The RCCS took up a quickly organized New Year’s Day ride leaving from Sulpher, IN. The only ones to show up were the usual suspects, meaning Dave and I. Typical. Everyone else who didn’t show missed quite a time out in rural country with mixed-terrain aplenty and cold enough temps to prove you fortitude.
Our route left from Sulpher, IN and headed down the IN66 hill that had been our nemesis on other occasions. Speaking of downhill, the most cogent piece of information to start the day were the temps. Aside the significant climbing and gravel, the tenor of the day was ruled by our starting temp of 17F, although the sunshine helped the psychology a bit. That starting descent already had Dave’s fingers quite cold at the bottom, so an extra pair of gloves were on and away we went up Old Union Church Rd., which gave us a warm-up of 1.5m of climbing with a high grade of 15%. Steep gradients would be another theme of the day. In hindsight, this climb was one of the toughest.
From here we took a left onto King Rd. and found our first gravel of the day. I made the appropriate decision to put a 1.95″ tire on the front of my LHT and that proved an excellent choice for such texture. After a quick stop to adjust a front brake, we turned onto one of my favorite roads of the day, Eaton Rd., a bottomland gravel road that had a very remote feel to it. We spent a good time here discussing the merits of Surly LongHaulTruckers in general, me exhorting Dave to try one out.
We crossed IN62 and I-64 and made our way up the gentle uphill of Eckert Rd. until we arrived at another half-mile climb with a high gradient of 18%. Whew! At the top we were honored with an outstanding view
northward on the IN and Hoosier Nat’l Forest countryside. Wanting more gravel, we found it on our left turn onto Hatfield Rd.
After a dicey, steep descent on Hatfield Rd., we passed by the access road for Hemlock Cliffs. We saw a young couple exiting the road in their Subaru and I wondered if they had camped, but the map shows no such official access. After some lumpy riding that almost appeared to be ridge riding- and no savage climbing- we quickly dropped a perilous descent into Mifflin. We can make much fuss about climbing gradients, but his downhill brought a max 19%, and this on gravel. I have a feeling we were both white-knuckling it here. Once through Mifflin, we took the turn up Trestle Rd. with one listed portion of 16.9% and it allowed us to pass by Yellowbirch Ravine Nature Preserve, although the N.P. has no facilities. From there we used our only busy road of the day- IN64- towards English. We turned off onto Tunnel Hill Rd. where we found more gravel , more climbing and Sycamore Springs. A little googling found that this is a privately-owned campground and outdoor park with a little bit of everything, all with a “family feel”. It might be worth a daytrip to see what it’s about, especially if you take grandma.
English brought us our lunch stop, although our well-laid plans went awry here. I called ahead on New Years Eve to ensure that Big Al’s Pizzeria would be open. Once we climbed the 10% climbed into English, we found that Big Al’s was closed up. No good! We ended up eating deli sandwiches from the JC’s across the road, but that was by far the biggest failure of the day. When we left, we noticed a big 4×4 parked in front of Big Al’s and the ‘open’ sign was lit. Oh well, too bad for us. We descended back into English and made our way south towards our return destination. An interesting note about English is that the entire town was moved from the creek valley up onto the hill in 1990, making it the 2nd largest move in the U.S. I was really hungry coming and cold going, so I didn’t take any pics of this bizarre place.
From the almost high point of the day we dived down onto S. Magnolia Rd, for me my fav road of the day. It had a nice mix of gravel, rough pavement, steep pitches (13% at one point), and scenery. Hopefully the pics below show it to be a really, really nice ride.
If S.Magnolia was a highlight, then our turn onto Riddle Rd. was not. We were tired and cold, the roads were poorly marked and Riddle Rd. was strewn with crappy houses and high traffic (relative to what we had experienced earlier). We were glad to find Camp Jerry Rd. near our return into Sulpher. Camp Jerry Rd. included a very long gravel descent (2m total) into the creek valley and to our final challenge of the day, the ascent of Camp Jerry. I had seen the %gradients while planning the route but didn’t know to expect. Ridewithgps claims portions of 24%, with a top of 28.5% in the switchback. I had personally never done such a steep climb, but up it we went. I won’t speak for my ride partner, but I made it up with one stop near the top to suck in enough oxygen so as to not collapse right in the middle of the road. It was breathtakingly steep and I would begin to try it without my LHT mtbike gearing.
We made it, though, and cruised into Sulpher with 40 slow miles under out belts. The temp when we finished was 21F and it felt every bit that. The only thing that disappointed us was the variety of roads that weren’t quite gravel, but not quite pavement. Most of the route was a mix of gravel, pavement and chipseal. At the end, I decided on a new designation: paved, sorta paved, and gravel. Many of the roads were sorta paved, and I was glad to have fat rubber underneath. For those who missed it, you missed something special, a great way to start 2010.