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Crooked Creek plus Nebo Ridge, at night

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

As someone who rides year-round, I don’t believe in a cycling “season.” I’ve seen some people saying the season is over, which baffles me. It’s just now cooling off, after a hot summer. The best riding of the year is yet to come!

However, for me, there is something of a night riding season. Night riding is a weird thing because when given a choice, I’ll nearly always prefer to ride when it’s light outside. However, nearly every night ride I do is memorable, and I always have fun. It just takes a little more motivation to get out at night, I guess.

Dave and I did an absolutely incredible night ride on Thursday.  We parked by the Crooked Creek boat ramp and rode out along the lake, and did part of the Nebo Ridge trail. Just like we did during this ride. However, this time it was different. We got to watch the sun set over the lake from some doubletrack, as we rode along.

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These pictures are a little misleading. By now it was getting fairly dark, the camera just corrected and tried to make it look like daytime. I should have adjusted them a little more.

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By the time we reached some gravel roads, it was really getting dark. The sun setting over a field of goldenrod was breathtaking. Again I had trouble getting the shots to reflect what we were seeing.

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Soon we reached a poorly-maintained fire road that took us up to the Nebo Ridge trail itself. Here we switched our lights on. Things were tricky on this somewhat overgrown trail that had a fair amount of debris, and a big climb.

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As we crested the hill, we could see the huge orange harvest moon rising through the trees. We stopped when we reached the trail to adjust our lights and get ready for the next section. Here’s my bike, and Dave getting his stuff ready.

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We rolled out on the trail. The riding was tough, with lots of ups and downs and a rugged trail surface. But it was also a lot of fun. As we rode along we saw thousands of sparkly spider eyes looking back at us from the ground, and rode through countless spider webs. It’s amazing how many spiders are out there! Here are a couple of pages about spider eyes at night: ONE | TWO.

Here’s an idea of what the view looked like from my bike.

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At one point, Dave shifted and his chain got caught between his cassette and spokes. Whoops! He had a tune-up recently, so it really shouldn’t do that … while Dave was fixing his bike …

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… I was looking around at the wildlife. I saw more spider eyes (which I did not get photos of), and a huge millipede. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but his guy must have been at least five inches long.

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As I was photographing him, he did something odd … he rolled his head under his body and held it there for a few seconds. Wikipedia says that millipedes can roll up in a ball, so maybe he was considering doing that. I’m really not sure.

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During most of our time on the trail, we couldn’t see the moon very much … there was just too much tree cover.

We didn’t stay on the trail too long. We would have enjoyed going further, but we both had to work the next day, so we only rode to the pond and back on the trail. Maybe a 3-4 mile round trip. And then headed back the way we came. Seeing the full moon over Salt Creek and Lake Monroe was amazing!

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I just noticed that you can also see Jupiter, the bright dot to the right of the moon, in this next shot.

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This was one of the better night rides we’ve done, and it was only the first one of the night-riding season! I can’t wait to do more. Dave was super cool about waiting while I took photos, which was appreciated. I normally don’t even try to take photos on our night rides because night photography is more time-consuming, and it’s quite hit-or-miss.

Crooked Creek + Nebo Ridge

Monday, September 6th, 2010

On Saturday, Dave and I headed out for another ride on the Nebo Ridge trail. However, this time we took advantage of the new way we found to get there, last time. This time, we started in the corner of Yellowwood State Forest and rode doubletrack alongside Lake Monroe to a gravel road, which eventually take us to Combs “Road” (really more of a trail in places) and then Nebo Ridge itself. This way, we cut the drive time in half and increase the riding mileage. It’s a win-win situation! Here’s a map.

One advantage to this approach is that the first several miles are flat, whereas from our normal starting point, the first mile+ is uphill. This way, we get to warm up, and it’s a lot nicer that way. Plus, the scenery along the new section is nothing short of amazing, with views of Lake Monroe much of the time. We saw herons, egrets, beaver lodges, geese, tons of butterflies, etc. Here are a few scenes from the first five miles or so.

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Soon we headed up a climb we hadn’t done before, the opposite side of Combs Road from where we’ve ridden before. This is a tough climb, regardless of which way you approach it. But, we made it to the top.

Once at the top of the hill, we connected with the Nebo Ridge trail. I haven’t compared stats, but I didn’t feel quite as fast this time as I did the last time we were here. In fact, during one section, I made a silly mistake. The trail takes you through a number of downhills, each of which is followed by a corresponding climb. During one climb, I didn’t shift quickly enough and I stood to climb, but the hill was just too steep. Despite my efforts, I slowed to a complete stop, and then fell over. I landed in soft dirt and immediately started laughing. Dave asked if I was OK, but I think he could see from my laughter that I was just fine. I wasn’t hurt at all.

Here are a few shots from the trail. There’s a pond that was extremely low. We had a very dry August.

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Aside from that fall, I rode fairly well. Again I didn’t feel as fast as the last time we were here, but we kept a good pace. I was practicing my bunny hopping skills, so any time we had to ride over a log, I tried to jump it instead. In most cases I cleared the logs without either wheel touching. I messed up on the rock garden, but I went back to try again and nailed it on my second try. Overall, I felt pretty good about my riding.

At this point we were at the end of the trail and rode down to the road. We’d follow paved roads very briefly, then gravel, then the other side of Combs “Road,” which again, is more like doubletrack.

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Soon we got to head back down the other side of Combs, and this presented several opportunities to catch some air. I felt a little more comfortable with that after my bunny hopping practice, and hit the jumps with a little more gusto than before. Tons of fun!

Soon we were headed back to the start, now with 4-5 miles of flat riding to wind down. I stopped to snap some shots of the campsite alongside the trail.

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It was another awesome ride. I love the Nebo Ridge trail, and the Crooked Creek extension makes it even better. In the future, we should be able to connect this with even more gravel roads and trails, on both sides.

I remembered my helmet cam on this ride, but unfortunately, I had a bad battery and wasn’t able to use it. Maybe next time!

Nebo Ridge, and some HNF exploration

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

After our great ride in Hoosier National Forest on Saturday, Dave and I did more HNF riding on Sunday. We set out to ride the Nebo Ridge trail, and after that we did some exploration. We found a way to get from Nebo Ridge to Crooked Creek Road. More about that later. Unfortunately, I got my helmet cam all ready to go, and then left it sitting at home. Damn!

You could consider this a mixed-terrain ride, only more on the mountain biking end of the spectrum. It included singletrack, doubletrack, gravel roads, paved roads, grassy trails, etc. Anyway, here’s a map of our ride.

Nebo Ridge is an old favorite of ours. Just a few years ago, Nebo by itself was an epic ride for me. Now, it’s still challenging, but certainly not epic by itself. Fortunately, there’s a ton of other great riding surrounding it, so it’s still a great place to go ride.

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This ride on Nebo Ridge can best be described as fast. I think this is probably the fastest I’ve ever ridden it. And, since it has a lot of rolling hills, it’s actually easier at higher speeds than if you’re slogging up each hill. I am in better shape than I’ve been in a few years, so I was flying. Dave hasn’t been able to ride as much this year, but somehow he was going just as fast. I’m not sure how he does it. Regardless, it was just an incredible roller coaster through the woods. Toward the end, I bunny hopped over a log and cleared it completely. I was thrilled, bunny hopping isn’t really something I’ve ever been good at. We were at the end of the trail in a little over an hour. Very fast, for us.

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After Nebo, we rode on some roads for a bit. We rode over to Combs Road as if we were going to make the loop it forms with the trail.

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Soon we reached the climb at the end of Combs Road.

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After making the climb, rather than turn back toward the Nebo Ridge trail, we went straight. This took us back down the other side of the hill, on a narrow ribbon through a field of grass, with some great opportunities to catch air.

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Normally I keep my wheels on the ground for the most part, but I couldn’t resist this, it was too much fun! I had read that jumping on a 29er doesn’t work too well, but I found it not to be a problem at all. The trail here received little to no maintenance, so we had to do things like climb through this fallen tree.

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After a while, we ended up on a gravel road. We thought this would take us in the direction we wanted to go, but we weren’t sure if there was going to be a bridge over the local fork of Salt Creek.

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We saw a great place to put in a canoe.

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Fortunately, the bridge was intact.

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There was a guardrail at the end of the bridge but we were easily able to get over it and ride on the doubletrack on the other side. It was grassy at first, later giving way to dirt. It was a bit muddy in spots but overall not bad. The road followed Salt Creek to where it feeds into Lake Monroe — and beyond.

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After this point, the only “traffic” we saw were people in boats, mostly fishermen.

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We saw probably a dozen egrets / great blue herons in the lake, and some geese.

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We reached a point where we weren’t sure if we would be able to get across. Our maps showed a road that appeared to be interrupted by water. It didn’t look like it went through. We were hoping the water level would be low enough that we could get through.

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Fortunately, there was a small land bridge across the water. We were able to get across. If the water level had been much higher, we wouldn’t have been able to get through. By the way, I checked and the water level was 537.56 feet. Normal Pool for Lake Monroe is 538. So basically, as long as the lake is at or below normal pool, we should be able to get through, I think.

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Soon, we were right by the Crooked Creek boat ramp. You can’t see it int he photo below, but it’s back in that cove.

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We were very excited that we were able to ride all the way through. This opens up tons of possibilities for linking together some amazing rides. It gives us a much closer-to-home starting point for riding Nebo Ridge, but also serves as a link between Yellowwood State Forest and Hoosier National Forest.  Just awesome.

Tim might recognize the name Crooked Creek Road from the ride we did together when he was here, it was along the route. Now that area can be connected to the HNF tracts on the opposite side of Lake Monroe!

After a break, we headed back the way we came. As we were riding along, I was also thinking that this portion would be quite doable on a touring bike. And we saw a few campsites along the way. I’m trying to figure out what it could all mean. A bike with hauling capacity, combined with remote campsites on the lake. It seems like you should be able to do something with those two things.

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By this time it was getting quite hot and I was being eaten alive by insects. Fortunately Dave had brought bug spray with him. What a life-saver!

Once I found some relief from the bugs, I could focus once again on the task at hand.

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Oh, but what’s this? Beautiful flowering plants covered with butterflies!

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We made our way back to the Nebo Ridge trailhead by way of some gravel roads. It was mostly flat, except one big bad hill at the end.

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Somehow, we both made it up this grueling climb, late in the ride, in the heat of the day.

Back at the parking lot I was amazed at all the dirt on my legs. Somehow Dave was hardly dirty at all. Not sure how that could be.

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As we wrapped things up after the ride, another rider in the parking lot said, “Hey, do you have a blog?”

Of course, I responded that I did. He introduced himself as Bill … he has left some comments on the blog and we have corresponded about gravel roads a couple of times. It was great to meet him and put a face with a name. He had just ridden Nebo plus a whole bunch of Hickory Ridge trails. A more difficult ride than ours, for sure. But he was excited to hear about our discovery.

So, it was another great day on the bike. This time it was 25+ miles on the mountain bike, over the course of four hours. I can’t wait to take advantage of this newfound knowledge.

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