Monday, June 29, 2009

Coopers Creek

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I'm back from the beach. Vacations are good, but it's also good to be home. My mountain bike has literally been collecting cobwebs for a week. All night I imagined it whining like a neglected puppy, dying for a walk. This morning I slept in a bit, but when I finally got up, there was little on my mind but putting it back to work, exploring the mountains.

There are plenty of purple lines on my maps. In my brain, I chucked a dart and... Coopers Creek WMA, Dixon Creek area. Got it. Let's go.

If it's been a while since I last rode, I often forget the problems I had the last time. Not the big problems, but the little ones. For instance, I popped a spoke last time. That was a big problem, and I got it fixed, but I forgot that my chain wouldn't drop to the little ring without extra coercion and that it shifted out over the big ring onto the crank sometimes too. Not a big problem, but I needed to have fixed it. I didn't. Also, I needed to have gotten some chain lube. Again, I didn't. The shifting I could just live with, but neglecting a noisy chain is asking for trouble. Phil Wood to the rescue. Somehow I did have some of that on hand. Hopefully I'll remember to attend to that stuff properly this week. For now, the band-aids will do.

Ahh, exploring. Low stress, measured in hours, not miles. Usually it's a lot of riding on this.


And a lot of walking on this.

Old Mulkey Gap Road

Sometimes you find something cool, usually you don't.

Today was just like that. I rode a bunch of forest roads and walked on a bunch of old logging trails. None of the trails went anywhere interesting. I didn't find anything cool. No big deal though, sometimes just looking is fun.

There was one weird thing though. As I approached Fish Gap, I swore that I heard music, like a car radio, then a crow's caw, then silence. I expected to see someone parked up there but when I got to the gap, there was nobody there. Was someone with a handheld radio hiding in the bushes? Did I mistake an argument between birds for music? I've heard of people having auditory hallucinations when they're really fatigued, I even saw it on a TV documentary once, but I was not very tired at the time. It was really, really weird.

I did pass the Stone Toilet of Fish Gap. It's seen better days. Someone knocked two of the sides over. The first time I saw it, it was in perfect shape and Sophie even used it. Today I was too lazy to fix it.


Not much else to say. It was a decent day, I rode/walked for 4 or 5 hours, flatted once, saw one turtle, and that's about it.

I've got the 3rd of July off. Maybe I'll do something cool then. ORAMM is coming up too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tybee Cross

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Monday's ride was horrible. Tuesday I got out and spun laps around the island until I wanted to shoot myself. The only thing that made it better than Monday was that I rode fewer miles.

Thursday I gave it another try. The whole time we'd been coming and going between Savannah and Tybee, I'd seen folks riding all kinds of bikes back and forth on some little trail just to the north of Highway 80. It followed the road for a couple of miles then appeared to diverge and keep going for several more. I only had my road bike, but maybe I too could ride it. Maybe it would be cool.

The trailhead.

 1-old Savannah Tybee railroad trailhead

See, road bike.


I was worried that the surface might be sandy or pebbly, but it was extremely hard packed and rolled really well. No problem on the road bike, even with the road tires.

There were literally tens of thousands of crabs on the trail. They ranged from infinitesimally small to around 2 inches and parted like the red sea as I approached, then closed back in behind me. It appeared that they were used to having to move out of the way, but not used to having to move all that quickly. I tried to dodge them, but I'm sure that I murdered a few dozen. They were fast enough to scatter when I tried to take a photo of a group of them though.


The trail. Pretty much looked like this for miles.

 4-old Savannah Tybee railroad trail 1

I felt pretty good. Maybe I was getting acclimated, maybe I was well rested, maybe it was just the magic of rolling on dirt. Whatever it was, it was no death march and very satisfying.

Little bit of erosion here.


I'd ridden a chunky section before this one. On the mountain bike I'd have probably ridden this one too, but I wasn't so confident on the road bike and chose to walk. Unfortunately fine gravel and Speedplay pedals do not mix and I spent several minutes clearing the garbage from my shoes before barely getting them to clip back in.

End of the line. Apparently this is a rail-to-trail conversion. I'd hoped it would come out somewhere, but it just ended abruptly. Nothing to do but turn around.

 6-end of the line

On the way back, again, I had to walk and spend several minutes clearing my shoes. The build-up of grit left me with almost no float and clipping out took a lot of force. As I rode through the first chunky section, my front tire slipped, I could not clip out and I ate it pretty hard. Yay. First crash ever on my road bike, and ironically, not on the road.

A mile or so later I pinch flatted on a bridge. Guess I should have hopped a little more. After a quick change I rolled about 20 feet and Blam! Blew out my spare. The valve stem didn't quite look right after I'd aired up the spare. I must have gotten it kinked or something.

No more spares, no more C02. Time to call in a rescue. I walked 2 and a half miles back to the trailhead where my wife and father-in-law met me and picked me up. I'm a real genius though. I could have turned around and walked half a mile the other way to a different trailhead and just got them to pick me up there. The thought had half-occurred to me, but for some reason that I don't remember or understand now, I dismissed it. Whee.

I did consider just walking through the marsh over to the road, which was about 100 feet away to the south, but the water was at least a foot deep and I had no idea what the mud would be like. There were several fallen trees buried to various extents in the mud. Would it be soft? How deep was it? I didn't know, so I just walked out. I kept looking for an easy way across, but never found one.

The walk gave me a chance to get a good look at some wildlife though.



Crane. Kind of hard to see. In real life it was big.

 8-marsh and crane


At first I thought it was a cottonmouth, but on closer inspection...
Circle head. No danger.
I think this is a yellow rat snake.


I've seen folks ride all around Big Creek on road bikes, and I'd thought about trying my road bike out on some of the local mountain bike trails. No doubt they'd be flatter than Big Creek, but after that little adventure I thought better of it. Next time I go to Savannah I'm just bringing my mountain bike.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tybee Roubaix

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The Iz has a gymnastics meet in Savannah this week. Actually it's the Nationals, which could have been anywhere in the US. Good luck for us it's so close. We're spending the whole week on Tybee Island, with Kathryn's folks and her sister. This past weekend I just milled around the Island.

 2-me the girls and Toni on tybee pier

They're filming a Disney movie here right now; The Last Song or something like that, starring Miley Cyrus. There's movie stuff all over town, including this entire carnival on the beach.

 3-tybee pier

The whole town is crazy. Papparazzi were arrested last night for sneaking around on private property. Woohoo.

The rest of the beach:

 4-tybee beach

My father in law, the girls and I went fishing this morning and I caught a Whiting. Or so it was called by some other folks on the pier. They were hauling them in left and right. I only caught one after two hours of fishing. Tomorrow, I'm grilling it.


After a quick swim in the pool with the kids I got on the road.

If you're staying on Tybee Island, it's probably required by law that you see the old lighthouse. Better comply with that.


 7-tybee lighthouse

After a quick spin through town I got on Hwy 80 and aimed for Savannah.

I think it's also a law that you have to see Fort Pulaski.

 8-fort Pulaski

I usually feel bad for the first couple of miles. Today I was hacking up cobwebs like never before. It was around this point that I was done with that but I still didn't feel good yet.

Tybee Island is surrounded by salt marshes with several channels cut through them. Scenic.

 9-saltmarsh 1

 10-saltmarsh 2

The shoulders of highway 80 have scalloped grooves every few inches designed to alert sleepy (or drunk) drivers that they're off the road and heading for a salty, watery grave. There's maybe 3 or 4 inches of pavement between the white line and the scallops. On the other side there are a few inches to a foot between the scallops and the marsh. The blacktop is uneven, strewn with debris and vegetation encroaches randomly. Traffic was heavy. I hit the scallops and the vegetation unexpectedly a few times and each time it nearly yanked the bars out of my hands. Basically death and discomfort in every direction.

There were a couple of bridges between Tybee and the mainland. Some had shoulders, others did not. I tried to punch it over the bridges but each time I felt strangling pain in my lungs. No good.

Some chunk of the road didn't have scallops but had grooves cut from the white line all the way to the edge. You can ride on the line, on an inch of uncut shoulder, or on the grooves. Fortunately the grooves were shallow and just slowed me down a bit.

At length I made it into Savannah. Victory Street has palm trees in the middle and southern live oak on the shoulders. Of course, there's spanish moss.

 12-victory st

One of my favorite things in the world is just riding around a city. It's got that walking-around feel but you see way more stuff. I took Skidaway Street to downtown.

Talmadge Memorial Bridge.

 13-Savannah river bridge

River Street.

 14-river st

The roads leading down to River Street are "paved" with large stones in some kind of old-school concrete that has eroded away pretty badly over the years. Bumpy doesn't come close to describing it. The actual street isn't as bad but it's still pretty rough.

The waving girl.

 15-waving girl

One of Savannah's ten billion scenic squares.


Church steeple.


Savannah is truly beautiful. Thanks Sherman, you made the right decision.

The scenery was distracting, but the ride was really feeling like a deathmarch. Was it the heat? The humidity? Did I need more rest? Had I been getting too much rest? No idea, but it was hell.

The idea of riding back to Tybee made my head hurt, but I had to get on it. At least it was cooling off a bit. Right before I crossed the Wilmington River some guys on tri-bikes caught and passed me, with authority. Ugh. I was jealous when they turned off.

Highway 80 was long. The random hand-slamming was grueling. I didn't even notice when I passed Fort Pulaski. How many bridges had I gone over? Eventually I made it back. As I sit here though, I still don't feel right. I just can't relax. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Other Fool's Gold

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In the Blue Ridge WMA, there's the well known 50 mile Fool's Gold route that everybody's ridden. But there is also the little-known "Other Fool's Gold" route which as far as I know has only been ridden contiguously by my brother and myself. I try to ride it once a year. Today was that day.

I parked just up the road from Camp Merrill. The Rangers were firing up the Blackhawks, maybe I'd get to see them doing cool stuff later. I guess they were just working on them though, or something, because they'd just start them up and shut them down, over and over. Oh well maybe next time.

During my last minute gear check I discovered, oh crap, no chain lube. I have no idea where it went, but my trusty little bottle of Tri-flow was gone. The chain looked OK though and sounded OK. It'll have to do.

I'd parked my truck at a crazy angle. It would make a good picture, so I pulled out my camera and, glitch number two, the camera was dead. I fiddled with it for a few minutes, but it was not turning on. I hope I just forgot to charge it. We'll see. No photos today.

The route sort-of follows the Winding Stair/Noontootla loop with some interesting diversions. The first couple of miles flew by. I talked to an AT hiker for a minute or so at Horse Gap and moved on. More miles flew by. And then I hit Wildcat Ridge. On my trails site I list it as an unmaintained road, but I think I'll have to change that. They ran the bulldozer out there recently and it was slow and soft. Maybe it'll get some gravel soon. After Wildcat Ridge I was moving again. I passed a rider going the other way on Doublehead Gap Road. More miles flew by.

Pop! A spoke popped. I've popped more spokes this year than ever before. It might be time to get the rear re-laced. Wrapped that up, got moving again. Then I flatted. Come on! Maybe the popped spoke was pushing into the tire? No, that wasn't it. When I pulled the tube out, I found a little piece of metal lying in the tire. It looked like a ferrule or something. Maybe a chunk of a spoke? Nothing I've seen before. The rim strip was split too. Either could have caused the flat. I patched the split with a Clif Block wrapper, aired up and got moving again.

Rolling, rolling. I passed 2 turtles. If it was Dave vs. Wild, I could have eaten them :) That was about all there was out there to eat too. I only saw 1 good blackberry all day. The hemlock buds are all mature. Plenty of trout, and me without my fishing rod. I did see 3 wild turkeys, good luck with those. I guess that's why god invented Clif Blocks. I had plenty of them. Yum. I did not bring much water though. Fortunately, I did bring water treatment tablets. My first tank-up was back at Rock Creek. My second was at Noontootla.

Climbing Noontootla was where I first started feeling the ride. By the time I was back at the truck, I was ready to be done, but not dead by any stretch. No cramps, no devastating hunger or thirst. Just right.

Fifty-odd miles in right around 8 hours. In some spots I was flying, so you can imagine the climbing. I haven't done many long rides this year, but if this one is any indication, I should be all right for Mt. Mitchell.

Wish I had pictures.

Pine Mountain

After last weekend's Shining Rock adventure, I'd had enough of the outdoors for a while. I didn't do anything this past week. No riding to work, no weekly beatdown, no Bowmans Island exploration, no nothing. I worked, ate, hugged my family and slept.

After a week off, I was ready to ease my way back into it a bit though, and I do mean ease my way.

Friday night, we all jumped in the car and headed down to Pine Mountain, Georgia. We spent the night at a Days Inn and I got way more sleep than I usually do. I woke up feeling seriously refreshed, looked over and it was 3AM. Ahhh, long sleep.

Saturday morning we ate breakfast at Chipley's. By breakfast, I mean 3 sticks of butter flavored with a little egg, pork and flour. The ensuing itis was indescribable. Farmers and ranchers do enough work to burn that off BEFORE LUNCH. I can't even imagine that kind of hardness. I'm pretty much going to avoid "Country Cooking", "Country Kitchens" and all other food self-described as "Country". Such food is wasted on me. I cannot burn it.

From there we rolled through the Wild Animal Safari, which is basically a drive-thru zoo. You rent a barely-running van and creep along a little road while deer, zebra, cows, pigs, ostriches, bison and 50 other kinds of animals stick their heads in your window begging for sticks of generic animal food. They slobber all over you too. It sounds creepy but it's fantastic and the kids loved it. The only trouble we had was that our van was literally barely-running. It overheated and they had to bring us a replacement about 20 minutes in.

They also had a walk-thru zoo with bears, monkeys, hyenas and several large cats including tigers, lions and ligers. That's right, ligers. You can google up the Napolean Dynamite reference. I don't remember it exactly.

I'm seriously conflicted about zoos. On the one hand, it's cool to see the animals, but they're cramped up in tiny quarters. Do they care? Is living on easy street satisfying or do they yearn for the wild? I wonder. I want to see them in the wild, but then there's that whole threat of death. I'm not really into that.

We ate lunch at the Country Store at Callaway Gardens. And by lunch I mean butter soup, lightly flavored with chicken. Tasty, but ugh.

Next stop, Butts Mill Farm. Best name ever. They've got all kinds of fun there. This is where the easing back into the outdoors occurred. We played mini golf and rode horses. Well, the kids and I rode horses. Sophie and I rode Blackjack. Iz rode Rambo. There were 8 of us total, plus the trail guide. Man, what a good time. I've never ridden a horse before. I always figured it would be fun, but now I have a good feel for the appeal. We followed the trail guide through a maze of trails in the woods behind the farm. Up and down hills, through creeks, around and around, for about an hour. We never went faster than a trot, but still it was great. The horses pretty much know what to do, but you have to keep them from stopping and eating, make them keep up with the horse ahead of them and stop them when the rest of the group stops. Sometimes you have to make them go left or right. Sophie and I rode together but Iz rode by herself. She figured it out and after 10 minutes or so she seemed pretty confident. Sophie kept looking back and saying "Isabel's doing a great job." She really was. I don't want to own horses, but we'll definitely have to go on trail rides from time to time.

We ate dinner at Crickets. I had Spaghetti. Not the best spaghetti in the world, but a welcome change. After dinner we bailed out back to the ATL and were home by 10PM. Nice little mini-vacation. We'll be doing more of those for sure.

Kathryn brought her camera and took photos but hasn't gotten them off yet. I'll update this post when I have them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Shining Rock

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My brother has a new daughter due in July. As such, he'll be stuck spinning around on the road and maybe Clinton Farms for the forseeable future. This past weekend was pretty much his last chance to get out into the woods for a couple of days, so I took Friday off work and we drove up to North Carolina to explore the Shining Rock Wilderness.

Thursday night we got on the road.

But first, my bro mixed up a little moonshine.

 1 - Heet

The weather was ruthless. It rained on us all the way to Brevard. Fog closed in as we made our way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had maybe 15 feet of visibility on the parkway itself. We'd planned on parking at the Black Balsam Trailhead, hiking out in the dark and throwing down tents at the first available campsite. But there would be none of that. The rain was getting harder. We just found the nearest flat spot, set up and crashed out.

In the morning, the rain was gone, but the fog was still hanging around.

 4 - Black Balsam Trailhead

We started up the Art Loeb Spur...

 6 - Art Loeb Spur 2

... and hung a left on the Art Loeb itself, passing over and around several balds. In theory, there would be spectacular views. Not today. Just a deep, chunky trail through thick brush. The brush itself was cool. Nothing like it in Georgia.

 10 - Art Loeb 2

Water bars are inferior to rolling dips. Rolling dips require very little maintenance. Unless water bars are maintained frequently, sediment fills in behind them. Usually they just get buried, but sometimes water overtops them, clings, eats out the soil underneath, creates a hole, eventually the hole gets bigger and bigger and before you know it water just runs underneath. This can happen quickly on exposed trails on sandy soil like the Art Loeb. Case in point:

 8 - Dead Water Bar

Tennent Mountain. No view here either.

 11 - Tennent Plaque

The various flavors of the Art Loeb.

 12 - Art Loeb 3

 13 - Art Loeb 4

At Ivestor Gap we ran into a couple of guys coming the other way. We started off down the Art Loeb and they said "No, that's the wrong way, go this way, we just came from there..." and sent us off down the Ivestor Gap Trail. We were well down it before we figured out what we were doing wrong. No big deal though, they both end up at the same place.

Mostly, the trail was one long puddle.

 15 - Ivestor Gap Trail 1

At Shining Rock Gap, the trails didn't exactly match the map. It took a few minutes to get on the right track. Shining Rock is covered with huge chunky, shining quartz, hence the name.

 21 - Shining Rock 1

 22 - Shining Rock 2

Ivestor Gap and the Art Loeb follow an old roadbed all the way to Stairs Mountain. It looks like the trail past the end of the old roadbed is the trail less travelled.

Stairs mountain is appropriately named.

 24 - Stairs Mountain


 25 - Nest


 27 - Rock on Narrows Approach 2

North of Stairs Mountain the trail follows a knife-edge ridge. The Narrows.

 29 - Narrows 2

 30 - Narrows 3

I imagine on a good day there would be spectacular views here as well. Not today.

Maybe it would be clear up on Cold Mountain. We paused at Deep Gap, and pressed on.

 31 - Cold Mtn 2

 33 - Cold Mtn 4

God's middle finger.

 35 - Rock Feature on Cold Mtn

We'd been pushing through wet brush all day, but at the top of Cold Mountain, it was a whole new level. It was, as my brother called it, a walking shower. Seriously, it was like standing in a shower. With each step, water poured down our arms and streamed off of our fingers. I was a worried about wrecking my camera. At infinite length we reached the high point.

 37 - Cold Mtn Marker

No view, but the ground and rocks were dry-ish. We ate lunch and let our feet dry out for about an hour.

Coming back down was the same walking shower. Not much else to say about it. At Deep Gap we hung a right and got back on the Art Loeb.

Before long we ran into this little guy. Circle head, no danger.

 38 - Small Nonpoisonous Snake

Chunky, chunky, chunky.

 41 - Chunky Art Loeb

An impressive blowdown.

 42 - Impressive Blowdown on Art Loeb 1

 43 - Impressive Blowdown on Art Loeb 2

Shagbark Hickory, I think.

 44 - Shagbark Hickory

The trail passed just above a long sliding falls. Much more impressive in real life.

 45 - Falls on Art Loeb 1

A northern red salamander.

 47 - Northern Red Salamander

Huge rock formation. Neither of us felt like walking up next to it for scale :)

 48 - Huge Rock on Art Loeb


 51 - Art Loeb Cold Mtn Trailhead 3

The Art Loeb ends at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. We needed somewhere to camp, so we headed north a bit and talked to the camp director. Would he offer us comfortable accommodations? No, he sent us up the road.

The Little East Fork.

 52 - Little East Fork

We passed fifty thousand boy scout tents up on platforms with cots and privys. I was jealous until we got to our actual campsite, which was far superior.

 53 - Campsite on Little East Fork

Hey look, another salamander.

 54 - Salamander on Map

Remember that moonshine my brother was mixing? Well, it was really just Heet, which burns well in an empty can of cat food with a bunch of holed punched in it. I gnawed on beef jerky, nuts and dried cranberries while he dined fancily on red beans and rice.

 55 - John Cooking

We set up our tents and hung up our clothes. I pulled out my mat and bag and crashed for about an hour. When I woke up and got out of my bag, I got a sudden chill and began shaking uncontrollably. This has happened before. Maybe because it was so warm in my bag compared to outside? Whatever causes it, all I can do is push through it until I can warm back up. It was almost dark and my clothes were "dry" so I pulled everything into my tent, crawled into my bag, warmed up, stopped shaking and slept.

In the morning I felt good. My clothes were dry. The sun was up.

Time to go.

We climbed the Little East Fork Trail.

 56 - Little East Fork Trail 1

We passed several falls. This one was the most impressive, but the photo doesn't do it justice.

 59 - Little East Fork Falls

The trail follows an old roadbed. Different sections of the road are at different stages of reclamation, and the trail has many distinctly different flavors.

 60 - Little East Fork Trail 2

 62 - Little East Fork Trail 3

 63 - Little East Fork Trail 4

About halfway up we made a wrong turn. A well worn trail T'ed in from the west. Upstream, the roadbed had apparently been blown out by a flood, but at the time it looked like maybe it just ended at the creek. The map showed switchbacks to the west and didn't show the trail crossing the creek. We figured maybe we were supposed to take the other trail. For a while it looked right, but after 30 minutes or so we could tell it wasn't. Not only was the trail getting less and less well worn, but we kept expecting to come around the end of a spur and switch back. We never did, we just kept going west, barely climbing. Eventually we checked the altitude on my GPS, figured out where we were, headed back, crossed the creek, deciphered the maze of trails on the other side and got back on track.

Near the top, Fork Ridge and Green Mountain were visible.

 64 - View From Little East Fork Trail

When we reached the Ivestor Gap Trail, we hauled it back to Ivestor Gap. With the fog gone, there were some pretty nice views.

 66 - View of Fork Ridge From Ivestor Gap

 67 - Wilderness Sign at Ivestor Gap

 68 - View East From Ivestor Gap

We dried out, ate lunch and thought hard about the future.

The plan was to descend Fork Ridge to Sunburst, camp there and take Green Mountain back the next day. We had the energy, but we'd been wet for a day and a half and our feet were wrecked. Several groups of hikers passed us. All said that the forecast called for scattered thunderstorms on Sunday.

We headed back to the truck.

At least the views would be nice.

A few hundred yards up the trail we ran into this furious little guy. Triangle head. Dangerous. He struck at us perpetually. Good thing he was only a few inches long.

 69 - Small Venomous Snake

On Tennent we could see Looking Glass.

 71 - View of Looking Glass From Tennent Mountain

Looking North we could see what we'd been walking around on for the past day and a half.

 72 - View North From Tennent Mountain

On Black Balsam Knob, the Art Loeb forks. Today we took the route over the top. There were ten hundred thousand day hikers and tourists running around. I bet my kids could go for a hike to Ivestor Gap and back. My wife might even like it.

 74 - Art Loeb Plaque

 79 - Exposed Rock on Art Loeb

The descent to the trailhead was mostly uneventful, then a few hundred feet from the end I tripped and fell on a dead flat section of trail. Woohoo!

We grabbed some food at Wild Hawg BBQ in Brevard and blazed back home. I took a shower immediately, but even after I was clean, Isabel wouldn't get close to me. She said that I smelled like a million butts. Think about that for a second, a million butts. Later she decided that really maybe I only smelled like twenty butts. I guess that's better than a million. Still, twenty butts is pretty bad.