There is another reason why Gnaw Bone is cool. It is just east of one of my favorite places to ride — Brown County State Park. Each Fall my friends and I trek there to ride the mountain bike trails, some of the best trails in the Midwest, a guy weekend where we do nothing but ride until we can ride no more. We don’t get in trouble, no shenanigans. Some might say I and my friends are boring, but the some that say that have never banged around in the woods with us. It is the best time.. ever.
I went there this weekend. I needed to recharge. My daughter, visiting her college boyfriend after a long summer break, asked if I could pick her up at his house yesterday… just a mere hour or so from Brown County. Sweet. I would make it a three day weekend, drive the 4 hours Friday morning to the park, ride all day and the next morning, tent camp at the park campground (conveniently located at the upper trail head) pick up my daughter in the afternoon, drive home. The plan was foolproof.
When I get a chance at an adventure like this one, I don’t need an alarm clock to wake me up to go. The boing-boing-boing of my clock greeted me as I was getting out of the shower on Friday morning. A picture perfect cloudless day greeted me, followed me all the way to southern Indiana, Gnaw Bone, and Brown County State Park. The ranger at the gate thanked me as I handed him the exact change for entering the park, wished me a good ride as my VW buzzed away, focused on the entrance to the campground at the top of the park as we (my VW and I) negotiated the winding shaded park roads. I was too early to check in, so I parked at the campground, changed into my bike clothes in the camp bath house, paused at the upper trail head to check in with my office manager. Nothing urgent. Good.
The trails are familiar to me. I entered the Lime Kiln trail through the Ogle Lake entrance. Lime Kiln is a fast flowing trail, perfect for warm up, skirting the side of the glacially carved ridges at the top of the park. Quickly, almost too quickly, I entered the more challenging Walnut trail, filled with rocks and roots to pop over, switchbacks and vertigo inducing narrow trails with steep drop offs just inches to the side of the trail. That used to make me nervous. I hate heights. Now it just motivates me to keep moving.
I had to stop at the entrance to the Schooner trail, just off the side of Walnut, a rock trail so demanding that I can’t ride most of the trail due to the difficulty. My friend, Jon, loves the trail so I had to stop to take a picture to share with him, the magic of FB allowed me to share the picture with him instantly (and he thanked me for it). As I traipsed up the Schooner entrance, a young rider stopped to say hello and to invite me to ride with him. He looked to be in his early twenties. Normally I would say yes, the added incentive welcome, but I knew that I had a lot of riding to go. I needed to conserve energy. I am 54 years old, after all, and the adventure of riding has begun to take precedence over the testosterone rush.
Besides, Hesitation Point was next up. I wanted the chance to soak in the view. Brown County is compared to the vistas one sees in the Smoky mountains, something very obvious in the morning from Hesitation Point and the many scenic lookouts around the park..
My young friend also had stopped at Hesitation Point where he met up with two other friends. They had skipped the Walnut trail and had taken the park road to Hesitation Point. My new friend asked if I had ridden the Schooner, awe in his face as well as on the expressions of his friends, familiar with the difficulty of the Schooner trail. I couldn’t lie. I said that I had done two circuits, then admitted to skipping the Schooner.
Hesitation Point is just the beginning of some of the best trails. It begins by dropping swiftly into the woods below the overlook, winding along the ridges amongst some of the tallest chicory oak trees in the area. There is heart pounding climbing as well as heart stopping fast descents. Along the HP trail there is a section of rocks that a few years ago I would not even try to ride. Friday, I was determined to own that section.
I want my teeth back. They about bounced out of my head. I stayed upright, had to force myself to maintain the momentum required to propel me over the rocks and focus on the best line through. I made it.
Experience and a new bike with dual gas shock suspension sure made it easier.
Experience should have taught me to make sure that my hydration pack was full. I didn’t. When I got to the entrance to the Bobcat Bowl, an expert trail that starts with rock switchbacks, I sucked the last drop out of my hydration pack. There was still at least two hours or more left to ride. Oops.
The Bobcat is a new trail at Brown County. Last November, on a cold windy rainy day, I skipped the Bobcat and opted for taking the shortcut to the van. My friends lamented riding the Bobcat that day. Not only was it tough, but they attempted it at the end of a day where the weather had sapped our energy. They were glad that I had the van warmed and ready when they got to it, even skipping the mockery usually reserved for those who wimp out.
This time I rode the Bobcat, however. It was a good choice. Although a booger to ride, especially since it is a roughed in trail, it is already the best trail in the park. That is saying a lot for a trail system that is so awesome.
The Bobcat trail does not connect directly to any of the other trails, at least at the bottom of the trail it doesn’t, so to get to the other trails a steep fire road must be climbed. I was hot, soaked with sweat, and thirsty. At one point on my way up the fire road, I had to stop to rest. I was toast.
I love the woods. The peace is incredible, the beauty humbling, the quiet unrivaled. While I caught my breath, the sound of my heart beating thumped in my ears. That could be unnerving. I love it. Even when tired, it reminds me of how much of a gift my life is.
Didn’t I say that I started at the top of the park? I did. Not long after traversing the Bobcat and fire road, I made it to the bottom of the trails system. There would be around 90 minutes or more riding to get back to the top, depending on how fast I would ride. I was tired, a motivator of sorts.
I also knew where there was a soda machine. Ice cold Dr. Pepper never tasted so good, the sugar giving me the boost I needed to make it back to the campground. Cold bottled water waited for me in my car, packed in ice. I checked in, found my camp site, set up the tent, downed three bottles of water (which stayed with me, didn’t leave me), took a long shower, ate a good dinner.
And enjoyed a cool evening in front of a campfire, breathless at the array of stars in the clear sky, my head rested against the back of my chair. A boy who had served as my assistant while setting up my tent earlier in the evening and had stopped by several times to talk to me (as do most of the people who camp — one of the reasons I like to camp), visited me with his father and stopped to admire the stars also. Their flashlights were strapped to their heads, two Cyclops trudging away as they wished me goodnight on their way back to their own tent.
It would have been nice to enjoy that time with my own family, I realized. My daughter was with her boyfriend, my son and wife declined my invitation to come along. They don’t like to camp. I didn’t mind being alone. The quiet, the solitude, the chance to do my own thing a welcome opportunity. Some day I hope to be able to share with someone.
For now, I will share with you.
Thank you, Susie Landau, for inviting me to be one of your Wild Riders and to share one of my adventures with other Wild Riders. There are so many I could share, but Susie’s invitation came with the request to share one adventure with pictures, which I usually do not take the time to do. I hope this long winded tome is enjoyed!