Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Upper Chattahoochee

I woke up Sunday morning feeling like I'd been run over by multiple trucks. Even close to 12 hours of sleep wasn't enough recovery for my soft IT body after the previous day's labor. Still though, I had a beautiful day ahead of me and I didn't want to waste it sitting around trying to get un-sore. Hair of the dog, they say. That's what I needed.

My legs actually felt fine, or at least, acceptably fine. It was my upper body that was really tired. Some gravel road climbing might be the right thing to do. No yanking the bike around, just sitting on and letting my legs do the work.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, so I headed up to Helen for some of that Upper Chattahoochee.

I think I remember making good time on the way up. I remember it seeming like it was hot outside too, but only on the highway. It was comfortable in the woods.

On the way into Helen, I noticed that the old Unicoi Turnpike south of town had been paved and turned into a greenway-type trail. I remember Clark mentioning that they were going to do that, but I didn't realize it would be done so quickly. On the way through town, it looked like there were a few upgrades too. They're building some kind of "mountain coaster" on the west side of the main street, and there was a new restaurant on the east side too: "A Slice of Helen".

I liked the name; it puns on both "A Slice of Heaven" and "A Slice of Hell".

But I wasn't there for any of that. I was there for the woods, so I made my way into them, got dressed, and hit the road.

I felt great climbing FS44. My legs didn't seem to be any worse for the wear.

There were a gazillion cars on the road with me, and even several groups of folks just walking down the road. Not sure why that was the place to be, but it sure seemed like it was.

At 44B, I hung a left and ground my way up the Jasus Creek Loop. That climb is super steep. I'd forgotten how steep.

I'd also forgotten the views it affords.

View From FS44B

Rare in Georgia.

The climb is steep, but adding insult to injury was all the fresh gravel that had been laid down recently. My god, what a wrestling match. It wasn't that friendly little 57 stone either. This was big chunky 34, with little boulders here and there. I'd specifically chosen gravel roads to avoid working out my core. I couldn't have chosen more poorly.

There were bits here and there that hadn't been regravelled, but at least 80% of it was, all the way up to the top end.

They'd done a controlled burn up there too.

Controlled Burn

What struck me was how much unburned pine straw covered the ground. I'd think that dry pine straw would be specifically what you'd want to burn. I guess it fell after the burn? Maybe it fell because of the burn. I wonder if they'll have to do a second burn.

I didn't have too much time to think about it though, as I had to use most of my energy keeping from slipping out to one side or the other, bumping along on all that gravel.

There was less on the descent back to 44, but there was still enough to watch out for. Climbing on it isn't a lot of fun, but tearing downhill into a big patch of it is even less fun if you're unprepared.

Back on 44, the tread was a lot friendlier. I climbed up to Vandiver Field, hung around the north end, and noticed a gate closed ahead of me.

FS44 Closed

Interesting...

There was also this sign posted nearby.

Never Heard of This Before

$5000 fine for entering a road, trail, or area of the forest that's been marked closed to the public...

I'd never heard of such a thing. My understanding is that foot traffic is legal anywhere in the forest. Non motorized traffic is technically legal anywhere, but strongly discouraged except on designated trails and roads, even if the road is marked closed. Motorized traffic is only legal on designated trails and roads, which are also marked open. There are rules in the forest plan about this. I double-checked them with Larry Thomas and George Bain way back.

The date on the flyer was 2013. Is this a new rule? Can you have one rule that contradicts another? Which one overrides? Can I not ride a bike on a road that's marked "Closed" any more? Seems really unlikely, considering the network of closed roads that are permitted for the TNGA and the closed roads that are just part of various trail systems...

Who knows?

It seemed like I'd either heard, or read about a recent landslide up there somewhere. Maybe that's the deal. Conflicting rules aside, if there were landsides ahead, I didn't want any part of them, so I turned around. I figured I could bomb back down, climb Martin Branch, and take the highway back into Robertstown.

But...

Gravel Wrestling Match

More gravel. Relentless, endless, perpetual, big, chunky, punishing gravel, from about 1/4 mile up, all the way to the top.

My God, it was awful. Literally exactly the opposite of what I'd hoped to be doing all day.

I think Martin Branch is maybe 4 miles long, but it felt like 10. I spun out and had to walk at least 5 times.

When I finally emerged on 44 again, it was a relief, and the climb out from there felt like riding on the Silver Comet.

I stopped for a quick pic at the little falls with the settling tank...

Falls on FS44

...and then just up the road there was bear trotting towards me. It was a little slow to run away, and I almost had time to pull out my phone, but not quite.

I have a buddy who wants to see a bear in real life, and I've offered to bring him up to that area. We'll see if he takes me up on it or not, but that sighting reaffirmed my confidence that it's a good spot to look.

At the highway, the gate to 44 was also closed. Goodness. It's apparently possible to ride into the closed area without passing a sign that says that it's closed. Sorry guys, it was an honest mistake. I hope I don't get fined $5000 for making it.

A minivan passed me as I turned onto the highway, and I managed to stay within 100 yards of it almost all the way back into town, basically until the road started to flatten out and I was out of gears.

The run along the Chattahoochee back to the car seemed interminable. I guess I was just ready to be done at that point.

What a frustrating ride. Maybe the most frustrating ever. Crawling over shifting gravel all day ranks pretty low on my list of good times. I guess it's ok to do here and there, but that day, I just wasn't in the mood. The bear almost made it worthwhile, but not entirely.

I debated where to eat and ended up at that Slice of Helen place I'd seen on the way in. The restaurant is half smoking, half non-smoking, but the kitchen is in the smoking section, so the staff has to open the door between them over and over as they come and go. I'm sure it's much stronger in the smoking section, but it was pretty strong in the other half too. On the upside though, the waitress was friendly, and I got into a conversation with another customer about the location of Tiger Georgia. He was looking for "Goats on the Roof". Ironically there used to be one just north of Helen, but it closed a few years back. I'd seen the one in Tiger before. I think it's actually on 441 though, not in Tiger proper. Also, he kept saying "Tiger" but it sounded like "Taggart" and his wife had to say it before I could rightly understand what they meant.

I ordered "Sausage and Peppers" with no peppers, and it came out with onions and spaghetti (neither of which were in the description on the menu) and only 3 slices of sausage in the entire dish. Fortunately it tasted pretty good with a brick-oven kind of flavor, so I wasn't too upset. They also had karaoke going in the smoking section, and it consisted entirely of country songs that I actually like, or at least remember fondly - Family Tradition, Mountain Dew, Luckenbach Texas... And the guys that were singing weren't terrible. Plus, everybody over there seemed to be having a good time. Nobody was drunk and disorderly. I was actually pretty happy leaving the restaurant, a far cry from how I felt walking in.

Goodness though, that ride. I think I'll wait a couple of months before hitting those roads again. They need rain and traffic, though I can't imagine 44B or Martin Branch getting much of the latter.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Jones Creek

Yesterday was work party day at Bull/Jake.

I got good sleep, got up early, ate some Waffle House, and made it up to the Jake lot well before 9AM without getting stuck in any construction traffic.

When I got there, there were already a dozen cars in the lot, 2 horse trailers, and Debbie's equipment trailer. However, there was no one in sight. Nobody on bikes, nobody on horses, nobody manning the sign-in sheet at the trailer.

I thought I heard Debbie's voice though, so I walked down the road to investigate. Turned out that most of the horse folks had camped out the night before and were still in the campground. They'd brought 6 horses, 2 mules, and 8 panniers for hauling gravel.

That was the main plan - haul gravel. The exit on the north side of Jones Creek...

Jones Creek Exit

...hasn't been fiddled with in who knows how long, and to get it done right, it needs a ton (probably literally) of gravel, and the only viable way to get it down there is by pack animal.

It's a lot of work though: Fill buckets to a line with gravel. Dump each bucket into a gravel bag. Put the bag in a pannier. Lift 2 panniers at a time, one on each side of the animal and hook them over a special saddle. Ride down to the creek. Cross the creek. Unhook the panniers. Get the bags out. Pile the bags up. Ride back out. Repeat.

In the lot, the horses can be tied to the trailer, but down at the creek, it's helpful to have 2 guys down there that can unload the gravel so the riders don't have to dismount and tie up the animals or otherwise try to manage them.

Unfortunately, there was only one of me. The other guy that showed up ended up going off with Stan to cut out some trees. Well, at least I could make it half as difficult.

And, while I was waiting on the horses, I could work on that rolling dip I'd wanted to build on the hill.

So, I hiked down to the creek and relaxed until the first group arrived.

Ahh...

Jones Creek

Relaxing.

There was a total sausage fest of Tiger butterflies down there. 100 dudes, flying back and forth over the water, showing off for the ladies, of which I didn't see a single one. Poor guys. They were like: "Check me out! I hope you can see this, because I'm doing it as hard as I can!"

All day.

No ladies.

The group arrived shortly after I did. I was surprised how quickly, actually, considering they had to load all of the gravel. I guess the horses just walk faster than I do.

Crossing the Creek 1 Crossing the Creek 2

We talked about what to do for a while. One of the guys there, Bobby, has a lot of experience managing horse trails and knows a lot of techniques that I wouldn't even think of because they don't come up on bike trails. They basically want to build a long step... Put in a timber down near the creek, then another one up higher, right where the ground flattens out, level the soil between them, and fill it with gravel. The gravel will be nearly level, so it won't get pulled downhill into the creek. I recommended armoring the lower timber with rip-rap on the downhill side to keep it from getting undercut if the creek comes up.

So, that's the plan. Now all we need is a ton of gravel and some timbers.

Me and a guy named Ronnie unloaded the gravel into a pile be a tree nearby, and everybody else headed back to the lot.

I headed up the hill to start working on my rolling dip.

First things first. I needed rock. Big, huge, chunky rock, and a lot of it.

I scoured the woods uphill of the spot, but all I found was this chair.

Chair I Found in the Woods

Seriously?

How in the world did that chair end up in the woods, 30 yards off of the trail, halfway up this super steep hill? I eventually ended up dragging it down to the creek so I'd have it to sit in it while waiting.

There was no rock though. Way downhill on the trail, near the creek, there was more than I needed. And, there was also a great deal of rock off trail, directly downhill, on a 45 degree slope.

Great.

Anyway, I got started.

Step 1 - Dig down to the depth of the original dip, before it got backfilled. Keep your dirt.

Rolling Dip Half Dug

Step 2 - Sculpt and finish the hole.

Rolling Dip Fully Dug

That's as far as I got before having to run down and unload more gravel.

Actually, several times I heard people down at the creek, thought it was the horses, ran down, and found guy on bikes instead, and had to walk back up. Eventually they did arrive though, and after unloading the gravel, we filled the panniers with rock and they hauled it up the hill to the dip for me!

Step 3 - Use the dirt to build a mound downhill of the hole. I've had good luck (so far) making that mound 85% rock, and even better luck when about half of that rock is gigantic slabs that you can barely move. Like 80+ pound chunks. On bike trails, it can be dirt, ideally clay, but on horse trails, dirt gets worn away pretty quickly.

Rolling Dip Half Built

It's like a layer cake. This one was a 5 layer cake.

Rolling Dip Fully Built

Those big slabs on top were from down that 45 degree slope. I ended up replacing the rocks to the right of them with another slab too. I felt like Sisyphus getting them up the hill and I almost gave up on the biggest one.

Step 4 - Cover it up and pack everything down.

Rolling Dip Covered

At that point, I had to run down and unload more gravel. Debbie had also brought me lunch. Ronnie brought his mule Francis up the hill one more time too with another load of rock and we placed it in the trench that had started forming below the dip.

Trench Mitigation

Some of the dirt that makes up the mound, and some of the dirt that I just packed into the trench will move downhill eventually. Depending on how much rain we get, it might happen quickly. But, all of that rock in the trench should catch a good bit of it. I might come back later and add even more rock to it, once that has started to happen. Meanwhile, the rock that gets exposed on the mound will armor it against further erosion, and after it packs down and gets exposed, it shouldn't weather much more for a long time. Also, the exposed rock should influence riders to go around the mound to the uphill side if they don't want to ride directly over it. If they don't mind riding over the rock, then that's fine too. It's rock.

That's how the dips on the Whoops have been performing. We'll see how this one does.

One funny thing... Ronnie has a horse named Zach and a mule named Francis, and they're best buddies. When they were tied up, they'd sometimes face opposite one another and lean on each other, like a horse hug. When they were separated, they call to each other, and both of them are nervous and twitchy until they were back together. It's sweet, but it made Francis difficult to control when we had him carrying rock up the hill by himself.

Another thing... I must have been passed by 20 guys and girls on bikes and about half that many on horseback (including this lady Kelly that I knew from a work party last year), and it was intuitive for most of them to cross the mound right where I wanted them to. So, ha!

Before hiking out, I ate most of that lunch I mentioned earlier. All I'd had since breakfast was Cliff Blocks, so it tasted really, really good.

On the way back to the lot, the trail was covered in more horse poop than I'd ever seen in my life. You couldn't go 20 yards without running into more of it. I guess that's what happens when 8 horses ride the same 2 miles 6 times!

It was 4:30 when I got back to the truck. That's a 7.5 hour day. Almost a full work day of backbreaking manual labor. Or, at least, backbreaking for an IT guy that sits around typing all day. I can only imagine how hard a man has to be to dig like that all day, every day. I'm definitely not.

I grabbed some Zaxby's on the way home, but I could only eat half of it. Later I think we went to Newks or something. I can't remember. I just remember that I slept like the dead that night.

Bull and Jake Mountain (Again)

Saturday, a week ago, I felt like riding Bull and Jake Mountain. Me and Iz had done some work up there the week before, and there was a work party coming up too, but I hadn't actually ridden there in a while.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and not wanting to become a dull boy, I took the opportunity.

The drive up was a nightmare. I made fine time until I got about a mile from exit 13 on Hwy 400. Then I got into some construction traffic and sat for about 30 minutes before finally getting to the exit. I got off and took Ronald Regan, only to sit another 15 minutes at the light at Hwy 20. The worst part was that I had to pee super, super bad most of that time, so it felt like a lot longer than it was.

On Bailey Waters Road, I noticed the guy ahead of me had a white and orange KTM (motorcycle) in the bed of his truck. I'd be just my luck to run into the same guy I'd seen on the trail last time. He took some slightly different route, and got to the lot just after me. Turned out it was a different guy though. This guy's bike had silver hubs and he sounded German. I gave him a heads up about the USFS looking for a bike like his though, just in case anyone gave him any trouble.

When I was dressed and ready, I realized that I'd finally used up the little packets of Chamois Butt'r I'd gotten at Mulberry Gap. Fortunately there was another guy in the lot, and he had some! He and his wife were about to leave and I just caught them. I was super lucky, and super thankful, and it was a much better day than it would have been otherwise.

Ok... On the trail...

The weather was great. Conditions were great. I felt pretty strong. I chased a guy on a singlespeed most of the way up Bull, and I only caught him when he had to adjust his back wheel. He caught me again when I stopped to take this lovely photo of the lovely trail...

Bull Mountain Trail

...and after that we rode together up to Lance Creek, where I took a little side trip up to the falls. It had rained recently, and I figured the falls would have some decent flow.

Lance Creek Falls

Yeah, pretty decent.

Bear Hare was a riot. I've been ripping around Blankets most Tuesday and Thursday evenings for the past few weeks, and I'd been feeling pretty good letting it go on the downhills. I'd been wondering if it would translate to the mountains, and it really seemed to.

The bottom half of Bear Hare (the part that I used to think of as a road) is really getting to be a lot like Bull Mountain proper, just a ribbon of singletrack on an old road corridor. Really low down, the trees on either side have gotten tall and the brush has started to thin out, and there's an actual canopy over a lot of the trail.

I could say about the same for most of Lance Creek "Road".

Lance Creek Road

I remember when I could have driven my wife's Honda up that.

It's mostly singletrack now too.

At the babyheads I'd consumed one of my bottles and couldn't remember if there was a feeder on Bull below the intersection or not. A feeder crosses there though and I wasn't sure I'd have another opportunity.

Lance Creek

I had reservations about filling up there because that feeder crosses the trail, and I didn't have any iodine with me that day. Still though, I wasn't sure I'd have another chance, so I filled up, hoping I wouldn't need it, but figuring I'd have it just in case.

The babyhead climb was less rocky than I remember, but I still managed to sketch 4 times climbing it. So much of it is luck.

It turned out that there was a feeder downhill of the intersection, and I noticed it, but I couldn't remember why I'd even cared to look for it, didn't stop, and only remembered way later.

Goodness.

I felt good letting it go down Bull too, but the run is a bit shorter than Bear Hare, and I cut it even shorter than it could have been by turning down the Whoops.

The 3 rolling dips I'd made out of big huge rocks looked just like they had the last time I was there. I might be on to something with that strategy.

I can't remember what the name of the trail is that parallels that old road, but I took it around to FS83, took that around the bottom of Bull Mountain, and hung a left out towards the lake...

Jones Creek Lake

...which was a little higher than usual from the recent rain.

On Jones Creek Ridge, It looked like nothing had even started to grow back since the recent burn.

Jones Creek Ridge Trail

Farther on, I see across the valley, a rare thing in Georgia.

View From Jones Creek Ridge

I believe that ridge is the one that you climb on the way up to the intersection below Bull Mountain proper, which is out-of-frame to the right.

On the switchbacks, I ran into a friendly couple on horseback. I thought that I recognized the guy, but I don't know where from. Maybe from one of the work parties, or maybe I'd just seen him up there before. They were headed back and were a little surprised that I was still headed out.

At 77A I should have crossed over and taken the Turner Creek Trail up to 28A, but my mind wasn't functioning at 100% capacity and it didn't occur to me to do. Instead, I took the road...

Winding Stair Gap Road

...and only realized what I could have done after turning on to 28A and passing the trail on my right.

Ha!

I still felt strong climbing No-Tell.

Also, I noticed various ribbons...

Ribbon

...and arrows...

Arrow

...in the vicinity. No idea what they were for. The Fools Gold isn't for another few months. The Rangers may have been up to something.

I started getting tired on Black Branch, and by the time I finished climbing up to the north end of Jake I was ready to be done.

Fortunately, it's mostly downhill to Jones Creek.

I did stop to get a photo of the bad spot on Jake.

Bad Spot on Jake

It's not so bad that we can't fix it, if we get to it soon. In the early 2000's, that hill had a 2 foot deep trench in it, top to bottom. I think it was in 2007 that JK did all the machine work to fix it, just before they started work on the reroutes. He put in a deep rolling dip at that spot, but it's gotten backfilled and worn down since then. Not a bad run though - 11 years. The rest of the hill still looks fine. I'd like to rebuild that dip out of rock like we did on the Whoops and see how it performs.

Jones Creek was super high.

Jones Creek

Here I am, crossing it.

Crossing Jones Creek (Kinda Tired)

I felt like I was smiling when I took that, but I guess not!

That might be a grimace, or something similar. I was pretty tired at that point.

I couldn't quite keep the bike out of the creek either, and it kept pulling whichever wheel was deeper downstream and trying to twist it off of my shoulder. I was worried that I was going to drop it and have to go swimming after it.

Ha!

Adventure!

The climb up to the lot wasn't miserable, exactly, but it was tough.

Near the lot, there was a tree down too, at about a 20 degree angle to the trail. The final challenge! It was small enough to hop, but the angle made it impossible.

Fail!

I failed the final challenge.

There were about 15 cars in the lot when I left, and the lot was completely empty when I got back.

Empty Jake Lot

Ha! I outlasted everyone, even the guys that were getting ready when I left!

Man, I was tired though. So tired.

I ate at El Jinete in Dawsonville on the way back. Good old Chile Colorado.

I don't remember much else about that day, so that must have been all that happened. I've got to start writing sooner.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Bull and Jake Mountain

Last week me and Iz were doing trail work, ran into a guy riding a motorcycle on Jake, got a couple of photos, passed them on to Stan, who passed them on to the USFS... Stan and I also talked about putting up some laminated flyers in response. I put together a sample, he liked it, sent me a list of locations that would be good to put them up, etc.

So, today I did that - put up flyers at various points in the system.

Less Heavy Handed

That's my flyer. I believe that it kindly requests that people not ride motorcycles on the trails, and includes a nod to that particular rider's effort to ride with respect for the forest.

I also laminated and hung them in such a way that they can't just be torn down. At least not easily.

I was a little surprised when I got there that someone had already made their own signs and posted them at the kiosk, port-a-john, and at the entrance to the Jake trail.

More Heavy Handed

The message is a bit heavier handed than I went for, and being the guy that was there and took the photos, I think it overreacts a little. He was riding in the rain, but I didn't see that he did any more damage to the trail than we did walking on it. The trail design is due as much thanks for that as his efforts, but for whatever reason, at the end of the day, his trail/forest impact was minimal. This guy in particular wasn't riding in any way that a hiker or mountain biker would be worried about either, so I can't say that it is likely he'd injure or kill one of us.

However...

Riders on horseback are another issue altogether. I'm not sure that they'd _likely_ be killed or injured, but it's definitely more likely that they would than a hiker or mountain biker. There are no trails in Georgia that are open to horses and motorcycles, so the two user groups have little or no interaction. I can definitely imagine a guy on a motorcycle not knowing how or even whether to communicate or yield to a rider on horseback, looking like an alien robot monster to the horse, spooking the horse, and the horse throwing its rider as it spins and bolts. I wonder if that can be characterized as likely though, or just possible in general and more likely with certain horses. There are plenty of trails in Louisiana that are fully multi-use: horse, hike, bike, motorcycle, and ATV. I wonder if there are issues with that on those trails. It could be that no one rides horses on those trails, even though it's legal. Ehh... I wonder, but it's really moot. A rider on horseback at Jake and Bull shouldn't have to worry about any of it at all.

...and so we put up signs.

I guess we'll see what shakes out of this. I hope our message isn't too mixed. I also hope our efforts don't just escalate the conflict.

Jake Mountain

Isabel is about to graduate and a few weeks back she needed a few more community service hours to get a cord from the National Honors Society. The last Jake/Bull workday had been cancelled due to rain, so I coordinated with Debbie and Stan to get up there and do a little work with Iz this past Sunday.

There were 2 things that were high on the list: clearing lines of sight on the Jake Mountain trail, between the Moss Branch trail and Jones Creek, and filling in the geotextile that had been laid across a little Jones Creek feeder, just that side of Jones Creek proper.

Sounded good to us. We got right on it.

It rained on us the whole way up and it was storming around Cumming, but the forecast said that it would clear right about the time we ought to get there, so we kept our hopes up.

The weatherman was right, as it turned out, and it was barely drizzling when we got there.

The one thing we weren't sure of was the gate on 28B. It ought to be open, but no one knew for certain. If it hadn't been, we'd have had to walk in an extra mile or more, but it was, and we were thankful.

It was a quick walk to the singletrack, and the Moss Branch intersection is right there, so we got started immediately.

Lopping

We basically cleared brush and lopped low branches around every curve, corner and switchback. The general idea is to make it possible to see someone coming around the curve or corner. If you can see someone coming, you can safely ride faster, or safely see someone else who's riding faster. It's good for faster moving mountain bikers to be able to see slower moving traffic coming the other way, as it's almost always necessary to yield to or communicate with the slower traffic. It's also good for horses to be able to see approaching traffic before it's immediately in front of them.

Here's kind-of an illustration of what we did.

Before:

Before

(Isabel's sleeve is that white speck left of center)

After:

After

Unfortunately, Iz took off her jacket, and was standing slightly to the right in the second photo, so it's not a perfect illustration. But, that's how it was before and after - that kind of difference at that kind of distance.

We ran into a couple of cool things while we were working.

Iz found this weird growth on a blackberry bush.

Weird Growth

And there was also a small scorpion under a rock on the trail.

Scorpion

Makes you wonder how many thousands of them you walk or ride by every day.

Also, it alternately drizzled, rained for real, and cleared up, like 4 different times while we worked. We never got super wet, but it always seemed like we were about to right before it stopped raining.

We eventually got down to the geotextile, which was, fortuitously, right where we needed to stop lopping.

Before:

Geotextile Before

It took me a minute to figure out why we were doing anything. The geotextile is exposed, but it was still holding a ton of rock and gravel, from about ten feet from the creek, all the way across it, and up the other side. It appeared to still be completely functional, at least in preventing impact from users crossing the creek.

But wait!

It eventually dawned on me... When the textile gets exposed, it's super easy for hooves (and feet for that matter) to get caught in it, especially where it's underwater. I remembered someone mentioning that 10+ years ago in one of those trail maintenance classes.

Ok, ok, ok. Got it.

We started by filling it with medium sized, chunky rock, and bigger rocks downstream of the crossing.

Geotextile After Big Rock

These rocks were provided by the little creek itself. Just upstream was an inexhaustible trove of them. We had to do this relay though, where we'd throw the rocks into a pile 10 or 20 feet downstream, then throw that whole pile another 10 or 20 feet downstream again, then chuck them onto the geotextile, and finally place them carefully when we had a big enough pile going.

Then, we dug up gravel from various little gravel bars downstream of the crossing, piled it onto my jacket, hauled it back up to the crossing, and spread it all over to fill in between the rocks.

Geottextile After Gravel

That step was backbreaking. First, we'd only brought loppers, a pulaski, and a saw with us. No shovel. My kingdom for a shovel! Also, even if we'd had a shovel, we still would have had to use the jacket to transport the gravel. One shovel-load at a time would have taken forever. But, it was like 100 pounds of gravel each time, over rough, rocky, rooty, and brushy terrain. And, it took 6 loads of gravel to cover the crossing.

There was a bit still exposed uphill to the north, but we couldn't come up with a decent strategy for filling it.

Exposed Geotextile

We eventually tried trimming it, but the loppers weren't up to the task. I remember saying that I wished I had a box cutter. I'm an idiot though, because I had a knife, with a half-smooth/half-serrated blade, dangling off of my camelback, at the time. No idea why I didn't remember it at the time, but I didn't. Maybe next time I will.

The hike out was mostly uphill and seemed a lot longer than the hike in. Whooo! I'd also packed the jacket that we used to tote the gravel in my camelback, but it was still super wet from having been washed in the creek after every load, and it dripped water down the back of my pants all the way out, which was just maddeningly uncomfortable. I eventually took it out, put the hood over my head, and draped it over my pack. This helped a little. Rather than dripping down at my waist, it dripped down at the backs of my knees. Dealing with the drippy jacket was by far the toughest part of the day.

One more thing worth mentioning...

When we arrived, we ran through the Jake lot to hit the port-a-potty, and there was a guy parking his motorcycle trailer there at the time. I didn't think anything of it, as we regularly see people trailer their bikes there and hit the forest roads nearby. I've seen that like 10 times.

About halfway between Moss and Jones Creek though, we heard a guy approaching on a motorcycle. Again, I didn't think anything of it at first, he could be over on FS28-1. He did sound close though, and it turned out he was riding on the Jake Mountain trail...

Motorcycle on Jake Mountain Trail_Moment 2

...which is decidedly against the rules. Debbie and Stan mentioned that they'd either seen tracks, or heard secondhand of them, but I'd never seen it myself until that day.

It's tough to be too critical of the guy though. On the one hand, he's breaking the rules, and in doing so not respecting the design, maintenance, or user experience goals of the trail. On the other hand, the guy seemed to be riding with a specific goal of minimizing impact. When he came up on us, he was riding at mountain bike pace, waved, waited for me to wave him through, and mentioned: "I'll keep it quiet..." which I took to mean keep his engine quiet and pace down. Walking the length of the trail after he came through and keeping an eye out for impact, I can't say that there was any to speak of. There were tire tracks in the deposition at the bottoms of some of the grade reversals, but the displacement was only marginally worse than that of our own footprints, and that soil is destined to be cleaned out anyway. I guess that says a lot about the trail design, but it also says a lot about how conscientious he was.

It made me think a bit about motorcycles on multi-use singletrack. Logistically, why couldn't a conscientious guy on a motorcycle ride the Bull and Jake trails? I'd be curious to compare soil shearing on clay between horses and motorcycles on a 10-15% grade climb. I'd also be curious to see how feasible it is for a motorcycle to yield to a horse by getting off trail on the downside. I suspect that would be tricky, and do some damage getting back on, but I don't know. I'd have to see it. I'd also be curious to see the impact of crossing a creek like Jones Creek. Mountain bikers have to walk it, and carry our bikes up and down the banks. Motorcycles can't be carried like that, but I'd have to see how managing it compares to a horse or hiker. Otherwise I couldn't think of any logistical problems.

Of course, ultimately, conscientious use can't be expected. Trails just have to be designed to take what the least conscientious user can give. So, motorized trails generally need to be wide enough to be maintained with motorized equipment and kept away from the watershed. I guess that's unfortunate for the rider who knows what he's doing.

All that said, it's against the rules, and there's been a bit of it lately, so we're going to put up some signs, kindly requesting that people don't ride motorized vehicles on the Bull/Jake trails, and see how it goes.

I do feel bad about putting that's guy's photo on the sign though. It kind-of vilifies the wrong guy. It's the only photo I've got, so it's the only one I can use, but I can't honestly say, personally, that I'd mind sharing the trail with him.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

PaCO Mixed Loop

Last weekend seemed like a good time to hit the PaCO Mixed Loop again. PaCO stands for Paulding County, and the loop is mixed because it's part gravel, part road. People generally ride it on cross bikes, or just on road bikes with 25's. I rode it on my mountain bike last time and told myself next time I'd hit it on the road bike. But I forgot that I'd made that decision until I was a few miles from the trailhead, with my mountain bike on the roof.

Ehh... It's still fun on the mountain bike.

On the drive over, I took some back roads to avoid the highway through Hiram, or more precisely to avoid the dozen or more 5-minute traffic lights through town there. As such, I arrived at the Rambo trailhead on the Silver Comet after only about 45 minutes of travel. Way better than last time.

It's early spring, but the trees in the lot, and down the trail looked like fall. Fall colors in spring. A lot of them are still flowering, and only some of them have even started to leaf out. We've had a particularly spectacular spring this year, for some reason. I guess it has to do with all of the rain we got. It was terrible for riding on the weekends, but maybe good for the trees.

I left the lot at about 3PM, I think, heading west.

Riding Out on the Silver Comet

I only kind-of remembered the route. I mean, I generally knew it, but I didn't remember every turn or how far it was between them. I'd printed out a map, and made some notes on it, but apparently even that didn't jog my memory very well. In particular, it seemed like I was on the Comet for a long time before hitting the first turn. Way longer than I remembered it being. It turned out to be fine, but it also reminded me of the scale of the map. I guess my maps are usually twice as zoomed in as that one was. Everything was twice as far as it seemed, intuitively, looking at the map.

I turned right off of the Comet onto a super rough road - not unpaved, but super rough. I remember the road in front of my Grandma's house in Covington, LA being rough like that. Too rough to ride a skateboard on. We used to bring our skateboards, but we could only ride them in the driveway, or otherwise walk a mile to the nearest decent road. We'd generally avoided doing that, but one day we did. Turned out that the whole rest of the town had great roads and fun stuff to skate. Stuff that we'd been missing out on for years, all for not wanting to walk what seems in retrospect, a very short bit.

I think the next road was Johnny Monk Road, which was all gravel. I didn't recognize it at first though. Since I was last up there, someone cleared a wide strip all down the left hand side of the road, and grass had grown back in. Not sure what it's for though, I didn't see any gas line or power lines, or anything.

Johnny Monk Road

There were a couple of paved roads after that, and some churches and cemeteries.

High Shoals Missionary Baptist Church High Shoals Missionary Baptist Cemetery

High Shoals Falls is somewhere near that last church. I've never been there, but I hear they used to baptize people in the water below the falls way back. I dig stuff like that, so I can't really come up with a good reason for not having been there except that I just keep forgetting about it. Maybe next time.

I felt pretty good at that point in the ride. I'd been riding pretty consistently for the past few weeks, and getting good sleep too, and it was paying off.

I remembered Thomas road being tough, but I felt like I was crushing the pedals all the way down it that day.

There's a bit of a view to the south, somewhere along the road...

The View from Thomas Road

...but it's tough to take a photo of. There's this one little spot where it's spectacular, and then everything gets in the way if you miss it.

Thomas road starts out as asphalt, quickly becomes deteriorated pea-gravel on old asphalt, then transitions to actual gravel at some point:

Thomas Road

The transition is subtle though, and I didn't notice exactly where it happened.

I guess that I should mention that the loop I do isn't the standard PaCO Mixed Loop. There are short and long options of the standard route, which are like 32 and 37 miles respectively. The loop I do adds a bunch of roads to the north of the short loop, for a total distance of 60 miles.

Actually, the last time I did it, it was just short of 60 miles. Since then, I discovered some additional gravel and added it into the route this time. Most of that gravel was in the vicinity of Narroway Church:

Narroway Church

There are a couple of old farms back in there, and it seemed like everybody had a lake in their yard, so I enjoyed the scenery. Extra dirt is always fun too, and I think there was some extra climbing, which I was up for.

At the north end of the loop, Lucas Road cuts across the north end of the forest.

Lucas Road

There's almost nothing at all on the map to the south, for a long way. There are a couple of WMA's, but they're huge and I don't know if they're open to bikes. I always imagine land like that being dotted with old chimneys, rock walls, and stills. Some day I'll have to get out there and see.

Lucas Road eventually becomes paved, and there are farms to the left and right, all the way to the highway. The first farm was a goat farm, and there were like 300 goats congregated in the southeast corner of the field there, right by the road. They were alternately scared and intrigued by me.

Goats

When I pulled up, they all ran over to see me, then when I stopped, they ran away, then immediately turned around cautiously approached at first, then decided I was cool and ran back over.

Ha! Goats.

Plant Bowen is another prominent feature in that part of the state.

Plant Bowen

It randomly pops up on the horizon as long as you're generally looking west.

Other than that though, it's all cows, horses, goats, crops and ponds.

Saggus Pond Fields of Something

I think one of those fields is cotton, but I don't know what the other is. Fall colors again though. Fall colors in spring. those fields are everywhere up there. Those 2 crops in particular.

Most of the cow pastures had little ponds too, and the cows were either wading in them or congregated at the edges. I've seen plenty of cow pastures with access to water of some kind - usually a big creek flowing across it, or a large pond notched in between a couple of hills by a small dam. These were very different though, they were almost universally formed by C-shaped levees at the base of a hill. If one was empty, it might make you think it was bomb crater. I'd seen similar ponds in the Armuchee area, though none in cow pastures, just sitting kind-of near a house. I saw a dozen or more that day though, and they all had the same purpose.

I'd also seen a few of them in the woods of the National Forest - one near Bull Mountain, another off of Chester Creek, and another below Horse Range. They were just up in the woods though, and dry. At the time, I'd puzzled over them. They looked like the ones I'd seen in Armuchee, but at the time I could only guess what the purpose of those was too.

Mystery solved! There were apparently cow pastures back in the woods at some point, and the craters were cow ponds. The land around the Armuchee ponds must have also been pastures at one point. I discover stuff in the woods all the time, and I most often end up with new questions. As much as I love that, I love it even more when I end up with an answer.

Between the northwest end of Lucas Road and Braswell, it's all pavement. Like 15 miles of pavement. The mountain bike feels like the wrong tool for the job in that section, but it's not all bad. If you're hungry or thirsty, it's a lot better than being in the middle of the woods.

There's a Dollar General...

Dollar General

...and just up the road there's a T&M Store (whatever that stands for) and the nondescript restaurant named "Restaurant" across the street from it.

Last time I was up there I was out of water at the Dollar General. But, that time it was like 102 degrees outside. This past weekend it was only 86, which is warm for this time of year, but generally pleasant. I still had one full bottle and about a third of the other, so I didn't stop.

Near the Davistown community, a truck came tearing around a corner about 100 yards ahead of me, entirely in my lane. No part of the truck was in the correct lane. The driver saw me though, and gave me an apologetic wave and nod after pulling back into his own lane. I gave him a "no problem" wave and nod, and he gave me a "thanks" nod.

It made me smile thinking about how many different things we were able to communicate with just waves and nods.

It's mostly flat for most of that 15 miles, but toward Braswell you climb over Knox Mountain and it's not so flat.

You also pass by Pizza Farm, which always sounds super enticing.

Pizza Farm

One day, I'm going to have to ride from here out to there on my road bike, eat there, and ride back, or something. The place is always packed though. I wonder if I should make a reservation.

There are a couple of historic building on Knox Mountain Road.

Old Buildings on Knox Mountain Road

And a couple more as you approach Braswell. I thought about taking more pictures, but that would have taken all day.

When I got to Braswell, I had about half a bottle left. It seemed like I ought to be able to make it to Yorkville, but it was also Saturday, and the local convenience store might be open. The last time I did the loop, it was Sunday, and it had been closed, but this time I had a chance.

There wasn't anyone in the parking lot, but it turned out that the store was open. It wasn't a convenience store any more though. It was now Richard's Bottle Shop.

Richards Bottle Shop

Hmm... I wondered if they had anything that wasn't liquor or beer. Turned out yes!

Snack

They had a cooler with several bottles of water and even one bottle of orange juice.

Score! I downed the orange juice and refilled my empty bottle with water.

Also... The lady that runs the store had put a hummingbird feeder out front, and there were hummingbirds coming and going constantly the entire time I was there. It's amazing, you never see them, ever. But, if you put out a feeder, a new one will fly by every minute, and then another one will come a few seconds later and chase off the first one.

Actually, when I got there, the lady was walking around the store with a broom up in the air, swinging it at a hummingbird that had gotten in but couldn't find its way out. Apparently two of them had gotten in, one had already gotten out, but the other one was totally confused and had been buzzing around like crazy for the past hour, driving her nuts.

I don't know hummingbird species at all, but usually you just see little green ones with short tails and red chests. This one was totally different. It had a long tail with little embellishments off to either side. I couldn't tell the color though, because my eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the light in the store.

The town of Braswell consists entirely of: a liquor store, a night club, an establishment of unknown purpose with a sign on the door saying no one under 21 admitted, a municipal building (police station), 2 rows of apartments, a two small neighborhoods with like 20 houses each, and The Palace.

The Palace

I have no idea what The Palace is, but last time I rode by it, it looked like it had been abandoned for decades. Since then, it's been refurbished and repainted, but I still don't know its purpose is. My first impression was bingo hall, but really I have no idea.

Several trees had fallen across old Skyline Drive, and when I got down to the train tracks, I had to wait for an actual train.

Train in Paulding Forest

I was still feeling strong on the climb over Brushy Mountain.

Brushy Mountain Road

Though, I realized it had been a while since I'd done anything decently long when my palms starting to get sore.

At least 3 turkeys ran across the road in front of me on Brushy Mountain Road and Yorkville Pass. I think it's turkey season right now. You know turkeys - they like to tempt fate.

I made it to the Yorkville Grocery with plenty of water and even some Gatorade left, so I didn't stop.

Yorkville Grocery

At the Y at Goldmine Road, it's safer to hang a right, go behind the cars backed up at the intersection and cut through the Darlene's Pizza lot, than to try to cross your lane of traffic and then cross in front of the backed-up cars. When I did it though, I noticed that the pizza place was closed.

Way back when I was first exploring the area, I kept seeing it open and always wanted to try it, but I always had to get going and kept putting it off. Fortunately, I didn't put it off forever, and on my last exploratory trip, made a point of eating there. It was good too. It made me sad that it was closed, but happy that I'd managed to eat there when it was still open.

Almost done. Just a little kick up Goldmine Road, and Willow Springs Church Road, past its namesake...

Willow Springs Baptist Church Willow Springs Cemetery

And... Dangit, I still had to ride back on the Comet. I'd forgotten about that last time too.

It's like 3 or 4 more miles too, it's not a quick little jaunt.

I was ready to be done when I was done, but I still felt strong. I still had energy, but my hands and feet (and butt) were tired.

I grabbed some dinner at La Cocina, a Mexican restaurant nearby. I think I got the Chili Colorado, but I don't remember for sure. I did hear part of a conversation at the next table, where a guy said: "...he used to work Anne Rice's balls..." and some of the other people at the table hadn't been paying attention, and they were like "What?", "Anne Rice doesn't have balls", and "What do you mean he 'worked' her balls?" It was hilarious. Apparently she used to hold Vampire Balls and it was a big event. I'd never heard about that, but it sounded plausible.

It seems like there's more to tell, but I don't remember it well enough to tell it. I've got to start journaling day-of or day-later. This weeks-later thing isn't nearly as satisfying.

It'll have to do for now though. Busy, busy, busy...