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Snowbiking in Hoosier National Forest

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I enjoyed Saturday’s wintry road ride, but the real highlight of the weekend was a mostly-gravel snow ride through Hoosier National Forest. I drove to the start of the ride; it took about 25 minutes to get there. Here’s a map of my ride.


View 2010-02-07 HNF snow biking in a larger map

My ride started on a paved road, and immediately I was loving the scenery, but for a little bit, I was riding on clear roads, and started second-guessing my choice to bring my mountain bike. But I figured that once I hit gravel, there would be some snow. It was hard to gauge what conditions would be like. We had probably four inches of snow on the ground, but in town and on paved roads, it was warm enough that the roads were clear.

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But, the deeper into the woods I went, the snowier it got. The more snow, the more fun I had.

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I passed the first of many trailheads for the Hickory Ridge trail system. Bikes are allowed on these trails, and I’ve ridden quite a few of them, but the snow had mud beneath it. No trails on this ride.

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Not that I minded. The gravel roads were quiet and beautiful, and plenty challenging in their own right.

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I reached a small creek with a waterfall, and then proceeded to climb a large hill. The road went back to being paved, and not as snowy, which made the climb a little easier. I then spent a few minutes on a state highway and some smaller paved roads before turning back into the national forest.

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After some momentary confusion about which way to turn, I turned onto a very snowy road and re-entered the woods. I rode over a small log. There were some truck tire marks, but it was obvious only one or two vehicles had been here. I was sort of impressed that they were able to drive through at all, and grateful for their tire ruts, which were well-packed and made for relatively fast riding.  However, some spots were icy, and I had to watch out for those.

The ride became even more beautiful than before. I was in awe at the snowy landscape and the way the warm, angular light struck everything was quite stunning.

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I rode on a relatively flat ridgetop for a while, and then the road turned steeply downward. I had ridden up this hill once before, and I sure was glad to be riding down it now.

I stopped halfway down the hill to explore a small pond.

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The ruts were slick and icy and I discovered that the best technique for riding down this big hill was to ride in between the ruts, where there was soft virgin snow. This slowed me down, so I didn’t have to ride my brakes, and also offered better traction.

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Looking back up … steeeep!

Once at the bottom of the hill, I turned onto a different road, where I forded a couple of creeks and started climbing. I filled up the memory card in my camera. I deleted a few photos and rode on. I took a few more photos after that, but not a lot.

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I had quite a bit of climbing to do, but it was divided into a couple climbs, with a slight break in between. Overall, not too bad. Once at the top, it was flat for a while, and then I enjoyed a long descent. This was quite tricky as it was slippery, I just took my time and made it to the bottom of the hill just fine.

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Once at the bottom of the hill, I hit paved roads for the last mile or so of my ride. It was still just lovely, and the light became even more dramatic, as the sun was nearly setting.

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I rode back to my car, very satisfied with the ride. This was one of those rides where I didn’t expect much going into it, but in the end, I was blown away by how incredible it was. The gravel roads were the perfect place to ride, given the conditions. Some snow rides end up being so hard they’re frustrating; this was a challenging adventure, but it never felt like anything other than a LOT of fun.

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot since this ride is that even though I’ve spent probably dozens of hours riding in Hoosier National Forest, I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what is there, even close to home (HNF reaches basically all the way south to Kentucky). There are many trails in the Hickory Ridge system I’ve never ridden, and lots of roads that are unexplored as well. I need to ride there more often.

Winter mixed-terrain ramble

Monday, January 11th, 2010

On Saturday afternoon, I headed out for a ride with only a vague idea of the route I wanted to do. I ended up spending about 2 1/2 hours riding gravel roads, trails, fire roads, and paved roads … and even a bit on a frozen lake. I took my new mountain bike on this ride and once again, it fared very well.

This was a drive and ride situation, I wasn’t sure how the roads would be, and this let me get to the area where I wanted to ride in time to actually do some riding there.

I parked the car on a paved section of road, but it immediately turned to gravel. The gravel parts had snow on them, compacted somewhat by cars, but fortunately not icy.

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I reached a lake, and could see that some people had been out on its frozen surface, ice fishers and sledders, and some deer. I walked out a bit on the ice myself to check it out. Some holes had been made and you could see the ice was about four inches thick.

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After testing the ice thickness, I went back and got my bike (visible in the photo below, by the shore). I wanted to ride on the ice a little.

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I was headed across the lake, on the left side of the below photo. I considered trying to ride all the way across, but I wasn’t sure the ice was uniformly thick.

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I got enough of a sense for riding on the ice to want to do more of it. It’s just something you have to be very cautious about. I stayed within the area where others had already been, and there were several holes where I could confirm that the ice was thick.

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Making tracks on the lake

After that unique experience, I got back on the road. The route across the lake would’ve been a lot easier, but I just wasn’t sure about it.

After that, I had some more wonderful gravel riding.

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I made it over to the area I noted above, directly across that part of the lake …

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… and looked over at a ridge on the other side of the lake, which I would later climb up, and then ride down.

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I rode on, and the scenery remained quite breathtaking.

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I turned and rode on paved roads, briefly, which were relatively clear by comparison …

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… before turning onto another gravel road. The sign said “No Outlet,” but that depends on your mode of travel, and your willingness to make your way through the woods on rough fire roads and horse trails. On my bicycle, and abundantly willing, I planned on riding through.

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Around this time, my water bottles started to freeze. I had to bite down on the valve to crack the ice, and take frequent drinks to keep them from freezing shut.

The fire road/trail was just wonderful and, riding through the powdery snow was fairly easy, even if it was slick at times. Some places had footprints, but it was wide enough that I could make my own tracks off to the side. In addition to human footprints, I followed deer tracks literally for miles. Apparently, deer use trails, too! Later, I also encountered some ski tracks.

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I stopped for another drink of water and noticed the sun was setting over a distant ridge.

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At this point, I was almost finished. The trail spit me out onto a gravel road, in an odd rural neighborhood. I saw a very ramshackle house for sale,  with an RV parked near it.

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I rode down the hill …

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… and soon, I was back at my car. I have to say, this was the best ride I’ve done in some time. It was cold, and challenging, but it was also incredibly beautiful. Riding in the snow is an experience you can’t get any other way.

Riding some gravel roads in Yellowwood State Forest

Monday, December 14th, 2009

On Saturday, I wanted to get out and ride my new mountain bike. The trails were way too muddy, so I rode on some of the gravel roads in Yellowwood State Forest. Wikipedia only has a brief entry about this state forest, but its description of the roads is apt:

Many of the unpaved roads within the forest are dusty and narrow, and those driving cars within the forest will often have to ford creeks.

In other words, riding there is lots of fun! It’s also the closest state forest to where we live. Still, I drove there so I could spend my entire ride within state forest boundaries. I did a loop that I’ve done a few times in the past, with some variations. Here’s a map.


View 2009-12-12 Yellowwood Loop in a larger map

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I was hoping I could ride with my friend Dave, but he wasn’t feeling well, so this was a solo ride. It was cool outside, maybe in the lower to mid 30s. There were icy areas in some puddles and creeks.

I rolled through quiet, deserted woods and through creeks …

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And rode up to the dam to get some views of Yellowwood Lake.

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Then continued, on some more gravel roads.

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I climbed a hill, and then reached another access point for the lake. It looked even better, from here.

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Some rolling hills took me to another, icier part of the lake.

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I crossed a couple more creeks, and climbed the one large climb of the whole ride. I noticed some icy creeks and tried to imagine the whole area blanketed in snow. It’s going to be very beautiful once we get a real snow … I’ll have to go back and see it.

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I spent a few minutes on a paved road, then turned back onto gravel. This is where all the climbing paid off, in a long descent. But not before I stopped at a favorite spot at Prange Pond. It was icier than the lake, thanks to being smaller and in a shadier location.

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After the long descent, which was loads of fun, I rolled on paved roads for a few minutes, and re-entered the state forest. Earlier in the day, I had been disappointed that I couldn’t hit the mountain bike trails. But I was very happy with where I ended up. Rolling through my favorite state forest on a beautiful day on my new bike … what’s not to like?

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