Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Circumnavigation of Lake Lanier

The road is not my first love, but I certainly love the road. For the past few years, when the weather is warm and the days are long, I probably ride as much road as dirt, maybe even a little more. This year hasn't worked out that way though, and I've been missing the road, big time. I have gotten in a few good rides though, and some of them have led me up around the east side of Lake Lanier. During those rides, an idea occurred to me, though it didn't occur all at once. It crept up on me subtly over time, then one day it was clear.

I should ride all the way around Lake Lanier.

An artificial lake, Lanier is fed chiefly the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers and countless little creeks. There are several narrow spots up near where those rivers come in and you can cross them on bridges like Browns Bridge and Keith's Bridge. I wasn't having any of that bridge business though. Crossing there would not be riding around the lake, but rather across it and that wouldn't count. I wanted to ride far enough around that when I crossed water, a reasonable person would describe it as a river, not a lake, or if I crossed the lake at all, I wanted to be able to see the shore, all the way around. I don't know where those "rules" came from, but I felt compelled to follow them.

This morning, I woke up and it seemed like the right day to give it a try. I printed out a map real quick, but I didn't check the distance. I didn't even eat, I just got on my bike and started riding.

A few minutes later, it occurred to me that I should probably eat something, so I did grab some breakfast at the gas station down the street.



Little chocolate donuts fueled me across North Georgia. Jim Belushi swears by them. In eating them, I was assured of success.

I rolled across the dam and got a good view of the Chattahoochee where they quarried out the hillside to build the powerhouse.

 Chattahoochee at the Dam

That's the closest I got to the lake itself all day.

I made quick work of Buford Dam road, which didn't seem wavy at all today. I guess the pavement expands and contracts. Several great songs got stuck in my head - Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), All Along the Watchtower and Angel of Harlem. I even remember them now. It was warm, but I felt great.

Instead of taking McEver up into Gainesville, I hooked around through Flowery Branch; McEver crosses the lake. Flowery Branch grew up along the railroad like so many towns in Georgia and it's got the obligatory restored railroad depot, caboose and scenic historic town square.

 Flowery Branch

I love rolling through little towns like that. It's one of my favorite things about the road.

There were a couple of enticing restaurants up in there, and I was tempted but it was way too early in the ride to eat. I had a long way to go.

North of Flowery Branch I rolled through Gainesville and passed the furthest point I'd ever ridden in that direction. Gainesville has a historic downtown square too.


On the way in, I'd passed some guys unloading a cannon from their van. On the way back, they'd gotten a pair of them unloaded and assembled.

 Tiny Cannon

I stopped and asked the guy about it. It's a replica of an old cannon, but built using modern materials, and it's not just for show, it fires! There was a gun show going on and folks were walking by casually with a wide variety of weapons. I was the only one without a gun. It was a little surreal actually. It's not every day that you see that. I half wanted to go inside and look around, but there was no time for that, and I honestly couldn't imagine walking around in my kit and tap shoes at a gun show. It would be like antimatter. I was already dangerously close. If I'd gone inside the explosion would have killed us all.

Just north of Gainesville, I tanked up at a gas station and evaluated my options. I could stay on the main roads or follow the railroad and cut off several miles. There appeared to be some minor roads following the railroad, and the traffic would certainly be lighter. I went with that option.

It worked out for a while, but then I saw a familar sign: Pavement Ends.


I'm usually happy to see that sign, but today I felt a little underdressed with my Pro3 Race tires. The last time I took the road bike off of the road was down in Savannah last year and I double flatted and clogged my cleats with crushed limestone. That was a very different situation though. I felt OK about the gravel today, it worked out pretty well and it only lasted for a few miles anyway.

The next town was Lula. I could have skipped it and crossed the Chattahoochee on Hwy 52 but it looked a bit too lake-like on the map, plus I was running low on brain sugar and I could use some fuel.

Lula also grew up on the tracks, and it's got a train depot and a downtown too, but they aren't all cute and restored. They look like they've been in actual use since the 1800's.

 Lula Depot


I stopped at a grocery for some second breakfast.

 Second Breakfast

The sugar rush felt fantastic.

I guess the brain is like a light bulb, it just sits there but it sure uses a bunch of power. And it runs on blood sugar, so when in debt, the brain suffers way before the body. I usually lose focus, get phrases or songs, or parts of song stuck in there or get preoccupied trying to figure some odd thing out, get continually distracted and never figure it out. Worse, I notice how tough the climbs are or how hot it is, or whatever. If I try to keep those things from happening, I end up getting frustrated, which burns even more energy, so I've learned to just let my brain do it's weirdness and get some sugar when I can.

Just up the road, I noticed this wonderful fountain.

 Lula Fountain and Memorial

It was part of a war memorial, and the only thing in town that looked like it had been built in the last 50 years. It was getting really hot and I wanted to just lie down in the middle and cool off. If I'd been on the mountain bike, I might have, but it didn't seem right on the road bike. I'm not sure why.

North of Lula, I hung a left and eased on down to the Chattahoochee.


A family was dressed in swimwear and walking down to the river. I wanted to be swimming with them. It was like when you're racing and ride past somebody grilling in the pits. It's just not fair.

Climbing back up off the river was even less fair. Somebody had painted "Baby Brasstown" on the road and that about summed it up. I had to stand and grind all the way up. I don't think I'd have been able to move the pedals sitting down.

Every river and creek in that part of the world flows from north to south and I was heading west. As such, I had to climb over every little ridge in between them. That first climb was the worst. The rest were no picnic.

I passed North Hall High and Middle Schools.

 North Hall High

There are no cities or towns up there, just random gas stations, farms, the occasional neighborhood and those schools.

I did eventually hit Murraysville, which I'd never heard of before, stopped at a gas station and grabbed some lunch.


I say lunch, I have no idea what time it was. The lady behind the counter asked me where I was riding and how far it was. I had no idea about that either. I knew where I'd been and where I was going, but that was all. It seemed like I was a little over halfway around.

I applied some sunscreen there. Liberally. The sun had been working me over all day. I didn't feel burned yet, but it sneaks up on you. Sitting here now, I'm burned. I shouldn't have put some on before I left home.

Ironically, some clouds rolled in right then and it cooled off dramatically.

I kind of knew where I was. All I had left was to get to Dahlonega, or thereabouts, hang a left and follow 400 home.

The road was virtually straight between Murraysville and Hwy 400 and the rollers looked endless.

 Endless Rollers

It was net downhill, but I still had to climb about half of every one of those.

At Hwy 400, I looked carefully at the map. I couldn't just ride down 400, at least not all the way home. There were a dozen little roads criscrossing back and forth between here and there though, and it looked like if I jogged down 400 for a block or two, I could pick them up.

My brother called me right then too. He and Baldwin are planning on riding tomorrow and I was invited. I wondered if I'd have legs for that or not.

The weather was looking questionable, so I got going quickly when I hung up with him.

I crossed the Chestatee.


I've driven home from that exact spot dozens of times, maybe more than a hundred, and I've always looked out my window at it. It was weird standing there, looking at it in real life.

It's about 30 minutes to my house from there at highway speeds, but it took a lot longer on the bike. The maze of roads added a few extra miles too.

This was worth stopping for.

 My Way or the Highway

Clear enough. I bet she's popular around the holidays.

Suddenly, I started having trouble shifting. Ghost shifting, double shifting. What? Ohhh. Yeah. My cable was fraying. Definitely. I have this perpetual fear that I'll get way into some long ride, have some unrecoverable mechanical and have to do it all over again. It's happened a few times. I've come close a dozen times. This particular failure is usually manageable though. It doesn't usually pop right away.

Eventually I passed the furthest point I'd ridden out from the house in that direction before and started seeing some familiar sights. Sights like the outlet mall, from behind...

 Outlet Mall

I was getting tired, but my low blood sugar logic was telling me that since I'd ridden home from there before, it would be no problem to do it again.

As unrealistic as that logic is, it worked out just like that. I had no problem getting home. I kind of couldn't believe it. I didn't even cramp. I always cramp. Amazing!

I wish I knew how far I rode. However far it was, it took about 7 and a half hours. It felt "long" but the way I've been feeling lately, it was probably under 50 miles. I tried figuring it out on Google maps but I couldn't keep it from adding in little bits that I didn't ride. I'm smart.

I feel a lot better than I usually do after spending all day on the bike. The only things that don't feel good are my skin and my sit-bones. Maybe one day I remember to get a new seat. I keep meaning to. Maybe on that day, I'll also remember sunscreen.

(Update: It turns out it was about 97 miles. If I'd known, I'd have spun a few laps around town to make it an even 100.)

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