Monday, June 27, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. David, great write-up about the Dry Creek Grand Opening, especially the "de-sensitizing" info. We missed that session, and it's good to know the correct horse-encounter technique. Been doing it all wrong thinking I was doing it right. Nice finally meeting you. I've enjoyed the MTB info you've shared online and thoroughly enjoyed hearing Johnny and Norma relate anecdotes from your first trans-GA ride.

    Logan Boss
    Rome, GA