Monday, August 20, 2012

Drama Queen

The Drama Queen is an organized mountain bike ride in the Cohuttas put on by the Ellijay Mountain Bike Association -slash- Cartecay Bikes -slash- Mike and Terry Palmeri. I'm actually not sure who exactly to attribute it to, but those three are somewhat synonymous in my mind at least, so I'll go ahead and attribute it to all three and hope that proper credit comes out in the wash.

Every year I miss this ride. There's always something else that I need to do. I think most years there's been a 6-hour race going on and in years past I've needed series points so badly that I just did the 6-hour instead. In fact, Kenny's 6-hour at Heritage did conflict this year, but as much as I love his events, it'll be years before i see another podium and when I heard that the Drama Queen was this weekend, I couldn't imagine missing it.

The event is staged out of Mulberry Gap and Diane's been encouraging me and the girls to come up and visit for months so we took her up on it and drove up Friday night after Isabel's gym practice.

As luck would have it, Cabin 1 was available.

 Cabin 1

 Cabin 1 - Interior

Cabin 1 is extra good because it's the closest to the bath house and it has 2 sets of bunk beds. Not every night, but most nights this past summer, the girls picked out a movie, watched it together on the travel DVD player in one of their beds and fell asleep 2/3rds of the way though in some awkward position. So, it's not like they're not used to sharing a bed, but if they don't have to, it's just that much better.

We slept well, or at least I did. The ride started at 9 but breakfast was served at 6:30 so we were up with the sun.

Sophie has this little notebook that she draws things that she sees in and she'd brought it with her. It's visible in her right hand below.

 The Girls

It's very well organized and it reminds me of a field journal or something. She went around all morning examining her world and picking out things to draw.

'Round about 6:45, breakfast was served.


We stuffed ourselves on waffles, pancakes, fruit and eggs. Iz ate a ton of sausage too. She's really growing these days and her stomach is a vacuous pit with a black hole at the bottom.

The other riders started showing up, or at least waking up around 7:30. Among them were Matt and Becky Kicklighter and the twins.

 Matt, Becky and Kids

She's got twins in there. Two buns in that oven! Woohoo! My sister-in-law had twins a little while ago. You guys are gonna have all kinds of fun!

At the Blankets Creek 6-hour I didn't recognize a soul for like the first hour or more, but not so at the Drama Queen. I don't think anyone was there that I didn't know, or at least that I didn't recognize.

I had a teammate there too. Tony!

 Tony Scarpero


And my brother showed up:

 The Frere

That's two events in a row that we've ridden together. It's getting to be just like old times.

About 8:00 it started raining. Not just a little rain, but big fat rain. It would start to let up, then bam! more big fat rain. The start was slated for 9 but at quarter to 9 it was still sprinkling and people were walking around in their street clothes so Terry pushed it back to 10. I had to sit around in my kit for an hour but it was actually a good call. It quit raining right at 9 and by 10 had already started to dry up.

The inaugural Drama Queen wasn't called the Drama Queen at all. It was something like the Cohutta Tour or something. I don't know. At the end though, one of the riders had apparently been overwhelmed by the experience and blew into a rant, condemning every aspect of the ride and every aspect of its organizers. Adding insult to injury, this gentleman was then declared "winner", thenceforth the ride would be known as the "Drama Queen" and thenceforth, the title of "winner" would go not to the rider who finishes first, but rather to whoever comes up with the most creative complaint. I can't swear to every detail but that's the gist of the history, as I understand it.

The girls were off playing in the game room or feeding the chickens or feeding the fish or some other self-sufficient mini-adventure. The riders all lined up, and around 10 o'clock Terry said something like "Ok, y'all can go now."

And off we went.

In the spirit of the event, as I describe what followed, I will pepper in sarcastic "complaints", in italics.

The group I rode out with consisted of 5 other riders: my brother, Marc Hirsch, two other guys from Faster Mustache and Heather who's last name I can't remember all of a sudden, but who is a former Single Speed World Champion.

If you win the SSWC, you get a tattoo on the back of your upper arm. It's just part of the deal. You sign up accepting this. The tattoo is strategically placed so that the riders behind you can see it, and I'll tell ya, it's a little intimidating.

We hucked up over Mulberry Gap proper and began climbing Pinhoti 3.

 Climbing P3

Before long I was peppered with little bits of organic material, head to toe. It was somewhat inconvenient.

Why did they have to schedule the event for a day that it was going to rain? It's really simple. Find a day that it's not going to rain on and schedule the event for that day. I mean, come on, duh.

There's something to this IMBA trails design crap. Not an hour after torrential rain, the whole trail was clean and rideable, devoid of all puddles and the back half was dry. I was peppered with little bits of duff, but that was all.

The Faster Mustache Pain Train had pulled away and John had dropped back a bit.

We'd climbed P3 for 3 miles but when we hit the Highway we had another 2 or 3 still to go.

I briefly caught Marc and his crew but they pulled away again.

 Faster Mustache Pain Train

At one of the many overlooks I caught a glimpse of the Cohuttas across the valley, shrouded in mist. I'd be over there in an hour or so. I wondered if it would clear up or if I'd be riding through the spooky haunted forest across the top.


I cannot lie, the climb up Fort Mountain was tough.

What's up with all this riding on the road anyway? I mean come on, Fort Mountain State Park has horse trails that lead right over to the other side of the mountain. There's no reason we couldn't have just used those. The event director has final say over what trails are ok to use for an event, not the land owners, right?

The descent down off of Fort Mountain was as fun as the climb had been difficult. In the shadows the road wasn't quite dry yet. I even had to tap my brakes a couple of times. I also passed 3 very confused looking roadies who were climbing in the opposite direction. I wonder what they thought we were up to. It must have seemed strange. It's not every day you see a dozen dirty mountain bikers tearing down that particular climb.

The road from the bottom of Fort Mountain over to Windy Gap is just roller after roller but it's fairly straight and you can see a long way ahead and behind. I looked back once and saw a rider approaching. When I looked back again he'd closed half the distance. Then I heard a whistle, recognized it was my brother and sat up until he caught.

He'd finally woken up.

We caught several more riders but the FM crew was still way up ahead. We kept thinking we'd caught them but then it would turn out to be somebody else.

The initial climb up to the Windy Gap lot was fun but Windy Gap itself was as steep and strenuous as I remembered. Near the intersection with Milma I had to walk a couple of humps.

We caught the FM crew at Milma. Heather had gone on ahead but the guys were there and we rode out on Milma together. Milma is nothing but fun. All the trails in the area are part of an ATV loop and there are huge, deep rolling dips every 100 feet or so. On Windy Gap they make for difficult climbing but Milma is much more shallow and they're just jump after jump on the downhills.

We caught Heather somewhere in there and I had to drop back as we approached Tibbs. Tibbs is inconceivably steep and it really sucks to go into it even a little bit tired.



It never looks bad in photos. I need a rider in there for scale. I was so sweaty that the touch screen on my phone barely worked so I didn't get the shot until my brother was out of frame.

It's so inconveniently humid in the North Georgia Mountains after it rains. You sweat but it doesn't evaporate, it just runs down your body and it's so gross. You want to wipe your face but you're just wiping your wet face with your equally wet and substantially worse smelling glove. Ewww. I like to hammer out miles, I don't have energy to spare dealing with "conditions." If the event director can't do something about this next time, it's just not worth riding any more of his events.

Tibbs was no joke. Imagine if you dug a road all the way down through the dirt until it was nothing but exposed rock, then dumped a series of dump trucks full of randomly sized rocks, from gravel up to 8-inch boulders on top of that. Such is Tibbs. It's difficult on a dry day, but with the damp, every rock was slippery and you really had to work to hold any kind of line.

Again with the wetness. Sooo inconvenient. I'm not interested in finessing my way up a climb. Wet rocks are the worst. If I can't power over every rock, well, that's just not my idea of mountain biking. I don't understand why the event director couldn't have dried out the course for us. I mean really, is that too much to ask?

One-by-one, the FM riders passed me.

Up near the top there are these big crazy shelves that it's difficult to find a line to walk through, much less ride.

 Tibbs up Near the Top

The first SAG stop was at the top and when I arrived, I found my brother and the FM crew waiting.

 SAG 1

Apparently one of their guys was still behind me. I refueled and rested a few minutes. Several single-speed riders came through. I can only imagine that they'd walked 90% of it. I'd be interested in watching a good singlespeeder climb Tibbs. I'm sure they ride more than I think, but still, I can't imagine it myself.

The last FM guy showed up quickly but he was dead tired. We all headed east but he quickly retired and spun back to the SAG.

 Headed East

I always feel bad after climbing Tibbs. That transition from a full-force, grinding climb to a steady tempo on the gravel road is just difficult for any part of my body to make. My legs twinge like they want to cramp. I get sick at my stomach. My knees feel weird. It's rough, but fortunately it only takes about 10 minutes to wear off.

We were 30 miles into a 60 mile ride and Marc commented briefly on the Adversity we'd all faced already. The day's activities had made a solid transition from Ride to Adventure.

We pushed east along the interminable gravel road along the top of the ridge.

And another thing... Gravel roads? What's up with all the gravel roads? Surely there must be some set of trails leading from Tibbs to Mountaintown. Why couldn't we just use them? I mean, come on, really. Gravel roads? My kids can ride on gravel roads. Climbing on gravel roads is so easy. If I don't have to finesse my way over wet rocks on every climb, that's just not my idea of mountain biking.

We yo-yo'ed back and forth all the way to Potatopatch. My brother and I would pull away on the descents and the FM riders would pull away on the climbs.

At Potatopatch, John had had enough and took the shortcut back to Mulberry.

In the old days, pre-Pinhoti, we used to ride "The Ellijay Big Loop" - up Bear Creek, over and down Windy Gap, across Milma, up Tibbs, over to Mountaintown and down it back to the car. It was always tempting to skip Mountaintown because you're always really tired, it's a long way over and there are 2 or 3 mean little kicks on the way. But, having done it before, all those times, I knew I'd be alright and I kept going.

I caught the FM crew taking a break at the Mountaintown overlook.

 Mountaintown Overlook View

They pulled ahead again but I caught up with them at SAG 2 in the Mountaintown lot.

I think it's been 3 or 4 years since I rode Mountaintown. The trail ends at a privately owned road and for a while nobody but residents were allowed to use the road so SORBA discouraged riding it. There was also controversy about the trail itself. There were allegations that "it's completely blown out, top to bottom" and that the lake at the bottom is filling in because of all the sedimentation caused by mountain bike traffic on the trail.

So, the forest service proposed closing the bottom half to bikes and routing them over to Bear Creek on the Pinhoti after doing some work on it too. This didn't sit very well at first either though.

So, the forest service commissioned a stream study and it found that Mountaintown Creek proper was very healthy, and as healthy as the adjacent Heddy Creek which has no bike trail running along or across it.

They also commissioned Trail Dynamics to evaluate the construction of the trail itself and they found it to be in fine shape, much better shape than most of the hike-only trails in the forest, in fact, except for one short chunk in the middle and then again way down at the bottom where it flattens out - below where the forest service had proposed re-routing bikes off of the trail.

And the lake filling in... A dam is like a giant water bar. The creek drops all of its sediment load when it hits the lake. Every dammed up lake has a lifespan. Hills Lake was given a 50 year lifespan when it was created in 1961 or 1962. That's why it was filing in.

So, some combination of those efforts, plus the efforts of EMBA working with the local landowners and CoTrails generally building goodwill and educating people and who knows what else... At the end of the day, we're allowed to ride the road out again and ride the trail again, with SORBA's blessing.

I have always loved that trail, and dropping off the road onto it was like seeing an old friend.

About a half mile down I ran into some hikers and stopped to chat with them for a minute or two. They were waterfall hunters, looking for the falls they'd heard about on the trail. I was excited for them actually, since they hadn't seen it yet. It's not the most amazing falls, but it's pretty good for a random no-name falls in the middle of nowhere.

I continued my descent but when I heard the falls, I had to stop and have a look myself.

 Mountaintown Creek Falls

I rode through several rock gardens and crossed several streams. The USFS had also commissioned some contract work up there a few years back to restore the rolling dips up at the top and armor the stream crossings. The armoring looked pretty good, though it is a little hard to tell when you're moving on the bike. It blended in well at least. Some folks complained right afterward that it was an eyesore but if it was, it didn't appear to be one any more.

Oh man, it's so beautiful back in there! It's been so long, I forget. I kept getting distracted and slowing down, looking around. When I had to walk a stream I'd stop and look around even more. That trail is unique in Georgia. Every inch is scenic and if you get bored of the scenery, well, it's still a fast descent. Win, win.

There were a couple of downed trees but I could see where Mike's work party had cut out dozens of them last month.

There was one spot near the bottom where the stream itself had eaten away the outer bank in recent years, all the way up to the backslope and taken about a foot of trail with it. That was pretty crazy.

I have to say though, I'm sick of all this dumbing down of the trail. As a mountain biker, there are only 3 things that I'm interested in: showing off my awesome skills, destroying the watershed and creating unauthorized trails. By armoring the stream crossings and cutting out downed trees, you make it way more difficult for me to show off my awesomeness, damage the watershed or create unauthorized trails around the trees. I mean, come on. If I don't have to hop over, get off and walk around or climb 5 feet up in the air over a tangle of deadfall, that's just not my idea of mountain biking. And while we're on the subject of downed trees, I had to hop over, get off and walk around, or climb several feet in the air over multiple downed trees. Why weren't these trees removed before I rode through? If I have to hop over, get off and walk around or climb over a tangle of deadfall, that's just not my idea of mountain biking.

I felt so good at the bottom of the trail. The day's fatigue had all but evaporated, or at least that's how I felt for a while.

I'd gotten out ahead of the FM riders at the start of the downhill. On the road out I kept looking for them but there was no sign of them behind me.

On the way up to Bear Creek I passed a fisherman on his way back down to Gates Chapel. I noticed he was carrying a spincast rig and asked him about the fishing. Above the campground the pools are shallow and the water is fast so fly-fishing is the way to go but apparently down below the campground, it gets deep and broad and it's even good for family fishing in few spots.

Ahh, dangit I'm supposed to be hammering out miles and I got distracted again.

Pinhoti 1 was much steeper than I remember it being. Ohh, it sucked every ounce of energy out of my body. I was glad to be approaching the end.

The gravel road up to P2 wasn't too bad. The grasstrack was even better.

When I saw the sign for the final descent my heart lifted for real though.


It's such a joy descending P2. All rides should end with that run. I can't wait until my girls are big enough to ride it with me.

The final push over Mulberry Gap proper was murder. I got passed by a guy on a singlespeed about 100 yards from the gap too. Ha.

I made it though, rolled down toward the resort and spun up the pavement to the barn. Isabel was sitting there on a rock waiting for me.

It's hard to describe how good it feels to bury yourself all day and then see somebody you love waiting for you at the end. Usually there are people you know, but they're not waiting for you, they're just there. She was happy to see me and she said "good job" or something and I can't explain how good it felt.

I showered, sat on a bench looking at the fish with Diane and Iz for a while, took a short nap and started to feel less like the motor for a machine and more like a human being.

They were going to ring the dinner bell at dinner time but we were kind of far away so I asked Iz to go check and see if it was ready. About 15 minutes later Sophie woke me up: "Isabel's been gone a long time."

So the two of us went to see if dinner was ready. Iz was sitting there eating. I guess technically she did what I asked. She found out that, yes, it was dinner time. I guess I should have made a point of telling her to report back with her findings. Ha ha ha.

Ginny had grilled up some pork butt and pulled it all apart. There was also bread and delicious watermelon.


We feasted gloriously. Sophie got tired around 9 and made herself a little bed out of a couple of chairs. Me and Iz sat up for a while, talking with the adults. She's growing up so much these days. A lot of kids will annoy you with constant interjections about random stuff but Iz can contribute materially and appropriately to a conversation among adults these days. I love it. It might have helped that we were mostly telling stories about odd things that animals we've had did. Ask Matt Smith about the road trip with the siamese cat, it's pretty good.

Marc and like 10 other people went hot-tubbing. I'm not sure how they all fit into the hot tub, but we didn't hang around to find out. The girls needed to get home and I didn't want to be too tired to drive so we hit the road.

And so ended Drama Queen 2012! What a great ride. What a great day. It's a shame that I waited so long to give this particular ride a try.

Rope Mill

My dad was in town again last week and we managed to sneak a ride in this past Friday.

I say "sneak" but "force" might be the more appropriate verb. We both frantically threw everything together that we'd been working on all day and arrived at the Rope Mill lot at nearly 7 PM with just over an hour to ride.

I generally have this rule about how the ride must last longer than the drive to/from the ride and also this rule about just not forcing a ride, but every now and then it turns out to have been worth it, so I went for it, and it all turned out ok.

There's not much to tell about the ride itself really. Rope Mill is fast and flowing and just generally fun to ride. My Dad's in good shape these days so following him was like chasing a little blue fighter jet through the woods. We rode the new section of the Explorer Trail. For some reason, my Dad and I are both prone to chattering away when we ride together, so we did plenty of that too.

Man, it was great. The best part though, and it's one of those memories that I think is going to last... We were finishing up, heading back to the lot and the light was beginning to fail. In the distance I could hear the traffic on 575. I love the sound of distant traffic for some reason. We came around some corner and the warm glow of the lights in the lot suddenly became visible. It had been warm all day, a typical late summer day, but at the end of the day there it had cooled off just slightly. It was a hint of fall, or maybe the promise of fall. Right then we hit a short little descent.

All together: my Dad winding through the woods ahead of me, the fading light, the traffic in the distance, the welcoming street lights, that quick burst of speed, that unexpectedly cool air... it was perfect. A perfect moment. I think I'm going to remember it for a long time.

It doesn't happen often, but sometimes forcing a ride works out just right.

Monday, August 13, 2012


So there are these guys that love women's shoes... Straight guys even, at least some of them. They watch the fashion world turn with envious eyes, and when Saks has a new pair of Jimmy Choos, they go full-on Carrie Bradshaw over them.

I never fancied myself one of those guys and I don't feel like I am, but I seem to be inching uncomfortably closer every year.

 New Shoes

Those are my new shoes, and "the eye that has brains" might notice that they are women's shoes. Those were the least girly-looking pair. It was either those or bright orange. I think I chose wisely.

The last 4 pairs of athletic shoes I've purchased have been women's. Why? Apparently I have dainty little feminine feet. I wear anywhere between an 8 and 10 in guys shoes, but for some reason the running/hiking shoe sizes are bigger than their casual/business counterparts, an 8 is slightly too big and nobody carries sizes smaller than an 8, I mean come on, who has feet that small? Occasionally I'll find an 8 that's close but it'll be either too wide or too long and I'll have to get the women's 10 in that same shoe, which, for some reason, always fits.

And now I've done it again.

Fun fact. My daughter Isabel has the opposite problem. She's the only one in our house who wears men's shoes.

The eye that has brains might also notice that those are barefoot running shoes. My brother hiked is ass all over creation in similar shoes last year without the slightest hint of injury, whereas I wore some bad-ass Keens, put in 1/10th of the miles he did and had non-stop problems with blisters, tendonitis and rolled ankles.

Enough! I'm buying into this fad. Lets see how they do.

I'd planned on riding my bike today and I even contacted Tim a few days ahead of time but he was too busy busting his face to join me. I bought a new pair of pants yesterday while buying those shoes, and with new gear burning a hole in my pocket and no riding partner on-hand, it was an easy decision to go hiking instead.

I rolled the mental dice and the Coopers Creek WMA popped up. The TNGA's going through there and there's a subtle change to the main road that I need GPS data for. Plus, there are dotted lines all over my maps of the area. Dotted lines meaning trails that I've seen but have not yet explored.

Explore them!

They say nothing remains constant except change itself, or something like that. Somebody said something like that I think. Such appears to be the case, in my life at least.

Ever since I started working for myself, I've made ok money but it's still ramping up, the money comes in lumps and it's inconsistent at best so now I'm making some radical changes to reduce our monthly expenditures until such time as we have a gigantic enough buffer built up to accommodate any eventualities. For example, we just paid off my wife's car, reduced our tv/internet bill service to the bare minimum, ditto for phones, and I'm planning on selling my beloved Subaru Outback this upcoming week. We just can't afford the note right now.

Our phone bill is less than half of what it used to be but as a result my iPhone has become a glorified iPod touch and I've got to carry around a separate dork phone now. Woohoo! It's worth it but I'm still not used to it and I keep letting the iPhone's battery die. I noticed that the battery was dead on the drive up and I didn't have the charger in my car. It meant that this adventure would be photoless which isn't that big of a deal, but the gravity of the situation (minor as it may be) hit me with unexpected force.

What if I see a mountain lion?

What if I see a bigfoot?

Nobody would believe me. And since I take so many photos and damn near always have my camera, and this is well known, it would seem that much less believable. That would be my luck too. On the day I have no camera, I'd see bigfoot riding a flying unicorn, chasing a leprechaun riding a mountain lion.

Well, I didn't see any of those things, this time. Next time I probably won't either, but only because I'll have my camera ready. They're out there.

I drove all the way up FS264 and parked at the end.

On the way in I realized how rough the road is. Prior to Sea Creek falls there are a bunch of deep potholes, then you ford 12 inches of water or more, then the road gets seriously chunky with big slabs of rock sticking out at odd angles everywhere. It'd be tough to fix with a grader and probably you wouldn't want to, really, as it's all very stable. I haven't paid mind to such terrain, really ever, but with the pending sale of my Outback, I sure do notice it now. Kathryn's Fit would have bottomed out in the first pothole and it'd probably still be there. I guess I'll just be walking a lot farther in the future, or maybe I'll have to ride in, stash the bike, put on the new shoes and run around for a few hours. I do that sometimes now, just in the bike shoes actually, just not for hours and hours. Ehh... I'll have to figure that out later. Back to the story at hand...

I parked at the end of 264.

Years back I'd driven up there and seen a trail leading on with a white, official-looking carsonite stake hammered into the middle of it, marked with a yellow blaze. I wondered if I'd misremembered that, but no, there it was, for real. With such official-looking signage, the trail must go somewhere, right?

Not really.

I mean, it starts off all promising, clean and well travelled and I'm sure it goes _somewhere_, but it narrows down after the first little creek crossing and becomes frustratingly overgrown with rhodo and other little saplings before too long. It featured a surprising number of little spur trails and spurs of spurs, most of which were less overgrown than the main trail, but they all led to equally short ends. I was decoding the fingers of an old logging network. Darnit.

Back to the car.

Along the road, years ago, I'd seen several little overgrown side trails and marked them for future exploration. It turned out that upon further inspection, they were less overgrown than they'd originally looked.

There were two of them and the first one was only slightly less frustrating than that one earlier. The trail clearly got some use but alternated between wide open and easily navigable to chocked full of downed trees or overgrown with rhodo or obscured by ferns and brambles to clean and beautiful again.

It turned out to be a logging network too. Loops off of loops, spurs off of those.

Despite the boringness and reclamation, there were clear signs of traffic all over the place. Who the heck else walks up in here? Other explorers like myself?

I found a spent shotgun shell, so that's one obvious answer, but then I also found this somewhat expensive, though old, hiking pole.


Must have been attached to somebody's pack, fallen off and then later ravaged by animals.

I packed it out.

When I first went exploring that area, way back, I hiked up and down Jones Creek and found the same kind of trail system. It looked like each little cove north of the road had it's own little self-contained logging network that didn't extend up over the ridge to the adjoining cove. I imagine that's how the lots were divided up way back. Thinking about it, I imagined competing crews of axe men, racing their timber to the mill. Now that I think about it, I wonder if there was a lumber mill below Sea Creek Falls. I never thought of that before. Might make sense actually, it'd be a decent place for one.

(Update: Ha! There was a mill there, or at least this guy claims there was:

Imagination aside though, the day had been kind of boring so far, but that's just because I hadn't yet reached the cove next door.

The trail was very well defined. From the clearing of debris, it looked like people might even walk side-by-side sometimes. As uninventoried trails go, this one seemed fairly popular. Perhaps it led to the Duncan Ridge Trail at the top of the mountain, or maybe up over the gap and into a neighborhood on the other side. Something!

It turned out neither one was true, but I did find out why the trail was so popular, or at least maybe why. After walking about half a mile or so, I suddenly came face to face with a gigantic poplar rivalling the Gannett Poplar in size. It was a foot off the trail, and there's no way you could miss it.

I don't really know if it's as big as the Gannett, I'd have to measure or put something in front of it for reference, but it was freakin' huge and damnit why did I forget to charge my iPhone today!!!

Fortunately for me, unlike bigfoots and mountain lions, trees don't usually go anywhere. I can go back and take a photo of it later. I even got the GPS coordinates.

The trail continued past the monstrous tree but narrowed down considerably before eventually terminating. The tree was clearly the attraction. Known to the locals, no doubt. Heck, some of them may have watched it grow up.

At the end of the old road there was this weird little shelf too. Somebody had just run the bulldozer up the hill to the right and levelled off a little 20x40 shelf next to the road. There's a similar one up near Little Skeenah Falls and another up near the top of the Raven Cliffs Falls trail. They look like good spots to put some machinery or a little shack or something, but there's no evidence remaining of their original purpose. Somebody knows what it's for though. Somebody knows! Somebody tell me!

I explored all around. There were a half dozen side trails that went up this draw or that and inevitably ended before the top. Gotta get that timber out. Yep, gotta get it out.

One, anonymous little semi-overgown side trail led to another, almost equally large poplar. Waah! That's two within a mile of each other.

Another trail led way up along a fork of the main creek but down near the bottom end were two gigantic, though sickly looking, hemlocks. Gigantic!

There are actually a couple of large hemlocks off of 264 itself on the drive in, but these looked even bigger.

I can't explain how big these trees looked to me. They're big enough that I feel compelled to go back and measure them or at least take photos for comparison.

There's the Gannett Poplar and there are a couple of huge trees on the way into Cochran's Falls including a gigantic pine of all things, and there is allegedly a stand of old growth further southeast in the Coopers Creek WMA, but I've read stuff on the web about all those. I'd never heard of these. Whoever logged out the cove must have left them standing. It makes me want to explore the whole cove to see what else they might have left.

Watch, when I go back, they'll be half the size of the Gannett or something silly like that. But seriously, in comparison to the surrounding trees, they are monsters. Maybe I'll take the kids up there next time. They might be intrigued and they'd be good for scale. Hmmm.

I almost forgot...

On the way in, before finding that tree, I noticed two giant mounds down in the flatts between the old road and the creek. I thought they were dirt at first, but stepping down onto one of them, it was soft and turned out to be decomposing wood. It looked like what a tree becomes when it's been lying there for 20 years, all soft and wet. It looked like a giant pile of coarse sawdust or like somebody had aimed a wood chipper there and fed half the forest into it. Maybe the mill was right there and they just left their big piles behind when they packed it in. So weird. I saw the piles on the way out again but I didn't see any clear indication of a mill or any other structure. There was certainly room for one, but it was an odd location. Hmmm again.

It was getting late and dark in the woods so I hit the highway. Of course, restaurants were closed all the way home. Chili's was the only place still open other than Waffle House. Chili's is always good though.

I can't rave enough about how well those goofy little women's shoes performed either. It feels like you're walking around barefoot except without slicing your feet open and getting all kinds of stuff embedded in them. You have to articulate your feet more so mine are a little tired but I found myself taking much more careful steps, landing on the balls of my feet more than my heels, and picking lines rather than just stepping wherever and letting the sole absorb the impact. It feels like a net gain. I was out for 5 or 6 hours and the soles of my feet feel fine now and usually they feel more tired and worn.

Adventuring is one thing though. Next, I need to go do some big on-trail hike now to see what just straight marching is like. So far, so good though.

Monday, August 6, 2012

High Shoals Falls

After the work party AND race yesterday, I slept in 'till 11:30 today. Getting out of bed was easier than I expected, but I dragged around the house like a zombie for hours. I needed some recovery and some family time. Maybe a little lazy time in the mountains would cover both bases.

To High Shoals Falls!

The girls and I packed our swimsuits and headed north. This time I remembered to call Clark but I didn't get a hold of him so hopefully he was off on an adventure of his own, or maybe getting some family time in himself. Maybe both.

It's been too long since me and the girls went galavanting around up north and just driving up 400 with them brought back good memories. We played awesome music on the radio. We sang songs. As we drove up to Unicoi Gap, they laughed and screamed. Hwy 75 north of Helen feels like a roller coaster, even at the speed limit.

Eventually we drew near to our destination.

 Swallow Creek WMA

We forded the creek.


We parked and hiked in.

 Hiking In

We reached the upper cascade.

 High Shoals Falls - Upper Cascade

I've long wanted to swim in that deep, beautiful pool below the falls, and today was the day. The water was probably 60 degrees, but it was in the 90's outside and it felt delicious.

When we arrived though, the viewing platform was packed with teenagers and there were a few more down in the water yelling things like: "Come on!" "Go in!" "Go for it!" At first I thought they were talking about getting in the cold water, but after a minute, I realized there were two guys at the top of the falls debating whether to jump into the pool or not. One of the guys at the bottom had already done it earlier. Hmmm.

I walked up back the trail, found the little side trail to the top of the falls and looked around. One of the guys at the top had already checked the depth and checked for rocks, they were just scared to make the leap. I was 100% confident that I could make it safely. I've jumped from that height before and the falls were nearly vertical. I looked very carefully before leaping, but still, I took the leap.

The water was plenty deep. No rocks. It was exhilerating. The kids missed it entirely though. They'd been preoccupied and just looked up when they'd heard the splash. Ha. Ha.

I'd gotten in immediately but the kids wanted to get acclimating inch by inch and it took them 20 minutes to get in up to their midriffs. I kept telling them it was better to just jump in, but they weren't having it. Oh well, we still had a great time.

 High Shoals Falls - The Girls at the Upper Cascade

On the way out, Iz walked out to the end of the viewing platform and was all: "Uh oh!"

Hmmm. There was a sign there basically saying that it was a federal offense to walk around off-trail in the area of the falls. Yaaah! I thought pretty hard about that. I know most of the USFS regs reasonably well, at least as they pertain to hiking and biking, and as far as I know, it's legal to set foot anywhere in the forest, as long as you don't create a new trail or trample a protected species. I guess though, people attempting to explore the area around the falls over and over could result in new trails, certainly there's an unauthorized trail leading to the top of the falls, and lots of unusual species tend to thrive in the microclimates created by waterfalls... Unless there's some law that I don't know about, maybe that's all they were getting at.

Still... If there's no sign saying don't, I might, but if there's a sign saying don't, I generally don't. Whether it's technically legal or not, clearly it's discouraged. Dangit. Well, I guess I won't be jumping off of that particular falls again. Maybe I'll have to go back to that one in Alabama or maybe I'll just go slide down that one in North Carolina instead.

Next, we made our way down to the lower cascade.

 High Shoals Falls - Lower Cascade

We'd had enough fun for one day and down there we just sat around on the rocks and enjoyed the spectacle.

It was just right. I think we actually sat around there relaxing for longer than we'd swum up above.

The hike out is almost entirely uphill. I'd remembered this but the girls had forgotten until we got into it. Heh, heh.

On the way, we passed this giant worm trying furiously to dig down into the trail.


I thought it was a snake at first, then maybe a worm snake, but then only after eliminating those possibilites, finally realized it was just a gigantic worm. I had no idea giant earthworms occurred naturally in the North Georgia mountains. Wild! I moved it off the trail.

Adventure concluded, the girls and I made our way back to Helen and sat down for some dinner on the porch at the Troll Tavern. It reminded me of all those trips we made up that way discovering the TNGA route, so long ago. The nostalgia was nearly tangible. It felt like curling up in a comfy blanket on the couch in the winter. It was just like old times.

Just like old times.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bull/Jake Work Party and Blankets Creek Race to Sunset

I don't think I've been this tired.

It all started last week. I think it was Tony who mentioned that he'd have the Reality tent set up at the Blankets Race to Sunset if anyone else was interested. Blankets Creek is the first trail I ever rode in Georgia. It's the first trail most Atlantans ride. Racing there is like fulfilling a childhood dream so I'd been planning on doing it all year but I just kept forgetting when it was. Turns out it was yesterday, the same day as the monthly Jake and Bull work party.

Dangit. Well... A double header then.

I got good sleep Thursday night and pretty good sleep Friday. Saturday morning I was up with the chickens and made it to Jake in good time.

I got there early, but Charlie Schultz (of Blankets Creek fame, actually) and Ken Nix were already up there with their Dingos, putting in work on the 83 bypass. Every 3 or 4 years somebody has to regrade the switchbacks. Big thanks to those guys for the machine work. The work was much-needed and there was no other good way to get it done.

Aside from the heavy machine work though, we had a light day planned. Debbie was mowing the entire Jake Lot and Campground. Jess and Nancy were slingblading down by Jones Creek. Me and Kathleen had some regravelling to do and a few turnouts to clean.


I may have mentioned this before but Kathleen is one of the people who inspired me to start volunteering. Way back during the GAP cross-country days, she won an award for putting in some ungodly number of volunteer hours one year, and also raced the entire series, thus dispelling the notion that one can be too busy racing to volunteer. So, I love working with her 'cause she knows what she's doing and I get to do a bit of hero-worship at the same time.

We borrowed Jess's truck, packed up gravel in buckets...


...and hauled it over to the 83-Bypass trail.

The grassy pavers that hold the gravel in were starting to get exposed. This happens every 2 or 3 years and somebody has to patch them back up.


Some amount washes downhill, but it's like on the forest roads where they regravel them, then two weeks later you can't tell - a lot of it just gets crushed down into the ground.

We tilled up the old stuff, applied new gravel and tamped it down hard.

Aaaaah! (angelic choir)


Most of the buckets we poured the gravel into had handles but a few didn't, so we just had to pick them up by the little plastic rims, but the little plastic rims weren't designed to be lifted on and they would sometimes crack and splinter and one of them tore a scab off of my wrist and avulsed the crap out of my finger. It looked like a little cut but it bled so much when I'd squeeze that my hand kept slipping on the tools later.

Next we headed over to the Bull/Jake Connector and cleaned out some turnouts on the last descent down to the road.

 Turnout Cleanout

Of course, we checked them with the soccer ball.

 Tools of the Trade

That last descent is part of the original trail before it was reworked in the mid 2000's and there are apparently property boundaries or stream proximities or something that prevented it from being relocated. It's probably more than half the backslope and definitely more than 10 percent. But it has several turnouts and as long as they're kept clear, the trail stays clean.

We patched up the gravel at the very top of the entrance too. That whole slope is holding together way better than I thought it would. We patch it once every 6 months or so and we've had to patch less and less each time.

 More Gravelling

On the way in and then again on the way out, we noticed this craziness.


The sign with directions to the Bull Mountain lot and Camp Wahsega is gone. It looked like someone threw a chain around it and drove off. I knew guys who did that with street signs in high school. Some high schooler has the Bull Mountain sign on his wall now I'm sure.

When we got back to the lot, I could still hear Debbie's mower going somewhere off in the campground. The Dingo guys were still out on the trail. Jess and Nancy were too. I kind of felt bad to knock off early, but we had to get going - I was racing, and as it turned out, Kathleen was volunteering at the race, so I found Debbie, left Jess's keys with her and took off.

It stormed on me all the way to Woodstock. There was a 50% chance of rain and the way my luck goes, that generally translates to: "It will rain on whatever half of Georgia I am in." As I got within a few miles of the trail though, it let up entirely and appeared not to have rained there yet that day at all. I started to feel a little hopeful but I didn't want to hope too hard yet.

It's been a while since I raced a 6-hour and in the past, I'd drive up and recognize every rider there. It was weird this time though. Neal Nichols was volunteering and greeted me on the way in, but that was it. I made a lap of the pits but I didn't see another soul. Tony and the Reality tent was nowhere to be found.

 Pit Row

Then, from out of nowhere: "I saw you!"

It was Artur Sagat. He had seen me up at the end of Hwy 400 two weeks earlier on my failed attempt to ride to Helen and back. He and his brother David were set up at the end of the row and said it was cool if I put my chair under their tent.

 The Brothers Sagat

I see David every week at the shop but I haven't seen Artur in years. I didn't even realize he still rode mountain bikes at all. Awesome!

Everyone that sees David, the first question they ask is: "You going to win today?" and apparently it's a lot of pressure, so quit asking! I've probably been guilty of that, so I'll quit asking too.

Anyway, I finally started seeing folks I knew. Carebear was back from the Wilderness 101 and would either crush it or crack immediately. Tim and his GATR buddies had driven in through the same rain I had and were thinking hard about just leaving. Sunny was riding around, warming up. It turned out there was a second pit area near the skills area too and I found some more folks over there, including Tony.

Then my brother appeared, out of nowhere!

I'd assumed that he wasn't going to the race because he hasn't been racing in forever and he assumed that I wasn't because he figured I'd be working on my house this weekend. Baldwin was there with him too! Even crazier! Awesome.

 John and Mark

I got registered and warmed up on Sixes road for a while.

 Warm Up

We had a LeMans start so I jogged a couple of laps around the pits as well. This amused Tim substantially. "Are you warming up for the run?! Who does that?!" Ha ha ha.

Lisa gave us the pre-race rundown and the whole time her little daughter was climbing back and forth up and down the podium stairs. Sometimes she'd grab onto her mom's leg and yank her over to one side or the other but Lisa is apparently very used to this because she just kept on reading and speaking as if there wasn't an impressively active little girl attempting to drag her all over the place. Oh man, it made me smile.

Then there was a prayer and the national anthem, and then we lined up, aaaand... Go!

Lap 1: I jogged reasonably well and got into the woods in a semi-reasonable position. I normally try to get in with a group that I have to ride pretty hard to keep up with. I didn't quite get that far up right away though, thus the "semi" qualification but about halfway around Van Michaels, that's where I was and I settled in. I failed miserably on Hurl Hill. The exposed rock was slightly damp and extremely slippery and I had trouble getting over my now higher seat when I needed to jump off. I caught Carebear somewhere in there and we sparred for the rest of the lap. I felt great but my cornering was off. It was the first time I'd tried to corner hard since getting fit and my instincts needed to be re-tuned. I needed to unweight my bars more and I focused on that. Rolling into the pits, they were playing Holiday from Green Day and I couldn't help but sing. The guy ahead of me looked back like I was crazy.

Lap 2: Carebear faded somewhere in there. He was still feeling the Wilderness 101. I hit the shortcut with the jump on Van Michaels that I'd missed the first lap and made it up Hurl Hill. I still felt great. Somewhere in there I caught my brother. He'd gotten out ahead of me and planned on just riding easy but he jumped on my wheel and we burned the forest down. I'm apparently a little stronger climbing than he is now, but my downhill skills were still a little weak. We switched places 3 or 4 times and following him on the descents gave me chance to retrain my cornering instincts.

Lap 3: We caught Baldwin coming out of the pits and put a little distance on him. I caught several riders in my class. Somehow I screwed up on Hurl, though I did the same thing I did the previous lap. Weird. Me and John sparred the whole lap. I still felt good. It was all that I love about racing.

Lap 4: I barely remember the details. My nutrition and hydration were on track. I got a small lead on my bro but had to stop and pee and he caught me about halfway around. Either he had picked it up or I was beginning to fade. We spun that lap out together though and we were 2 hours, 50 minutes in at the end of the lap.

Lap 5: I usually go into debt for the first few laps to get into a decent position, then when everyone else is moving slow enough to pass easily, I roll it back, get some recovery, then start pushing again when I feel strong again. My brother wasn't having any of that though and took off. I never saw him again. It was nice riding together but it didn't really matter whether I beat him or not because he was racing Sport and I was in Expert. Not that I like getting beaten by a Sport rider, but hey, John is extremely strong and I don't feel bad getting beaten by him. I made Hurl Hill by taking the obscure far right line and really felt good on all the downhills. My back and neck were getting tired but near the end of the lap I was still feeling pretty good.

Lap 6 was hard. I had power for days but my body was pissed at me for using it - mainly my lower back, which always hurts if I've been crushing the pedals for too long. My neck was bothering me too. My neck generally sucks, and usually starts hurting earlier in the ride, so I wasn't upset about it. I was getting tired of riding the same 7 miles though. I did a bunch of feeble-brained math and realized that I wouldn't likely get in more than 7 laps. Only one lap to go.

Lap7: At the start of the lap, I downed about 15 oz of pure water and two black cherry Clif Blocks - the ones with with the caffeine. Mmmm. Caffeine. I love the taste of those but I can only use them at the end of a race or they make me have to pee a dozen times. I don't know if the water and the Clif Blocks helped or if I just had last-lap syndrome, but I rocked that lap like it was the first. I felt better than I had in hours. Tim caught me near the beginning, he might have lapped me actually, and announced his presence by placing a Dutch Monkey donut and coffee order. Ha, ha. Shane came blazing by a few miles later and though I only got 7 laps in, somehow he got in 9. My god. David Sagat caught me about a mile from the end and I managed to hold his wheel all the way in.


I had 44 minutes and 20 seconds left but the previous lap had taken 48 minutes. No more riding.


And that was that. They call it the Race to Sunset but the sun was still barely up when I got done. Some folks may have had to use their lights but I never did.

The most amazing thing: the weather held out. The sun even came out for an hour or so. It was intensely humid and the sweat poured off instead of evaporating, but it wasn't even all that hot.

Still, I was so tired. So tired! I would sleep well that night.

I was talking to Carebear in the pits later and some dude walked up and stood next to us. We kept talking for like 3 minutes before I realized that the random dude was my buddy Russell, fellow TNGA pioneer and generally good guy. He was wearing a golf shirt, kahki shorts and an unusual hat. I've never seen him in civillian clothes before and the hat made him look just different enough to be unrecognizable. Apparently the same thing had happened with 2 or 3 other folks earlier. Man, it was funny.

David Sagat got 2nd. Artur got 4th. John pulled in 3rd in Sport...

 John Got 3rd


...Baldwin got 5th. I think Tim won his class. I got 11th. Grrr. At least it was 11th out of 22 though. I often come in somewhere in that range, but it's usually 11th out of 13 or 14 rather than 22, so hey, not so bad after all.

Did I mention I was tired? I pack exceedingly light for these things but dragging my chair and bottles and small pile of gear back over to my car at the church next door took all of the remaining strength in my body.

Me, John and Mark got some Chili's a few exits down and recharged a bit. As tired as I was, Mark was substantially tireder. He could barely eat and ended up taking home more than half of his quesadilla.

When I got home, I assessed the carnage. My palms were bruised. My back was sore. Through some kind of cataclysmic misapplication of Chamois Butt'r, my sit-bones were chafed and I had a serious welt going. The welt didn't appear to correspond with a seam on my bib or even my seat, so I'm not sure how that happened. The weirdest thing was how sore my wrists were. I imagine that swinging the pulaski all morning contributed to that. I'm not sure what else would have. That was a new one.

Ahhh, Blankets Creek. Thanks to everyone involved for the good times. Can't wait for next year.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Haw Creek

Ahh yes, Haw Creek again. I'll probably ride there all the time, it's so close to my house and all. Today I needed some taper for the race tomorrow and there's no better taper than riding with kids.

Last time, me and Iz rode and the trail looked relatively Sophie-friendly, so today we all went, and the trail was, indeed, very Sophie-friendly.

 The Gerch

She even rode the parts that Iz had trouble with last time.

Iz always wants to ride off on her own and feel the freedom, but today when I let her, she wasn't prepared to be as free as she thought she was. Every couple of minutes we'd find her waiting for us.

This enabled me to get a nice picture of her climbing the switchbacks though, and climbing with authority no less.

 The Iz

Sophie had a great ride. She was able to climb everything, no problem, and she handled the downhills with authority too. She washed out once but it was loose there and I washed out in the same spot on my road bike the first time. Woohoo!

They can ride 20 miles on the Silver Comet Trail and 10 at Blankets, but with all the hills, they're only good for about 1 lap at Haw Creek.

Tired or not though, they both wanted to climb all over the playground equipment, so we did that for a while...

 Climbers  Bear  Acorn

...before bailing out and raiding the Dutch Monkey.

It was a great day. Maybe next time I can convince them to do two or three laps. They appear to have plenty of energy to do it. Maybe if I make some kind of a game out of it. I'll have to think about that one.