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Tocsin Ramble

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Sarah and I spent a couple of days visiting her family up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As I often do when we visit them, I brought a bicycle so I could do some exploring, and give her some good time with her family without me. I had intended to re-ride the route to Ossian that I rode last time. I still had the route in my GPS. However, once I was on the road, I ended up ditching most of the route and exploring without much of a plan. I thought perhaps I’d ramble around for a while, and possibly make a trip to the tiny town of Tocsin, which Sarah’s mom had mentioned at some point.

Here is the route I ended up riding.

It was a cool day, the high was actually around 30, I think, but with a strong wind out of the NNW, the windchills were about 10 degrees colder.

Initially, the roads were clear. I rode my Long Haul Trucker, with studded tires, since I knew I’d be hitting some gravel, and I wasn’t sure how snowy or icy it might be.

The clouds were amazing all day, mostly overcast but in patches, with an occasional break that let the sun shine through. Also, because of the wind, the cloud shapes were constantly evolving.

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It wasn’t long before I hit gravel. There I had varying amounts of snow and ice. Some of it was clear, some had a layer of snow or ice on it. None had deep snow, so my traction was pretty good, for the most part.

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The Fort Wayne area is very flat. It’s always a bit of an adjustment for me. Since I’m used to hills, sometimes the miles go by very quickly on flat ground. On the other hand, I’m not used to long, straight stretches of road, which require a long, sustained, consistent power output. I’m more used to grinding up hills and coasting down the other side. So, flat ground makes for good endurance training, and in some ways can actually be more challenging for me. During the first half or so of the ride, I mostly had a tailwind, so this made this deceptively easy.

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After a while, I crossed I-469.

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The scenery remained fairly constant: roads, snowy fields, barns, houses, and those crazy clouds.

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The road surface changed frequently. Sometimes it would be paved for a while, or gravel for a while, or sometimes it alternated seemingly at random.

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My GPS indicated I was near the Saint Mary River. I tried to follow the GPS over to where the river appeared to be. All I found was this small stream. Obviously, the main river is somewhere else.

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The scenery really seems constant in my photos. When I was there, it didn’t feel as monotonous as the photos indicate.

I passed the rather interesting Prairie View Cemetery.

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I thought this “air mail” sign was very funny.

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After a while, I reached Tocsin. There were just a few buildings there.

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I didn’t even see a sign as I rolled into town. I had to ride around to find this sign on one of the other roads.

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I had been thinking that I’d stop in Ossian on my way back, but at this point it became clear that I didn’t have enough daylight for that stop, so I decided to skip it and just head back fairly directly.

Now I had to struggle into the wind for basically the last 15 miles of the ride. I put my head down and just rode. It was slow going, with that damn wind!

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Another cemetery caught my eye, this time Elhanan Cemetery.

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These three silos served as a good landmark that I was getting somewhat close.

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The Trucker was the perfect bike for this ride. Good on pavement, good on icy gravel … just generally good at basically everything.

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I stopped for a shot of my bike with the Christmas lights on, in front of this iconic caboose in Fort Wayne.

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By the end of the day, I had ridden over 37 miles. This was further than I expected to go, but when you ditch your route and wing it, that happens. I had a lot of fun, despite the rather harsh wind.

I relish these rides. I appreciate that I get to ride, even when I’m out of town, and riding somewhere different is always fun, even if it’s not an exotic location. It’s interesting how different the terrain can be, even without going far from home.

Three Lakes Ramble

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Sarah had to work on Saturday, giving me an obvious riding window. I thought about planning a route, but decided to wing it instead. I usually plan my rides carefully, but lately I’ve been enjoying rambling without a distinct plan, so I decided to take that approach. I did have one specific goal in mind: to see parts of the three major lakes near Bloomington, all in one ride. I love snowy lake scenes, so I thought this would be a beautiful ride, and having a mission made it fun, too. The main lakes are Lake Monroe (sometimes called Monroe Lake), Lake Griffy (sometimes called Griffy Lake), and Lake Lemon (never called Lemon Lake). Here is a map of my ride.

The forecast called for a high temperature in the mid 20s, not exactly warm, but not as cold as some of my other recent rides. There were a few inches of snow on the ground. Most roads were clear, but some had a bit of snow and/or ice on them. It was in the mid-20s and sunny, so some of the snow on the roads was melting, slightly. I headed out on the Trucker with studded tires.

I cut across part of town, and things took on a rural feeling very quickly.

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I went down a big hill into a hollow and within just a little over five miles, I reached part of Lake Monroe from Moore’s Creek Road.

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So, I checked the first lake off my list very quickly. I climbed up out of the hollow and debated which way to go next.

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I passed the always-beautiful Moore’s Creek.

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This was followed by some rolling hills, and some great views of snow-covered fields.

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The road conditions worsened as I rode away from town.

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Lake Lemon seemed like the next logical stop, but I had some route options. The main question was: pavement or gravel? I was a little concerned about the condition of the gravel roads, so naturally, I couldn’t resist the temptation to go and find out how bad the roads were, and how well my studded tires would work in a situation like this. But first, I had some paved riding to get there.

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Now I had a steep downhill into a creek bottom area.

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Soon I reached Friendship Road. I used to ride here quite frequently when I lived on the east side of Bloomington, but I’ve been there less since we moved. It was beautiful, as always , … though road conditions were poor. There were several inches of snow on the untreated gravel road, with ruts left by a few vehicles, and a crunchy surface on top.

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Peter White states that the studded tires I have, Noikian Hakkepelitta 106, are good for plowed roads but not great for untreated roads. I was anxious to put his claims to the test. Suffice it to say, the man knows what he’s talking about. As I tried to ride, I sank in and had trouble riding in a straight line. The ruts and crusty surface made things more difficult. At first, I could barely stay upright.

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As I rode, I was able to adjust my weight distribution and get better control. Still, I wouldn’t want to do a long ride this way. I’d need my mountain bike for this kind of stuff.  Fortunately, this gravel stretch wasn’t very long. I stopped on a favorite bridge for a minute.

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When I started riding again, I looked up and saw about 15-20 wild turkeys, in search of food. I stopped quietly, hoping to get a photo, but I startled them and their large wings making quite a lot of noise as they awkwardly took flight. All I managed to get a photo of were their tracks. Alas.

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I was on a highway for a few uncomfortable moments.

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Then turned back onto some back roads. Now I had a few minutes of beautiful, flat riding.

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Then I climbed out of the valley. Now I was on Mount Gilead Road.

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From there, I made my way over to State Road 45, then Tunnel Road, which would take me down to Lake Lemon. The sky was getting cloudier by the minute.

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These donkeys, and one other, were out chewing on whatever they could find. They seemed to appreciate my brief visit.

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I went down the big hill toward the lake. I decided to view Lake Lemon from Riddle Point Park, a very nice spot that I usually avoid most of the year because there’s a gate fee. In the winter, however, entrance is free. The lake views didn’t disappoint.

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As you can see, the snow I had to ride through to get here stuck to my rims and brakes. I had some problems with my brakes icing up after this. I need to find a good solution to this problem.

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The clouds grew denser. I started to think it was going to snow. For a few minutes it actually looked like the light was fading for the day, even though it was only 3:30.

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Now I just had to figure out which way to get to Lake Griffy. I decided to take Robinson Road, which goes by Butler Winery.

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This next shot involved a crazy coincidence. I adjusted the levels to show it better, but the sun is directly behind the pine tree, appearing like a Christmas tree topper! Completely accidental.

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From the top of the ridge on Robinson Road, when the trees are leafless, you get some great views of the surrounding lowlands.

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Including this view, which to my eyes looked like a lake of snow. In reality, it’s just a field, but it’s quite convincing as Snow Lake.

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The long downhill was a little sketchy. My icy brakes had me a little nervous, and my rear brake wasn’t grabbing well even before it got icy. With the ice, I had to stop twice and use sticks to attempt to knock the ice off the brake pads. I have got to improve my rear brake somehow. The front one works much better.

After that I  had a climb and some rolling hills. It’s hard to tell, but the house below has a child’s bicycle in front of it. The bike is not snow-covered, so it must have been used, or at least placed there, recently.

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Now I had another extended descent. The brakes worked better this time.

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Finally, I arrived at Lake Griffy. It looked beautiful, with the sun about to duck behind a ridge.

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The surface appeared solid; in fact, some folks had been walking on the ice. I’m not sure I’d trust it to be frozen, just yet. There was a hole drilled to measure ice thickness, so maybe it really was OK.

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A photographer was taking some photos from the bridge. I think he may have been trying to observe waterfowl. Around this time, my feet started to get really cold. They wouldn’t warm up for the rest of the ride, even though I was using my hiking boot/wool sock combination that has worked well for me in much colder temps. I’ve got to make some improvements there.

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Now I had a tough climb ahead of me. The light was starting to fade, but I had more than enough light to get home. I just had to ride through town, which was rather deserted, since the IU students are now gone for winter break.

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The temperature must have been dropping, because the melted ice from earlier in the day was now refreezing.

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Here I am toward the end of the ride. You can see my new helmet, a Bell Lumen. Nothing fancy, but it seems to fit me better than my old Giro.

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Here’s the bike, post-ride.

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This was a lovely ride, and it also pushed the boundaries of my experience, in these conditions. I’ve done much longer rides, and I’ve done much colder rides, but to spend 4 1/2 hours outdoors when it’s in the 20s isn’t easy.

I am loving having studded tires on a good bicycle, instead of my beater. This helps me keep doing longer rides, even now that temperatures have dropped and there is snow and ice on the ground.

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

Tim

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

Route

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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We rode by a beautiful rock wall.

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

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We rode on pavement for a while.

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The snow picked up, gradually at first …

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… 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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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