Monday, May 2, 2011

Pigeon Mountain

This morning it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted to ride in the mountains, but nothing sounded really good. I had to consult the list. I've got this list of unexplored trails and trails that I haven't been to since acquiring a GPS. Thumbing through it... almost all of them were either local park trails or far away. Thumbing through some more... Ah ha! Pigeon Mountain. It is far away, but I haven't been there in years and it definitely qualifies as in the mountains. "Ferb, I know what we're going to do today."

I grabbed some Waffle House with my family and hit the road. On I-75 there was something stopping traffic up ahead so I took the exit for Hwy 411, hoping to ease on around that, and ended up driving directly through the path of one of the tornadoes that hit last week.

At first I noticed the trees. I've seen what tornadoes do to stands of trees before, so that was familiar, but then I saw the houses.

 Storm Damage

My god. I haven't seen that before. Not in real life. I kept thinking that a battle must have been fought there or something. For some reason, that's the pattern in my mind that the destruction matched. It went on for miles and to either side as far as I could see. For each of those homes, there's a family facing an uncertain future. It was really hard to watch.

It took a while, but I got around the traffic and eventually to LaFayette Georgia. I stopped at Uncle Jed's to grab some snacks and hit the bathroom. Pigeon Mountain was looming in the distance.

 Pigeon Mountain

I parked at the game check station and geared up.

 Game Check Station

I was trying to remember the last time I'd ridden there. Three or four years ago, it had to be. Billy Pickens and I rode up there in the dead of winter. A cloud had been sitting up on top all night and every tree had grown a thick coat of ice. As it warmed up, the ice crackled, snapped and rained down on us. It was wild. There was no chance of that today. Today, it was warm and green.

I climbed Rocky Lane to the Hood Overlook.

 Hood Overlook

There were two girls up there enjoying the view as well. We talked for a while. "Did you ride your bike up the mountain?! You must have, we passed you way down at the bottom." They seemed almost incredulous. Their truck had struggled on the climb. I'll grant them though, that it was a tough climb, made slightly easier by having been paved some years back, but still, no picnic.

I headed out on the Atwood Loop. Almost immediately an artifact caught my attention.


A refrigerator. All right. That's cool. Onward.

Not 100 yards up the trail, I found the ruins of this massive gate.

 Massive Gate

I guess that's a gate. It was on a hinged pole, driven into the ground. Another pole had been pulled up and chucked off to the left a ways. Massive.

My memory of Pigeon Mountain was of rough, barely maintained singletrack, with downed trees everywhere, punctuated by unrideably steep and chunky hills. It turned out that I wasn't misremembering. The first few miles were no fun at all. I mean, look at this hill.

 Ridiculous Climb


I also endoed trying to hop a downed tree. It was only a medium sized tree too, so I started feeling a little insecure about my tree hopping skills. Too much road? Too much hiking? Have I lost the trick? No, and I had plenty of opportunities to reassure myself later. Plenty.

After the first few miles, the trail improved somewhat and started to become fun. I passed several lakes, some of which I've seen completely dry in the past. Today they were overflowing. The big lake had plenty of folks out fishing.


It was a nice day for it.

Atwood joined the road for a few hundred yards, and when I went back into the woods, I noticed some hoof prints. It looked like one or two horses. That section of trail was even better than the first; all singletrack or wide singletrack, a lot like the Jake Mountain trails.

 Atwood Trail

Not a ton of flow though, and a ton of steep descents to deep, uncrossable creeks with steep climbs on the other side. It was cool, but it was tough to keep moving. The further I went, the fresher the horse sign was. By sign, I mean poo. I call it sign. I expected to run up on them at any moment, but I never did.

When the trail joined the road again, I headed out to Atwood Point. It's listed on the map as a point of interest, but I've never been there. Turns out there's not much to see, it's just a small clearing, no rock formations or views or anything. Darn.

On the way back from the Point I got a phone call. It was Isabel. "Well, I have lice!" Ohhhh. Lice. Yay. Parenthood. My head started itching. Lice are super contagious. It turns out we all have them. We had to laugh though. It's part of growing up, you just kill them and keep on truckin'.

I kept on truckin' back to Rocky Lane and hung a right on the West Brow Trail. I've almost always ridden Atwood and West Brow as a figure 8. Mainly because the descent off of High Point is basically one long boulder field, but for some reason, today, I decided to do the second half backwards, like tracing around the outside of the 8 rather than crossing in the middle. I worried about having to climb the boulder field, but it turned out that somebody had cleaned it all up with a bulldozer, some time ago. Instead of picking and stalling, I tempo climbed, all the way up to High Point.

 High Point Sign

Where I walked out on the rocks...

 High Point Rocks

...and beheld the not-as-spectacular-as-I-remember-it-but-still-pretty-good view.

 High Point View

The descent off of High Point was a little less remarkable than I expected. I remember it being long chains of connected slick-rock, but they'd run the bulldozer down it as well and it was pretty much just soft dirt all the way down to the intersection with the Pocket Loop.

From there on though, it was more singletracky and starting to get fun again. There was an endless series of ups and downs. I crossed the Hog Jowl Trail.

 Hog Jowl Trail Sign

Hog Jowl road leads around the other side of the mountain. If I understand the signage, the Hog Jowl trail probably leads down to that road. I'm definitely going to have to ride that next time. From there to Rape Gap was a sleigh ride. The last time I was up there, they'd bulldozed it and it was soft and lame. Since then, it's worn in really well and it's just blazing fast with long lines of sight. You can really fly. There were plenty downed trees too, but I don't remember running into more than 1 or 2 that I couldn't hop.

At Rape Gap I hung a left and picked up Atwood again. It starts out as a somewhat maintained roadbed, then quickly becomes this craziness.


Some time ago, the road had diverted a small creek and now the creek flows down the right side of the road. The left is ridable until you get to the next major creek, which was mid-thigh deep today. I'd gotten my feet wet 4 or 5 times already though, so once more was no big deal. In fact, the cool water felt really good.

A magnolia of some kind was blooming right there at the creek too.


Why won't the one in my yard ever make flowers? It just makes those things that look like they're going to become flowers, then they just sit there for a month and eventually drop off. Terrible!

Beyond the creek was more crazy unridability. I imagine with enough rain, the creek flows down this as well before rejoining itself.

 Dry Crail

Eventually it became ridable again. Somewhere in there, I think before the creeks, but I'm not sure, there were a series of downed trees with branches all over the trail. I got around one of them, the the second, there was no way. There was a new-looking, intersecting road right there though, and I half thought that maybe it was a reroute, so I followed it for a while. No, it wasn't a reroute, it just led around the perimeter of a huge clear-cut. I ended up having to backtrack and then bushwhack around the tree through the densest 20 feet of young pine, thorn bushes and those vines with the thorns on them that I've ever had the pleasure of pushing through. It cut my legs to ribbons and kind of freaked out my wife later.

I passed the Hood Trail, which I realized, I've never ridden and hung a left to stay on Atwood. The last time I'd been up there, it was super slow and bumpy. Today it was a 4 inch deep trench, with roots crossing every 8 to 10 inches, obscured by a few inches of leaves.

 Trench Trail

It was comically unrideable. I pushed for what seearmed to be a half mile or so. I even had a hard time pushing and had to carry for a while. Eventually though, it became ridable, and by degrees, even fast and fun.


The sun was starting to hang a bit low. I hadn't brought any lights with me, and I was kicking myself for getting up so late. I pushed hard to get out and made it back to the Hood Overlook in time to see a spectacular scene below. It was right at dusk but still light enough for everything to look like a pastel-colored version of itself. Everybody's light was on, and warm little circles were scattered everywhere. It reminded me of two things. The first was a city of those little ceramic houses that you put the candle in that everybody buys around christmas, but more significantly it reminded me of the Peter Pan ride at Disney World. You get in this little car and fly over London at dusk and it's the same kind of thing - pastel colors and warm little lights. When I was 11, it was magic. Today, I wouldn't call it magic, but it was close. I'm going to remember it for a while. I was tired but not dead, a comfortable breeze was coming in from the left and I was standing there, looking down on that peaceful scene. I just felt good. I tried to take a picture, but it was virtually black. Doesn't matter, it couldn't have captured the moment.

The descent down Rocky Lane was another one of those glad-to-be-alive times. It was too dark to really fly, but it light enough to be relaxed about it. So good, and I felt like I'd earned it, which makes it even better.

I grabbed some dinner in LaFayette at some Mexican joint that I forget the name of. It was all right. The "potatoes" in the Chili Colorado were uncooked french fries. Technically, yes, those are potatoes.

Back at home, it was the full-on delousening. We all have them. I have the least, possibly because of how filthy dirty my hair gets all the time. Lice prefer clean hair. We have crap in our hair to kill them. Iz has a cute new haircut. My hair looks like I belong in the cast of Jersey Shore. The beds and carpets and sheets and pillows and clothes are all in the wash. The carpets and furniture have been poisoned and vacuumed. I'm still up typing this because I'm waiting for the last load of laundry to finish so I can have sheets to sleep on. Not how I'd planned on ending the day, but hey, at least we'll get a really clean house out of it.

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