Monday, September 19, 2011

Ellijay Big Loop

My brother texted me yesterday, asking me if I wanted to ride at Bear Creek. We back-and-forthed a bit but it was really late when I finally got a when and where to meet him. Between having taken a nap earlier that day and having to stay up late to put a comforter in the dryer, I got over-tired, tossed and turned all night and got exactly zero seconds of sleep. I've been up late most days this week too, so I couldn't count on that got-good-sleep-2-nights-ago thing either. When the alarm went off, I stumbled around the house and eventually around town. It took most of the ride to Ellijay before my head felt right. Sometimes I can snap out of it but sometimes it just ends up being a long day. I was hoping for the former.

I met my bro on Gates Chapel Road and the first thing I noticed was that the brush along the road had grown into and 20 foot tall stand of Poplar since the last time I'd parked there. Had it really been that long? It seems like I've ridden up that way a dozen times over the past few years, but I guess I was always parked at Mulberry Gap or riding it as part of the TNGA. We were thinking back even. The last time we were both there together, we'd watched a pair of turkeys walk across the adjacent field with a brood of little turkey babies. That would have been impossible today.

Independent of the local foliage, we had a ride to get done and we hit the road quickly.

The weather was perfect. Blue sky, mid 60's, cool but not cold. Perfect.

It was an easy spin up to the Bear Creek Trailhead. I was feeling the lack of sleep but it wasn't killing me. I had it. Sometimes it's like that for a couple of hours though, then bam! Dead. I was encouraged but I wasn't confident yet.

At Tribble Mill a few weeks back, I'd had trouble with my rear derailleur. I'd forgotten about it, but as we pulled onto the Bear Creek Trail proper, it reared it's head again. I'd thought the cable might be frayed but it turned out that the cable had just slipped in the clamp. It took 5 minutes to diagnose and fix but it didn't give me any trouble after that.

John kind of pulled away a bit on Pinhoti 1.

 John on P1

I just didn't have much when it got sufficiently steep. The lack of sleep was a factor, but I was also having trouble with my right pedal. There was too much play in the spring and my foot kept popping out. I even have a new set but once again, I forgot to change them. Come on! It was manageable but it had to be managed.

The climbs on P2 aren't as steep and it was easier to keep up.

 John on P2

The descent on P2 delivered, as usual, retaining it's spot as my favorite downhill in the area. The frere kept pulling away from me though. Nobody can catch him on good descent these days. Maybe Chris Brown. Nobody else that I know. I'm not sure if he's faster now or I'm slower. Either way, I had to put it down on the climbs to keep him in sight.

We hung a right on Conasauga Road and rolled past Mulberry Gap. Having spent a few days up there recently, it felt weird not to stop. If we rolled up in there though, we'd probably end up sitting down and eating something and talking to people for an hour. As great as that would be, we had a long way to go, we were feeling good and we really wanted to keep moving.

The run along Holly Creek was gorgeous. I wish I could have gotten a better photo of it.

 Holly Creek

John showed me two different swimming holes that he'd been to before. We declined today. It was warmer that when we started but it's got to be in the 90's for a swim in a North Georgia creek.

On CCC Camp road we were treated to some scenic views of Fort Mountain and the northern ring of the Cohuttas.

 Fort Mountain

So far it has been easy and fun, and I hadn't hit the wall. The tough part was coming though. I wasn't exactly worried but it definitely kept coming to mind.

We hung a left on 208 and rolled up to the Windy Gap Lot. John took a few minutes to stretch. I took a few minutes to use the facilities. There were a couple of trucks in the lot. On had a sticker on the back glass indicating that its owner was a bow hunter. It's bow season now. I usually stay out of the woods for the first week of each major season altogether and out of the woods until after 10 AM for the rest of the season. It's past the first week now though and it was way past 10 AM. I figured we might see them on the way out.

The climb up lower Windy Gap was tough but not as tough as I remembered. For a while I even had it in the middle ring.

We passed through a section that's recovering from some old tornado damage and it yielded a great view of Fort Mountain and the Mill Creek Valley.

 View From Windy Gap Trail

Eventually I had to abandon the middle ring and my bro pulled ahead for a while, but he pushed it too hard and I caught him just short of Milma. Haha! Sometimes the turtle wins the race.

We did pass a guy and his son on an ATV, heading back from an apparently unsuccessful hunt. I don't imagine this will be good year for deer. There's been a coyote explosion and they've been preying on fawns. I even saw a photo of a coyote carrying one off on the cover of this month's Georgia Outdoor News magazine. It's crazy.

Milma was easier than I remembered too. It's been years since I rode it in that direction. Somewhere on the Sorba website there's some description of Windy Gap and Milma where they refer to them as gentle rolling hills or something like that. I used to laugh at that description. Clearly whoever wrote it hadn't actually ridden the trails. Today though, Milma did feel like gentle rolling hills and we carried and flowed.

 Climbing on Milma

At the end of Milma though, there's Tibbs.

 Milma/Tibbs Sign



Tibbs is very steep, and 90% of it is either shifty, loose boulders, half buried in sand or exposed shelves of rock. You're either picking your way through something or yanking your way over something, all the way up. I've done it a dozen times and it's always hard. Today though, for the first time in my life, I was able to climb it comfortably. In the past, the challenge was whether I could sustain that heart rate for that long or whether I could still kick over the next shelf with anaerobic legs. Today it was I could keep moving and still get over everything, but not be jammed up against any limit. Don't get me wrong. It was still a tough climb and at the top, my legs hurt just from sustaining that level of force for that long, but I never ran into that desperation that I'd always associated with Tibbs. I was able to push hard if I wanted and sit up if I wanted. I could choose.

My brother was having the same kind of day. I got ahead of him once or twice but he pulled back on. He's somewhere at the very back of this shot.

 John Climbing Tibbs

There's a sign most of the way up: "Slow. Watch for Oncoming Traffic." or something like that. When you hit that, you're most of the way up but the most technical sections are still ahead. At the very top there's another sign: "Trail Head 300 Feet." When you see that, you're home free.

We took a snack break at the top.

 Tibbs Trailhead Snack

It's dangerous to stop for too long up there. Invariably when you get moving again, you get super stiff legs. There used to be a road across from Tibbs leading down to a campground and we'd go down there to get water and rest. It's since been obliterated, but back then if you rested for too long, you'd be guaranteed to cramp on the climb back out.

Neither of us were really ready, but we got going again out of necessity.

The road runs along the north side of the ridge up there and the tread was soft and slow. There's a bit of a climb up to a gap where you switch to the south side, and a much drier and harder road, then a nice downhill, then a long grinder almost all the way to Potatopatch. There were some new cabins up by Potatopatch, or at least new to me.

We bombed down to the upper Bear Creek Trailhead. Even on a dead straight downhill, John was still pulling away from me. Neither of us were pedaling, I just couldn't go as fast. I was sketchier through the turns too. I'd felt sketchy on the downhills all day, but Potatopatch is so long, it was really apparent and annoying. My tires were a little low. I hadn't checked them at the car. They felt low, but OK. Maybe they had more of an effect than I'd been thinking though. Who knows.

John missed the upper trailhead and kept going. I rode down the switchbacks though and met him where they tee into the main trail. He was stopped there, talking to a family of hikers. There was a guy there with a crossbow too who said he'd seen several bear earlier. We hoped to see one on the way down. I think it's been more than a year since I've seen a bear and we hadn't seen any wildlife of any kind all day.

No bear for us though. The only animals we saw were dogs. Below the Poplar we ran into several groups of both hikers and riders with dogs.

My rear derailleur has some weird magnetism for sticks and debris. This is well documented elsewhere in this journal, but here's further documentation of this phenomenon.

 Full Wrap

This stick wrapped itself completely around my rear cassette. All the way around. This doesn't happen to you, or anyone you know, only to me. Ok, if you know me, then it happens to someone you know, but you get the idea.

The last group of riders we ran into included Greg Holland. Of all the people to run into. I'd just seen him last weekend at the Bull/Jake Work Party. We talked for a while. They'd ridden up and down Bear Creek and they were headed off on an out-and back on Pinhotis 1,2 and 3.

Man, what an absolutely perfect day. John and I talked for a while about how perfect it had been. If I were to imagine a perfect day of mountain biking then list out the components, that list would very closely match the list for today's ride. We had clear blue sky. We had cool temperatures, but not cold. We rode a very diverse set of trails: pavement, gravel roads, doubletrack, ultra modern, swoopy singletrack and old-school singletrack. There were long tempo climbs, grinders, tough punchers, ultra-technical rock-crawls, long flowing downhills and steep, sketchy, warp-speed runs on gravel. There were scenic mountain vistas from above and below, creeks of every size, rustic cabins and farms and deep views into the wilderness. We ran into other bikers, hikers, hunters and guys on ATV's. Everyone was friendly. We faced an appropriate amount of adversity. We rode reasonably fast. We had fun, work and even a bit of suffering but we didn't hammer ourselves into the ground.


The one thing that could make it even perfecter was Mexican Food and as fate would have it, there's a shopping center in Ellijay with 3 different Mexican joints to choose from. We chose El Rey.

 El Rey

I got sleepy on the drive home but it wasn't too bad. I caught the end of the Saints game then fell asleep in the middle of my living room floor for an hour. At some point I got back up on the couch but I have no memory of doing that. Now I'm writing this and it's way too late to still be up doing that. It's time to put an end to this sleep deprivation.

Good night.

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