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Still riding

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

I’ve felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm for riding, and I’ve found myself with a bit more time on my hands, too. Actually this is quite a busy summer, with some travel earlier, and now two classes, plus an internship, and work. However, I’ve had significantly less homework this summer than I had during the year, which has given me more opportunities for riding.

So far, it’s mostly been rides under 35 miles, but I’m planning on extending that soon, heat be damned. I’ve done about a thousand different variations on my “water works” route, and a few other routes I’ve ridden before. I need to sit down sometime and just dream up some new training routes, as I’m getting tired of doing the same ones over and over, even with all the variations I’ve tried.

It’s been incredibly hot and dry (drought). We nearly set a high temperature record last week when it was 105°F one day. Many fields are brown and dry from the lack of rain.

Some folks on Google+ are doing a “500 miles in July” challenge, which I have decided to do. A couple years ago, a 500-mile month wouldn’t have been a big deal (my best month ever was over 700 miles) but this year is different. In June I only rode 234 miles, so it’s definitely going to require some work to hit 500 this month. I’m off to a good start.

All this is leading somewhere, too. A significant, challenging and exciting cycling undertaking next month. I hope I can be ready for it. More on this later.

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.

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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.

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

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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We found a covered bridge to explore.

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

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

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Soon we reached Medora.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

Sycamore Loop

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

The weather has been much cooler. On Sunday, Sarah and I decided it was time for some hiking … something we don’t like to do when it’s oppressively hot. In fact, typically we do most of our hiking in the winter, but we are branching out a bit.

It rained on and off all day, but we really wanted to get out. We discussed possible trails and settled on the Sycamore Loop, a trail we’ve hiked a couple of times before.

We thought the rain was done, but as we were getting ready, we looked outside, and it was raining again. No worries, we just put some ponchos in my pack, and we were ready to go. I was going to take my DSLR on this hike, but given the rain, I decided against it.  Here’s a map of the hike.

We started off on a fire road, then turned onto the trail. At this point, the rain had stopped and it was rather sunny. We were all excited to be out in the woods.

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Here, you can see that Rob was sitting for the photo, as instructed, but facing the wrong way …

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At every opportunity, Rob would lay down in a puddle or creek.

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Though many of the creeks were dry, like this one.

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Not to be deterred, Rob found another secret swimming hole, this one about two feet in diameter.

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After that diversion, we were moving again. The trail was getting a bit overgrown in places, though not entirely. Here’s “dog’s eye view.”

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We found lots of these little orange/yellow flowers.

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It was a great day to be in the woods. Then, it started raining. We put on our ponchos.

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Sarah was wearing her “wedding poncho,” though fortunately she did not need it on our actual wedding day. No one told me just how much I looked like Little Red Riding Hood in my red poncho. Next time, I’ll have to bring a wicker basket.

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The rain wasn’t bad at first, but it picked up some more. For a while, it rained hard. We really didn’t mind. The cooler weather was wonderful, and we got a little wet, but the ponchos worked well enough. We were in pine forest for a while, with very tall pines. With a bit of fog/mist from the rain, it looked beautiful.

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After a while, the rain subsided and we no longer needed our ponchos. We passed some more scenery, such as this pond, right by a campsite.

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And this was just one of many shaggy trees.

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This segment of the trail felt longer than I remembered. There’s a long, gradual climb out of a ravine that just goes on and on. At times the wind would pick up and we would hear the leaves rustling, and water being blown from the leaves, falling to the forest floor. Then the wind would travel slowly through the trees, the falling water moving toward us, washing overhead and finally moving past us. The canopy was so dense that we didn’t even get wet when this happened, but it was really something, hearing it overhead.

Eventually we reached the fire road and headed back.

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It was a great hike — it was either 5.3 or 6.7 miles, depending on which program you believe. Something is screwy with my GPS track on this one — oh well. In the past, it’s been around 7.5 miles, but in those cases, we had added on a little extra side trip.

It’s definitely time for more hiking. There are many great options around here, and we tend to do some of the same repeatedly. I hope we can explore some new trails soon.

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