Saturday, January 15, 2011

Noontootla-Tooni-Winding Stair

The snow's almost all melted here in Cumming. I still can't drive up or down my driveway, but other than that, life has returned to normal around these parts. Apparently though, a little north of here, Diane and Ginny are still snowed in at Mulberry Gap. Figuring that the rest of the mountains are probably in much the same shape, my brother and I wanted to try to get a snow-hike in while we still had snow to hike in. But we couldn't make the timing work out, and instead I ended up going for a little bike ride.

I tried to recruit some comrades on Facebook, but apparently I was the only one to whom 40-odd miles in random snow seemed like a good idea.

Meet me at 10AM at the Jake Lot!!!!


 Jake Lot

There would be crickets chirping if it was warmer.

There was, actually, one other truck in the lot, and just as I was heading out, a guy walked out of the woods toward it. We talked for a few minutes. He'd been squirrel hunting and managed to bag a few. He said he's usually a deer hunter but apparently this year there'd been an abysmal season, so he was more or less resorting to small game. The going theory is that for some reason, over the last few years, there's been a coyote explosion, they've been preying on fawns, and that's really brought the population down. Apparently they did a study somewhere where they tagged 60 fawns and within a few months, 45 of them had been taken by coyotes. With all the snow, it was easy to see how many coyotes there really are out there. I only see a few of them every couple of months, but their tracks were everywhere.

He wished me luck and I was on my way.

I rolled out to Nimblewill Church Road and headed down to FS28-1. At the corner, there were a bunch of guys in some jeeps and a buggy, getting ready to have some fun in the snow. They also wished me luck, and I them. It would be pretty fun to go driving in the snow. I'd have been terrified last year, but I think I've got a good enough feel for it now. Maybe next time.

At the bottom of the first hill, I knew it would be a good day:


This is the kind of snow I'd hoped for when I went riding with Clark and Suzy a few weeks back; dry, packed and grippy. No rolling shower.

And so it was. And so I smiled. Big time.

Near Camp Merrill, I found this LCFD hat.


Lumpkin County Fire Department, I imagine. I picked it up. I'll mail it to them.

At FS80, I ditched the jacket. This winter, my training plan has been simple: do the same kinds of rides I always do, with a camelback, filled with 12 pounds of gear. Today was no exception, and stuffing the jacket in with all that other crap was a lot of work. I almost couldn't get it zipped back up.

There were some cars parked at the church with bike racks on them. I saw their tracks. Maybe I could catch them.

The climb up to Cooper Gap went by quickly. I passed two girls and a guy, hiking up the road.

At the quarry on FS42, there was a guy climbing the ice.

 Ice Climber

We exchanged greetings, and though I was fascinated and immediately had like 50 questions for him, I figured it would be better to ask them of somebody who's not in the middle of actually climbing ice, and moved on.

42 runs along the north side of the ridge. North side = less sun. It was colder, the snow was deeper and there was more snow on the hillside, but it was still dry, packed and grippy, and I was still smiling.

At Hightower I dug my jacket back out. The tire tracks I'd been following kept going toward Winding Stair, but I had a longer loop in mind. "You got away this time!"

The descent to Rock Creek Lake was fast, and a little sketchy. Randomly, I'd either catch some slightly grippier edge and it would yank my front wheel, or I'd hit some slightly slipperier patch and my front wheel would slip. Also, if I did anything to change my weight distribution, my front wheel would slip. Go for the camelback nozzle - front wheel slip. Try to unzip the jacket - front wheel slip. Scratch my face - front wheel slip. There is nothing scarier than one's front wheel getting yanked or slipping. I even had to stomp a few times to save it. Fortunately, I never went down and I got a feel for it about half way down the descent and it wasn't an issue again until way later, at which point it became a serious issue, but I'll get to that later.

Rock Creek Lake was completely frozen over.

 Frozen Rock Creek Lake

I thought about walking out onto it, but then I thought about how dumb I'd feel if I fell through and punted on that idea.

The fish hatchery and the church looked weirdly different in the snow.



Snow makes familiar things look unnaturally unfamiliar.

When I was far enough north of the ridge, I started getting into some roads that get more sun and the tread was slushier at times. I'd be cruising on packed snow or ice, hit some slush and suddenly lose all speed. Eventually I half figured out how to recognize it, but it took most of the rest of the day to get a feel for how to avoid it. You can't just turn.

At 333 I dined fancily.


It looked like the bridge over Rock Creek had been completely rebuilt. The gate beyond was closed and there was no sign that anyone had even walked there yet.


I left a deep, narrow trail behind me.

 Fresh Tracks

At first, I wondered if it would be too deep to ride through, but it was fine. It was occasionally deep enough for my pedals to hit the surface though. I almost got my feet wet, dropping off of some surprisingly solid ice into the only water crossing of the whole day too. I'm not sure exactly how I saved it. Skill? Not exactly. Maybe instinct. Whatever it was, my feet stayed dry.

I took 308 down to the old bridge construction road and hiked over the Toccoa Bridge.

 Toccoa Suspension Bridge

No, I didn't ride on the BMT. I carried my bike. Go look, the tracks are probably still there. Don't ride on the BMT, not even the 50 feet or so to the bridge, you'll destroy the whole environment. All of it.

I joke, but seriously, don't ride on the BMT.

A cool sheet of ice extended way out into the river. I didn't expect that. Nothing like new discoveries.

 Frozen Toccoa River

On the north side, I took the old construction road back up to Tooni Mountain Road (I don't remember the number), rode it out and hung a left on Hwy 60 and another left on Doublehead Gap Road.

I'm pretty sure that's the peak of Big John Dick Mountain in the background, with Little John Dick Mountain directly in front and to the left of it.

 Doublehead Gap Road

Many mountains in the area are named after somebody. Most only use the last name. You might be able to guess why these use both first and last.

Doublehead was either dry pavement or mostly thawed dirt. There was relatively little snow or ice on it at all. Just before FS58 I passed an older gentleman out walking. We smiled, waved, exchanged pleasantries. Everybody I passed today was happy.

58 was back in the shadows, colder and more packed.


Somewhere in there I'd ditched the jacket again, and I figured since I was climbing, I probably wouldn't need it. That turned out to be correct.

I passed a guy and a girl in a Jeep, and a little later, a guy driving a pickup with a super happy dog running out in front of him, and his family seated on the tailgate. The dog had that tongue-hanging-out-dog-smile going. "I'm running down the road! Woohoo!!! Yep, still running down the road! Yeah!!!! What am I doing? Oh yeah! I'm running down the road!"

I kept looking for a good place to take a picture of Noontootla Creek. It's so pretty up in there, but you really don't get a good opportunity to take a still shot of the creek. It's always there, off to the right, and if you're moving, your brain puts together a good view of it, I guess, but if you stop, there's just SO much magnolia. I did see one or two spots that I might have gotten a decent shot if I stopped, but I was past them when I realized it and at that point, there no way I was going to turn around. I was really feeling the ride, way more than the last time I did it with Travis and Russell. Ugh. The last few miles up 58 were really tough. I even walked a little.

At Winding Stair Gap, I put my jacket back on, gritted my teeth, went for it, and crashed almost immediately. I say crashed. It was more of a bail than a crash. I didn't roll on the ground, just kind of ditched the bike and stumbled out of it. FS77 is south-facing, and it was like 45 degrees. The snow was as random as I've ever seen. Every ten feet was substantially more or less grippy, more or less soft and/or more or less loose than the last. My front wheel would plow like every 5 or 6 seconds. I tried everything. Stay way back - no. Stay loose - no. Stay tight - NO. Stay standing - no. There was no magic solution. Eventually, it seemed that I needed to countersteer when it plowed and somehow get my body leaning the other way while the bike righted itself. Above all else, I needed to suppress the urge to stomp.

I think I went down 4 times, maybe 5. All like that first time, never at any real speed. And if that wasn't bad enough, after PR gap, there was this:



Instead of conditions changing drastically every 10 feet, it was every 5 feet. I kind of had the feel for it though, and though I sketched a lot, I only had to ditch the bike once more.

I'd passed some guys cutting firewood around PR Gap. They had a nearly full load in the bed of their pickup. Just below PR Gap, I passed this, unfortunate scene.


His bed was also loaded down with firewood. It looked like the truck just couldn't get enough traction to get that weight up the next little kick, then slid down and backwards, off the road. I've been there brother, or close to it, a few years ago. I was lucky enough to be able to drive out of my situation, but it could just as easily have gone like this.

To the right, it drops off vertically for about 20 feet, transitions to about a 50 degree slope for another 20 feet, and then runs out down a drainage. As it was, there were several trees wrapped around the truck, holding it in place. If it had dropped into that drainage, I'm not sure how survivable it would have been.

Pretty much from PR Gap all the way back to the truck was just like that photo above. The morning's gloriously dry, packed, grippiness had evolved into that sketchy insanity. Either that, or a really fine layer of super slick ice over slush that I'd slide around on, only to then break through and stop altogether. It was challenging, at best. Fortunately about half of it was either flat or a uphill.

The Inuit allegedly have 200 names for snow. I imagine they are names for all of the different phases of snow. I wish I knew those names. I think I saw most of them today. I figured out how to ride in some of them, how to muddle through others, and some, I still have no idea.

It was fun until Winding Stair, then it was nervewracking, then it was work. That's how it should be. I was dirty and tired, but it was a good tired. It was a good day. I was satisfied, but this was the biggest smile I could smile.

 Tired, Happy Dave

I think that this might have been the last "off season" ride. There's a 6 hour race sometime in February, The Snake, and of course, the Huracan 300. Time to pick up the pace again, my face doesn't look even remotely gaunt in that photo. The face of a champion is so gaunt that people immediately wonder if he or she has a tapeworm. I've got some work to do. Time to get it done. The last 6 hour seems so long ago though, like the memory of a dream. I wonder if I'll even remember how to ride hard.

1 comment:

  1. It looks like you had one heck of a wild ride, I'm sorry that I missed it. This cracked me up:

    "The face of a champion is so gaunt that people immediately wonder if he or she has a tapeworm. I've got some work to do."

    Classic. I think I may have myself a new quote for my signature line. ;)