Monday, August 1, 2011

Arabia Mountain Trail

Yesterday morning, I woke up and asked the girls what they wanted to do today. "Ride bikes" was Isabel's idea. Sophie agreed. Isabel's friend Madison, who'd spent the night, was all about it too.

Ok. We're riding bikes. But where? The Greenway is great, but we took Maddie there last time. We rode the Silver Comet last weekend. Internet to the rescue.

It turned out there was a system in Lithonia with about 15 miles of trail and various points of interest along the way. Lithonia? I only vaguely even knew that name. Actually, I was confusing it with Livonia, Louisiana where Kathryn has some relatives. Lithonia, Georgia? Somewhere out by Stone Mountain? Yeah, kind of. Ok, whatever.

Click. Print. Pack. Go.

We looked for a trailhead in Lithonia proper, but there was none to be found. Instead, we ended up at Stonecrest Mall where the locals were unsure how to interact with us. We got a lot of confused looks and it was tricky crossing the street. No one meant us any harm, we were just strangely foreign.

It probably didn't help how I was dressed. If you think the lycra looks weird, replace the bib and jersey with the loose-fitting hiking equivalent, but leave the helmet, gloves and shoes the same and add an overstuffed camelback. It's a new level of weird - the uncanny divide; not quite one, not quite the other, too much of both, not enough of either.

We did manage to get on the trail though.

Our mission was clear.

Our team was strong.

 The Crew

It was go time.

The Arabia Mountain trail had many flavors.

Up toward Livonia it pretty much just followed the road and there was an underpass.

 Arabia Mtn - Underpass

It ended anonymously in some neighborhood on that end.

On the way back we passed the mall again.

 Stonecrest Mall and Big Sky

Georgia isn't known for being Big Sky Country, but man look at that!

Heading south, we passed through pastures...

 Arabia Mtn - Vaughters Farm


 Arabia Mtn - Woods


 Arabia Mtn - Boardwalk

exposed granite...

 Arabia Mtn - Exposed Granite

and covered bridges.

 Covered Bridge

Diversity is the only constant on the Arabia Mountain Trail.

The terrain was challenging to say the least. There were endless rollers, long, steep climbs that required switchbacks and long gradual climbs that just ate you up slowly.

I was stunned how many climbs Sophie made. She really impressed me. She just crushed the pedals and didn't quit. It helped that she finally figured out how to climb standing.

 Sophie Standing and Climbing

Iz looked comfortable on most of the climbs, but even she had to grind out a few of them. I'm buying Sophie a gear bike as soon as humanly possible.

So, we were just riding along and we rode up on this nature center...

 Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Center

I should have done more than 1 minute's worth of research before heading out there. The trail runs through a state park with 15 miles of hiking trails across a couple of actual mountains composed entirely of exposed granite, like miniature versions of Stone Mountain except that these have been turned into more of a preserve than an park.

We learned all of this at the nature center. 15 miles of trails on weird terrain? Yeah, we're going back, but maybe when it's a little cooler.

Speaking of which, we had the opportunity, so we drank and drank, then topped off our water bottles. If it wasn't 100 degrees, it was close.

The guy at the nature center told us about a "cascade" up the trail a bit and recommended we check it out. It turned out to be in a direction we'd planned on going anyway, so we added it to our list and got moving again.

Almost immediately though, we ran across a side trail that wasn't on the map.

Not one to leave a side trail unexplored, I insisted that we check it out.

It turned out to be one long boardwalk for what seemed like half a mile or more, and at the end, a Wildlife Center.

 Davidson-Arabia Mtn Wildlife Center

They had a bunch of rescued native animals there that they're caring for, like owls and hawks and an impressively docile and sleepy opossum.


He was really sweet and kicked his leg like a dog when the lady scratched him in the right spot. We weren't allowed to scratch him though. Like all the animals there, he was recovering from some kind of trauma; in his case, a head injury. It had left him prone to random outbursts in which he had been known to bite.

There are tours there at 1 and 3, but the 3-o'clock tour was just finishing up. What luck. I guess that's another reason to come back.

The side-trail had dead-ended at the wildlife center, so we started backtracking, and within 5 minutes, I had a flat.

My rear tire got a slice in it, literally the day after I put it on. It wasn't all the way through though, and I wasn't about to change a brand new tire, so I've been watching it and it's always looked fine. Today it looked a little sketchy though, so I brought some patches just in case. And it was a good thing too. A tiny little hole had finally worn through and it was just a matter of time before it blew.

A few minutes later we were back in business.

Directly up the main trail, we passed a strange stone building.

 Granite Building

It was clearly made from the granite quarried right next to it. The roof was gone. It had a big industrial, sliding front door. There was a similar building next to it, but they didn't connect. There were bars on the windows.

We joked that it was a jail, but figured that the bars were probably to keep people out, or to keep them from getting whatever was kept inside. There was an odd, sunken structure out front too. I'm sure somebody knows what the deal is. Maybe we'll find out on that nebulous day that I keep saying we'll be back on.

Jail or not, we took turns pretending we were in jail and we kept calling it "the jail."

 Me in Jail

 The Girls in Jail

If we thought the trail was tough before, it was just because we hadn't gone far enough yet. Just past the jail, there were a long series of switchbacks and grinders. Again, it was stunning what Sophie was able to climb.

And if the tough climbs weren't enough, it had also begun to rain.

 The Inevitable Rain

That makes sense. The last time we took Madison bike-riding with us it rained. It was only fitting that it would rain on us again. Nobody cared though. The rain wasn't all that hard, and by now, they're used to it.

At a tee in the trail, we hung a left and climbed up to an Elementary School. The climb must have been a half mile long or more, and eventually, Sophie had to walk, I think for the first time that day.

While waiting, we noticed this wet little lizard, just hanging out at our feet.

 Juvenile Lizard

We'd seen a bigger version of the same kind back at the jail. We weren't totally sure that this one was alive. It was completely still, even when we got close, but then when we got moving again, it darted away faster than I would have guessed it could move.

I relied on my urban survival training to locate shelter...

 Loading Dock Shelter

A loading dock.

We dried off a bit, had a snack and waited out the storm.


I was telling the girls... I can't even count the number of times I'd done exactly that as a teenager. We'd be out skating and it would be either super hot or about to rain, and we'd go around back of the building, if we weren't around back already, take shelter under the loading dock and possibly have some meagre snack, afforded by the dollar twenty-five we had between us. I have so many good memories like that. It was like the bike-on-the-roof from last week. It felt good to be adding another one to the pile, only this time with the girls.

After a half hour or so it quit raining and we got back on the trail.

Which basically was a mile-long downhill, followed by a mile or more of climbing, which eventually, all three had to walk.

 Long, Tough Climb

We had taken the fork that ended at Evans Mill Road. Allegedly, the "cascade" was nearby.

There was a picnic area, so we looked around there and found some interpretive signage. There had once been a mill on that site. All that remained now was part of the rock wall that had formed the dam and part of the basement.

 Evans Mill Rock Wall

The creek was just beyond.

 The Girls at the Creek

We waded in and explored.

Just downstream, it criscrossed a large granite shoal and poured down various rock faces.

 The Girls at Evans Mill Shoals

Perhaps it was the cascade of which the guy at the nature center had spoken.

I don't remember if it was Iz or Sophie who noticed it first, but there was a sweet natural water slide right there and they challenged me to slide down it. Of course, I did, which then motivated them to follow suit.

Sophie wasn't quite heavy enough for that line.

Madison was tempted, but didn't want to get soaked or really dirty, so she declined. That turned out to be the right decision.

For some reason, the right side of the video gets cropped if you view it embedded in the page, but if you go to You-Tube and watch the last few seconds of Sophie's slide, you can see Iz examining her shorts.

Seconds later, she exploded into a stamping, screaming fit: "there are bugs all over me, get them off get them off get them off!" and was nearly inconsolable. I learned a few weeks back how arachnophobic she has become. It would appear now that it extends to bugs, in general.

Her and legs, shorts and the bottom of her shirt were covered in macroinvertebrates - mainly some kind of fly nymph and tiny aquatic worms. They were gross, but harmless. I only know that from looking them up later though. At the time, I guessed that maybe that's what they were, but I wasn't really sure, so we spent some time getting them off.

If you go to some random stream in Georgia, find a rock and turn it over. There should be a good many of those little animals clinging to the underside. If there are not, then there could be a water quality problem. It's relative though, so you have to monitor it over time and/or compare it to a nearby stream that is known to have good quality water. The bugs and worms eat algae, dirt and plants, little fish eat the bugs and bigger fish eat the little fish, so they are the basis of the food chain. Various bugs are sensitive to various pollutants, including plain old dirt. A dearth of bugs is generally bad, though an excess of worms might indicate an organic pollutant. Bottom line though: you wipe out the bugs, you wipe out the fish.

I've swum and played in dozens of creeks, waterfalls and shoals all over North Georgia. I've turned over rocks in every one of them and beheld their bug-ridden glory, but I've never gotten any of said bugs all over myself.

There were literally hundreds of them on Isabel and you couldn't just wash them off. They clung really well. I had to pick them off one-by-one. Sophie was covered too, but she was calm about it. "Oh yeah, I have them too." So I picked them off of Iz and Sophie picked them off of herself. We spent about 45 minutes doing this. For some reason, I had maybe 5 or 6 total on me. I've got to believe that there was some specific little spot that they both sat down in that was swarming with them. Maybe a little pool at the top with some mud in it, or maybe some moss that they ran into at the bottom that I missed. I looked carefully for more of them in the sand, and on the slopes and just generally in the water, but I couldn't find them anywhere. No idea.

It didn't occur to me to take a photo until we were almost done picking them off, but here are a few that were left on Sophie's skort, near the end:



If it's not ticks, it's fly nymphs and worms. Fortunately, there were no leeches. That had been my first thought. I was really glad there were no leeches. Bugs and blood might have been a bit much.

The ride back was relatively uneventful. It also seemed much shorter because we skipped the side trails and didn't stop much except to drink.

I added it up back at the house. We turned about 20 miles. It took us about 5 and a half hours, but that included hanging out at the nature centers, waiting out the storm and managing The Infestation. Especially given the terrain, it was almost epic. Not quite, but almost.

I'd like to say "It was a top notch, crazy adventure day with the kids!" but I cannot in good conscience declare it to have been. I mean, yeah, we did some really cool stuff and later we all agreed on the coolness of said stuff: "Remeber those bugs? Waaah!" But all day, Iz and Sophie were locked in an endless struggle to be the center of attention and almost nothing kills a good time faster than that.

When Iz has a friend over, Sophie gets jealous if they don't include her in everything, Iz gets jealous if they don't exclude Sophie from everything and they end up competing for attention in every conceivable way and each tries to sabotage the other in some clever way that they can later argue wasn't against the "rules."

Yeah, kids are like that sometimes. In small doses, it's no a big deal, but given enough time it adds up to "unless I'm the center of attention I'm going to distract everyone else from the fun they might otherwise have with all kinds of antics" and you get what we had here last week. It wouldn't have been that big of a deal, but it got to where they were so preoccupied with getting attention that it distracted them from being safe. They both almost took out my front wheel, multiple times each, not to mention each others' and the intentional lagging behind at intersections led to more than one case where a driver got confused and thought the last girl was staying behind, only to have her finally start running across the street whining "Waaaaait." In retrospect, I'm pretty sure that's why they were acting so unsafely up on Yonah with Clark a few weeks back too. When attention is at stake, nothing else matters.

We had a long talk about it when we got home. But, they're young, and I imagine we'll have plenty more of those talks over the next few years.

So, aside from all that, it was a top-notch, crazy adventure day with the kids. We finished it off with some dinner at Doc Chey's and dropped Maddie off at like 9:30 at night. I hope that her folks don't have reservations about letting her stay over next time. I can only imagine her answer to: "So, what did you guys do today?"

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