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Archive for August, 2010

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.

Rethinking the Brooks

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

For a long time, I loved my Brooks B17 leather saddle. Lately, it’s becoming less comfortable, and less practical.

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Here are the problems I’m having.

  • The leather is sagging. I’ve tried tensioning. I’ve tried lacing up the sides. I can make some improvements, but it’s not enough. The saddle simply isn’t as comfortable as it was when I got it. I will probably try tensioning it more, but at this point I am resigned to the possibility that the saddle may never be as comfortable as it once was.
  • The dye has started to stain my clothes. I wouldn’t care if I only wore bike shorts on the Long Haul Trucker, where the Brooks resides. But I commute on that bicycle. I have to be able to wear normal clothes on it without staining. I have been riding with the saddle cover on, but this scuffs up the surface of the saddle, and it’s not as comfortable.
  • If it rains, I have to worry about whether the saddle is covered, or make sure the bike is indoors. For a commuting bicycle, this isn’t very practical.
  • I can’t seem to get the saddle angle set correctly. The angle I need changes as the leather stretches. I realize this could be rectified with a better seatpost, but given all the other problems I’m having, I can’t justify spending money on a new seatpost. It’d be money much better spent on a new saddle.

Maybe I’m asking too much. I’ve put somewhere around 8,000 miles on this saddle. But, I have read stories of people who use their Brooks saddles for decades. I can’t understand how that can possibly work, given the issues I am having. Am I doing something wrong? Or, maybe I’m just too heavy to expect more than this? Would a “normal” saddle last longer?

Meanwhile, the synthetic saddle on the Bianchi is working great. I had only minimal discomfort during a couple of century rides, and the Ride Across Indiana. I don’t have to worry about getting it wet, or staining anything. Maybe it’s time to get another saddle like that one. It doesn’t look nearly as good, and doesn’t have the same appeal, but I’m starting to think it’s more practical.

For what it’s worth, that saddle is a Selle Italia X2.

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I should point out that the Brooks normally gets ridden in normal clothes, whereas the I usually have bike shorts on when I ride the Selle Italia.

Despite its recent problems, I seem to have a certain, irrational attachment to the Brooks. It’s served me very well until recently, and I’ve been very reluctant to give it up. When I bought it, I felt like I was buying much more than just a comfortable saddle. I loved the idea behind the leather saddles, the entire aesthetic, the workmanship, etc. I like the way the bag goes with the saddle, and it all goes with the bike. I like the way the saddle ages, as if it has stories to tell.

The Selle Italia is just a fairly comfortable saddle, nothing more.

What should I do?

Williams Covered Bridge

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

I wanted to go for a good long ride on Saturday. The club was doing a century route I’d very much like to ride, but I decided I didn’t want to ride *that* far, and I wanted to ride at my own pace. So, I settled on riding to the Williams Covered Bridge (another route devised by the club) on my own. I rode this route once before nearly two years ago and very much enjoyed it. From our old apartment, it was over 70 miles. From our house the ride ended up being around 65 miles. Here’s a map.

I intended to get an early start to beat the heat. However, I’m not a morning person, and slept in a little bit. By the time I ate breakfast and got ready, it was nearly 11:00 am. Oh well!

I spent most of the first 11 miles or so on Old State Road 37. The part close to town was repaved recently and now has some of the smoothest asphalt around.

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The pavement wasn’t as new outside of town, but the scenery was better.

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Old 37 is pleasant, but not terribly interesting most of the way. I was feeling rather sluggish for the first hour so. I was also trying a new (to me) sports drink, Accelerade, and it wasn’t sitting very well with me. The taste was bad, and it seemed rather heavy. When I stopped at a gas station I finished off the Accelerade and filled my bottle with PowerAde instead. I ate an oatmeal cream pie and some chips.

Eventually, I reached Judah and turned off the old state highway and onto back roads. McFadden Ridge Road was great, with some rolling hills, ridgetop riding, and a great descent.

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Soon I was at Salt Creek, which feeds into Lake Monroe.

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The road followed the flat creek bottom briefly, near a quarry.

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I rode back up into the hills on Peerless Road, which had quite a few hills.

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I passed some sort of odd gas station/park.

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Soon I was in Bedford, known as “limestone capital of the world.” I thought about finding a place here to eat lunch, as it would be the biggest town I’d pass through until I got home. But I wasn’t really hungry yet, and I knew there was a place to go in Williams, or at least there had been two years ago.

In Bedford, the route took me on a four-lane road for a while, which concerned me a bit but there was almost no traffic. In fact, it was almost eerily deserted.

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I stopped at a gas station on the opposite side of Bedford to refuel. While there, I spoke with a friendly clerk who was intrigued by what I was doing.

Soon I was back on the road and headed toward Williams.

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By this time, it was really warming up. Actually I think the high temp for the day wasn’t too bad — mid-80s — but the humidity was high and I was sweating profusely. I remembered this part of the ride being pretty hilly, but I hoped it would be easier this time around. It was just as hilly as I remembered, and there was very little shade. Up until recently, the ride had been fairly overcast, which was a pleasant change from the very bright days we’ve had. But now the sun was coming out, and it made the exposed hills harder.

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Somewhere around here, a motorcyclist passed me and waved as he passed.

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Thankfully, it wasn’t all hills. There were some flat sections intertwined with hilly ones.

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You really can’t tell at all from the photos, but in the two below there are hundreds, if not thousands, of butterflies, fluttering across this field.

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Soon I approached Williams. A recreation area flanked the White River’s East Fork.

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I rode up the hill into town.

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In a few minutes I was through town and the motorcyclist from before came out of the parking lot for the recreation area. He must have gone down to get a closer look and then come back out. I think he was surprised I caught up with him. You can sort of see him below, disappearing into the distance once again.

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I guess I was on the outskirts of Williams, because I kept seeing signs.

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Soon, I approached the bridge.

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When I arrived, the guy on a motorcycle was there, looking around. He turned around and headed back, and said, “You made great time!” I think he was surprised that I kept catching up with him.

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The other end of the bridge has a lot of graffiti.

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A new bridge is being constructed a bit down from this one. I’m sure it will lack the character of this beautiful wooden bridge. I hope they’ll keep this bridge intact for pedestrians/cyclists, I think I read somewhere that they plan to do just that, but I’m not sure.

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After checking out the bridge, I rode back into Williams.

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Once back in Williams, I stopped for lunch at Pinnick’s Country Store and Cafe, which has a very nice view.

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When I rode down here last time, there were very few people there. This time I walked in and people were seated at tables, eating and talking. I felt a lot of eyes on me as I walked in in full cycling gear. After a few minutes I felt more relaxed as people went back to what they were doing.

An older man later struck up a conversation. He must have been the owner, or something. I was looking at some photos and he pointed out their old store, which was falling apart and cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and too expensive to maintain. So they built a new store, the one I was in.

I had intended to simply buy a few food items and leave, but I decided to sit and eat. I ordered a ham sandwich and some tea. A few minutes later, my food was ready. I had a HUGE sandwich, and chips, and iced tea … all for $4. I wish I had brought my camera into the store, it was quite a place. Overall Williams, while tiny, had a lot of appeal.

But, it wasn’t all charm.

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After lunch, I got rolling again. I had to backtrack a bit before turning off on some smaller back roads.

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The roads remained quite hilly, and the heat was getting to me a bit. I took my time, and did fine. At this point I realized I was only about halfway through my ride. It’d be a long one …

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What could have been a very long stretch of road was broken up nicely as I rode through a couple of small towns. First Fayetteville, and later Springville.

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After I passed Fayetteville, the road remained quite hilly but had some very nice views on offer.

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Somewhere between Fayetteville and Springville, a couple of emergency vehicles passed me. I wondered what was going on. Soon enough, I’d find out, as I came across the site of a bad accident.

It appeared two cars headed in opposite directions had collided head-on. EMS were already present and helping. One girl was carried out of her car on a back board. A man sat in the other car and they put a neck brace on him. I waited for a few minutes, and one of the emergency personnel suggested I go ahead and go through. There was plenty of room between the cars that had crashed, but I had to pick up my bike to avoid all the broken glass.

I have to admit, I was a bit shaken by the accident. My guess is, one or both drivers were over the center line when they went around a blind curve, so they collided. There were a lot of curves and hills on this road, and it’s easy to see how something like that might happen. Having an accident like that happen along my route just as I was riding on it was more than enough to make me think how lucky it was that I hadn’t ridden a little faster, or taken a shorter lunch break. Yikes.

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The sky was growing cloudier, and it seemed like it might rain. Soon, I arrived in Springville and I stopped to top off water bottles and eat something else. It had only been 12 miles since my last stop, but I didn’t think I’d have another opportunity before I got back to Bloomington.

After Springville, things were a little more familiar, and very beautiful. The road climbed gradually for a little while. The clouds grew more ominous, and I thought I felt a few raindrops a couple of different times.

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Eventually there was a bigger climb and by this time I was feeling quite sluggish. It was a tough hill, and even easy hills were difficult from this point on.

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A little more rain fell, but never more than a few drops. I stopped to take in a couple of views.

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Before long I was back in town, by way of Victor Pike. This meant I had a great downhill, and a couple of climbs. By the time I got home I had ridden around 65 miles. After all the long rides I’ve done recently, I thought this ride would feel short, but it really didn’t. 65 hilly miles is still a hard ride!

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