Sunday, October 4, 2009


Fall is here.

 Fall Colors in Helen

Not too hot, not too cold.

We've got a 6 hour race in Helen next week and I haven't been there in years. I guess no one has because there were two different group rides and a bunch of random folks up there today scouting it out.

One group was from the forum. Including my buddy Jason Milliron, recently recovered from a vertebral compression fracture that he, ironically, didn't get from riding his bike.


As cool as it would have been to ride with him and the Sorba guys, I was there to ride with the 2008 Trans-Georgia crew. Lots of folks rode the TNGA that year, but these guys were the mainstays. Travis and Russel rode every leg. Johnny and Norma only missed one; they had an adventure race that day that we couldn't schedule around.

 TNGA Crew

We spun a lap around the race course. There isn't as much climbing as I remember, but all of the climbs are steep. It will definitely be different from the other 6 hour races. So far, as long as I stayed fueled up, I could just keep the momentum going, I never had to just sit back and climb. This one will not be like that. I'll have to sit back and climb, a good bit, on every lap. I will need protein, and more fuel.

After the quick spin, we didn't really feel like just spinning more. We'd have plenty of that next weekend. I suggested the Hickory Nut; a few miles of pavement, an infinitely long gravel road climb up to Trey Gap (on Trey Mountain, the nemesis of my recent TNGA attempt), followed by a long, chunky descent along a "road" to an even longer descent down an abandoned road-turned singletrack, strewn with boulders, typically obscured by ferns.

Daunting. But we were all down. Onward.

For the first few miles, we passed through Unicoi State Park. Most people pronounce it "You-nuh-coy" but I've heard that the Cherokee pronounced it "Uh-nuk-oh-wah". Nobody has any idea what you mean if you pronounce it that way though, so I call it "You-nuh-coy", even though it's wrong :)

Unicoi Lake:

 Unicoi Lake

Or unicorn lake as my kids insist. "It's unicorn, daddy. UNI-CORN, not COY"

The first few miles up Trey Mountain flew by. We stopped to regroup once, just around a corner, and as the last rider came around, a car was following him. I thought "hey, I think I recognize that car..." and just then I could make out the driver. It was Andrew from work! Andrew who hiked all over Cane Creek with me back in July. Of all the places in Georgia we could have chosen to go, what are the odds we'd both choose Trey Mountain at the exact same time on the exact same day. Woohoo! He and his girlfriend were heading up to Shoal Creek and then back down to Anna Ruby Falls. Awesome.

We saw only this little waterfall, on the side of the road. Not too much, but neat, I guess.

 Small Sliding Falls on Trey Mountain

That, and this rock are the main points of interest on Trey Mountain Road.


I guess there's also the Bison View Lodge. I'm not sure what it is exactly. It appears to have been built recently. They apparently lead horseback rides, and there are a couple of nice houses up there, even a heliport. We saw a helicopter fly in, heard it land and then later heard it take off again. Classy.

Russell had been suffering since we started climbing. At a point, he even considered turning back, but we more or less forced him to continue, with assistance.


On the last leg of the TNGA in 2008, Travis sheared off his rear derailleur, leaving him with only the granny gear. He considered bowing out, but he'd ridden every leg since South Carolina, was less than 30 miles from Alabama, and could not be allowed to quit. When it was steep, he climbed, when it was shallow, we pushed him.

All for one, one for all.

The last mile or so was looooose gravel. The lamest possible riding surface, and especially difficult if you're pushing someone. Quite a struggle, but we made it to Trey Gap.

 Norma at Trey Gap

 Johnny, Russell and Travis at Trey Gap

The initial descent from Trey Gap is technically a road, but I prefer to think of it as a 4WD trail. Chunky, chunky, chunky. I've driven it before, and it's quite a challenge. Boulders, rock slabs, ruts, mud puddles, you name it. You might think it's an environmental hazard, but it's so high up the mountain, the runoff has plenty of time to shed it's sediment before joining any streams. There was only one spot where a stream crossed the road, even after the heavy rain we've had. There, the trail was worn down to solid rock and the water ran clear.

We bombed the descent. Pausing only twice to let some skilled drivers come through from the other direction, and once again because I flatted :/

After a quick climb, we hit the Hickory Nut.

 Hickory Nut

I think technically the Hickory Nut is Old FS690. Ie. FS690 once lead from whatever highway that is that runs through Unicoi Park, up to Trey Mountain Road. But, long ago all but about a mile of it was closed and the old road has become singletrack.

It turned out to be the perfect time of year for the Hickory Nut. The ferns have all died off, exposing the rocks they usually hide, but the fall leaves had not yet built up deeply enough to obscure them again. Perfect. We flew.

But not so fast as to miss the early fall colors.

 Fall Colors on Hickory Nut

Gorgeous, and it'll only get better in the coming weeks.

With the Hickory Nut behind us, we looped about a mile back to the cars. Johnny and Norma had to get going. Me, Travis and Russell grabbed some pizza in Helen. A good way to end a good day.

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