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Versailles State Park

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

On “Black Friday,” I went mountain biking with my friend Dave. We have made this a tradition: every year, on Black Friday, while millions of people flock to shopping malls to try to find the best sales, we go ride our bikes in the woods. It’s a great way to spend the day and avoid the crowds. This year, we went to Versailles State Park, which is a couple of hours away by car. This is also where we went on our first Black Friday ride, but there are several new trails since that ride. We rode all of the trails, in a big loop. Here’s the map and elevation profile.


View 2009-11-27 Versailles Black Friday Mountain Biking.kml in a larger map

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We started out on the new Shadow Run trail. This is an intermediate trail which begins with a climb. It was in the 30s outside and we were cold when we started riding, but this climb helped us warm up. Once we reached the top of the hill, the trail was much easier; it’s quite flat for a while, but it winds through the woods with many twists and turns. Along the way, we got some great views of Laughery Creek, and saw quite a few sinkholes. Rolling on flat ground for a while allowed us to get warmed up before hitting the harder trails.

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You can see Dave in the above shot, if you look closely.

The trail got a bit harder as turned to go downhill. It wound its way down the side of the hill, with more views of the creek and ravines below.

Next, we had to redo part of the Shadow Run climb in order to make our way up to the Cliffside Trail. This trail was more difficult; it skirts the edge of a cliff, and the trail is narrower and rockier. It even crosses a waterfall at one point. We walked this part due to safety concerns. Trail conditions were mostly good, but parts were muddy enough that traction was poor at times. We had more great views of the creek this whole time, but we had to stay focused on riding, so it was hard to take in the views, except when we stopped.

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This shot taken by Dave. The iPhone shot looks nice here!

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Stone bench along the trail

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Dave took this shot of me with his iPhone

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Next was the Center Loop. This went by really quickly. It was a fun trail, with some twists and turns and a bit of climbing, but it was over just as I was getting into it. It mostly serves as a way to reach the Grandview Trail, which at six miles long, is the longest trail at the park. When we reached the Grandview Trail, we saw this sign, which we promptly ignored, pointing us back to the trailhead (photo by Dave).

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The Grandview trail is aptly named, as it offers views of a bend in Laughery Creek some 150 feet below, as well as some nearby hills.  These views would be much obstructed during the summer, but with no leaves on the trees, we could see quite a bit. This trail has some fast, flowing riding for a while. Conditions were much better than the last time I rode here. Back on Black Friday of 2006, the trail was covered in several inches of leaves. This year things were considerably better; the trail was fairly clear and those leaves that were there had been compacted. We had only to worry about the occasional muddy section.

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Last time I was here, the Grandview Trail was also much shorter. At that point, it had a few minutes of fun, flowing riding, then a climb back to the start. We rode it twice in a row, last time. Now the trail is over twice as long as it used to be. Instead of turning back so soon, it goes down almost all the way to creek level before winding through mixed hardwood/pine forests and finally, climbing back up to the starting point. This gave us another nice perspective of the creek, as well as some extra fun.

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The rest of the ride is a blur, we were on Center Loop again briefly, then a fast-but-brief descent on the Creekside Trail, followed by a creek crossing and some very rocky sections.

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We finished the ride, right around 11 miles, in 2 1/2 hours of riding. It felt a lot longer, thanks to the climbing, mud, technical sections, and views. We contemplated riding the Grandview Trail twice, but we were tired and hungry.

The trails at Versailles are just awesome. Each has its own character, but they are all extremely fun, and all are very beautiful. I’ll definitely be returning.

Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part III

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

This is Part III. Please read Part I and Part II first.

I slept much better than I usually do when I’m camping. I mostly attribute this to the fact that I brought a real pillow AND a smaller pillow with me. For whatever reason, I’ve got to have my pillows! I did wake up a couple of times during the night, but I fell back asleep right away.

I woke up, squinting as the sun was shining brightly. I heard the pitter-patter of a mouse running around my tent. I had no sense of what time it was. It felt like I had slept in, and I hoped Dave hadn’t been up and waiting for me for too long. It turned out it was 8:30, and Dave had also just gotten up.

Dave started a small fire and I heated water for coffee and oatmeal. We also had donuts … which were quite tasty, but surprisingly cold.

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I’m a coffee lover, and I had purchased some Starbucks “VIA” instant coffee so we could try that. It was extremely convenient, as it was just instant coffee in pre-measured packets. I thought it was pretty good. I preferred it with cream and sugar … if it had been a little bit better, I would have had it black. I wouldn’t buy it all the time, but it was perfect for camping — no need for a percolator or French Press or other device, and we still had good coffee.

Anyway, after we had breakfast and coffee, we headed over to the fire tower area for some hiking.

We were doing the Old Axsom Branch hike in the Deam Wildnerness area.  I had never done this hike before … most of it is unmaintained or has no trail at all. It seemed like something that would work better with a guide. Dave has hiked this trail numerous times and knows his way around, so this worked out perfectly. Here’s a map.


View 2009-11-08 Old Axsom Branch Hike in a larger map

The hike started along a fire road on top of a ridge. We then turned off onto a trail that followed another ridge for a bit, before descending into the ravines below.

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A tree with arms

Once in the valley, we followed a creek for a bit …

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And bushwhacked through a meadow to this old cabin. As you can see, a tree fell on it recently.

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Soon, we reached Lake Monroe. Apparently if the water is high, the part of the hike down by the lake can be quite difficult, if you have to hike on higher ground with more shrubbery. The lake looked beautiful, as always, and we hiked alongside it for quite some time.

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We saw some killer campsites along the way …

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… and some very interesting rocks, under water

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Soon, we started a long climb up to the top of a ridge. There was no trail, and the first section had a lot of brush, making for a challenging hike. At the same time, leaf cover made it difficult to avoid rocks and other obstacles.

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We had some nice views of the lake along the way …

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… and saw a see-through tree ….

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… and several “sweat lodges” …

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… and a bent tree, apparently this was an Indian technique to indicate a turn in the trail.

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We followed the ridge for quite a while …

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… and eventually reached a spot with some great views of the lake

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… and the terraced land, carved by glaciers.

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We decided this was our lunch spot. Dave had brought some pita bread, salami, pepperoni, and leftover steak from the night before. This made for a delicious lunch.

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We rested for a while and ate some lunch, enjoying both the cool breeze and the warm sun.  We looked out above the water … way, way above the water … above our position on the ridge, even … in time to see three bald eagles soaring across the sky. It had taken a lot of work to get here — bushwhacking through brush, and hiking up to the top of the ridge. But it was well worth it.

After lunch, the hiking was varied. We had more ridgetop hiking, some bushwhacking, and followed a faint horse trail for a while.

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We reached Terrill Pond, which Sarah and I have visited a couple of times before. It’s always beautiful, and on this day, the lily pads were changing colors. Just lovely.

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Soon, we were back on the fire road and headed back out of the woods. But we had a couple more miles to hike from here. We checked out a few campsites along the way … there are lots of great options for backpacking in the Deam Wilderness.

At the end of the hike, we’d gone about six miles. It was a lot of work, but it paid off.

We returned to our campsite to pack up the car. We got all ready to go, and Dave’s car wouldn’t start. The battery didn’t have enough juice. After a few failed attempts at finding someone to jumpstart the car, I called Sarah and she agreed to come pick us up. She had to buy jumper cables, but I’ve been meaning to get some for a while. I’m glad we have some now. Dave’s car started right up when we jump-started it. We headed home … what an awesome camping trip!

Far too busy

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

I’ve been in a bit of a rut. I haven’t had much time for cycling/hiking/etc., since starting my own business. As it turns out, I’m a real hardass, as a boss. Working for myself, there are no “business hours,” only long lists of things that need to be accomplished, most of which I can’t bill to anyone. I think I am getting some things in order now, though, so hopefully I can start billing more hours soon.

Anyway, I haven’t been completely inactive. I do have a little catching up to do. Back on January 10-11, a friend of Sarah’s, who came to our wedding, came to visit with his girlfriend. We hiked about 2.5 miles on the 10th at Frances Slocum State Park, and a bunch of snow fell during our hike. We did a shorter hike on the 11th on the Levee Trail. When we weren’t hiking, we played some games and generally hung out.  Great times. I’m not going to go into more detail about the hikes, but here are a few photos.

Saturday

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