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Archive for the 'Mixed Terrain' Category

Gravel Grovel

Monday, November 28th, 2011

This past Saturday, I was supposed to ride the Gravel Grovel with Tim, David, Patrick, and Timothy (RCCS). Unfortunately I waited until the night before to get my stuff together, and when I went to get my bike ready, I realized the front brake wasn’t working well at all. I tried to replace the brake pads but something went wrong and I couldn’t get the damn thing working. I worked on it until after 2am, and eventually gave up. So, I wasn’t able to do the ride. It turns out Patrick got sick and he wasn’t able to ride, either.

It’s worthwhile to check out writeups from Tim and David. From their descriptions, I glean that it was very, VERY difficult, and involved a lot of suffering. I’ve had little time for training lately, so it may be a blessing in disguise that I wasn’t able to ride. Even so, I’m still irked that I didn’t get to go.

Saturday night I came down with a cold or something, just in time to be sick for possibly my busiest week of the entire semester. I’m hoping winter break in a few weeks will allow me to decompress and maybe even do some recreational riding.

Orleans 70

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Sunday was a 70ish-mile ride out of Orleans, IN with RCCS. This was planned as a pure road ride, as Tim and I have been talking for a while about doing a faster-paced road ride on fast road bikes, rather than the usual meandering gravel monster. This was supposed to be that ride. We also had said we should meet somewhere between where we live, so no one would have to travel too far.

The problem is, Indiana roads are unpredictable. It’s very difficult to tell which will be paved, and which will be gravel. Usually, we’re seeking out gravel, and we try to plan as many gravel roads as possible. This time we had the opposite idea in mind, but we still didn’t know if all the roads would be paved or not. Tim put together a route that looked very interesting, and we scheduled the ride. Here is the route.

In the days leading up to the ride, we inspected the route more closely, and it started to look like some of the roads would be gravel. With rain in the forecast, we ultimately decided that the fast, skinny-tired road bikes were out. They wouldn’t fare well in wet gravel, which is something we had to be prepared to deal with.

The other riders in our group (David, Patrick, and Timothy) had all already chosen beefier bikes, so Sunday morning we set out, prepared for … well, we didn’t know what to expect, so, anything.

We rolled out of Orleans at 9:00 am. Here is Timothy, who was joining us for his first RCCS ride, or at least the first one that I have been on as well. He was riding a rigid, steel Trek mountain bike. He’s training for the Heck of the North ride in Duluth, MN in October. We crossed paths at the Louisville 100k populaire, but only spoke for a few minutes on that ride.

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Here is Patrick, on his Rivendell Bombadil. This was my first time riding with him, though he rides with RCCS sometimes, but usually in Louisville. It was also my first time seeing a Bombadil in person, and it seemed like a fine rig, extra badass, with its second top tube.

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Here are the two Tims. The day got off to a brisk start, with the two of them setting a strong pace.

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We saw a lot of dogs this day, many of which gave chase. I find this photo amusing because the dogs are smiling, but David isn’t …

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We made a brief stop in Campbellsburg, where Tim had to make a few fender adjustments. His front fender actually snapped off, and he had to chuck it.

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Campbellsburg seemed like a scrappy little town, with lots of run-down homes. Many were worse than this — some had holes in their crumbling walls.

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But, that didn’t last long. We were out in the country again, with a mild climb and some stellar views.

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We went into a wonderful, mile-long decent into a valley bottom with flat fields surrounded by hills. We were less than 20 miles into the ride, and already we had some excellent highlights.

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David picked up a hitchhiker in the form of a grasshopper under his front rack.

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After a few flat miles, we had to pay for that stellar descent, with a long climb. It was tough, and the weather was warming up. Soon thereafter, and much to our surprise, we hit our first gravel for the day. Then there was another crazy downhill, this time on loose gravel. I wimped out and went really slowly. I’ve had a few too many crashes on these rides. Fortunately none have been serious, but I’m a little spooked when it comes to gravel downhills.

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The pavement soon came back and we had another big climb. I can’t remember if this one was on pavement or gravel. Timothy sure was enjoying the ride.

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After a brief section on State Road 135, we turned onto Old SR 135 for what would be a highlight of the day for many of us. A long descent, nearly two miles, with quite a few switchbacks which meant the ride was never too steep but we could build up some speed and carve through the sharp turns. This was bliss!

We stopped about halfway down to check out the views. Here comes Timothy down the hill.

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We had a great view out into the distance, with the road curving well below us.

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Toward the bottom, after the road straightened out, we saw several kittens alongside the road. I didn’t stop to photograph them. Soon we reached the Muscatatuck River, and another surprise. Our route had us turning here.

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Naturally, we were able to crawl through and lift our bikes over the fence.We took a few photos from the bridge.

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Then, we rolled on, and enjoyed a few flat paved miles, surrounded by farmland.

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At this point we reached a couple miles of rough gravel.

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We found a covered bridge to explore.

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The small town of Medora appeared in the distance. This would be our only store stop, roughly halfway through the ride.

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I kept seeing these white wildflowers, but I’m not sure what they were.

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Soon we reached Medora.

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A stop there was much needed. Some of us were out of water, or nearly out. We all stocked up on water, and ate some lunch. The place where we stopped served food, in addition to being a convenience store. I had brought a sandwich but some other folks bought some sandwiches there.

After refueling, we rolled out again. Everyone was moving slowly after lunch, with the heat kicking in and lunches not yet settled. We thought the return trip would be easier, but there were some more surprises in store for us.

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First was the wind. We knew we had a tailwind much of the way out, but we hadn’t realized how strong it was. The wind was quite strong at times, though in some areas, we were shielded by hills, trees, etc. But when we were out in the open, we were pushing against the wind.

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The reflection in this pond looked absolutely perfect. An idyllic spot, an image captured in a fraction of a second, but I could have lingered here for hours. Staring at the photo takes me right back to that spot. It’s funny, we didn’t even stop here, but I keep looking at this image and thinking how perfect that spot was.

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Soon we reached the East Fork of the White River, which we would see at several points along the route.

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We saw another closed bridge, but this one was not on our route.

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And a lot of run-down barns and the like. For a while, the road had the river on one side, train tracks on the other, and shacks on the other side of the tracks.

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Then, another surprise: more gravel. This time, in the form of an 8.5-mile stretch, with a few hills thrown into the mix. None of the hills were too extreme, but the hot conditions, dusty gravel road and some hills, made for a very challenging section of road.

It started off well enough, with some fun gravel, and even some shade.

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Part of the challenge was mental. Somewhere along here, Tim and Patrick rode on ahead. I was having problems with my GPS crapping out on me (I think due to the vibration on the rough gravel), and at one point, I tried to push my sunglasses up and the lens popped out. I managed to catch it in my hand. I tossed it in my handlebar bag until I could find a good time to stop.

Every time I’d see a bit of shade, I thought maybe Tim and Patrick would be stopped there so we could regroup. My GPS kept beeping at me every time I hit a bump. I wanted to put my sunglasses back on. I just kept on riding and still, no Tim or Patrick. Eventually I just stopped and fixed my glasses, and tried to fix the GPS. Then Timothy caught up with me, and I rode with him for a while. This was a nice stretch of road, but it was too hot and I didn’t know how far ahead Tim and Patrick were, and my stomach was starting not to feel very well. I was ready to get past this road.

After what seemed like forever (and in reality was probably not more than 45 minutes), I reached the end of the road and there were Tim and Patrick. Timothy was close behind me, and David a bit behind him. We got stretched out a little bit on this road, but not by more than a few minutes.

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We crossed the river, which felt like an important benchmark on the return trip. Maybe we were on the home stretch now.

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Not long after that, it started raining. It never rained very hard, but it did cool us down for a few minutes — except in sunny spots, where you could feel the steam coming off the road as the rain fell. Wow. Naturally this was happening during a climb. This house was not in the greatest shape, but they did have a nice river view.

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Then the road got hillier. My stomach started feeling better. I wasn’t climbing too vigorously, but I felt decent most of the time.

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After a few ups and downs, the road got a bit flatter but then we were headed directly into the wind. The hot air blasting in my face made it difficult to breathe at times. I ran out of water a few blocks from the end … much further and I would’ve been in trouble in terms of water. But given that it was a 70-mile ride with only one refueling stop, it worked out perfectly.

This was just a wonderful ride all around. The scenery was great, the terrain challenging, and most importantly, I had a blast riding with these guys. RCCS rides are always fun, but having Patrick and Timothy join us made it that much better. We had a great group of riders with varying gear and philosophies. Never a dull moment with this group.

School starts back up for me in a week, so my riding will probably be more limited after that. I’m hoping to get a ride or two in this weekend, but if not, this was a great way to end the summer.

Ridus Interruptus

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

I made a few more tweaks to The Beast, including throwing knobby tires on it, to ready it for mountain biking. Saturday, Dave and I met at Brown County State Park to hit the trails.

We rolled out, and I was excited to be back on the trails for only the second time this year, and I felt good, and strong, and the bike felt pretty good, too. I was anxious to see how the bike would do in its new setup. It quickly became obvious that it handles a lot differently from what I’m used to, and that it would take some time to get used to it. It was a warm and extremely humid morning, so much so that my camera lens fogged up and I couldn’t get it to clear up.

The first technical challenge of the day involved a short, but steep, eroded climb with a nasty root at the top. I picked up some speed to help myself clear it. I hit the root pretty hard, and my tire bounced a bit. I didn’t exactly crash, but I sort of fell, and I laid the bike down. When I got back up, I took stock of the situation. I wasn’t hurt at all, except a small bump on the leg. But then I looked in my handlebars, and was shocked at what I saw. These photos are from Dave … ┬ámy camera lens was still fogged up.

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We were less than a mile into the woods, and my handlebars were severely bent. My ride was over. Actually, it’s probably a good thing that this happened right away, rather than deep in the woods.

Dave snapped this shot of my contemplating my bars … or pouting, perhaps.

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Dave walked back to the trailhead with me. As we were walking back, Dave said, “Talk about ridus interruptus!” — thereby naming this post.┬áDave grabbed his earbuds and headed back out. I drove home. Later, he sent me this shot of a great switchback from the Green Valley trail, to let me know what I was missing. Damn!

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So, I was pretty frustrated. I drove home. Once there, I ate some lunch, and then I decided to put the bars from my old mountain bike on The Beast. Within three hours, I was fed, the “new” bars were installed and wrapped, and I was riding once again, this time closer to home.

The Beast was hilarious on paved roads, with knobby tires. It sounded like a helicopter going down the road. I like to imagine that it must be sort of like a mini Pugsley, in that the tires seem oversized relative to the frame.

I explored some nearby parks, covering some familiar ground, and some new trails I found. Sadly my GPS crapped out on me, so I don’t have a map of my exploration. Alas.

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Here, you can see my new/old bars. I used these for many years, and they usually work well for me.

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I can’t get over the carving in this log — perfect for a singlespeed ride!

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T’he Beast looks menacing, from a low angle.

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So far, everything had been pretty flat and easy. I found some additional trails off the beaten path and explored. Some parts were wide open, like the photo below, while others were overgrown and not maintained … it was like bushwhacking, on a bike (bikewhacking)?

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I practiced some skills like log-hopping, riding over rocks and roots, etc. These trails were tame enough to be ridable, but technical enough to give the bike a good shakedown ride. I learned that climbing on the singlespeed really requires a wide handlebar. The ends of this bar worked perfectly for this, and in fact I could have spent most of the ride holding onto them instead, except that I can’t reach the brake levers from there. I wonder if I could move the levers to the outer portions of the bar, or something.

At one point, I came out of the woods and had a nice view of the gazebo at this park. From the gazebo, you can’t tell the trail is even there.

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More bikewhacking …

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So, despite the fact that my original plans were foiled, I had a good ride, and these bars are definitely better than the ones I had on there before. I haven’t decided yet if they’re staying or not. My first real offroad ride on the Beast in singlespeed form was illuminating, and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it was quite hot, and just as humid, later in the day. I was really cooking. I’m glad I rode anyway.

Once I was sure the Beast was doing well, I contacted Dave and we decided to try again at Brown County on Sunday. More on that soon!

 

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