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Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part II

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Note: this is Part II of a three-part series. Read Part I here. Part III will be forthcoming.

When we left off in Part I, we had just prepared for the second ride of the day, this one at night. It was completely dark when we started, but we brought plenty of lights. Of course, that means I don’t have any photos of this ride. However, here is a map.


View 2009-11-07 HNF MTB Camping Trip 2 18-20-19 in a larger map

As we left our campsite, we heard owls hooting some more. We pedaled down the gravel road briefly, and all was quiet except the crunch of the gravel beneath our tires and the whooshing sound of the wind blowing through the pines. We turned onto trail 18, but not the same portion we rode earlier in the day. This section, we had ridden a few times in the past.

On the trail, the surface was gravel, briefly, before changing to dirt. As before, everything was covered in several inches of leaves. Once the gravel ended, the trail conditions varied, with some smooth, dry sections, and some muddy ones.

This trail normally features a blistering descent, but between the mud and the leaves and the fact that it was dark outside, it was slow going, and required a lot more effort than usual just to keep moving — even when going downhill. It was still fun, and we really appreciated the few places we were able to coast. Did I mention it was dark? The moon hadn’t come out yet, unlike some night rides/hikes of the past couple of weeks.

After we reached the bottom of the long hill, we rode through creek bottoms for a while, where trail conditions were better than we expected. We had to push our bikes up part of the long, steep, eroded climb up to the intersection with trail 20.

Normally, the descent on trail 18 is the highlight of this ride. But this time around, trail 20 was the star of the show; it was in better shape, and its twists and turns were a lot of fun in the dark. I led for a while, and was doing well until I missed a turn and suddenly, the trail just ended. I had to slam on my brakes in order to avoid riding into some trees. We laughed it off and backtracked to the proper trail.

This ride was very different from our earlier one. We were more focused on riding, and there was less conversation. This also allowed us to really take in the sounds of the forest: once again, the pines … more owls … a few unidentified noises. But mostly just leaves rustling in the wind and being trampled by our tires. The moon never really did come out while we were riding, but the stars were fantastic, and a planet (venus, I think) looked quite bright. Not bright enough to light our way, but it was a very bright dot in the night sky.

Trail 20 spit us out on another gravel road. We did some climbing on the road and then turned onto trail 19. The last five miles back to our campsite were mostly uphill, alternating gradual climbs with steep ones. This was the hardest part of the ride. We were tired and hungry, and this was our second ride of the day. The mud and leaves made climbing very difficult. We made it, eventually, but it was rather grueling.

We returned to our campsite. Dave had a solid fire going in about 10 minutes, without even striking a match. We made dinner — Dave made steaks, and I cooked beans and pasta. All while drinking some very tasty beer. We weren’t exactly roughing it …

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Eventually, the moon rose. But we didn’t see it for very long — we were too tired to stay up.

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Dave went to his tent first. I stayed by the fire to watch the stars for a few minutes. But not long. I was worn out, and we had a hike planned for the next day.

To be continued …

Secret night ride

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Last night, Dave and I did another awesome nighttime mountain bike ride — this time, in the rain. I’m not going to disclose the location of this ride because technically, we might have broken some “rules” and I wouldn’t want to make it difficult for us to do this ride again.

We set out down a smooth-packed gravel road; it was raining, and our lights reflected off the rain drops and almost made it look like snow was falling. Within a couple of minutes, we looked ahead down the road and saw two beady eyes glowing back at us. We couldn’t tell until we got within about 10 feet that it was a possum crossing the road. We nearly hit it, but rode around and it ran off.

Soon, we reached the end of the road, and the beginning of a trail. The leaf cover was substantial, and we kept thinking that we were seeing crumpled up pieces of aluminum foil on the ground. Upon closer inspection, we realized that every downturned yellow leaf had water beaded up on the back of it, and somehow the way our lights reflect off them gave off a silvery sparkle.

We rode a long, gradual downhill on the trail, our lights providing enough light to see the trail a bit in front of us, but not much more more. We had to navigate around, over, or through various mud holes, sticks, branches, even whole trees at times. I found it easiest to keep my speed up, it helped me roll over the sticks and through the mud.

We stopped to adjust our lights and when we did, we heard coyotes yipping and yelping and howling, in the not-too-distant distance. We fell silent and listened to them for several minutes.

The trail got rougher and more rutted, but the leaves made it impossible to tell where the muddiest spots and other obstacles were. The harder it got, the more speed I picked up. It seems counterintuitive, but going fast was just easier than going slow.

We turned onto another trail, this one in much worse shape than the first. The trail had been heavily damaged by horse traffic. In places, our pedaling got us nowhere — our tires just spun in the thick mud. I got off my bike to walk and my whole foot sank into the mud. It was difficult to keep moving. At some point the rain stopped and the cloud cover thinned slightly, enough that we could see the moon glowing through the clouds.

But the trail turned steeply downward and this made it easier to ride. But we were still slipping around a lot. Once again, picking up speed helped; at times, I was practically floating across the top of the mud.

Suddenly, we reached the bottom of the hill and the trail spit us out onto a dam. One odd thing about riding in the dark is that you have no frame of reference for where you are. You can’t see more than about 10-15 feet ahead of you, and you have no peripheral vision. So when we reached the lake it felt very abrupt.

We stopped and turned our lights off. The lake looked breathtakingly beautiful. The sky was still cloudy, but the moonlight dispersed through the clouds, and the sky looked surprisingly bright. We could see the silhouettes of hills looming over the lake, the fast-moving clouds, and the calm water reflected the scene. We lingered for a while.

We switched our lights back on and rode on some gravel roads through the forest. We could see a bit better briefly, as the tree cover let up. But soon, the trees covered the road and we had tunnel vision once again. During this stretch, we saw the first car of our ride. We could hear a creek gushing alongside the road. We climbed for what seemed like a very long time. We were riding up a familiar hill, but once again, with no point of reference, we couldn’t tell when we were nearing the top.

Eventually, we did reach the top, and we turned onto another road. After a few rolling hills, we were done. We did see another car along the way, increasing the total number of cars spotted to 2.

This ride was fantastic in so many ways. It was a great combination of fun, insanity, challenges, and scenic beauty. Night rides are always a bit crazy, but this one was especially so, with the rain and mud. I think I was muddier after this ride than I have ever been.

Mountain biking at night

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Dave and I went mountain biking one night last week. We do night rides sometimes, but usually it’s light when we start. This time, the entire ride was in the dark. We each had one more light than usual, and we found that the extra lights made a huge difference. Maybe this will expand our night-riding options.

There’s nothing quite like riding through the woods at night. All you can see is what’s illuminated by your lights, immediately in front of you. It’s hard to explain, but this video (not mine) demonstrates it very well. This video was taken on the Hesitation Point trail, which is more difficult than what we were riding, but hopefully you get the idea.

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