Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Snowy mixed terrain in Hoosier National Forest with RCCS

Monday, December 13th, 2010

On Sunday, four hardy souls gathered in Norman, Indiana to set out on a 42-mile mixed-terrain ride through snow and ice. The temperature stayed fairly steady at around 20 degrees for the entire ride, but with some strong winds, it felt much colder.

Rider Dossiers


Info: Author of Tex’s Luavull Cycling, co-founder of River City Cycling Society (RCCS), bicycle commuter, has a serious love of gravel.

Bike: Cannondale 29er with WTB Exiwolf tires

David C

Info: Author of fatguy.org (even though he isn’t), other founding father of RCCS, bicycle commuter, coffee lover, offbeat guy who likes to freak people out by wearing jeans to a ride.
Bike: Surly Long Haul Trucker with studded tires


Dave G
Info: Inveterate mountain biker; enjoys indoctrinating others into the sport. Has been plagued with knee problems. Can he push through anyway?
Bike: Cannondale Prophet with IRC FreedomCross tires

Michael (me)
Info: Apertome.com author, enjoys rides of all kinds. Bicycle commuter. Possesses a (yet-unfulfilled) hankering for a pork tenderloin sandwich.
Bike: Fuji Tahoe 29er with Maxxis Ignitor tires


Illustrated Ride Report

We headed out from Norman, IN at around 10:00 am. We started on paved roads with just a little snow. All of us were on mountain bikes with knobby tires, except for David C, who rode his Long Haul Trucker with studded tires.It had rained the day before and then the temperatures dropped and some snow fell.ย It was tough to predict what the conditions would be like.


Within a few minutes, we hit gravel. There was a bit more snow on the gravel roads. We followed a ridgetop for a while, before going into a steep descent.



Just moments after I warned the others that the hill was going to get very steep, it did just that. I must have grabbed my front brake a little bit, because right then, less than four miles into the ride, I went down, landing flat on my face. Looking at the GPS data suggests I was going about 15 mph when I fell. I slid a ways on the snowy gravel road. It took me a moment to collect myself and stand up. When I did, my foot nearly slipped out from under me. It turns out, there was a layer of ice under the snow, that you couldn’t see at all.

I couldn’t see my own face, so the other guys had a look. They said my nose had some superficial scratches, and my cheek was swollen, but nothing looked too serious. Tim took a photo of me so I could see the damage.


I felt a bit shaken, but overall, OK. Tim offered to call the ride off, right then and there, but I wanted to ride on. So, after I regained my composure, and let some air out of my tires, we did.


Fortunately for me, the descent was basically over. Normally I wouldn’t be excited about the end of a downhill, but after that incident, I was feeling awfully paranoid about any descents for the rest of the ride. My confidence was shaken.

We rode through a couple of creeks and immediately started a climb. I felt pretty good during the climb. It’s a long climb, but it wasn’t too steep until the very end.


Then it was flat riding, with perhaps some rollers in the mix. A couple of beautiful pine forests were quite scenic.


For a while, we were also riding on soft, sparkly virgin snow. You can sort of see the sparkle in the photo below, but it doesn’t do it justice. This section was bliss.


Next was a long flowing downhill that is normally a lot of fun. I still enjoyed it, but I went very, very slowly. I couldn’t seem to shake my trepidation, so I just took my time. The others waited for me at the bottom.


We stopped for a shot of this beautiful grassy field, and the intersection of two ridges behind it. It’s funny, Tim took almost exactly the same photo.


We rode on paved roads again for a bit. The sky looked amazing. Thick grey clouds, but with a few openings for the sun to poke through. There was even a spot of blue sky.


Unfortunately I wasn’t really paying attention to my GPS, and we overshot our turn by about a mile. We took that opportunity to snack and adjust layers. ย When we got back on course, we had another long climb but once again it wasn’t as bad as it seemed the last time I was there. Tim and I rode ahead a bit. It was hard to stay warm unless we kept moving.

Here is my ride for the day, my Fuji Tahoe 29 mountain bike. It performed quite well. The disc brakes were nice to have, and the suspension fork soaked up some of the bumps. My wipeout was my fault, not the bike’s.


Tim also rode a 29er, his a Cannondale. He was testing a Jones Loop Bar and seemed to like it, though he said he would adjust the angle before the next ride. Also new were the platform pedals and saddle bag. This was the bike’s maiden voyage in this gravel-grinder configuration. A very nice ride.


I guess I didn’t get a shot of the Daves’s bicycles, but they have been documented here before. Around this time, Tim commented that it was getting dark and the clouds much denser than before. Would it snow soon?

Here are the Daves, coming up the hill.


Now we had some flat riding, and another long downhill. Once again I kept my speed extremely low on the descent.


The road surface played tricks on my mind. Here we had rough gravel with a thin layer of snow. It didn’t look too terribly different from a clean white gravel road, so I nearly forgot about the snow. It was hard to discern what was just gravel, what was snow, and what was ice. Fortunately there wasn’t much ice, but knowing there was some out there was enough to slow me down.



We rode by a beautiful rock wall.



And the road followed a creek for quite a while. Beautiful.


We rode on pavement for a while.



The snow picked up, gradually at first …




… but for the rest of the ride, it was just snow harder and harder. The apparent vignetting in my shots is actually snow on my camera lens.







Eventually we reached the small town of Houston, where we took a break in the middle of the road, without getting in the way.



Once past Houston, things got gnarlier. More hills. More wind. More snow.



And, Dave G’s knee started acting up. You can see him stretching it out in the background below.


At some point the road turned to gravel. There were times when I couldn’t tell if there was pavement or gravel under the snow. Not that it made a lot of difference, at that point. We entered another beautiful wooded area.


And, we started a very long climb. Looking at the map beforehand this didn’t look so bad. Being there on the ground, in the snow, it was brutal.




There were some nice views of a ravine beside us, poorly captured here.






At some point we had to make a decision: should we return through the National Forest, or take the “easier” way, the highway. Dave G’s knee wasn’t doing well. We opted for the highway.




Unfortunately, this didn’t end up being easy at all. The snow was picking up, as was the wind. There were more hills on State Road 58 than we realized. We faced four miles into strong winds on the open road, with snow blowing all around, so visibility was poor.


Here you can get an idea of my mental and physical state. Bloody face, snow on my eyebrows despite my glasses, just determination to get back. Also apparently my cap was very askew.


And here comes Tim. We rode ahead of the Daves, out of sheer necessity. We were desperately trying to keep warm at this point. I was mostly OK except my feet had gotten very cold, even though they had been fine most of the ride up to this point.


I won’t say this part was fun, but it was an adventure, and the scenery was stellar.


As soon as we climbed the killer hill back to Norman and arrived back at the parking lot, we looked back to see a snow plow come up the hill, right behind us. We just missed the luxury of a plowed road. We later learned that the Daves had to jump out of its way. They pulled up just a few minutes later.

We intended to all catch a meal together after the ride, but both of the local options were closed. Damn.

I can’t speak for Tim and David C, but Dave G and I had very interesting trips home. The snow just kept coming down and the roads were terrible. Particularly disconcerting were the cars strewn about the ditches right by the Lake Monroe causeway. But, everyone made it home safely, it just took a while.

This was a truly great ride. The conditions basically guaranteed an epic experience, but the group of riders was just phenomenal and made the adverse conditions a lot of fun.

As for my injuries, I’m feeling worse today than I was yesterday, mostly in the form of a headache and a sore neck. Hopefully those problems will take care of themselves. Also, I will be buying a new helmet, just to be on the safe side. Mine is old anyway.

17 Responses to “Snowy mixed terrain in Hoosier National Forest with RCCS”

  1. Scott Loveless Says:

    Kudos to you, sir, for only using the word “epic” once. If it were a Rapha write-up, they would have said it about a dozen times, just to make sure everyone understood that the ride was, in fact, epic. I was thinking it halfway through yours, though, without being told. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Excellent photos, superb camaraderie, fresh snow – what would be better? My only gripe? I wasn’t there.

  2. Apertome Says:

    Scott, you are hereby officially invited to join us next time!

  3. Chris Says:

    Sorry to hear about the crash. I didn’t realize you guys were so hard core. What’s next, Iditarod?

    Loved the photos.

  4. David Crowell Says:

    I love the dossier format. Very cool. Very nice photos too. Again, thanks for planning this amazing ride.

    Your wife didn’t give you too much grief over the “plastic surgery” did she? ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Tim S Says:

    Chris, I was one of the 4 and what will *not* be next for me is Iditarod, Arrowhead 135, the DDD or any of those other crazy-ass winter rides. I met the edge just before my limit and I’m happy to not need to return to it. The 4th pic from the end, just before Michael’s “hat ajar” pic, encapsulates the last 45min of that ride. White out, cold and just plain brutal.

    Fun as hell, though! Great pics Michael. Some of the forest “mood” pics do the entire endeavor justice.

    p.s. And the pics of the Jones bar give me great info. It’s obvious that my position was too bent over. I look uncomfortable and sometimes I was. I have to jack those bars up some, and find a shim to keep them there.

  6. David Crowell Says:

    I probably would be foolish enough to try the Iditabike. They’d find my body in the Spring thaw…

  7. Bill Lambert Says:

    The dossier gives this post an original “Mission Impossible” flavor, which is appropriate for what you experienced. The blood adds a bold dimension as well.

    You should probably go see your doctor about your neck. Those pesky neck vertebrae are very fragile, and even seemingly minor face plants can cause major problems. As a ski patroller in Wisconsin, we strapped people in for less than what you experienced.

  8. Apertome Says:

    I have no intentions of pursuing those hardcore winter races. I’ll roll with what blows my way, but I’m not going to go out of my way to find the harshest winter conditions possible.

    David C/Bill: My wife isn’t too happy about the damage to my beautiful face. If I’m not feeling better by morning, I’m going to a doctor. Fortunately I’m feeling better now than I did earlier today, so I am hopeful that I will be OK without medical meddling.

  9. bill Says:

    Great stuff, Michael – thanks for sharing and posting the route – and way to stick it out after face-planting…you guys are definitely gnar-core!

  10. Jon Grinder Says:

    You almost make me wish it would snow, here. I could always head west, into the foothills, and get snowy, I suppose…

  11. PaddyAnne Says:

    That’s a ride you will remember for years to come! I really like your pictures, they gave me a sense of “being there”. The countryside looks interesting – I hope you do it again so I can see it at another time of year too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Chandra Says:

    For some strange reason, I still miss the ice and snow. I am sure we will get some ice (at least) in Feb.
    Is it an optical illusion or my bad eyes or is your helmet pushed back farther from the front portion of your head?

    Peace ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Apertome Says:

    Chandra: I think the camera angle is a little misleading, but I bought a new helmet today, to be on the safe side. The new helmet (a) hasn’t been in a wreck and (b) fits me better.

  14. RANTWICK Says:

    Perfection. I have NEVER ridden so far in the snow… I’ve only done commutes and I’m pretty jealous. Nice bike, shame about your face.

    That wasn’t cruelty, it was a Monks reference…

  15. Bob & Pat Gregoire Says:

    Once again, Michael, you’ve produced a great story and account of your “beautiful” December bike outing!
    You four guys are the epitome of “daring-and-do”. Makes us almost wish we were back in snowy, cold Indiana,
    instead of Florida, but not quite!!! Congrats to all four of you!

  16. Patrick Johnson Says:

    Looking forward to meeting you and riding with you in 2011!

    I’ve also checked out your music projects and can’t wait to discuss over a 50 mile gravel ride.

    Happy New Year!

    Patrick “Bomba” Johnson

  17. Apertome Says:

    Thanks Patrick, I hope we can ride sometime in 2011 as well! I’d love to talk music, too, though it’s been a while since I really worked on anything.

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