Touring Ride In Rural Indiana September Escapade offers local cyclists challenges, rewards aplenty
Indiana's supposed to be flat.
I thought it was. And I lived there for more than three years.
Boy was my memory off.
My friend Bob Hines and I discovered how much the Hoosier state's countryside rolls by spending six days bicycling through southern Indiana.
We signed up for the Touring Ride in Rural Indiana September Escape.
During the tour 135 cyclists rode as much as 400 miles from Sept. 11 to 16, stayed at three state parks and visited dozens of small towns and sites of interest.
We also climbed and rolled down countless hills. Some are mere "bumps" that were no problems to get over.
Others, however, slowed the most experienced riders to a pace barely faster than walking for several minutes and caused many cyclists to get off their bikes and push.
As I climbed one of those beasts, I thought back to my days in the Navy when I was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis. I was an instructor at the Defense Department's journalism school. The fort is now a state park -- the type of facility where Bob and I would be staying during the tour.
About the only cycling my wife, Sofia, and I did while stationed at the fort was riding around the small town where we lived with our then-baby daughter strapped into a baby seat bolted to my bike.
That town, Oaklandon, was flat. So was Indianapolis, as much as I could remember.
But, as I struggled up a hill earlier this month, I remembered driving down a country road from Oaklandon to a mall north of Indianapolis.
We drove through some really hilly terrain.
Guess my memory is fading with age.
Thanks to notes I made during our recent adventure in Indiana, I do remember some of the highlights.
Organization was a definite highlight of the TRIRI. When we checked in, we received a packet that included maps for each day's ride with turn-by-turn directions on the other side.
Turns were also marked in spray paint on the roads and there were nightly meetings to go over any changes and places that might be worth the time to visit.
The inns and lodges where we stayed at the state parks also added to the experience. Although areas for camping were available at the three parks we visited, we were glad we stayed in the rustic, but modern inns.
Breakfast and supper -- the two meals provided in the tour package -- were served at the inns. Suppers were themed: Italian, Mexican, Asian and so on.
Road conditions were probably the biggest drawback of the TRIRI. Some roads were narrow, without shoulders and had rough pavement.
But few of the routes were busy and nearly all drivers were courteous and would slow for us when necessary. Only a couple drivers directed creative comments or gestures at us.
Narrow roads also under tall trees also meant long stretches of riding under canopies. We especially appreciated the shade the first few days of the ride when temperatures rose into the 80s and, on one day, into the 90s.
The ride began and ended at Camp Camby, a retreat owned by the Indianapolis district of the Church of the Nazarene.
From there, we rode 70 miles to Turkey Run State Park where we stayed for two days. The day after our arrival, we had the option of riding 34-, 64-, or 80-mile loops or staying at the park.
On the third day, we rode 78 miles to McCormick's Creek State Park and could ride 24 or 67 miles, or none at all, the next day.
Although we faced challenging hills each day, tour organizers showed a special respect for Bear Wallow Hill. That climb was on an optional route we could take on the fifth day of the ride on our way to Brown County State Park.
Riding up Bear Wallow has three distinct phases. The first has the steepest grade and is the most difficult followed by a stretch of noticeably easier riding. The third portion of the ride is only slightly easier than the initial part of the ride.
In all, riding up Bear Wallow takes 10 or 12 minutes, but it feels much longer as you do it -- especially on that first phase when you're moving at 2 to 4 miles an hour.
Coasting down that hill, however, lasts nearly as long as the climb and makes up for the effort.
From Bear Wallow, it's a short ride to Nashville, Ind., a tourist attraction, especially when the fall colors in the surrounding hills are in full glory.
The ride that day totaled 55 miles, one of the tour's shorter routes, but organizers saved the best (or worst) for last.
After we rolled into the park, we discovered there's a hill nearly as steep as Bear Wallow between us and the inn.
Struggling up that hill made me glad we'd already been to Nashville. If we had ridden the other route that day, we would have missed it. And I wasn't pedaling up the hill to the inn more than once.
Day six meant riding the final 54 miles back to Camp Camby and heading home. That day's highlight was a stop at a sculpture garden. Nearly all of the riders stopped to walk through the multi-acre garden featuring hundred of pieces created by the owner of the land.
At Camp Camby, we loaded our bikes and luggage in Bob's truck and started the drive home, paying much closer attention than when arrived to the hills on the way.