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Mountain biking at Frances Slocum State Park

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Last Sunday, I wanted to get out for another ride. I decided it was time to check out the mountain biking trails closest to our house, in Frances Slocum State Park; it felt silly that I hadn’t ridden there yet, and Black Friday’s snow biking put me in the mood for some more mountain biking.

I awakened Sunday morning to some of my least favorite riding conditions: temperatures hovering just above freezing, and steady rain. I’m not a big fan of riding in the rain, but it’s especially bad when it’s that cold. And, I’d rather have snow than cold rain. Snow doesn’t usually soak you as much, and is a lot more fun.

However, I was hopeful. I was heading to higher elevations, and I hoped that there would be snow in the park. I wasn’t really expecting much from these trails; I had read there were maybe 5-6 miles of them, and of all the places people in the area had suggested riding, these trails hadn’t come up once. But, they are just about 6 miles away. Now that’s convenient!

When I arrived at the park, I found that the precipitation on the mountain was closer to sleet than rain, and there was a thin coating of snow on the ground. This was definitely preferable over the rain in the valley. I saw a couple other riders leaving as I was arriving.

Here is a map of my ride. It was about six miles long with about 1,000 feet of climbing. Note: for some reason, not all the photos are showing up on this map. I can’t fix it now, but I wonder what’s up.

View Larger Map

Light snow by the trailhead

Almost immediately, I had to get off to walk a large log pile. I might have attempted it if the logs weren’t coated in snow and very slippery. The trail followed the edge of the lake for a while, offering some fantastic views. There was a thin layer of ice covering the lake, and it was a wonderful dark and dreary day. However, the trees helped to shield me from the sleet quite a bit. I was a lot more comfortable once I was in the woods.

View of the lake from the trail

One of many log piles on this trail

Frances Slocum Lake

It took a long time for me to find my groove. The trails were riddled with rocks and log piles, and at first I wasn’t sure how good my traction was, so I didn’t even attempt some of the technical parts. At other times, I choked during climbs, thinking my rear wheel was going to spin out under me. I soon realized that in fact my rear wheel wasn’t spinning out — I wasn’t even giving it a chance. It seemed as if surely these wet/snowy rocks would be too slick for my tire to grip, but that proved not to be the case. I love the rear tire on this bike (Kenda Nevegal). If anything, it was probably overkill in Indiana, but I was glad to have such an aggressive tire on this ride.

While I was a little frustrated with my performance at first, I soon came to appreciate the design of these trails. Obviously, a lot of work has gone into them, and there were numerous features that looked impossible but proved to be quite ridable, and even more exhilarating. I could also tell that if I could just find my rhythm even the technical parts would flow very well.

A scary-looking, but ridable, rock-armored creek crossing

The trails were blazed in different colors, but there were no signs with the trail names on them. I had printed a map, and was glad to have it, but I decided early on to follow the existing tracks on the trail. I figured whomever rode here before me probably knew where they were going. I could always get the map out if I got turned around.

I had a bit of climbing to do, but it wasn’t too bad. The trail followed some strange old stone walls for some time.


Stone walls

Suddenly, the trail spit me out in a clearing, with some decent views of the surrounding land. The trail also got smoother, faster, and flowed better, for a while. I was really enjoying myself.

Riding through a clearing

There was a significant amount of climbing, but it never felt like too much at once. It was broken up by short descents and other fun stuff. This was one of those rare rides where it seemed like I got to do more descending than climbing. I knew that wasn’t so, but it sure felt good, regardless.

By the time the trail started throwing technical challenges at me again, I had found my groove, and I had a better sense of how much traction I had in these conditions. I tackled the rocks, and roots, and log piles more aggressively. I was clearing most things and having a blast doing it. I still had to walk a couple of bigger log piles, and there was one section with four log piles in a row that was just too much. But overall I was riding very well, even flowing over huge stretches of rocks, and liking it.

This entire section of trail was armored with rocks

Snowy tire treads on rocks

Tricky creek crossing

Fast, flowing trail

Several log piles in a row

Now that’s fun!

After a long climb and another fun descent, I found myself back by the lake. I paused to take some photos and just enjoy the scenery.

Log piles on the way to the lake

Frances Slocum Lake



Another shot of the lake

I rode back to the car, but quickly decided I was going back out. Incredibly, I had ridden less than four miles at this point. It felt like a lot more, but I still felt great and there was a trail I hadn’t ridden on yet, and I wanted to check it out.

I appreciated the first part of the trail more the second time around. Some of the log piles were still more than I wanted to attempt, but I did much better on the rocky stuff, and generally kept my speed up. I reached the trail I wanted to see and followed it. It was a bit less technical than the main trail, but I had a lot of climbing to do, and a whole lot of roots interfering with my efforts.

Rocks and roots

More flowing trail


My bicycle, resting against the boulder

I got a little turned around and thought I had gone the wrong way. The arrows of sorts on the trees were a little hard to follow at times. The trail got very steep and I left my bike to go explore on foot. The trail I wanted seemed to go in two different directions, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I went back to my bike and went the other way, but I soon found myself back at the main trail. I headed back and went up the steep climb, which required some walking. Once I finished that climb, I had a lot of fun descending ahead of me. I didn’t take many photos during this section; I was having too much fun! I went by the clearing again, which had even better views this time around, and the trail turned into a gravel path for a while. It wasn’t as challenging, but I appreciated the fun and easy riding for a few minutes. Around this time the rain started in earnest, although I stayed fairly dry thanks to the trees, except during the clearing.

Wide gravel trail

Looking down at my rear wheel

Reaching the clearing again

There were still a few technical challenges ahead of me, such as a rooty drop down to a rock bridge creek crossing, and loads of rocks toward the beginning of the trail. But I was riding better than I had the whole ride. I found my rhythm and floated over some pretty rough stuff a lot better than I thought I could. But in the midst of all that were more flowing sections of trail. These trails strike a great balance between the technical sections and fast sections where you can really let loose.

Dropping down to a creek crossing, then climbing immediately back up

Easy riding alongside the lake

My bicycle by the lake

Bike by the trail

Parting shot of the lake

I got back to the car, and discovered it was raining harder than I thought. Almost immediately upon exiting the woods, I thought to myself, “this is miserable!” And indeed, the conditions seemed worse for the rest of the day than they did during my ride. Partially, they were (it got rainier), but also, being out in the woods on my bicycle kept me physically warm, and mentally comfortable. This was a great ride, on a day in which I easily could have just stayed home (and a day on which road riding would have been miserable).

What the heck?

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Sunday we had sunny skies and temperatures almost reached 70 degrees. Yesterday it was in the lower 30s and raining all day. Then last night we got a bit of snow, and this morning it was back to riding in snow — and ice, since a lot of the rain that fell yesterday froze overnight. As usual, the bike path caused me some problems. As I was going uphill toward the Bypass, the path curved and there was some ice I didn’t see. My bike sort of slid sideways. Fortunately I was able to push it away from me and simply stand up, although even then my feet were slipping. Some people waiting for the bus were amused. So was I, once I determined I was safe. I walked the remaining 20 feet or so of the path.

I understand that nearly 70 degrees the other day was unusually warm for this time of year, but now I got a taste of spring, and I’m ready for the real deal. Although I’d settle for not having to contend with ice anymore — that sure is getting old.

Water works ride

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Saturday was a pretty nice day, the high temperature for the day reaching 47 degrees. It was a great day for a ride, so ride I did, while Sarah was working. I did the Water Works ride, which is a route I ride quite often when the weather is good, but I hadn’t ridden it for a while. I use it as a sort of training ride, typically, but it can be quite beautiful, too.

I wore the Rivendell MUSA Pants my mom got me for my birthday (thanks, mom!) at Sarah’s suggestion (thanks, Sarah!). They are fairly thin nylon and I wasn’t sure they’d be warm enough in this weather, but they were just right. I was very comfortable. These pants are great because they look fairly normal, but they’re a little slimmer on the legs than normal pants and have velcro straps to keep them from getting caught in the chainring. There’s also a strap on the left which can help prevent the pants from trapping air while you ride. The legs are a little longer than usual which suits me just fine, they cover my ankles while I ride better than some other pants I have. These strike a good balance between being good for riding and looking presentable off the bike. And I was a little worried they’d have too much drag on a windy day, but it was windy and the drag wasn’t bad.

These pants rock.

I was feeling a little sluggish all day Saturday and sometimes riding makes me feel more energized, but it didn’t help much this day. But I still had an enjoyable ride. I had more trouble with the hills than I had hoped I would, but my lack of riding due to the crummy weather has taken its toll on me. Hopefully it won’t take too long to get in better shape. Also the roads were very sandy and I had to be extra cautious as I was worried my wheel would wash out in a turn.

Lake Monroe, from Shady Side Dr.
View from Shady Side Dr.

Moore's Creek Rd.
Sandy road

The water level was much higher than it’d been in quite some time, and in places you could see plants had started growing in what had become dry land. It sure was a dry year last year. Now those parts are filling in with water again.

Lake Monroe
Lake Monroe from Moore’s Creek Rd. There’s a layer of ice on the lake.

Moore's Creek joins Lake Monroe
Moore’s Creek joins Lake Monroe

My bicycle by Lake Monroe
My bicycle. Note to furiousBall: you can see here it says “Marilyn is a whore,” not “Van is a whore.”

This area was dry two months ago
This whole area was dry a couple of months ago.

Moore's Creek Rd.

Wheel and ice
Wheel and ice

The climb up Moore’s Creek Road was harder than usual, but I made it. After that it’s fairly easy going back into town, with some rolling hills that provide some challenge, but nothing too big.

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