Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I had no plans to enjoy the outdoors today. None in particular, at least. A little after noon I realized it was snowing though, and decided I'd better take the movie back to the RedBox, just in case traffic gets bad later.

A Little Snow

Little did I know.

On the way to Publix, I noticed that traffic in the other direction was backed up at a standstill and figured I'd pull into Siracusa's Pizza for a bite to eat and wait it out. Worst case, if it never cleared, I'd leave the car there, walk home and ride my mountain bike to Publix. A half hour later the traffic was worse than ever and I did just that.

Back home, I grabbed my winter gear, threw my fleece tights in my camelback, and at the last minute, put my running shoes in there too. It was really coming down, and I wanted them just in case the snow got too deep to ride in and I had to do an extended hike-a-bike.

There was a little more snow when I left.

More Snow

East-West Connector was chaos. Traffic in the other lane was at a dead stop. Traffic in my lane was too, but had not yet gotten backed up as far.

East-West Chaos

The bike felt like the right tool for the job.

There was this one hill on East-West that people were having trouble with. I helped one guy get his car unstuck, then went to Publix and dropped off the movie. Turned out there was a guy there who wanted to rent that exact movie and there were none in the RedBox until I arrived. Lucky for him.

On the way back, the snow was coming down harder, the hill had gotten a lot icier and people were spun out all over the road.

I parked the bike, put on the running shoes and spent the next who-knows-how-many hours helping people get unstuck. Eventually other people who'd been able to get their cars parked on the side of the road helped out too. One guy left us a pair of towels and another guy left us several broken-down boxes. In addition to just pushing, we'd back the cars onto the towels and boxes, and use them to get enough traction to get going. Sometimes we had to do this several times.

I gave up and headed home when it got officially dark. I was kind-of cold, so I stopped back by the pizza place to warm up for a minute and put on warmer gear. There were like 50 people packed in, waiting in vain for the traffic to die down, and more showing up every 10 minutes. I'll bet that most of them are still there. They might be there all night.

It's funny, out in the weather it didn't seem like a big deal. I was well prepared and there wasn't THAT much snow. Most of my "really good" winter rides or hikes were in much worse conditions. People were just struggling with the ice and chaos ensued. According to the TV in the pizza place though, the weather had made national news and the governor had declared a state of emergency. At that point it struck me that I probably ought to get home and call people so they know I'm OK. It turned out that Kathryn and my folks had been trying to get a hold of me and gotten worried. My brother had called too, but mainly just to relate his own little adventure.

I was fine though. The bike was definitely the right tool. Sitting here now, I am worried about people stuck in traffic, having to spend the night in their car, running out of gas without enough warm clothes.

Good luck Atlanta.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Oconee National Forest

The Huracan 300 is coming up in March and man, is it taking off. Fifteen riders from Georgia are signed up this year. A lot of them are Huracan rookies and some are new to the whole bikepacking/ultra-endurance scene altogether. As such, they've got gear to test and training miles to put in. To that end, Chris Tavel of Loose Nuts Cycles organized a long ride around the Oconee National Forest near Madison today.

Mark Baldwin invited me. My brother was in too, and Hirsch, and Namrita.

I've explored the Chattahoochee National Forest almost obsessively, but as fate would have it, until today, had never so much as set foot in the Oconee. New territory to explore, good friends to do it with, a chance to fake like I was riding in some monumental event... I couldn't resist.


I'm not riding the Huracan this year, but if the other riders are testing out their gear, I figured I'd play along. I washed my bike, bled my back brake, assembled my Adventure Pile and attempted in vain to get some sleep. I was excited. You'd think I was actually on my way to Florida the next day or something. I guess it's been a while.

I might have gotten 3 hours of sleep. That's OK though, it's the sleep you get two nights prior that really matters and I'd gotten plenty of that.

I met Mark, Marc, John and Nam at Baldwin's place and we carpooled to the community center in Madison where we were soon joined by as diverse a group of riders as I've ever seen.

The Field

Usually if you meet some folks for a mountain bike ride, you get a fairly homogenous group. There might be the odd 26'er, somebody might prefer a camelback to bottles, somebody might be riding in baggy shorts. That's about it though. It is similar on the road. The bike and gear haven't had time to become standardized for these longer format rides yet though. There were mountain bikes - hardtails and full suspension, a couple of cross bikes, one with road tires, at least one road bike, two fat bikes and a cargo bike. The bikepacking gear was just as diverse, as was everyone's clothing. Some of the guys appeared to be in their 20's, several of us were in our late 30's to mid-40's and one guy was much older. We even had 2 ladies - Trudy and Nam.

Side note... I've been trying all day to remember how I got to know Trudy. I've run into her randomly on the trail, at Mulberry Gap, and at the Dutch Monkey of all places, and I think at various rides and races, but I already knew her all of those times. It seems now that I've ALWAYS known her which obviously can't be the case but I have no memory of first meeting her. Ha! Impossible! Sorry Trudy, maybe you can help me out.

At any rate... We got geared up and hit the road around 11AM. It was chilly but not cold. A mile outside of town and we were decidedly in the country.

On the Road

Pavement gave way to dirt and gravel and some hike-a bike across an old bridge with mounds of dirt on either side to help heavier vehicles avoid catastrophe.

Old Bridge Crossing

Some of the riders struggled with the mounds.

On the way into the National Forest proper we passed a house that was decidedly Off The Grid.

Off the Grid

Man, THAT's a solar panel. I wonder how long until they break even.

The route alternated between pavement, dirt and gravel quickly and randomly.

On Dirt

I had the track loaded in my GPS but having never been to the Oconee before, I really had no idea where we were or what was coming up.

Ha ha! I'm pretty sure that's one of the criteria for Adventure.

Negotiation of unexpected obstacles like that old-bridge is another. Perhaps more lay ahead.

Almost as soon as I considered the possibility, it was delivered.

Chris had plotted the route from Google Maps. He'd never seen most of it. It would appear that Google isn't totally familiar with the Oconee either. The track led us down a numbered forest road which eventually hit a private property boundary. The track urged us forward but my experience with territorial landowners sent up 20 little red flags in my head. New-looking Posted and WMA boundary signs were tacked to every 10th tree to the right and a very new road hugged the border to the left. It appeared that the boundary had been surveyed recently and somebody, either the state or the forest service, had realigned the road to stay inside the forest. We followed thew new road, presuming it would take us to the same place as the private road would have. It did. At the end we had to climb a big pile of dirt to get up to the main road though.


Actually, as it turned out, we didn't HAVE to. The road cut hard left and sidehilled cleanly into the main road about 50 yards down. How it is that all 10 or 11 of us missed that is beyond me, but we all did.

The road was Trembling Bridge Road, or Trimble Bridge Road, depending on who you ask. It was gravel, but well maintained. We jogged left a bit, hung a quick right and found ourselves back on dirt. A few hundred yards later a cable was strung across the road but there were no signs and there was a path around the cable to the right, presumably to provide access for non-vehicular traffic. We went around and kept following the track. Before long we saw an expensive-looking deer stand to the right. Hmmm... Odd to see that in the NF. Well, maybe the road is the NF boundary or something. A bit further on we rode into a planted field with a blind to the left.

Five or six more little red flags went up in my head. It seemed likely that we'd ridden into somebody's deer lease. It was unsigned and unlikely we'd run into anyone, given that it's past deer season and not yet turkey season, but independent of all that, I've had bad luck with unsigned private property before. Best not to be on it. We debated options for a minute but ultimately turned back to look for a way around.

Our first attempt led us to the road's namesake: Trembling Bridge.

Trembling Bridge


We'd have forded the river and continued had there not been a large sign indicating that the property on the other side was private. In retrospect though, it's possible that only the property on the east is private. Chris is going to check it out from the other direction some time. It would be cool to develop a route that involved crossing that river.

No good though! The only other option was back the way we came on Trembling Bridge Road. Since this end is a dead-end, the other end has to go somewhere, right?

As we were deciding to turn around, a guy and his wife drove up and got out. John pinged him for some local knowledge but he was apparently not from around there and devoid of such knowledge. He did know the name of the bridge though, for which I thanked him. It would have helped though, I guess, if I had known the name of the road prior to asking, as that bit of information would have, itself, revealed the name of the bridge. Heh.

Going the other way panned out and we appeared set to cross-cut a short section of the route.

We'd been a bit scattered all day but everyone was pretty serious now and we were pretty well organized on the road there.

Getting Organized

Soon enough we were back on route, and yes, the road we were supposed to have taken was marked private at the other end. I guess the landowner doesn't expect anyone to come in the way we did. Classic.

The roads got hillier and hillier. The good thing about the hills out there though... When you see the top of a hill, it's likely to actually be the top, not a false top like literally every single hilltop in the mountains. I was enjoying that.

Maybe a little too much. I found myself way out ahead of the group sometimes.


We paused at the Little Creek Baptist Church, hoping to score some water but there was no spigot outside. There was a porch though and we did a little setten-down before pressing on.

Little Creek Baptist Church

Again, the route alternated between pavement, dirt and gravel, forest and field.


The gravel proved a bit much for road tires though and we had the first flat of the day. What is it they say in 24-hour racing? Don't stand if you can sit, don't sit of you can lie down. Some of our crew took the opportunity.

Flat Tire Lounging

Somewhere in there we were on a section of road crossing a river and I swear I saw a bear carcass just down the hill from the road. It was either a bear or a pig, but it had the dense, long hair of a bear, not the thin, wiry hair of a pig. We were really moving and didn't stop to investigate, but we debated it. Some of the guys thought it was a horse. Maybe it was. It looked like a bear to me though.

Somewhere else in there we saw a chimney and an old rock wall randomly off to the left of some dirt road. I wish I'd been able to take a photo and mark the location but again, we were really moving at the time. Hopefully I'll get another chance someday.

I did get a chance to take some photos at a fairly challenging creek crossing.

Challenging Creek Crossing

It wasn't challenging in the sense that it was difficult to cross. It was quite easy actually, but the water was a little deep and it was challenging to keep one's feet dry. It took the right combination of momentum, gear selection, ratcheting, balance and blind luck. Only 3 of us succeeded. Most made no attempt and just blasted through, soaking themselves entirely, in 40 degree water.

Further on the road crossed Falling Creek. There was no bridge or ford. There was just a section of exposed granite wide enough to drive across and they built the road there.

Falling Creek Shoal

As we approached I saw a small but fairly spectacular waterfall on the right and I was all "I don't care! I'm taking pictures."

Falling Creek Falls

And I did. One, at least.

Just up the road a ways, we had to dodge a pair of trucks drifting around a curve. Some of us had to go to the inside and others to the outside. The trucks drifted right through the middle of our group and there was nothing they could have done to alter their course. It sounds sketchy but the road was wide and we actually had plenty of time to move. With cool heads, we weren't in any real danger. We might have been if someone had frozen or if the drivers had panicked, but none of that happend.

Near the town of Maxeys we got back on the road.

Downtown Maxeys

The downtown was picturesque in its decay. Kathryn would have loved it. Maybe we'll drive out there some time.

Pavement led back to gravel. We followed the fence line of some kind of preserve or something. I saw a big fat butterball turkey take flight as we approached. I used to work with a lady who ridiculed me for saying that turkeys could fly. This kind of pissed me off because I'd SEEN wild turkeys fly - way up over the trees. I'd SEEN it. My friends had seen it. It's not uncommon. She hadn't though, so as far as she was concerned, I was a fool. It did get me to thinking though, maybe big fat farm-raised turkeys can't fly. Well, ha! They can. I saw it today. She can suck it. Turkeys, in general, fly. This one did seem to struggle under it's own weight though, and only flew about 50 feet and maybe only 7 or 8 off of the ground. But, still. It flew. It FLEW! Turkeys can fly.

We passed a family out for a walk. The guy with the road tires who's name I can't remember now. Matt? Man I suck with names. Right around there, he hit some really rough bumps and it knocked his rear wheel out of the dropouts. We thought he'd flatted again, but he hadn't and it only took a minute to fix. I'd never seen or heard of that happening before. The irony? Not a mile down the road I took a sketchy line through some ruts, took a rough hit and knocked my own rear wheel out of the dropout. No joke. What are the odds?

The road ended abruptly at a flood-demolished bridge with twisted metal and displaced concrete projecting wildly from the creek bed. The creek itself was fast, sandy and deep. The border fence continued across the creek though, and the solution presented itself immediately.

Gate Crossing 1 Gate Crossing 2

Oh yeah. Nothing short of Adventure.

The trick was not to put any weight on the sheet metal, just balance on the pipe. In a lot of places, the sheet metal was really loose.

On the other side of the old bridge we were treated to even more weirdness.


The pig was enormous. At least 4 feet long. Strangely, it didn't stink at all. It reminded me though...

My friend Kirk used to tell a story where he and his friends found a dead, bloated pig in the woods and dared each other to throw a big rock at it. One of them took the dare and ran at the pig before throwing the rock to get maximum penetrating force, whereupon he tripped and stumbled face first into the carcass, which exploded on impact, covering him, especially his face, in thick black, disgusting gore. He wailed in vain for help. Nobody wanted that nasty crap to get on them, so they all went home, leaving him wandering the forest alone, covered in pig. He apparently went to closest house belonging to one of his friends, but they wouldn't let him in. He had to walk all the way home to his own house to get cleaned up.

We decided not to throw rocks at this particular pig.

Not 20 feet from the pig were two deer skeletons, picked clean and scattered by scavengers, except for an entire leg that had so far been ignored.

A ways on down the road, the gravel ate up another road tube and while we stopped to fix it, we noticed an armadillo rooting around for bugs up the road to the left.


It couldn't have cared less about us for several minutes. Then it cared, suddenly, and ran away in terror. Apparently this armadillo is a female, as evidenced by little bits of pink coloration.

As we walked back to where they were fixing the flat, they spotted another armadillo, this one male, on the other side of the road. Again. What are the odds?

Rollers gave way to real climbs for a while, with false tops and everything. I was running low on fuel. I'd brought all the Cliff Blocks I own, 14 in total, but that was all. I figured 3 an hour would do it. We were going on 5 hours though. 3x5 is 15. Even 20-odd cliff blocks probably wouldn't have done it though. It's funny how well those little chocolate donuts work. Donuts and honey buns - the ultimate endurance fuel.

At length we emerged from the National Forest and picked up the Madison Highway for a long, straight run back into town.

I was flagging, struggling, frowning. I sat on. My pulls were weak, or forced. I pounded water to stave off hunger.

We crossed Lake Oconee.

Lake Oconee

The sun was low and flared on the water. It was lost on me but I got a shot, hoping I could enjoy it later.

Two miles out I cracked. In desperation, I sat up, coasted, rested, took a deep breath, punched it to bridge back up and prayed my momentum would carry me for a while. I did this twice. I could not have done it a third time.

Fortunately I didn't have to. We'd made it back.


7 hours. 83 miles. Done.


Well, almost. Nine of us grabbed some dinner at Amici's where I didn't wait long enough for my phone to adjust to the low light.

Amici Italian Cafe

I'm not sure if it was really as good as it seemed or just tasted good because I was so shattered. Either way, it was really good.

Whether the company, the route, the Adventure, the Adversity... For whatever reason or reasons, that ride was so deeply satisfying. Sitting there at dinner, I kept replaying it in my mind. We talked a lot about it. "Group ride, long gravel road loop, not in the mountains" isn't usually the recipe for such a good ride. It was an anomaly. One I'm going to remember for a long time.

Hell of a ride, Chris! Thanks so much man. I'm in if you do it again.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sope Creek

Yeah, most of my weekday rides, hikes and runs are likely to be a Sope Creek these days. As such, they're quickly becoming unmentionable. This one was almost unmentionable aside from a few interesting things, more or less worth remembering.

The first is how quickly ripping singletrack comes back to one after a long hiatus from ripping singletrack, or at least how quickly it came back to me after a long hiatus from ripping singletrack. The last time I attempted it I was fighting the bike and the trail. This time I was relaxed and comfortable and it was virtually intuitive. The one thing that I kept having to remind myself of was to lead with my outside foot and wait to let it drop until I swung into the turn. For some reason my instinct was to put it down well before the turn. I did that when I first moved here from Louisiana in 2000 too. It's fine to do when it's flat, but it puts you way off balance if it's not. The rest though - floating over rocks, roots and water, countersteering, nose bumping, hopping downed trees, manualing little wheelie bumps, pumping quick grade reversals, staying back, tricky shifting... It just came to me after a few miles. Ahh, el luxurio.

The other thing worth remembering is how ridiculously purple my left big toe got. It was 34 in the lot and much colder in the woods, but still, I'd neglected my shoe covers. After like half a lap my feet were numb all the way back to the ankles so I spun back and put them on. I think they're good if you start off with them, but I don't think they really help all that much once your feet are already numb. At any rate, I finished the ride and when I got home and took a shower, my left big toe was dark purple under the nail, and over the next few minutes, turned completely purple. On the bottom it was super dark. It was creepy, like in the movies when a shivering guy pulls off his sock and discovers, to his horror, that his big toe has turned black. It was slightly less horrifying because I was certain my toe wasn't dead, but it was still creepy. It took about 15 minutes to return to normal but it did eventually return to normal. That's the toe that got frostnipped like 8 years ago. Whenever I get sufficiently cold, that toe in particular has problems. I guess I need to remember those shoe covers.

Aside from that, I discovered that I need to bleed my rear brake and adjust my front derailleur.

But, aside from THAT, it was a run-of-the-mill weekday ride. Yay.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Upper Chattahoochee

Dangit, everything didn't go as planned yesterday. I was hoping to go explore the far reaches of the Upper Chattahoochee with Clark and Suzy but the two of them had both come down with something the night before and couldn't make it.

No good!

In the end, it was probably just as well though. The Adventure turned out to be a little anticlimactic. They didn't miss all that much. I had an OK time and found some interesting things but nothing that would have been worth pushing through illness to experience.

When I got off of the phone with Clark I debated whether or not to just go meet my brother in Douglasville for some laps around Clinton. I've been exploring a lot lately and riding on the road during the week, but I could really use some solid miles on the mountain bike. I actually sat there thinking about it for a while. In the end, I'd gotten myself excited about running around in the "real woods" and decided it would disappointing if I didn't actually do that.

So, that's what I did.

The last time I was in the mountains-proper the weather was terrible. Today it was beautiful and as I made my way north I could even see the Blue Ridge in the distance.

Mountains in the Distance

Just seeing it like that made me smile.

I parked at the "No Camping Here" campground at the corner of FS44 and Martin Branch Road (whatever number that is), kitted up, jumped on the bike and headed north...


...along the scenic upper Chattahoochee River.

Upper Chattahoochee

It was fairly cold outside. Mid 30's. Not terrible, but cold enough for stalactice to be hanging off of the rocks on the side of the road.


They were dripping furiously though. I wondered if they would still be there when I rode back through later.

Just north of there the forest started to look really foreign. A tornado had ripped through either last year or the year before and so completely covered the road with downed trees that it took weeks to open back up. Apparently I hadn't been up that way since and man, was it apparent. In the past, the forest really felt like it was closing in on you. Like you were riding in a deep, green tunnel. Not any more. From a bend in the road above the game check station, I could actually see the river, not to mention the game check station itself.

Game Check Station Amid Tornado Damage

The damage was impressive. Trees were just splintered everywhere. I can only imagine what it must have looked like right after. I guess there is a silver lining though: beautiful views. I've never been able to see so far before. As devastating as a tornado can be, I guess that one wasn't without some small reward.

At Low Gap Creek I stayed straight, rode through the campground, forded the creek itself...

Low Gap Creek Ford

...and began the day's first Adventure.

If you google "Low Gap Creek" you'll eventually find a link to The Riverkeepers Guide to the Chattahoochee, a reference to Low Gap Creek Falls and a description of how to find it. I'd never heard of Low Gap Creek Falls before but I intended to follow the directions and discover this semi-obscure natural wonder for myself.

FS44A bends to the left at the start of the trail to the falls, and there's a giant pile of strange old concrete barriers (or strange old concrete something) at the bend...

Old Concrete Barriers

...and a few more highway-style barriers to the right.

Downstream a few of the highway-style barriers line the edge of the creek, presumably to help stabilize it. I'm not sure what these were used for but they don't appear to be stabilizing anything. In fact, they don't appear to have been used at all for a long time.

I shouldered the bike, proceeded around the barriers and followed the the trail beyond.

There was a campsite just upstream but whoever built the last fire there needs to go to campfire school or something.

Incorrect Campfire

Generally people burn wood. I imagined them sitting around the fire, swearing in frustration. "It's so cold but nothing will burn! It won't burn! Why won't it burn!" Heh. All joking aside though, I'll bet that alcohol was involved in the decision-making process that led to piling the metal frame of a pop-up tent and a full bottle of detergent onto the fire.

I stashed the bike just past the campsite and continued upstream.

Bike Stash

The trail quickly became a "trail" and if the description in the riverkeepers guide hadn't mentioned that it involved a steep scramble though some rhododendron, I'd have thought that the trail ended right there. I really had to use my imagination to decide how to proceed, but my imagination paid off, and when it flattened out again, I could see the trail, plain as day. I followed it further, through the remnants of an older, long-abandoned campground and ultimately along an old roadbed which was a little confusing. Given the steep backslope I'd just scrambled along, how could there be a road beyond it?

At the confluence with England Camp Branch, the directions said I should cross the creek. In fact, there was a newish-looking pink ribbon hanging from a tree in the distance. Perhaps I should cross there.

The creek was deep and really rushing. It was also about 35 degrees outside. I was comfortable though, wearing warmish clothes - my Reality kit, a sleeveless base layer, arm and knee warmers... But I really didn't want to soak my feet and ride around with frozen toes for the rest of the day.

But wait!


I'd discovered last year, and confirmed running around Gunby Creek the day before, that even if it's really-freaking cold, those barefoot running shoes I have drain so well that they can get totally soaked and then be warm and dry-ish minutes later. Since they're so light, I'd long considered bringing them with me on bike rides rather than tromping around in my bike shoes, and yesterday I'd done just that! Ha! Planning!

Crossing the creek was easy and as expected, minutes later my feet were comfortable despite the cold.

Wet Feet


I'm going to have to do that more often.

Whoever put that pink ribbon up either didn't put it up to mark the place to cross the creek, or put it up to fool people into having a hard time crossing the creek.

On the other side, it appeared that somebody had recently tromped around trying to figure out where to go and given up, but there was no indication of a path upstream.

There was, of course, as there always is in the deepest recesses of the forest, a mylar balloon.

Mylar Balloon

And there was also this weird bent-up iron rod, of unknown purpose and origin, sticking out of the ground.

Weird Bent Iron Rod

I noodled over that rod for a while. It was heavy and driven into the ground, but only loosely. Was it some primitive tent stake from eons ago? Was it somehow related to logging? Hmmm...

The directions in the Riverkeepers guide say to follow the east bank of Low Gap Creek, so pink-ribbon-be-damned, I crossed over to that side, and voila, a clear trail on an old roadbed, which, as it appeared, once forded the creek just downstream from the confluence. If I hadn't been distracted by the ribbon, I'd have probably noticed it.

It appeared that my adventuring skills were as rusty as my bike-handling skills.

I quickly discovered the first cascade.

Low Gap Creek Falls Cascade 1

The trail appeared to end there but I imagined that I saw a scramble leading on, benched into the backslope, about the width of one shoe. I followed it and the further I went, the more apparent it was. The second cascade would have taken a lot of work to get much closer to than this.

Low Gap Creek Falls Cascade 2

The scramble appeared to end just downstream from the third cascade.

Low Gap Creek Falls Cascade 3

No amount of imagination revealed a path leading further.

That said though, looking back at it now, the description of the falls implied that it was larger than that first cascade that I saw, and there are a few videos on youtube and vimeo of the falls and it doesn't look like any of my photos. Maybe there is a larger cascade further upstream. Maybe that second cascade that I didn't bother to get too close to is the main cascade. Maybe my adventuring skills are just rustier than I thought.

At the time, I was satisfied though and made my way back downstream. This time, to get back to my bike, I made an effort to follow the old roadbed rather than the trail. The old road crossed the creek twice more and deposited me right at the bend in FS44A where I'd started.

For the record, it is infinitely easier to get to the falls by following the old road, rather than following the trail. Infinitely. You have to get your feet wet either way. You might as well just cross the creek 3 times than divine your way through the rhododendron.

Oh yeah, on the way back, I saw more gnarly ice-formations.

Cool Icicles

Weird. You don't see that every day.

Annnd... Fortune delivered me the potential origin of that weird bent iron rod.

Possible Source of Weird Bent Iron Rod

It looked identical to the rods projecting from either end of the concrete barriers. They're supposed to be eyelets but they get bent all to hell. I'm pretty sure the one I found was once embedded in one of these barriers. The next question, of course, is how did it get way upstream? Maybe that old roadbed isn't as old as it looks, or maybe these barriers are a lot older.

Who knows? Who cares? Probably only me. Moving on...

I retrieved my bike, dried off my feet with my handy little camp towel (which I'd also had the foresight to bring), changed shoes and headed on up the road to my next destination, the old apple orchard.

Old Apple Orchard

Old hand-drawn WMA maps refer to that food plot as an apple orchard.

There are no apples there now, nor have there been for as long as anyone can remember, but there is something else interesting up there, or at least something that was interesting to me yesterday.

Like 10 years ago or more I heard tale of a mountain biker who'd grown up near Helen, left in the early '90's and then moved back 10 or 15 years later to find the singletrack section of the loop that he used to ride still semi-ridable but inundated with downed trees to the extent that he gave up and rode elsewhere. He was soliciting opinions on what might have happened to the trails and how likely they were to be re-opened. His description was a little difficult to follow but having been all the way up 44C myself, sounded familiar and implied that a trail system continued on beyond the old apple orchard. The rest of the discussion involved warning the guy that the land back there had been declared Wilderness sometime in the '90's and that he would be ill advised to ride a bike there, not to mention cutting out deadfall, but that some other old-timers had ridden or hiked those trails way back and that they eventually came out on Jasus Creek.

This piqued my interest and in 2011 or 2012 (I can't remember which now) I found the old roadbed leading away from the food plot. Looking at the map, I could imagine it sidehilling below the ridge and joining right up with the road that leads to the northwestern-most food plot off of Jasus Creek, several miles away. At the time though, I had no interest in walking what looked like 6 miles or more out and back in bike shoes.

Fast-forward to yesterday, running shoes in tow, I was more than ready to walk 6 miles out and back in them.


Instead of sidehilling below the ridge like I'd expected, the trail dove straight down to some creek, then went straight back uphill to a ridge, only to dive down off of it too, cross Low Gap Creek confusingly and eventually emerge at a different food plot off of Jasus Creek than the one I thought it would. It wasn't just one trail either, it was really a combination of several. I can't imagine it would have ever been all that much fun to ride. Challenging maybe - brutal climbing with short, steep descents that you can't keep any speed from into the next climb - but not fun by today's standards. It wasn't all that much fun to hike even.

The one interesting thing though... Down on Low Gap Creek there was a broken old moonshine jug and evidence that vehicles had once driven down there and pulled off to the side. Further up the road, it was clear that people used to drive around the Kelly Humps blocking the road and more had to be built to stop them. It would have been a good place for a still. Secluded and obscure but still accessible, and right down on a clean stream fed from the wilderness. Who knows though? I could just have a vivid imagination.

So it wasn't 6 miles out-and-back. More like 2, and I unexpectedly still had the bulk of the day ahead of me. I changed shoes, got back on the bike, spun around Jasus Creek, rode out to the food plot that I'd expected that other trail to tee into, changed shoes again and walked all over the place up there.

It would seem to be my destiny to eventually discover all lost balloons.

Another Mylar Balloon

Heading back I caught a glimpse of Mount Yonah in the distance.

Yonah in the Distance

The second half of Jasus Creek was a lot of fun. Being mostly downhill, I was able to get nice and comfortable tear-assing on gravel again.

Tornado damage abounded up that way too, with the same unexpectedly beautiful side effect as below.

Yonah Closer But Still in the Distance

It looked like a bit of logging had been done up there recently too. There were several new-looking food plots.

After a short climb on 44, I was able to do even more tear-assing on gravel, almost all the way back to the car.

So the Adventure was a mixed bag...

I got to see a new waterfall, but I'm not sure it was really the waterfall proper that I saw. I'll have to look into that. Maybe there's fuel there for future exploration.

The trails up above the old apple orchard weren't as interesting as I'd hoped, especially given the effort and complexity involved in exploring them.

Bringing the barefoot shoes along was a tremendous success though. Stash the bike and walk around in comfort for hours. Soak your feet in freezing water! Who cares, it doesn't matter! Dry off and change back into the bike shoes later. Woohoo! The only thing that was a little disappointing with the shoes... They don't grip super-well. They're "running shoes" but not "trail shoes" so I slipped a bit when it was really steep and leafy. Somehow I hadn't noticed that before yesterday. Maybe it had never been as steep or leafy before.

Ripping gravel roads isn't the same as ripping singletrack but it's a good step and it was a lot of fun to take.

I did see some wildlife... Lots of turkeys. Actually, I saw a bunch in the woods and then even more on the drive home. I saw endless deer on the way home too, including two that crossed the road IN Helen, right by the Hofbrauhaus. Deer everywhere. I didn't see a bear though, despite being in a part of the forest with a particularly high concentration of them. So that was a little disappointing.

All-in-all, I'd give this Adventure a C. Maybe a C+. It was, OK. Definitely worth having done, but not something you'd be too upset to have missed.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gunby Creek (Again)

My last excursion to Gunby Creek was profitable in the exploratory sense, but got cut short on account of the Saints/Seahawks playoff game. Upon leaving, I vowed to return and reap the remainder of the reward and today made good on that vow.

It was a whole lot drier than the last time I was there, but a lot colder. The flooded timber on the way in had a layer of ice on most of it.

Frozen Flooded Timber

Not enough to go skating but enough to be like "Wow, there's a layer of ice on all that water."

The creeks were low and didn't threaten to flood the trail, but the trail was just as soft and muddy as if it had been flooded. There was a slip layer on a lot of it too, where the first few millimeters of soil are dry and feel solid, but then just under that it's wet, and just under that it's clay. You could see where people had been busting their asses all day. I laughed to myself, then I slipped too. Ha ha, instant karma.

I checked out a little offshoot on the gasline that I'd missed last time and found something that you don't see every day.

The skull of a hawk.

Hawk Skull

And the rest of it, scattered about nearby.

Hawk Wings

How does that happen? I've seen the remains of smaller birds that I expect to get taken down all over the woods before - some coyote or fox skulking in the brush nearby got lucky - but a hawk? I guess it could happen. The first thing I thought though was that it would be funny if it went diving down for a rabbit or something, misjudged it's altitude, slammed into the ground and knocked itself too silly to fly away. Man wouldn't that be crazy. Maybe it was really old and died on the wing. That would be even crazier. Who knows though. I guess there are a half dozen possibilities and I entertained myself considering them.

At the far end of the powerline cut I noticed an old sign, bent, faded and totally obscured by weeds.

No motorcycles.

No Motorcycles

I guess at some point they were a concern. Things have changed. These days the property is surrounded by office parks, apartments and multi-million dollar homes. I'd bet none of them have a dirt bike in their garage.

Speaking of the past. I noticed this bridge to nowhere the last time I was out there.

Bridge To Nowhere

This time I checked it out. It's about 100 feet off trail. There's a little spur trail that leads over near it but no indication whatsoever of a trail leading down to it from above or leading away from it below. Whatever trail it was part of is long gone and completely reclaimed. It's not impossible that the tree washed downstream during a flood and just happened to wedge itself in where it is today, but it really looks like it's always been there. I love stuff like that.

There was a much nicer bridge a little further on.

Suspension Bridge on Gunby Creek

Suspension, no less. Classy.

Gunby creek itself was sort-of scenic.

Gunby Creek

Photos never seem to do creekbeds justice. Maybe I need to learn how to frame a shot, or get an actual camera, or something.

Across the creek I found the main trail that I'd gone there to see. It turned out to be the right-of-way for a sewer line.


There were side trails galore over there. Most of them followed spur sewer lines too but a few led to houses or neighborhoods or random streets. One trail led to a house, and then there was a trail parallel to it that had a brand new house built right on top of it. It looked like maybe that first trail was how people got into the system from the neighborhood until a house was built on top of it. So, they made a new one, and then a house got built on top if that one too. Ha. You can't stop progress, I guess.

I'd hiked in from the lot to the boardwalk, but once I got into the woods, I started jogging and jogged all day except for when I'd stop to fiddle with the GPS, or take a photo, or if it was really steep. I don't exactly have my legs back but they feel like they're coming back and that's at least encouraging, especially given how bad I felt last weekend. I'm not sure how many miles I covered yet though, so I guess I can't declare victory yet. It would be funny if it were only two or three.

It goes without saying that on the exercise trail I got steadily passed by overweight men, old women and children.

There's a 5k out there this Monday. I'm thinking about doing it just to gauge how badly I still suck. More likely I'll just work though. If I don't gauge how badly I suck then I can go on believing that I don't.

Yeah, that's sound logic.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I'm going up to Helen to do some exploring in the real woods with Clark and Suzy. Mmm. Real woods. Deep, dark and cold. I might even see a bear.

I can't wait!