Beautiful Suffering – My June Bike Tour

Planning

Things happen in strange ways and for strange reasons.  I planned a four-day three-night tour hitting three campgrounds in southern Indiana.  I did this at Debbie’s urging, as she wanted to ride another tour.  June 2nd was set as the date.  As the date approached, Debbie was unable to ride the tour.  My other friends were still on the fence.

I had been planning to ride the Big Dummy.  My neck issues seem to be exacerbated by riding an upright bike, so I figured that 230+ miles over four days might be a bit much, so I changed my plans to the recumbent.  I was worried about packing what I needed on that bike.

As the date drew nearer, my friend’s plans were firming up.  I would ride alone if need be, but that didn’t look like it would be the case.

Day One

On Saturday, June 2nd, we were to meet at 9:00am at Sunergos for coffee and snacks.  Asher, Tim, and Ian met me there.  Ian ran late, but we had plenty of time.

Loaded ‘bent

I packed too much.  Overall I carried too much food and not enough clothing.  I also brought a little camp stool that I never used and should have left behind.  Only Ian carried more, as he was riding his Big Dummy with an absolutely huge box on the back.  This was his first bike camping trip, and he basically threw his car camping stuff on the bike.

Ian had too much weight

I put two handle-bar mounted mirrors on my bike so I could skip the helmet mirror.  I didn’t even bring a helmet with me.  It was liberating.  I figure I won’t have far to fall from a recumbent, and helmets have a very mixed track record when getting hit by a car.  Luckily, there was no crashing involved during the tour (except a minor bump between Tim and Timothy).

The route to Clifty Falls was pretty straightforward.  Most of us have ridden many of the roads.

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We all felt good rolling along the Ohio River up through Utica.  Once we began the climb up Waterline Road, Ian and I fell back.  Ian had too much weight.  I was slightly overloaded and haven’t ridden many hills on the ‘bent in a while.

We rolled through Charlestown as a group.  We didn’t stop.  Ian was beginning to suffer from the rolling hills.  We then made the mad descent into the creek valley on Tunnel Mill Road.  I, on my ‘bent, could have easily passed everyone on the downhill, except they were knotted up in a group and dodging the rough spots on the road.  Asher, with his narrow tires, really had an issue on that stretch of road.  I stayed safely back, applying a little braking pressure.

Asher: roadie touring

Tim packed fairly light.  He was also riding his new bike, a very-capable Surly Troll.

Tim and his new steed

Tunnel Mill Road turns back uphill and I think everyone but Tim had to walk the hill.  Ian and I were carrying too much weight.  Asher didn’t have the low gears.  Only Tim with his low gears and reasonable weight could climb the hill.

We stopped in New Washington for lunch.  At this point, it was obvious that Ian was struggling.  Ian made the decision to continue riding to Clifty Falls, but he would ride home the next day instead of continuing on.

There was a mile or so of gravel on this route.  It was easy stuff, not bad to ride on at all.

Ian on gravel

I fell behind Tim and Asher.  I rode with Ian for a while, but then Ian fell back further.  I continued on, stopping occasionally to make sure Ian was on course.

Ian and I rolled into the park and met up with Tim and Asher, who had already arranged camping.  The showers at Clifty Falls are quite new, private, and very welcome.

Ian used his huge collection of cooking gear to boil water quickly, and feed us dinner.

Nobody wanted to ride into town for beer, so we drank water.  Tired from the day, we went to bed early.  I had trouble sleeping, and was woken in the night by a rainstorm.  My tent leaked very little, but my sleeping bag was up against the tent wall (small tent) and the foot-end of the sleeping bag was soaked.  I did manage at least four hours of sleep.

Day Two

I woke before everyone else on Sunday morning.  It was about 5:30am, and the eastern sky was just getting lighter.  The birds had gotten noisy, I needed to use the bathroom, and my sleeping bag was wet.  There would be no going back to sleep.

The overnight rain was gone, as were most of the clouds.

Blurry morning

I started up my Esbit stove for coffee and oatmeal.  I had forgotten a coffee mug, so I used one of my insulated water bottles.  I ate the oatmeal directly out of the cookpot.

Breakfast!

We eventually packed up camp and headed out.  The first few miles of Ian’s return trip were the same as ours, so we rode together until Ian fell behind.  At a crossroads Tim wanted to adjust the position of his shifter (while I was out watering the weeds) and broke the bolt.  He managed to secure it with zip ties.  Meanwhile, Ian caught up.  We talked for a bit.  Ian headed south, and we headed north.

I assumed the second day would be the most difficult.  It was 70 miles and the last half was rather hilly.  As we headed west again, we realized we’d also be fighting a headwind.  The straightest, flattest part of the ride had unending headwinds.  It was a bit demoralizing.

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On the other hand, it was beautiful.  It was warmer.  The skies were mostly sunny.  Things were all green and blue.  It was perfect weather for riding…. unless you were riding west.

North end of Hardy Lake

There was more gravel on day two than on day one.

Straight and flat

I also noticed that I was getting sunburned.  I was wearing sunblock, but with no hat or helmet my forehead took a beating.  My legs were really getting pink, as were my feet from wearing sandals.  I don’t burn easily, but I’ve burned pretty much every year since I started bicycling.

We stopped in Crothersville for lunch, disappointed to find nothing but a Subway.  It still made for a nice rest and some calories and hydration.

Blue and green

We rode through a covered bridge outside of Medora.  I didn’t think to take a picture of it.  We stopped at a gas station in Medora that had ice cream.

We rode through Sparksville, Fort Ritner, and Tunnelton.  These towns are old railroad town that are dying.  They flood often from the East Fork of the White River.

We arrived at Spring Mill State Park after a very trying day.  I believe all three of us had walked a number of hills.  Our legs weren’t as fresh as they had been.

Timothy was waiting for us at the campsite.  He had ridden up from Louisville that day.  Timothy had several cans of beer, but they were warm.  It would have been an easy ride to Mitchell for more beer, but being Sunday, in Indiana, we were out of luck.  I enjoyed a can of warm beer and a sip of bourbon, and that was it as far as alcohol.

The primitive campsites at Spring Mill don’t provide showers, but when they’re aren’t many people there (like on Sundays!) it’s easy enough to slip into the showers for the electric camping spots.  I did, and felt much better afterward.

I did a bit more complicated cooking this time.  Not as complex as Timothy did.  He had cooked noodles, then simmered a sauce, and dumped the noodles on top.  He also had a larger cookpot and an alcohol stove.  My Esbit is good at boiling water, so that’s what I did with it.

I had some “just add water” stuff from the grocery store.  I made shells and cheese, and added tuna.  I had “cup of soup” with other meat added.  I also provided Asher a hot meal, as he didn’t bring a stove and was relying on pre-cooked stuff.  he did share an awesome bacon roll he made at home.

In our rush to cook and eat, we forgot to take care of the trash.  It was in a bag, hanging off the end of the picnic table.  We went to bed early again.  My sleeping bag as still damp.  It was a warm night, so I just laid on top of it.  I fell asleep quickly this time.

I woke up with a start as it sounded like someone was messing with my bike.  I grabbed my flashlight and quickly unzipped my tent.  I was greeted by the two glowing eyes of a raccoon who had been digging in the trash.  I chased the critter off and picked up the trash and put it back in the bag.  I then began walking, looking for the trash can.

It was quite a walk to a trash can.  I returned to the camp and Tim was up and awake shining his flashlight into my open tent, wondering where I was.

He had seen the raccoons.  There were at least two, possibly three.  They had also run off with a jar of peanuts.

It was still a warm night.  I had left the rainfly off my tent for ventilation, comfort, and the ability to see the stars.  I went back to bed and tried to fall back asleep.  Within minutes it started raining.  I put the rainfly back on and managed to fall asleep.  I slept reasonably well until morning.

Day Three

I woke up early on Monday.  I was cold, damp, and stiff.  I got up and started coffee.  The weather was much cooler and cloudy.

I made a pretty awesome breakfast that included my precooked bacon.  I think we all shared a little bit of something.

We packed and headed out.  Although the planned route was shorter at around 50 miles, we also knew it was hilly.

Getting ready to roll

I was in a hurry to pack and had trouble getting my tent packed small enough to go into the tent tube.  Tim helped me.

It rained lightly a couple of times while we were still at the campsite.  I had visions of a roaring fire and a cold beer once we got to the next campsite.  I also knew we probably wouldn’t have a fire, as we hadn’t had one yet.

It was about eight miles to Orleans where we stopped for a snack at a gas station, and better water than the foul-tasting stuff from the campground.

The land got a bit “lumpier” as we approached Paoli.  We rode to the Paoli town square looking for a good lunch stop.  We didn’t see anyplace interesting, so I went into an insurance office to ask.  We were directed to SuperBurger, which was nearby, but in the opposite direction than we needed to go.  It was worth the effort.  I had a burger, fries, and chocolate shake.

We left town going southeast on US150, which was less than pleasant, but it took us into Hoosier National Forest, and after about two miles we turned off on a county road.  Asher and Timothy had missed the turn.  Tim and I waited at the turn for them to turn around.  They got some extra climbing out of that.

Timothy coming back down the hill after missing a turn

It was hilly, quiet roads through Hoosier National Forest until we reached Marengo.  We had all walked hills.  I had walked a lot of hills.  I was cold and wet.  Timothy had broken a chain.  We all stood in the rain as he fixed it.

Marengo has a liquor store.  We agreed to buy cans and ice.  Tim and Asher went to the gas station to get ice.  Timothy and I went to the liquor store for beer.  They had a decent selection of beer… in bottles.  In cans was only the mass-produced stuff.  I grabbed a six-pack of PBR, and decided if we can’t drink good beer, we can at least drink “ironic beer“.  We were about 15 miles from camp, and Tim offered to carry the beer, so I let him.

We headed out of Marengo and ended up on Depot Hill Road.  As we began the first climb on that road Tim commented that “this better be Depot Hill”.  It was about a 10% grade for a bit, then plateaued, then kicked up another shorter 7% grade.  We’d climbed worse, but the emotional impact of this was strong.  We felt beaten.  Looking at the GPS data from this, it appears I was moving at a walking pace… because I was walking.  After that climb was done we had a nice downhill, then were face with another 10% climb for a bit, then it tapered back to 4%.  Again, not the steepest of climbs, but I commented to Tim that “this must be Depot Hills Road”.

My God! It’s full of hills!

After Depot Hill Road we turned east on Speed Road.  We took this to Milltown.  There wasn’t any reason to stop there, so we went south on Wyandotte Cave Road.  This was mostly gently rolling hills until one good climb.  As we neared the top, I called everyone together.

I was cold.  My gear was soaking wet.  I didn’t have warm clothes with me.  I explained this to the group.  We only about five miles from the campground, but getting there wouldn’t do me any good.  Once I stopped pedaling, I would be horribly cold.  I suggested a hotel in Corydon.

I got some resistance.  Tim was worried we’d get lost changing the route like that.  Tim and I both had GPS devices that can do routing, but he was worried that the gravel road it was telling us to turn down would not actually go all the way through.

We stopped a passing car and asked.  The road did indeed go through to highway 337.  That was it.  We had a fast downhill on gravel down to the Blue River.  At the bridge we met a very friendly dog who was our companion for at least five miles.

More gravel

The dog was happy and playful and didn’t bark.  We did have to be careful because he would run in front of us.  When we got to highway 337, he stayed behind.

Once on 337, it was a heavy-traffic slog to Corydon.  I really don’t like riding uphill, at low speed in traffic.  It was the quickest way there.

We grabbed two rooms for the four of us.  It felt great to sleep in a real bed, take a long shower, and stay warm.  I also got a good look at my sunburned feet.

My feets!

Here’s the route we ended up taking.

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Day Four

I got a solid nine hours of sleep.  I had been exhausted.  We packed our bikes and rode over to Waffle House for waffles, eggs, and coffee.  Once fueled, we now had a shorter ride to get home, as we were in Corydon rather than O’Bannon Woods State Park.

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We rolled through Corydon, then eastward on Corydon Ridge Road.  I’d gone this way before, but never on the ‘bent.  I managed the rolling hills without walking.  This was the only day I managed to do that.  I had a slightly lighter load, as I’d ditched some of the food that I wouldn’t need.

Tim taking a break

I really didn’t take many pictures on this stretch.  Timothy and Asher disappeared up ahead.  They knew the way.  Tim was not feeling well and kept a moderate pace.  My legs were very weak, so we mostly rode together.

Corydon Ridge Road is mostly uphill, but very gently for many miles.  When we reach Edwardsville, there’s an ice cream shop there a few blocks off the route.  Asher and Timothy stopped there.  Tim and I just kept going.  Then it’s on to Corydon Pike downhill all the way into New Albany.

McAlpine Locks and Dam and Louisville skyline

We made a brief stop at Falls of the Ohio State Park.  There was a woman sketching or painting something.

Art?

We rode across the Second Street Bridge and went our own way.  I stopped by work to say hello.  I grabbed a snack at the coffee shop.  Then I went home to unpack and greet my excited dogs.

Conclusions and Lessons Learned

I didn’t pack well.  Overall I had too much weight.  I carried too much food.  I didn’t have a good enough variety of clothing.  I couldn’t stay warm enough off the bike.  My sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad are sub-par, and are really only good for fair-weather camping. They are also too bulky for bike camping.  I’ve put replacements on my wish list.

I need a camp bowl and coffee mug.  I used an insulated water bottle for coffee once, and it’ll probably never taste the same.  I used the cookpot another time, but I had to be very careful to not burn myself.

My Esbit stove is very simple and easy.  An alcohol stove is more flexible, but the Esbit fuel tablets do the job very simply.

Being flexible is a good thing.  There aren’t a lot of campgrounds within riding difference from each other.  I think my decision to get the hotel rooms was the right one.  It’s better if you don’t need to do such things, but I’m glad I wasn’t so stubborn to stay on plan, that I would have had an extremely miserable night.

The recumbent bike handled a touring load wonderfully.  It handled the same as when unloaded.  That surprised me.  I expected to handle strangely.  I felt comfortable with 40mph descents as well as 4mph climbs.  I may have suffered sore legs and sunburn, but my ass never hurt.  I never had wrist pain.  It didn’t bother my neck or worsen my spinal issue.  I did have more issues climbing hills with the load.  I was slower than the others.  This isn’t a great “group ride” bike, but it’s great for touring.  I could see a recumbent trike with even lower gearing to be more useful for touring.  It’s hard to keep this thing upright below 3mph.  That’s when I get off and walk.  It’s also a bit harder to push up a hill for a long distance.  I can speak from experience now.

Tim’s write-up for the first day is here.

5 thoughts on “Beautiful Suffering – My June Bike Tour”

  1. You probably wont do this exact route again, but I still want to try it. I think I will break day two up. If you go northwest out of Clifty there are two state parks about 50 miles out. Then you can come southwest back into Spring Mill.

  2. I think the ability to do the ride and keep your neck/back in order is more pertinent than any of the rest of the factors. You have the machine that will let you do what you want- within reason- and that’s damn important.

    In hindsight it was a great 4 days. There were numerous times when I was pretty damn miserable and wanted nothing more than to come home. But these things shouldn’t be easy, should they? What would be the challenge in that?

    I would love to do a KY loop sometime in late July or early August before school starts, perhaps a 2-nite affair. I’ll plan if interested. It’s sort of a joke. Much of the time I was on the road I wanted to be home, and now that I’m home, I want to be on the road. Go figure.

  3. Looks like an amazing trip! Lots of suffering, but some beautiful scenery and great riding, too. I’m in crappy shape so I think I would have suffered very badly. I also think my tent would have fared poorly in the rain.

    I can’t believe the load Ian was carrying, craziness! I’m glad you got to go, and it sounds like you learned some good lessons.

  4. Great travelogue! I’ve always enjoyed traveling vicariously through others if I can’t be out there myself.

    As countless other intrepid bike tourists have observed, the experience only gets better with time, as you forget the miserable stuff and dwell on the sublime moments of the tour. Looking back, all my tours are collections of awesome riding interspersed with unforgettable moments of joy and friendship. It never rained, all drivers and dogs were friendly, and all hills were downhill.

    — Duc

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