Monday, April 12, 2010

Brown County State Park

Ah...spring break! I've been reading and hearing about Brown County Hills Region, Indiana, for years now ( There's a lot of hype about the thirty or so miles of singletrack, all hand or machine built to IMBA standards by the Hoosier Mountain Biking Association. It's a great story: mountain bikers approach DNR, do their homework by attending IMBA/Subaru trail schools, win over skeptics, win a $150,000 grant, and build some absolutely gorgeous singletrack. As an MMBA member and trail worker, I was curious to look at the trails from a building standpoint. But at the start of the MTB season, I also wanted to get some good trail miles in to sharpen my skills on the new bike.

For the last couple of years, they've been putting on the Brown County Breakdown, a group ride/event with distances up to 100 miles. I ran into some riders at Lumberjack last year who raved about the BCB, named for a Bluegrass song, (Brown County is home to the Bean Blossom BluegrassFestival, the oldest in the country) but maybe this Oct0ber. After riding here, it would be a shame to miss it.(

So when I decided this year to make my annual Outdoor Club spring break trip a summer trip, I began fantasizing about either a Mohican/Loudonville, OH trip or, finally, a chance to sample the forested, clay hills of Southern Indiana. As opposed to fifteen, albeit great, teenagers, this was a solo trip-me, my hot rod mini-van, and this beautiful steel bike by the name of Hogsback, a Sisu it is.

Day 1: I rolled out Easter Sunday (sorry family, I had to do it) and did the long stretch through SW Michigan, to Fort Wayne, to a lucky find, a Trader Joe's stop in an Indy suburb. Properly fueled up, and starting to wonder if all the flatland would ever yield decent terrain for biking, I headed south toward Columbus, In. and started to see hills, big, beautiful ridges covered with mature Eastern forest. A scant fifteen miles from the highway, six hours home to trail, I pulled through the 9' covered bridge into the park. My non-electric campsite? $10.25. Nearly hyper-ventilating with excitement, I threw on the kit, grabbed the excellent map, and put in an exploratory ride, 10 miles of singletrack and six on the ultra-steep paved park roads. A road rider would have just as much fun as a moutain biker here.

After the ride, I drove the fifteen miles into Bloomington, a gem of a college town, for a locally-grown burger and refreshment. Could life get better? Well, maybe sleeping in a van could be improved upon...but with stars like that?

Day 2: As my friend Ray said while winter camping and dirtbagging around the UP one year, "I want a 'real breakfast.' Let's go the the Sweetwater Cafe!" I wanted a real breakfast and headed to the Muddy Boot in the artist colony, Nashville, Indiana. It's touristy, but has a tiny arthouse cinema, a brewery, restaurants-all the amenities. After powering down a huge plate of local sage sausage, potatoes, eggs, and a gallon of coffee, it was back to the bike. Tough life.

Tough miles more like it. In Michigan terms, the closest thing I can compare it to is the South Marquette Trail System. It's flowy, technical, rocky, fast, gnarly, and all fun. There are vistas that look on miles of forest and the trails take you from the Chestnut Oak ridgetops to the Maple/Beech to the creekside ecosystems deep in the valley. The hills run in the 300-400 foot range, not North Carolina, but bigger than my haunts back home in Holly.

These men and women can build some trail! The streams and drains are armored-big, burly rocks that won't be going anywhere, but ride nicely. One new trail, the Schooner Trace, had such nasty rock entrances, I was scared away on my rigid 29er. Maybe I'll be confident enough next time to hit that and some of the doubles that abound on the Lime Kiln Trail. One note: avoid these trails after multi-day rains or in the spring freeze-thaw; the clay must be a mess as there is signage everywhere.

After 26 miles of singletrack, I had ridden all the trail in the park, but only in one direction. I was hammered, quads pulsing, and took a hot shower in the campground. A bit bored with myself, I headed into Bloomington again to Bloomingfoods, a great co-op, and took my Reed's Extra Ginger beer and vittles on the road for a scenic drive. After two hours of scenic hills and farmland, and a discovery of just another 150 or so miles of trail, and a hailstorm of quarter-sized hail, I headed back to camp for a hot Oak fire and the national championship game on Butler radio! Great game but I'm genetically required to root for the underdog.

Day 3: I woke unsure if I had more riding in me, but after strong java and a hearty breakfast in the 70 degree morning, I found enough juice to ride the road to the North Entrance so that I could hit the North Tower and Aynes Loops (both clockwise this time) and finish with the Hesitation Point connector. The fatigue melted away and my heart was singing for the raw beauty of Brown County State Park and its heavenly singletrack.

This area has the potential to develop into a destination, if it's not already. I love the fact that I can ride my bike to five different trail systems from home, but sometimes it's nice to get away from everything to see yet another miraculous place in this fine country of ours.

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