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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the details. Heading out to ride this route, or something similar to it, tomorrow and need to get a feel for what to expect. I know John. We've ridden The Snake a few times together as well as Coldwater and local stuff around Douglasville. I'm sure this ride is going to kick my ass but at least I won't be going in to blind.
    Thanks again Dave.