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More Brown County Mountain Biking

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Last weekend was my last weekend before school started back up, so naturally, I wanted to ride. I thought about a long, solo road ride, but when the weekend arrived, I wasn’t really feeling it. Instead, I got a hold of Dave and we went to Brown County for some more riding there.

Dave called this our “bizzaro ride” because we did several trails in the opposite direction from the way we usually ride them.

We rode down North Tower Loop, then rode Green Valley, Aynes, North Tower Loop, and finally, Pine Loop, all “backwards.” Here’s a map of our route. I’m not sure if the map is quite right, as I was having GPS issues.

Even though it was a short ride in terms of mileage, this was the best mountain bike ride of the year for both of us. We were in the zone and pushed the pace more than usual during much of the ride. These trails are always a blast but at a faster pace, they’re even more fun. You really appreciate the flow of the trails better when you’re carving turns, bombing down hills and pedaling up more vigorously.

Green Valley was, in this direction, incredibly fun. The first half or more was downhill and with a few great switchbacks, minor ups and downs along the way, flow, and views of ravines, creeks, and even a lake in the distance were stellar.

In the photo below, you can see the trail coming down the hill on the other side of the ravine. As you can see, the trail is rather narrow. What you can’t see are a bunch of rocks in the trail surface as well. The trail comes around a bend, goes down into the ravine, switches back and then climbs back out again. It’s beautiful and exhilarating.



However, we would pay for all that sweet descending. There were a couple of tough climbs toward the end of the trail and it also got more technical maybe 2/3 of the way through. The climbing and more-technical trail interrupted the flow a bit, but it was still a lot of fun. And the technical parts are tricky enough to be exciting and push the limits of what I’m comfortable with at times, but never over the line.

After Green Valley, we took a break and I got some shots of my bike. It’s so great to have the 29er rolling again!


I had Dave take my picture with the bike. You can tell we were both thrilled to be out in the woods.


We got moving again, debating which way to go. We decided to ride Aynes “backwards,” which we had only ever done a couple of times, a long time ago. It was more fun than I remembered, and I made it up a tough rock garden that’s tricky when going downhill (the way we usually ride it), and even harder going up. Dave and I both walked over one large root, but I think I may attempt it next time. It’s in a tough spot, but I think I can do it.

Most of the rest of the trail was just wonderfully flowing.


We also did the North Tower Loop backwards on our way back and once again, pushed the pace more than usual … and had a blast.


As we were rolling downhill back toward the parking lot, the flow even better than before, neither of us wanted to stop. Dave suggested we ride Pine Loop and it was just the right thing. Some more flowing, swoopy trail, and a few opportunities to catch air, and we reached the bottom of the hill. Then we had a bit of climbing to get back to where we had parked, but we had really let loose the rest of the ride and soft-pedaled back to our cars.

What a great afternoon in the woods!

Back to school

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

School started back up on Monday. I’m taking a full load again this semester.

I didn’t feel ready for school to start, but I’m getting back in the swing of things pretty quickly. My classes are all interesting, and once again, as a General Studies major, I get to take a variety of classes:

  • Social Informatics
  • Roman Culture
  • Production
  • Photography

In addition to being interesting topics, my production course is actually hands-on this semester, which is exciting. We got to see the TV studio where we’ll be doing some of our work, and it’s very impressive. I can’t wait to learn how to use some of the crazy equipment they have there.

Photography is in the darkroom this semester. I’ve done darkroom work before, but it’s been a long time, and I’m very excited.

The Social Informatics class is a prerequisite for another class I want to take, but it looks interesting in itself. It looks at how technology shapes society, and vice versa.

Roman Culture fulfills a cultural studies requirement. I chose it because when I was growing up, we always studied the Greeks, with promises that we’d cover the Romans later. But, we never did. The topic isn’t as fascinating to me as some of the others, but it is interesting, and it’s cool to have such a different kind of class. It’s going to involve a lot of reading, and I’m actually looking forward to some of it. Also, the professor seems engaging, which could make a huge difference in a class like this.

I’m trying a different approach to carrying my junk to campus this semester. Last semester I used a milk crate, and it worked OK, but it was a little cumbersome having the weight so high on the bike, and it took a good 10-15 minutes to get the crate on and off.

I looked into some messenger bags that could attach like panniers, but they were all expensive and I wanted something more flexible. So, I bought a grocery pannier. I ended up with an Axiom Hunter model, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it, just picked up the best one the shop I visited had. They had a Blackburn model that seemed sturdier, but it was smaller and less flexible, and I’m pretty sure my backpack wouldn’t have fit. Here’s my new setup:




It’s not perfect. Sometimes my foot hits the bag (though I think I can adjust that problem away). And it’s still cumbersome sometimes, but it’s a lot easier to get the grocery pannier on/off when needed, and the weight is lower, even if it’s a little unbalanced. We’ll see how well this setup works out.

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.


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.


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


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 …


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.


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.


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





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.




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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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



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








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



We found a covered bridge to explore.



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


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


Soon we reached Medora.


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.



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.


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.


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


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


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.



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.




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.


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


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.


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


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.

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