Tuesday, September 28, 2010

TNGA Fallout

"It's wearing on my mind! I'm speaking all my doubts aloud!"

By all accounts the TNGA was awesome. Well, not all accounts. My USFS contact forwarded me this email a few days back...

(names and contact info have been suppressed)

Dear [usfs rep]: I append a copy of the report regarding the TNGA marathon bike race from [forestwatch rep], one of Georgia ForestWatch's dedicated volunteers in Rabun County. It sure looks like these mountain bikers did not follow their own self-declared rules to walk thir bikes down from Wilson Gap to Ramey Fields.

As this one of the reasons the district cited in deciding not. to require a Forest Service permit for this race, I wonder if it might not be advisable to contact the race organizer and formally note the district's reaction to this breach of the group's own rules.

To my knowledge the national forestland track in question is a steep user-created trail that crosses over Ramey Creek at a location where the district and its partner organization, the Rabun Chapter of Trout Unlimited, had spent no small effort trying to improve the fishery in that area.

I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
[forestwatch rep]

CC: [usfs, forestwatch and trout unlimited members]

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: [forestwatch rep]
Date: Mon, Sep 6, 2010 at 10:30 AM
Subject: Trans North Georgia Mountain Bike Adventure
To: [usfs rep]
Cc: [forestwatch members]

Dear [usfs rep],

I was out hiking the trail from Darnell Creek/Ramey Fields to Wilson Gap on this past Saturday (September 4th, 2010), which was also the local portion of the TNGA mountain bike adventure. This was the one trail on the event's route that was "hike only/no bikes." Following are my notes (and some photos) from this outing. I hope that you will find these useful.

[forestwatch rep]
cc: [forestwatch members]

I arrived in time to see all riders come down the trail - the first guy was already on the roadbed between Ramey fields and the road gate, so he wasn't really on the no bike portion of the trail. Once across the creek and heading up the first hill, I was almost run over by four guys riding fast and skidding to slow down as I stepped off the trail.

Then a pair of guys - the first one saw me and quickly jumped off his bike, the guy behind him heard us so jumped off before he saw us.

The next group was fairly close to the top of the trail, near Wilson gap and riders were taking a break. I waited till these pushed on, then turned back with the final rider - a young woman from Pennsylvania, who "loves sleeping out in the woods." She seemed to be on her own. She told me that about 20 people had shown up at the starting line, and they were all likely to finish in 4 days or so, though allotted 9. Also that she was camping, but many would go into towns and stay in hotels. That one person was from Ohio and many from close by.

I am fairly certain that the only person who pushed her bike most of the way was this one young woman. I saw several riders on the trail, and walking back down the length of the trail, it was obvious that they had ridden the trail, and there only appeared to be footprints of one person in the sandy areas.

All in all, this was a very low impact event (in the stretch that I saw), mainly because there were only 20 riders, as opposed to the 70 rider limit for the event. This is a no-fee, self-governing race/event, and riders are supposed to enforce the rules for themselves.

It was pretty obvious that every rider knew this was a hike only trail (and, as you know, it's clearly posted at the trail head).

From the TNGA rules (taken from their website, http://www.firstworks.com/tnga/ ):

* There is one manditory hike section, the Ramey Field Trail from FS155 to the intersection with the Ramey Creek Trail. Participants must dismount and walk or carry their bikes through this sections. This section may be monitored by officials.
* Riders are strongly encouraged to portage (carry your bike over, rather than ride through) any stream crossing that is not crossing a road, even if the road is closed. The USFS, Georgia ForestWatch, and I are concerned about the impact of up to 70 riders riding through a stream, that hasn't been armored for vehicle traffic, in a short period of time. To mitigate this impact, riders are again, strongly encouraged to portage applicable stream crossings.

All riders were friendly and polite, and seemed a bit self-conscious, as if they felt they were expecting me to be either an official or a ForestWatcher, perhaps - or maybe just because they all knew they were breaking the rules.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that human beings will most often break the rules as long as no one is watching. When there are so few participants, it's not such a problem, but if this had been 70 riders, there would have been a lot more impact.

If this report is accurate, it's pretty discouraging.

And it's not like I don't have reason to doubt its validity. I debated one of the Georgia ForestWatch board members at the Mountaintown meetings and he made so many deceptive claims and generalizations that I was able to write a veritable book in response. Their first comment regarding Mountaintown included even more; lots of us that were at the meeting had ridden the trail... well, my dad and I did get injured -- a sprained thumb and shoulder, very minor injuries, kind of an important detail... I suggested that a collision between a biker and hiker would injure both people... and so on. They stepped it up after the EA showed bike traffic had no detectable effect on the environment. Their comment on the EA begins by quoting Mike Vandeman, demands a new EA, then goes on an Appeal to fear/FUD campaign, making lots of bad-sounding, but irrelevant statements and claims, cherry picking inflammatory and divisive quotes from the web, and pretending not to understand satire. Their web site states: "We support biking and count many bikers as members and friends. In fact, we have never opposed any of the dozens of legal mountain bike trails established across Georgia’s national forests." But, their documents attack the credibility of mountain biking as a whole, and the board member I debated has stated openly, twice, that "mountain bikes are inappropriate in the National Forest" and, referring to bikers on Bear Creek, that "...they're out of control, they're a menace, they should be banned from the National Forest..." There was more of the same at an Equestrian Access Assessment meeting. It's very hard to tell what they're after. Clearly, on some level, they care about the environment, but it comes off as a mask, hiding some deeper, indiscernible intention. Man, this paragraph is longer than I meant it to be. I guess I'm trying to establish why for me, personally, it has become hard to trust anything coming from their organization.

But, while "I'm speaking all my doubts aloud..." maybe my impression of them just stems from the fact that most of the face time I've had has been with one individual. Their documents do carry his attitude forward though, so it's easy to assume it's pervasive. On the other hand, I did speak with their ecologist on two occasions, and he seemed as cool and reasonable as they come. But, as much as I want to like him, I am left wondering if it's really just part of some kind of good-cop/bad-cop play.

What I'm really getting to here is that when I first started reading this report, I was all dismissive; "yeah, yeah, those guys again, woohoo" and in the preface, there is a bit of that berative tone I'm used to just tolerating from them. However, the report itself was actually refreshing to read. It's clean and objective, even kind in places and doesn't carry much of their classic, heavy-handed rhetoric at all.

There are a few inconsistencies in it...

I doubt that they were just "out hiking." It's more likely that they were out there with the specific intent of monitoring the event, which, actually, would be totally fine. I imagine the advantage of omitting their intentions could be to make it come across like encountering mountain bikers was unexpected and thus even more of an intrusion. But, they didn't try to play it that way, and they easily could have, so I'm not going to read that into it.

The trail is not clearly marked closed to bikes. When I was up there last there were horse-yes, hike-yes, atv-no stickers there, but no bike sticker at all. An inconsistency, but ultimately moot, the riders knew not to ride that trail.

The trail is not a user-created trail, it's an inventoried trail that follows an old road bed. According to USFS GIS data, it's part of the Darnell Creek Horse Trail. I didn't know that name for it when I first made the maps and cue sheets. An inconsistency, but again, moot.

It doesn't sound like the four riders that "almost ran over" the writer were on the hike-only section. The hike-only section goes from the forest road down to the tree with the purple paint on it. The first hill after the creek (heading opposite the direction of the route) is after that section, not on a horse trail, and was not designated hike-only. Perhaps the writer assumed that section was hike-only, but per the route cue sheets, it was not, (update: well... see 4th comment) and no issue was raised with it being rideable prior to the event as long as riders carried over the creek. Also, the report doesn't establish exactly where the next two riders were, maybe they were also on that rideable section as well.

On the hike back, they reported only seeing one set of footprints in the sandy areas, and from this it was determined that only one rider likely walked. The prints of the writer's party should also have been visible. They may have been, and that detail was omitted, or the writer's party may have intentionally avoided the sand so they could later tell how many riders walked through it, and that detail was omitted. Or, the writer's party may have walked through the sand but not been able to discern their own prints, in which case, riders may also have walked through it, indiscernibly. Another possibility is that the writers party may have just naturally walked to the side of the sand, in which case, so might the riders have. In fact, when pushing, riders tend to naturally walk to the far left of the trail, or even a little off trail, while pushing their bikes on the right. They almost always walk on the left to avoid hitting their rear derailleur and to avoid getting chainring tats. The report doesn't provide enough footprint evidence to determine that only one rider walked.

The photo of the tire track in the mud also raises a little doubt. It's not clear whether it was taken on the hike-only section or not, but either way, it doesn't look like 17 bikes worth of tire tracks. Maybe only one rider rode through that exact spot, or maybe he/she pushed his/her bike through it, loaded down with gear and left a track. Hard to say.

Also, they say they saw all riders, but didn't account for all of them in the report.

Blah, blah, blah... Minor details.

These inconsistencies cast a shadow of doubt, at worst revealing a misunderstanding, but there is no clear attempt at deception. It reads like an honest report, written in good faith.

My USFS contact was really cool about the whole thing, agreed with them that since there were so few riders, the environmental impact was not a concern, and basically just reiterated that next year I should bring them (the USFS) into the loop early. Maybe it'll be OK. Maybe I'll be required to post marshals there next year. Maybe I'll be required to somehow route around it. Worst case, I'll have to get a permit for the ride, which will cost money, could be denied, and if so and riders still line up, they (and I) could be cited.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it...

Back to the point.

Did this actually happen? Did all but one rider ignore the hike-only rule?

At the outset of this event, I was condemned for, among other things, presuming not to trust people to walk a mandatory hike section without being monitored. In fact, that lack of faith was one of the reasons given for a boycott of the event by several riders. Imagine my internal struggle over that one. I knew that the USFS and ForestWatch were both watching this event. By not actually going out there and standing at the trailhead, I knew I was taking a risk. I thought about doing it, and decided not to. Me and the girls went and hiked Rabun Bald instead.

Was that the wrong decision?

I can read this report, I can engage in a frustrating internal debate, wrestling with my own prejudice, judgement and tolerance while I'm at it, but I've had my share of those little struggles already this year with this event, and now I'm just tired. So here's my challenge. If you rode the TNGA, comment below, or hell, email me, or just tell me when you see me again if you don't want it displayed publicly. Did you walk that section? So far, ForestWatch has the only word on the subject. The USFS assumes you rode it. If you did, saying so won't make any difference with them. If you didn't, even better. At this point, you can't be DQ'ed from the event and it won't have any effect on your time or anything else, event-related. If you rode it, there is no worst case. Best case, maybe it's wearing on your mind too, and the truth will set you free.

PS. You get 5 extra points if you can name the song quoted at various points in this post, from memory, don't just Google it. It's been stuck in my head for like 2 months.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

West Bank Park

Sophie's party was awesome.


Afterward we still had time to hit the lake. The fish apparently knew it was her birthday, she caught 5 or 6 of them, including 2 small channel cats.

 Sophie' Bream

Iz caught one.

 Isabel's Bream

I caught none.

Big Creek

Today we're having a birthday party for Sophie. She and Iz both have real birthdays in the summer, but kids lose track of each other in the summer, so we always have parties for them during the school year. There is still much to be done, but I was able to get a ride in this morning as long as I'd be back by noon.

It turns out my dad is still in town, so we met up at Big Creek around 9.


My knee was still bugging me a bit from Dauset so I was nursing it a little, but it wasn't too bad.

We spun two big laps and rolled through the freeride area a couple of times. They've done a lot of work out there since the last time we were there.

 Dad Riding

We rode the trails for about 2 hours, did a quick loop on the greenway and bailed out.

Birthday party time!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Weekly Beatdown

I had a dentist appointment this morning, so no commute today, but I still managed to hit the Reality ride. It wasn't bad. Last official ride of the year. Not so many folks on the ride today, and everybody there rode smooth and easy. I'm tired though. Not that regular tired. Not even that deep tired. Maybe tired of going deep. I'm looking forward to long easy rides. Noontootla. Cooper Creek. Warwoman. My brother's D-ville loops. Yes. Let's have some of those.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Buford Hatchery

My body is tired and busted today. I woke up at like 11. There was no possibility of getting up earlier, and no possibility of doing anything but fish.

Everybody else was catching.

 Sophie's Catfish

 Iz's Catfish

 Kathryn's Panfish

 Sophie's Panfish

I caught nothing at all.

We tried de-barbed hooks today. I can't say for myself, but nobody else had any trouble keeping them on the line, it was a lot easier getting the hooks out of the catfish, and I got one out of a fish that swallowed the hook without any trouble and no visible damage. So far, so good with that approach.

Dauset 12 Hour

A few years back, my Dad and I did the Dauset 12 hour and had a ton of fun doing it. Last year we couldn't make it work out, but this year we were back. He drove in from Dallas Thursday night and slept all day Friday. Friday night, I packed up the truck and met him at Johnny's Pizza out by his place. My brother John was there too, dropping off a set of lights for me. We all rolled back to my Dad's house and hung out for a few hours. John's little daughter Lauren was with him, and I chased her around the house for a while. She's running around and half-talking now.


His son Austin and Austin's friend Dane were there too. Dane believed he could eat an entire bag of marshmallows and was trying to get my brother to bet him 10 dollars that he couldn't do it. John was willing to take the bet, with the stipulation that Dane had to hold them down, at which point Dane withdrew the bet. Ha ha ha.

I spent the night there, as it's like an hour closer to Dauset. We left before dawn and about halfway there, I got a call from Namrita. She, Eddie and Marc Hirsch were on a team, and they'd woken up to an email from their fourth guy, saying he couldn't make it. "Is John coming to the race?" I called him, but he had errands to run and kid duty all day. No luck there. They ended up riding a man short and still pulled down 2nd, but I'm getting ahead of myself...

We arrived at about 7:30, registered and got our tent set up.

 Our Tent

Eddie and Nam had gone up the day before, set theirs out and set one up next to it for us. Thanks guys!

My dad and I were joking about the disparity between prepping for a 6 hour solo vs a 12 hour team race. When I do 6 hour solos, I bring a chair, food, drink, a pump and toolbox and consume a 2x2 foot square of space. But, for a 12 hour team event, there's downtime, you need shelter from the sun and rain, more food, more water and facilities for sitting, lying down, and in our case, cooking. It's like ten times as much stuff for only twice the distance and the same amount of work per rider.

South Georgia Cycling was set up two tents down.

 SGC Tents

Bill, Steve, Vonnie, Josh, Clark, Willard and each of their wives were all either riding 6 hour solo's or volunteering. Woohoo! SGC! The only downside was that most of them had camped at Indian Springs Park and my Dad and I would still be riding later when Clark would be over there grilling.

Here's a classic scene. Everybody else is rushing around, getting ready to go, but pan over to Ed and Nam's tent and listen to the crickets chirp.

 Ed, Nam and Hirsch's Tent

Hirsch showed up not long after us, but he only had his stuff with him. We had a 10:00 start. At like 9:00, Ed and Nam arrived, exploded out of their car like the birth of Athena and were fully set up and ready to go in 15 minutes.

 Ed and Nam

They'd brought Shaun O'Dea with them, who was either Eddie's brother or cousin. I think brother, but unfortunately I don't remember which. He's in the Army, currently at Fort Jackson, and in town for the weekend. Man, he was a cool guy and it was cool having him around all day.

The race started with a short run. My dad did it last time, so it was my turn, and having run a bit this past year, it was no problem.

Lap 1 was just follow-the-leader. I had to resist the urge to just sit on. It wasn't a 6 hour solo race, I needed to bury myself for the next two laps. At the top of the particularly brutal Pine Mountain climb, I saw Johnny and Norma among the volunteers hanging out with gatorade and water, cheering us on. I passed a bunch of riders on that lap, but I had to make a detour into the pits to refuel and some of them got back past me.

Lap 2 started out with a nearly empty trail and I was moving much faster than lap 1. Wild Bill Lanzilotta (not to be confused with Wild Bill Riddle, though they both rock equally triumphant beards) passed me early in the lap. People accuse me of having good technical skills, but those people clearly haven't ridden behind Bill Lanzilotta. I was struggling to hold his wheel for maybe a quarter mile and then, coming around a corner, leaning forward, I drove my shoulder directly into a little tree. It was that classic break-your-collarbone crash. If I'd hit any closer to my neck, I would have been broken it, but as it was, it feelt like busted ribs. Maybe fractured, but not broken. The impact drove my scapula around toward the center of my back and whatever that did hurt way more than my shoulder. I could still ride though, and when the shock wore off, I was back on the gas. Eventually I started catching those riders I'd let by in the pits. On this lap, I started keeping track of long climbs, hills, weird turns, and whatever else seemed important. You can really fly at Dauset. When you're on your own, it's great, but it's gets uncomfortable if you get stuck behind somebody you don't know. I got behind a guy that was too strong to pass, but who almost crashed 6 or 7 times in that lap alone. He saved it every time, a few times remarkably, and never went down, but I was glad to be done with that lap.

While my dad was out, I visited with the GSC guys and gals. Clark had cut a sidewall, which had spewed out Stans like a firehose and never sealed. He could have thrown a tube in, but he had recently topped off his Stans, wasn't too happy about how much he'd already sprayed out, and wasn't willing to leave an entire lake of it on the trail. Poor guy, but also, good man.

I ate bananas and oranges, slept a little and described my crash to Nam, Hirsch and whoever else would listen. Shaun joked: "You going to complain about that all day?" Ha ha, yeah, what's up with my whining? It became a running joke all day. "How's your shoulder Dave?" "I'm not talking about my shoulder."

I met my Dad at the end of his first lap with clif blocks, gatorade and enduralytes. He was doing great and took off again.

I was all alone on my 3rd and 4th laps, just passing people randomly. I filmed my 3rd lap with my helmet cam, but I've got to edit it down to 15 minutes to fit on You Tube and my video editing skills are still too lame for that. Those laps slammed my hands to death. Mark D and I were talking about it later. When you're going fast, you kind of float over the roots and you don't notice them when you're in traffic, but as you slow down, you start to feel them, and though you didn't notice them earlier, they did beat you up. Hand-slamming aside, those laps were still really fun.

Here I am coming through the transition area.


It seemed like I took a bunch of photos, but when I looked back at them later, I was surprised that I didn't have as many as I thought. I didn't get any of the SGC folks and only one of my Dad. Lame.

I did get these vids of Bill and Vonnie coming through. I dig my new iPhone.

My Dad was fine on his 3rd lap, but his 4th was really tough. While he was out, I talked to John Hightower, swapping TNGA stories. He was there with the Cycle Youth team, a bunch of teen-and-under riders. I'd seen them out there all day. Some of them were giving the adults a good run.

I had lights mounted for my 5th and 6th laps but didn't need them. Lap 5 was fun. It had cooled off, and it was just fun. I saw two long black rat snakes and some kind of weasel. I thought it was a squirrel until it stopped moving, then it looked like a ferret with a bushier tail. I got a really good look at it, but I have no idea what it was. I was enjoying the more scenic sections of trail too. There's this section where you ride along a creek through a big grassy area with a bunch of river cane growing way off to the left, and at the end of the day there, sun was pouring in from behind, making little bright spots on the trees. Beautiful. Then it turned. Lap 6 was just work. I was happy when it was over.

My dad had been cramping at the end of his last lap and wasn't sure if he'd be able to do more. But he slept, drank, cooked up some Beefaroni, ate that, and was good to go when I came in. Woohoo! He did one more.

While he was out, I cooked up some Ravioli, slept a little, felt like a new man and went over to wait for him to come in. Hirsch was sitting there waiting for Eddie. He and I were both managing a little bit of pain in the back of our right knees. I'd hurt my knee in the crash, wasn't pedalling well for a few laps afterward, and ultimately developed some pain from that. I'd had a similar thing happen at Rocky Hill years ago during a 24 and it was crippling for weeks. Luckily, this would be my last lap. Hirsch had also crashed in his first lap and could have had the same problem. Riders were coming in with their lights on and you couldn't tell who was who until they got really close. We saw a guy come in with a lone, bar mounted light that was as bright as the sun. "Hey, that could be my dad..." It was.

On my last lap, we forgot to swap the baton. Neither of us noticed. The course bends around and runs right back by the start a few miles later, and he met me there with it. My first thought was "I have to go back to the start." But even as I said it, I remembered that in this race, in particular, you can't cut the course. If you do, you don't get a time penalty, or a lap penalty, you just get DQ'ed outright. The only thing you can do ride out the lap. I'd taken the baton and started riding without even thinking. Not that my brain was working all that well 11 hours in anyway, that's part of why we forgot to swap it. I couldn't remember any of the rules surrounding transferring the baton but it baked my noodle for the whole lap. What would it cost us? Between that and the dark, I didn't notice the climbing until I was on Pine Mountain, and I was like "whoa, I'm here already?" I heard the volunteers ringing the cowbell, but not realizing where I was, I thought I was imagining it. My brother's light worked really well. More than I needed to go as fast as I could, even on the lower setting. I'll have to get something like that for myself. I haven't owned a light in years, ever since my rigged up double-battery system caught fire.

When I finished, I had a moral dilemma. I wasn't sure if our baton swap was legal, illegal or grey. If it was illegal, we could get a time penalty, get a lap penalty or get DQ'ed. We had a lot invested. Not just 12 hours of riding, but my dad had driven in from Dallas to do this race with me. The officials didn't know about our baton swap and we couldn't imagine anyone saying anything. It would be rough losing all of that over a mistake that was so easy to make and so easy to conceal. But after thinking about it for a lap... If we got penalized or DQ'ed, eh, we made an honest mistake. In the future, thinking back, it would be a bunch of good memories, and then "Oh, and we screwed it all up at the end! Ha ha ha!" It would make the story even better. If we hid it, there would just be guilt. I talked to my dad and he agreed. The ruling from the officials: "Don't worry about it." Best possible outcome.

We got 4th, and our award was we didn't have to wait around another two hours for the podium ceremony. We shook hands with everybody, bailed, and couldn't stop talking about everything, all the way home. My mom met us at Waffle House for some midnight dining and I showered and crashed at their place. This morning I was sore, but it was the best kind of sore; the kind that constantly reminds you of the good times you just had and then forces you lie around all day, relaxing and remembering.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Weekly Beatdown

It's getting cooler outside. This morning's commute was really comfortable. On the way over to the shop, I ran into two other cyclists. One was just riding over to the shop like me, but the other was a commuter, I guess also like me. I've been seeing more and more commuters lately. Maybe I've started a trend.

The ride itself was not so great. I've been digging being able to hang in with the A group, but they start late, ride long and it's almost dark when they're done. I was relegated to B1. I've described B1's crazy riding before, but what I have not mentioned how often you get chastised for doing completely reasonable things. I've mentioned instances of it before, but I didn't realize it was so chronic until today. It would take a complex animation to explain what I got yelled at for, but it involved me sustaining the paceline while the rider ahead of me jumped off the front and another rider came around on the left. "We don't need anybody riding up the middle!"

Rob got yelled at for bridging up to pull down a solo break, pulling around on the left to go for his own break and riding too close to the right hand column in a paceline, too close being less than 5 feet. We both got yelled at for pulling up on the left of a column of riders who got dropped from a break and wouldn't rotate, then pulling over to pull them back up into it. Apparently we were "rotating in the wrong direction."

Strange indictments aside, we kept a good pace and got back in good time so that part worked out.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bull Mountain, Buford Hatchery and Alpharetta Greenway

Today was a busy, busy day. Busy.

I met the Chattahooche Trail Horse Association folks at Jake Mountain at 9AM for a work party. I'm bad with names, so I only remember Debbie Crowe, who I met before at the Bull/Jake Assessment, JK because we talked for a while before everybody else got there and Humberto because his name is so awesome, but there were 7 CTHA folks in total. Very cool folks, very friendly. They turned out to be a pleasure to work with.

JK has a chainsaw certification, so he took off to cut out a bunch of downed trees. The rest of us headed up to Jones Creek Ridge. It had rained all night, and it was super wet in the parking lot, but it dried up really quickly and the trails themselves turned out to be totally dry. Two folks went up to do some weedeating. The rest of us started down the trail to deberm some sections and cut nicks into the flat spots. On me and Eddie's walk-through, we'd walked out on Jones Creek. There are two hills out there that we said "These will take a lot of work." That's where we started.

I've weedwhacked, cleared water bars, built bridges, flagged corridor, rerouted, cut new trail, rerouted old trail, nicked, debermed and God knows what else in the past, but only on tight little two foot wide trails. Jones Creek is about 6 feet wide and required a lot more labor. I've also swung the heck out of a Pulaski, but never used a McCleod before. Humberto is a sculptor with that thing. My initial efforts were not ineffective, but after watching how it's really done, I got a lot more efficient with it. I love that tool.

Our first nick, a big, tough one...

 Me and Humberto's Nick

Some folks came by on horseback while we were working. Friends of the CTHA folks.


A little while later, Wes and Rob came riding up. Of all the people that could have passed by, it was two guys I know. Wes was even wearing an old BOR jersey. "What's up Muse? It's about time you fixed this trail!" Hahaha. I chatted with them for a while, Debbie talked to them for a while, and they were on their way. I was jealous, I kind of wanted to be riding with them.

We cut more and more nicks...

 Another Nick

And debermed a bunch of trail. By and large, Jones isn't worn in too deeply below grade, an inch or less in most places, but it's a wide trail. Removing just that inch is still a lot of dirt, and deberming it for real will require a dingo or a ditch witch of some kind. One of the CTHA guys is actually certified to run a ditch-witch in the National Forest. He's the guy that cleaned up Jake and part of Moss Branch. There's a pro-trail builder coming through this fall to work on a bunch of the trails too. Everything in yellow...

The cyclists I know who are interested in doing work out there have been reticent to do so for two main reasons. "Those trails won't even be there next year." Well, got a point there, nobody wants to work on trails that will end up closed, rerouted or dingo'd and nobody knows what trails will hang around. I only just saw this map last week. I doubt many have seen it. In theory though, after the reroutes the trails should be really nice, maybe there will be some interest then. And the other reason... "The horses will just tear it back up." Well, on the steeper trails, yeah. Again, after the reroutes that shouldn't be an issue. If the reroutes are done, and the trails are nice, and stay nice, that will say a lot. Hopefully it will change some minds. In the mean time, there are trails that aren't getting bulldozed, and when I get a chance, I'll be working on them.

Somebody's been out there tearing down the plastic blazes. They tried hard to get these off.

 Bent Up Signs

We found one just lying in the woods near where it had been torn off. Whoever's doing it isn't keeping them, just tearing them down. Woohoo!

CTHA is great. They even fed us.


We ate where the old game check station was. In the past week they removed the last remains of it, tilled up the ground and laid down straw.

I've got energy for days, but just like running, it's easy for me to overdrive muscles that aren't trained up for it. I used a lot of those muscles today and I'm tired in places I'm not usually tired in. I hope I'm not sore tomorrow, but if I am, I'll still feel good about it.

Back at home, there was still time to get in some fishing before the pond at the Buford Hatchery closed. I've become convinced that sausage is the best thing to fish with there. Murky water, good scent, and there are big catfish there. I wanted to catch one.

Kathryn's got a cold, so the walk to the pond felt like forever to her. It didn't help she was carrying a camping chair.

How I missed these last week is beyond me. Wild grapes!

 Wild Grapes

They tasted woody, with lots of seeds, but the aftertaste was really nice.

I put a big chunk of sausage on a fairly large hook and on my first cast hooked a huge catfish, in seconds. Or I would have hooked it, except that Kathryn immediately needed me to put a hook on her line. So while she was holding my rod, she caught a huge catfish. Almost. She had a lot of trouble with my reel, but even after she figured that out, the fish pulled the knot loose as she lifted it out of the water. We saw it. It was huge. The one that got away always is.

The girls were hauling them in left and right. Pretty nice catches too.

 Iz's Awesome Panfish

 Sophie's Awesome Panfish

I caught a panfish about that size too, trying to catch another big catfish.

A kid of maybe 10 and his family were fishing next to us and I offered them some of our bait. The kid had an older baitcasting reel without a magnetic brake and was impressively proficient with it. I'm not sure I could cast with it, but he really knew what he was doing.

Kathryn redeemed herself after letting that first one go.

 Kathryn's Awesome Catfish

This one too, eventually pulled the knot out, right after I took that picture. I retied it with a different knot. We'll see how that works out.

I'm going to try fishing with either barbless or circle hooks though. The barbed ones are rough on the smaller panfish and the catfish are so tough and meaty, they get torn up pretty badly too. I hate to see it.

I never caught my big catfish, but given Kathryn's results, I feel pretty validated about my approach. Maybe next time.

Yesterday, we upgraded the girls' bikes. Iz has gears now and Sophie's riding Iz's old bike.

 New Bikes

We hit the proving ground yesterday. Today Iz was itching to ride again. Sophie had already had "too much outdoor time." She stayed home. Me and Iz hit the Greenway. She was a little hesitant at first, but before long she was comfortable and confident, railing turns and pedaling downhill.

Water break.

 Iz Drinking

She did really well on the mountain bike trail too.

For a while, at least. Realizing she could ride over larger roots, she took some questionable lines and eventually ended up crashing. Once just tipping over and falling on the end of her handlebar. Her instinct was to reach down and put her hands on the ground, which just drove the bar into her stomach. That must have hurt. She shook it off, but the next one was harder to shake. Arguably not as bad of a crash, but it had more of an emotional impact. Like the first time, she just got stalled out and tipped over, but that time her shirt got torn. She recently had to give up a bunch of shirts that don't fit her any more, so pretty much every one she still has, she loves. Between that and the wedgie she kept getting, we decided she needs some real cycling gear.

A few minutes later she was fine, riding and starting to get her confidence back. She's pretty well figured out her gears too, at least on the pavement. She figured out how to use them to climb on her own. She's figuring out a lot on her own these days. Growing up.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Weekly Beatdown and Mulberry Gap

I felt super good on the commute today. Good enough to jump in with the A group, which for some reason, took it really easy. We barely averaged 20 mph. There were some attacks, but we rolled lazily up Elmo and even more lazily over Sawnee. It was a nice ride, but not without it's own penalty. The A group rolls out last, does a longer route, and with the added slowness, got back too late to ride home. I had to call Kathryn to pick me up. She was more than happy though, rather than have me ride home on those roads, in the dark.

I sat on the curb and waited. Upon sitting, a bunch of good teenage skateboarding memories found their way to the surface... sitting on a curb, tired and thirsty, at the end of the day, in cool weather, with the sky not quite dark, hearing the sound of distant traffic, and the street lights just came on.

This may not be your idea of solitude and beauty, but it's definitely one of mine:


In real life, the street lights didn't pop so hard.

Post ride, and post shower, I headed up to Mulberry Gap. I'd been watching the last riders on the tracker, and expected to be able to pick them up from the border, but they beat my prediction by over an hour. Rob picked up Karlos himself and Mulberry had already sent a car to get Jeff and Ruth. But, still, I wanted to see them off, and uncover the mystery of Ruth's super-spotty Spot reception. I drove up, rolled through the property, but all the lights were off, so I parked out front, set the alarm in my phone for an hour and dozed off. Just as I woke up, Ginny had driven down to see who the heck was parked out front of their property. I think she was happy to find it was just me. Andrew arrived 10 minutes later with Ruth and Jeff.

 Ruth and Jeff

Jeff came in last and still crushed my finish time. EVERY finisher beat my time. Hard core. Ruth's Spot barely worked the entire time. It showed her in Ellijay for half the time, then started working well, briefly, then updated once again, and that was it. She wasn't in the car when Matt told us about needing to use Energizer Lithium Ultimates, so my theory was that it had inferior batteries in it, possibly alkalines. We opened it up and took a look. It says "Lithium Batteries Only" on the inside, and she had, in fact, put lithium batteries in it. However, they were Energizer Advanced Lithium's, not Energizer Ultimate Lithium's and apparently the tree canopy of North Georgia requires the ultimate in lithium battery technology. Mere "advanced" technology doesn't cut through. Glad we solved that mystery. Good to know for next year.

I didn't keep them up for too long, just long enough to say hi, figure out that mystery and talk a little about the ride. On the drive back home, before I got out of the woods, I saw some unidentifiable animal cross the road in front of me. It bounded, kind of like a deer, but it had shorter legs than a deer for it's length and was the only size of a large dog. I couldn't get close enough to tell what it was before it was gone. Could have been anything. The rest of the drive was uneventful. Yay, the TNGA's in the bag. All that's left is publishing the official times.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Buford Fish Hatchery, Rocky Mountain Recreation Area and TNGA

Sunday and Monday just ran together. We all slept in Sunday morning, hit the late service and then hit the pond. Lanier's got ten million little bream or some kind of bream-like fish. That's all I know how to catch there. The little pond at the Buford Hatchery has catfish and allegedly bass. The weather was great and the fish were biting all day.

I tried a rig that put the hook about a foot off the bottom. The plastic grasshopper didn't work, but I got several strong hits on a real worm. I think the water is so murky there, you've got to use bait with a good scent. Nothing can see the grasshopper. My hits didn't pan out though. I tried a smaller hook and started catching.

Kathryn and the girls were catching too.

 Kathryns Fish

 Sophies Fish

Hey, I caught a catfish.

 My Fish

Actually, I caught 3. I caught my share of catfish when I was a kid, but I also watched my grandfather get his hands ripped to shreds by their serrated spines, so I always took them off the hook by putting them on the ground, holding them down with my foot, getting the hook out and then kicking them into the water. Saturday I tried my grandfather's technique of sliding his hand up the body from behind the spines and holding them out with his thumb, hand and first finger. It worked enough to get the hook out, but while throwing the fish back in, I got cut up just like I saw him get cut, and the mild poison felt like a bee sting. The next time I just let the fish hang by its lower lip. A loose wrist kept it's spines away from me, even when it thrashed about. Much better.

That's all we did. A cool, lazy day.

On the way to dinner I caught sight of the Blue Ridge to the north and thought of the riders out there hauling themselves across it.


The tracker showed Eddie, Matt and Brad, already west of Dalton. If they kept moving, they could get to the border by 2AM or so. I would meet them.

Me and Iz headed west. Sophie declined. We got to Rome in a record hour and a half. It's a quick trip when there's no traffic. When we got there, we checked the tracker on my phone. Nobody had moved. They were asleep. Even moving, they wouldn't be at the border for at least 8 or 10 hours. We could sleep too.

We'd brought our sleeping bags, but there was no 3G or even Edge at the trailheads. We could have parked in a church lot or something, but if Iz had to go to the bathroom, it wouldn't be good. We opted for a hotel room. At 8AM we checked the tracker again. The riders were moving, but were at least 6 hours out.

While scouting and riding the route, I'd seen a sign on Hwy 100 for the Rocky Mountain Recreation Area and always wanted to check it out. The sign just points east, so I followed it, expecting the area to be nearby, but it was like 10 miles away. Suddenly I recognized it. We passed it getting a ride home from our TNGA adventure. I've even seen it on the maps. Somebody turned Rocky Mountain into a pumped storage reservoir, like Raccoon Mountain, maybe even before Raccoon Mountain, and converted the land around it into a recreation area.

Me and Iz found a trail and hiked it. We weren't quite prepared though. No technical clothing. No camelbacks. Jeans, T-shirts, Iz was wearing boots. Empty soda bottles, filled with water. Iz carried a bag of Doritos.

The trail was flat and easy, but very scenic.

 Antioch Lake East 1

 Antioch Lake East 2

 Old House

We ate a few elderberries.


The trail eventually led across a dam a the east end of the lake...

 Dam at East End of Antioch Lake East

...and we had to walk on the road for a while. Iz found a large, awesome feather.



The Spillway was cool.


I don't totally understand the water flow out there. It looks like the northern lakes drain into the middle lakes when they're high enough, then water is pumped up to the top of the mountain from them when there's surplus energy, and let flow back down when they need to generate more electricity. Maybe.

We had a tough time finding the trail again. A friendly park ranger pointed us in the right direction. It went up over a hill, then back down along the lake. We passed several people fishing, and I saw my first Paw Paw tree...

 Paw Paw

...with it's weird fruit. I didn't try it.

Our little adventure over, we headed back to Rome to check the tracker. About halfway there, I got a voicemail from Russell. Eddie was like 20 miles out. Woohoo!

We headed to the border and waited a little over an hour.

And then...


A few hours later, Matt arrived, but declined to finish. He and Brad had been travelling together for over half the route. They'd gotten separated coming down off of High Point. I'm not sure exactly how. He explained it, but I didn't understand. 20 minutes later Brad showed up, met Matt at the gas station and they rode in together.

Matt chucked an empty gatorade bottle at Brad's front wheel at the last second to try to take him out! Or something like that. Maybe Matt pushed him and it fell out of his pack. Whatever it was, it was dirty! Hahaha.

We piled in the truck and Matt was literally asleep in seconds. He has that gift. I wish I had that gift. At Los Portales, we mowed through a metric ton of food. Iz didn't like her hamburger, but hey, that's what you get when you order a hamburger at a mexican joint. She should have had some of my Camarones a la Diabla.

The guys were moving slowly. I remember that from my ride. Stiff muscles and joints, and lots of chafing. Once you sit, you don't want to get up.

 Brad Kee, Wiped

At length, we dropped Brad at a hotel. Matt Fusco was coming in later and Matt's girlfriend would pick the two of them up. I pulled his bike down off my rack, and man, his bike was heavy. His front wheel felt heavier than my bike. His gear was heavy! Brad is just an ox. Strong as hell. Inhumanly strong.

Back on the road, Mulberry bound, Matt crashed out again. Zzzzz. My truck hit 300K on the way.


It must be built Ford tough or something. Does Dodge have a slogan like that? If they do, I can't come up with it. Good job Dodge.

My mom called me: "Your dad's fine but..." Man, I hate when it starts like that. Apparently he got stung by a hundred bees. Just riding along, noticed a downed tree, stopped, "Hmm, how do I get around... Bees!" Benadryl, ice packs and a ton of water to drink. I talked to him today, he took off work, but he's feeling ok. They were supposed to send me a photo, but I don't have a photo yet. Send me a photo!

At Mulberry, everybody was up, buzzing around. Charley Rome was still there and we hung out for a while. He's riding the local trails today.

Before long, Karlos showed up, riding super fast up the super steep hill leading up to the Barn. We were watching his light come up the hill and doubting that it could even be one of the riders. "Who is that?" "Karlos!" "Karlos?"

 Naked Indian

Yep, Karlos. His stamina is amazing. I think a lot of these guys just don't need much sleep. They just ride and don't need to sleep. Were they born that way? Did they train that up? Both? Something to work on for sure.

Mission accomplished, me and Iz rolled home. She was out after 5 minutes. I remember driving, but no details of the drive. My bed felt good.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

TNGA Start and Rabun Bald

TNGA time. Yes, it's that time. After work, the girls and I rolled up to Mulberry Gap. I met Karlos and Rob Roberts on the way into the barn, and everybody else almost immediately after walking in. Diane and Ginny fed us spaghetti and I had a Dr. Pepper with an old-school logo on it, prompting "That's the wrong Dr. Pepper" from Sophie.

Sophie immediately began exploring her world, taking photos of everything.

 Sophie the Photographer

There were 4 or 5 dogs running around, Kathryn is allergic, the girls are dog-starved and they couldn't get enough dog time. While they ran around and played, I attended to some logistics, talked to the riders, talked to some folks just up there for the weekend, talked to some folks doing the Drama Queen ride the next day, talked to Rick Moon of NWGA Sorba, who was going to do most of the shuttling and generally ran around loading up bikes and talking to everybody.

The girls were getting sleepy, so we checked into our bunkhouse. Then, as soon as they got in bed, Sophie had to pee. The closest bathroom is up the hill a bit, so they had to get re-dressed and walk back up there. Mulberry Gap is IN the woods, so it's pretty dark. I needed to get back to the barn, so post-urination, I let them walk back by themselves, which included navigation down a pitch-black road and around a switchback and finding the proper cabin. I lurked in the shadows, keeping an eye on them the whole time, but as far as they knew, they were on their own. They got it though, and they were confident, even in the dark. Intro to night-nav.

Matthew Lee hit a ton of traffic and showed up around 11. He'd forgotten to bring his lefty rack adapter so we had to just take his wheels off and put his bike in the back of my truck. Around midnight we were all set and I hit the sack.

The girls were already sacked out, with the lights on. I guess it was too scary with the lights off.

 Kids Sacked Out

We slept fast. At 3:45 it was wake-up time.

The girls and I ran around, making sure everyone was up, which involved a little more pseudo-night-nav back up to the barn. Again, they were pretty confident walking through the woods in the dark. Good stuff. At breakfast, I met several of the riders that had hit the hay before I got there, including Charley Rome from my home town of Baton Rouge, woohoo! These guys and girls are all characters, I'm privileged to have them riding this thing, if only just to meet them.

 TNGAers at Breakfast

Rick was driving the riders over in his Cadillac Limo.

 Cadillac Limo with Bike Trailer

Now that's a sight. A Cadillac Limo pulling a trailer full of bikes. The girls and I ferried 3 riders over in my truck.

We left about 10 minutes late, and as awesome as it was, the limo was a little slow on the highway. Loaded down, it couldn't hold 55 along much of the route. We made a coffee and bathroom stop at McDonalds in Hiawasse, and also discovered, en route, that the rental Spots required Energizer Lithium Ultimate batteries. No other batteries would do. We didn't have enough, so we made another run through Wal Mart in Clayton, which, of course, had only one lane open, and the cashier was chatting up the customer before me "...so did he ever find out if the one she's carrying now is his?..."

We arrived at the start at 7:50. I'd planned to start everyone at 8, but I held the start long enough for everybody to get ready. I knew several riders were planning on riding to Helen that day and then picking up lights though, and I didn't want anyone descending the Hickory Nut in the dark, without lights, so I tried not to hold it for long.

Johnny and Norma were there to heckle everybody and it was cool to see them. We all agreed though, that while it felt odd to be at the start of a big ride like that, but not be kitted up and ride-focused, none of us felt that "darn, I wish I was riding" feeling that we usually have when we volunteer at an event.

The field...

 The Field

It was cool to see everybody's set-up. Different bikes, different gear, different strategies. One common theme - 29'ers. I think only two riders had 26 inch wheels. Only one was on a singlespeed.

At 8:15 we had a brief meeting and at 8:24 (by my watch) they rolled out.

Joe Polk of MTBCast talked to Johnny, Norma and I. "What aspects of the ride are people underestimating?" We all agreed: navigation, the amount of climbing and the Pinhoti singletrack out past Dalton, which looks easy on the elevation profile, but is probably the toughest part, being late in the ride and all. We may be eating our words though. Since then, most of the riders have exceeded my expectations, some by a lot, some by an almost absurd amount. If they can hold out, we're the ones guilty of underestimation, of them.

With everybody out riding and nothing left to do, Johnny and Norma went for a run on the Chattooga River Trail. Me and the girls headed back to Clayton for some Waffle House. The kids had slept in the car, but not me. I was nodding off at the table. My eggs were good though, and bacon... yum, bacon. Recharged, we turned around and headed up Hale Ridge Road to the Rabun Bald Trail.

I usually carry a camelback for these things, but yesterday I'd brought my REI pack and a bladder. A bladder, with a hole in it. No duct tape, no patches, but I rigged up this!

 Rigged up Camelback

It was all water-cooler, glug-glug-glug action, but it worked.

We climbed and climbed. For the most part, the trail runs directly up a bumpy ridge. We kept track of our location by counting the bumps as we climbed over them.

 Kids on Rabun Bald Trail 1

I can't get trail assessment off my mind. It looks like Turner Creek wasn't the only trail ravaged by this year's bad weather. Look at all that silt:

 Silty Rolling Dip

Fortunately that's a rolling dip. This poor water bar's had it:

 Overcome Waterbar

Everybody knows what I think about water bars, so I won't go into it.

Iz loved these mushrooms and required that I title the photo: "Iz Says That's a Lot of Mushrooms"...

 Iz Says Thats a Lot of Mushrooms

The trail had one switchback and a short sidehill, so it was easy to tell where we were when we were on those sections.

 Kids on Rabun Bald Trail 2

The last kick to the top goes directly up a steep, steep ridge, forever. You can't see anything but trees and brush, so there's no way to tell how far from the top you are, or at least I couldn't.

Iz found this cool snake skin.

 Snake Skin

The trail got pretty rough in places. More trail assessment... Basically, it's too steep. The shear strength of the soil is too low to withstand than the force applied by feet, struggling to climb or arresting themselves on the descent. Feet loosen the soil. Water washes it downhill. See, it can happen on a hiking trail.

 Gnarly Chunky Rabun Bald Trail

But I digress. The foliage began to change and we suspected we were near the top. There was a little clear spot with a fantastic view.

 View from Near the top

The kids were digging it.

 Kids Digging the View

But the trail kept going up, so we went up. Then, suddenly, we heard people, and saw this...


There's a tower up there! I'd just heard it was "cool on Rabun Bald" but I didn't know why. I guess this is why.

The views were amazing.

 North Carolina From Rabun Bald

The girls were impressed because the platform on the tower was bigger than their bedroom, but they weren't totally convinced that the climb was worth it.

We stayed there for probably an hour and talked to a bunch of folks. Amazingly, one couple lived in New Orleans, had grown up in Baton Rouge, the guy worked at Capitol Schwinn on Jones Creek Road and we knew some of the same people. It's a small, small world.

The descent was faster than the climb, but not materially less strenuous. My legs were burning. If you don't want to slip, you have to move a certain speed, which is tough to sustain. The girls impressed me with their ability to keep up. My legs are actually still a little sore right now from it.

On the way down, Johnny Garner called me. Don Meredith had dropped after climbing for 10 miles on a singlespeed and ultimately deciding that he needed to refactor his approach. Johnny'd found him at the start after his run and gave him a ride to his house in South Carolina. Just another reason that Johnny and Norma are saints. Another reason.

I also got a call from Shey Linder. He was at Moccasin Creek State Park with a torn hamstring. Kari was coming to pick him up. My heart sunk. Shey is a great guy. An inspiring guy. This was his second try. He was back, his game was down and I was really pulling for him. Did he push too hard or was it just bad luck? No way to tell with a pull, sometimes they just happen. Next year brother. Stay strong.

The girls and I ate dinner at Mama G's in Clayton. Again, I was nodding off at the table. Iz was too though, so I didn't feel so bad. A few of the TNGA riders had done some last-minute gear analysis and left some stuff in my truck prior to the start. We drove back to Mulberry Gap and dropped the gear there. The drive over was challenging to say the least.

When I was in college, during the summer, I'd work in New Orleans during the day, drive to Baton Rouge after work to practice with the band I was in, visit Kathryn for a few hours, then drive back to New Orleans, more tired than a person should be and still drive. One especially bad evening, I hallucinated multiple times, once believing that I saw a 747 landing ahead of me, perpendicular to the road. It turned out just to be an overpass, but that was the last straw. No more tired driving. Ever. Ever.

On the drive to Mulberry, I hit that "I won't drive tireder than this" point a few different times and had to stop and walk around. We got there though, ate and recharged again. The girls played with the dogs. I hung out with the remaining Drama Queen riders for a bit, then checked the tracker. Eddie and Matt were both past Helen and still moving. Brad Key was on their tail. John Hightower and Trey Woodall weren't terribly far behind. Virtually everyone was past me, Johnny and Norma's stopping point. Yes. That's what I'm talking about!

Apparently the Spot's don't work as well in the Appalachians though. Out west, there's almost always a clear view of the sky. Not here. Too many trees. The newer units were sending updates every 20 or 30 minutes. The older units were sending them every few hours. For most of the day, several folks were showing up like they were at the start. But, then, while we were watching, suddenly they all moved to the right spots. Since then, they've been sporadic too. Ruth Cunningham's unit still says she's in Ellijay, but we checked it at the start and it was set up correctly then. The units have to be cycled each day, so hopefully it'll start working soon.

We hung out and watched the Spot's move across the state for an hour or so. Ginny offered me and the girls cots. I was totally down for that, but they really wanted to see their mom. They crawled into the back of the truck, got in their sleeping bags, buckled in and sort-of camped out in the truck. An hour later we took off. When we got home, Sophie didn't realize we were home and didn't understand why I wanted her to get out of the truck.

It goes without saying that we slept in today.