On Sunday, Tim (of Tex’s Luavull Cycling and River City Cycling Society fame) came up from Lousiville, Kentucky to spend the day riding in my area. Tim wanted to see some of the excellent gravel roads near Bloomington, and I was happy to oblige.
Tim arrived at my house around 9:00 am. After breakfast, coffee, and getting the bikes ready, we rolled out a little after 9:30. The route wound up being a little over 61 miles, about half gravel, with nearly 3600 feet of climbing. We were out riding for seven solid hours.
There was a chill in the air as we rode. The temperature was around 40 degrees. It was sunny, but also breezy. We took paved roads across some rolling hills to get across town, and headed out and away. The downhills were chilly, there’s no question about that. Within less than 10 miles, we rode along a narrow ridge with deep ravines on either side, and livestock dotting the hills.
Then, we hit our first unpaved surface. I had planned the route carefully, hoping for an impactful first encounter with the unpaved surfaces on offer. I think it’s safe to say that I succeeded. The first interesting terrain we hit was an insane, rocky, eroded descent down a bit of doubletrack. We hooted and hollered and swore our way down the hill, brakes clutched, trying to maintain some sort of traction. It was on.
Next, we rode earthen dams and mown grass trails across a wetland, where we had phenomenal views of fields, hills, and trees.
We reached doubletrack, which turned into gravel. We stopped by a favorite bridge over Salt Creek to take a breather, take photos, and compare bikes. Tim brought his Long Haul Trucker, so it was a two-Trucker ride.
We covered some more gravel, and spent a brief time on a highway, before hitting more gravel. This time the road had been recently graded and the loose gravel made for a rough ride. We barely noticed, though, as we were more interested in seeing more of the wetlands.
We rode past countless paths and trails that should, some day, be explored. We resisted the temptation to explore … until we saw this:
The allure of the doubletrack across this field was too much to resist. So, we didn’t. We rode across a couple of fields …
… before finding a new area where we basically rode out into a small portion of Lake Monroe. Small strips of earth took us out into the water until at one point, we were literally adjacent to a canoe. A moment later, three Great Blue Herons took off nearby. Just incredible!
Our detour looped around and took us back to the road we were on previously. Perfect! We continued on, over some rolling hills, and eventually, the enormous climb up Rogers Road. We hit a 23.5% grade … on loose gravel! It’s completely unrideable. I rarely walk a hill, but I walked a good portion of this one. Even if I had the strength to ride up it, I wouldn’t have had enough traction. It had warmed up a little bit by this point.
I was a little worried that this hill would cause some frustration, but Tim was in good spirits the whole time. I won’t say it’s fun pushing my bike up a hill like this, but it is an impressive sight to behold.
Tim was a pleasure to ride with. He was game for anything … I would not have blamed him a bit if he had complained about this extreme hill, or if he had not wanted to veer from the route to explore the wetlands more. But he was cool with all of it. And, we seemed to be well-matched in terms of riding style. We were both more concerned with seeing the scenery and the experience of the ride, than we were with making good time.
It had warmed up a bit by this point and we had shed some layers, but the chill in the air never quite went away, even though the temperature climbed to around 60. The breeze was just enough to make it feel cool. This is actually my favorite kind of riding weather … I prefer to be a bit cool, rather than overly warm. We had clear, blue skies, with literally not a single cloud. At a time of year when conditions can be unpredictable, we lucked out and they were perfect.
We swooped down a paved road and rolled on some flat paved and gravel roads for a while, eventually coming to Crooked Creek Lake for another break. This is a small, remote lake deep in Yellowwood State Forest. Sitting in the sun on the dam and having a snack was just the right thing at just the right time.
After resting for a couple of minutes, we had another large gravel climb; this one was ride-able, by which I mean “can possibly be ridden,” not that it was in any way easy. But immediately following that climb, the road immediately turned back down and we flew down off the hill.
Soon we had to spend a few more minutes on a highway … this was unpleasant and drivers were not particularly courteous, but thankfully it didn’t last long.
Next we had to ride through the northern half of Yellowwood State Forest, on Yellowwood Road, which is paved at first, but then changes to gravel. Here the ride took on a different character, with noticeably more wildflowers, glimpses of Yelllowwood Lake, creeks, and hills. We also had to ford a couple of creeks along the way.
We then had to ride across a hilly paved road, and finally descended toward Lake Lemon on the very lovely Salmeron Road. Once again wildflowers and fresh greenery were everywhere.
We rode across Lake Lemon on the causeway, and a Great Blue Heron swooped up right beside us, then around to the front of us.
We climbed up away from the lake and took a break at my friend Dave’s house. He wasn’t home, but he had left some ice water outside for us. What a guy!
From there, we rode back to Bloomington on State Road 45. Now, 45 isn’t usually too busy, and I almost never have problems with drivers there. But for some reason, on this day, traffic was a little heavier, and ruder, than usual.
Our pace slowed down a bit during this stretch; we had an interesting crosswind, and our legs were getting tired. Interestingly enough, the only foot pain I had started around mile 52 of the ride. It wasn’t enough to cause me to stop riding, but my foot was sending me a reminder that I had had surgery less than a month and a half before.
I had planned to avoid most of town, but I abandoned that plan so we could avoid some hills. We really did not need any more hills, at this point. Riding through town was a much better idea, and it worked out well.
The ride home was still a bit of a slog, but we made it. I couldn’t believe it was nearly 5:00 pm when we got home, given that we left at around 9:30 am. What a ride!
This is the kind of riding I love. Stopping to see the sights. Taking unexpected side trails. Encountering wildlife along the way. Not adhering to any schedule. Taking photographs along the way.
And, as much as I usually enjoy riding alone, it was great to have a like-minded rider this time around. Hopefully I’ll have another opportunity to ride with him soon … and maybe some other members of RCCS as well.