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.
Bike: Cannondale 29er with WTB Exiwolf tires
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
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
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. 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. 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.