Saturday, May 2, 2015

Blue Ridge WMA

Has it been a week? I think it nearly has. Yeah, last Sunday me and the frere drove up to Jake Mountain to put in some of the really good miles that one can put in up that way. I mean, the _really_ good miles. Every kind of good miles.

As we got closer, it looked like it might have rained the night before. Funny, it had been bone dry in the metro Atlanta area, but up north of Cumming you could tell that it had rained. Not a lot, but some, at least. We hoped good things about the trails though. I hoped all that work for all those years had paid off.

On the way in we were passed by a group of riders on Nimblewill Church Road.


Anywhere else that might seem odd, but not on that road.

We parked at the Jake Lot. There were one or two other cars in the lot too. We'd gotten a bit of a late start, but not too late. I guess I should just say that we didn't get too early of a start. A comfortable start. It was somewhere between 9 and 10 when we arrived and we got on the trail quickly.

But, before we left, I noticed something in the lot. It looked like the CTHA (hopefully in conjunction with SORBA) had something going on. That gravel pile was a lot smaller the last time I was up there working, and it certainly wasn't bagged up like that.

Bagged Up Gravel

Last I talked to her, Debbie Crowe mentioned putting in some turnpikes down at Jones Creek. Maybe that's what it was all about.

The trail was great. Totally dry. No problem.

It's funny though. I had a hard time just enjoying it. The girls and I walked every inch of that trail, hacked at most of it with a Pulaski, or a McCleod, or at least a fire rake, and I can't ride it without scanning it for clues to how it's holding up. It's been about two years since I was last out there. Two summers ago was one of the wettest on record. I was a little apprehensive, but it turned out that I shouldn't have been. The trail looked great.

Debbie had mentioned some low spots on the switchbacks that liked to hold water. Yeah, mainly where they cross the old fire road. That's about it though. The bench cut sections looked perfect. Or, if not perfect, at very least: "most popular horse trail in North Georgia" wouldn't have come to mind looking at it.

And, hey! There's one of the turnpikes Debbie was talking about.

Turnpike Near Jones Creek

I guess that's what they were up to after all

No more 10 foot diameter mud hole. Looking good.

We'd barely pedaled since we left the parking lot and I still felt really fresh. Our first obstacle lay ahead of us though - crossing Jones Creek. It was a little high, with all of the rain. But shoes off, socks off, barefoot, mid-thigh deep...

Crossing Jones Creek

That's what you do to start a ride. That right there.

We took Jake north to the Beaver Pond and cut over to Black Branch. But, I forgot how everything was laid out up there and we ended up riding Black Branch backwards.

Rusty, rusty. I hoped that would be the last of the navigation errors, but I wasn't super confident that it would be.

Rather than taking the connector again, we popped out on 28-1 and took it up past Montgomery Creek, up past Washega, up past Merrill.

There was this weird sign just past Washega with what looked like a foot pressing a gas pedal at first. On closer inspection though, it was a foot, but the gas pedal was a cell phone, hanging off of the big toe, like a toe tag. "Don't Text and Drive" was the message. Seemed like an odd place to put such a message, but thinking through it a bit, it made more sense. If you've been holed up in the woods for a while, as you have signal you're going to feel like finding out what's been happening in the world. There'll be all those new new texts and emails, Facebook and Instagram posts... It might be a good idea to hit people with that message on the way out of the woods.

We, however, were just going further into it.

We climbed Cooper Gap.

Climbing Cooper Gap Road

Man, it felt like home. Sadly though, I felt overgeared. Going to have to put in some work these next few weeks, I think.

The vacant property off to the left was looking more overgrown than ever. The road leading up to it looked impassible, especially right down at the intersection. Up around the bend a bit though, it appeared that someone had bought the property right up above the house and was just starting to develop it. There were a couple of little roads cut into the backslope and a trailer or something parked on one of them.

A couple of guys on motorcycles passed us on that final kick. At the gap there were 2 groups of AT hikers taking a break. A different set of guys on motorcycles were also up there, consulting a map. Of course, we rode through too. It seemed like the place to be. On such a nice day, I guess it was.

The quarry had a bit more graffiti than I remember. The rollers along the ridge were a little tougher than I remember too.

We stopped for a minute at Mauldin Gap for a snack.

Snack at Mauldin Gap

The wind was blasting through the gap there and it was a good bit cooler than it had been at the lot. I actually had to zip up.

We bombed down to Hightower and the descent felt really sketchy. John just rolled away from me. Part of it is just that I really need new tires. Part of it though, is just that I really need to get a few hundred more miles in, off road, this spring.

We passed a pair of hikers at Hightower and stopped a few turns down to tank up at the pipe.

Water Below Hightower Gap

I was one bottle down already. I had no memory as to whether that was good or bad for the number of miles or hours, but John was also one bottle down, so I figured it must be about right.

We tore down past Rock Creek Lake, past the Hatchery, past the Shady Grove Church...

Shady Grove

People were fishing on the lake and fishing in the creek. We waved and they waved back.

It seemed like a long way to FS333. Longer than I remembered it being. All of the landmarks were there, all in the right places, but it seemed like a long haul.

Jones Creek had been high and Rock Creek was high, but for some reason, the little creek we had to cross on 333 was low and easy. I even managed to keep my feet dry.

We ended up catching up to some Jeeps about halfway down the road. We'd catch them on the downhills and they'd pull away on the climbs.


And that's how it was for that leg of the route.

Fortunately, they somehow managed to miss running over this rat snake, despite it being all out in the road.

Black Rat Snake

I ended up scaring it taking that picture though and it spun back the way it had come.

Somewhere in there my legs started feeling pretty well used. It was that long burn, the kind you can't just shake off with a little rest. I hadn't felt that in a really long time. It seems like you can't get it on the road in Cobb County, there just isn't enough climbing. I was feeling it then though. It made me smile a little.

When we reached the last little bit of the road, we let the Jeeps go first.


That section is usually sloppy and disgusting, but maybe somebody had run the grader down it recently because it wasn't nearly as bad as usual.

And then we picked it up a bit.

Past farms and fields, under that windy sky...

Fields and Sky

Past rows of mailboxes...


Past the Double Deuce, and the old green schoolbus, and the short section of gravel by Peter Knob, and past that lake with the stacked rocks in the spillways.

We were rolling good and John almost missed the turn onto FS58.

Admittedly though, I was keeping a bit in reserve and I could tell that he was too. I guess it'd just been a while since either of us had done any serious climbing and we had about 8 miles of it just ahead.

We stopped for a second at the first little rise and right at my foot there was this little hemlock sprout.

Hemlock Buds

I picked about half of the light green buds and snacked on them. I had plenty of Clif Blocks, but come on... Wild Edibles. They were pretty good too. They can be really strong sometimes, but those were just right. It was time to eat though, and I did eat some Clif Blocks too.

We got right into the climb after that. Eight miles, right up along the creek. Fortunately it's a comfortable climb, for the most part. Mostly big ring, if you have such a thing any more.

This signage was a bit confusing though. I'd long ago heard that the DNR had given up the Blue Ridge WMA and it was now just an undesignated part of the rest of the National Forest. The game check station down by Bull and Jake had been torn down right around then too. And yet, this sign, this exact sign went up not a week later, erected in place of an older, more run down sign.

Blue Ridge WMA

And then a week later another one just like it appeared at Winding Stair Gap. It seemed that if the DNR had given up the land that they wouldn't have then immediately re-signed it. Who knows though, the way government budgets work, maybe they needed to spend the money that year so they'd get the same budget again the next... Still, I expected the signs to be taken down eventually. But it's been years and years, and there they still are.

We climbed and climbed.

We also got into this conversation about if we had to choose our top five hard rock vocalists, who would they be? I kept remembering additional vocalists and amending my list, until eventually I had to admit that it was getting difficult to concentrate on much other than the climb.

At the AT crossing, I'm not sure I've ever seen as many cars parked there as I did on that day. Ever. There must have been 50, all up and down the road.

At Hickory Flatts, I struggled to remember if there were 2 or 4 more miles to go.

Up near the top I couldn't remember if there were 2, 3 or 4 kicks.

I did remember that when you see the old torn up road off to the right, that you're nearly there.

I couldn't hold it together though, and John rode away from me at the end.

Climbing Upper Noontootla

My legs kind-of wanted to cramp. Not bad, just that little bit where you can back off and it goes away. The only cure is more climbing though. More climbing. Gotta do it.

At the gap, I wasn't feeling so bad.

Winding Stair Gap

Which just means that I wasn't working hard enough. I have an awesome picture from when me and Tim rode there way back. I appeared to have aged 15 years in 8 miles. Actually, I think the last time I'd ridden up there was that ride. Man... Times change.

There were two other cyclists at the gap, and a few more guys on motorcycles. The cyclists were a little disoriented. They'd ridden Jake and Moss Branch and then climbed Winding Stair. I believe that they had intended to climb Cooper Gap though. Maybe next time. They took off down Winding Stair and we followed a little bit later. Again, John just rolled away from me. That road is always rough. That day though, it was just coming at me too fast. I couldn't react fast enough. It didn't seem familiar. I had trouble in the turns. I remembered to get back and low, I remembered to counter steer, that was all intuitive, but my tires were just dying to slip, or so it seemed.

Roadie brain. Roadie legs. Roadie skills. I'm a pale shadow of that guy that wrote about all that stuff that he did in these same pages, years back. A pale, sad shadow. It's honestly pretty discouraging.

Or, I guess it is now. At the time, it was hard to feel discouraged, tear-assing down Winding Stair at the fastest speed I felt safe at. All I felt then was something like "Yeaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!".

We swung left onto Turner Creek and ran into those same guys from up at the gap about 2/3rds of the way around. They'd missed the first turn, taken the second, still thought they were heading south though... Poor guys. If I hadn't gotten equally lost out there myself, I might have felt less sorry for them.

And then we were backtracking... Beaver Pond... Jake Mountain. We didn't bother taking our shoes off to cross Jones Creek a second time. It was like 2 miles or less to the car from there. But, two miles, almost all uphill, after god knows how many miles on that big loop.

We'd come upon some equestrians on Beaver Pond and it had taken me a second to notice them. We stopped about 40 feet away, but their horses were young and skittish and it wasn't as clean of a meeting as it could have been. Rusty, rusty. Next, we ran into a lady hiking with a dog. Saw her, did better. I forget though, aside from there not being much to see, the Jake trails are pretty good for hiking now too.

Climbing up off of Jones Creek I made an effort to keep an eye out, but still didn't see another pair on horseback until after John called them out, from behind me. That pass was better still, but man, I was surprised by how hard a time I was having spotting other people on the trail. I guess that's a skill too.

And then we were done.

The lot was completely full. People were packing up, or sitting on their tailgates, done with their rides. Those same guys that we'd seen a few times already showed up about 10 minutes after us.

I was tired. My legs were tired. My mind was tired. But I didn't have that good, even, whole-body-tired going. I remembered how it felt. I was reminded of it, but I didn't have it. It might take a few rides to get back into that. Maybe. I hope only a few.

The trip back was funny. I wasn't really totally straight, mentally, until I had a coke from Zaxby's. Might have been missing on one cylinder. The coke fixed my mind though. The Zax Snack fixed my body, more-or-less.

When I got home, I didn't even take my bike out of the car. Just left it in there, along with my clothes and shoes and stuff. Too much effort to do anything else. The next day I did get the clothes out though, as they'd already begun to smell bad.

Oh man, oh man. What a day. I need many, many, many more days like that, all over North Georgia.

There's plenty up there to ride. Just gotta get to it.

Get to it Dave.

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