The weather forecasters said that storms this weekend would be spotty, that they’d maybe pop up where conditions were ripe for an early spring lightning and thunder show. I decided I’d head to Hoosier National Forest for the morning, and if trail conditions held up, I’d go to Brown County State Park for the afternoon. Fifty miles or so of mtb was on the docket for my Saturday, assuming the storms didn’t pop up.
I arrived to the Nebo Ridge Trail northern terminus with the eastern sky looking overcast but bright, and with a few clouds seemingly breaking up. On the western side of me, up above the tree line, it was overcast but not looking like it was getting brighter, but not stormy looking either.
Clipping in, I headed out on Nebo. It was tacky-to-dry in most sections, with a few spots being wet. I had the whole trail to myself, save a startled turkey, an owl, some woodpeckers, squirrels and other early morning forest life. Less than an hour later, I dropped off Nebo’s southern terminus and turned right on the hard road for Hickory Ridge’s 20-18-19 loop, one that I enjoy riding when I suspect the horseback riders are probably not on the trail.
Turning onto 20, I thought I heard thunder, but wasn’t sure. A few minutes later, I thought I saw a flash of lightning, but I wasn’t sure. Less than two minutes after that, I saw lightning and heard thunder. There was no doubt.
I did the “one-one thousand, two-two thousand” counting method to determine how far away the storm might be for the subsequent lightning flashes. Over the next fifteen minutes, my count went from the low teens to around five. Still, it seemed from the sound of it, that the storm was centered north of me, maybe around Brown County State Park.
Nearing the end of Hickory Ridge Trail 18, a text came in from a friend saying that a strong line of storms was heading my way. A couple of raindrops were falling by then, but it wasn’t yet raining like a shower.
At the end of 18 and turning on to the forest road heading north to 19, it started to shower. A car passed by. I waved. By the time I turned onto 19, I was in the middle of a storm. It was that sudden.
Lightning was flashing and some strikes were close enough that the flash and crack/boom were less than three seconds apart. I kept telling myself, “no big deal, it’s only rain. Trees above will block the lightning. This happened to you twice before: on the R3 in State College, and Michaux two years ago.”
Nineteen was a hoot! Feeling alive and on edge in the elements, I had a blast rolling up and down to the next forest road. A little splish, a little splash, but surprisingly, it was mostly wet, gritty, sandy trail and not running with water. I knew my body temperature was dropping with the cold rain, so I stopped and put on a windbreaker/water resistant layer on my torso.
Out on the forest road, and then back on the hard road to get over to Nebo, I was freaked out. Lightning was all around me. I stayed as close to the tree line as possible, not wanting to ride down the center of the road.
Back at Nebo, the uphill to start was running with water downward. I crested out and decided to eat some food. Again, I knew I had to keep my body temperature up. I had nine more miles to go, and had no idea what the weather might be like.
I stuffed some energy bars into my mouth, chewed, and swallowed in chunks, washing it down with electrolytes drink from the hydration pack. The rain was blowing hard at this point. A twisted smile came on my face. I felt completely safe under the trees, but still, all I could think of was: don’t crash, hopefully no mechanicals, take as long as you need to get out unscathed.
Nebo in the storm was great! Even with more than an inch of rain falling on it, some sections were only wet. Traction was great the entire length of the trail. Sure, some spots were puddled and others were running water, but the ease at which I pedaled was a gift from the storm gods, or maybe Nebo’s. For about twenty minutes on Nebo, the rain fell back to a sprinkle, and I am certain I found mtb nirvana.
Distant lightning would flash through the heavy clouds and for whatever reason, it would cast a rose-colored hue across the forest. I had never seen anything like it. Flashes of soft pink to a little on the lavender side shown through the misty/foggy trees and onto forest floor. At one point I stopped and waited for a flash to see if it really was pink light. It was. The air/space around me turned pink.
High in spirit, I turned the cranks, eventually dropping off Nebo. It was a little before noon, the rain was still falling, and the land around the parking lot looked like the perfect landscape to view from behind a window with a cup of coffee in hand and book of poetry. I put my bike on the roof, put on some dry clothes, hopped into the front seat, turned on the ignition, and drove away.