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Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part I

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

This weekend, Dave and I headed down to Hoosier National Forest for a camping trip. The trip was an absolute blast, and we did about 24 miles of mountain biking, and 6 miles of hiking. This report covers some of our activities on Saturday.

Arriving

We had planned on starting our trip on Friday after work, but something came up, so we pushed it back to Saturday morning.  This was not a problem at all, we’d still have plenty of time to do the activities we wanted. Dave picked me up Saturday morning and we headed down to Hoosier National Forest. We hit a snag trying to buy trail passes on the way there — the gas station where we stopped had run out — but we checked Crazy Joe’s Trading Post on Chapel Hill Road, and they had trail passes.

Hoosier National Forest has many campsites spread throughout the forest. Really you can set up camp just about anywhere, but there are some nice designated sites along the side of the gravel roads. We found a great spot by a towering, gnarly old Beech tree and some pines. Our nearest neighbors were about 1/4 mile away. This sure beats staying in a crowded campground.

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We parked the car and ate some lunch, then got ready to ride. We could set up camp later.

Saturday afternoon ride

Both of us had cleaned our bikes thoroughly before the ride. Both looked great — in fact, my mountain bike looked better than it had in a long time. That would not last long.

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View 2009-11-07 HNF MTB Camping Trip 1 in a larger map

We headed out on our bikes, right from the campsite. We rolled down some gravel roads before we reached our first trail. We decided to ride a part of Hickory Ridge Trail 18 that we’ve never ridden before.

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Immediately after we turned onto the trail, we hit deep mud, badly chewed up by horse traffic. Things improved shortly thereafter, but we after that, the trail conditions varied wildly. One moment we’d be speeding down relatively dry trail, the next we’d be mired in muck. And all of it had deep leaf cover, making it difficult to see where the trail went at times.

We followed the top of a ridge for a while, until the ridge ended and we rode steeply down into a ravine.

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The terrain is beautiful but very rugged in this area. We’d soon realize that the trail makes no attempt at taking an easier route across the land. We plunged into a ravine, crossed a creek, and climbed up the next hill. Then we went down the other side, and moved onto the next hill. The grades were steep — we had to push our bikes a lot — and the trails were incredibly muddy and suffering from horse damage in many areas.

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Another hill to climb

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This section of trail was in particularly bad shape

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Pushing through the mess

Not that the conditions surprised us. Part of the appeal of riding in Hoosier National Forest is the raw and natural experience.

As we crested another hill, we encountered some horse traffic. We spoke with some of the horseback riders, and I have to say, everyone got along very well. Sometimes encounters with horsemen are unpleasant … and there are certainly mountain bikers out there who don’t yield to the horses or are otherwise rude. But everyone we encountered was friendly and courteous. Some even complimented us on our chosen mode of transportation, impressed that we could ride these hills on bicycles. This lady took our pictures as she rode by; I grabbed my camera and snapped her photo. It’s really great to see different groups of trail users sharing the trails harmoniously.

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We turned on Trail 4, which was in somewhat better shape than 18 had been. This took us along another ridge, and down a hill, dumping us out on another gravel road.

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We passed Hickory Grove church/cemetery.

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By this time, the easier riding on a smooth gravel road gave us a welcome respite from the constant, intense effort of the trails. The leaf cover and mud meant that the trails required more work than usual. The road had some rolling hills, enough to have fun with, but no terribly grueling climbs.

Soon, we reached trail 2. We had ridden here once before, last year. Today things looked much different, with thick leaves covering the trail. This trail started with more great ridgetop riding, with much better trail conditions, followed by a long descent to a creek.

The mud in the creek bottom area was slick, slimy, and deep. After a few creek crossings and riding through mud, our tires got so muddy that the mud was rubbing our chainstays. We had to stop and clear some of the mud with a stick just to keep the wheels turning. We even tried to rinse the mud off in a creek. I also had mud between the pulleys in my rear derailleur. I think the mud was so deep that my derailleur got submerged in it.

It may sound like I’m complaining, but through all this, the scenery remained incredibly beautiful. And while the mud made the riding more challenging, it was a lot of fun.

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The trail through a couple more big hills at us, once again just going up and over one hill, then onto the next. And once again, we had to push our bikes up parts of the hills. They were just too steep to ride up, especially since traction wasn’t exactly ideal.

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Eventually, we turned onto trail 6 and headed back to the gravel road we’d ridden here. We enjoyed a few more miles of rolling hills on smooth gravel, before turning onto another road, this one with chunky, loose gravel.  At this point in the ride, that wasn’t what either of us needed. The rough gravel made riding very difficult. But, eventually, we turned onto another smooth gravel road and before long, we were back at our campsite. We had covered a bit over 16 miles in about four hours.

Setting up camp

Once back at our campsite, we changed into some clean clothes and talked about the ride over a beer. Our bikes, which had been clean just a few hours before, were now a complete mess.

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The same could be said about me …

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Sitting there, I looked up and noticed the awesome trees overhead.

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We set up camp, and gathered some kindling for later.

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We enjoyed watching the sun set, and had a snack …

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… and darkness fell. We heard some owls calling to each other. And then a screech, and more hooting. One of them had caught something. We couldn’t see them but they couldn’t have been far from our campsite.

Night had fallen, but we weren’t done yet. We gathered our bike gear and headed out for a night ride.

To be continued …

Part III: Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest

Friday, September 5th, 2008

On Sunday, I rode from Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest. Once again, Sarah met me there by car. Previously, we had discussed camping again at one of the state forests that night, but we decided against it, due to the heat and the fact that we wanted to have a restful day on Monday. I had a route planned (view it on Bikely) and expected it to be about 25 miles. I told Sarah we should probably allow two hours for me to make it there, as I expected to take my time.

Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest
Annotated route overview

I got a later start than I planned. This is typical for me. Getting up, having breakfast, and breaking down the tent and everything took a lot longer than I expected. The main downside to this was that it was already heating up by the time I hit the road.

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Riding

Despite the heat, I was in good spirits. It felt good to be back on the bike, and not being in a hurry makes the heat more tolerable.

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Riding through Jackson-Washington State Forest

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A pond on the way out

Jackson County is a very interesting place to ride. Most the land is flat, but huge hills (“knobs”) surround you. Sometimes there will be cornfields on both sides of you, and it just feels like you’re riding down the middle of a cornfield. Sometimes there are soybeans planted instead, which give you better views of the hills.

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Soy fields and hills

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A church

The route I planned was mostly on back roads. I rode a bit on State Road 39, and it was quiet, but you never know with the state highways. Some are nearly vacant and have relatively low speed limits. Some are very busy and have fast traffic. There’s generally no way of knowing which kind of road any given state highway will be until you get there. I stuck with my planned ride on back roads.

It wasn’t long before I hit gravel. Quite suddenly, the pavement ended and I was riding on gravel. It was fairly tightly-packed gravel, and I had a tailwind. I rode around 20 mph on gravel for some time — I was flying, and it felt great.

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Where the pavement ends

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My bicycle by some corn.

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Cornfields and hills

I got a little confused about the route. I thought I went the right way, but soon started seeing things again that I had seen earlier in the ride. I was going in circles. Fortunately, I had brought my Gazetteer and a compass with me. I highly recommend carrying both, if you can. I was able to figure out, fairly easily, where I messed up and where I needed to go. I otherwise would’ve had to make a series of guesses to get myself out of this mess. And I went a good 30 minutes without seeing any cars, so asking for directions wouldn’t have worked too well.

Unfortunately, I had gone several miles out of the way. It took me a while to get back on track. Fortunately, I was really enjoying the scenery and it didn’t bother me too much. I knew that given this mistake, I’d be late to meet Sarah, but there wasn’t much I could do about it at this stage.

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Dilapidated barn

I got back on track and had some more gravel riding to do. It wasn’t as smooth this time around, but it was still fun. This road was a bit curvier, and the turns kept me on my toes. It would have been easy to have a wheel wash out, on a bicycle less suited to gravel.

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Hay bales

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More gravel

I spent quite a while on Waskum Bridge Road. I was hoping this meant I’d be hitting a bridge soon. I went over one small one but I couldn’t imagine they’d name the road after such a small bridge. Sure enough, I soon reached a bigger bridge, with one stream to the west, which branched into two on the east side of the bridge. I looked around for turtles or other wildlife but didn’t see any. I did, however, see a dirt road running alongside the stream. This was awesome, because I’ve been wanting to try riding my new bike on a dirt road, but have had a hard time finding any.

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The stream splits

I didn’t ride on the dirt road for very long, but the bike handled quite well while I did. I simply didn’t want to waste too much time, since I was already behind schedule. The tires had good traction, even in the loose dirt. It had been a long time since the last rain and things were quite dusty.

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Dirt road

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My tire treads in the dust

After a while I ended up back on paved roads, and spent some time on Pumpkin Center Road, a fun, curvy country road. I was hoping I’d get to see a bunch of pumpkins or something, but no such luck. I did see yet another interesting hilltop cemetery.

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Pumpkin Center Road

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Gater Cemetery

It was around this time that the rolling hills started. No single hill was all that big, but I rode over many hills, one right after the other. It was really getting hot at this point, so I didn’t tackle the hills with as much fervor as I normally would. I was content to spin over gradually. The Trucker’s lower gearing really came into play here and while I was moving slowly, I was able to take on the hills without exhausting myself too much.

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Rolling hills on Pumpkin Center Road

I ended up on State Road 39 for a little while, and there was pretty much no traffic. I could have ridden that road most of the way down and it would’ve been more direct and an easier route to follow. However, I really enjoyed the back roads. I soon ended up on Bloomington Trail Road, which had more rolling hills, some of them much bigger. I got turned around a couple of times but soon found my way. The Gazetteer came in handy once again. I also got to ride through the Leota covered bridge, which was pretty cool.

Several times I had tried to talk to Sarah by phone to let her know I was running late, but doing fine. Eventually I managed to communicate that to her, despite the fact that our phones both had poor reception and most of the time, we were only able to exchange greetings before our signals were dropped.

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Bloomington Trail Road, with big hills in the distance

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A knob

The hills continued getting bigger. Still nothing too hard, but again, cumulatively I was feeling it. But I was almost there. Sarah had told me she and Rob were waiting by a church. When I was in the right area and saw a church, I figured I must have found them.

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Arriving at the church

When I pulled into the parking lot, they were waiting for me.

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What a greeting!

The ride ended up being longer than I expected by about 10 miles — about 35 miles total. My bicycle was a mess from all the dirt and gravel roads. And so was I. I had a great ride, but I was glad to be done. The heat was getting to me.

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Dirty bike

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Me

We hung out in the parking lot a little bit. A guy went by repeatedly on a tractor, hauling hay bales one at a time. Sarah said he’d been at it for quite some time. He waved every time he went by.

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Hauling hay bales

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Brooks saddle, Keven’s Bag, and my Indiana Gazetteer

We put my bike on the bike rack and drove into town to get some lunch. We found a local restaurant where my beef Manhattan looked suspiciously like Sarah’s turkey, except for the color of the gravy. It was one of those small diner-type places where everything is bland and inoffensive. It’s always nice to know where the local mediocre generic American food restaurant is. On our way out we saw the following sign.

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FREE FLOYD!

We had planned to hike in Clark State Forest, but it was really hot and we were exhausted. We opted just to drive through. We’ll return there someday soon, I’m sure. The drive through the forest took us to the top of one of the knobs, and it was a steep, twisty climb. I simply must attempt it by bicycle sometime. The car was struggling with it a bit at times. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to believe this is the midwest with views like this. The elevation at this point was over 1,000 feet.

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View from the top


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Another view

It was a beautiful trip. I wished it hadn’t been soon hot as I would’ve loved to explore the area some more. But we were exhausted already, and drove home. We took the scenic route and I showed Sarah some of the things I saw on my way to Jackson-Washington State Forest.

All in all, I’d say the trip was a success. We need to streamline things in the future, but this worked fairly well. I can’t wait to go camping together again. And the touring bug has bit hard, and I’m itching to do an unsupported trip sometime soon.

Part II: Hiking at Jackson-Washington State Forest

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Sarah and I decided a hike was in order on Saturday afternoon. We didn’t want to do anything too long, and from experience we knew that the trails there are pretty challenging. Hiking there, it feels like you’re covering more ground because there are constant ups and downs, many of them fairly steep.  We looked at a map and put together a short loop. We had chosen a campsite right by a trailhead, so we were able to hike directly from our site.

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Starting the hike.

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Enjoying ourselves already

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A fuzzy vine on a tree

Almost immediately, the trail began climbing, and did so for quite a while. Once we reached the top of that hill, we saw a sign saying the trail is closed for logging. Couldn’t they have put the sign at the bottom of the hill?

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Naturally, the part of the trail we planned to hike was closed

However, it appeared based on the sign that they had just closed the trail days before, and it said you could go through if nobody was working. We continued on. All they had done so far was mark a few trees.

It’s really sad how much logging has increased in the state forests. Our current governor has increased logging 400% since taking office. Sad. No, I didn’t vote for him.

The trail followed a ridge briefly but then resumed the constant ups and downs. You’d literally reach the top of a hill and immediately go down the other side, only to climb another hill after that. We crested one hill to see our dog waiting for us.

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Rob, waiting at the top of a hill

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Steep trail

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Rob and I exchange greetings

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More steep trail

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Sarah

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Hiking down

We came around a bend and suddenly Rob ran off the trail and into some brush. We heard some scuffling and wondered what was going on. I tried to get him back, worried that he’d run down the very steep side of the ravine. A couple moments later, out came Rob, with … something … in his mouth. Something big and furry.

It didn’t take long before I realized it was a possum. Rob seemed so proud of himself for finding it and I think wanted to show us. Somehow, we got him to set it down somewhere other than on our feet.

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Rob’s mostly-dead possum

It wasn’t moving. Well, at least not much. We could see it was still breathing. At this point I decided the humane thing to do would be to end its suffering. Sarah put Rob’s leash on and took him down the trail. I found a suitably long and thick stick and finished it off.

About an hour later, Sarah said to me “Hey, don’t possums play dead?” At this point, I realized what I had done. I killed a possum that in all likelihood would have recovered. I felt a little dumb, and kind of bad for doing that, but it really did seem like the humane course of action at the time. Apparently I’m not the first person to do this though as Wikipedia’s Opossum entry says, “Many injured opossums have been killed by well-meaning people who find a catatonic animal and assume the worst.”

We were quite surprised at Rob’s actions. He’s normally a very laid-back, lazy dog. We see rabbits all the time on our walks at home and never seems to pay much attention. But he sure went after that possum aggressively. We couldn’t find any bite or scratch marks on Rob … I guess that possum never had a chance.

After that encounter, we were a little shaken up but still enjoyed the rest of our hike. Unfortunately the hike we chose to do didn’t have any overlooks, even though it went to one of the highest points in the area. Next time we’ll make a point of hitting an overlook. This time, we were too tired, and it was too hot, to add in the extra miles to get to an overlook. Still, it was a beautiful hike and you could see some hills in the distance between trees. Not really something you could catch with a camera. You can sort of tell in the photo below.

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Going downhill back toward the trailhead

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Almost back

We really enjoyed our hike. This state forest is very special to us, as it’s where we got engaged. It was great to hike there again and see some different trails. And the possum encounter is not something we’ll be forgetting any time soon.

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