Thursday, June 30, 2011

Weekly Beatdown

Today's beatdown was all about weakness. Every kind. Skip this one unless you enjoy long, drawn out, potentially depressing, amateur psychiatry.

Sometimes you get a song stuck in your head...

"The whole world is my enemy - and I'm a walking target.
Two times the devil with all the significance...
...They're closing in, I can't escape.

Awesome song. Melodramatic for sure, but that's where my head is at the moment. How many times did somebody hate you today? I mean real, pure, determined hate - the kind you can't just write off? Riding on the road, you get it a lot. Sometimes it's just people yanking your chain, but sometimes it's that raw, deep, dead serious hate. I got more than my share of that today, and I was either on the shoulder, or in an empty lane, every time. I wasn't in anybody's way. It wasn't what I was doing that anyone hated. It was that I was there at all.

I'm pretty sure I know why it bothers me, though unfortunately knowing doesn't seem to make it not bother me. When I was a short little nerd kid, everyone was bigger than me, no fear checked their anger, and every conflict escalated in three sentences: statement, disagreement, threat of violence. I then had the choice to fight or cower. But the choice was really just whether I wanted to suffer physically or mentally. This was routine until late in high school. I was fairly tough, especially later when I became a skateboarder. I'd hurt myself all the time, way more than any bully could, but that just left a string of unsatisfied bullies, waiting for an excuse to try again. Sometimes somebody would get clever and I'd take some damage.

So, whenever it seems like somebody is truly angry with me, that's where my mind goes. By the time I rationalize that the other guy is wrong, or that he's an adult who probably won't actually attack me, the fear has long since set in. Maybe fear isn't the right word. It's more like: "Damn, I might be about to get injured, again." There's adrenaline in there, disappointment, betrayal, some amount of determination... It's hard to articulate.

I know plenty of people that this doesn't really happen to, for a variety of reasons. Many were bigger than me, rarely got bullied and never built the association. Some are so convinced that they're right about everything that they can instantly dismiss all negativity: "Ha, f' that guy!" and that's literally the end of it for them. Some can't differentiate between what somebody says and how they say it, so they dismiss anything spoken discourteously: "How rude!" Some are rebellious and are actually looking for conflict. Some are bullies and looking for conflict. Some have relatively poor memories; last year is a blur, their childhood is a fog and nothing reminds them of anything else unless it happened recently. Some people are affected, but they keep themselves distracted with alcohol or whatever. Etc. None of those solutions really apply to me. I'm not sure I'd want some of them to.

People have told me: "don't let things bother you" but I'm not letting anything do anything. There's no voluntary thought involved. It's like if you know some subject really well and somebody asks you a question about it, you don't think up the answer, it's just top of mind. Is there some mechanism through which that can be turned off? Somebody says something threatening or sufficiently negative and I immediately remember similar encounters, including that pseudo-fear thing I was trying to describe earlier. It's instantaneous.

I know there's desensitization. If enough conflicts turn out differently, I'll ultimately build a different association. As an adult, you don't run into nearly enough conflict for that to happen unless you go looking for it, really hard. Maybe by the time I'm 70 I'll have run into enough.

The real drag is that everything I do for fun has some amount of this wrapped up in it now. My mind wanders, especially when my blood sugar gets low. On the road, even if nobody's yelling at me, I'll eventually remember that someone did. In the woods, even on foot, I'll eventually remember being held at gunpoint over a border dispute or GAFW's heavy handed rhetoric or the shaking rage of one of their board members, barely able to control the tone of his voice as he explained to me all the reasons that I should be banned from the forest.

And so on.

Again, I can rationalize that these people are wrong, but by the time I've done that, the fear has long since set in. I guess that's the idea though: scare somebody enough and they'll quit whatever it is you don't like them doing.

I try really, really hard to be objective, tolerant, unselfish, non-judgemental, and all that. "I could always be wrong." I live by that. So, there's always that nagging internal conflict when somebody judges me: "This guy is being an ass, but is he actually wrong? I should evaluate this." Sometimes it's simple but so often there is no definitive right or wrong, just a long list of subjective pros and cons or insufficient evidence to clearly go one way or the other. The brain can consume innumerable, precious calories engaged in such analysis.

I've made a lot of friends over the years, and sometimes doing stuff with them tricks my brain. "If we're all doing it, it must be OK." Sometimes being around company occupies my mind and no negative thoughts even occur. Ideally, I'm having so much fun that the fun itself is thoroughly distracting. It doesn't always work though, and besides, I do a lot of stuff by myself, a long way from home, low on blood sugar, alone with my thoughts.

And so it was today. I got out of the house around 5, spun my little Dave's Creek/Melody Mizer/Gilbert loop, got harassed substantially more times and more heavy-handedly than usual, and showed up to the shop too late to roll out with the B1 group, already shell-shocked and feeling sorry for myself like a weak little example of one of the names I was called earlier. It started with a B.

I tried to hang with the A group.

Some dudes derided us on the roll out, and there may have been a grain of real anger in it, but it was so creatively executed that I have to give them credit. The guy in the passengers seat got both arms an his entire upper torso out of the window, gave us both fingers and yelled "Everybody hates every f'ing one of you!" as they drove by slowly. What was disappointing was that the car was very recognizable. I've seen it around town; a gold mid-nineties Taurus or Sable with some kind of bumper sticker about some "real pizza" place. I've eaten at Atlanta Bread Company when it was parked in the lot. These people are part of my community, my neighbors. Which of the rest of my neighbors have the same opinion?

My A group attempt failed on the second major climb. I have become disgustingly weak. I have zero depth. My weight is in the right range, but looking in the mirror I appear fluffier than I should for this weight. Have I actually lost muscle? I feel like I've suddenly gotten old, this year. Part of it was in my head too. When you're on the rivet, any little distraction will break you and I was mentally weak today. Like I said, today's beatdown was all about weakness. All around.

Also, I got more of the same treatment by drivers on the way home.

This kind of thing comes and goes though. Today it was here, maybe tomorrow it will have gone. It's hard to say.

One day at a time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Buford Hatchery, Windermere Park and Big Creek Greenway

I spent all day yesterday hanging out with the girls. We got up kind of mid-morning. I had to actually wake Iz up, which I can't ever remember doing before. She'll be a teenager before terribly long. Maybe that had something to do with it.

We grabbed some lunch and tried to catch some fish at the pond. The girls caught 4 fun-sized bluegill each.

 Iz Fish

 Sophie Fish

The beef jerky doesn't seem to work any more. Hot dogs still do though. They family next to us caught an enormous catfish like the one Kathryn pulled in last year. I caught nothing.

Next, we picked up Isabel's friend Madison and went to Windermere Park to kick the soccer ball around for an hour or so.


It was about 97 degrees out though, and nobody was really into running around in the sun for much longer than that.

We'd grabbed Maddie's bike when we picked her up though, so our next stop was the Greenway.

 Biker Chicks

It was still hot, but we had plenty of water, we were moving, and the greenway is almost entirely shaded by that greenery from whence it is named.

Sophie led. We were really moving. She's gotten much faster and much stronger. She climbed every hill, rolled every downhill and never had to walk.

 Roll Out

We made extremely good time to the southern end by Big Creek Park. We saw several deer, including a spotted fawn but we didn't see as many people as usual.

Perhaps the weather had something to do with that. Despite checking both the weather forecast, which called for a 10% chance of rain all day, and the map, which showed no storms or rain or anything, by the time we got there, the sky was dark and threatening, and the wind was whipping the trees around like mad.

Normally the girls want to take a break at the end there, but they weren't the least bit interested with all that weather moving in.

Sophie was still leading, and actually pushing the pace for once. Then she saw this snake, crossing the trail...

 Eastern King Snake

"Aaah! Snake!" and then she really took off. It was cool watching the girls dodging it. They were riding about 1 bike length apart and moving pretty fast, then they all swooped to the left and back straight again. It looked like all pro like mountain bikers swinging through a turn or roadies dodging debris in the road. Yes.

I could tell right away that it was a king snake, so we stopped though to take a look at it. It was intent on getting across the road though, so we didn't get to see it for long.

The sky got darker, the wind picked up and we picked up the pace even more.

 Weather Moving In

About 1/3rd of the way back it started actually raining.

 Riding in the Rain

It's such a crapshoot how the girls will react to getting caught in the rain. Sometimes it's the worst thing ever, sometimes its the greatest thing ever, you just never know. Yesterday, it was pretty good. They laughed about it and made jokes and sang and had fun with it. I think it helped that it wasn't absolutely torrential. About two miles out from the car, Sophie'd started to complain a little, but I think it was more because she'd been up on the front than because of the rain. It's lonely up front, especially in bad conditions, you can't see anyone behind you, it's hard to talk to anyone because you're facing the wrong way. Poor little girl. I rode up next to her.

"How are you doing Sophie?"

Smiling: "Great! No, wait, terrible! Horrible! It's raining!"

"Too late, you said great. How can it be great and terrible, at the same time?"

We joked about that for a while. Mainly, she'd left her gloves at home, had to grip extra hard with her wet, ungloved hands and her fingers were getting sore and tired. Yeah, I've been there sister. Fortunately we weren't too far out at that point, and I rode next to her the rest of the way in, which seemed to help her morale. She even smiled.

It had stopped raining when we got back, and I had a camp towel that everybody dried off with. In the end, the rain wasn't that bad. It was just a bit of an adventure.

We grabbed some dinner at Summit's Wayside Tavern and everybody crashed out when we got home. Not a bad day. Maybe next weekend though, I'll remember that it rains EVERY afternoon, and we can get an earlier start.

Dry Creek

This past Saturday I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Dry Creek trail system in Northwest Georgia. If you ride mountain bikes up there much, Dry Creek (AKA East Amurchee Creek) is that last creek that you cross before collapsing of exhaustion at East Amurchee Road, or alternatively that first creek you cross, that is invariably mid-thigh deep and anything but dry, when riding the Snake Creek Gap Time Trial. The trails more or less encircle the creek in concentric loops between Johns Mountain and East Amurchee Road. There are about 30 miles in the system plus a couple more from the connecting Pinhoti and maybe 10 miles of gravel roads too. I'd seen rough maps of it before, and always just thought of it as a few trails tacked onto the end of the Pinhoti. I had no idea that there were that many miles in the system. If it hasn't already, it's bound to become a destination itself.

The event drew a variety of participants; the Backcountry Horsemen of Northwest Georgia, The Pinhoti Trail Association, The Cherokee County Saddle Club...

 Cherokee County Saddle Club


 Sorba Outback

...of course the USFS...

 USFS Truck

...and several other groups that I can't remember the names of.

I've parked at the Dry Creek lot a few times and started a half dozen Snake Creek Gap TT's from there over the years, but I've never seen it so full.

 Dry Creek Lot

Standing room only.

I imagine going forward, it'll see quite a bit more use than it has.

There were horses everywhere and it made me wish I knew how to ride.


I mean really ride, with the same confidence I have on a bike or on foot. I've been on escorted trail rides at Pine Mountain before but no reasonable person should trust me with their horse on my own. I'd be like Ichabod Crane on Gunpowder. It wouldn't be pretty.

There were bikes everywhere too, but I've got one of those, and though I was antsy to get out on the trail on mine, it wasn't quite the same. It was a lot like the feeling you get volunteering at a race. It's familiar, so you feel excited but then you also feel left out when you remember that you're not riding. Aaah, It's hard to explain.

Everybody kind of milled around for a while and chatted. I ran into a bunch of people that I knew from all kinds of odd things we've done together - not just cycling, but FS meetings, Bull/Jake work and even a few equestrians that I recognized from running into them with my brother while bikepacking the Pinhoti, years ago. I met some new folks too, like Larry Wheat of BCHNG and Conrad Fernandez of NWGA Sorba. Larry is probably the individual most directly responsible for getting the system built. I'd read about him, but it was really cool to meet him directly.

I also met some of my Facebook friends in real life for the first time. Ha! What a world. Technology!

Eventually we got down to business. Michele Jones and George Bain from the USFS introduced everyone and said some words, Conrad from SORBA and Rick Moon from the Pinhoti Trail Association followed them. Larry Wheat closed, describing the history of the trail system and the collaborative effort it took to get it built.

Then there was the ceremonial ribbon cutting itself, fittingly accomplished with loppers.

 Dry Creek Ribbon Cuttong

And, voila! The system was officially open.

It had apparently been a long time coming too. The whole area had historically been ridden, but around 2005, Larry approached the USFS with the idea of turning it into a formal, sustainable trail system. At the time, there was a moratorium on new trails. They were allowed to flag the system but there were no promises that it would ever get built. Hoping it would work out though, they flagged it, and after several years, a few rounds of adjustments, and the end of the moratorium, construction began, and today we have a professionally designed and built, multi-use trail system offering a variety of riding and hiking experiences through some fairly diverse terrain.

Excellent, lets ride! People took off in every direction.

For those that stayed behind, Larry led a short workshop with the help of some folks from an endurance riding organization that I unfortunately failed to get the name of. They gave us all kinds of good information about bike-horse interaction, most of which I'd actually picked up over the years, but some of which was even new to me.

Everybody knows bikes yield to equestrians, but what exactly should this yielding entail? Ahh, good question, right?

Commonly, when a mountain biker encounters a group of equestrians, the most intuitive thing to do is stop, dismount, step off trial, and wait, quietly while the horses pass. For that matter, hikers often do the same thing, minus the dismount. While intuitive, this is not the most ideal thing to do. Bikes, helmets, backpacks and odd colors make it tough for a horse to identify you as human and any large, unidentified thing is potentially a predator, especially if it's waiting silently, and even more especially if it's on the upslope where a predator would typically attack from. Sometimes all this confusion can trigger a horse's instinct to flee first and figure out why later, especially a young horse that's not in a group of other horses. Riders typically have good control over their animals, but there's a limit to how much control one can truly have over an independent mind.

Ideally, a bike rider should announce themselves like "Hello there!" or something similar whenever they see the horses, then keep talking and moving and stay on the downslope side if you're on a trail. It's reasonable to dismount if the trail is narrow, but it's OK to pass without dismounting if there's enough space, like on a road, and everything seems to be cool. The horse is way more likely to identify someone doing these things as human, especially the talking part, as a human voice is a really good indicator that the speaker is, in fact, human. If the horse is getting nervous, the rider will give further instructions.

What was really funny, but also really drove home the point, was that during some demonstrations of how to pass, the horses could clearly care less about the bikes riding by them, but were clearly preoccupied with the throng of bikes and riders standing silently off to the side, watching. We all got a pretty good laugh out of that.

Larry's horse though, seriously didn't care one way or another about any bikes or crazy looking people and just wanted everyone to pet him.

 Horses and Bikes

While there's all this teaching going on, somebody needs to teach a class on how to pet a horse too, or at least teach me. I've always heard that they love being petted on the face and I've also always heard that they absolutely despise being petted on the face. They always seem to stick their face out when they want a pat, and sometimes they really smash their face into your hand like a cat does, but I'm always nervous about doing it. Seriously, a class on that would be great.

Festivities concluded, I was ready to actually ride.

Saddle up.

I had like 50 opportunities to get a good photo of Larry, but for some reason, this was the only one I got where he wasn't looking down or away.

 Larry Wheat

While I'm taking all these classes, I could apparently use a photography class as well.

I joined a group with Conrad and James Stankowitz. I met James way back when I first found out about the Pinhoti and both read and heard about how instrumental he's been in Pinhoti developments over the years. It was a bit of a privilege to finally get to ride with him.

 Group Ride Start

We headed out on the Amurchee Creek Trail, looped around to the Dry Creek Trail...

 Group Ride on Dry Creek Trail

...which is has fairly unusual scenery for Georgia. The soil appeared to be made of crumbled up marble or something and they'd done a controlled burn up there a while back which created major growth in the understory and provided a good view of the valley.

 Controlled Burn Vista

It looked like maybe the entire mountain had been logged and replanted exclusively with pine, but since the burn, poplar, various oaks and sassafrass have exploded out everywhere. It'll be interesting to watch that grow in over the next few years.

A lot of the trails still had that "I just built this" kind of feel to them, but they rolled and flowed and when they really get ridden in, it's going to be fast and fun.

We rode about 9 miles and took a break in the creek by the road.

 Creek Break

I went out by myself for another 15 or so afterwards to check out some different trails. The first one to took, aptly named Creekside, immediately crossed this creek...

 Rock Formation Across Creek

...which I had to wade through, almost waist deep with my bike on my shoulder.

Exhilarating? Maybe. Definitely cold.

From there I took the Wheat Trail north, ran into the group led by its namesake on the way back south, then took the part of Amurchee Creek that we didn't hit earlier and rode most of Loblolly. The trails looked great, but they were a little bumpy, and apparently not all of the carsonite signs have been put up yet. I saw a few of them lying along the trail here and there, and I got a little lost looking for the southern end of Loblolly, ended up climbing a super steep hill before turning around, finding the actual trail and re-climbing the same hill along a much easier route.

One thing that was kind of a drag was literally every creek crossing, however remote, was freshly armored with gravel.

 Gravel Armoring

This is great for sustainability, but until it gets packed in, it's virtually impossible to carry any speed through or climb out of on a bike. Again though, it's temporary. I've seen the same thing on a dozen trails. In a year, it'll be perfect.

I think that's my take on the whole system. It looks really good, it's a little rough now, but in a year, it'll be perfect.

I rode until the batteries on my GPS wore out, then packed it in and called it a day. It took all day, but I only managed to ride about 2/3rds of the trails. I guess that's good, it saves something for next time. I'm already looking forward to going back.

Friday, June 24, 2011

McGinnis Ferry

In an attempt to reprise yesterday's good ride, I rode out to Suwanee again today. This time I rode out across Buford Dam rather than down Hwy 20. Longer, but decidedly less stressful.

I spun a loop around Sims Lake on the way out. There were only 2 cars in the parking lot and only 4 people total in the entire park, aside from me.

Eventually I got to Old Downtown Suwanee...


...and searched high and low for a connector trail that was supposed to lead from there over to McGinnis Ferry Road. There was none to be found, so I just took Hwy 23 over and found it from the other end. Turns out if I'd just gone up the road a little further... Isn't it always like that?

I wanted to see how far the McGinnis Ferry Road trail went in either direction. It turns out, not very far, though it ties into a bike lane on Hwy 141 on the north end, so there's probably some kind of a loop I could make out of that some day. The trail just follows the road, on the north side, so if you're heading east, you can be flying downhill, facing traffic, which is moving at highway speeds. It's actually kind of unnerving. I mean, I know that I'm not out in the road, but some part of my brain just couldn't totally trust that.

Yesterday I'd seen a little trail around Berry Lake and today I spun a loop around it. It was really fun, with several dips and bridges. Scenic too.

 Berry Lake

But, alas, the sign at the OTHER end of the trail was disappointing.

 Walking Trail

Walking trail. I knew it was too fun to be legal. Why the sign at only one end? And why at the end opposite the greenway where bike traffic is most likely to come from? The world may never know.

Heading back, the weather started moving in.


Seems like that's the plan these days. Around 6 it starts raining, every day. When I was a kid that used to happen in Baton Rouge all summer. My teacher said all day the sun evaporates water and it rises and rises, then in the afternoon it cools off suddenly and the air can no longer hold the water vapor in solution. Clouds form and rain follows. I have no idea if that's true. In high school, I learned that the colder a gas is, the MORE it can hold in solution. Science. Even if it is true, then it must all be evaporating over Alabama and raining in Georgia, because all the storms in Georgia roll in from the west.

I ride in the rain all the time, but after watching nonstop lightning in the direction I needed to go for the entire time I waited at a crosswalk, I figured I'd call Kathryn to pick me up. Turned out she was on her way to the store, had noticed the weather, and had taken my car, just in case I called. She deserved multiple high-fives for such an impressive level of proactivity. Is that a word? Proactivity? Spell-check doesn't like it. Hmmm.

Today's ride wasn't as good as yesterday's, but it was still pretty good. My cardio has caught up with my legs. I can climb as hard as I want without fear of getting winded. My legs might give out, but my lungs wont, at least not easily. Much better than the other way around. Maybe I'll be able to hang on next weeks group ride. Maybe I won't suck at the next race.

Suwanee Greenway

I had a pretty decent road ride today. Yesterday's group ride got rained out, so I needed one and I wasn't disappointed.

I left around 4, hoping to ride for a couple of hours, headed south towards Suwanee, braving the traffic along Hwy 20, especially where it crosses the Chattahoochee, and after a few confusing turns, ended up on the Suwanee Greenway.

 Suwanee Creek Greenway Pavement

I'd been meaning to get out there and check it out to see if the kids would enjoy it, but also because a long time ago I got a GPS track of it from my buddy Tim that I couldn't make heads or tails of. At both ends there are parks and without any reliable maps online, I couldn't tell where the Greenway trail ended and the little trails around the parks began. Were they paved or dirt, singletrack or old roadbeds? I must know. It's important.

The greenway itself was much narrower and much twistier than I expected, and after all the rain we've had recently and all the boardwalk sections, much slipperier too.

 Suwanee Creek Greenway Boardwalk

Unlike Big Creek, you don't get a bunch of good views of Suwanee Creek, but it wasn't entirely without its charm. There was a cute little covered bridge.

 Covered Bridge

And you don't get too many waterfalls in metro Atlanta, so I'll go ahead and call this a waterfall:

 Urban Waterfall

I rode south all the way to Suwanee Creek Park.

 Suwanee Creek Park Sign

Since I took every little side trail there was, I ended up passing the same joggers about 5 or 6 times each, which must have been both confusing and annoying.

At the southern end, I was able to decipher the trails and when I got back home, Tim's GPS data made sense. There was bridge construction going on at the northern end, so I didn't get to explore George Pierce Park at all, but that's probably just as well. There are dirt trails up there and with all the rain we've had recently, my road bike probably wouldn't have worked so well. Something for next time.

Instead I rolled through "new" downtown Suwanee. There was some kind of festival winding down when I got there.

 Suwanee City Park

And there were strange sculptures around the perimeter of the park. This one, for example, was interesting.

 Prayer Booth

What's really funny is that I rode up on it from behind, didn't see the tag, didn't realize it was art and thought it was really a prayer booth a la THX 1138. I was kind of relieved to discover that it wasn't. I guess it's making a statement about how prayer can become routine and mechanical or maybe about the commercialization of church. Or maybe I totally missed the point. There were other sculptures that I understood even less, but they looked cool.

It was getting late, so I had to book it back home. I never realized before that it's basically one long descent from Suwanee to Hwy 20 and then one long climb to my house from the river. I definitely noticed today.

It was a great ride. I'll have to do something like it again when it's been dry for a few days and check out George Pierce Park. Hopefully my road tires can handle the dirt.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Blankets Creek

Blankets Creek was the first trail I ever rode in Georgia. That was back in 2000 when I first moved here. Since then, I've ridden probably a thousand miles there and watched it grow and grow. Yesterday I realized that I've been there 3 or 4 times in the last year, but only with my kids. I couldn't even remember the last time I rode the grown-up trails. Between that and the sort-of-nearby, relatively new, unridden-by-me Rope Mill trails, Blankets seemed like the right place to ride yesterday morning.

In truth though, I was still kind of tired from that ridiculous hike on Saturday and I didn't want to hammer myself into the ground. Also, I kind of wanted to hang out with some friends, maybe more that even than just ride. My brother had called that morning, so he was in. I tried to collect up some other folks but everybody else was previously engaged, mainly with Father's Day stuff. I even put out a last minute "somebody come ride with me" on Facebook but got no takers.

It took a monumental effort for my brother to meet me. His front tire wouldn't hold air and it took him all morning to get it fixed. Between that and just general difficulty getting out of the house, he met me at 4:30 and not 5 minutes later realized he'd left his helmet at home, in Douglasville, over an hour away.

He'd been wanting to get a new helmet anyway, so we headed over to Outspoken Bikes where they had the exact helmet he wanted, but in blue. If it had been any other color, he'd have bought it, but it didn't match a stitch of clothing he owned and if one is dropping $250 on a helmet, one would like to not hate the way it looks. He tried on every other helmet in the store. None fit but that one. Eventually he just gave up, dropped me back at the trail and headed home.

I spun a big loop. There's a new section on the Dwelling Trail with some jumps. The old fire road climb has become a downhill run with even bigger jumps. There were a couple of new log-rides. The recent storms had left their mark in a few places; downed trees and a couple of washed out downhills.

It wasn't that much fun; not that the trails there aren't fun, but my heart just wasn't in it. I'd originally planned on riding Blankets then heading over to Rope Mill on the road and riding there too, but when I got back to the car, it was already 7:45 and I just couldn't motivate myself to do it. Lame.

I didn't even take any pictures.

I'm tired these days. Not your average tired either; some kind of long, deep tired; the kind where you're preoccupied with how tired you are. Nothing seems all that much fun. Even things that I normally love. What a drag. I hope I can kick this soon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

McGinnis Ferry

The Jackson County Brevet was today. Last night I thought hard about riding it. The route is great, but last year I didn't have that great a time and last week I nearly rode a century on my own. Plus it was supposed to rain later. Yeah, maybe next year.

I've been wanting to go for a long walk for a while, and today that seemed like the right thing to do. Specifically, I wanted to see if there were any trails between Settles Bridge and McGinnis Ferry Road along the Chattahoochee river.

I grabbed some brunch at the Dutch Monkey and drove down to McGinnis Ferry Road. There was a bunch of construction going on, no obvious trailhead and some houses really close to the river. It was clearly the wrong end to start at. So I headed north and started at the right end.

Settles Bridge:

 Settles Bridge

The girls and I have been all over that unit. We know it well. This time of year, it's infested with ticks. This weed covers the ground and encroaches on every trail, everywhere:

 Tick Weed

I don't know what it is, but there are 1000 ticks per leaf of it. Somebody tell me what it is. To me, it's tick weed.

I headed south as quickly as possible and before I knew it I was back at the chasm that had stopped the girls and I last time.

 Yawning Chasm

It was tricky, but I managed to cross it. The woods on the other side didn't get much traffic. There were no trails. There weren't even any "trails." Here and there it looked like people, or maybe just animals, went that way sometimes, but the woods was fairly open and it didn't take a lot of effort to get through it.

I spooked a few deer lying down in the tick weed. When they jumped up and took off and it kind of freaked me out. I've never seen deer lying down like that and I didn't expect such a big animal to emerge from the foliage.

There were quite a few deer in that area. One let me get fairly close and take a semi-decent photo.


There were also several turtles.

 Turtle 1

With last weeks storms, it was cooler than it's been when I got started, but as the day ran on, it got a lot warmer. My clothes were soaked and sticking to me. I'd had to push through some brush and I was covered in bugs and little bits of debris, not to mention dirt and mud from climbing in and out of various ravines. It reminded me of a certain off-color line from a certain Pantera song. Suffice it say, I was filthy and feeling pretty satisfied with that.

That sunburn from last week was giving me a little trouble though. My arm sweat was getting bound up and barely doing it's job. Bubble skin:

 Bubble Skin


At Level Creek I encountered this balance-beam playground.

 Balance Beam Playground

If I wanted to keep my feet dry, I had to walk back and forth, log to log, from one side to the other. Iz would have laughed at my hesitation, but I am no gymnast. Plus, there was a half inch thick layer of mud on every log that caked up on the bottom of my shoes, making them heavier and more oddly shaped with every step. I made it though, and stayed dry.

The next section was slightly more heavily travelled than the previous. I managed to get on a "trail" right away. There were a few points of interest too.

This might be a waterfall if it's raining.

 Dry Falls

And after virtually crawling down a worn-in sidehill covered with what I think is Autumn Olive for a quarter mile, I found this nice little overlook.


It's hard to see in the photo, but there's a cliff and a big rock affording a view over the cliff with the river about 20 or 30 feet below. I haven't seen anything else like that 'round these parts. Nice.

Not too far after that, I ran into some real trails. By "real" I mean they were clearly built and there were even interpretive signs describing local wildlife. According to the sign, I'd seen muskrat prints earlier in the mud along the river.

Unfortunately there were no signs describing the plants. There is tremendous diversity in the flora along the Chattahoochee River. I recognize most of the trees, at least the ones that grow to any decent height, but the weeds and little scrubby stuff... Pfft. Right. No idea. At least for most of it. There is some obvious stuff - river cane, may apple, yucca, christmas ferns... But in a 20x20 foot square, there's got to be 40 different species of stuff growing on the ground and I don't know what most of it is. It's stratified too. For a mile or two you see mostly one thing, then later it's mostly something else, then later still, back to the first thing.

That area was dominated by this stuff:

 Alternate Hickory Thing

My first thought was "some kind of hickory" but I'm not aware of any alternate leaved hickory. What is this? It's everywhere.

The trail led directly to another ravine, which had recently suffered an impressive washout.


The old bridge lay in a pile on the other side.

 Old Bridge Pile

There was a pile of materials that would become a new bridge too.

 New Bridge Pile

And not much further up was a recently completed new bridge over the next ravine.

 New Bridge

They may have finished it earlier that day. The boards smelled like they'd just been cut and they were still a little slippery. It totally had that just-made feel to it.

The trails there were well developed compared to what I'd been pushing through all day.

 Wide Trail

There was even a rope swing.

 Rope Swing

And a beach.


The beach wasn't really part of the development, it was just the inside of a bend in the river. Standing there, I remembered learning in 5th grade that you get erosion on the outside of a bend and deposition on the inside. I guess my teacher knew what she was talking about.

There was yucca.


Lots of yucca.

And snakes.

 Black Racer 1

That one's a Black Racer. Probably my favorite snake. They like to lie up on top of stuff.

I checked out a bunch of little side trails. They mostly led to some field at the back of some neighborhood. This time of year, I like it when I find a field because all along the edge, there are blackberries.

 Blackberry Snack

They were delicious.

One of the side trails led to a bridge, but the bridge was out.

 Bridge Out

I was unmotivated to cross that ravine. It was deep, and I'd have ended up going in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. Maybe next time.

I found an old well.

 Turtle 3

I think that's an old well.

That was the end of the clean trail. From there on, there were vague hints of trails, promises of trails, rumors of trails but no actual trails. The brush got denser and denser.

The turtles increased in frequency.

 Turtle 2

 Turtle 4

As did the dangers.

 Pungi Stick

That's a punji stick - river cane, cut at a sharp angle at ankle height. I stepped directly onto it. Thank you Keen, for your tough rubber soles. I love you.

The brush kept getting denser and denser and I the only decent route through it was pretty far away from the river. Near yet another ravine, I found a path down the bank and took a break on this little shoal.



I washed my filthy hands and face in the freezing cold river and ate peanut butter granola. It was the first break all day and I didn't realize how tired or hungry I was. I thought hard about whether I should keep going or turn back. I hadn't looked at the map all day. It's such a straight shot downstream, there wasn't much point. But as such, I hadn't been keeping good track of where I was. I took a look there though, and it didn't seem like I was very far. Ok, onward.

I found another black racer.

 Black Racer 2

Favorite snake.

Further up, there was an exceptionally difficult ravine crossing that I ended up sliding most of the way down into. Yet another black racer was climbing out up a nearly vertical wall. Without seeing it, I wouldn't have guessed a snake could climb something that steep. Unfortunately it was too far away to get a good photo of it and the ground was too sketchy to get closer.

I had to do some real Dave vs. Wild stuff to get myself out. I couldn't find a way up except by climbing up the branches of a tree that had grown sideways out of the bank. It worked, but it was quite a challenge.

And, after all that effort, disappointment. Not 20 feet from the bank was somebody's backyard. Or maybe not their backyard, but some mowed, grassy clearing with a shed or something in it. I didn't see any markers or bearing trees. I hadn't seen any signs and I hadn't crossed any fences. My map showed a NRA buffer zone around the river all the way to McGinnis Ferry Road. Had I stumbled onto private property? I stayed as close as possible to the ravine and headed to the river. It was dense and impassible down there. I had two options - walk through some dudes yard or walk in the river itself.

I walked in the river. For a while, there were a bunch of logs that I could walk on, and here and there I could walk on the bank in only an inch or so of water, but eventually I was up to my knees. It was surprisingly warm. It had been freezing back at the shoal. Why was it so warm now?

If anyone had passed by in a boat, I'm not sure what they would have thought.

I came around a bend and I could see the McGinnis Ferry bridge, but there was a big rock in my way and I'd have been swimming if I tried to go around it.

 Rock Blockage

It took a bit more Dave vs. Wild action to get over the rock but I managed it, and picked up a "trail" for a while on the other side. There were houses up the hill. I could see their fences, but I got back in the river as soon as I could.

At last.

 McGinnis Ferry Bridge

Getting up out of the river there was a serious challenge. In antiquity, there had been a ferry there, or at least, nearby, presumably owned and/or operated by the McGinnis's. I'm guessing that when they built the bridge, they back-filled the bank. I can't imagine anyone climbing down to get to the ferry. The bank was near-vertical and densely vegetated. I tried to get into the rip-rap under the bridge, but the water was just too deep. I just had to go slowly and work my way up, one step at a time.

Up top, I was in the middle of the construction I'd seen earlier.

They're widening the road and building a new bridge.

 New Bridge Construction

It's nice to see. Traffic is terrible through there.

Just up the road, I stopped at the QuickTrip.


I imagine I was a sight - very dirty. This photo doesn't really capture it.

 Filthy Dave

Kirk has suggested that I burn that shirt. I might have to. It's my favorite shirt, but it doesn't really get clean any more.

For all intents and purposes, I was in the middle of town. The intersection was McGinnis Ferry and Peachtree Industrial. I wondered if people thought I was homeless. If they saw them, the iPhone and GPS might have made them second guess that, but still, why was I so dirty? Maybe I'd been doing yardwork, but then why the backpack, what's that tube sticking out of it, and why did I walk in? Yes. Mass confusion.

I grabbed some Doritos, M&M's and a Coke, sat down on the curb out front, feasted and evaluated my situation. It was a long way back up river to the real woods and a lot of bushwhacking once I was there. There was a storm coming in too. It had taken almost 5 hours to get to where I was and I only had 3 and a half hours of daylight left. All signs pointed to taking the roads back. It was longer but I could go a lot faster, it would be less dangerous and there would be more opportunities for shelter if it started hailing like it did last week.

Sidewalks it was.

And it looked like the right decision.

 Storm Approaching

The storm moved in quickly and struck furiously. I almost lost my hat a few times. It wasn't cold though. Trees went down left and right. One took out a powerline on Suwanee Dam Road...

 Downed Power Lines

...forcing a detour through North Gwinnett High.

 North Gwinnett High Stadium

Go Bulldogs.

The pavement was tough on my feet but I felt a lot better about staying out of the woods after seeing all of the downed trees. I made it back to the car in three hours. The whole trek had lasted about 7 and a half hours. I'm not sure of the distance.

It was a weird day: difficult terrain for how flat it was; lots of off-trail hiking but no actual navigation; I got way dirtier than I usually do; I walked in a river; and all in the middle of town.

Back at home I found several ticks. Including one on my shoulder. I love ticks.

What a day. Weird hike. Bad weather. The bad weather left this gift behind though. A beautiful sunset.