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Archive for November, 2009

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 …

A great fall mountain bike ride at Brown County State Park

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

On Sunday, I decided it was time for a good mountain bike ride. I haven’t done a whole lot of mountain biking this year, and I have missed it. I headed over to Brown County State Park, where I rode most of the trails. Here’s a map.


View 2009-11-01 BCSP MTB pool to campground & back in a larger map

I started out on the newest trail, the Pine Loop. This is a very fun trail, but it was very muddy. Within the first 10 minutes of my ride, my legs were coated with mud, and my feet were wet and chilly. I think this trail is particularly muddy because it’s still fairly new. Eventually, the trail surface will get packed down like the other trails, and will drain much better. I don’t think I did any damage to the trail — there was just a layer of greasy mud on top; aside from a few mud pits, I wasn’t leaving tire treads.

I stopped after the pine loop to adjust my saddle. I had realized on the last ride I did on that bike that I spent a lot of time riding too far forward on the saddle. I figured I should move the saddle forward to a better position. This worked very well for me. I was pushing a bit of a higher gear than usual, not sure if that was due to the saddle placement, or if it was more of a conscious change in my riding style.

Whatever it was, it worked. I found myself climbing better, and generally riding a little faster.

I went the short way around the North Tower and Aynes Loops, where high water made a few creek crossings¬† especially tricky and fun. Then, I immediately headed up Hesitation Point. This is about a two-mile climb, often along the edge of a ravine, and some parts are fairly technical. I did better than I expected. This climb used to be only marginally doable for me, but I have improved a lot. I still have to walk a few technical features, but it’s a lot more doable (and more fun!) than it used to be.

Eventually, I made it to the top and stopped at the Hesitation Point vista for a break. I also broke out the camera for the first time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re having a weird fall. The trees are turning in stages, moreso than usual. This late in the season, most of the leaves had fallen, but the red and orange trees had just reached their peak they really stuck out as I gazed across the landscape. Another rider rode by at an opportune moment.

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I headed out on the Walnut Trail. This one typically gives me a lot of trouble; parts are technical, and I have not ridden it as much as the other trails. But, pushing a higher gear, I did better on the technical stuff. By keeping my speed up, I was able to power over rocks and roots better than usual. I cleared some things on this trail that I’ve never cleared before. Again, though, there were parts I had to walk. You really have to be careful on this trail because it’s not very wide and it skirts the edge of a deep ravine. And the leaf cover made it harder to see the rocks, and harder to get enough traction. Still, I felt great about how I was riding.

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Next was the Limekiln Trail. This is just a roller coaster through the woods, with some great opportunities to catch some air. I normally prefer to keep both wheels on the trail, but this trail is just too much fun. Once I reached the end, I was at the end of the Brown County mountain bike trail system. I took a break and filled up on water, before heading back. Between this ride at the Secret Night Ride, my bicycle was absolutely caked in mud. It needs a bath, badly.

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I turned around and headed back, more or less the way I came. I did even better on the Walnut Trail on the return trip — I think it’s generally a little easier in that direction. It felt great to see some improvement on this trail.

Once back at Hesitation Point, I had to take another photo. The view looked even better than before.

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On my way back, I cleared almost everything on the Hesitation Point trail. There’s one dropoff that I know I can ride, but since I was out riding alone, I decided not to risk it.

I really enjoyed being out mountain biking again. And riding a different set of trails than usual helped keep things interesting. Now I need to wash my mountain bike; Dave and I are doing a camping trip this weekend that should include some epic riding, and I want the bike to be in top form.

Halloween night hike

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

On Halloween, I suggested to Sarah that we should do something a little different: a night hike. This was the first night hike we’ve done, so we weren’t really sure if we’d like it, or if it would be too creepy. But it was Halloween, and the moon was nearly full; I figured doing something a little creepy would be fun. We went over to Yellowwood State Forest to hike the Jackson Creek trail. We hiked this trail on our wedding day.

It’s just a short trail, a mile and a half, or maybe a little less. The moonlight was so bright that I turned my flashlight off for most of the hike. We have done this trail several times before, and it was very interesting to see it in a different light (so to speak).

The air was cool and crisp. We trod upon a bed of leaves, which both softened our step and hid rocks and roots, which sometimes attempted to make us trip. I spotted a rabbit, and we heard coyotes yipping in the distance. We marveled at the brightness of the moon, and the shadows it cast. We smelled pine trees, and crossed creeks in the dark. We held hands and walked down this familiar path, through these woods that mean so much to us, completely alone together. We had the forest to ourselves. We turned our lights off and stood arm-in-arm under the moonlight. It was perfect. But, it was over too soon.

Suffice it to say, we really liked it. I’m not sure we’ll do night hikes all the time, but there’s very little I enjoy as much as being out in the woods with my wife, and it’s great that we keep discovering new ways of doing just that.

After our hike, I wanted to try a few long exposures. Night photography is difficult, and I had some real problems, mainly with focusing. I need to work on it. But, here are a few shots anyway. I think the second shot may have Venus in it. Thanks to Sarah for being patient as I fiddled with my camera in the dark, even though it was getting cold.

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