Thursday, August 15, 2019

TNGA Imminent

It's been 7 long years since I've been able to say it. But I can say it now!

Adventure imminent!

Beltline

It's been TNGA taper time for the past week and a half. No big efforts. Of course big is relative. What counts as a big effort? Does 50 miles on the mountain bike count? What if there's only 2300 feet of climbing involved? What if 2/3rds of it is on pavement? I hope that doesn't count, because that's what I did last Sunday.

There's this Beltline loop they're building around Atlanta. I'd heard about it for years, but never got around to checking it out. I'd heard it's unfinished. Some of it is paved. Some of it's still gravel. Some of it doesn't exist in any form. I downloaded a sketchy gpx file from 2007 that alleged to sort of follow it, and figured trying to make heads or tails of that would be good navigation training.

Saturday morning, I hit the road.

From the top of the hill by my house, the ATL looks like it's a long way away.

I took the most direct route too. Straight down Bankhead. Well, these day's it's Hollowell. But, if you ride down it, it still looks like Bankhead.

An observation... There are a lot of people on bikes, on Bankhead. Nobody looked like they were riding for recreation. You can tell who rides a lot. Sadly, that probably means that you can tell who lives nearby and either can't afford to drive or has a DUI. You can also tell who's eaten enough recently. Sadly, that probably means that you can tell who's homeless or enough of an addict that they can't afford to eat.

I picked up the Beltline proper in some random neighborhood near the Marta line. It was just sidewalks for a while, then it became some purpose-built trail.

Every single bridge or tunnel was interesting.

If I'd stopped to take photos of all of the art that I passed, I'd still be out there. There were huge murals, random graffiti, sculptures, old buildings, you name it.

In some spots, there was plenty of natural beauty as well. Flowers with peach-colors lined the trail for about a mile, with cattails behind them.

It looked like the trail mostly followed an old railbed. "The Beltline" I imagine. In some spots it was marked, but yet unpaved.

Some sections were pretty remote. You could see houses and buildings through the woods, but nothing right up on the trail. In other sections, there were shops on either side. It mostly followed the old railbed, but about halfway around, it became a bike lane for a couple of blocks.

Somewhere in there, it went through the Krog Street underpass.

Ha!

I can imagine the meeting where they decided that.

Some guy: "Well, we have a couple of options here..."

Everyone else at once: "Krog Street!"

Where there were shops, there were people. I'd be tear-assing for miles, then hit some traffic, then back tear-assing again.

Somewhere near there, there were a bunch of chrome plant sculptures. I'm kicking myself for not getting a shot of those. But, again, if I stopped for everything...

The trail was a little confusing near Piedmont Park. It emerged on Monroe Street just east of the park, but then it wasn't clear where to go. It turns out you're supposed to cross the street, go right, and pick up this little unmarked singletrack off of the sidewalk, which gradually widens into a railbed. I guess. I ended up going through the park, finding the trail, backtracking to figure that out, then continuing on.

In the park, there was something going on. Tons of inflatables.

Whatever it was, it looked like fun.

There was also a reggae concert at the north end. Unfortunately, with the 105 degree heat index, only people that could bring their own pop-up tent were hanging around. There were surprisingly many of those, but the crowd wasn't huge.

The trail just got more and more confusing from there. I ended up on some side loop, before figuring out that the real trail was unmarked at that intersection. Then, I found the legitimate end of the trail.

It just becomes train tracks.

Some guys I met going the other direction confirmed that it was, in fact, the end of the line.

Wild.

I ended up taking roads out of town, refueling at a gas station in Midtown, and picking up what alleged to be another section of the trail in Buckhead. That section was also somewhat confusing and I ended up doing another side loop before figuring it out.

There was one spot where it went over a creek, and there was this huge snapping turtle just hanging out in the dead middle of the creek.

In the middle of Atlanta!

Eventually, I couldn't find any more trail. I'm sure there's some unfinished sections that I missed, but I think I hit everything that was paved.

When I got back to Bankhead, I remembered that it had seemed like one long downhill from my house to downtown, and I dreaded climbing back out at the end of the day. Turned out I had plenty of legs. I could tempo-climb the hills on Bankhead, and it didn't get tough until I hit the wall on Veterans, and I even managed that.

Done! Whoooo!

And, everything felt good. My pack, my shoes, my cleats, my grips. Everything. Last shakedown before the TNGA.

Here it comes.

Moss Branch

Last weekend we had our monthly work party. Debbie was out of town, so I was the crew leader. First time! I'd probably give myself a C+/B-. We got the work done. Nobody got hurt or lost. But there were some things that I forgot during the safety briefing (thanks for backing me up Nancy) and even later during the day.

We did get a bunch of good work done though. I'd ridden Moss Branch the previous week, and it had become a jungle.

We cleared lines of sight.

Cleared the corridor of all these bendy trees that bikes could get under, but you wouldn't be able to on a horse.

And then we hit the proper jungle. I joked that everything we'd done up to that point was just training for this.

I think we spent as much time on that section as on all sections before and after combined.

But it looked great when it was done.

The reason it was like that was that several years back there had been an ice storm that brought down a dozen trees right through there. That opened up the canopy and let good sunlight in, all th way to the ground. Time passes... Brush grows up.

We made it all the way to the creek (our intended target) and then cleaned up a bit on the way back.

We had a really good crew too.

That's me/Nancy in the middle. Jesse to the far right. He'll be volunteering at the Fool's Gold this year. The tall guy is Josh. He's been working with us for years, and he's now coaching the mountain bike team at Truett McConnell College. The rest of the crew is part of said mountain bike team, getting in their community service hours. I dig this whole "we need community service hours for such-and-such" thing. We've had a lot of volunteers over the past few work parties for that very reason.

I still need to turn in the work hours. I've been swamped this week, getting everything straight for the TNGA and haven't had time to even think about it.

Pinelog

Ahh, after-work at Pinelog. One of the perks of working in Canton 3 days a week. I tried to get Eddie to join me, but he was busy. I don't know, rebuilding his pedals or something. Pfft. Who needs working pedals, I mean come on.

Here's what he missed...

1) Lespediziosity:

I mean, it's just seriously lespedezious up there these days.

2) A beautiful climb up Hogsback to Hanging Mountain.

3) A sketchy, pebbly descent down off of it through gorgeous rock gardens.

4) Actually finding the trail down off of the mountain, and not getting lost like I usually do riding it in that direction.

5) Having to cut the ride short because my knees were killing me.

6) Spending 20 minutes back at the lot fiddling with my cleats until they were on the correct feet, turned the right way, and properly twisted.

Hmm... it's looking like he might have made the right decision.

Oh, wait!

7) Fire it up BBQ!

Yes! I've been trying to eat there for years, but they alternately close at either 8 or 9 o'clock, and I'm always getting over there like 5 minutes late. Not this time!

The pulled pork was amazing.

I thanked them for the warning on the ghost pepper BBQ sauce.

I had the tiniest bit of it and it was plenty.

Yeah! That's what you missed, Eddie!

Lost Mountain

Oh goodness. The backlog...

Lets see... Looks like I've done a lot in the past few weeks. Kind of like cramming for a test, I guess.

On the 3rd, I rode over to Billy's house, then he and I rode over to Lost Mountain Park.

Ellie Claire waved goodbye to us from the porch as we left: "See you later! Come back home and see Ellie Claire!" Oh, that kid! I love it.

It goes without saying (though apparently I am saying) that we found a mylar balloon in the woods at Lost Mountain.

We also found plenty of fun in the woods. That trail system is great. Kind of short, but not short on fun.

The ride back to Billy's was less fun, but still adequately fun.

Ellie Claire was back on the porch waving goodbye as I left. I didn't go straight home though. I'd done "the zero" that morning. Grabbed a quick snack at Billy's before we left, and then when we got back, but was sorely short on calories.

Mmmm... Calories.

It was incredibly hot that day, but the exposure was good for me. Good, easy miles too.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Real Camping in the Blue Ridge WMA

Last time it was fake camping. This time it's real!

This past Saturday I woke up early, had an exhausting day running around everywhere in the world, and didn't get on the bike until about 6PM. Sounds like an odd time to start a ride, but it was actually by design. I had a plan. Ride Bull/Jake, head up over Cooper Gap, camp somewhere on the other side, get up the next day, refuel at the Cooper Creek Store, come back over Winding Stair Gap, and hit some more Jake on the way back.

Good plan? Maybe. Lots could go wrong. But, that's kind of the point too. So, that doesn't actually go in the con column.

Alright. Onward.

On the way up a guy in a black pickup with a personalized plate that read CNOEVIL merged from the far right lane all the way over into the far left lane (which I was in) in one shot. I must have been in his blind spot the whole time, or evil, because he didn't C me, and I had to crush the brakes and utilize the shoulder, but it worked out. No accident. Back on my way...

I stocked up on calories at the Gold Creek Store. Total garbage - Honey Buns, Cheetos, and some kind of beef stick. Mmmm.

When I got to the trailhead, there were still a bunch of cars in the lot. I wasn't alone in getting a late start either. Right after I showed up, so did another couple, and they got going before I did. Didn't look like they were planning on being out all night either, or even into the dark. Hope they made it out in time.

My phone was at 22% for some reason. Maybe the charging plug wasn't pushed in all the way? Great. Mission glitch number one. Airplane mode it is!

I took the connectors over to Bull, headed up Bull proper, and had a pretty nice time of it. The trails were in fine shape. Well, except for The Great Rift, of course...

...which just keeps growing and growing.

I took a little break at the truck, just long enough for a snack, some stretching, and the obligatory photo.

The new grips didn't give me any trouble ripping down Bare Hare. I was worried that they might, and I don't know whether I've just gotten used to them, or if the new gloves made the difference, but whatever... Shred!

Coming around the back side, I made a side trip up Whoop-de-Do's. Some, apparently dubious, machine work had been done earlier in the year and I wanted to check it out. Historically, the rolling dips had been maintained at about 4 feet tall and like 8 feet deep. They'd quickly get crushed down to about 3 feet, then eventually develop a notch, backfill, and start failing. The new work left them much shallower, like maybe 2.5 feet tall, but deeper, maybe 12 feet. That's the impression I got at least, my numbers could certainly be off. Basically, shorter but way deeper. They appear to have gotten worn in already - crushed down about 6 inches or so, but they're long enough that they don't look like they can develop a notch. There were plenty of hoof prints too, so it's not like only bikes are hitting them. I'm really curious to see how they perform long term. Debbie didn't like the looks of them right off. I wonder what she'd think of them now. They struck me as ok.

This, however looked abominable.

The first rolling dip is now a blind step-down double. You can't see how far you have to jump until you're right up on it, and it's such a step-down that I didn't dare manual it. Doesn't look like anyone's hitting it. The worn-in line is off to the right. I'm not sure I agree with such a bike-only feature on a multi-use trail.

But, "now y'all got me talkin' politics"...

It started getting noticeably darker on the way across the dam.

The vistas were gorgeous.

That's what I'm talking about!

I did start getting a little anxious as the sun went down though. Felt like I needed to hurry up. It'd been a while since I'd felt that. It'd also been a while since I'd done a night ride, which probably didn't help. It was officially dark coming down No-Tell, and pitch-freaking black on Montgomery Creek.

I was also officially out of water at Montgomery Creek proper. That little channel beam is still there, crossing the creek. I perched on it and filled up, while watching a tiny little rainbow trout slip through the current. It's amazing how little effort it takes them. Even more amazing was its ambivalece to my presence. My light shone right on it, the entire time I was working, and it acted like I wasn't there. No change in its behavior at all. I felt like I could have reached down and plucked it out of the water. Nothing to be gained though. On my way.

Camp Merrill looked like it's gotten a couple of upgrades. There's new sewage-related machinery on the right side of the road. It whirred and whirred as I rode by. The officer's club looked open. The neon signs were lit. I've heard that they don't mind serving civilians, but it wasn't a good time to find out. They're doing a lot of work on the gate too. It's looked the same for so long, all of the recent changes seem weird. Lots of upgrades. I wonder if they know something that I don't.

I climbed Cooper Gap Road in the dark, and wished I had a wider beam light. I had to stop twice too. Once to stretch my back. Once to eat a bit.

At the gap both AT campsites were occupied. One had a blazing fire going. I'm not sure what the etiquette is there. The sites are big, but I haven't done enough AT camping to know if they're considered big enough to share. On the north side, about halfway down, I found a weird road that I'd somehow never seen before. Not a trail, but a you-could-drive-your-truck-on-it road. I double-checked my map when I got home even. I'd never marked it. I figured I must have seen it before, and ignored it because it wasn't really a road, just a little jaunt over to a campsite. Nope. It went for a while. There was a spur to the left. I eventually stopped when I found a cable strung across the road at just over head height. WTF?

Too much WTF for me.

A little ways down, there's an actual campsite. I checked it out too. For years, it had 2 old campers parked in it. They were similar, but one always looked 10 years older than the other. Recently, the older one had been replaced with a brand new one, and then the other one disappeared not long after. The old ones were creepy enough, but the new one looked even creepier. The door was hanging open. Like "come on in... and get murdered."

Too much WTF there too. And, I wasn't sure if it was on FS land or not. The longest you can camp on FS property is 14 days. Those campers had been there for 20+ years. So... Maybe not. And, the guy who owns the adjacent land has some seriously threatening signs on the west end of it. Yeah... moving on.

I knew there were various places to camp on Williams Gap Road, but dang, I forgot how it's all climbing for a while. Ugh.

I found a spot that looked like it used to be a trail off to the right. Looked like it's just a turn-around now, but the woods to the left of it was flat enough to lie down on.

Sold.

I have 6 stakes, but I couldn't find one of them. I looked and looked. Nothing. Dangit. Old-school. I used to not carry stakes, and just use little chunks of sticks, but they're not so reliable. Good enough for stake number 6 though.

Next up - dinner. Honey bun and a beef stick. Both delicious. I also ate a bunch of Cheetos and drank the rest of one of my bottles.

Night-night.

Kind-of. I kept dozing off, needing to move around, and finding myself stuck to my bivvy, with my liner wrapped up around me. Screw this. I'd been pondering turning the bivvy into a quilt for a while. Done. A slit down one side, and it was great. I was lying on my mat, which was adequately comfortable, and not sticky. I could pull it under me if I wanted, and loose enough that it was easy to keep the liner on top of me. Ahh, el luxurio. I slept very well after that.

For a while.

Sometime during the night it started pounding down rain. Hours and hours of rain. Long enough to doze off, wake up, doze off again... Several times. The tarp worked great, way better than my tent ever did.

Gear-test success!

Too successful, actually. I slept so well that it was 10:30 when I finally woke up. My phone was apparently in low-power mode, and I guess that means that the alarm doesn't go off? On the upside, I still had 17%.

So, I wasn't out of power, but I was out of water. I'd managed to finish off the other bottle during the night. Not a big deal, the next stop was the Cooper Creek Store, it's mostly downhill to it, and it seemed like there were various places to get water along the way. Hell, the route basically follows the Toccoa down from its headwaters.

When I rolled out onto Gaddistown Road, I noticed a trail off to my left, that paralleled Williams Gap Road. I'll have to go check that out someday.

At the time though, I had vistas like this to check out.

All up and down that road.

Before I got to Northside, I passed a rider coming in the other direction. It looked like Chris Joice but I couldn't be sure. Whoever it was, he was loaded down. We exchanged nods, and kept moving, but just around the next corner, there were like 7 more riders, equally loaded, headed my way.

"TNGA training ride? Yeah!?" I shouted.

"Hey man! What's up dude?!" One of the guys responded.

Was that a yes? I hoped it was, but it's hard to say.

Turns out it's a long way to the Cooper Creek store. Much longer than I had remembered it being. It turned out I had a few sips left though, and only started getting actually thirsty a few turns from the store.

Ahh... Cooper Creek Store. Somehow I failed to get a photo of it. It turned out I had plenty of food still in my pack, both for whatever meal that was intended to be, and for the ride home. I did need fluids though, so I downed one Powerade and refilled my bottles with two more. I tried charging my phone too, but the charger for my light wasn't up to the job. It was still at 17% when it was time to go. Hmm...

When I first got there, I saw some road bikes outside. I exchanged some pleasantries with the roadies, and we sat near each other outside for a while. I don't remember the route that they were riding, but it must have been long because they had a guy in a truck supporting them. They'd all (including the guy in the truck) been stopped at some point by a cop looking for another cyclist, a lady in a white kit, who'd been harassed by some guy in a van to the extent that she'd called the cops on him. The cop was looking for them both.

Man, I hope that turned out well.

Time to go.

I headed westish, picked up Rock Creek Road, and climbed.

From Hwy 60, it's kind of a long climb, actually.

I took a break at Edmondson whatever-it-is.

It was a pond, then a wetland, then a meadow, now it's just trees. Tall trees even. The frame for the old Edmondson Pond is still there, but the sign is long gone, along with the pond.

Between there and Winding Stair Gap, I leapfrogged a guy in a Jeep a couple of times. I grabbed a snack at the gap, and the guy pulled up next to me.

"You're really humping it aren't you?"

Heh. Humping it.

"Man, I'll tell ya!"

We talked for a bit, then he took off, and I passed him again before getting down to PR Gap.

The IKON's were sketchy on Winding Stair. I kept feeling like the front wheel was going to slide out. Then when I let it, it did, a little, a couple of times. Yikes.

At the food plot, I noticed a trail leading up the ridge to the left. I'll have to check that out someday too, though I'm pretty sure I know where it goes.

At the FS77/28-1 Y, there was a guy getting stopped by the police. He was driving a jacked-up blue truck though, and fortunately not a white murder van. It was weird though. I've never seen cops back in there, except during the Family Gathering. I can't imagine they ran into him on patrol. No idea, but I didn't hang around to find out either.

Moss branch was a bit of a jungle. Constant leg-whackage for the first mile or so. Looks like a good candidate for some trail maintenance next month. When I got to Jones Creek, I just had to get across and climb out. But, that seemed like a LOT of work, and I badly wanted a nap. We left a jillion bags of gravel there some months ago, and they're still in a big pile. A big, comfy pile.

Oh yeah. I think I might have even fallen asleep lying on them.

I don't know how, looking at that photo now, but it felt pretty good at the time. Maybe the scenery helped.

I don't know.

However long later, I got up, crossed the creek and climbed out. It wasn't as much work as it had seemed.

And... Done.

Back at the lot, I got changed, then ran into some hikers coming off the trail with a bunch of dogs. A few minutes later some guys rode up on motorcycles. A little after that, a horse trailer drove out, and as I walked to the bathroom, I saw a trail runner coming down the road to the lot. In the span of a few minutes, I saw (if you include myself) people doing just about everything you could do up there. So weird.

I hit the bathroom, got back, jumped in the truck and took off. At that point, I experienced the weirdest glitch-in-the-matrix ever. My wallet was under one of my windshield wiper blades. I'd put it in my pocket when I went to the bathroom. Did I lose it that quickly? Did someone find it that quickly? It didn't seem possible. Wait... I'd have taken it out of my pocket to drive. It was in my cupholder! How could it be in my cupholder AND under my windshield wiper? That's when the glitch-in-the-matrix feeling really started to kick in. It kicked in, full-on, when I was standing there, with my wallet in one hand, and an identical copy of it in the other. It just couldn't be possible.

I stood there, absolutely confused for a few seconds, before it struck me what must have happened.

The wallet under my windshield wiper was the one I lost on that ride with Eddie and Shey a while back. Scott Hanson found it. He must have been at Jake that morning, noticed my truck, and left it for me. That's the only possible explanation. Yep, it had my insurance card in it. Ha! As unlikely as it sounds, that's what must have happened.

Weird!

I grabbed a snack at the Gold Creek Store, then some chicken at Zaxby's in Dawsonville, and that was the end of it.

My gear worked out pretty well. I need a little iPhone brick, some kind of lightning-to-mini-usb converter, and a gallon baggie for trash. I may also need some alcohol wipes. We'll see. The biggest problem I had, actually, was that I was completely soaked with sweat at the end of the first day, and my clothes stayed wet overnight. In the past, I'd always been able to dry them by keeping them in my bag with me. But, I guess they either never got that freakin' soaked before.

Actually, that was the second-biggest problem I had. The bigger problem was cumulative lack of sleep. I've been sleeping like crap for weeks now. Lots of work and late nights. In theory, that's easy to fix though, I just need to get to it. Sadly, I'm binging a Netflix series while writing this. And, not sleeping.

But, this show is so good...

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Fake Camping at Pinelog

Yet another marginally blog-worthy after work ride!

Another trip to Pinelog! I had new grips - Ergon GP1's. I'd done a quick adjustment ride on the Dirty Sheets after getting them (which I didn't write about) but needed to see how they performed on more diverse terrain. I'd also adjusted my seat a bit. Pushed it back, and dropped the nose. Seemed a lot better in the driveway, but again, I needed to try it on some diverse terrain.

Onward!

Up the main road, past the last gate, up the Lezpedezious approach to Hogsback, and all the way up the mountain. You hit every single thing on that route: hard-packed, loose, and eroded gravel; doubletrack; hard-packed trail, slightly eroded trail, rock gardens, loamy trail, clean singletrack, rough singletrack, singletrack strewn with debris; roots, rocks, and downed trees. You name it.

At the top, the trail almost disappears for a bit as it passed through a campsite. There's a big fire pit off to one side, and I figured that'd be a good spot to do a fake camping test. I've slept on my pad a dozen times. The liner/bivvy/pillow worked well for me on that overnight I did a month or two ago. I wasn't sure about the tarp though. Nor had I unpacked/repacked that particular pack while still tired and sweaty, immediately fresh from riding.

Let's see...

The ground was so rocky, that it was really tough to find spots for the stakes. But that wasn't a gear issue.

Everything went up easily. I'm not 100% sure about the tarp. I have another one that I might try in my backyard. One side offers less protection than the other. You have to know which direction the rain might come from, and pitch the lower side in that direction. That's definitely an advanced move. Other than that though, no problems.

Well, maybe one problem. My base layer was disgusting. The first time I rode the TNGA, I rode with my base layer as a jersey. Back then, if it was humid, as it is prone to be during the height of summer in Georgia, my team jerseys held a ton of sweat weight. Like, more than 2 pounds of sweat, on just about any decent ride. I measured. The base layer held like 1.5 pounds. It was still a bit of a sponge, but better than any of the jerseys. These days, it looks like my PBR jersey is actually lighter, and better at shedding sweat than the base layer. Plus, I can unzip it. It needs a few modifications, but I think I'm going to give it a try.

I'd had to stop to adjust my grips a few times on the way up, and then had to stop again a few times on the way back down. I'm still not 100% sold on them. They get very slippery, compared to the Oury grips. If they're adjusted for maximum comfort climbing, then they're in a really bad position for downhill. One hard hit, and they'll wrench your thumbs off as you slide forward off of them. I hadn't realized how I place my palms against the back of the grips to take a hit until I couldn't do it any more.

I wonder if there's something that I can spray on them to deteriorate the rubber a bit and make it stickier.

Still testing...