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Hickory Ridge trails 17-15-16, in HNF

Monday, August 9th, 2010

I had a great weekend, with mountain biking both days. It had been far too long since my last mountain bike ride, and it felt great to get off the roads, away from traffic, and back in the woods. My friend Dave and I decided to check out trails 17, 15, and 16 in the Hickory Ridge trail network in Hoosier National Forest. Here’s a map of our ride.

HNF offers a great backcountry riding experience. While there, you have to be prepared for all kinds of possibilities. In the past, we’ve encountered horrendous mud, trails chewed up by horses, manure, erosion, loose chunky gravel, swarms of insects, etc. So I have learned to expect the unexpected.

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Our ride started off well enough; aside from a few issues with Dave’s cleats, our bikes were working great.

There was a bit of mud, but trail 17 soon took us into a nice climb. It was gradual at first, but got steeper as it went. Still, it remained ridable, except for a couple of boggy mud sections.

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Once on the ridgetop, enjoyed some very nice rolling terrain.

Soon we reached the intersection of trails 16 and 17. After consulting a paper map, the sign, and my GPS, we went right, thinking this would have us stay on trail 17, and ultimately take us to 15.

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We enjoyed some more rolling terrain, with some very fun twists and turns, and finally a little bit of downhill riding. The trail was rugged and we had to dodge debris, rocks, roots, and erosion, and hop a few logs. It was a great time.

But, the trail spit us out at a strange area with a couple of cabins, and a small pond. It was beautiful, but we realized we were in the wrong place. We found a nice shady spot to figure out where we were.

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We decided we needed to go back to the intersection. Apparently our right turn put us on something that’s not an official trail at all. It didn’t take us long to get back to the intersection, and we enjoyed this side excursion.

So, we were back on Trail 16 briefly, having a blast once again. The descent was wild, with a few switchbacks, steep sections, and plenty of technical challenges on the way down. Dave said this was “Quintessential Hoosier National riding” and I couldn’t agree more. Almost immediately after that, we came around a turn to find a shocking sight: a bulldozer was driving up the hill, tearing up the trail! We rode down, off to the side.

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I couldn’t believe my eyes. I guess this is supposed to be some sort of “trail maintenance?” Someone was with the guy who was driving the bulldozer. His wife, maybe? She was in a small cart down in the ravine.

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As we pressed on, we saw that Trail 15 had already been bulldozed completely. Instead of a trail, it was more of a one-lane gravel road. But, rather than normal gravel, the surface was several inches of soft gravel dust. On top of that were indentations from the treads of the bulldozer.  Naturally at this point the “trail” turned sharply upwards to climb out of the ravine. We climbed for over half a mile on this horrible stuff. The surface ranged from nearly unridable, to completely unridable.

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Eventually, the soft gravel dust turned into soft dirt. This was a slight improvement, I guess.

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After a while we looked at our maps and saw that we were nearly to the road. However, before we would get there the trail would dip down a couple hundred feet, only to climb immediately back up. We decided that rather than deal with that, we would turn around and go back down the way we came.

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Riding downhill on this dusty surface was more fun than I expected, once I got over the fact that the trail had been completely destroyed. We were mostly able to descend quickly, although we had to be extra careful not to wash out in the turns. As a bonus, the extra resistance from the soft surface meant we didn’t have to ride our brakes too much on the way down.

We found ourselves back in the creek bottom where we had seen the bulldozer before, but didn’t go right by it this time. We got on Trail 16, which would take us back to the car. Fortunately 16 was still a real trail.

We enjoyed some flat riding in the creek bottom for a while, with some enjoyable creek crossings.

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The trail went into an insane climb. I decided to try to ride it, even though looking at it, I didn’t think I’d make it. The climb was steep, but I thought I saw the top of the climb, and pushed up toward it. I was almost there!

… or so I thought.  As soon as I approached what I thought was the top, I saw more trail unfolding above me. Oh man! I was not ready for this. I pressed on, and on, and on. A couple of other times, I thought I was at the top only to see more climbing ahead. It was brutal. There were a couple of switchbacks along the way, but they did little to ease the steep grade.

I have no photos of this section, since I could barely even keep riding. But I made it to the top.

The trail was flat for a while, with maybe some gently rolling hills. But soon all the climbing would pay off, with nearly two miles of mostly-downhill riding. The downhill was pure bliss, the trail was on the edge of a ravine, with numerous twists and turns and minor ups and downs along the way. The trail surface was rough but in a good, challenging way, and my 29er soaked up a lot of the bumps. Dave was having a blast, too.

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Too soon, we were back at the car. I couldn’t believe this ride was just 11 miles. With all the road riding I’ve done lately, it’s easy to forget how much harder mountain bike miles are; those 11 miles took 2 1/2 hours!

At the same time, I’m in good shape and did better on a lot of the climbs than I expected. This was tough riding, but aside from the bulldozed parts, the ride was just a blast!

Stay tuned for an even better mountain bike ride from the next day.

5 Responses to “Hickory Ridge trails 17-15-16, in HNF”

  1. Dave Says:

    Why does this guy “Dave” always seem to be pushing his bike in your pictures? I bet you get tired of waiting on him. Your patience is to be commended…
    😉

  2. Apertome Says:

    Haha, not at all. There was just a lot of hike-a-bike that day. Plus, I can’t really take photos while I’m riding, so naturally the only time I can get them is when I stop. Which usually means I’m pushing too, or stopped to catch my breath.

  3. bill Says:

    Good putting faces to the blog in the Nebo parking lot Sunday. I was pumped to hear the route to Crooked Creek Road was ridable around the northeast end of Monroe – need to hit that before we get more monsoons. The bulldozer definitely stole some character from Trail 15 – but still some butt-kicking climbs to make. Good riding and great photos as usual!

  4. Apertome Says:

    Hey Bill, it was great meeting you too. Thanks for the kind words, I’m working on photos for the Nebo/Crooked Creek ride right now!

  5. Chandra Says:

    We got a kick out of the “Callahan Cemetery”!
    Gorgeous trail, I envy you (in a healthy way)!

    Peace 🙂

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