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A Midnight Rider (almost)

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Until yesterday, I hadn’t ridden all week, except for commutes and a few errands. I normally do 2-3 recreational/training rides during the week, but the heat and humidity had pretty much killed my desire to ride. Sarah and I had some things to do around town yesterday, and we got back sometime a bit after 10:00 pm. I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go for a ride. I gathered all my light sources and put them on my bike. This included a rear blinker (Blackburn Mars 3.0) and two headlights (Blackburn Quadrant, in blink mode, and a CygoLite Hi-Flux 100 steady-beam light).

In other words, I was lit up like a Christmas tree.

I could tell Sarah thought all this was a little nuts, and I reassured her that drivers would be able to see me. I planned on doing my Mount Gilead ride, which is part State Road 45, which sees a fair amount of traffic at times (although not too much at night) and part remote rural road (Mount Gilead Road itself). Even though I could tell Sarah was worried, she was trying to be as cool as possible about this, and she succeeded. I appreciated it.

As I started riding, I was pleased that I was able to see fairly well. I had done night rides before, but only on mountain bike trails or very brief neighborhood rides. The road directly in front of me was illuminated well, but I couldn’t see off to the sides. A light on my helmet would’ve helped.

It was still hot, and a lot more humid than it is during the day. Still, it felt great to get out and ride, and I’ve always loved the night. I was greeted with some fantastic rural earthy nighttime smells. The air was thick from the humidity, but I felt myself cut right through it. A glance to the right gave me a glimpse of a deer — the only one I’d see, due to the limited light, but definitely not the only one I passed. Occasional heat lightning punctuated the sky, an orange glow to the west indicated the way back to the city, and some backlit clouds attempted to hide the moon from my view. Insects chirped and squeaked all around me.

As I began the descent on Mount Gilead Road, I kept my speed down (although I’d later see that I still hit 34 mph) since I couldn’t see too far ahead of me, and I was worried something might run into the road in front of me. I love this descent because it’s always a few degrees cooler once you get down in the valley. At the bottom, it was flat for a few minutes, and I tried to look around a little more, hoping to see some wildlife. It was very dark, and my lights weren’t bright enough to see anything. Mount Gilead lacks street lights, which to me was welcome. There’s something great about finding true darkness.

I started the climb out of the valley. It was pretty weird to climb up a hill without being able to see more than a few feet in front of me. I’ve ridden this hill many times, so I knew how long the climb was, but not having much visual confirmation of my progress was a little disheartening. As I reached the top and rode into a clearing, heat lightning flashed above, seemingly congratulating me on my victory.

The rest of Mount Gilead Road is gently rolling and winding and goes by some farms. It doesn’t take long to reach State Road 45 once you finish the climb. By the time I got to 45, I was glad that it’s a little better lit than Mount Gilead. Being someplace that dark has its charms, but so does being able to see. The fact that there were more cars on 45 didn’t bother me because I knew I was visible, and their headlights provided some additional light. And they were all very courteous.

45 has some rolling hills and winds around a bit, and is a pretty fun ride. I especially enjoyed it then, at night, not having ridden in so long. As I rode, I could see sweat glistening on my arms. It actually looked pretty cool, in a way. I started to feel a few drops falling from above. It was starting to rain. At first, my gut reaction was disappointment, but it actually felt pretty good. It rained a little harder, and it felt cool on my face and my arms. I saw some lightning again and told myself it was just heat lightning, but now I’m not sure. If it wasn’t heat lightning, maybe it was dangerous, but it seemed distant and it was very beautiful. I really enjoyed the rain … if it had rained any harder, I might have had to do a no-hands, leaning back with arms spread open and letting rain fall on my face thing like that scene from Shawshank Redemption. I felt great.

The transition from rural area to town took me by surprise. It always used to do that when I moved back to Bloomington, but I got used to it. However, at night, there are fewer visual cues to remind me that I’m getting close to town, so suddenly, I was upon it. There’s a fun little descent and a banked turn. I hammered it and just flew through. A few minutes later, I was home (around 11:45), but the experience has stuck with me. I’ll have to do another night ride soon. They are more challenging rides, but they’re a unique experience that can’t be duplicated any other way. It may have only been about a 13-mile ride, but it had a lot of impact.

Weekend ride and hikes

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Riding around Lake Lemon

I was planning on doing a long ride on Saturday morning, and got up a bit after 8:00 am. It was already pretty hot and extremely humid, so I decided to do a shorter ride around Lake Lemon (about 35 miles) instead. I was glad that I did, because while the humidity dropped a little, it only got hotter. Sarah and I were also planning on hiking with a local hiking group that afternoon, and I didn’t want to be so worn out I wouldn’t be up for it.

It was mostly an uneventful ride. I was a bit sluggish due to the heat, but not too bad. I stopped a few times to make some adjustments to my Brooks saddle, which I still don’t have adjusted to my liking. Eventually, I stopped messing with it and just rode, and that was the best part of the ride. Instead of worrying about slight changes in saddle angle, I just enjoyed the ride. I need to figure out some more good routes, though, because I’m getting a little tired of doing the same ones all the time.

As I was heading back to State Road 45 on Bethel Lane, I heard what sounded like an AM radio. As I approached a barn, I realized the sound was an auction that was taking place there. There were a lot of vehicles (mostly pickup trucks) outside, and a sign read “Real estate and personal property auction.” If I hadn’t been decked out in my cycling clothing and anxious to get home, I might have stopped. I heard the auctioneer, in a prototypical redneck fast-talking auctioneer voice, say “Do I hear $2 for this barn? $2? … OK, how about $5? Do I hear $5? $5 for this barn?” … I didn’t hear how high the bidding went, but I think Sarah and I may go back there sometime to see if it’s a regular auction, and see if we can buy a barn for $5.

I was pretty tired after my ride, but I took a shower and we got some lunch. We headed to the meeting point for the hike. It was well into the 90s at this point, and we were sweating just driving around.

Hiking at Spring Mill State Park

We met the hiking group. I had offered to drive, but the air conditioning in my car doesn’t work. However, I have a state park pass, so we could get into the park for free. The other car was air-conditioned, but nobody in that car had a pass, so the choices were: suffer the heat and get in for free, or ride in an air-conditioned car and pay to get into the park. I think if there had been enough room in the other car, everyone would have ridden there.

Upon arriving at Spring Mill, some people wanted to check out the pioneer village they have there, so we watched a water wheel-powered sawmill and corn mill. I had talked about buying some of their corn meal, but I didn’t feel like dealing with it, so I didn’t. We walked around a museum there a bit, and one or two people were really into that, but the rest of us just wanted to hike (Sarah and myself included). I wouldn’t have minded looking around the village if it hadn’t been so damn hot outside, but we only brought enough water for a hike, and I had already spent 2 1/2 hours in the sun on my bike (although Sarah kindly pointed out that I just “sat around” for 2 1/2 hours). I was trying to limit my exposure somewhat.

Eventually, we settled on a 2.5-mile “rugged” trail and started hiking. The first thing we did was to go down a bunch of wooden stairs to Donaldson Cave. This was a really cool cave (both literally and figuratively). Only one person in the group had a flashlight, but you really couldn’t go in all that far anyway. We walked through part of the cave, and climbed out a small exit that had us outside again.

Climbing out Hikers climbing down and children playing in the creek
Climbing out of the cave /climbing down a rock wall

Some people decided to scale down the rock face to the ground below, but Sarah and Ahad and I decided to check out the cave some more. We found a tunnel, which we followed for a while. It got progressively smaller, and in one part we had to straddle some water below to get through. It was really cool — I forget how awesome caves can be. We stopped after a while and didn’t really want to crawl, so we went back. Maybe some other time, we can do some actual caving, but we weren’t equipped for it this time, and the group was waiting for us.

Us Us, backlit by another hiker's flashlight
Us, in the cave

Donaldson Cave Cliff
Right inside the cave / cliff outside the cave

Next, we climbed countless stairs out of the ravine and started our hike. We had a bit of a false start, but quickly corrected our mistake. The trail was supposed to be rugged, but it was covered with gravel almost the whole way, and it was wide. I guess its “rugged” description must be because it goes up and down a lot. It had a lot of elevation change, sure, but to me, that’s different from a “rugged” trail. I expected a narrower, rougher trail with switchbacks. The trail also went by the road a lot, which was disappointing. Overall, it was an enjoyable hike with a very diverse group of hikers — I particularly liked Ahad’s zest for exploration — but the trail itself left something to be desired. On the other hand, we did go by another cave, and there are two more that you can tour by boat.

Hiking around Crooked Creek Lake

On Sunday, Sarah and I decided to go for a short hike together. We chose to hike around Crooked Creek Lake, which my friend Dave said is his favorite lake in this area. It’s pretty remote, located in a section of Yellowwood State Forest that is little known. The only problem we had was that Dave is a master of understatement. “Cross the creek and park,” his directions said. What they didn’t say was, “drive THROUGH the creek to reach the parking lot,” which would have been more accurate. We probably could have made it, but instead, we parked in a meadow and crossed the creek on foot.

Creek crossing to the parking lot
Please drive through this creek.

Crooked Creek Lake
Crooked Creek Lake

As we walked across the dam, we saw an unbelievable number of butterflies and dragonflies. I tried to get a shot or two, but with a point & shoot camera, it was hopeless. I wouldn’t have a proper lens for those kinds of shots, anyway, though. It was really cool to see so many (and so many different kinds) of butterflies and dragonflies all in one place. We crossed the spillway by balancing on the lip of it, although it was dry inside and we could have just walked there.

Walking across the spillway
Crossing the spillway

For a while, there were two trails, one down by the water, and one up a little further. We stayed by the water for as long as we could, crossing a lot of rocks and having a lot of fun in the process. The trail was angled down toward the lake significantly, which made for some interesting challenges.

Hiking right by the water
Resting on the rocks

Resting on the rocks

After a little while, the lower trail became impassable, and we had to move to the upper one. Not long after that, the upper trail became impassable, and eventually disappeared. We were bushwhacking our way through at this point. We had a small argument over whether to continue back into the cove or cross in the marshy area below. We crossed in the marshy area. This whole time, we were worried about copperhead snakes, because Dave had a warning that we might see some there. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any.

When we got to the other side, we couldn’t find a trail at all. Dave’s other understatement “the trail can be faint at times” came into play. We could easily see where we needed to go, but there was no trail to get there. We bushwhacked our way in that general direction. A few times, Sarah asked which way to go and of course I had no idea. We kept going in that general direction. The horse flies were in full force, and were driving us crazy, particularly Sarah. She always gets the worst of the bugs.

Sarah, swatting at something Beaver-chewed tree
Sarah, swatting at something / a beaver-chewed tree

A cool tree by the trail lake

Eventually, we came across another marsh. We debated whether to around it or through it, and I saw a huge spider blocking the way around. Of course, we could have gone around it, but I took it as an omen and said we should cross the marsh instead. There was already a bit of a path there where someone had clearly crossed before, so we followed that.

Sarah, hiking through the marsh
Sarah crossing the marsh

Crooked Creek Lake, from a marsh
We were treated to this view of the lake from the middle of the marsh

Not long after crossing the marsh, we found a trail! It was amazing how much faster we were able to go once we had a trail. We were back at the dam in just a few minutes after that.

It was a really fun hike, moreso in retrospect than it was at the time. I’m not sure if I think it’s the prettiest lake in this area, but I did like it a lot. I also loved how few people were there — we saw one canoe the whole time we were there, and nobody else. We’ll have to go back sometime.

Crooked Creek Lake Panorama
Crooked Creek Lake (Panorama)

Like riding through pudding

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Here are a few cycling-related thoughts going through my head right now. I’m hoping to have a big post about last weekend ready later today or tomorrow, but I want to hit a few other points first.

  • It’s hot. I mean, really hot. Temperatures are “only” in the mid-90s, but the heat index may approach 110 degrees tomorrow. I am having a really hard time riding in this heat. I tend to feel ill after spending too much time in the heat, and that’s no fun. “Fun” is the main reason I ride, so I’m really struggling to get on the bike right now.
  • It’s humid. I mean, really humid. I keep my road bike in the living room, and as soon as I walked out the door this morning, I saw water condensing all over my bike. On a positive note, my saddle felt cool when I sat down. To paraphrase Sarah’s boss, “Antler” Sharon: “It’s like riding through pudding out there.”
  • A cyclist in Indianapolis was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. This makes me very sad. I hope they catch the bastard. Is it just me, or are more accidents involving cyclists hit-and-runs than those involving two cars?
  • I took another look at the work they’re doing on 7th Street by the IU Auditorium, and I’m a little puzzled by what’s going on over there. There’s a section of road that was only open to pedestrians and cyclists. It’s been under construction since literally the day after the students left … and it’s still not done. The students return to campus the weekend after this coming weekend. Will it be done by then? Also, it appears what they’ve done is turned a straight, two-lane wide street into a narrow, winding path. I’m guessing they’ll put in some landscaping to make it aesthetically pleasing, but it’s far less useful. Cyclists and pedestrians will get in each other’s way. Everyone’s trip will take longer. Not a lot longer, but it’s sure to be inconvenient for everyone. What’s the point?
  • And finally, to the woman I saw this morning on the bike path: You need to leash your dog. This probably also means that if you’re going to ride your bike, you shouldn’t bring your dog. You and your dog are lucky that I am a cautious, diligent rider who saw the dog and didn’t hit it, and that I chose the passive-aggressive way of complaining about it in my blog instead of berating you.
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