Saturday, October 29, 2011

Buford Hatchery and Windermere Park

Last Sunday, I got home after the race in Albany around 2PM or so. The next morning I was leaving for North Carolina to go on a backpacking trip that my buddy Kirk had been trying to put together for a year. I'd been gone for a week already and in the half day between trips, I really wanted to spend a little time with my family.

We ended up going fishing first, or at least the girls and I did.

The weather was cool and nothing was biting when we got to the pond, but around 3:30, things improved a bit and Iz and I both caught a few.

 Iz's Catch  My Catch

Poor Sophie didn't catch a thing.

While sitting there, waiting for a bite, I noticed that daddy long legs like hot dogs but they don't like to share.

 Daddy Long Legs

I had no idea.

The pond closes at 4:30 so we took off around then and went to Windermere Park to play ball for a while. Sophie is sort of ambidextrous. She writes with her left hand but she does several other things with her right. She bats well left handed but she throws much better with her right. We got her a right hander's glove a few weeks back and she's does way better catching with it and throwing with her right hand than the other way around. She still naturally wants to step forward with whatever hand she's throwing with though. Whenever anyone says that someone throws "like a girl" that's usually what they mean. I've seen boys do it too though, so I'm not sure how that saying came about. Maybe classically, boys who did it were taught to do it right and girls were just allowed to keep doing it wrong because it was cute or something. I wonder.

We had fun with that until we were too hungry for it to be fun anymore, then we grabbed some dinner. I wish I could remember where but it was over a week ago now and I have no memory of that meal. It must not have been that good.


Chehaw Fat Four

Yes, the Chehaw Fat Four.

 Chehaw Sign

I've been looking forward to this race all year. Why would I be looking forward to a mountain bike race two hundred miles south of my house in the middle of the flattest part of South Georgia? Well, in part for reasons alluded to in that very question. While still an endurance mountain bike race, it should be a very different set of challenges from the ones I'm used to. The race is shorter, but still not short in the absolute sense. The course will be unfamiliar. The competitors will be different. The terrain will be different. The very soil and trees will be different.

"But it's so flat." Yes, but a flat course is no easier than a hilly course. On a flat course, you're always on the gas. Always. You get no rest, at all, for 4 hours. You just have to go as fast as you can and still make the turns. The draft is operative, even on dirt. It's very, very different.

Another reason I was looking forward is because the race was being organized by a bunch of friends of mine from South Georgia Cycling and I'd get to hang out will all of them in one place, all weekend. Various of them show up for various races in North Georgia at various times, but it's rare that I see everyone together.

I did have some concerns though. I'd spent the previous two weeks not riding, working all day and night, and sick. However, I'd gotten plenty of rest the night before, almost kicked the sinus infection and gotten in 5 hours at Chickasabogue. I'd planned on being home for a few days before the race, so I didn't have all my gear, but after a quick inventory after Chickasabogue, it looked like I had just enough to get by. My concerns might be unfounded. There was only one way to find out.

I reached the vicinity of Albany at about 11:00. Just then, Steve called and asked where I was. I wasn't sure. To my left, a team of baggage handlers was unloading an idling UPS cargo jet, not 300 yards away. "South of Albany... The airport?" Thinking I'd driven in from Atlanta, he and the rest of the guys became fairly concerned and weren't sure how I'd managed to drive past the park and end up south of Albany. We straightened that out though, they gave me better directions than Google had and within half an hour I was knocked out in Vonnie's trailer.

 Vonnie's PopUp

The next morning it was cold. Colder than it's been. I've been saying for weeks that it's trying to be fall in Georgia, but that morning it had decidedly arrived. Man, I didn't want to get out of bed, much less put on bike clothes, especially given that they were still slightly wet from having ridden in them the day before.

I did get out of bed though, and eventually got dressed, checked in, and warmed up, though I had to wear my jacket for all of that because it was cold, cold, COLD!

 Me Pre Race

I think Clark took that picture. It's weird having photos of myself. I never recognize me.

I was number 100.


Do you like the smiley face with dreads? I did. Apparently I was the first person to sign up for the race, thus the number 100. I told you I was excited about it.

The finish line was crazy. For the Chainbuster 6-hour series, we wear RFID anklets and have to dismount and run across a carpet with a sensor in it. For races where you don't have electronics, there are usually chicanes or some other mechanism for slowing down the riders so their numbers can be read by the officials. In this case, perhaps in honor of the cyclocross season which we are now in, there were wooden barriers that you had to dismount and negotiate. These were no ordinary wooden barriers though, they were pine logs, freshly cut and custom-flattened on one side at the local saw mill.

 The Finish

It looked dangerous. I could imagine tripping in later laps. I'd have to watch out for that.

After getting warmed up, I rolled around for a while, checking out the place. They have a wild animal park, lots of camping, a lake, a river, a disc golf course, a bmx track, miles of trail... Oddly enough though, it was the Spanish Moss that kept grabbing my attention, hanging from every tree, swaying in the breeze.

 Oaks and Spanish Moss

Mmm, Spanish Moss.

Everybody gathered for the pre-ride meeting.


Vonnie gave us the run down.

 Pre Ride Meeting

We'd start at 10. It would be a LeMans-style start. It would be a true 4 hour race a la the Chainbuster series too. If you came in at 2:00:01, your last lap wouldn't count. And so on.

We lined up and I looked around to size up my opponents. The SGC crew was working the event so I didn't have to worry about those guys crushing me. Wes Garland had come down. He's good friends with the SGC boys too. He used to give my brother the business back in the GAP series, ages ago. There was a guy up from Florida named Daniel Vu who was allegedly pretty hard. I met a guy from Savannah named Nick who looked pretty strong but he wasn't in my class. I think he ended up winning the XC-3 class. There were a dozen or more riders from Robin's bikes in Florida, but none of them were in my class either. Suzy Neal was riding. She and Clark and I ride and hike together up in North Georgia. Ha! Me and Suzy were lined up on each other in the same race! That seemed cool to both of us.

"15 seconds!"

Oh, I'd better quit screwing around.


We took off running. The little bit of running that I've done over the past few years has been just enough to make these running starts not suck horribly. I grabbed my bike, and believe it or not, made it into the woods ahead of everyone. This has never happened before. I found myself in the lead with only theoretical knowledge of how to sustain it, and apparently that knowledge was tucked away in some dusty old tome in the very back of my mind.

I didn't have time to go rummaging around in my mind-library though. The trail immediately began twisting back on itself dozens of times. I was so keyed up and it was so twisty that I'd underbrake, overrun the turn, have to brake again, and then have to power back out. It was terribly inefficient. I just hoped that the riders back were having the same problems.

The first few miles alternated between crazy twistiness and long straightaways. Wes was behind me. The rider behind him was the first place guy from the next class down. I attacked the straights and rested in the twisties. After about a mile, I started remembering how to ride them. Do all your braking before the turn. Get way back and way low. Weight the outside foot going in. Swing through. It should throw you forward on the way out if you do it right. Use that momentum to get your pedaling started, but you've got to pick the right gear for that to work. So many details. It had been a long time since I'd ridden such a twisty trail. That's a perfect example of why I wanted to ride there. I was getting my money's worth.

We'd mostly been riding through fields of tall grass so far, with only brief little bits of woods, but soon we were just in the woods the whole time and the trail got way less twisty. Some sections of woods were really dense, others reminded me of my grandparents front yard - huge pine trees, scattered 40 feet apart with grass in between them. If somebody had gone out there with a rake and piled up the needles against the trunks it would have been identical.

We crossed a couple of roads. Some course marshals were standing on the far side of one of them so we turned left and pinned it.

From way in the back though, I heard someone shout: "Wrong turn!" Oh no! We'd taken a wrong turn. We were supposed to go between the course marshals. This is the first bike trail that Albany has ever had though, and the first race ever as well, so it's reasonable that the course marshals weren't exactly sure what to do. That's bike racing. These things happen.

Wes and I looped back. Daniel Vu had caught up right then too, so, Wes, Daniel and I rode together for the rest of the lap. At some point, we determined that we were the only XC-1 riders.

The trail wasn't entirely devoid of elevation. There was a section along the river with two hills, one of which was a tough, steep climb. There was a switchback climb out in a field too, one that ran straight up a hill to an old chimney and a crazy hill with a steep drop off of the back side. The rest though, was flat and in some places, very twisty. The scenery was quite variable though. The course had several different sections, each with its own flavor - grassy fields, piney woods, oakey woods, open fields, river runs, swampy runs... I didn't really start looking at the scenery that first lap though.

At some point, I made a move to get back to the front and actually finished out the lap in the lead.

On lap two, I wanted to see what the other guys had so I let Wes by right as we went into the first grassy field. He was taking it even easier than I had through the twisties and I was getting rested up but I feared an attack on the first straightaway. It wasn't Wes that attacked though. Wes actually eased up to take off his arm warmers. Daniel attacked. It seemed dirty at first, but really, from the back, he couldn't have seen Wes taking off his arm warmers. I had to counter. I held him for the first two straightaways and sat up on the third to let Wes catch. Daniel was slower in the twisties so we were pulling him in. All we had to do was keep the same distance on the straights. I say "all" but there was no "all" about it. Daniel is really fast and after a few miles, it was hopeless. Wes came by to try and run him down. All I could do was hope that the two of them were hitting it too hard, too early. I let them go, recovered and began riding like it was a time trial.

Lap three went by quickly. I was starting to remember details about the course.

At the start and end of lap 3, I asked the time and spent almost all of lap 4 doing the math over and over in my head. I would definitely be able to do 6 laps. I might be able to do 7, but it would be really close.

I didn't have any margarita Clif Blocks or salt of any kind, but I didn't seem to need it. I could feel the lack of recent riding but I don't think it made that big of a difference in my performance. Now that I had it wired, the course was really fun.

I started catching riders on lap 4. One of them joked: "Thanks for making me look bad." My heart rate was too high to do much but laugh at the time, but what I was thinking was... We do a lot of these long races, so it just seems kind of normal to us, but it's really quite a thing to do. If you can ride a bike, at race pace, for 4 hours, without quitting, independent of how you place, I don't think it's possible to look bad.

Elaine Mercer took a photo of me, I think on lap 4.

Chehaw - Photo by Elaine Mercer

Again, it's weird having photos of myself. That's what I look like?

Late in lap 5, I finally caught Suzy. She still seemed fresh but I was starting to wind down. At the very end of the lap, the guys said I was one minute behind Wes. At the end of an earlier lap, I'd been 6 minutes back. Apparently I'd made up quite a bit of time.

I stumbled over the barriers at the end of that lap. It was luck that I didn't trip and fall.

Winding down or not, I put it down pretty hard on lap 6. I kept thinking I saw Wes ahead of me, but then it would end up being another rider when I finally caught him, or her. At the end of the lap, the guys told me I was 30 seconds back. If I kept it up, I could make up the time, especially if Wes cracked, but how much time did I have left?

"What time is it?"

"You have 33 minutes!"

"Yeah, but what time is it?"

"Thirty three!"

"Yeah, but what TIME is it?"

"Oh! 1:27!"

I'd asked the time prior to lap 6 too. I could have subtracted 33 from 60 to get the 27 but my feeble mind wasn't up to the task. It took me almost a mile to figure it out, but it had taken me 36 minutes to ride the previous lap and I had 33 minutes left. I really had to pick up the pace if I wanted to finish in time, independent of catching Wes.

I put it down hard for about a mile but that was all I had. There was no way I could even do another 36 minute lap, much less a 33. I was done. I pulled out and rolled back to the start.

It took a while to recover, but I managed to recover enough to cheer on Daniel and Wes as they finished.

Daniel finished with plenty of time.

 Daniel Vu

Wes missed the finish by seconds and his 7th lap didn't count. Nooooo!!!!!

 Wes Garland

Usually I pack up and hit the road, but I had way better things to do this time. I did pack up though, and this little gecko kept me company while I did.


There was only one other rider who didn't make it in on time, so the podium ceremony was ready within half an hour of the 4 hour cutoff.

Suzy got first in her class, though I think she might have been the only one in her class.


I got 3rd, but I wasn't unhappy with 3rd. I'm happy to get beaten by these guys any time.


You'd think I'd be tired and wouldn't want to touch my bike for a while but I had my GPS with me and if I'm in the vicinity of an unmapped trail, with my GPS, there's a low percent chance that I won't map it. And map it I did. And I took a few pictures.

There's a light gauge train that runs around the park. The trail crosses the tracks twice. There were course marshals at the crossings, but any of us could have had to wait for the train if it had been coming when we were riding through.

 Train Tracks

There are remnants of old trails all over the park. Many are overgrown, some are used by the new system. This outhouse lay along one of the old, overgrown trails, near where it crossed one of the new ones.


There's a wild animal park near the back. I didn't get a chance to see the animals but the trail crosses the roads leading in and out and runs down the fence that borders it.

 Animal Park

One section of trail is interpretive. There are signs identifying all kinds of trees and bushes.


The old, overgrown trail system was apparently an official system at some point. There were even several maps posted along it. This one was posted along a section that is currently used by the new system. I haven't crunched the GPS data yet but it will be interesting to see how the new trail matches up to the old one.


It probably took me an hour to turn that lazy lap. When I got back, some of the guys were going out for a group ride. That sounded fun at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't want to ride any more. I wanted three things, in this order: a shower, a nap and food.

I put up my bike, drove back to the campground and waited in line for the shower. In the ladies' room, a mom was bathing her 9 year old son who's paralyzed from the waist down and her daughters were showering in the mens' room. I didn't mind waiting. The mom and her son got finished before the girls so I even got a chance to talk to them for a while. The boy had a T-5 injury from a car accident when he was 6. People always say: "It was nice to meet you" and sometimes they don't really mean it, but it was a legitimate pleasure to meet him. He was really polite, he had a very advanced vocabulary for his age, and he asked a million questions, but it was funny, his accent was almost unintelligibly country. It was like when I was talking to the Scottish lady at Disney last time I was there: "I know that's English, so it should be possible for us to communicate, but I just don't recognize those words." It didn't help that the words he was using don't generally accompany that accent. It took me a minute or two to lock on, but after I did, we talked for about 10 minutes about all kinds of stuff. I specifically remember him saying "Is that a yellow jacket? Man, I despise them." as opposed to "hate them", and he asked me "Did you compete?" rather than "Did you ride your bike in that race?" and lots of other lofty diction. I wish I could remember the rest of the things he said. Sophie talks like that too. He reminded me of her.

I was almost disappointed when it was my turn to take a shower, but then when I actually stood in the water, it was as if my whole life had been spent in preparation for that moment. It's funny how getting clean can feel so good sometimes. How did they even live in the middle ages?

Shower accomplished, I trudged over to Vonnie's trailer and crashed for a few hours. I don't remember waking up exactly. I just remember that I found myself walking toward the pavillion in the center of the campground where dozens of folks were hanging out around a grill.

Clark was grilling burgers, dogs and sausage.


My phone doesn't like the word "Grillmaster" so it translated it to "Drillmaster" which ended up being the title of that photo. I thought it was funny so I didn't change it.

The sausage belonged to Stephen Woolard. Clark indicated that he was handling Woolard's sausage and the jokes just began to write themselves. Half of it was jalapeno/cheese and the other was just cheese. My god it was good. The burgers were good too. I didn't try the dogs because I was too full by then.

I have a Chris King headset, bottom bracket and hubs, and now I've eaten from a Chris King Grill. Who knew?

 Chris King Grill

Just in case anyone was wondering, I'm pretty sure it's a different Chris King, I just thought it was funny.

Post grilling we all hung out around the fireplace in the pavillion. The pool was definitely open and though I do not swim, I enjoyed the company of the accomplished cliff divers around me. As the evening wore on we got hungry and warmed the leftover sausage and dogs over the fire using marshmallow grilling sticks. Merritt's dog Zaxby was begging for food from everyone. He's a good dog and he won't take food unless he's offered but poor Bill let his hot dog dangle from his hand for too long in Zax's direction and it must have appeared as if he was offering it to him. Zax was so smooth about it too that Bill didn't notice it was gone until someone else mentioned it. If I'd gotten video, I'd have won $10,000 on AFV.

I slept well that night. I don't even remember going to bed.

The next morning, we were all up early. It was cold again. It's just going to be cold in the morning now, isn't it?

Someone who will remain nameless used the bathroom in Bill's trailer, but Bill hadn't bothered to hook up any water because there was a bathhouse not 100 feet away. He had to take care of the situation on the way out, lest he have to haul the "chocolate hostage" home with him. The jokes just wrote themselves there too.

I headed north around 9AM or so. I hadn't seen my family in a week but they weren't all that happy to see me. Man, I'll tell you, it doesn't take long for people to get used to you being gone, then when you come back, you're just an intruder in their territory. Better luck next time, I guess.

The Fat Four was exactly what I'd hoped for. It's going on my list for next year too. It's not fair that I should podium in the expert class of an endurance race though, so next year you need to come down and push me off.


Man, I hope this works, I'm attempting to use a Blogger app on my phone for this post. And I have doubts about it's abilities. I guess we'll see...

After a few tough days at work, we triumphed over the twin foes of obscurity and obsolescence and I finally got the good night's sleep I'd been hoping to get all week. This was good because I had a long day ahead of me.

I'd missed Karlos in Pisgah already. He and his crew had been up there all week. I'd meant to meet them up there but fate had other plans. Luckily, though, as I'd brought my bike with me, just in case, I would not be denied adventure, entirely.

It was useless to attempt a direct return to Atlanta, I had a 4-hour race in Albany on Saturday. It made way more sense to drive to Albany, shack up there, race, and return to the ATL on that night or on Sunday. AND directly between New Orleans and Albany lies the bustling metropolis of Mobile and it's premier mountain bike destination: Chickasabogue.

 Chickasabogue Sign

The last time I'd ridden there had to be 10 years ago. At least. I'd heard they'd built more trail out there since then, but honestly I didn't even remember the old trail so really, it was all new to me.

The one thing I did remember was sand. Lots of loose, shifty sand. As it turned out though, those memories were only half-accurate. There were a few loose, sandy sections:


But mostly it was packed, duff-covered and grippy. I'm sure the soil has s high sand content, but you don't really notice it, most of the time.

The trails out there are about 70% pure singletrack. The rest are either doubletrack or thin little ribbons on old roadbeds.

 Old Roadbed Singletrack

The diversity was satisfying.

But I'm getting ahead if myself.

When I first rode out of the lot, I hung a left, crossed the road and aimed for some singletrack, only to stop short, fairly confused at the signage posted there. Something about red and yellow markers... From the deep recesses of my brain, I recalled some vague idea about one loop being marked yellow and the other marked red. But those were all false memories. It turns out that if you're on bike, you follow the red blazes and if you're on foot, you follow the yellow. The trees are marked on opposite sides. Bikes go counterclockwise.

The blazes ahead were yellow though and it took a minute for me to locate the red ones. However, if I'd been slightly more observant earlier, I might have noticed the big sign indicating the start of the loop, directly in front of my car.

First, I rode the Cemetery Loop, then hung a right out under the I-65 bridge over to the east side of the park.

 I-65 Bridge

The trails on that side seemed newer and flowed better.

There wasn't much elevation change overall, but the trails wound around through the trees and made good use of what was available.

I'm not sure I'd put some of the trails on the IMBA how-to page but the tread appeared to be pretty well protected by pine needle kevlar and moderate traffic. I saw tire tracks when I was out there but there was only one other car in the lot all day.

Growing up on the Gulf Coast, the woods was familiar. There was a lot of pine, live oak, water oak and cypress. The brush was all some kind of extra tough autumn olive, or at least that's what it looked like. Good lord it was tough. Don't even try pushing through that crap, it'll stab your face off.

I did see two wonderful things though. The first was spanish moss. I forget all about spanish moss, and then I see it and it transports me back to my childhood, specifically to the front playground of Goodwood Elementary. The second was longleaf pine:

 Longleaf Pine

Allegedly, way back, it dominated the southeast, up through Georgia and North Carolina. It's long gone from the mountains now but you wouldn't know that from riding around Chickasabogue. It's not everywhere, but there's a noticeable amount.

I saw a turtle on the South Trail. I'm not sure what kind. Maybe it's a gopher tortoise. I don't know turtles.


That and one deer comprised my wildlife experience that day. I didn't even see any snakes. I know it's fall, but I figured I'd see at least one snake.

On the east side of the park, the trails were build as loops off of other loops. The second to last loop was the Black Forest Loop, or the Buck Forest Loop as I first read, or the Black Forert loop as the hike-direction sign indicated.

 Black Forert

I want to know exactly how that happened. I mean, they stenciled the letters, then went around them again with a border and then went and hung the sign. I can't imagine that the misspelling went unnoticed at all three opportunities. Somebody had to have realized and just said screw it. Or maybe some kids made the signs, or maybe there's some other story. The misspelling certainly adds to the charm.

I took a little side trail near the Black Forest intersection and discovered some bluffs that had apparently once been ridden and abandoned long ago. All that remained of a trail through them was this feeble, hopelessly overwhelmed water bar.

 Water Bar in the Bluffs

The noble fellow never gave up his post.

The Cypress Beach trail led to, as you might expect, Cypress Beach.

 Cypress Beach  Cypress Beach  Cypress Beach

There was a gnarly old burned up tree right at the edge of the water.

 Burned Up Tree

I assume that the water is the Chickasabogue river. I think Bogue even means river. There are also Bogue Chitto and Bogue Falaya rivers in Mississippi and Louisiana had some Bogues too.

Almost all of the trails out there are well marked.


There are one or two exceptions, especially where the Beach and Indian Loops come together. I spent like 10 minutes trying to find a section there that's marked in the map but didn't appear to exist. It turned out that it was marked yellow (hike) but that if you go about 20 yards you start seeing red blazes.

Back on the west side of the park, I picked up some of the older trails again. Many of them lay on old roads, which apparently hold water in the winter. In the mountains, we'd reroute or build rock causeways but neither of those are options in southern Alabama so they build long bridges, wrapped in chicken wire. The chicken wire is impressively grippy. I know some bridges in North Georgia that could sure use some chicken wire.

 Long Bridge

Way out in the absolute middle of nowhere, there was this hand-powered water fountain, pump-thing.


And it worked. Though you'd be out of luck trying to fill a bottle. You might be able to fill a dog bowl from the drain, or maybe a water bladder.

Throughout the park there were all these wooden half-barricades, chucked off to the side.


They were odd and I remembered them from 10 years ago. Back then, they had them set up across various parts if the trail to route traffic away from closed sections or off of roads. None were in use that day.

The last bit of trail on that side was a little confusing and I ended up riding through what I thought at first was some dude's yard. It turned out not to be but it made me a little nervous at first.

I'd ridden for about 4 hours but I wasn't 100% sure that I'd hit everything. I didn't, for example, remember seeing a beach on the Beach Trail, so I spun down to the front gate to see if they had an official map of the place. It turned out that they did, but before I got there and discovered that, I got distracted by a shiny white cube off to my left.

The cube turned out to be a windowless building that had been a church and a school in former lives, but was now some sort of local history museum.

 Little Chapel in the Pines

I'm generally a sucker for attractions like that but the day was kind of wearing on so I left it for next time.

That map that I mentioned scoring earlier revealed that I had, in fact, missed a bit. One section was sort-of difficult to find but led out to this beach which had apparently been Peterson's Landing, some time ago, or so I gathered from a modest little yellow sign on a gate nearby.


The other sections that I'd missed was easy to find. I'm not really sure how I missed them. Two of them led out to camping areas along the river similar to the one above.

One had these berries growing all over. Serviceberries?


They tasted good but I didn't eat them. Until I can positively identify laurel cherries, I'm scared of anything purple and cherryish.

And so ended The Great Exploration of Chickasabogue. I spun a loop around on the paved roads to be sure I hadn't missed anything. It didn't appear that I had, so I packed it in and called it a day.

Later I discovered that I should have looked a little harder. There's apparently a cemetery out there that I didn't see. I should have expected as much, given that the name of one of the loops is the Cemetery Loop. I'm a genius.

Earlier, I'd discovered that the little building at the front gate was also a camp store so I stopped by on my way out for an Alabama Dr. Pepper.

 Alabama Dr. Pepper


I think it was about 5 when I split. The Alabama DP was good but it wasn't exactly filling so I went scrounging around downtown Mobile for an actual meal.

There are shipyards all around Mobile. I saw a submarine sticking out of a warehouse and a half-built cruise ship moored in the river. They must make them mostly out of aluminum or something because it was blindingly shiny. I almost couldn't look at it.

Downtown Mobile is exactly like downtown New Orleans, if you removed the people and toned it down two notches. The architecture is the same, there are a bunch of streets with the same names, and if the place I are at is any indication, the food is good too.

I ended up at a place called Hophacks which bills itself as a pizza kitchen and taproom, but I think that should be reversed. It's really a bar where they serve pizza, but oh, what amazing pizza it was. I had their Butcher Block pizza which is topped with pepperoni, bacon and little bits of filet mignon. My god, it was good. You should eat it if you're in town, for certain.

So that was it for Chickasabogue and Mobile. I rolled east through the tunnel and past the USS Alabama with its giganticness. I need to take a tour of that one day, but I couldn't that day. Albany was still a few hours away and I had a race to get to.

Next time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bonita Lakes

I've got a race in Albany in two days. A race I've been looking forward to for months. Most people prepare for a race by training, tapering, sleeping well, eating well, hydrating, and so on. Occasionally I end up preparing for a race by parking my bike in the garage, getting sick, putting in long hours at work and getting little or no sleep. Such has been the case, this time.

I can't lose.

This past Sunday (that's 4 days ago, and I've been so busy that I'm just now getting around to writing about it), I drove to New Orleans. In addition to being fellow mountain bikers, my dad and I are fellow computer nerds as well and we needed to finish up a contract for a company that we used to work for way back. He got me a job there during college and I ended up working for them for about 8 years. They needed some work done recently, we know their systems inside and out and so on, but that's another story. This story is just about the drive down.

If you want to get from Atlanta to New Orleans, you can go through Montgomery and Mobile or Birmingham, Meridian and Tuscaloosa. I generally opt for the latter for a variety of reasons, but this time one of them was the presence of Bonita Lakes in Meridian. My buddy Kirk and I rode there about 12 years ago when we lived in New Orleans and I rode there again last year. Last year I explored about half of the system and I'd been hoping for an opportunity to get out and see the rest. This past Sunday I had that opportunity.

I arrived at about 3 PM.

 Bonita Lakes Sign

The road through the park leads around and between two lakes.

The North Lake.

 North Lake

And the South Lake.

 South Lake

The whole park is about one minute off of the interstate but it's way bigger than the average in-town park and the lakes are a lot larger too.

There have got to be 20 miles of horse trails on the property but the last two times I was there I didn't see any horses. This time there were a few but they appeared just to be running around in the field near the lot.


They had some barrels set up and a tent. They might have been giving lessons or something. I didn't hang around to find out. I had trails to explore.

The first couple just led around to some stuff that I'd already seen, including a trail to the overlook and its gorgeous view of...


the mall.

The trails there are laid out strangely. I think "laid out" is probably inaccurate too. The horse trails mostly appear to be old roadbeds and connectors between them. They don't really make loops either. There are a maze of bike trails at the north end and the further south you go, the less mazy it gets. It looks like whoever built the bike trails laid out a vague route then made reroutes off of it over and over to get more mileage. The north end has a bunch of older trails, some of which follow ridges or fall lines but they appear to have been rerouted as well. Whoever built most of the southern trails and reroutes seems to have more or less known what they were doing. Unfortunately both the reroutes and original lines are still used today and it makes for quite a spiderweb of trails.

There's probably a route that the locals take through the system and they don't even notice the old turns any more but it was very confusing to me the last time I was there.

Fortunately, this time, they must have just had a race or something because there were signs up everywhere pointing which way to go and mile markers too. After finishing my exploration of the northern section, I pretty much followed the marked route which twisted through almost every inch of trail out there. I only had to make a few side loops to see all of it.

The trail was fast and fun. There were some hills but it wasn't too strenuous.


The trees were familiar. The soil was sandy but it wasn't loose. I had a great time.

There was one very confusing spot on the trail. 5 Points:

 5 points

The trail leading up to it was marked open to bikes, then suddenly became a horse trail for about 30 yards prior to the intersection but up ahead you could see bike signs again, so it wasn't obvious until you turned around and saw horse-only signs in the other direction.

I think there were at least 6 trails that intersected there too, maybe 7.

The most confusing trail there though led way out past 5 points then just made a bit of a loop back on itself. You just ride out and back I guess. The map showed it that way but I half figured there would be some connector back there that wasn't on the map. Nope though, the map was right.

I spun around for 3 hours or so. My body was really pissed at me for taking so much time off the bike and getting so little sleep. The cool air hurt my lungs and it took over an hour to get warmed up. Later on I felt great, but I think a good bit of that was just getting to ride a new trail.

LSU had played Tennessee either the night before or the night before that and on the way down I'd passed dozens of Louisiana plates with little LSU flags hanging out the windows. I ran into a guy walking on the gravel trail that loops around the lakes with an LSU hat and I guess his granddaughter and talked to them for a while. I thought he might be a fan, returning from the game, but instead, like me, they'd grown up in Baton Rouge but moved away in the early 2000's. He was saying he'd always wanted to arrive to a football game in a boat. You couldn't reasonably do it in Baton Rouge, but imagine cruising up the Tennessee River in a big boat then pulling up behind the stadium, stepping off and going to see the game. That was his dream.

At about 6 I took the gravel trail back to the lot. I still had to get to New Orleans, several hours away.

 Gravel Road

I think part of that trail might have been a rail bed. A long section of it is really flat and not very twisty and then suddenly it turns and gets really hilly. Also, there's a little peninsula out in the lake with a little island hanging off of it and it looks like they're divided by a cut, rather than naturally. I'd bet if I drew a line along the road and extended it out past the turn into the lake, it would lead straight through that cut.

The horses were getting packed up when I got back and it looked like just about everyone was heading out. I guess we all got the same idea at the same time.

Since then I've been working 13 or 14 hours a day and getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night. The first night I didn't get quite enough sleep and never really recovered. I feel like I'm about 20 IQ points short of nominal and lord knows how this race is going to go. It's all part of the adventure though. I spent lots of time nerding out with my dad, slept at my aunt and uncle's place every night and even got to visit my cousin, her husband and their kids. If I didn't do well preparing for the the race, it was only because I did so well not preparing for it.

Tomorrow I'm heading out. I'm hoping to hit Chickasobogue in Mobile. I will likely just drive straight to Albany from there and either shack up with some friends or in a dirt cheap hotel. The adventure continues.