Sunday, October 31, 2010


Ed and Nam had so much fun at PMBAR that they were compelled to create their own. So, they invited a bunch of us up to Mulberry Gap for some crazy-time in the Cohuttas.

I almost didn't make it. I'd taken my bike to the shop to get the fork swapped, but my headset was cracked and the lock-ring on my front hub was seized so badly that it broke when they tried to loosen it. I love Chris King parts, except for when I hate them. Luck was on my side though, and Friday morning, everything was fixed. Chris even came in to get it done after crashing on his cross bike that morning and busting up his shoulder. Thanks bro.

Friday night, I arrived to ghost stories and a warm campfire.


My ghost story - thinking my house in New Orleans was haunted, only to find out we had mice - wasn't as thrilling as the others.

Me and the E stayed up for a while, waiting for the coals to die down, and then I hit the sack in the coziest cabin of all time. I had crazy, vivid dreams. In one, I had joined the army, and in the other, I was getting ready for the ride, but I'd left my clothes outside and they'd gotten snowed on and then covered with big black ants. Strange. Between the dreams, I woke up with hot feet. That's how you know it's cozy. Hot feet.

Ginny cooked up eggs and waffles for breakfast. I meant to eat strawberries too, but I got distracted and then when I remembered, they were long gone.

There's no cell service at MGap, but Kathryn had called the main number sometime the night before. Sophie had gotten sick with a stomach flu. I almost had to bail, but she called back a few minutes later and said she had it. You have no idea how averse Kathryn is to stomach ailments. She was really taking one for the team.

Walking back to my cabin, I noticed a cross in the sky.


At an art show last week, a lady had taken a shot of one of these above a cemetery with a statue of a praying angel in the frame. "Praying for a Sign" I think it was called. I took it as a good omen.

I've been rocking a sleeveless jersey all year, but today I wanted arm warmers, and with every single other sleeve-having jersey I own stretched out and retired, I pulled out the Team Vortex jersey from the 24 at Rocky Hill back in 2003 or so. It has, maybe, 40 miles on it. The material it's made of is kind of thick, but not fleecy. I think I'm going to wear this jersey more this winter.

There were 10 or 12 folks there - a couple of husband and wife teams, and the rest of us were solo. Me, Marc Hirsch and Chris Hines were solo, but we decided to ride together. There were 4 mandatory checkpoints and 4 optionals. I grabbed a Mulberry Gap pamphlet which contained a map of the area and plotted our course. At the last minute, I realized I had to bleed my front brake. Street Hookin'. I got the brake fixed, but I misadjusted the lever and all day the shifter kept catching on it. Not a big deal though.

The start was lazy. You could leave whenever you wanted, you just had to take a photo of your start time.

 Meanpants - Start Time

Yes, that says Meanpants. Marc's nickname. His email address also includes meanpants, but apparently meanpants proper was already taken, so he had to add numbers on the end. There are other meanpants'es out there. Who'd have thought.

We powered up P3 to Hwy 52. I felt weak, but I chalked it up to time off the bike. My new fork felt great already. I need to dial it in a bit, but it was night and day. It's deer season, so I was wearing an orange vest, but it was like a radiator cover and I was running hot, hot, hot. We ran into a big group of hikers taking a break at one of the switchbacks. They cheered when I cleaned it. At Hwy 52 it was getting warm and we ditched the arm and leg warmers. I ditched the vest too.

Then I made another one of my famous navigation errors. I took a right. I was confident that the overlook was to the right. We rode all the way to the Fort Mountain Lodge before Marc was like "Are you sure it's not the other way?" We checked the map. Yes. It was the other way.

During that fiasco, I managed to drop my chain over the outside and got it wrapped around my pedal. One of the links got twisted, but not badly enough to notice at first. About every 3 times it would go through, the chain would kind of skip. I had a powerlink, but I figured I'd fix it when it broke. Instead, I ended up riding on it all day and it never broke, once again validating my bike's nickname: The Rolling Junk Show.

We finally found the overlook. It was actually within sight of the trail. If we'd just looked left, we'd have seen it.

 View from Cohutta Overlook

That's Grassy Mountain on the left. I'll be up there later. In fact, I'll cross that entire ridge, from right to left.

There was no punch card. To get credit for a checkpoint, you had to take a photo of yourself there, or get your buddy to take one of you.

Chris and Marc.

 Chris and Marc at Cohutta Overlook


 Me at Cohutta Overlook

Chris was like "screw you guys and your wrong turns" and me and Hirsch were on our own. He stopped on the way down P3 to let some air out of his tires. I needed to do the same, but I kept forgetting to actually do it.

The next CP was at the top of the P2 singletrack. P2 is a lot less fun as a climb.

 Marc at P2 Sign

Marc took this photo upside down.

 Me at P2 Sign

While taking photos, a group of riders came by in the fun direction and I thought I recognized one of them. I did! It was Curt Reffner. I recognized him from his Facebook photo. He'd emailed me a few weeks back, inquiring about the Cohutta trails for a trip he was planning up there. What are the odds we'd run into each other? Awesome.

We took the roads around to Bear Creek, waved hi to some riders parked along Gates Chapel and started climbing. There were lots of hikers on the trail, some of them had extra-friendly dogs. One guy, a bit overweight, joked with us "If you boys keep that up, one day you'll look like me!" Ha ha ha. Over the past few years I've seen increasingly many hikers on Bear Creek and the Pinhoti's. "Et ca c'est bon." My read is that increasingly, as happened with the equestrian community, the hiking community is discovering that the rumor that "those trails are overrun by out-of-control bikers" is overstated, and that encountering riders doesn't utterly destroy the outdoor experience. On the other side, if there are any actual out-of-control bikers out there, encountering hikers should either drive them away or teach them some manners. Win-win, all around.

CP3 was the Gennett poplar, with it's 18 foot girth - the 2nd biggest tree in Georgia. I want to see the first biggest. I've seen some good candidates near Cochran's Falls.

 Marc at Gennett Poplar

 Me at Gennett Poplar

Near the top of Bear Creek I started to realize I hadn't brought enough food. I was kinda going on my 6-hour diet - 2 or 3 clif blocks and 3 or 4 enduralytes an hour. That's good for whipping around cross-country courses, but falls a bit short in the mountains. I needed to consume more calories, or burn fewer.

I did get a little help though. Stopping to pee, I discovered a bunch of plump wild grapes lying on the side of the trail, the vine that produced them dangling overhead. They were delicious.

CP4 was the Bear Creek Overlook, where a chainsaw crew was mowing down all the sumac that had grown up in the past year. We talked to them for a minute. They'd cut it now and burn it in the spring after it dries out.

 View from Bear Creek Overlook

That's Fort Mountain on the far right, or Frog Mountain as the Cherokee named it. That's the ridge I was on earlier.

Marc, not quite ready for the photo.

 Marc at Bear Creek Overlook

Me, also not quite ready.

 Me at Bear Creek Overlook

It was decision time. We'd hit the mandatory checkpoints, we could be done if we wanted. We'd only ridden 4 hours though, and I didn't feel like I'd gotten my drive-up's worth yet. It would take maybe an hour to get back. In one direction there was a single bonus checkpoint worth 4.5 hours - the Northern Terminus of the Pinhoti. In the other direction were 3 more worth a total of 4.5 hours. The second set were kind-of in the direction of MGap. If I could get those 3 and get back in less than 5.5 hours, it would be worth it. I knew I couldn't get the Pinhoti CP. I couldn't imagine anyone getting it.

Hirch had gotten his drive-up's worth, gave me his last Luna bar and bailed. Nam said they'd send out rescue teams at dark. I told him to tell her I had lights and fire, don't come looking for me until 10.

On the climb up to Potatopatch I stopped for some reason, not to pee, I don't remember why, but lo, at my foot, more grapes...

 Wild Grapes on FS64

Precious calories. Delicious calories. Potatopatch is a tough climb. I recovered on the ride over to FS17 and felt good enough to go for the Mill Creek Overlook checkpoint.

On the way down I passed a guy walking up, pushing a cyclocross bike. "That'll be me in an hour." A minute later I passed a guy on a mountain bike climbing with no helmet.

I'd never ridden on that road, only driven down it, and I couldn't remember how far down the overlook was. It wasn't too far, maybe 2 miles.

The view was pretty nice. That's Cisco down there, Chattsworth to the left.

 View from Mill Creek Overlook

It was tricky taking the photo. My disconnected brain couldn't figure out which way was up either.

 Me at Mill Creek Overlook

At that point, I think I was totally stoned on runners high. I leaned my head back to stretch my neck and got all dizzy and fumbly. I tried to count to 30 and realized I couldn't keep track of what number I was on or even remember what number was next. That's a new one.

The climb back up wasn't too bad, but I did have to walk a little. Grassy Mountain didn't seem too daunting. Apparently the clearing at the Grassy Mountain gate is the Hooty Payne Turn Around.

 Hooty Payne Turn Around

I thought I was the only one who saw that movie. Maybe only one other person saw it. IMDB doesn't even know about it.

(Update: Hah, I was thinking of the movie Pootie Tang. No idea what Hootie Payne is.)

There were 20 or more hikers at fire tower. Backlit by the setting sun, I didn't immediately recognize them as people. They'd come up the Tower Trail from Lake Conasauga. We chatted for a minute and one of them offered to take my picture.

 Me at Grassy Mountain Fire Tower

They couldn't believe how far I'd ridden or how far I still had to go.

It was getting cool, and it was going to be mostly downhill for a while. If my knees get cold, they get stiff, so I threw on the kneewarmers and bombed back down the tower road. Tibbs was a sketch-festival. My brother and I flew down it last year, but there was no flying today. Between the sun-glare, leaf cover and overwhelming chunk, I had to be extra careful...

But I did manage to pick up the last CP.

 Me at Intersection of Tibbs and Milma

Milma was easier than I expected. Except for the last few hundred yards, it was either downhill or easy spinning. The descent down Windy Gap was fast and fun. I mostly kept it on the ground, but I did wall-ride that one big berm.

At the Windy Gap lot, I ran into a guy, just sitting on his tailgate, listening to country music. "Didn't I see you come out of there last week?" "No, not me, must have been somebody else." "Oh, OK, have a good ride!"

I felt really faint bombing the fireroad, ate my last clif block and ran out of water. On the road, I could finally really feel that twisted chain link, and kept expecting it to pop at any minute. At Holly Creek, I tanked up, tied my orange vest to the back of my camel back and pulled out my light. Ohhhhh, crap. No helmet mount. No bar mount. No mount of any kind. Ahh, Adversity... I was wondering where you were.

I had four ideas:

* Just hold it in my hand.
* Tie my empty clif block wrappers together and tie it to my helmet with those.
* Tie it to my stem with my spare tube.
* Just ride in the dark.

I went with option 4, as, at any time I could go with one of the other options, and I had already started riding when I thought of them.

The road back to Mulberry was an infinity of anonymous gravel, mostly uphill. I've driven it a dozen times, but never ridden it. People dread it. It didn't seem that bad to me. In fact, it shone like an invitingly bright, white ribbon in the steadily darkening woods.

The sky was dimming, eventually I saw a star. At length I saw the church, the firetruck and the lights of Mulberry Gap. I didn't feel home until I saw my truck though. There's something magic about seeing your truck.

I have no idea how many miles or, more importantly, how many millions of feet of climbing it was. I do know that I bonked and recovered 4 times and cramped and recovered 4 separate times during the ordeal. I never felt strong, but it never sucked outright. Most of my body felt good. The two weeks off did a world of good. My neck did hurt though, and still does. I have more work to do there.

Back at the Rec Room, everybody was eating. They'd finished hours ago and had to wait for me. Ha ha! Except for the grapes, I'd been eating subhuman food all day. I was craving real food. Specifically, for some reason, I wanted a potato. Ginny had cooked up a stew, and in the stew, there were potatoes. Score.

The effort of my stomach crunching on the food made me tired. I stumbled around for an hour, showering, changing, packing up my gear.

The prizes consisted of Pez dispensers and random, awesome swag. I got 3rd.


Eddie specifically instructed me that the Pez was for my girls. The next day, they were very excited to receive them.

It had taken me 8 hours and change. With 4.5 hours of time bonuses, that worked out to be an "official" time of 3.5 hours. The bonus CP's had been worth the effort. Hircsh took 5 hours without them. I think Andy got 2nd, by just picking up the 4 mandatory CP's in quick time.

Mulberry Gap native Andrew Gates got first by employing the ballsiest move of all time. He just f'ing manpowered his way directly to the Pinhoti Terminus and only THEN came back for mandatories. He suffered on P3, but ended with an inconceivable time of 1.5 hours. I guess that was the right strategy. That means it only took him 6 hours to ride that route. I seriously doubt I could do that loop in 6 hours, even on a good day. I hope to see him at the Fool's Gold next year.

I called Kathryn a few times and finally got a hold of her. Sophie was well, but Iz had gotten sick. She had been up all night with Sophie. I needed to get home to let Kathryn sleep and stay up with Iz if she ended up puking all night too.

But first, a little recovery. I drank 2 Dr. Peppers and sat around Eddie's teepee fire. I'd built one of these at Tsali in like 1999 and it suddenly fell in one direction, almost on top of me. In this instance, a few little bits of it did fall outside the fire ring, but when the whole thing finally collapsed, it fell in a spiral, just like it was intended to. Impressive.

 Teepee Fire

When I was sufficiently sugared-up, I cranked some Ozzy and burned up the roads back to Cumming. I saw one deer, in a field, on the way home. That was the only wildlife I saw all day. In the summer, I couldn't do a ride without seeing all manner of animals. I see deer at all of the in-town trails. I'm telling you, they know it's hunting season.

Iz slept all night, but we had to curtail our plans to spectate at the Life University Cyclocross race. I'll likely catch whatever they had and puke my tract out later tonight, but for now, we're still on for trick-or-treating. Iz is getting her face painted right now. Mmm, free candy.

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