Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Friendship Baptist Church Loop

This past Sunday I'd been fever-free for more than a day, and though I was still a little rough, I'd slept well all the night before, and hadn't succumbed to any coughing fits yet that day. I felt cooped up, and needed some fresh air. My first thought was to spin my legs out on the Silver Comet, but I tend to overdo that when I'm getting well. If anything, I should do some light hiking. I didn't feel like driving up to the real mountains, so I ended up settling on a loop that I'd seen in the Paulding Forest.

The Paudling Forest is pretty much right next door. Just one county to the left, and less than an hour away, with weekend traffic, at least. It's legal to ride a bike on the ungated roads, and I'd already ridden everything I could ride last summer, but the vast majority of the roads and trails in the forest are gated, and they've been languishing out there, as-yet unexplored, by me at least.

One spot, in particular, got my attention as I glanced over the map. The Friendship Baptist Church Loop. I guess it caught my eye because "Friendship Baptist" is also the name of the church at the foot of Noontootla that I'd been parking at so much recently.

Totally different church.

Friendship Baptist Church Lot Friendship Baptist Church Friendship Baptist Church Dedication

This one is a bit newer, though only a bit, and sports a much larger cemetery. They're both popular trailheads though.

I parked at the one in Paulding at about 3:45. Yeah, I was getting a late start, but I had plenty of time, now that the time has changed.

There's a forest road loop leading south from the church that eventually bends around and tees back into the main road. I figured I'd follow the loop and check out the various side trails as I had the opportunity to.

The road itself was pretty well unmaintained.

Friendship Church Loop

It looked like no one had driven on it for many, many storms. The soil was loose and weathered. There were lots of prints too - deer, turkey, small animals like maybe raccoons, and even a few shoe prints. I remember thinking that it was no big loss that I couldn't ride my bike on it. It would have been a bit of a wrestling match.

The trees all around were exclusively pine.

Exclusively Pine

There were lots of little strip cuts too. The road I was on mainly followed a ridgeline, and it looked like the top of the ridge had been clear-cut, replanted with pine, and was now basically used as a tree farm. Looking hard through the trees, it looked like maybe there was a more diverse forest downhill a bit.

One of the spurs looked like it would lead down to a creek, so I followed it, and yes, just a little bit downhill from the ridge, the forest was much more diverse, and it looked like if it had ever been logged, it had been done a very long time ago.

The stream down there was idyllic, and a really nice little bed of round gravel struck me as the closest thing to a beach that I was likely to run into, so I spread out my jacket, threw down my camelback and relaxed there, lying on the ground, next to the water for a half hour or more.

Cochrans Branch

The temperature was perfect. The breeze was perfect. The sound of the water was perfect. It was all perfect.

I remember thinking that I wished I'd been able to lie there for the past 5 days instead of lying on the couch.

At length though, I didn't feel like lying down any more and I got up to take a look around. The water was teeming with little cone snails.

Cone Snails

I followed the old road downstream for a while, where it eventually crossed. I didn't cross though. I figured I'd save that for next time.

There was an old road sign there though, chucked to one side, near the crossing.

40

I wonder what it means. I wonder if I'll find more of them elsewhere in the forest.

On another spur, I found some old tree stand.

Tree Stand

And a chunk of old road gated behind a cable-gate that has become a trail, rather than a road.

Trail Through Piney Woods

At its furthest extreme, down by Raccoon Creek, I found the WMA boundary.

Posted WMA Boundary

I was kind of bummed though, because it's so close to the creek, but the creek is actually outside of the WMA.

Back on the main road, there was one spot where it dove down off of the ridge, crossed a creek and then climbed back up to the ridge.

There were what looked like the ruins of an old hunting camp crumpled up along the creek.

Hunting Camp Ruins

I assume that's what they were. I saw all the constituent parts of a camp - corrugated metal roofing, wooden walls, several mattresses, chairs, a bit of glass... It looked like maybe it had been demolished and then bulldozed into a pile. It clearly hadn't just fallen down. Or, at least, it didn't look like it had.

There were other bits of weird stuff lying about too.

Like this.

The Heck

What in the world is that? Whatever it was, it was clearly under pretty high pressure. That's 1/4-inch cast iron that something blew apart, right there.

That was all of the interesting stuff that I saw out there though. The rest of the hike back was somewhat less interesting than I'd hoped for.

But that was fine. It was just what I'd hoped for, really. Not too tough. Not so intriguing as to lure me deeper in.

I felt great the next day, and OK on Tuesday, but today was rough. No fever, just a lot of coughing, and no energy. It would appear that I'm not well yet. Not quite yet.

Alec Branch Cove (again, again)

Even though I'd somehow managed not to find the old road I was looking for on the 4th, I was not planning on going back up to look for it the next weekend, the weekend of the 11th.

I had put in 100+ mid-week road miles for the previous 2 weeks, and I felt really strong on the bike. Strong enough to crush the pedals for 4 hours. I really wanted to do a long ride from Mulberry Gap, maybe out to Dennis Mill and back around on CCC Camp Road, or something.

Friday night though, I developed a sniffle and a bit of a cough, and Saturday morning it rained.

Great.

Strenuous mountain biking was out of the picture. But, maybe some light hiking would be ok.

Blah!

Back up to Alec Branch Cove.

For some reason, the gate on FS58E was actually open when I passed by. I'd only seen this once before, in 16+ years of going up there, so I drove up the road to see if the next road was also open. Maybe some FS folks were back in there and it was just a temporary thing. The next road was closed, but on the way back I ran into a ranger who said it would be open all day unless the weather got worse.

Cool!

So, instead of having to hike a mile and a half to get to where I wanted to start, I was able to drive directly to the spot!

Parked at Alec Mountain Gap

All right!

"The Spot" was a little gap between Alec and John Dick Mountains.

According to the old map, Old Angel Drive should lead up to that gap and then run along the ridge to modern FS58E. I'd failed to find it from below, but coming from above, it ought to be really obvious, right?

Well, that was the idea, at least.

There was a bit of a trail leading away from the road, at the gap, and it looked like the Rangers from Camp Merrill liked to use it, sometimes.

Glow Stick

The trail also appeared to form part of the WMA boundary.

WMA Boundary

Right away, I saw 2 old roads leading down from the gap. Either could be the one I wanted, but rather than follow them right away, I kept following the trail I was on, right up to the top of Alec Mountain, and down a spur to the south. Eventually the trail started looking more like a "people have gone this way before" than a "people generally go this way" and I turned back, but I suspect that the Rangers crawl all over that mountain, and I may be back up there someday to see what else is up there.

So, as it was last time, it would be confusing, at best, to try to describe exactly what I did, but basically, I followed one of the trails down from the gap and made a half dozen little circles exploring all of the various side trails and reroutes.

It's a spiders web back in there. It appears that there was an original route and several reroutes, all of which were eventually abandoned. Then, sometime later there was a logging operation which improved some of the old roads and completely rerouted others. Then it was also abandoned.

Most of the trails were pretty wide open though. I was really surprised how little overgrowth there was.

Most of the Trails Today

The whole cove is kind of like that. Most of the trails back in there have a bit of deadfall on them, but relatively little overgrowth, except where they run right up along the creeks.

At one point, I ended up in the now familiar bottom lands near Jerry Angel's place. I made sure to stay on the NF side of the well-marked boundary though.

FS Boundary

On the way out, I also discovered a couple of cases of the blanks that the Rangers use.

Blanks

It's funny, I've found spent rounds, and spent clips, and empty ammo cans, but I'd never found any unspent rounds before. It struck me as odd that they'd carry them around in little cardboard boxes though, instead of already loaded up clips or piled into ammo cans.

When I got back to the truck, I was 100% confident that I'd been on every single possible old road that could have been part of that route I'd been trying to follow. I'd have to crunch the data to be sure exactly which set of them matched the route on the map, but I was sure I hadn't missed any part of it, this time.

I'd have to wait a few days though.

That night I developed quite a headache, and a fever...

Fever

Which didn't diminish by even 1 degree for the next 5 days.

It was The Flu. "O gripe", em Português.

And, it was freakin' terrible. I don't remember ever sustaining a fever for that long. Maybe I did when I was a kid, but I don't remember it. This time it made me imagine that a person's mind has some kind of error correction built into it. Something analogous that triggers a re-transmit of the thought if the brain thinks maybe it didn't propagate correctly, because that was the worst hell of this particular fever - the repetitive thoughts. Good God! I've noticed before that whenever I have a fever and manage to sleep, my dreams are repetitive and frustrating, and the sleep is lousy as a result. This time, I barely slept for 5 days, but my waking thoughts were just as repetitive as those dreams can be. I'd think about something mundane, like getting a glass of water, and I swear, I'd have the same thought 100 times, automatically, over and over, even after getting up to get the glass of water, and I couldn't stop it. It was maddening.

Fortunately it stopped happening as soon as my fever broke. Unfortunately, that was like 5 days later!

It was horrible.

The horror!

Alec Branch Cove (again)

So, a little more than a month ago I explored the Alec Branch Cove area, trying to discern the northern-most segment of the old Stock-Hill to Randa route, and though after doing so, I was fairly certain that I'd found the oldest road out there, when I got home, and compared my GPS data to the old topo maps, it didn't 100% match up. I'd missed a turn somewhere, and also, after looking at the FS boundary more closely, it looked like most of Angel Drive is actually in the NF, and I hadn't fully explored that either.

Incomplete exploration!

Can't have that.

So, on the 4th of March, I drove back up to try to knock it all out.

Big Creek Road

On the way in, I always get a good look at the Rich Mountain Wilderness, a place I've barely ever explored. There ought to be an old road running along the top of that ridge. Maybe some day I'll make it up there to see.

I parked at the Friendship Baptist Church, as usual, but rather than just walking down the road, I followed a little trail behind the cemetery that I'd seen last time I was up there. It just led over the little knob, which I think is called Pine Top, to FS58. If it's not named Pine Top, then it ought to be. There's a lot of little pines up there. I hoped to pass the ruins of an old school, as one is alleged to have existed in the area, but I didn't see anything that looked like ruins up there, just trees.

The old road appeared to keep going past FS58, but it was super overgrown so I didn't follow it. Also, there's private property in that direction, and I didn't want to end up in someone's backyard.

I did notice a little rock wall nearby though...

Rock Wall on FS58

And I ventured a few feet into the woods to check it out, but that's as far in as I went.

I wanted to explore the lower reaches of Angel Drive, which heads almost due east from the corner of FS58 and Doublehead Gap Road. So, you'd think maybe I'd just walk down the road, right? Well... It's not really clear if you can. The west end of the road there is definitely not part of the NF, but is it a county road, or private? It doesn't say "Private Drive" anywhere, or "No Trespassing", and there are fences on either side, so you'd think maybe its county, but there are various signs directing people to the AT and Long Creek Falls on a tree nearby, as if to suggest, politely, that people stay out. And way up the tree there's a super old, barely legible "Posted" sign, which might apply to road itself, or might just apply to the fenced-off land to either side. It's just not clear. I am wary of such things, so I took a much more circuitous route.

Up FS58 a bit, there's a sliver of land between two properties that's clearly marked as owned by the USFS, so I walked down the road a bit, whacked up the south side of Alec Mountain to a little shoulder, hung a left and whacked down into the cove from there.

I discovered the day's balloon as I descended into the cove.

Mylar Balloon

I also found another little rock wall along the edge of an old road...

Rock Wall on Alec Mountain

... which, as fate would have it, turned out later to be another chunk of the same old road that I'd followed up over Pine Top earlier.

There was a pretty big pine tree in the same area.

Big Pine

It looked like the kind of place that might have had a homestead on it at some point, so I searched around a bit for a chimney ruin, but I couldn't find anything obvious.

If I tried to recite the exact details of how I explored the area, it would read like indecipherable nonsense. Suffice it to say that I followed most of the little "a trial goes off this way"'s that I'd marked last time and discovered what trial went off that way. I did a lot of backtracking too, and a lot of double-checking that I was, in fact, still in the NF, and hadn't wandered onto someones property. Fortunately, the forest boundary is super-well marked back in there. There must be a hundred trees with red marks on them, and in some cases, there 3-foot tall red stakes hammered into the ground every 10 yards or so.

So, I managed to find the length of Angel Drive that's in the NF, and I walked it end-to-end.

I could even see my truck from the west end of the NF property, not 100 yards away. There's a cemetery at the west end of the NF property too.

The Stock Hill Cemetery.

Stock Hill Cemetery

The cemetery didn't appear to be on NF land, but churches and cemeteries generally welcome the public. There wasn't any signage indicating otherwise, and their facilities appeared to be rather welcoming too.

Stock Hill Cemetery Pavillion Stock Hill Cemetery Ladies Room Stock Hill Cemetery Mens Room

At the east end of the road, I discovered why it was called Angel Drive.

Jerry Angels Place

At that end lies Jerry Angel's place. Not sure exactly what it is. Maybe a hunting lodge? Maybe a little resort tucked away in the woods? The internet doesn't seem to know anything about it. Who knows? Clearly where the road gets its name though.

There's a bit of a maze of old roads back there, and I managed to sort them out a bit more. It looks like Angel Drive proper used to keep going, all the way up to modern FS58E, and there were various spurs off of it, way back in the day. That road, and its various spurs got super worn out, and was eventually abandoned. In more modern times, someone wanted to do some logging back there, and cut a new road, parallel to the old one. A ways back up in there, that road makes a loop, and there are odd dirt piles everywhere with cables and barrels sticking out of them left and right.

Last time, I didn't understand what was going on back there, but upon further examination, it was clearly just a very messy logging operation.

Old stumps in the area helped confirmed this.

Old Stumps

As did the network of modern-looking logging roads leading away from that spot.

The rest of the day's wanderings took me way up along Alec Branch proper, all the way to Bryson Gap.

On the way, I passed a tree stand...

Tree Stand

...and another set of enigmatic rock piles.

Enigmatic Rock Piles

There were like 8 piles of rock, many with trees growing out of them. I always wonder whether piles like that are Indian graves, or just where a farmer piled up rocks to clear the land. I've run into so many of them over the years. Maybe some of both, or of some third thing.

There's a bit of a gorge about halfway up to Bryson Gap, and it looks like it might never have been cut down in there.

Oldish Growth

Too bad the photo is out of focus.

At one point, I found what looked like a little marble deposit sticking out on one side of the old road.

Marble Deposit Marble Deposit (Again)

Kind-of neat, I guess.

I eventually ended up on a trail I knew.

Old Bryson Gap Road

I'd discovered it on the bike, probably 12 or more years ago.

Walking up it, I noticed lots of little side spurs.

One had an old drum abandoned off of it.

55 Gallon Drum

At Bryson Gap there was a trio of BMT hikers, camp set up, having some dinner. I explained where I'd come from when they asked, and they seemed suspicious, like they didn't believe me. Sorry guys, didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I promise, I was telling the truth. It was getting pretty late at that point too. The sun would be down in an hour or less, and I had a ways to go, so I didn't hang around.

Instead, I took another old road down along the south side of Alec Branch. I'd partially explored it some 12 years ago as well, but never gotten back up to see where it really goes.

At one little corner, there appeared to be a chimney ruin.

Ruins Below Bryson Gap

Though it doesn't look like much in the photo.

The trail just teed back into the main one I'd been on earlier, which I took back down to Angel Drive. I reasoned that since most of Angel Drive was on public land, and that there were distinct fences to either side of it, and a distinct lack of keep-out's, that even if the westernmost 100 yards were private, that it was unlikely anyone would mind if I walked out on it, so I did. Hope that's ok. I won't make a habit of it.

Sadly, though I'd followed every old road I could find back there, when I got home and crunched the data, it looked like I still hadn't quite hit the exact route shown on the old maps.

Come on!

Ughhhh.

I'd be back.

Wildhorse Trail

A mid-week road ride wouldn't normally be worth mentioning, especially one from weeks ago, but... Weeks ago I found myself on the Wildhorse Trail, a little spur off of the Silver Comet in Powder Springs, and apparently I hadn't been on it in a long time because I had no memory of what I'd call the primary feature of the trail.

Wildhorse Trail Drainage Pipes Wildhorse Trail Drainage Pipes (Again)

Every one of the drainage line access thingies are painted like an animal. There's hawks, and frogs, and ladybugs, and penguins, and basically every animal you can imagine. I love it!

I realized when I got home that I also didn't have GPS data for the trail, so I guess I'll be back out there at some point to get that, and I'll get to see them all again. Yay!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Bear Creek/Pinhoti

Ok, FINALLY I got in some miles on the bike.

I managed to get in two mid-week rides on the road bike, after replacing the big ring. It was worn out so I got another one a week or so back, but good luck finding a 9-speed chainring anywhere. The 10/11-speed that I could find just wouldn't work. I ended up pulling the old chainring off of the hulk of my brother's old Cannondale. It was worn, but not nearly as worn as the one I replaced.

After getting in those mid-week miles, I felt OK on Saturday so Sunday I figured I'd rede at Bear Creek with the frere and Mark Baldwin.

Whoo!! No good. I woke up with a sore throat and it never improved all day. I'm not sure if I was sick or if it's just pear/cherry allergies, but damn, it was no good.

I felt absolutely terribly climbing Bear Creek. The guys had to wait for me a few times.

The only time I had time or energy to take a photo was at the Bear Creek Overlook.

Bear Creek Overlook

Tearing back down Bear Creek was great except that I dropped my chain twice. Damnit, the clutch was off, apparently. Did I bump it? Did it flop into the off-position on it's own? I'm still not used to having to check that.

I felt a bit better on P1 but I had to stop to pee and I fell off a bit even before stopping. It looked like someone had done some work on the switchbacks out there fairly recently. They felt really nice.

I had trouble shredding though. The frere would just roll away from me. Too much hiking and too many road miles I guess.

Ugh.

P2 wasn't much better. I fell off and never caught. The guys had to wait for me at the entrance to the singletrack. I did manage to hang on all the way down P2 except that we caught a guy who'd gone in ahead of us and it took a while to get by him.

Oddly, enough, I was feeling pretty good at that point, and I was able to push as hard as I wanted over Painter Gap on Shakerag Road. It seemed like my cardio was just starting to get going, right as the rest of me was getting tired.

Awful.

We grabbed some lunch at Pizza King, which I'd only been to once before, like 15 years ago. Kaylee and Wren met us and it was really fun to watch Mark and Wren together. I've known him for so long, but I'd never really seen him be a dad. Ha! Good stuff. Made me smile.

Goodness, what a day. I hope it was just a bad day. Whether it was or not, I know what I need to do: 120 on the road during the week, or the off-road equivalent. 30-50 off road on the weekend. Family-type hike/ride on the other day of the weekend. Get to it Dave. It's tough to fit that into my work schedule though. I guess, in general, these days, it's tough to make financial, family, and fitness ends all meet.

Alec Branch Cove

A little over a week ago I finally got my bike out of the shop but it rained and rained and by Saturday morning it was still wet and cold, and though I've ridden in those conditions before, I really didn't feel like doing it that day. There was still a short little chunk of the Randa-to-Stock-Hill route that I hadn't yet explored too, so I ended up doing that (again) instead of riding.

I parked off of FS58E and began the semi-tedious march up it.

All the ruts in the road were filled with water, frog eggs, and, this week, with tadpoles.

Tadpoles

In antiquity, a road dove down from Watkins Branch Gap, along Watkins Branch itself, sidehilled over to the gap between Alec Mountain and Big John Dick Mountain, then dove down along one of the branches, or maybe along some little spur, down into the cove cut by Alec Branch, eventually becoming modern day Angel Drive. Modern FS58E starts at FS58, sidehills up along the south face of Alec Mountain, tees into that old road, follows it for a while, then eventually wanders off to the north on its own. I didn't know exactly where it began wandering off though, and the last time I was up there, I saw several old roads leading down into the cove. I had no idea which was the right one to take, and the old map I had that showed the route wasn't super accurate.

It might be a bit of a challenge.

To make matters worse, I'd forgotten to print out a map of the area before I left home that morning. I didn't realized this though, until I was about an hour away from the house. If I'd gone back and printed a map, there wouldn't be enough time left in the day to get back up into the woods. I reasoned that I knew the area well enough to do what I wanted to do though, and though the map would be helpful, I didn't really need it. I guess I'd see if I was right or not.

I made it up to the gap in good time, and soon discovered the day's mylar ballon, lying in the middle of the road.

Mylar Balloon

There was no shortage of old roads leading down into the cove. I quickly discovered at least 7, many of which appeared to predate FSS8E, as they came up from below the road and appeared to continue up the mountain above it, but the intersection had been obliterated when FS58E was built.

Any one of those old roads could be the one I was looking for. There was just no telling. I eventually made it out to a campsite that I knew was relatively close to the modern end of the road. The last time I was there (like 10+ years earlier) it looked like maybe a trail led down the spur past the campsite. I was on my bike at the time though, and the trail didn't look too bike-friendly. I knew for sure that the trail I was looking for either led down that spur, or was one of the old roads south of it, so I eventually decided to follow the spur down to Alec Branch, follow that as far downstream as I could, and then try to figure out which of the old roads leading back up the branch looked like the right one.

There was, in fact, an old road leading down the spur. I knew right away it wasn't the one I was looking for though. I didn't have the right character. Given the pitch of the slope, the old roadbed ought to have been cut deep below grade by teams of horses struggling to pull laden wagons uphill. There ought to be piles of small boulders to either side, removed from the road as they were exposed and eventually became too difficult to climb over. No, this particular trail looked like nothing of the sort. In fact, I wasn't sure it was a old "road" at all. It was basically just a series of humps and dips with less woods between them than to either side. It may well have once been a firebreak.

I found the disarticulated skeleton of what I guess is a coyote or maybe just a dog somewhere in there.

Skull

And I was sure that I was going the right way, or at least going the way that someone else used to, because the length of whatever I was following was marked with old orange ribbons.

Ribbon

The ribbons looked pretty old though and whoever once followed them didn't seem to do so much any more, except maybe on foot. There was a bit more undisturbed deadfall than you'd typically see on a horse trail, ATV, or bike trail.

Toward the bottom end, it started looking more and more like a road than a firebreak. It was a bit below grade, and there was a worn-out and abandoned former-route off to the left. So weird.

The orange ribbons appeared to end there too, at first, but looking carefully I could see one about 100 yards ahead of me, directly through the woods. If there had been a trail from where I stood to that ribbon, I couldn't discern it. But, I was down in the flats at that point, and trails come and go quickly in places like that.

I appeared to have teed into some other trail which led north and south. To the north, it led up along what I assumed to be Alec Branch proper. I followed it south and it crossed some little feeder creek before depositing me in the middle of one of the most enigmatic places I'd ever been in the national forest.

There were random piles of dirt everywhere. Different shapes and sizes. Some partially buried trees. Others had trees growing out of them. Many were partially eroded. Others were covered in grass. There were cables and barrels buried all over. Some partially exposed.

Cable and Barrel

A road appeared to generally lead north-south through all of it. The trail I'd come in on appeared to predate the piles, but also appeared to have been "recovered" after them.

The piles appeared to extend up the adjacent hillside as well. They weren't just down there to either side of the road. Were they mine tailings? If so, I couldn't find the hole they could have come out of. Maybe they were excavated further downstream and dumped there because it was "back in the woods". But why would they have dumped them up the hillside too? The cables and barrels suggested logging, but I'd never seen that much dirt piled up in association with a logging effort.

I puzzled over it for a while, and really wanted to explore the area to try to make some sense of it, but I had other objectives and I didn't want to get stuck out in the dark, so I followed the old road downstream.

I could tell right away that it too wasn't the road I was looking for. It felt very modern - a neat sidehill. No, the road I was looking for must be off to the north, somewhere down in those flats closer to the creek. Pondering that, I wondered if I'd be able to find it at all.

As I pushed downstream, up the hill to my left, I noticed a bunch of rock piles.

Alec Branch Rock Piles

Clearly man-made. Some of the piles lined up with other piles, but some of them didn't line up with anything. If they were the footings for a structure, it was a very large structure. And I couldn't imagine what someone would have built right there, at that particular spot.

No idea.

Further on I discovered the NF's most well marked property boundary.

Well Marked Boundary Even More Well Marked Boundary

Ha! They used the lid of the paint can as part of a the painted pile surrounding one of the boundary markers.

Paint Can Lid

I'd once discovered an old red paint can up on East Mountaintown, with no lid. Now I've found a lid with no can.

As well-marked as the boundary was intended to be, since it was kind-of a corner, it was still a little difficult to figure out which side I was supposed to be on. After figuring that out, I felt kind of silly that it hadn't been obvious, but I'm telling you, go down there and look, and you'll see what I mean. I'll bet it will be equally confusing to you.

I pushed downstream from there and the road I was on got a lot clearer. There was also a former-route below it with all the character I'd expect from a 150+ year old main-road. Hmm... I might have found what I was looking for. It diverged from the road I was on though, which got even clearer and more well-travelled the further down it I went.

That is, until a point, where it abruptly became a solid wall of saplings. A bit of singletrack led around them to the left, but something caught my eye to the right, and I didn't follow the trail.

Through the woods, I could clearly make out this old rock wall.

Old Angel Drive Rock Wall

It turned out to be the southern border of the old road I'd been looking for.

As I mentioned before, it's not uncommon to find rocks semi-piled up on either side of an old road, dug out of the same as they became to difficult to get over. In this case, this had been done to such an extent that it had formed a wall. There was a bit of a wall on the other side, too, but it was much more pronounced on the south side.

I could see an open field and a structure of some kind to the north. I could see a line of red-blazed trees following just to the north of the old road too.

I followed the old road west until It became rhododendron hell. Underfoot it was nothing but little boulders and a small amount of dirt clinging to them. It was easy to see why the wall had formed. There were plenty of rocks to build it.

It looked like if I pushed through the hell, I'd end up in the same field I could see to the north, so I didn't bother. After getting home and crunching the data though, I'm not so sure. There may yet be some amount of NF property down there that I haven't seen. Dangit! I may have to go back up and explore that last little piece someday.

I was pretty confident that I'd found the old road I was looking for though. It was in the right place, it had the right character.

Old Angel Drive

I followed it east and it just looked more and more correct the further I went.

More Old Angel Drive

At a point, the old road had gotten so deep that it was below the level of the adjacent creek, which then diverted itself into the road for a ways and there were several sections of plastic pipe down in there.

Crail

At first glance it looked like maybe someone had made some effort to channel the water with the pipe, rather than let it continue to eat into the old road. But looking at it more, I couldn't imagine what they'd tried to do. The pipe just lay scattered about, some bits partially buried. That's some modern-looking pipe too. I wondered if it had really just washed down from above. Like it had been used as a culvert up by all those dirt piles and eventually got rejected, or dug up and abandoned, and then ended up there.

Eh, who knows?

I ended up back in the middle of all those dirt piles soon after, and looked around a bit more while I was there.

I found another old cable too.

Another Cable

From there, the trail improved somewhat. There were rolling dips and multiple reroutes.

What appeared to be the oldest route led by this big rocky outcropping.

Old Angel Drive Rocky Landmark

I imagined it might have been a landmark way back. A "getting close to the top now" kind of thing.

In fact, it was pretty close to the top, or at least close to modern FS58E, where the road flattens out a great deal. The actual intersection with FS58E was difficult to discern. It had been partially destroyed by the construction of 58E, and there was a culvert dumping directly onto the old road, which had partially buried it. And, if that didn't make it difficult enough to discern, a reroute cut directly across the old road just below the output of the culvert, making it seem like maybe I needed to turn left.

Whoo!

When I got home and compared the route I had taken to the route shown on the old map, they didn't match up exactly. It seemed like the route on the map went more directly up to the gap between Alec and Big John Dick Mountains. I didn't see anything going that way, but I easily could have missed it. Or the map might not be so accurate. Hard to tell. I can't definitively confirm that the route I took was the route on the map, but it sure seemed to be the oldest route out there. There were plenty of re-routes, but they all looked more modern than the route I'd taken. There were a few spurs too, but they looked a lot less well-travelled.

I may have to get back up there at some point and try descending down from the gap.

At the time though, I was pretty satisfied. On the march out, I heard what must have been several waterfalls along Watkins Branch, though I couldn't see them through the woods and there was no discernible trail to any of them. From the road, though, the woods looked remarkably clear though, down towards the creek, and I had plenty of daylight left, so when I got back down to FS58, I just followed the creek upstream as far as the open woods would allow me to go.

Watkins Branch

The magnolia eventually closed in though, and I ended up following a pig trail up some hillside until it teed into another old road. In one direction it just sidehilled off into nowhere, maybe eventually teeing into FS58. In the other direction it eventually led back to and crossed 58E. It appeared to predate FS58E, but it was really pretty hard to tell.

Unfortunately I never happened upon any of the waterfalls I'd heard.

Now it was getting dark, and I made tracks back to the car.

Like I said, at the time, I felt rather satisfied, but when I got home and crunched the data I was far less so. I may not have really found the road I was trying to find. Some of the spurs I did find look like they line up with other trails I found years ago, so now I want to go see if they do. There appears to be more NF land down in the Alec Branch flats that I could conceivably explore. And there are uncharted waterfalls on Watkins Branch.

Isn't that how it is though? Seeking answers, you generate three times as many new questions.