Last Wednesday afternoon was a rare sunny and 40-something January day as I headed out for my 45-mile dirt road ride. I questioned my choice of a regular long-sleeved jersey instead of my thermal jacket during the first few minutes of the ride, but decided I would be fine once I warmed up. Once I got past the stoplights and in-town traffic, I settled into my assigned zone 3 rhythm as I cruised the paved road that would lead me to the Brown County wilderness. However, when I hit the first dirt road I discovered that it was freshly laid with new gravel, the big, chunky kind. My pace slowed a lot as checked my handwritten directions and tried not be bounced all over the road. I chose to ride my cyclocross bike instead of my mountain bike thinking it would be faster for my first time on the route. However, it didn't take long for me to start wishing for some suspension.
I made it McGowen Rd., which is a remote DNR access road that goes through some sort of protected wetland area. There was no traffic and I was thinking how great it would be lead a group of mountain biking ladies on this ride in the next couple of weeks. Singletrack riding is hard to come by in the winter in Indiana and the route was turning out out to be a pretty acceptable substitute.
Then I came to a flooded part of the road. There was a stretch of shoulder that was mostly above water, except for about a three foot wide strip. I started carefully riding across, anxious to get on with my adventure. As I came up to the narrow strip of water I notice I couldn't see the bottom, but the water so murky I wasn't too surprised. The shoulder wasn't that high so I expected nothing but a small dip as I started to ride across.
Wrong. I watched helplessly as my whole front wheel sunk in, then my drops, all the way to my brake hoods before I finally endoed completely onto the other side of the pit. It didn't hurt too bad, but I was pretty much soaked except for bits of my head, chest, and shoulders. Then my left calf completely cramped up as I unclipped and my bike completely submerged save one brake hood. I was face with the quick decision of what to do first: save my bike or stretch my calf. I saved the bike and the calf would continue to hurt for days.
At this point, I really should have turned around and gone home ASAP, but I'd been wanting a chance to do this ride forever and I'd already delayed my schedule by one day. So I decided I wasn't THAT cold and pushed on. I was fine for the next 60-90 minutes that I was on McGowen road, as it was rough, narrow, and had some killer climbs. I was staying warm and enjoying the spectacular winter views of the ridges, valleys, and river down below.
Unfortunately, once I hit the end McGowen, I came to a smoother road with no signs and I started to doubt my navigational skills. I started to chill very fast on the new road as I was not working as hard and going faster. I took a wrong turn and didn't realize it until I hit a dead end 2.5 hours into the ride. At this point, I could not longer feel my hands or feet and just wanted to be home. I knew I was probably over halfway through the loop, but in the interest of not making any more mistakes, I decided it was safer to go back the way I came. I really struggled to make it home since my numb hands wouldn't let me shift well or brake on the sketchy gravel downhills. I put in a lot of hike-a-bike time.
I got home well after dark, which was scary, and I ended up with 33.3 miles in over 4.5 hours. I have to say the experience will probably be my new "worst time on a bike" for my 2008 Velo Bella profile, but it is a terrific route and I will definitely be conquering it in the near future, now that I've learned a couple of valuable lessons, of course.