Monday, April 30, 2012

Olde Rope Mill

Ugh. Work. It's great to have work to do, but it's difficult when it keeps you up 'till 4AM for days and days in a row. At least it didn't ruin any major plans though. The Cohutta 100 was this past Saturday, but for the 3rd or 4th year in a row, I missed the registration cutoff. There was a SERC race at Yargo but I'm not really into cross country these days. I had planned on attending at least one of the two trail maintenance field demos in the Cohuttas, but they weren't super critical. Etc. etc. etc.

My dad was in town though, and it would have been no good if I didn't get to do at least some riding with him. I had about a 6 hour window Saturday morning at 9AM, and though I could barely drag myself out of bed, I managed to drag myself all the way to Olde Rope Mill.

I had to pee really bad when we got there so the first thing I noticed was a lack of formal bathroom facilities. There's a pavillion and a memorial but no bathroom! Aaaah! Wait, no, there was a port-a-potty hiding in the far corner of the lot. Thank you Lord.

When that crisis was over, we headed north on the Explorer Trail.

 Dad on Explorer

I'd gotten GPS data for the system from my buddy Tim way back but this Explorer Trail was apparently new, and for the first time in recorded history, I'd managed to leave the house without my GPS. How does that happen? Oh well, I guess I'll have to go back sometime.

The Explorer Trail was short and we made quick work of it.

There are a lot of slightly encroaching weeds up in there though. I noticed a ton of buckeye which was cool but there was at least one stinging nettle too and I managed to scrape my right arm up against it. I received no ticks though, and that was good.

Next, we rode the Avalanche Trail.

 Dad Heading Into Avalanche

The Avalanche Trail was awesome, and long, or at least, if you ride all three sections, then it's satisfyingly long as compared to the Explorer Trail. Between Exporer and Avalanche, you could ride a couple of laps out there and have a good ride.

My dad was having a hard time at first because he mainly rides in Dallas and he ends up using too big of a gear. All the hills in Dallas are short and once you've ridden them a few times, you realize you can just stay in a bigger gear, power over the top and recover in two seconds on the other side. There's no "top" in Georgia, you just keep climbing. Such was the Avalanche Trail. Eventually he figured it out.

For as long as I've lived in Atlanta, whenever I'd drive to Blankets Creek and cross over the Little River on the interstate, I've seen what looked like trails running down near the river. I'd always heard rumors of trails through there too, and I even have a book from the mid 90's that shows trails leading from there, through what are now neighborhoods, all the way over to where Blankets Creek. I always had something better to do than go looking for the mysterious Rope Mill trails and when I wasn't looking, Sorba Woodstock built this first class trail system through the area. Toward the back of the third section of the Avalanche Trail, I saw remnants of the old system. I'd actually seen slight fragments of it earlier too, but toward the back they were much more apparent.

I guess the system is a bit like Big Creek. Big Creek was once "Mansell" and there were random trails everywhere, only a few of which were sustainable. The city of Roswell built a Greenway along Big Creek itself and RAMBO (Roswell Sorba) reworked the trail system into its present glory. This would appear to be the case at Rope Mill too.

There were even the beginnings of a Greenway along the river.

 Greenway Sign

It's less than a mile long now, but there's a sign at the end of it showing some seriously ambitious plans. If they get it built, you should be able to ride all over the place. I suspect they're following the right-of-ways for the sewage and drainage lines, but that's two birds! The utility companies get paved access to their stuff and the general public gets a place to ride and jog. I love it.

There was at one point an old bridge leading across the river, and now there's a new bridge spanning its ruins.

 Rope Mill Bridge

We took that bridge, hoping to find more Greenway on the other side, but nothing had been built yet. There were signs all over the place though, and as sometimes happens, I was confused as to what I was allowed to do. There were "No-ATV" signs and signs saying something to the effect of "feel free to explore but the trails are really rough", but nothing saying "foot-traffic only" or "no bikes" and the trails were connected to bike trails, and there were tire tracks leading in every direction. We assumed that it was ok to ride there and headed upstream.

Oddly though, at the time it seemed like we were heading downstream, which made everything we found very confusing.

First we passed through the ruins of the old mill itself. It looked like there had been an undershot wheel up in there somewhere running the thing, way back. The wheel was gone though and so was most of the mill. Only a hollow shell remained.

The raceway was largely intact, or at least the stone structure was and little bits of some of the gates.

 Olde Rope Mill Raceway

The dam was about half-intact.

 Olde Rope Mill Dam

There was a group of teenagers playing in the water. Most of them appeared to be having a fun, but two of the girls were screaming like they'd never been in water before in their lives. Somebody would move an inch and they'd get startled and scream. Over and over. It was really weird.

I would swear that, when I was standing there, the water was running southeast. This made the orientation of the dam and raceway seem totally backwards. It wasn't until much later that we realized that the river must flow northwest, towards Lake Allatoona and everything made sense. I wonder if Allatoona is high right now though, and occasionally reverses or at least stalls the flow of the Little River if its other feeders are really pouring. I wonder.

The trail continued on past the dam but I could just imagine the spiderweb that lay beyond. With no GPS it wasn't really worth exploring. We headed back, spun another lap around the Explorer Trail and headed home.

The trails at Rope Mill are great. It'll be even better when there's an easy way to connect them to Blankets and if I'm reading the map correctly, there should be pretty soon. The park was pretty cool too, between the Mill Ruins and fishing opportunities in the river, I really need to get back there soon with my GPS, fishing rod and a little more time on my hands.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Weekly Beatdown

Ugh. I guess barely hanging on is better than not hanging on at all.

Yesterday's beatdown was the worst in a long time. I was suffocating, like there just wasn't enough oxygen in the air or something. I even felt like that on my little pre-ride spin through Windermere. It was horrible.

At least 4 different times I had to give up, drop back, recover, chase, then try to work my way up to the front for the next hill so I could drop back again if I had to, which I always did. Fortunately there was always someone to help out with the chase and the traffic at the cross-streets cooperated too. Horrible!

Today I woke up with stuffy sinuses. Maybe I'm allergic to something. Maybe I'm coming down with something. I hope it's the former. My Dad's in town and I want to ride with him, and I've got a race at Yargo this Saturday. I definitely don't need to be sick.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Arabia Mountain

A few months ago I took the girls hiking and I think they ended up walking one step too far. From the sound of it, they'd had enough walking around in the woods, perhaps for the rest of their lives. Since then we've mostly been riding bikes but this past weekend I mentioned the idea of taking another walk and they both seemed pretty excited about the idea. Hmmm... Maybe I hadn't quite burned them out entirely.

It would need to be somewhere interesting though, random exploration of the deepest, most-similar-looking recesses of the Chattahoochee National Forest would not do. I thought a bit and a location materialized. Ironically, it was the same place that had done so much to degrade their interest last year - Arabia Mountain. I wasn't sure if that was a good idea or not, so I talked to them about it and since it's not a million degrees outside these days, they were all for it. Yes!

I called up Travis and Michelle too. Travis has been trying to get together to do something for a few weeks now and I've always had some prior commitment, but this time it would work out. They have a new dog too, Emmie, and that was even better because my kids both love and fear dogs and just generally need dog time.

Emmie is still a puppy, and does funny puppy things, like wrap herself up in the leash, then bite the leash, effectively locking the door to her own cell.


Oh man, it was fun to watch and she did it over and over.

We parked at the South Trailhead and started up Arabia Mountain.

I think yesterday was the most perfect day to be there. It was actually cool in the parking lot and a little windy, but out on the rock itself, it was in the '70's and the direct sun felt really good. The last time the girls and I were there was mid-summer and it was HOT. Our friend Madison had joined us and she got pretty dehydrated. There was little chance of that yesterday though.

It was the perfect season too. Arabia Mountain is a lot like Stone Mountain; a huge granite deposit that just hasn't been weathered away yet. It's not as big as Stone Mountain, but the terrain is very similar. One significant difference though, is Arabia Mountain is generally shallower and lots of little pools have formed all over it. The pools collect sediment and eventually stuff grows in that sediment. In the winter it dies off. In the summer, it's too hot and it all dies off again, but this time of year, it's in full growth and full bloom. Every inch of every pool was crowded with growing things.

 Sediment Pool

This one was full of Diamorpha, which is apparently exceedingly rare and there are signs in various places asking you not to step on it.


And, it had rained the day before so the deeper pools, or the ones that don't collect much sediment had become tiny little ponds and Emmie had to drink from and swim in every one of them.

 Lots of Water

Where the water wasn't pooling, it streamed down the face of the rock in wide sheets or got funnelled into little rivers. We got really lucky with the water.

We hiked up and over Bradley Peak, pseudo-nav'ed through the woods until we found the Quarry Trail and took that across the road to the Davidson side of the preserve. The girls and I had walked all over Arabia Mountain the last time but we hadn't yet been to the other side, except on bikes, on the paved trail. Ages ago, Travis had actually driven his Land Rover all over the other side, back before the park existed, when that was something that you could do, but he hadn't been back since either.

Right as you go back into the woods over there, we discovered these weird parallel blocks of granite.

 Parallel Blocks

There were about 8 or 9 of them in a row. I guess at some point something was up on top of them or maybe between them. I love stuff like that. There was, apparently, at some point, some very important reason for them to be there but it has been lost to history. Maybe if I knew more about quarry operations they would make sense.

We were now on the aptly named Forest Trail, which sort-of led around the property, through the woods, rather than out on the granite face. Near the Nature Center, we ended up taking the paved bike trail rather than dirt for a little while and Michelle found a bunch of honeysuckle.

Sophie LOVES honeysuckle. When it's blooming in our front yard, she'll spend 20 minutes each day eating them after she gets off the bus. The two of them had a long discussion about the various ways of getting the nectar out.


Isabel gave Emmie a honeysuckle and she just ate the whole thing.

It took me a while to understand the scale of the property. I had a map but it was really just a photo I'd taken of a map on one of the kiosks and it wasn't all that accurate. Trails that didn't exist were shown on the map, trails that did exist weren't shown, and I'd had a harder time figuring out where we were than I expected. I kept thinking we hadn't gone as far as we had, thus my surprise when we suddenly arrived at Arabia Lake.

 Arabia Lake

For the kids, one of the highlights of any little adventure is getting to eat candy in the woods. I guess it's like having a small picnic, plus they don't get to eat candy all that often, so I think it's kind of a big deal to them. Anyway, I told them: "Ok, when we get to the lake we can have a snack" and then the lake appeared out of nowhere. Lucky ducks.

 Taking a Break

At the lake, we were confronted with even more what-the-heck-is-that-style structures.


This one was especially confusing. Clearly there was a pier of some kind here, but why was it made of metal, and what the heck is that pipe-thing way out in the lake? And why was there a huge slab of concrete at the edge of the pier? Did they back up trucks to the edge? Drive them out on the pier? Maybe water was piped in from the lake and used out on the rock face. Or maybe water was sprayed into the lake through that pipe out in the middle. Man, I wish I knew. We thought hard but no definitive answer came to mind.

 Strange Lake Structure

The signage was amusing too.

 Confusing Signage

Hey kids, watch out for thin ice! Actually, it made me want to come back in the winter to see the lake frozen over.

Eventually we moved on.

The next section led back across the granite and there were all kinds of interesting things to see.

Blooming cactus...

 Cactus Flowers

Big yucca...


The storage building behind the old quarry office.

 Rock Storage Building

I'd actually seen that building before. The girls and I had played around in it when we'd ridden bikes on the paved trail before. It had been full of lizards that day, but this time there were no lizards. I did notice two peach trees growing up through the middle of the building though. I think they were peach trees. You'd think, living in Georgia, that I'd recognize a peach tree, but you really don't see them all that often, especially in the woods.

There was more amusing signage too.

 More Confusing Signage

"Don't ride your bike here."

The sign itself isn't odd, but the placement sure is. It's like a quarter mile back up on the granite. It would make sense to put a sign like that right next to the bike trail, but why a quarter mile away? A curious biker might notice the cairns and get pretty far down the trail before realizing that they aren't supposed to be there. I've seen similarly placed signs at a park in Roswell and on a trail off of the Suwanee Greenway. This kind of sign placement punishes somebody for doing what they didn't know was wrong rather than educating them on what is wrong to begin with. On top of that, it likely took more effort to place that sign way out in the middle than near the trail. So weird.

Almost all of the mountain had seen some quarrying activity. In some places, from the cliff running around the edge, you could see where the entire top of the knob must have been several feet higher than it is today. In one location, there were blocks and blocks of partially finished stone lying about.

Isabel jumped up on this one and started doing all kinds of awesome dance moves.

 Dancing Machine

She's a dancing machine these days. Sophie tried some ballet moves but her camelback threw her way off balance.

There were partially finished blocks all over the place.


Did they both quarry and finish stone there, on site? Were these rejects? Some of them had cracks or big imperfections on the surface. Were they just smooth from having been sawed or were they really finished like that on purpose? Man, I wish I knew.

A little further on, there was another building, way out in the middle of nowhere, and very different from the last one.

 Granite Building of Some Kind

This one was all mortared up on the inside. What was its purpose!?

Somewhere in there we ran across a frog pond. It was really just another pool on the surface of the rock but it was deeper than the rest and full of both water and vegetation. Yesterday it was also full of tadpoles. There were tiny little tadpoles, medium sized tadpoles and tadpoles bigger than I thought existed. Some of them had legs so I think they might have been a couple of different species. There was a sign nearby that mentioned 3 species of frogs that live in that pool but it didn't mention the size of their tadpoles, so who knows. The sign did mention that coachwhip snakes frequent the area but I didn't see any of those.

Eventually we crossed the road back over to the Arabia-side of the park. I had to use the facilities and just happened upon another old ruin.

 Arabia Mountain Office Ruins

Now I want to go back and just look for old buildings. They appear to be everywhere.

Instead of skirting around the far edge, we pretty much just took a direct route back to the car. Emmie's tail was hanging low and for that matter, Sophie's was too.

 Tired Sophie

She kept asking about dehydration. We'd been talking about how Madison got dehydrated before and about how bad it had been in Florida and I think we kind of scared her. She was fine though, just tired.

Back at the trailhead we had another little snack - beef jerky this time, which the girls love for some reason. We usually get one stick and pass it around. This one was only moderately spicy. We'd about killed ourselves a few weeks back with a 3-pepper Habanero stick and none of us were ready for that again.

We tried to eat at Doc Cheys in Decatur but they didn't open until 4. As much as I eat there, you'd think I would have known that but it was news to me. We ended up at Everybody's Pizza which turned out to be really good. I think we probably hung out for two hours. Travis and Michelle are great. Dangit, I have too many cool friends. It's impossible to spend enough time with each of them. I always leave thinking: "Man, that was fun, we should hang out more..." Over and over.

I guess that's a good problem to have.

Oak Mountain

I first visited Oak Mountain in either 1999 or 2000 and it was the first actual mountain that I ever rode my bike on. My brother and Kirk and I stopped by on the way up to Tsali from New Orleans around Mardi Gras that year. If you live in South Louisiana, after 15 years of Mardi Gras, you tend to want to get out of town. That year, we did and it was one of the best road trips of all time. Oak Mountain left an indelible impression and when I moved to Atlanta, one of the things I was looking forward to was living within a few hours drive.

Since then, I've outgrown a lot of trails that once seemed epic but not Oak Mountain and in fact, the trail itself has only gotten better and more fun. Sadly, it's been a while since I've ridden there, but during that time 6 or 8 miles of new trail have been built and I've just been waiting for the right chance to check it out. Friday night my brother texted me and I was in before I'd read the entire message.

As an added bonus, Mark Baldwin would be joining us.


I haven't ridden with Mark in probably as long as it's been since I rode at Oak Mountain. He used to hammer me into the ground and he and John would hammer each other pretty hard too. He's been sort-of road-only for a while now though and only recently got back on the mountain bike. To celebrate his return, he bought a new bike and was a little surprised to see how much the world has changed since his last one - 29" wheels, 21mm rims, 2x10 drivetrain, pressed-in bottom brackets, large diameter stems, tubeless, 100mm forks...

Now, if only I could join the modern world too. Come on, big money! I guess though, even if I'm riding yesterday's hardware, I can at least ride modern trails.

We met in Douglasville, jumped in John's truck, grabbed some Wendy's, proceeded to Alabama and got into the ride with all available haste.



Most of the "new" trail is on the north side of the lake and they even built a new bridge to get you over the spillway.

 New Bridge

So, now, instead of riding down the road between the parking lot and the old trailhead, you rip flowing IMBA singletrack between the parking lot and the old trailhead. It's a lot of fun, but it actually goes by kind of quickly.

I must be doing something right fitness-wise though because even after we got on the classic trail, it seemed to go by pretty quickly too.

I was having a little trouble though. I don't know if it's all the road riding I've been doing, or all the longer mountain bike rides, but I noticed that I was having trouble twisting around through technical terrain. If I'd see a twisty spot ahead that I needed to shift my body around to be able to hold speed through, I'd half-consciously stop pedaling and drop speed rather than shifting around. It was intuitive though and I remember feeling satisfied that I'd done the efficient thing each time, but we weren't going to ride for 6 hours, we would probably only do two laps, at most, so I didn't really need to conserve. It turned out to be a very hard habit to break, and try as I might, I was only limitedly successful. I'm going to have to work on that. I should at least be able to turn it on and off.

The climb up the big fire road went quicker than I ever remember. I had momentum, even when it was steep. I love when that happens - when something that used to be a major challenge becomes comfortable. Awesome.

Baldwin did get past me for a few seconds in the steepest section, but only for a little while. I'd forgotten about that too. I usually ride by myself or in a friendly group, but with John and Mark it's always a bit of a race, or at least there's always that element of friendly competition. It's just how they ride. I miss that and it was great to get to do it again.

At the top of the fire road there was another "new-to-me" trail off to the right - Boulder Ridge.

 New Trail

John had ridden it once already and indicated that it was a lot like the Pinhoti on Dug Gap.

I'm not sure that's completely accurate, but it's probably the most accurate short-description once can give. The trail is relatively flat but it's punctuated with boulder crawls of varying degrees. The first one, in that direction, actually gave me the most difficulty. It didn't look all that difficult but getting into it, it became confusing enough that I failed to climb it twice. The trail in general is flatter than the on up on Dug Gap Mountain, and you're not perpetually picking through minefields, but when you do get into the rock gardens on Boulder Ridge, they feel very similar.

Somewhere in there, I realized... I've either been on the road, ploughing through sand or pushing through overgrown bayou country for a while now. I'd almost forgotten about rock crawling as even being an aspect of mountain biking at all and it was really, really great to do some.

 Mark on New Trail

We took a wrong turn once, ended up on the Orange hiking trail and had to backtrack for a few hundred yards, but by-and-large it was easy to see where we needed to go and there appeared to be "more-brave" and "less-brave" lines through and around most of the rocks. I tried to take the more-brave lines, but a few of them required committing to something without being able to see what you were committing to and I'm almost never down for that. Now that I've examined them though, I think I'll be confident enough to try some of lines I skipped next time.

Boulder Ridge was awesome. I highly recommend it.

We all cleaned Blood Rock and the BUMP trail was as rocky and fun as ever. I tried punching it on the longer climb in Johnson's Mountain but I ended up fading before the top. Dangit, I'm not there yet. Maybe in a month.

There has always been one section of Oak Mountain that I have always hated. When you'd get out of Johnson's Mountain and cross this little road, you had to climb up over ledge after ledge through the one rutted out section on the whole loop, and it always sucked. Somebody rerouted it a while back though and it's really worn in now. Ahhh. People complain about dumbing down the trail sometimes but I'm going to go ahead now and pre-emptively call out anyone that complains about that section for posturing.

The big loop is sort of a lasso now. You go out on the Lake Trail, pick up the classic loop, then eventually take another new section back to the Lake Trail and then backtrack to the lot for a mile or so. The whole thing is right at 21 miles and it's great in every way that mountain biking can be. Every variety of terrain is represented, as is every type of trail, with varying levels of difficulty. The scenery is beautiful and there's even a view from Boulder Ridge now.

In a word: satisfying.

The only thing that wasn't so satisfying was how late in the day it was getting. We'd gotten a late start because my nephew had a baseball game and though we had daylight for another lap, it wouldn't have been all that responsible to actually do another one. The classic loop up there usually took 1:20-1:40 depending on conditions and who you were riding with, but with all the new miles, and especially with the boulder crawling, it had taken us well over two hours. Another full lap would have been even slower and we just didn't have time for that. We ended up riding another 10 or so by doing the Lake Trail then taking the road up to Johnson's Mountain. It was still pretty good.

When we got back to the lot, there was a huge crew of folks sitting around in camping chairs at the other end with a yard sale of gear scattered around them. Looking at it reminded me of that first trip we'd taken back in '99. We'd wanted to sit around for a while after the ride but our chairs were at the bottom of the trunk and we had to dig just about everything else out to get to them. The spot next to where we parked looked like our trunk had exploded into it. I had a photo of it once. Ha. I wonder where that photo went.

The ride was awesome but it didn't go entirely unpunished. My right knee started itching, and wouldn't you know it...

 First Tick This Year

Yes. The first tick of the year.

Dangit, I'd almost forgotten about those.

Yay. Ticks.

I sent that photo to Tim on the drive back but I don't think he was amused.

We ate some mexican food at the Margarita Grill and it would have been great except that they put queso sauce on my enchiladas even after the guy told me it would be chili sauce, and then when he took it back to change it, they just lightly scraped about 1/3rd of the queso off and then covered that with chili sauce. Aaaaaaah!!! I don't really hate queso, but I really don't like it either. The chicken and rice were really good though so I'll definitely go back but I'll also have to make triple sure that the waiter understands, don't put any queso anywhere near my plate!

There were some dudes playing some acoustic classic rock right behind us too and they were really good. I was almost disappointed that we couldn't just hang out for a while but we really needed to go.

I think the last race of the Chainbuster series is at Oak Mountain again this year, or at least one of the races is. That'll probably be the next time I ride there and I already can't wait.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Weekly Beatdown

When I picked up my 2012 Reality Bikes kit a while back it included two jerseys: a standard short-sleeve jersey and a foreign-looking long-sleeve jersey. The long-sleever took me a off guard when I saw it because it wasn't fleece-lined or special in any way except for the length of the sleeves.

"When am I ever going to wear this?"

Since then, it has been slightly cool and/or wet and rainy almost every day and I've worn it on no fewer than 4 of the 5 rides I've done since picking it up. I don't know who decided to take a regular jersey and give it long sleeves but that guy deserves a Heineken Light, as both are "occasionally perfect". Today was one of those occasions.

I tried to get out about an hour before the group ride and do my little Melody Mizer loop but I just happened to notice a mean cut in my rear tire. I'd flatted a month ago and booted it but the tube was now, finally pushing though the boot. Yay. I ended up just going to the shop and getting it fixed. Turned out I had another cut in it too that wasn't as bad. With the wheel off, I also discovered that my brake pads were worn down to nothing, and upon letting a little of the cable out to replace the pads, realized that the part that had previously been exposed was dragging really bad and needed to be replaced. Woohoo!

I'm a better mechanic than most riders but still infinitely slower and clumsier than the most junior actual mechanic and it was fortunate that the guys at the shop took over. I managed to join the ride as it was leaving. On my own I'd have missed it entirely.

It's been raining all week. Yesterday I got caught out in it for about an hour. Today the roads were just wet. No water was actually falling from the sky when we rode out but still, the threat kept most everybody home and we combined the B1 and B2 groups. I think B1 had over 60 riders last week. Today the combined group might have had 25.

On the rollout I met a guy named Brian LaFleur who just moved up here. He's only been riding for about 6 months but he hung with us easily. Nice guy.

Near the end I met Isaac Brown. We're on the mountain bike team together. It's funny. We all sort of know each other or at least sort of know of each other but the team is new and we haven't all gotten together in one place yet.

I had fun today. I'm starting to get comfortable digging in again. I even pinned it for as long as I could at the end, leading out a group for the final sprint, felt good the whole time and recovered within a minute. It's all coming back again. I've got a race in a few weeks. I might even be in half-decent shape for it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Weekly Beatdown

Ahh, it's that time again. Time to dig deep, or at least a little deeper than I have been.

Group ride season is upon us again.

Today I got to rock my new 2012 kit. Gotta break it in sometime.

 New Kit

The sun was devastating my eyes in that photo. I'm surprised they weren't watering.

As usual, I got dropped, from the B1 group, right away.

 Getting Dropped

Aaah, the humanity!

Man, it's just too early in the season for this kind of thing.

Fortunately there were a million riders in the group and I was able to drop back and ride with a chase group.

Later on I got warmed up and I was able to pin it and recover, over and over, just like old times. Ahhh. Too bad it didn't happen earlier.

My equilibrium is off though, I usually have that satisfying all-over tired when I'm done but not today.

Ehh, it's early in the season.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Buford Hatchery and Sawnee Mountain

Oh, man. I woke up today, really feeling that Pulaski work yesterday. It didn't seem too strenuous yesterday, but apparently it was, so we went fishing.

 Iz Fish

 Sophie Fish

The girls caught every fish in the pond. Nineteen by their count. All panfish, but they seemed generally bigger than what we were catching last year.

Ever since Kathryn hooked that big one, I've been chasing the catfish dragon with little to show for it. Three good bumps were all I got today. Maybe I need sharper hooks.

The kids caught so many fish that they became bored, of catching them. That's a new one.

We left the pond and took a little walk up Sawnee Mountain.

 The Girls at the Indian Seats

On the way back down we discovered that they'd re-routed the main trail and combined it with one of the other trails. And me without my GPS. Dangit.

I like the re-route though. You pass all of the old mines.

I got a bug in my eye and had to go by the bathroom at the visitors center to dig it out. That part sucked but the rest of the day was great.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Jake Mountain

Today was work party day at Jake Mountain. I actually drove home from Baton Rouge yesterday so I could make it rather than staying all weekend, which was good because we were a little shorter handed than usual.

We've done finishing work on most of Jake and Moss Branch east of FS28-1, but we still have the section of Jake from the intersection with Moss down to Jones Creek. I've ridden the other sections a few times recently and they appear to be holding up fantastically, and all we've had to do is deberming and nicking, standard stuff.

We are having two bits of trouble though.

The corridor is about 4 feet wide but the trail itself is settling in at about a foot and change. This is great for bikes and hikers but horses prefer a trail closer to two feet wide. The narrowing has mainly occurred as a result of the backslope settling in. When we deberm the trail, it actually reintroduces an inch or two on the outside but at some point we need to go back in and clear a bit of the backslope away. This will be tricky though, I don't want it to pack down below the level of the main trail. We'll have to proceed cautiously there.

Another problem is that when we deberm the trail, it leaves a swath of exposed soil for about a foot on the downslope. There are really two issues with that.

The first is just cosmetic. Any recently worked section looks like a demolition crew just came through. Though the trail needed work, before the work was done, to the untrained eye at least, it looked natural and pretty. Post-work it looks pretty bad for a while, and with the end of winter, we're not likely to get any new leaf litter for a while.

The second issue is that to a horse, and possibly to a fast-moving cyclist, it just looks like the trail is a foot wider. I've seen a few tire tracks in the newly exposed soil but mainly hoof prints. The trail itself is hard and solid but the uncovered soil is soft and it's apparently creating a bit of a problem. Nothing bad has happened yet, but it's possible for a horse to step into the softness and stumble, maybe even fall.

One thing we did today was to cover any newly worked soil that we don't want anyone to ride on.

For example, here was a section of trail that needed to be debermed.


Here it is post-deberming.


And here it is, all covered up.


Upon re-covering, it's really obvious where you should go and where you shouldn't go. Hopefully this will be sufficient. Only time will tell.

We got maybe a third of a mile done today, and not even totally done. I always want to do full-on deberming of the entire length of the trail but we just didn't have enough hands for that and we ended up focusing on the bottoms of the grade reversals. One of them even had a tree on the upslope and needed a ton of work, including some rock armoring.

Ideally we need to run a blade all the way down the edge of the trail. I can even thing of some spots that we've worked already that could use that treatment. I'm not sure you can realistically even get a dingo in there though. The hand-deberming is very effective, it just takes forever. I've used a tiller to do that kind of work in my yard before and it always seemed like it might be the perfect low-impact trail sculpting tool. It would take off the edge as well as a pulaski in a tenth of the time, with a hundredth of the effort and somebody could just follow behind with a fire rake and a MacLeod like we do now. I can think of a couple of other uses for it too. I wonder if I'd need all of the different certifications to run a tiller in the National Forest. I'll have to find out.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


In the late 90's, if you lived in Baton Rouge and rode a mountain bike then you pretty much had two places to ride: Hooper Road in Baton Rouge - a mostly intermediate course, or Clear Springs in Mississippi, an I-hope-you-don't-mind-dying-in-the-woods course. Then, suddenly there was Liberty. First it was just rumored to exist, then there were rumors of organized group rides and then finally somebody I knew had actually ridden there.

It was a New Trail. Beginner-to-intermediate, and it was fun, and as an added bonus, scenic. I threw it into my rotation and rode there every couple of weeks.

Then one day I got a speeding ticket driving into town in late '99, then we moved to Atlanta, and then I forgot about the ticket. For years and years, I'd find it, put it somewhere that I was sure I'd remember, then just forget about it again. I didn't actually pay it until 2009. Terrible.

I'd only remember about it when I'd visit the in-laws, usually when I drove into Mississippi. Though I'd always wanted to go back, fear of jail kept me from Liberty. And yes, I appreciated the irony of the name.

My debt paid though, earlier today I returned to the scene of the crime.

We all called it Liberty because that's the name of the nearest town, but technically the trails are at Ethel Vance Park.

 Ethel Vance Park Sign

I kitted up and rode to the trail head, started my GPS and read "Low Battery Warning" on the screen. Oops. No problem, I've got spare... Oh... Wait. The spare batteries are already in there. Yay. I'd seen a gas station a mile or so back up the road though, and in a fit of what must be the most backwards logic of all time, feeling too lazy to throw my bike back on the car, I "just" rode to the gas station on my bike.

Twenty minutes later I was back with new batteries and a smile.

Hmmm. I didn't remember routes. It has been 12 years though.

 Ethel Vance Routes

I started with the Blue route. At first it was primo, perfectly undulating, bench cut singletrack, just as I remembered, and it led around the back of a campground into what I used to think of as vertical switchbacks, more accurately described today as fall line climbs and descents. Thirteen years of Mississippi rain had taken its toll though and they were as rutted, chunky and abandoned as one might expect. It didn't look like they got much traffic any more. A shame.

It had rained the night before, pretty heavily, actually, and I was slipping on every root. At the top of a short climb, I reached out to a nearby stump to steady myself and the whole thing gave way and toppled over under my weight.

 Knocked over stump

It turned out that it was just the hollow shell of a stump, barely hanging on, like a loose tooth waiting for an apple.

I moved on. The rest of the Blue loop didn't look like it had seen much use either. One section was so overgrown that I missed it and ended up on some half-flooded doubletrack for a while before circling back and picking it up.


Blue led to Orange and I remembered Orange being mostly flat.

My memory was more or less accurate. It wound around along the edge of various bayous that threaded themselves through the park. Occasionally there was a bridge to get you across. Some of the bridges were big eagle-scout-project-looking structures, others were just old corrugated metal plating haphazardly spanning the gulf.

In particular, I'd remembered one bridge over a huge field of cypress knees and I kept looking for it. Way back it was a sketchy little metal thing and I was always scared of slipping off and getting impaled. Today there was an 8-foot wide wooden construction with railings and I was a lot less nervous.

 Cypress Knees

The field of knees was still there, though I struggled to get a photo that captured it's massiveness.

I wasn't nervous about crossing the gigantic bridge, but it turned out that I should have been. It was really steep, covered with leaves, and not covered with grip tape or wire or anything that might create traction. I had to walk up it and trying to walk down the other side was like trying to walk in that ice in the Canyon. About halfway down I remember thinking "Lean forward on the bike like if it were poles so you don't lose..." Wham! I hadn't even gotten the thought out and I'd already not done what I was thinking about doing and suffered the exact fate I was thinking about how to avoid suffering. Woohoo.

I was unhurt, but also unhappy.

The Orange loop didn't appear to get much traffic any more either. In fact, if there hadn't been plenty of signs and ribbons, I might have had a hard time finding the trail. It reminded me of Lake D'Arbonne, and it was a far cry from it's former singletrack glory.

The scenery was just as good as always though. The cedar trees and the frogs and the slow-moving bayous were all still there.


So was the Amite River. Eventually the trail skirted it as well. I'd once seen a herd of deer cross that river not 30 yards up the trail from me. There were no deer today though.

The trail had always gone right up to the edge of the river and occasionally dove down into what remained of little landslides along the edge. Things have changed a bit along the edge there and today, in several places, the trail led directly into thin air.

 Trail into the river

Two of them had obvious reroutes. One did not. It could well have given way in the storm the night before.

There was an observation tower that hadn't been there in the 90's.

 Amite Overlook

It provided a nice view of the Amite River, which was torrential.

 Amite River

Eventually the trail led away from the river and back toward the park but a loooong section of it was deeply flooded.

 Flooded Trail

Should I ride in the middle and chew up the trail, walk in the middle, get wet feet and chew up the trail or ride/walk on the side and widen the trail? It's like the "paper-or-plastic?" There's no good answer. Oil or timber? I guess these days, both are recycled, so maybe that's not the best analogy. I did a bit of all 4. It turned out that the puddles mostly had solid bottoms and mostly weren't more than an inch or two deep, but I rode in them for over half an hour.

Eventually I got back around to the car. There was still a Red loop though and it took a while to figure out exactly where to go to ride it. The Red loop seemed to get the most traffic and also seemed to be designed the best but it was only a mile or two long and just wound around randomly through the woods, a long way from any specific scenery.

It did have this massive root ball though.

 Massive Root Ball

That was cool.

When I got back to the car, I'd ridden around for almost 3 hours and I doubt the system had more than about 10 or 12 miles of trail. I guess I should subtract out the trip to the store and back, and getting dressed. Still though, that's how tough it was to pick my way around the route.

One great thing about Liberty is that the bathrooms have showers, and man I needed a shower. Not only was I covered in grit and spider webs but I hadn't washed my kit since getting back from Florida. It was disgusting and by the transitive property, so was I. Ahh, showers. The hot water even worked.

The ride was anticlimactic. I'd been looking forward to it but it didn't really turn out like I'd hoped. Oh well, sometimes things just aren't what they used to be. That's what I get for procrastinating. I should have paid that ticket and ridden there years ago.