Brown County State Park, Indiana (2008)


I arrive in Bloomington IN to deliver a presentation at Indiana University regarding one of my passions: urban design, suburban sprawl, and quality of life. The air is appropriately crisp and fall-like as I step outside to await a friend picking me up at the Indianapolis International Airport. As I wait, I am amused to watch the peculiar sight of airport security personal whizzing around on their Segways. They appear to be enjoying themselves in an almost child-like way, until one approaches me, and in a business-like way (to the extent that this is possible when on what appears to be on a toy), asks me if the travel bag in front of me belongs to me. (A post-9/11 security concern for “unattended baggage.”)

Two days later, my presentation is a success. I am flattered by the great many people who attend my lecture, and the large number who later approach me to let me know how enjoyable they found my remarks. I conclude to myself that I had managed to be well-prepared in advance.

This preparation was not to be the case the next day.

We awake on a Saturday morning to an even cooler day. The fall colors are just starting to appear as we walk to the extremely popular, convivial, bustling downtown farmer’s market in Bloomington. Our objective, besides the sheer enjoyment of mingling with other marketeers is to repeat our finding from last year. We buy some absolutely delicious dill-dipped goat cheese. My friend buys some ingredients for an eggplant parmigiana he is to make later in the evening, and I buy some highly aromatic, freshly roasted coffee beans for my spouse. (So aromatic that the beans later fills my room with the smell of coffee, not to mention the cabin of the Delta jet I board the next day, and our car when my spouse picks me up at the Richmond airport – thereby spoiling my “surprise” of giving it to her as a gift.)

After enjoying the market, we return to my friends’ condominium with our purchased items. We are now ready to load his car for our trip to Brown County State Park, where my friend had recently read about enjoyable mountain biking trails.

The folly of our lack of preparation for the trail ride soon begins.

My friend has borrowed two mountain bikes. Mine is an impressive Trek 930 Single-Track. I mount the bike for a quick ride around the West Lookout Tower parking lot at the state park. The seat is too low. “No problem,” I say to myself. “I’ll just adjust it to the proper height with the quick release all bike seats now have.” But we soon discover that the bike seat must be adjusted with an allen wrench. And we have no such wrench with us.

I look down at the pedals of the bike. They are clip-less. And I have no clip-less bike shoes.

We bicycle to the Hesitation Point trailhead for the mountain bike trails, which is a bit of a challenge for me as I try to cope with a seat height more appropriate for someone six inches shorter than I, and pedals that are precarious for those in sneakers rather than clip-less shoes.

But I manage. Unfortunately, my friend had mis-calculated on where to park. Not realizing that Hesitation Point has plenty of parking, we have parked at West Lookout, which is a number of miles over some fairly steep hills. (Our excuse is that the State Park map we are given at the park entrance uses weird little green objects on the map to depict parking, rather than the conventional “P” symbol used throughout the known universe. Or at least in the US.)

Finally, after a pleasant ride up and down hills and around sharp road curves graced with forests sporting fall colors, we arrive at Hesitation Point, which is one of many cleared roadside vistas offering an impressive view of the forested valleys in this 15,700-acre park (which makes it the largest state park in Indiana).

At this time, there are four mountain bike trails in the park, all of which can be reached from Hesitation Park. The trails range in length from one to three and a half miles. Two of the trails are rated “moderate.” And the two that we are to ride first, I am pleased to notice, are rated “difficult.”

But I then notice yet another form of unpreparedness. We have only one helmet between the two of us.

I set out in the lead, feeling disconcerted by the fact that I am not only on a “difficult” trail I’ve not been on before, but am doing so helmet-less. Nevertheless, despite riding relatively carefully and slowly to minimize the chance of falling, the Hesitation Point trail we start off on is great fun. The trail is bare earth single-track offering a relatively narrow track sprinkled with some tight turns and switch-backs, flat stone inlays to assist traversing gulleys and turns, a rather steep descent into a forested valley far below us, and an occasional abandoned stone fireplace along the route.

The first two trails we ride – Hesitation and Aynes Loop – are both difficult and exceptionally enjoyable. I keep turning back to my buddy to let him know that these trails are great fun. By now, my friend has generously offered to let me wear the sole helmet we have, and I point out to him that I have noticed – in this little “scientific experiment” – that I ride noticeably faster and more recklessly with a helmet on, as my brain signals to me that I CAN do so safely, now that my noggin is shielded with plastic and Styrofoam.  

As I pick up speed and zip around turns, I have the exhilarating sensation that I am skiing down freshly groomed black diamond ski slopes. “I could do this all day!,” I happily shout to my friend.

But another lack of preparation has found us: My friend has not determined the surprising length of the loop mountain bike trails here, so instead of looping back to our trailhead starting point (which would entail lots of steep uphill riding), we head back on paved roads.

Without “fuel,” as we had not engaged in the pre-ride preparation of thinking to bring energy bars.

Overall, then, despite our multiple failures to be properly prepared for riding, Brown County State Park offers a lot of high quality, enjoyable single-track mountain bike riding – even for those who are fully unprepared, as we were this day.

The paved road system within the park carries an astonishingly high volume of motor vehicle traffic. Indeed, after several seemingly endless lines of cars pass us on our bikes during the day, I ask my friend in despair if EVERYONE in the park is driving a car at this time. As opposed to hiking, bird-watching or picnicking…

Brown County State Park was first opened to the public in 1929. In 1934, the Veteran’s Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1557 began its work by planting black locust, black walnut, pine and spruce throughout the park, in part to aid in restoration of severe erosion damage occurring in the park. The Corps also built a number of buildings, shelters, ovens, roads, trails and the west lookout tower in the park at this time.

In addition to the 10 miles of mountain bike trails, the park contains about 18 miles of hiking trails and 70 miles of bridle trails.

On our drive home, my friend takes us on the “scenic” route back. Our 15-minute drive from Bloomington becomes a drive of over two hours on the way back, as he drives us on back roads in southern Indiana that he tells me he had not been on for 25 or 30 years. As I marvel at the unexpected hills, sharp turns, colorful forests, and charming farms on our drive (as well as our biking earlier), I gain a new appreciation for how at least some parts of Indiana are not the stereotypical flat cornfields one expects here.

My friend concludes, as we drive, that these roads have changed very little in 30 years.


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