Monday, April 10, 2017

Dennis Mill

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday...

Saturday night I could not sleep in our bedroom without breaking into a coughing fit every 5 minutes. Kathryn's been gone for a week, and now that she's back she's sleeping with the fan on, and I guess the dust is too much for my lungs these days. I ended up on the couch, on my back, slept really bad, and went back to be upstairs, with the fan off, as soon as Kathryn was up.

Unfortunately I didn't get up from that until about 2PM. But, hey, it's spring, it gets dark pretty late, and I like riding in the dark anyway, so that didn't stop me from having lunch with the family before heading up to Mulberry Gap for the first reasonably serious ride since that horrible flu a month ago.

MGap

I'm still not well. I think I might be trying to get bronchitis, but I've been trying to knock that back with Tussin-DM. Which, itself, knocks me back. Is that stuff supposed to make you sleepy? It sure seems to.

At any rate, I arrived at MGap around 4 and parked in the day-use lot. Andrew was on a riding mower, buzzing all about the property. It appeared to struggle a bit with the grade, but still, he managed to beat me up the hill to the house/store. I had to go to the store because I'd left my house with 2 flat tires. I'd topped them both off, figuring, hey, I must have a slow leak, but no, they were dead flat when I got there.

Fortunately, the recently-expanded store had just what I needed, and I didn't have to spend 20 minutes looking for leaks and patching them in the parking lot.

Andrew had work to do, but I saw Kate and Ginni, and spent some time talking with them. Diane's been in Florida a lot, so I didn't get to see her, which is kind of a drag, because I've missed her every time she's been up here, probably for the last 4 years. I've talked to her on the phone, and via email, but not in person. It actually made me a little sad thinking about it.

Post-greetings, I headed back to the car, and spent 20 minutes swapping tubes. A few years back, I got Glen to replace my aging rear 317 with a 717, and damned if the 717 isn't just slightly larger diameter. Just enough to make it nearly impossible to get the tire off of the rim without a tool. I swear I've done it before, but I could not get it that day. Fortunately some folks who appeared to be associated with Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine had just ridden up behind me and they loaned me a tire tool. Thanks guys! I owe you.

Oh, yeah, also, when checking my tires for thorns, I pulled one out that was at least 3/4ths of an inch long. I must have picked that up at Pine Log, but it seems like I'd have remembered something with thorns that long.

Ok, finally!

On the bike!

I had a semi ambitious plan: P3 -> P4 -> Tatum Lead -> P5 -> FS3A -> P6 (I guess? P-Dennis-Mill.) -> Dennis Mill Road -> Old Federal Road -> Cool Springs Road -> CCC Camp Road -> Done!

Kate said that's like 35 miles and 5000 feet of climbing.

Excellent!

I'd never actually ridden the Dennis Mill section before, but I'd heard that it's fun, and I wasn't going to miss out on it an longer.

On the first little kick up to Mulberry Gap Proper, I could tell that it was going to be a long day, so I settled in and didn't push too hard. I felt like I needed to ease back into it.

I had a good time on P3. It's work, but I had it. I did dab once though. On the initial climb up Turkey Mountain, I could see the cliffs really well. They're hard to see in the summer, and I hadn't been there all winter, but I could see them really well, and I was preoccupied trying to find a good place to get a photo, when I just rode off of the trail. Ha! Pay attention Dave! Unfortunately, there was a big dead tree in the way. I wasn't going to get a shot without going back downhill, and there was just no way I was doing that.

There were trilliums everywhere though.

Trilliums on P3

I figured, while I was stopped, I'd get a photo of those.

Yeah! P3!

With its stacked switchbacks.

Stacked Switchbacks on P3

And its dead tree arch.

Dead Tree Arch on P3

Not to brag, but I cleaned every switchback.

Ok, maybe I am bragging.

I didn't realize that I had though, until I saw Hwy 52 ahead of me, and I was like: "Oh, no more switchbacks." I usually dab on at least one.

On the short little jog up 52 between P3 and P4, I heard a vehicle approaching from behind, and it sounded like it was tearing itself apart. I'd already crossed the road to pull onto P4, and I was glad I did, because from the other side, I wouldn't have been able to see what was going on. The car was an old Ford Explorer (I think), and the crazy noise was coming from the drivers-side, rear wheel. The tire had come completely off, and the guy was just grinding the rim on the road. He didn't appear to be running from the cops, or anything, it seemed like maybe it had just happened, and he couldn't find anywhere to pull over, so he just kept going. I'm not sure he could have been in a worse spot, either. He was near the top of Fort Mountain and it's a long, steep, twisty descent, in either direction.

A guy on a motorcycle was following him. I made a bit of a "Yikes" face to him, and he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

I really wondered later, how it played out. I hope he was able to find somewhere to park and change the tire.

P4 was in better shape than I remember it generally being. I guess it gets a bit more traffic these days.

As soon as I turned off of P4, I began to dread The Wall on Tatum Lead.

The Wall on Tatum Lead

(which doesn't look like much in the photo, but dangit, it is)

It's steep, and gravelly, and it keeps bending around to the left, and it looks like you're done, but you're not done. You're never done. I've had multiple people, independently finish the TNGA and tell me: "there's this one hill, on some gravel road..." and I know immediately which hill they mean. It's that one.

But, once you're done with it, there's a long, luxurious descent along the Tatum Lead, and then down P5. Actually, I shouldn't describe the P5 descent as luxurious. It's very technical, and there were 6 or 7 trees down that I didn't dare trying to hop. Not because they were too high, but just because the descent was so steep. I worried I'd be in the air for a while, picking up speed... Better to step over them.

Lower down, it's a lot flatter, and I was having actual fun with the deadfall. Speed-hops and nose bumps for days. Woohoo!

With all of the recent rain, Baker Branch was high, and the various creek crossings were tough to keep my feet out of.

Baker Branch

Down where it flattens out, it sure looks like it would have been a good place for a community. I imagine that whole valley must have been populated at one time, kind of like the Dick's Creek area, below Blood Mountain. I looked and looked though, and I only saw one little rock pile, that might have once been a chimney, but there's no telling.

I did see 3 turkeys though. One was up in a tree and flew away as I approached. The other two were crossing the field where you cross Baker Branch proper. I tried to get a photo of them, but they were too quick and too far away.

The turkeys are significant for 2 reasons. First, it's turkey season, and whatever season it is, I rarely see that animal. It's like they know. And, second, I was riding the Pinhoti trail, and Pinhoti means Turkey in Cherokee.

At FS3A, I hung a left, dove down to Rock Creek proper, and climbed up to the Rock Creek Trail Lot.

To my left, I spotted an old chimney, just uphill from the creek.

Rock Creek Homestead Ruins

It seemed familiar. I think my Dad may have noticed it, and pointed it out, the one time he and Billy and I rode Rock Creek. Man, that was a hell of a day. We did P3 -> P4 -> Tatum Lead -> P5 -> FS3A -> Rock Creek -> Tatum Lead -> P4 -> P3. Might be the most climbing my Dad had ever done in one ride. My ride would be longer, but I'm not sure it would even have as much climbing as that day had.

At the Rock Creek trailhead, there were mixed messages.

Rock Creek Trailhead

There was a sign inside of the kiosk saying that the trail was closed, due to a landslide. However, the trail is gated, and the gate was open. So, is the gate wrong, or is the sign wrong?

Also, landslide? That just made me want to ride up and see it.

But, not enough to actually do it. I wasn't even halfway around my loop, and I hadn't yet ridden the part I was specifically out there to ride.

It had been a while since I'd seen a Pinhoti marker too. I was pretty sure that the trail was down that way, but I didn't have a map that showed it. I remember thinking: "Man, if the trail isn't this way, then it'll be a long climb back out."

Fortunately there was one on a sign nearby. And, it seemed like every time I had that same thought, I'd see another marker within a minute or two.

Still Pinhoti

So, it turns out, P6 is like a very stretched out version of P2.

First, there's a long gravel road climb.

FS3A

Then, it becomes grasstrack, and you follow that for a long time too.

FS3A Grasstrack

Somewhere on that grasstrack, I saw another turkey.

Unlike P2's grasstrack, P6's has a creek crossing.

Unnamed Branch - Upstream Unnamed Branch - Downstream

Some unnamed branch, it turns out. And good luck riding it, or keeping your feet dry if you walk it.

Then there's a short little bit of doubletrack.

FS3A Doubletrack

And then glorious, P2-ish singletrack forever.

Pinhoti 6 Singletrack

It just goes and goes. There's a kick in the middle too, up over some gap, and it's kind-of steep, but it's not terrible.

I'd been following hoof prints since the road too. They appeared to be going 1-way. It made me wonder what loop they'd done, and whether it'd be fun on a bike too. I also saw other "indications" that horses had been through, and as I neared the end of the trail, the indications looked pretty fresh. I thought I might catch them even.

Two things got my attention towards the end though, so if I would have caught them, I lost all chance of that pursuing these diversions.

The first was this overlook.

Overlook Descending into Dennis Mill

It grabbed my peripheral attention, just barely long enough to register. One could easily be forgiven for missing it, as it's like halfway down a steep descent between switchbacks.

The next was this Pinhoti dedication.

Pinhoti Dedication

Again, one could be forgiven for missing it, as it's at the bottom of a descent, right when you're prepping to switch right across a little creek.

I was like: "that rock looks out of place" because of the color, and didn't notice that it was square until I did a double-take, after crossing the creek.

Hey, I know some of those guys! Conrad, Rick, Ginni, and Larry Wheat. There was a time when nearly every time I'd ride in the mountains, I'd run into someone I know. But, I never expected to run into someone I know, engraved in a granite monument.

I love it!

From there, it was a short run to the Dennis Mill Lot.

Dennis Mill Lot

There were 2 guys sitting there on the tailgate of a pickup with a hitch for a gooseneck trailer in the bed. They asked me how I liked the trail. The trail was great! I told them I'd ridden from Mulberry Gap, and they actually knew where that was. I expected them to be somehow associated with the horses I'd been following, like maybe they'd pulled their trailer in, and unhooked it up the road or something, but they weren't, and they hadn't seen any horses come through. Dangit. I was curious about their loop. I asked them what they'd been up to, and the one guy said: "Not much... Just sittin' here" and he smiled and kind-of chuckled like it hadn't seemed like a funny thing to do until he said it out loud.

I wished them well and headed north on pavement.

Just up the road was Dennis Mill proper, or what's left of it at least.

This must have been a gate house.

Building at Dennis Mill

The larger building further upstream must have been associated with whatever work they were doing there.

Another Building at Dennis Mill

The mill race is gone, as is the mill wheel, but I could see what I thought might have been the remains of the outflow box (whatever the real name for that is, sluice maybe?) parallel to the building, along the creek.

I don't know what they produced there, and the internet doesn't seem to know much about Dennis Mill either. There's a modern house across the creek from the old mill, and there was a lady on the porch with a wide brim hat. I thought about trying to get her attention and asking her about the mill, but she stooped down right as I looked her way, and didn't get up for a while, like she was tending to some flower boxes or something.

I had miles to go and people not to bother, so I pushed on.

Dennis Mill Road

The Pinhoti continues left on Old Federal Road, to Ramhurst, but I took a right and spun up to Hwy 52. There, I availed myself of The Stallion's hospitality.

The Stallion

Mmm, delicious Orange Gatorade. I had a couple of Kind Bars in my pocket too, and I ate one of them. I'm not sure how kind they really are though. They're basically composed of the same colon-blocking materials that I'd naively loaded up on the first time I tried the TNGA - nuts, berries, and a little chocolate. I bring them when I've got some pork to burn off, but I don't want to feel hungry. They are good for that. But, I had no illusions about actually processing the calories any time soon.

By the way, the guy in the classic Bronco is starting it by shorting the starter solenoid with a screwdriver. Heh, heh. Yep, I've been there, buddy.

Cool Springs Road is a lot longer than I remember it being. Like 3 times as long. Fortunately, I got some great value out of it.

For example, there was this moon-over-Fort-Mountain that I got to see for a while.

Moon Over Fort Mountain

And I got to watch the sun set over the fields to my left.

Sunset on Cool Springs Road

The sky was all pink and blue for the longest time.

Later, a fresh clear-cut offered the most perfectly framed view of Fort Mountain ever, but it was too dark to get a good photo of it. A dog chased me down the road near that spot too, but it was a very half-hearted chase. Like, I'm supposed to do this... Sighhhh... Ok, let's do this. Does that count? Cause, I'm done.

It was formally dark when I hit CCC Camp Road, and there were signs indicating that the road was closed ahead where it becomes gravel. I'd heard that there were landslides along the road months ago, but I'd also recently heard that the repairs had been completed. Hmm...

The only other way to MGap, is to backtrack to Hwy 52 and climb over Fort Mountain. No way I was doing that. I'm not sure I'd have had the strength and energy, if I tried. I had light and time though. I figured, worst case, I'd carry my bike on an extended bushwhack around the problem areas.

Just past the Emery Creek trailhead, there was another sign...

Landslides on CCC Camp Road

...and a makeshift gate.

Bikes are allowed on FS roads, even gated, closed FS roads, and foot traffic is legal literally anywhere in the forest, landslides notwithstanding. I went with the theory that those rules would apply in this case too. Plus, I could see bike tire tracks ahead of me, leading in one direction, so I figured the road was likely passable.

Indeed it was, and it was in the best shape I've ever seen it. I guess they improved it a bit to get the equipment in. There had actually been two landslides. Both were repaired, though it looked like they still might be touching up the second one. The first one looked like the slide on FS44, and was repaired in similar fashion. The second looked more like the one on the Bear Creek approach.

Goodness, the night was dragging on. I was pretty tired at that point. Much more tired than I classically would be at that point in a 40 miler. CCC Camp Road is basically one long climb up Holly Creek. It's not steep, except in a few spots, but it's a steady grinder. When I got to the intersection with Mulberry Gap Road, there was a sign saying 1.5 miles to go, and all I could think was: "Oh, God, don't tell me!"

I passed the chapel though, and the firetruck, and before I knew it, I saw the Mulberry Gap fence line. I remember thinking that it couldn't have been a mile and a half. No way.

Yes way! And, my truck was right there. All right!

Goodness again. 38 miles, 5000 feet of climbing. 5 hours or so. It took a lot more out of me than I expected, but hopefully just because I'm still shaking off this flu.

It was like 9:45 when I finished and when I got into town, my only dinner option was Wendy's. The tribulations I suffered there shall go unmatched for years to come.

I couldn't fit my bike under the drive-through, so I tried to shove it in the back of the car, but without putting the seat down, I need like 1/2 inch more, and there was just no way to get it. So, I had to pull it back out to prevent it from just sliding out haphazardly, put the seat down, and try again. Ok. Success.

Next trial - ordering. "Number 6 plain." "Small, medium, or large?" Perhaps I've been away from Wendy's for too long, because the option of small, medium, or large for a combo was foreign to me. "Small, medium, or large drink?" (long pause) "No sir, small, medium or large combo?" No idea. "Medium." Seemed like a safe option. I interrogated the clerk further at the window. Turns out the size applies to both drink and fry. Nice. Also, medium was what I wanted, so I guessed correctly.

It would take 7 minutes to cook my sandwich, so I had to pull up and let another guy through, but the clerks can't leave the store after 10, so they eventually had to wave me back to the window. When I received my order, I could tell by weight that the sandwich had everything on it. It did. She offered to take care of it, and I handed her my sandwich, but by "take care of it", she meant remove the everything and give me back the same sandwich with a new top bun. I had been in this same situation at Cielo Blue the previous weekend, and felt like I had been too picky, so rather than send it back again, I removed the little bits of contaminated breading and ate the sandwich. The first 5 or 6 bites tasted of lettuce, but after that it was fine.

I think it helped that I was really, really hungry.

All right! Dennis Mill. I have now ridden it, and I love it, and I'll have to add it in to my list of great places to ride. I can imagine a "real" loop out there too. Instead of taking the roads around the back side of Fort Mountain, go Peeple's Lake Road -> Rock Creek -> Tatum Lead, and backtrack to MGap. That would be a lot of climbing.

I think I'll save that one for when I'm feeling strong.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Pine Log (third time)

I can't get enough of that Pine Log. There's cool stuff out there, and by last Sunday at least, I hadn't seen it all yet.

So, I headed up there again last Sunday.

First stop, the Union Iron Blast Furnace.

Union Iron Blast Furnace Union Furnace Right and Back Sides

What a wreck!

This furnace lies just up the hill behind the game check station. You can easily walk to it from the parking lot, if you know where it is. I'd bet, that in the winter you could even see it from the road, if you know where to look.

The furnace was built in 1852 as the "Union Furnace", but changed hands and names many times, and was apparently renamed over and over. It was known at various times as the Union, Withers, Ford, Fire-Eater, Diamond, and Ward Furnace.

I like Fire-Eater, personally. I don't think I'd have changed the name after that.

Ore was dumped in the top of the furnace, probably from this side.

Union Furnace Left Side

Air was blasted in through the tuyere arch on the right (east) side by a set of bellows, powered by a waterwheel. The waterwheel and bellows were actually located about well away from the furnace itself, down on the creek below, and air was piped up to the furnace via a 50 foot long pipe. Molten iron flowed out of the casting arch on the front (south) side. Slag also flowed out of the casting arch, presumably to the right of the molten iron.

Extensive slag heaps lie to the right (east) of the furnace.

Something was mounted in front of, and to the right of the furnace.

Mount for Unknown Machinery

No idea what.

The hillside to the south of the furnace is terraced. At first this was a little confusing. It looked like a bunch of old roads to nowhere. There's a leveled area with what might be chimney ruin to the southeast of the furnace too.

Chimney Ruins Near Union Furnace

There are a few bits of ore here and there, in front of the furnace.

Iron Ore

Vague remains of the rock-armored outflow for the waterwheel lie downhill to the right of the furnace, near the creek.

Union Furnace Waterwheel Outflow Box

Even more vague remains of what might have been the mill race still line the west side of Stamp Creek, upstream, in line with the outflow.

Union Furnace Mill Race

There's a small dam in the creek too, but I don't think it's related to the furnace. It's probably just there to make pool for fishing.

Small Dam on Stamp Creek

There's a shagbark hickory growing behind the furnace.

Shagbark Hickory

And there are trilliums everywhere.

Trilliums

I saw a huge patch of them growing along the road too.

All right, Union Furnace!

I forgot to mention that I was on the mountain bike. I was on the mountain bike. I'd left it down by the game check station to explore the furnace, but I ran back down, grabbed it, and headed up the Main Road. It's funny, almost every time I've been riding in or out so far, there's been a car or a truck or a jeep coming up behind me. But, the road is hilly and rough, and a little challenging in a vehicle, so I push it and see if I can stay ahead of them. So, far I've always been able to.

Ha ha!

The last time I was up there I tried to find the New Stack furnace on Guthrie Creek, but I'd ended up on a road that parallels the road to the furnace, rather than the furnace road proper. This time, I knew exactly where the furnace road should be, so I made a concerted effort to find it.

At the intersection with Guthrie Creek Road, it looks like nothing at all, just some random briars. It doesn't help that the entire area was clear cut, replanted with pine, and is now criss-crossed with strip-cuts. The intersection just looks like an old strip cut. And, in fact, there is an old strip cut heading due south at the intersection. Knowing where it had to be though, I was able to discern the old road. Or, so I thought. It looked old-roadish, and it was heading in the right direction, at least.

I carried my bike by the down tube, with the seat hooked on my shoulder almost the entire time. Riding was impossible. There was too much overgrowth to even push.

Eventually the road really started looking like a 150+ year old abandoned artery.

Overgrown Road to New Stack Furnace

One-wagon wide. Deep below grade. I felt like I was on the right track.

And, ba-bam! New Stack Furnace!

New Stack Iron Blast Furnace New Stack Iron Blast Furnace Corner

This furnace was built in 1863 as the Thomas and Brown New Stack Furance, owned by John D. Thomas and James R. Brown.

It's not quite the heap that the Union Furnace is, but it's still a bit of a wreck.

It was also really, really overgrown, and tough to explore.

The creek to the west probably provided power.

Guthrie Creek

These rocks don't look like anything in the photo, but in real life they looked like they might be part of the mill race.

Possible Mill Race Ruins in Guthrie Creek

But, I couldn't really be sure.

The whole thing was rather enigmatic. Most notably, there were no slag heaps. Maybe the slag was carried off? There's another possibility though. The furnace was built in 1863, but by then, the Bessemer process for making steel from pig iron had been patented for 10+ years, and was starting to get cranked up in the US around 1865. The iron produced in Georgia wasn't (for the most part) considered high enough quality for this process. The furnace may have been obsolete shortly after it was finished. It may have been built to meet a predicted demand, which never materialized, and it might never have actually been used.

Rather than push back down that horrible road, I tried continuing along it to the west. It was less overgrown in that direction, but I still had to carry the bike. Eventually, it cleared, right at someone's property boundary. Looking at the map later, I realized that I was less than 100 yards from Guthrie Creek Road.

I backtracked to the creek though, and bushwhacked north until I hit the road. Man, it was a rough whack. Goodness. All kinds of different woods. A lot of it had been cut and regrown several times. Dirty jungle, as they say.

My right bicep was super tired from carrying the bike so far, too. Sooo tired. Apparently, it had been too long time since the last time I'd done that.

It was a steep climb up off of the creek, but I was just glad to be moving again.

From there, I rode back out to the Main Road, and took it south to the highway. Once again, a truck got behind me but I managed to stay ahead of them. Heh, heh.

At the highway, I headed east past the Stamp Creek Church, to Old Rock Quarry Road, which I then rode out to the very end. Last time I'd tried, I got off on some spur that looked like it ought to be the main road, but wasn't.

It led out to the power-line cut and crossed it. A few hundred yards into the woods on the other side I hit the WMA boundary. The trail keeps going from there, and it's not marked private at that end, but on the map it looks like it tees into the Gorman Branch Hunting Club road, which is definitely private, so I turned back there.

On the way out I passed by this dead coyote.

Poor Coyote

Gross.

But the weirdest thing is that I didn't remember passing it on the way in. How could I have missed it? It was in the dead middle of the road, and you could smell it from 200 yards away, in either direction. I swear, it wasn't there. Someone either dumped it, or something drug it out of the woods. But looking at it, especially all of the insects that were going to town on it, neither seemed likely. It looked like it had been lying there, undisturbed (except by bugs), for quite some time.

How could I have missed it?

I checked out a couple of side trails on the way out, but none of them went clean through to anywhere.

And, I guess that was the end of that ride.

On the way home, I stopped by the gas station owned by that Indian couple, with all of the Confederate merchandise. I amused myself imagining that if I asked him about it he would respond, deadpan, with: "the south will rise again, my friend" or something similar. Ha ha! That would be fun to hear, but I didn't have the courage, and instead I just paid for my Mellow Yellow Cherry and proceeded home.

So, there's still a good bit to explore out there. There's a vast Mill Ruin somewhere along Stamp or Guthrie Creek. I think I know where it must be. There's plenty to see at the old Sugar Hill Iron Mine on the north end too. Not to mention roads and trails galore to ride and hike. I imagine I'll be spending plenty of time in that particular WMA later this year.

Silk Sheets

April 1st I had planned on doing some trail work at Bull/Jake Mountain, but during the preceding days, I had developed quite a cough, and I was worried that I still wasn't over the flu, or that I'd developed a secondary infection, or something. That morning, I woke up coughing and made the game day decision to try to sleep it off.

Hours later I was worse.

But, I left the neighborhood to go to lunch and before we even started eating I was 80% better.

Allergies.

That's all it was. Really, really bad allergies. Must have been something in the neighborhood. We have a trillion cherry trees, in full bloom. I don't know if it's them, or something else, but when they're blooming it's bad.

Dangit. If I'd gotten up, and just left the neighborhood, I'd probably have been fine.

I still had an opportunity to do something fun though. Kirk had been through a week earlier, on his way to New Orleans for his kids' spring break. He was going to be back through late that afternoon, with his road bike, and wanted to ride with me and John.

Cool!

Silk Sheets.

John and Kirk

We rolled out of John's house, headed south, crossed the Chattahooche, and did the 25 mile loop.

Kirk is pretty strong these days. He's been doing triathlons and marathons, and of course, just riding a lot. That day was arguably a duathlon, where the first event was a 9 hour drive.

So, Kirk was giving it to us, especially on the Hutchenson Ferry hills.

It was still a good ride though. I ride a lot by myself, and sometimes just me and John, but with 3 riders, you get a good draft, and you go a lot faster overall. I'd almost forgotten about that. It had also been a long time since I heard that bunch-of-wheels-on-the-road sound, which is one of my favorite things.

At the north end of the loop we passed up Charlie's, crossed the Chattahoochee again and climbed the great wall of the Oak Hill neighborhood. Somewhere over there, I think on Yasser road, there was a really fun, twisty descent that I'll have to insist on hitting the next time me and John ride together.

Woohoo!

Towards the end of the ride I was coughing a lot and so hoarse I could barely speak. I guess that though my neighborhood has a high concentration of whatever I'm allergic to, and the general world has a lower concentration, the general world does still have SOME concentration of it, and given enough exposure, I'm bound to feel it eventually.

Before Kirk hit the road, we grabbed some dinner at the Irish Bred Pub in old downtown Douglasville. I highly recommend that place, if you're in the area, and I even more highly recommend their Londonderry Chicken, though I ordered it without something... Tomatoes, I think. Just chicken, ham, swiss, and paremesan.

Delicious.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Pine Log WMA (again)

Pine Log!

I had such a great time there the last time, I couldn't wait to go back. And, the opportunity afforded itself yesterday at about 3PM. I'd put in a solid day's work, but I had a lot more to do, and I needed a break. It doesn't get dark 'till almost 8 these days, so I figured I had plenty of time to do some exploring. I grabbed my commuter lights off of my road bike though, just in case.

It took a while to get up to Pine Log. It was almost 4:45 when I made it to the lot. Traffic on 75 north between 285 and 575 is apparently terrible, even as early as 3PM, on a Wednesday.

No problem though, I still had plenty of time.

First stop... The Lewis Iron Blast Furnace.

I'd ridden right by it the last time and not seen it. I thought I knew where to look this time though, and voila, when I looked there, I found it.

Lewis Iron Blast Furnace

I'd seen photos, but I really had no sense of scale, so here's my bike next to it.

This thing is huge.

Lewis Iron Blast Furnace (With Bike For Scale)

Really, freakin', huge.

Ore was dumped in the top of the furnace. Air was blasted in through the "tuyere" arch on the right side by a set of bellows, powered by a waterwheel. Molten iron flowed out of the casting arch on the front side. Slag also flowed out of the casting arch, presumably to the right of the molten iron.

There were extensive piles of slag along the creek to the southeast of the furnace, now overgrown with brush and trees. There were also hills behind the furnace which may have been stockpiles of ore. I need to go back and study them a bit more.

To the right of the furnace there would have been all kinds of machinery, but mainly a bellows, driven by a waterwheel.

The waterwheel would have been driven by water taken off of the creek by a raceway. A vague hint of the old raceway is still visible in the creek behind the furnace.

Mill Race Ruins on Stamp Creek

It's not clear whether the wheel was over, under or breastshot, but in any case, the water would have poured over or under the wheel, dumped into this rock-armored output basin...

Waterwheel Output

...and been directed back into the creek.

There were a few big chunks of either slag or ore lying on the ground, to the left of the furnace.

Slag or Ore

Given their size, and location, I'd guess ore. Also, there's a bunch of rock that looks similar to that in the Sugar Hill Mine area to the north. But honestly, I don't know enough to tell one from the other.

About 50 yards away from the furnace, to the southwest, there was what I guess is a basement wall.

Basement Wall Near Lewis Furnace

I actually saw it as I rode in, and recognized it from B & E Roberts' photos, but I couldn't remember what he thought it was. Struck me as a foundation/basement for a building. No idea though. Could have been a coal bunker or something too. Did they use coal back then?

To the south of the furnace, right along the main road, there are more ruins, completely overgrown with some creeping vine. They bear a striking resemblance to the main furnace ruins though. There's this random pile of rock, which used to be something.

Old Furnace Ruins (Maybe)

And this wall is part of another box, directed at the creek, in similar proximity to that rock pile as the waterwheel output above is to the furnace:

Old Waterwheel Output (Maybe)

There's another old rock wall to the west too, which could conceivably have been a footing for whatever structure gave access to the top of the furnace.

Rock Wall Corner

It made me wonder if an older furnace had stood there at some point. Perhaps it was canibalized to build the Lewis Furnace. No telling though. It could have been anything, really.

So, that was a lot of fun, and though it required a lot of words to describe it, I only spent about 10 or 15 minutes checking it out. I had lots more on my agenda.

Namely, there was another furnace nearby, along Guthrie Creek, and the ruins of a sawmill somewhere in the area as well. I needed to see them too.

Fat chance of that though. I followed the road leading west from the furnace until it hit private property. There were a couple of little spurs to the left and right, but they didn't really go anywhere, except to more of the same private property. Man, it would be really disappointing if the other furnace and the mill weren't in the WMA. But I was sure they were. Hmm... Well, turns out I wasn't on the road I thought I was on. The trail that leads to the mill and to the other furnace was south of me. I was on a semi-parallel road to the north.

I've got a pretty well trained eye for side trails though, and I didn't see anything where the trail to the mill was supposed to be. I guess I'll have to try again, now that I know the area better.

There was plenty more to see though, so I headed back to the lot and hung a right on Stamp Creek Road, toward the town of White.

Miller's Chapel was nearby. I'd seen it last weekend when I was riding back in the dark. But, being dark, it wasn't a good opportunity for photos. There was plenty of light yesterday though.

Millers Chapel Sign Millers Chapel Millers Chapel Cemetery (Facing West) Millers Chapel Cemetery (Facing East)

There are a couple of rollers, but it's mostly downhill to White. Downhill, from Wolfpen Gap, actually. In fact, according to old maps, at least, the entire area between the gap and White was once called Wolfpen. North Georgians really don't seem too creative when it comes to naming things. The various Peachtree Roads in Atlanta come to mind, of course, but I can think, offhand, of at least 3 other Wolfpen Gaps, and a Wolfpen Ridge, in North Georgia. And I'll bet there are more that I can't think of right now, and probably at least one more that I don't know of at all.

Ha!

Anyway, I came tearing down the road into White, hung a right onto 411, and hung another immediate right onto Oak Street. There was no street sign indicating that it was Oak Street. On the other side of the highway, it's Richards Street or something. But pretty soon I spotted some piece of power or phone equipment with "Oak Street" written on it, and before long I hit the WMA boundary.

It's gravel, immediately when you enter the WMA, but for a while it looks like it was once blacktop. I didn't notice the old-blacktop/true-gravel border though.

One thing I did notice was a fence made of old railroad ties along the north side of the road.

Repurposed Tie From the Iron Belt

Oak Street used to be part of the Iron Belt Railroad which ferried iron (ore, I guess) from mines in the nearby mountains to Chattsworth in the late 1800's and early 1900's. I imagine those ties were once part of that railroad. Though, I thought about it later... Wouldn't it be funny if they weren't. Like the guy just bought them from some local landscape company. Oh, the irony that would be.

It made me smile thinking about it.

There was allegedly a "Dove Field Road" somewhere up Oak Street a bit, and since it was turkey season, and the roads were all open to vehicular traffic, some helpful soul had put up a "Dove Field" sign at the intersection with the road. Woohoo! No guesswork.

As I was riding in, a hunter was hiking out, and I spoke to him for a few seconds, just to confirm that he was finishing up rather than just getting started. I didn't want to be riding on top of him. He was finishing up though, and hadn't seen anyone else on the road all day.

Further down the road, you know what I saw? Turkey prints. Lots, and lots of turkey prints. Oh, man. They were everywhere, and they were fresh. It reminded me of that time in Florida where I took a photo of a bear on one of the roads in the Ocala, and then right over the top of the hill a bunch of guys were heading out bear hunting.

Dove Field Road ended at a clearcut.

Rough Bushwhack

I'd hoped it would lead all the way out to Stamp Creek Road, but it didn't. I could see the road though, and hear traffic on it. I figured it was close enough to shoulder the bike and whack through to.

Ha!

Thorns.

Everything had thorns.

My knees were bleeding for the next hour.

It was a little tricky crossing Wolfpen Branch, as it was trenched pretty deep, and there were no obvious fords.

Wolfpen Branch

But, I was back on the pavement directly, and back on Oak Street again a few minutes later.

As Oak Street is an old railbed, it has a very consistent grade, thanks to the numerous deep cuts and fills along its length.

Oak Street

There were a bunch of recent clear-cuts uphill from the trail and some of them exposed the borrow pits for the fills. In some spots though, it looked like they'd shaved off a lot more of the mountain than would have been necessary for the next fill, and I wondered if I was actually looking at an old mine cut.

The land behind one of the fills had become a little pond.

Pond Off of Oak Street

I wonder if it dries up in the summer.

Past the pond this weird hole in the ground caught my eye.

Weird Hole in the Ground

It's hard to tell in the photo, but it's about 3 or 4 feet tall. I thought it might be some animal's den, but I didn't know of an animal that would be found in that area that's the right size to have a den like that. On closer insepection, it looked a bit like the mine shafts on Sawnee Mountain. Further uphill it looked like bits of it had collapsed too. I don't know enough about iron mining to say whether it might be involved in that or not. Whatever it is, it's interesting.

"End of the road, boys. It's had its twists and turns, now it deposits you here."

End of the Line

Dangit, I'd hoped I could keep going past the WMA boundary and end up somewhere off of 411 or East Valley Road.

On further examination, I wasn't sure that I couldn't. I mean, those "Posted" signs look pretty definitive, but the gate had no crossbar. The road beyond was just as worn as the road behind. I.e. it didn't look like a long-standing border. And most curiously, there were posted signs on trees down the road, facing the road, that you would see if you were on the road, past the gate. I wondered if the signs were meant to indicate that the land to either side of the road was private, but the road itself was ok to travel on, as long as you stayed on the road. There certainly are plenty of cases of that. That's why I like "Private Drive" signs. No ambiguity. If I ever have a private drive, I'll put up one of those signs.

I didn't like it, but I erred on the side of caution and turned back.

I did check out a few side trails on the way back. There's a maze of ATV trails west of the road, and one that looks more official and less ATV. Almost all of the trails led directly to someone's house. I wondered if they'd been used to access the WMA before the neighborhood was built, and then as each house popped up, a new trail popped up from the next lot over. It seemed semi-plausible, but the trails all looked equally well used. Like maybe every family in the neighborhood had an ATV and each of them made their own trail. No telling. It's also possible that the trails don't actually go all the way to each person's house. There may be a rail that ties them all together, just inside the WMA or something. Each time I could see the trail going straight toward a house, I turned around. People were out cutting their grass and hanging out in their backyards, jabbering. I didn't want to bother them, walking up on their backyard. Who knows though, maybe that happens a lot and they're used to it.

Anyway, I gave up on the maze quickly and headed back down Oak Street in a direct abort. It must have been slightly uphill on the way in because I was spun out quickly heading out. It was getting late and pretty, so I tried to take a photo of the ride out, but it was too dark, and shaky.

When I got to town I flicked on my commuter lights and rode back to the trailhead in the dark. I felt a lot stronger than I had last weekend, maybe because I was more well recovered from the flu. Or maybe just because I'd done a lot less climbing than the last time. Either way, I felt pretty good and pushed pretty hard back to the car.

On the way home I stopped at a gas station on Hwy 20 near I-75 and saw 2 interesting things. The first was a guy purchasing 2, and only 2 items: beer, and detox pills. The second was the impressive selection of Confederate Flag themed stickers and other memorabilia, juxtaposed with the older Indian couple who appeared to own and operate the store. I imagined them looking through catalogs, deciding to stock those items. I wondered what their thought process must have been. It made me smile and thinking about it kept me entertained for longer than it probably should have.

Whoo! Another good day at Pine Log. Still plenty more to do and see there too, so I will, no-doubt, be back again soon.