Sunday, September 23, 2012

Noontootla/Winding Stair

I've been sick for a long time.

Arguably I'm not still sick, but rather getting over having been sick. Arguably. Or at least that's the argument I made to myself yesterday when I decided to go for a long ride today.

I've been wanting to ride with my buddy Tim lately, as we are like minded in our ride interests, we live really close to each other, he's good company, and I love his truck. So last night I left him a message and today fortuitously called him right as he was walking back into his house after church.

Minutes later we were en route to Bull Mountain.

We parked in the equestrian-friendly turn-out on 28-1 rather than in the Jake Lot and were assaulted unrelentingly by beggar lice.

 Beggar Lice

And it wasn't the last time. All day, if there was a little frond of vegetation hanging out over the trail, it would be more of the same, we'd both hit it, and it would cover us head to toe in those persistent little seed pods.

We took the Bull/Jake Connector to Jake, and Jake down to Jones Creek.

 Crossing Jones Creek

The last time I crossed Jones Creek, it was the middle of winter and we'd had to take off our shoes and socks, wade across and dry off/warm up on the other side.

In fact, that was this past winter. Man, it's been a while.

Yesterday was the first day of fall, but it was still warm enough to get our shoes wet today, especially given the extremely steep climb up off of the creek, which warmed us right up, and which Tim had to walk because he has but a single gear and it's just a little too small.

 Climbing Up Off of Jones Creek

The lower section of that climb is heavily rock-armored and still looking great, but the upper half is starting to get eroded. Looks like a good candidate for some work in the not too distant future.

I've done so much work on that trail, it's hard to ride it without constantly analyzing the state of it. By and large, it looks great. There's a chunk we haven't finished yet, but the work we've done is having exactly the effect we'd hoped it would have. The big pile of debris that the contractors piled up all the way down the trail in lieu of erecting removable erosion barriers is noticeably crushing down now too, finally. Maybe in a few more years it will be unnoticeable. That would be nice.

We passed a pair of ladies on horseback about a mile later, then Neal Nichols and his wife after that, then hung a left on Beaver Pond, jogged over to Black Branch and rode it backwards - counter clockwise. Tim had ridden it that way once before and recommended we ride it that way. It was like a-whole-nother trail. In antiquity I'd never have considered it because the climb out would have been just horrible, but with the reroute it was fine.

I'd been feeling like garbage most of the day. All climbing hurt. Or, I guess more precisely, was just very uncomfortable. I couldn't breathe, my legs felt dead, the standard list of complaints. I figured one more good climb and recovery ought to fix it. When I feel that way, it usually takes two or three good climbs to feel better. I hoped it wasn't just wishful thinking.

We hung a right after Black Branch and retraced a half mile or so of our steps.

I saw a pink ribbon, figured it was an errant, lingering Fools Gold marker and pulled it down, only to remember seconds later that it was bow season and firearms for deer and bear was coming up. It could just as easily been a hunter's ribbon and I tied it back up.

We climbed up to Cooper Gap. On the way up, four personnel carriers passed us, driven by soldiers in camo. One was so loud and rattly that I thought we were approaching a mock firefight until it came around the corner.

I've ridden it so much that I can always gauge my fitness on that climb. My fitness was poor but I was starting to feel better.

Across the top, I felt stronger and stronger on each of the shorter climbs.
In one of the little turns I noticed this marker.

 Fools Gold Marker

Probably not a hunter's.

I packed it out.

Though my muscles had been getting better and better, my throat had been getting sorer and sorer. Earlier, I'd mentioned to Tim that I feared that I'd ridden myself back into illness. It might just have been the dust, or having had to talk loud in his truck though. It was hard to say. He offered to cut the ride short by skipping Noontootla, but when we got to Hightower Gap, I still felt good and turned right.

The descent down to Rock Creek Lake was strange. My brother and I encountered similar conditions the first time we rode there. In the center of the road, a small amount of gravel was still visible, but to either side, where people drive, it was just dirt, and it was soft and slow. We had to pedal pretty hard to keep up any speed on what would otherwise be a really fast descent. It reminded me a lot of crossing the Green Swamp/Richloam WMA in Florida after the rain, during the Huracan. It was just a slog, and you didn't dare ease up for fear of the work required to get moving again. The center of the road was better but ill advised around the many blind corners.

Below the lake it was a lot more solid. We stopped at Frank Gross for a bathroom break. I also deposited that marker in the trash there, as it had been scratching my back for miles.

There were lots of folks out enjoying the woods. Lots of campers. Some folks had been out paddling the lake. There were Sunday drivers all over. A few guys looked like they were out scouting for the upcoming deer season.

We were having a great time.

 Shady Grove

And making good time too, it seemed.

I tanked up where we crossed Rock Creek.

We passed a group of Humvees on 333. I'd expected to see dozens of Rangers running around after seeing those personnel carriers earlier but it looked like they were way up in the woods. I can imagine the route they were taking though, from 42 to 333, or at least the possible set of routes.

We took the road used to build it down to the Toccoa Suspension Bridge, walked the BMT...


 Toccoa Suspension Bridge

...and though the campsite along the river...

 Toccoa River

...where we picked up the corresponding road on the other side and ultimately picked up Tooni Mountain Road.

A truck was leaving the lot in front of us. A little ways up the road they stopped and we passed them, which startled them and made all of us laugh.

They'd stopped to back off of a slower moving truck ahead of them which paced us all the way out to Hwy 60.

We jogged over to Doublehead Gap Road and finally began our return in earnest.

Doublehead has views that are rivaled, in Georgia at least, only out east of Hiawasse on Hwy 76. So say I.

So say we all!

Case in point. Tooni Mountain:

 Tooni Mountain

Mmmm, hmmm.

We passed a convoy of at least 8 Nissan Pickups on the way to Noontootla. The last truck in line had an American flag sticking out of the bed. This seemed unusual. In Georgia, there is no shortage of trucks flying flags, but they are universally Confederate flags.

A few minutes later he spun back and passed us and I noticed a Virginia plate. Aha. Mystery solved.

That truck and another Virginia-plated truck passed us back and forth several times. Since last year's CFiTT, that kind of thing makes me a little suspicious. What are they up to?

Nothing, it turned out, as anyone other than me might expect. Confidence in my faith in humanity is slowly coming back though. Thanks for helping out with that VA guys.

We rolled through the valley, past the Double Deuce, made the obligatory Roadhouse reference, continued past the guy with the lakes with the cairns in the spillways, who appeared to have recently expanded his overflow capacity, and eventually headed up along the beautiful and scenic Noontootla Creek Road.

 Climbing Noontootla

My legs felt good. My body was all finally cooperating with itself.

My revitalized drivetrain was solid as well.

It was just like old times.

We climbed Noontootla quickly. I felt good but I feared that I may have been overcooking it a little. I'd know when we hit the little kicks at the top.

Oddly, those kicks had been regraded recently. The grading equipment was parked in a little turnout nearby. They were the cleanest I'd ever seen. They must have done the work Friday or something.

Still though, they were as steep as ever and Tim pulled away for the KOM. I had to just sit back and grind it out.


A water tank was parked at Winding Stair Gap. The rangers would be coming back through there later, I guess.

We didn't hang around.

I took this shot at the little flat spot after the first screaming descent off of the gap.

It would appear that I wasn't yet all that recovered.


 Descending Winding Stair

I had a lot of trouble descending Winding Stair. An inordinate amount. It was rougher than usual, though not the roughest I've seen.

I was turning left, why did my bike keep pulling right?


I've been on the road too much lately, I think, or on the mountain bike south of the mountains. It took 3 turns to remember to countersteer and 2 more to remember how.


We jogged left though Turner Creek and I fought a little bout with velocitation for the first couple hundred yards.

Then we jogged back right to the road and took it back out to the truck.

For whatever reason, whenever I ride that route, or any variant of it of remotely similar length, my legs always start to twinge right at that intersection where we turned off of Turner Creek, and they did again today.

I think that I unconsciously conserve just enough to get up Noontootla, ignoring the rest of the route. Then the descent down 77 affords no leg recovery, as they are tensed, holding me back behind the seat for most of it. There's a little climb right there and the transition is too much of a shock.

Maybe. Who knows really? Maybe I just need to get a little stronger.

Back at the truck, I kept my record of taking photos of people when they least expect it strong.

 Back at the Truck

Oh yeah, that's a good one.

Then I lost my voice talking loud in the truck on the way home, so maybe that's karma paying me back.

Ha ha ha.

I feel about 7% more sick now than I did at the beginning of the ride. I'm not sure that's enough to worry about. I hope not, I've got big plans later this week.

Sicker or not though, the ride was just what I needed. Thanks Tim, lets do it again some time.

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