not last long.

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View 2009-11-07 HNF MTB Camping Trip 1 in a larger map

We headed out on our bikes, right from the campsite. We rolled down some gravel roads before we reached our first trail. We decided to ride a part of Hickory Ridge Trail 18 that we’ve never ridden before.

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Immediately after we turned onto the trail, we hit deep mud, badly chewed up by horse traffic. Things improved shortly thereafter, but we after that, the trail conditions varied wildly. One moment we’d be speeding down relatively dry trail, the next we’d be mired in muck. And all of it had deep leaf cover, making it difficult to see where the trail went at times.

We followed the top of a ridge for a while, until the ridge ended and we rode steeply down into a ravine.

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The terrain is beautiful but very rugged in this area. We’d soon realize that the trail makes no attempt at taking an easier route across the land. We plunged into a ravine, crossed a creek, and climbed up the next hill. Then we went down the other side, and moved onto the next hill. The grades were steep — we had to push our bikes a lot — and the trails were incredibly muddy and suffering from horse damage in many areas.

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Another hill to climb

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This section of trail was in particularly bad shape

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Pushing through the mess

Not that the conditions surprised us. Part of the appeal of riding in Hoosier National Forest is the raw and natural experience.

As we crested another hill, we encountered some horse traffic. We spoke with some of the horseback riders, and I have to say, everyone got along very well. Sometimes encounters with horsemen are unpleasant … and there are certainly mountain bikers out there who don’t yield to the horses or are otherwise rude. But everyone we encountered was friendly and courteous. Some even complimented us on our chosen mode of transportation, impressed that we could ride these hills on bicycles. This lady took our pictures as she rode by; I grabbed my camera and snapped her photo. It’s really great to see different groups of trail users sharing the trails harmoniously.

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We turned on Trail 4, which was in somewhat better shape than 18 had been. This took us along another ridge, and down a hill, dumping us out on another gravel road.

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We passed Hickory Grove church/cemetery.

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By this time, the easier riding on a smooth gravel road gave us a welcome respite from the constant, intense effort of the trails. The leaf cover and mud meant that the trails required more work than usual. The road had some rolling hills, enough to have fun with, but no terribly grueling climbs.

Soon, we reached trail 2. We had ridden here once before, last year. Today things looked much different, with thick leaves covering the trail. This trail started with more great ridgetop riding, with much better trail conditions, followed by a long descent to a creek.

The mud in the creek bottom area was slick, slimy, and deep. After a few creek crossings and riding through mud, our tires got so muddy that the mud was rubbing our chainstays. We had to stop and clear some of the mud with a stick just to keep the wheels turning. We even tried to rinse the mud off in a creek. I also had mud between the pulleys in my rear derailleur. I think the mud was so deep that my derailleur got submerged in it.

It may sound like I’m complaining, but through all this, the scenery remained incredibly beautiful. And while the mud made the riding more challenging, it was a lot of fun.

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The trail through a couple more big hills at us, once again just going up and over one hill, then onto the next. And once again, we had to push our bikes up parts of the hills. They were just too steep to ride up, especially since traction wasn’t exactly ideal.

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Eventually, we turned onto trail 6 and headed back to the gravel road we’d ridden here. We enjoyed a few more miles of rolling hills on smooth gravel, before turning onto another road, this one with chunky, loose gravel.  At this point in the ride, that wasn’t what either of us needed. The rough gravel made riding very difficult. But, eventually, we turned onto another smooth gravel road and before long, we were back at our campsite. We had covered a bit over 16 miles in about four hours.

Setting up camp

Once back at our campsite, we changed into some clean clothes and talked about the ride over a beer. Our bikes, which had been clean just a few hours before, were now a complete mess.

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The same could be said about me …

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Sitting there, I looked up and noticed the awesome trees overhead.

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We set up camp, and gathered some kindling for later.

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We enjoyed watching the sun set, and had a snack …

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… and darkness fell. We heard some owls calling to each other. And then a screech, and more hooting. One of them had caught something. We couldn’t see them but they couldn’t have been far from our campsite.

Night had fallen, but we weren’t done yet. We gathered our bike gear and headed out for a night ride.

To be continued …

3 Responses to “Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part I”

  1. Dave Says:

    Great recap of an awesome weekend. Can’t wait to see the other pics! Thanks for documenting our trip so well – it’s fun to have a record of it!

  2. Bob & Pat Gregoire Says:

    As usual, we marvel at Michael’s seemingly total recall of the event! Enjoy the narrative and the pictures, and wonder how you have the stamina to keep going!

  3. Ear to the Breeze » Blog Archive » Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part II Says:

    […] this is Part II of a three-part series. Read Part I here. Part III will be […]

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