Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cohutta Pinhoti

This past Sunday was Andrew Gates' birthday. Happy 24th Andrew! In honor of, there was a group ride up at Mulberry Gap with chili and chicken wings afterward.

There was no way I was going to miss that.

I'd set my alarm for 7AM but when that time rolled around it was surprisingly difficult to get up. I did some sleepy math, realized that I didn't really need to get up until 8, provided that I didn't screw around getting out of the house, and reset my alarm. An hour later it was still impossibly difficult to get out of bed. I grabbed my phone to find out exactly how long it would take me to get to Mulberry, thinking maybe I could sleep another 15 minutes. When I did though, the time on the phone read 7:00. The alarm clock which was still in my field of vision read 8:00. What? Oh yeah. It was the end of daylight savings time. "But that's not supposed to happen until Sunday night at 2AM..." Heh. This did not compute to my tired brain and it took about 10 seconds to figure it out. Last night WAS Sunday night at 2AM, or technically Sunday morning at 2AM, but either way, 2AM on Sunday and that's when I was supposed to set my clock back.

I felt dumb for not having done it, but I also felt great for not having done it because I reset the alarm and slept for another hour. Ha! I'm dumb but I still win!

I finally did get up though, didn't screw around getting out of the house and made it to Mulberry at about 9:45.

 Parking at Mulberry

The ride was supposed to start sometime between 10 and 11 so I had plenty of time to get ready. There were lots of people there but nobody seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere. Andrew himself was nowhere to be seen. The few riders that were kitted up seemed to be riding on their own. I talked to some of them. One was Linda whom I'd ridden one stage of the TNGA group rides with a few years back. Another was Brenda whom I'd never met but I've seen her name a dozen times in various blogs as one of the riders that either caught the blogger or got caught by the blogger during various races and then podiumed with them.

I also met Vic Palmeri and his wife who's name slips my mind because I'm embarrassingly bad with names. They'd gotten married the day before, at Mulberry Gap and they were headed out for a ride a little later.

Eventually Andrew and Kate showed up. Richie had been out shuttling some folks to some distant point and he arrived not too much later. Diane mentioned that a bunch of people had confirmed, then bailed on the ride. Two had gotten sick and one actually had a death in their family. Man. Those are good reasons. Matt Smith was still coming though and around 11 the 4 of us rolled out.

 Roll Out

When you ride out of Mulberry, in the direction of the Pinhoti's, you can immediately tell whether it will be a good day, bad day, long day, etc. The first hill up to Mulberry Gap proper (the gap itself) is steady and steep. Matt was recovering from both a crash and illness and he could tell right away that it would be a long, bad day. Before we made it around the first switchback he was out. Man, I've been there. Poor guy.

So now it was just me, Andrew and Richie. We trucked it over to Bear Creek. I was feeling good but the minute we turned onto P1, I could tell it would be a long day for me too. Andrew and Richie both ride singlespeeds, in the Cohuttas. Andrew even has this bad ass belt drive system. They were cranking it up P1 and I struggled to hang on. Really struggled. I should have dropped back, spun up and caught later but I kept pushing tall gears figuring I'd warm up or something. There was no warming up though. I was already warm. Those guys are just strong. Eventually I cratered and had to recover. There was no catching, except when they waited for me.

In the off-season I usually carry around an overstuffed camelback with about 12 pounds of crap in it. It's nice to have the gear when I'm out all day but it's also just good for building strength. Figuring it would be a group ride with a bunch of people of various abilities, I was dragging it around again that day too. In retrospect, I probably should have left it in the truck.

On the P2 gravel road we ran into Vic and his wife again and a couple of backpackers who were just getting done. Their truck was parked at the end of the road. I talked to them briefly and it reminded me... It's a uniquely wonderful feeling to see your vehicle again after being out in the woods for a long time and pushing hard to get back to it. For a second, I imagined myself in their place, seeing my truck as I walked over the hill...

I didn't have any trouble keeping up on the P2 grasstrack climb which is a lot more gradual than anything we'd been climbing so far. That made me somewhat happy, I was worried that I'd be lagging behind all day.

We paused at the top and Richie called somebody.


It's amazing where you can get cell coverage these days. Way back up in the woods, my phone rings sometimes and I end up talking to somebody for 20 minutes about some problem with some piece of software or something from the top of some random mountain. Ahh, technology.

The P2 downhill was a blast, as usual. Andrew can ride it like nobody else too. Well, maybe like my brother or Eddie, but few others. It was tough to keep up with him.

About half way down we ran into the guys that Richie had shuttled out earlier. There was a big group of them, up from Florida. The day before they had gotten somewhat lost and had to call for directions back. This time they were still on track. "Hey Richie! We're not lost! Yay!"

Richie, coming off of P2:

 Richie Coming Off of P2

Another thing I probably should have done differently is eat. I'd only brought a Snickers mini and two Clif Blocks. That's pitifully few calories. I'd eaten the Snickers before we hit the Bear Creek singletrack and finished the second of the Clif Blocks waiting for Richie. My stomach was growling. I didn't have the pangs yet, but they were coming. The pangs.

At the bottom of P3 there were a bunch of riders hanging out, waiting for the rest of their crew to come down off the mountain. They were all staying at Mulberry too but they were locals, or at least local to Georgia.

On the climb up P3, I did what I should have done on P1; let them go and catch when it flattened out. The catch part of that strategy didn't work out as well as I'd hoped but it worked well enough. They only had to wait up a few times.

There's a short section of downhill on the way up to Hwy 52 but my front tire was getting low for some reason so I didn't get to enjoy it all that much. It wasn't flat, just low, but it seemed like it was holding so I didn't mess with it. I figured I'd fix it at the top.

We turned left on 52 and headed over to the Cohutta Overlook. The last time I was up there was at the CMBAR last year. I'd mistakenly thought it was to the right and drug Hirsch several miles the wrong way before finally turning around and finding it only a few hundred yards to the left.

Cohutta Mountain:

 Cohutta Mountain

Grassy Mountain is the tallest peak on the left. Straight ahead is the ridge that the Windy Gap trail runs down. To the right of that are Tibbs and Emery Creek. Bear Creek is out of frame to the right. The entire Cohutta Wilderness lies on the other side of Cohutta Mountain.

To the southeast...

 Looking Southeast

Those taller mountains are near Blue Ridge. The tallest is Cold Mountain, I think. The distant ridge is the Blue Ridge proper with Springer Mountain and the southern terminus of the AT.

Apparently when we'd stopped earlier, Richie had called Kate and Matt and they met us at the overlook with some warm, delicious cider.

 The Gang at the Cohutta Overlook

We screwed around up there for half an hour or so.

Richie threw down some calendar-worthy poses.

 Dead Sexy Richie

Dead sexy.

"Would you buy a Mulberry Gap calendar Dave?"

"Uh... Heh. Maybe. Depends who's in it."

My front tire was definitely low. There was a thorn in it. Chris had just put a new tube in it the previous week too when I brought it in to get the hub rebuilt. What a drag. For whatever reason, the front tire was incredibly difficult to get off the rim. I can usually just pull a tire off with my fingers. I don't know if it's by design or if the colder weather had something to do with it, but it was virtually impossible. Usually if I can't get the tire off by hand, I can use the trigger from my CO2 inflator as a tire lever. Not this time. It snapped the trigger right off. There's barely even enough left to push on now. Andrew had a Topeak Multi-Tool with tire levers in it so I borrowed it. A minute or two later I realized that I had the exact same multi tool, with me, in my pack. Why that didn't occur to me earlier, I will never understand.

Eventually I got it fixed and we headed back down. I'm not used to the leaves yet and they were playing tricks on my eyes. I overran several switchbacks - not off into the woods, I just went further past the apex than I wanted to. I just couldn't see them. I was looking for them and I still couldn't see them. Darn leaves. In a month my eyes will be adjusted but still, darn leaves.

When we got back there was chili and cornbread waiting. I was ravenous. The last little kick over Mulberry Gap proper had made me weak and shaky. Ginni was cooking up chicken wings but I ate so much chili that I only had room for 1 wing when they were ready.

Richie made me try the "Tuong ot Shriracha" or whatever it's called. Some kind of vietnamese hot sauce, I think. I've seen it at Doc Cheys for years but I never tried it. They've had a bottle on the table at MGap the last few times I'd been there. It's apparently pretty popular. It tastes like ketchup at first, then gets really vegetabley, then decks you in the jaw with devastating hotness. Waaah! It didn't taste anything like I expected.

We must have sat there for an hour after eating. I needed to get home but I was tired and it was cozy and there were friendly dogs running around and it was nice to talk to everyone.

Richie was telling me about a new trail system up near Cloudland Canyon called 5-Points. I'd read part of an article about it a while back. I need to get up there and check it out. It's brand new and there are about 25 miles of trail. Sounds great. It sounds kind of like Dry Creek actually and I love Dry Creek, so 5-Points is now on the list.

It was tough, but I finally did motivate myself to stand and start heading toward the door.

Oh yeah. One more thing. There are Mulberry Gap stickers now. I don't like to plaster my car with stickers, but I've been known to fly one or two if they are worthy.

This one is worthy.

 Mulberry Gap Sticker

This place is worthy.

 Mulberry Gap Sign of my favorite places in the world.

Happy birthday Andrew! I hope I can make it up next year too.