Experimental music, photography, and adventures

McGowan Road exploration

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Recently, my wife and I were near the North Fork State Wildlife Refuge/Waterfowl Resting Area around McGowan Road, and the signs there reminded me that this area closes from October 1 to April 15. I’ve ridden in this area a few times before, and each time, it’s been incredible. Most times I have just ridden through the area on gravel roads. But there are many earthen dams snaking through the area, and each time, I swear I’m going to go back soon to explore some of the dams more. So when I realized the area was about to close for the winter, I suddenly had a pressing need to explore the dams and fields before they close. Here’s a map of my ride.

The Wildlife Refuge area has become less accessible to me since we moved back in February. With the shorter days, I had to plan ahead a bit so I could leave directly from work. It wasn’t a big deal, and it worked out great. I brought the Trucker into the office so I could keep an eye on it. I normally lock it outside, but I put on a handlebar bag and some lights, and I wanted to keep my eye on them.  It was cool to be able to keep an eye on my bicycle, but it was sitting there taunting me all day. It was highly tempting just to jump on and ride away.

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On my way across town I rode with another rider, who had a very cool Trek Portland (though his was brown, unlike the current model), and we talked about touring. He’s thinking about doing a short tour down in Kentucky and trying to hit up all the bourbon distilleries down there. Sounds great to me! I hope I run into him again.

After riding with him for a while, he turned toward home and I rode away from town.  A few rolling hills and a long flowing descent later, I hit my first gravel road, Friendship Road.

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We’re having drought conditions. With less rain than usual in July, and very little in August and September, this creek was very low. Normally the water level is much higher and it’s a strong-flowing creek.

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Soon I spent a few minutes on a highway before turning back onto the gravel McGowan Road. Not long after I turned on McGowan, I saw a very rough trail of sorts and decided to see where it led.

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The trail opened up to a vast field, these are typical in the Wildlife Refuge. At this point the riding was across rough mown paths.

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As with some other recent rides, the light was amazing throughout this ride, with the sun low in the sky, producing an orange glow and casting long shadows.

After riding around in the fields a bit, I found a gravel maintenance road and followed it. At one point, it went near Salt Creek and I could see across the creek to Friendship Road on the other side, where I had come from. As I was looking across, a Great Blue Heron took flight and I watched it swoop up out of the creek. It was a breathtaking scene. As I stood and watched, slack-jawed, I didn’t even think to turn on my camera. Whoops.

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I really enjoyed riding the Long Haul Trucker for a change. It has mostly been relegated to commuting duty lately, but it was wonderful to take my country bike out in the country again. I hardly even noticed the few extra pounds in my pannier/handlebar bag that I took for this longishg, backcountry ride.

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Eventually, the trail looped back around and I ended up back on McGowan Road. I continued on down the road. The light, and the scenery, just got better and better. The road surface was rather rough, loose gravel. Harder than the last time I was here, but still doable.

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Soon I turned off onto another field by way of some great doubletrack. Tim and I rode here back in April and it was just as good this time around. I went further this time, and really saw some gorgeous scenes.

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Some of the riding was on earthen dams. Normally these fill with water and form a wetlands environment, but everything is just so dry this year that there was no water at all in most parts. In a way, this was fortunate, as it was more conducive to riding, but still …

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Other parts did have water.

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It’s not obvious from the photos, but I did see lots of birds throughout much of this ride. Flocks of geese, herons, turkey vultures, hawks, etc. I brought some binoculars and watched some of them, but for the most part, they were too far away to get photos of them.

I found a few interesting water access points to Lake Monroe/Salt Creek.

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I did manage to get a shot of this turkey vulture as he soared above me.

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Unfortunately I was feeling a bit of a rush to see everything I wanted to see before it got dark. But it seemed I’d go 1/4 mile or so and another incredible scene would open up before me, forcing me to stop and take another photo … or two, or three …

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The trail got rougher, and the sun was nearly setting. I got a little off track from where I wanted to be, but then again, this was an exploratory trip. I kept moving though as I had a spot in mind to watch the sunset.

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Soon I reached the area I had in mind. Oddly, a tractor was running and as I approached I could see it was pumping water from one pool, into another. Indiana University does some research out here and I know they manage the water level to a certain extent, so I think that’s what was going on.

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I made my way over the huge hose and onto another side trail to see what I could see.

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The sun cast a warm glow over the hills, the peaks casting shadows on the lower parts of the hills. In the wetland below I saw many geese and a few herons, as well. Through my binoculars, I could see them clearly and I watched as a few geese mulled around, and a couple of herons took flight. Meanwhile out of the corner of my eye, a family of deer came out to graze but didn’t stay long. I may have spooked them, or maybe they moved on for some other reason. It was very difficult to get photos of all of this, my little point and shoot camera just isn’t up to the task. If I had brought my DSLR, I could have captured the images better, but I think binoculars were the best way of watching these events unfold.

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By this time, the sun had nearly set. I turned around took make my way over to the road, which was not far from me.

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But I didn’t make it far. I was distracted again by the still-setting sun.

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Eventually, I pressed on.

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I made it back to the main road before it got completely dark. This was my goal — it’d be difficult to navigate the meandering mown paths through the fields in the dark.

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While still on McGowan Road, I switched my lights on. I’d ride the last 45 minutes home in the dark. Admittedly, I was a little nervous about this part of my ride. I’ve done a lot of night riding, but it’s mostly been offroad. A few of my on-road attempts have been frustrating because of rude drivers. Fortunately, much of the return trip would still be on quiet country roads.

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As I neared town, traffic picked up a little, but remained relatively light.

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This time around, drivers were courteous and I didn’t encounter any problems at all on the way home. My lights were not really bright enough at times, but I managed fairly well nonetheless.

I got home around 8:40 pm. Having left work shortly after 5:00, this was a long post-work ride by my standards, at over 30 miles, some on rough terrain. I’m very glad I made an effort to get out on the Wildlife Refuge trails before it was too late! Next year, I will explore this area more. Fortunately while the trails are closed for the winter, the gravel roads are still open, so I don’t have to wait until spring to go back.

10 Responses to “McGowan Road exploration”

  1. Bill Lambert Says:

    Wow, that’s a great apre commute ride home! Is that thing attached to the top of your top tube the battery for your light? How long does your battery provide light? My battery lasts for only about 1 1/2 hrs.

  2. Apertome Says:

    Bill, yes, that’s the battery pack. It actually takes four C batteries. One set is supposed to last 25 hours, but I haven’t timed it to see if that’s accurate. At any rate, they last quite a long time. I also used my headlamp, which only lasts about 1.5-2 hours. It was starting to blink as I got home, which is it it telling me the batteries are getting low. I took extra batteries with me, just in case.

  3. Chris Says:

    Another great adventure story. Since your exploration rides are so numerous, I’m curious about how you discover places to explore. Are your targets the result of map study, referrals, or something else?

  4. Steve A Says:

    Why have you had trouble with rude drivers in the dark?

  5. Tim S Says:

    Just like in the Spring, I love that area. Good to see you out scouting around. And of course, you found it in that “magical hour” camera-wise.

    I’d love to get back up there again, I guess it’s it’s fully open.

  6. Apertome Says:

    Chris: all of the above. This particular location I had ridden by, almost by chance, initially, but after that I was shown around on the Friendship Road part by Mitch Rice, a local recumbent bike blogger who is familiar. I’ve now explored the McGowan side a bit more, but there is much more to discover. In other cases I explore areas I find in the map, or I modify routes from the local club.

    Steve: I think that I have just had a few bad experiences with drivers at night that have made me a bit hesitant to ride at night. I’m beginning to think they were really just isolated incidents, but it’s hard to say. I can’t really find a pattern, but in general it does seem like drivers are more impatient when it’s dark. Sort of counter-intuitive, but that’s what I’ve experienced.

    Tim: Yes, I need to explore more. Time slipped away from me for a while, I couldn’t believe it when I realized our ride was in April and I hadn’t been back since!

  7. bill Says:

    Hey Michael – it doesn’t look like the map for this ride made it online. I was trying to follow your route and kind of think I see where you were – any chance you have the map to post? You know I’m always looking for fresh rides! Thanks!

  8. Apertome Says:

    Bill: Sorry about that, I’m not sure what happened. An earlier draft had the map, but apparently it disappeared. I put the map back in the post.

  9. Myles/ rattrappress Says:

    I sure enjoy these virtual bike rides. By the way, that’s a cool jersey you’ve got on.

  10. bill Says:

    Outstanding! Thanks for getting the map back up and running. I’ve never come toward the wildlife refuge from the west – awesome route, great pics and ride report.

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