Epic Mountain Biking In The Heart Of Indiana

Indiana might not immediately pop in your mind when you think of great mountain bike destinations, but after riding Brown County State Park, it will.

Located less than an hour south of Indianapolis, Brown County is the crown jewel of Midwestern trail riding. After the International Mountain Bicycling Association bestowed Epic status on the 25-mile trail system in 2011, riders within a day’s drive of the trails began turning up in droves. On a pleasant spring day, riders will spot license plates from as far away as Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri.

A torrential rain earlier in the week meant the parking lot was mostly filled with locals when we pulled in Sunday afternoon; no one wants to drive six hours, only to discover the trails are too muddy to ride.

The rain did impact our riding. The trail was mostly perfect, albeit a bit greasy in several spots. Where we were used to a trickle of water at the creek crossings, we pedaled across what seemed to be a river of water. Wet socks and mud-splattered kits couldn’t take our smiles away – but the hills tried.Indiana has a reputation of being flatter than a steamrolled pancake. That’s true in the northern half of the state, where you can see miles of cornfields in every direction. But the southern part of the state is known for its rolling hills. One of the nation’s most popular road rides, the Hilly Hundred – yes, it lives up to its name – is held every October on nearby roads. Inside the park, it’s a single-track rollercoaster; during my last visit, we climbed and descended multiple times, logging more than 2,000 feet of climbing in just over two hours of riding.

Clipping in at the North Gate trailhead just inside the park entrance, we pedal up to Haynes Loop and onto the newest leg of the trail, Green Valley. Green Valley has a definite flowy vibe, almost like a pump track at times. There are more technical trails out there, but few that are more fun.

Heading farther into the park, Hesitation Point looms, with its numerous rock gardens discouraging meeker riders from climbing to the gorgeous vista at the upper trailhead. Located off Hesitation Point are the fast, wide-open Limekiln Trail and the double-black diamond Schooner Trace, which has destroyed more bike frames than rust.

Each trail and trail combination is unique, with its own personality. By altering the direction and order we ride, it’s like we’re on totally different trails. You can easily spend a long weekend at the park and not get bored.

Trailbuilders are currently constructing Hobb’s Hollow, a brand new 3-mile segment of trail that will be jam-packed with bermed turns, step-ups, rock drops and tabletop jumps, along with a 2-mile descent with 360 feet of vertical drop, more than any other trail in the state. Trail advocates hope to build another 12 miles of trail over the next few years, eventually connecting the park’s single track to the nearby Nebo Ridge and Hickory Ridge trails in the Hoosier National Forest, as well as two private trail networks. With luck, in a few years riders will have more than 100 miles of connected, rideable terrain. When that day comes, IMBA might have to come up with an even more epic trail designation.

Descending back to the trailhead, our massive group splintered into twos and threes, the front rider trying to shake the others off his or her tail. To my rear, I hear Janet Sherman – five months pregnant and apparently riding with the strength of two bikers – taunting me. “Rob, are you going to rail this or what?” The implication being that unless I sped up, I had better get out of her way. I accept the challenge and bomb down the hill, fighting every instinct to squeeze my brake levers. Picking up momentum, the bumps on the trail launched me into the air for a few exhilarating moments, before touching back down onto terra firma. As I successfully steered through each successive turn, my timidness at descending gave way to the sheer joy of speed.

As we roll into the parking lot after our all-too-brief ride, more cars are pulling into the lot. We’re all smiling, our blood filled with adrenaline, endorphins and, after a spill or two, more than a little dirt. We all want to do another lap, but we have family responsibilities – baby sitters to pay, lawns to mow, beers to drink. As our cars head north out of the park, we’re already planning our trip back.

Want to ride Brown County State Park? It’s located on Ind. 46 East, less than an hour south of Indianapolis, off the No. 68 exit of I-65. Park entry is $5 per carload for Indiana residents, $7 for cars with out of state plates. Camping is available at the camp or you can stay at the full-service lodge inside the park. Rates start at $10 for primitive camping, $77 for the lodge. You can get by with most types of mountain bikes – I ride a dual-suspension Giant 29er, and my teammates run the gamut of a rigid 650b chromoly and 26-inch aluminum bikes. Just be sure to wear a helmet.

[Video Credit: Rob Annis]

Rain, Snow Snarls Flights Nationwide

Bad weather has put a damper on air traffic in the Midwest and Southwest, causing hundreds of cancellations nationwide.

At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, more than 300 flights were canceled because of strong rainstorms, and at Denver International Airport, more than 400 flights were grounded due to a snowstorm forecast to dump 7 inches of snow on the Mile-High City, CNN is reporting.

Both these terminals are amongst the top five contenders on the list of busiest airports in the U.S., meaning the cancellations are sure to reverberate throughout the country. Stranded travelers should check out this list of handy smartphone apps that can help fliers check statuses, rebook or even find fun ways to pass the time while stuck at airports.

[Photo by Flickr user CameliaTWU]

Budget Guide 2013: Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio, is known as both “Cowtown” and “The Biggest Small Town in America,” nicknames that begin to shed light on the destination’s Midwest charm mixed with big city amenities. Relative to other urban centers, the streets are safe and the people are friendly, yet you’ll find restaurants, galleries, shops and other attractions that have Columbus competing with cities two and three times its size.

Contrary to many other cities across the nation, the population of Columbus has been growing steadily. This influx of new residents has led to many new business openings in the city, and kept healthy competition amongst both old and new proprietors. Here, the average price for a beer at a bar is a modest $3.50, and meals at reasonably priced restaurants will only set you back about $10 per person. The food scene is delicious, there are plenty of attractions to explore, and getting around is simple – whether you’re traveling by foot, bus, bike, taxi or even pedicab.

If you need more convincing, consider this: Columbus has been ranked a top shopping destination by Forbes, a top arts destination by American Style, a top city for biking by Bicycling Magazine, and the city’s Science Center, COSI, was named the number one in the country for families by Parents Magazine. On top of that, National Geographic recently named the city one of the top 10 best fall trips. Spend a long weekend in this city, and you might find yourself wanting to come back for more.


The Wayfaring Buckeye Hostel: Columbus is known for its mega-sized university, Ohio State, and this newly established house-turned-hostel is the place to be if you want to stay in the heart of it all. The whole place is ready to party: on the front porch you’ll find a beer pong table, the common area is outfitted with a projector screen for movies and a foosball table, and the back patio frequently hosts music performances. Despite the frat house atmosphere, managers keep the hostel clean, and visitors can also take advantage of free Wi-Fi, bicycle rental, laundry facilities and more. From $25.
WayfaringBuckeye.com 2407 Indiana Ave.; 614-754-0945.

The Lofts: At this recently renovated boutique hotel in Columbus’ Arena District, old meets new: the hotel’s exterior is set in a historic former warehouse, yet inside you’ll find clean, contemporary designed rooms with exposed brick walls. Other amenities include an indoor swimming pool and an on-site restaurant. Be sure to check into package deals, as the hotel has been running a special where they throw in a third night stay for free, bringing the overall price tag way, way down. From $144 (before discount).
55Lofts.com 55 East Nationwide Blvd.; 614-461-2663

German Village Guesthouse: If you’re looking for something a little quieter, the cozy German Village Guesthouse is not only ranked as the top bed-and-breakfast in Columbus on TripAdvisor, but was also voted the “Best Hotel/B&B in Columbus” in the 2012 reader poll by 614 Magazine. Some of the rooms offer great views of the Columbus skyline, and on the ground you can explore the cobblestone streets and lush gardens of historic German Village, a neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Districts. From $195.
GVGuesthouse.com 748 Jaeger St.; 614-437-9712

Eat and Drink

Grass Skirt Tiki Room: The newest oasis in Columbus’ downtown area is this tiki-themed bar, the brainchild of the city’s ragtag group of unorthodox restaurateurs, the Columbus Food League. Here you can chow down on a Loco Moco (traditional Hawaiian dish of burger patties over rice smothered in gravy and a sunny side-up egg) while throwing back a mai tai, or you could head to one of the group’s other restaurants: the Surly Girl Saloon, Betty’s Fine Food and Spirits, or Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails, where you’ll also get a dose of Ohio history.
GrassSkirtTiki.com 105 N Grant Ave.; 614-429-3650

Bodega: Every Monday night hipsters flock to Bodega, when the restaurant offers $1 panini-style grilled cheese sandwiches. What money you save on dinner you can contribute to trying one of the restaurants 50+ craft beers on tap – which, by the way, are also half off from 4 to 8 p.m. Don’t forget to try the local suds, including Columbus Brewing Company, Buckeye Lake Brewery, Elevator Brewing Company, Hoff Hearted Brewing and more. The patio makes for a great spot to people watch, while the interior has an artsy, sophisticated vibe. ColumbusBodega.com 1044 N. High St.; 614-299-9399

Food Trucks: These days, it seems as though you can’t talk about cheap eats without mentioning meals on wheels. Columbus is no exception to the food truck craze, with nearly 100 roving restaurants circulating the city. Options range from creole to crepes, Indonesian to Italian, pierogies to pulled pork, or Jamaican to Korean, but the trend that has really taken off are taco trucks. More than 40 of these trucks cater to Columbus’ fastest growing population – Latinos – as well as anyone else who wants a quick, tasty bite.

Budget Activities

North Market: In the late 1800s there were four public markets in Columbus, each with a name paying homage to its cardinal direction. Today, only one remains: North Market. The current 36 merchants inside the building include delis, bakeries, pastry shops, ethnic restaurants, specialty goods sellers, produce stands and more. Even if you only pop in for a taste, don’t miss Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. This creamery takes the label “artisan” seriously, promising “[e]very single thing we put in our ice cream is legit.” Just last year, head honcho Jeni Britton Bauer won a James Beard Foundation Book Award for her cookbook, “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home” – a great takeaway if you’re looking to bring a piece of Columbus back home.

Experience Cafe Culture: It would be far-fetched to say Columbus is the next Paris, but this city has become obsessed with cafe culture recently. Artisan roasters and craft coffeemakers are popping up all over the city, promising a cafe on nearly every street corner – that isn’t Starbucks. Cafe Brioso and Staufs Coffee roast all their coffees in house, while Back Room Coffee Roasters operates out of a local bike repair shop and Thunderkiss roasts single-origin coffees in less than five pound batches. There are also mainstays such as Cup o’ Joe and Crimson Cup.

Swim with Stingrays: You no longer have to go to a place like Belize’s “Shark Ray Alley” to swim with stingrays. Last year, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium opened a new attraction, Stingray Bay, inside an 18,000-gallon saltwater pool that allows you to get up close and personal with the creatures. Touching the stingrays in Stingray Bay is perfectly safe, and it only costs an extra $3. Even better, you’ll be inside a top-rated zoo that was developed with great help from famed zookeeper Jack Hanna and is currently home to more than 9,000 animals. If that’s not enough, the zoo is adjacent to the Zoombezi Bay Waterpark. A day pass to both attractions is less than $30, and you’ll also save on parking!

Get Around

Columbus is easily walkable, with much of the city centered around the main north/south drag: High Street. Along this road you’ll find some of the city’s best bars, restaurants, art galleries and specialty shops. Several neighborhoods are worth a walk-through, particularly the Short North, the arts and entertainment district. If you happen to visit during the first Saturday of each month, the Short North hosts a free gala on fine art and food starting at 4 p.m., when all the galleries along High Street open their doors to unveil new exhibitions – and many offer small bites and samples of wine.

However, if you need to get from one end of High Street to the other faster than your legs will take you, the #2 bus operated by Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) can get you anywhere along this main artery for $2 per trip or $4.50 for a day pass. Since the city is flat, renting a bike is also a great option, or if preferred you can have someone else do the legwork by taking a ride in one of the many pedicabs that navigate the city.

Buses also service Port Columbus International Airport, which is six miles from Columbus. Use the trip planner on the COTA website to find the next bus, or just pop the address into Google maps to get bus directions to your starting (or ending) location. The next best option is a shuttle bus, of which there are many options to and from the airport.

Budget Tip

If you’re looking for a night out on the town without hurting your wallet, check out the Columbus-based website 20 Dollar Dates. There you’ll find plenty for two people to do, and you’re guaranteed to never spend more than a Jackson. Date ideas range from happy hour specials to nearby hikes to holiday-themed activities.

[Photo credits: Flickr user Jack Zalium (top image) and Flickr user codydean]

Photo Of The Day: Sunny Isles

photo of the day

This Photo of the Day is titled “Sunny Isles” and comes from Gadling Flickr pool member Bens640. The scene is of a typical beach in Florida’s North Miami and, looking around the weather map, some of you could use a warm-weather photo to focus on.

I lived in the Midwest for about half a century before relocating to Florida almost a decade ago and saw plenty of ice, snow, stupid people driving during that “first snow” and breath-robbing sub-zero winds.

Similar photos helped.

Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Gadling Flickr pool member Bens640]