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Big South Fork: Part 2 (Sunday)

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Note: This is part two of the Big South Fork camping trip. Read Part 1 here.

Sunday morning, we slept later than expected … past 8:00 am! I’m not a morning person, but I’m usually up earlier than that when camping. We got up, made breakfast and coffee, packed up our tents, and headed out for our second big ride of the weekend.

The route Tim had planned for this day was 60 miles. We thought it would be easier than Saturday’s route, though, because it had less climbing. There were a few factors we didn’t know about/didn’t take into consideration — extremely rugged road surfaces, and several flat miles meant the climbing was more concentrated we realized. As a result Sunday’s ride ended up being at least as difficult as Saturday’s, or perhaps even more difficult. Here is the route we rode.

Our ride started on the same 6-mile flat gravel road as before. This time, instead of getting onto the paved road from Saturday, we turned onto another gravel road. The route was surprisingly flat and deceptively easy for the first 15 miles or so. The road we were on followed a beautiful creek through a valley for quite a few miles, and we passed a horse farm or two. I think we were all very stiff from Saturday’s ride and sleeping on the ground. For me, at least, it took quite a while for my legs to loosen up.

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We saw another footbridge, this one had supports made of oil drums. Sketchy?

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At times, the trees formed a tunnel around us. The sunlight turned orange as it filtered through the leaves, and leaves fell and blew all around us as we rode. It was a beautiful scene.

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We came across a spot in the creek that had a HUGE rock, and a rope swing. What fun!

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I forget what this green plant is, but Tim mentioned its name. In areas everything was overgrown with this green crawler.

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After a while, we turned onto a paved road, which remained relatively flat as well.

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We had a few moments of confusion with the route, but we eventually figured out where to go. Our road immediately went into a brutal climb, 1.5 miles and over 500 feet of elevation gain.

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The road continued with some major ups and downs. Now, this road was just amazing. A very narrow, one-lane road through the woods, sometimes winding its way along the edge of ravines. We saw very few signs of civilization along the road. This road was so remote and little-traveled that we were pondering why it even existed! Along the way, we saw more interesting rock formations. The climbing was brutal, but … what a beautiful road!

Here we are looking back on where we came from.

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After a while of this, we ended up on a gravel road. Not your typical gravel road, this one was quite rough with many large loose rocks. The riding was very rough and sketchy for many miles.

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We did see some rhododendron, which I am always a big fan of. I hadn’t seen any since I left Pennsylvania.

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Here are Tim and Dave on one of the rollers.

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Frankly, this road became a drag. It featured some rolling hills, some very tough climbs and descents,  and very little flat riding. At many points you could tell that you were close to a nice view, but couldn’t see through the trees. It got a bit frustrating. Also on this stretch of road, Tim got the only flat tire any of us would see the entire weekend.

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We did find this very cool rock face with a cave in it.

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There were some more really tough climbs. Eventually we started running out of water again. Argh! I brought 4 bottles, I think the other guys each brought 5. And yet, it wasn’t enough. I had brought my water filter with me, but there were no streams or water of any kind to filter from. We just had to keep going. I even walked a few hills, not because I couldn’t make it up them, but because I knew if I pushed it too hard without water, I’d be in bad shape.

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When we left Daniel Boone National Forest, I was hoping things would improve.

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We entered Tennessee.

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At this point, things *did* improve, at least somewhat. The road got smoother and had better flow to it. The climbs weren’t as steep. It was actually really beautiful and fun riding.

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Unfortunately, we weren’t able to enjoy it very much. We had simply been on this road for too long, with its pleasant-but-samey scenery, lack of water (or anything, really), etc. It would be pleasant on a normal day, but we needed a change.

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Eventually, we entered Pickett State Forest.

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And, after what seemed like forever, arrived the next road we would take, and it was paved!

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Riding on smooth pavement felt absolutely sublime, after all that gravel. And before long, we found water.

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My mood, and my riding, took an immediate turn for the better. Unfortunately Tim and David were both feeling sick by this time, but once rehydrated, I was feeling pretty good. I did my best to help them along. This paved road was a real stunner. Beautiful scenery, great downhills, doable (but challenging) climbs, and no traffic whatsoever. And like Saturday, the sky filled with clouds in the afternoon. It got cooler and less harsh on the eyes. Things were looking up, from my perspective.

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We entered Pickett State Park.

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Tim and David were struggling with the climbs. We just stuck together and after a while they, too, started feeling better again. In a way this started to feel like a century ride, or another long ride, where you hit a wall but ultimately get over it, feel better, and start enjoying the ride again. This ride wasn’t that long in terms of mileage, but it was in terms of time, and climbing.

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I couldn’t get enough of the sweeping descents, and climbs, on this road!

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The sky grew increasingly ominous, but no rain fell.

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We re-entered Big South Fork, and Kentucky.

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After a while — too soon if you ask me, I could have ridden on this beautiful paved road all day — we turned onto another gravel road, and stopped for another shot of the three Truckers.

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I was a little nervous about this gravel road. I knew we’d be on it for about eight miles. If it turned out to be as difficult as the earlier gravel roads, we might have a really hard time with it.

Fortunately, this road was not as rough as the earlier ones, and did not have any huge climbs. Just some moderate rolling hills, and some beautiful views. By this time it was getting a little dark so we switched our lights on.

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We went into a steep, loose, washboarded, rocky descent. I was having problems retaining enough traction. Finally, almost at the bottom of the hill, my front wheel washed out and I went down. I tried to do a leaping dismount, like I had on Saturday, but it didn’t work this time. Fortunately I was going quite slowly at the time and didn’t hit the ground too hard. I scraped my leg and landed funny on my hand, but no real injuries occurred. The worst of it is the scrape on my leg, which covers a sort of large area, but it’s not deep at all. I got back on the bike. It figures I’d wipe out in the last 7 miles of an epic weekend of riding!

Soon we were back on the road back our campground.

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We arrived safely back at the campground, loaded the bikes up, and Tim drove us back to Louisville. Once there I had to drive the two hours home. I didn’t get home until about 2:30 am. I’ve been tired and sore all week, but it’s certainly been worth it!

I’ve been thinking about these rides a lot the past couple of days. I had a great time, and it makes me long for more adventure!

Big South Fork: Part 1 (Saturday)

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Last weekend, Tim,  David and I went down to Big South Fork National Recreation Area for a camping trip, and two epic days of mixed-terrain riding in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee.

Note: this is Part 1. Read Part 2 here. Also, Tim’s Part 1 is here. David has a writeup here.

I had never been down to this area before; I found it beautiful, rugged, and extremely hilly. We rode 54 miles Saturday and 60 on Sunday, but we underestimated how difficult it would be. Between the rough gravel and the wild changes in elevation, we ended up riding 8 hours or more each day.

Saturday started early. I had driven down to Louisville Friday night and stayed at David’s house. Tim arrived around 6am Saturday, with a box of donuts. We loaded up on coffee, put our gear and bikes in/on Tim’s car, and made the 4-hour trip down to Big South Fork, eating donuts along the way. A glorious breakfast. Once we arrived, we found a campsite in the remote Great Meadow campground and got ready to ride. Here is our route from Saturday:

Our ride began on the road to the campground. Since the campground was at the end of a long, flat gravel road following a creek, we had a beautiful, easy warmup/cooldown on this road for each of our rides.

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After our warmup, we found ourselves on a paved road with a big, long climb. This first climb of the ride actually turned out to be the longest, and probably had the most elevation gain of any climb we did. But that is not to say that it would be the hardest. Far from it. This hill was paved and mostly not too steep, unlike some of the others.

We started to get a sense of the scenery. We were pleased to see more fall colors than we expected, big hills, and a lot of interesting rock bluffs.

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Here is Tim climbing. You can see David in the background, coming around a switchback.

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This climb reminded me a bit of my favorite climb out of the valley in Pennsylvania. Long, but fairly gradual. In a low gear you spin your way slowly up the hill. The PA climb was bigger, but this had a similar feeling.

There’s a nice view of distant hills, behind David.

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We turned onto Skullbone Tower Road, and almost immediately saw this bicycle perched on a roof.

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Despite its morbid name, Skullbone Tower Road was actually quite pleasant, and not overly difficult. It was a meandering ridgetop road with some minor fluctuations in elevation, some fun twists, a good flow, and some fantastic views.

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After a brief stint on a very quiet state highway, we turned onto Jones Hollow Road for our first major downhill of the weekend, and it was spectacular. It was a paved road, so we were able to go quiet fast with good traction. The road descended some 500 feet over the course of nearly two miles, with numerous twists and turns along the way, all the while skirting rock cliffs and offering some wonderful views. I had a stupid grin plastered on my face the whole way down. I couldn’t be bothered to attempt to take photos … the riding was just too good!

I did stop at this intersection. I would continue riding downhill in the left fork. Later, we would return via the gravel road on the right.

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Once in the valley, we would have some relatively flat riding on smooth pavement for a while. The scenery just kept getting better.

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At one point we passed a horse-drawn wagon. The folks in it were friendly and enthusiastic, and quite curious about what we were doing.  One girl charmingly exclaimed in a sweet southern belle voice, “We never see no bikes!”

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We rode on.

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Eventually we turned down a steep gravel hill, on a road we weren’t sure would go through. This shot is looking back up at the road we came down.

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We were all amazed by this suspension pedestrian bridge over the creek.

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We could also see that the road did in fact go through … straight through a rather wide creek! It was shallow, however, and passable.

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But we took this opportunity to explore a bit and have a snack. David climbed up on the bridge. I didn’t. I sort of wish I had, it was quite cool.

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Tim and I rode through the creek. David decided to take his shoes off. This SUV came through and had a bit of trouble getting through the creek — but he made it.

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Here’s Tim, having already crossed the creek. If you view it larger, in the background you can see the bridge, and David preparing to ride across.

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David rode across barefoot. Apparently the pedals hurt his feet. Ouch!

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We had quite a gravel climb up from the creek (~400 feet), then some easier, paved riding.

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This easier section was enjoyable because it afforded us more opportunity to pay attention to the scenery.

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We got to see quite a few more interesting rock cliffs and bluffs and other formations.

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As well as some beautiful bucolic scenes.

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We tackled a quite challenging gravel climb.

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Soon we found ourselves on a ridge with some wonderful views of some fields and hills, and had some really fun, flowing gravel riding on the incredible Freedom Road. But not before getting a photo of our three Long Haul Truckers first. Yes! We each rode a LHT. It was a great bicycle for this ride.

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Soon the road entered the woods and took us down a hill.

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We rode past a church … there were tons of these little Baptist churches in random places, and they all looked nearly identical. White, mostly with green roofs. This one had a white roof I guess, so not exactly identical to the others, but it’s still the same basic design.

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We reached a creek — the same creek we had crossed before. Now we had to cross it again.

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Another suspension bridge was quite interesting.

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A man was sitting by his pickup truck down by the creek. We never were able to figure out what the heck he was doing there. He was a little creepy …  a bit of a Deliverance moment. We needed water but with the old guy creeping me out, I didn’t think to filter any from the stream. This creek crossing was rockier, slipperier, and harder than the first one.

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After the creek is where an absolutely outrageous climb began. Nearly two miles and 500 feet of elevation gain, all on a very rough, rocky, loose gravel road. Some sections were so steep that our tires could not get purchase on the gravel and they spun out beneath us as we attempted to climb. This was the toughest climb of the day for me. Being basically out of water, relentless climbing in the heat, on basically a mountain biking surface, I was at a low point. I stopped a few times to catch my breath on the way up.

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To make matters worse, once we got to the top, we had some more major ups and downs. These were fun but each time we would start to lose that elevation we worked so hard to gain, it was a little disconcerting. We also saw several 4-wheelers along this section, whose vehicles kicked up untold amounts of dust. More interesting rock formations presented themselves.

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Somewhere along here, on a steep loose gravel downhill, I braked too hard and I felt my front wheel wash out from under me. I managed to do a leaping dismount and land on my feet! I’ve only been able to pull off that maneuver a couple of times … previously when mountain biking.

The riding was brutal, but at least the scenery was good.

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Eventually we made our way back to Jones Hollow Road. What was a blistering downhill before was a very slow climb now. I took advantage of the opportunity to get better views of the rock cliffs.

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We reached KY 92 again and spent a few minutes on that, with some more good views. I missed most of the photo ops here though. By this point, we were in dire need of water.

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Finally, we found a fire department and got water from their hose. We had a snack while we were at it and tried to rehydrate.

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When we got rolling again we enjoyed another incredible paved descent. This one had great flow, and it was absolutely exhilarating!

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We turned onto Wolf Creek Road which had a very tough climb. As we were climbing several dogs gave chase and their owner yelled something like “I’ll let you kill them for $20! Or, you can just take them!” I guess he didn’t much care for his dogs.

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Here are some scenes from the climb. It was long and brutal, but I was feeling better after getting some water. I felt surprisingly decent at this point. The sky was clouding up which to me was quite welcome. The sun had been so bright and hot, earlier.

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After what seemed like forever, we reached the top and turned onto Rattlesnake Ridge.

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This road had some mild rolling hills and I was feeling pretty good. By this time Tim was cooked. I’m not sure how David was feeling at this point. I enjoyed the gently meandering road and even the climbs a bit. I guess I got a second wind after we got more water. A few nice views along the way didn’t hurt, either.

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Next we got to ride back down the paved climb from the start of the day, and it was a hoot! A paved road with no traffic and lots of twists and turns had me leaning into the turns and really having a blast. I guess this must’ve been the third absolutely blissful paved descent of the day … and I sure felt we had earned it!

Once at the bottom of the hill, the road turned to gravel and we were on the flat 6-mile road back to our campsite. It was a pleasant way to wind down the ride, though at times it felt like a very long stretch of road, because we were tired and it was nearly dark. Still, it was lovely.

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It was an astoundingly great day on the bike. We were all tired when we got back to our campsite. We set up camp, made dinner and goofed around for a couple of hours, before crashing. What a day!

Note: this is Part 1. Read Part 2 here.

Camping at Jackson-Washington State Forest

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Last weekend, Sarah and I went camping at Jackson-Washington State Forest.

Saturday

We had some things to do earlier in the day on Saturday, so we didn’t get down there until late in the afternoon.

We were a little worried about going on this particular weekend, because it was opening weekend of firearms deer-hunting season. We arrived to find that the place was nearly vacant. We picked out a nice campsite in a pine forest, and we basically had an entire campground to ourselves. We set up camp. By the time we were done, it was dark. We set out for a night hike.

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We hiked the Sawmill Hollow Interpretive Trail. We had hiked this once before, during the day. It felt quite different at night, and we saw glowing eyes looking back at us a few times, illuminated by our lights. We stopped at a bench and turned our lights off. Suddenly, we could see a lake. Sometimes, you have to turn the light off in order to see. It was a wonderful hike of about two miles, and we had a lot of fun.

By the time we got back to our campsite, we were very hungry. We had brought some pork chops to cook. I got a fire going and Sarah cooked the pork chops for a few minutes in a skillet, on our propane stove. Once the fire was ready, we moved the pork chops onto the grill over the fire. It’s hard to judge how long to cook things this way, but we got it just right this time. The meat was tender and juicy and picked up a lot of the smoke flavor. Some of the best pork chops I’d ever had.

We got to bed fairly early … we were tired, and there wasn’t much else we wanted to do anyway.

Sunday

We woke up reasonably early on Sunday … but not too early. I’m not sure what time it was … nor was I too concerned with the time. One thing I enjoy about trips like this is not having to worry about the time.

I had slept quite well. Sarah did not sleep as well, and she had a headache. I built a small fire and we had some breakfast.

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Another nice feature of our campsite was that it was within very close walking distance of Knob Lake. This lake had been drained last time we were here, but it has been filled back in.

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After breakfast, we packed up our campsite and headed over to the trailhead for a hike. We wanted to hike Trail 1 up to Mount Baldy (aka Pinnacle Peak). Longtime readers of this blog may recognize this as the place where I proposed to Sarah back in February of 2008. It’s an out-and-back trail, one mile each way, but it’s very rugged and feels a lot longer. Later, I would hike some additional trails. Here’s a map and elevation profile.


View 2009-11-15 Trails 1, 2, 3 at Jackson-Washington SF in a larger map

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The trail starts with a long climb up to the remains of an old observation tower. The climb starts gradually, but soon steepens.

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From here, the trail traverses a series of hills. It goes straight down the hillside — so steep it’s hard to even walk down. Then it turns and goes straight up the next hill. It repeats this pattern a few times. It’s hard, but the scenery is beautiful.

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We reached the top to find a group of people hanging out, their kids goofing around, etc. This certainly put a damper on the romantic aspect of the hike, but we stuck around for a while and they eventually left. In the meantime, we took in the views and ate some lunch.

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We headed back the way we came … and the repeated hills were just as difficult on the way back. But we were in a good mood and enjoyed it anyway.

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After a while, we were back at the old observation tower. We discussed the possibility of hiking more. Sarah didn’t feel up for it, but she suggested that I go and hike some more and meet her back at the car. Just as we were debating whether Rob would go with me or with Sarah, he laid down on the ground, obviously very tired. That settled that …

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So, we parted ways here, for a little while.  I wasn’t really sure how far I’d be hiking, or how long it would take me. I settled into a rather vigorous pace. I figured the hills would be a little easier on this trail (Trail 2);  it was described as “Moderately Rugged,” whereas Trail 1 had been “Rugged.” However, these hills were just as difficult — if not even harder. The trail was never flat for very long, it was always going up, or down, steeply.

However, the views were spectacular. I almost forgot I was in Indiana; the land surrounding these huge hills (“knobs”) is quite flat, which makes the hills seem much bigger. And the trail followed some narrow ridge tops, with drastic ravines on either side.

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You could say that these trails are not very well-designed. Generally, they go straight up each hill, and straight down the other side, with no attempt at making the grades more manageable or the climbs more gradual. However, these trails had a unique character all their own, and I felt that the design (or lack thereof) gave me a better appreciation for the sharp relief of the landscape.

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And let’s not forget the views …

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The map showed an overlook on a short side trail. I reached the side trail, only to find the trail blocked, by this:

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I made my way through the debris, and there were some nice views, but not really much better than what I had been seeing along the main trail.

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From here, I headed back. I would take Trail 2 until its intersection with Trail 3, which would take me back down to the car. The hiking was still quite difficult, for a while.

But, did I mention the views?

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Eventually, I got on Trail 3. It was a little easier. There were still a few ups and downs at first, but they weren’t as steep as Trails 1 and 2.

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After a couple of hills, the trail descended rather sharply, for quite a while. I reached the bottom, where I was finally on flat ground. I crossed a creek, and almost immediately reached the parking lot.

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Incredibly, this hike was under four miles. It felt a lot longer, with the relentless hills. But the effort paid off with some great views.

My wife was waiting in the car for me. I don’t think she’d been waiting too terribly long … I really booked it during the second half of this hike. We relaxed for a few minutes and talked about the hike, and then drove home.

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