Monday, July 13, 2015

Cohutta WMA

My brother had a birthday recently. In mountain biking circles, one is generally treated to a celebratory birthday ride, but between rain and travel and other real-life-related activities, it wasn't until the day before yesterday that the opportunity actually came up for such a ride.

It did though, finally, come up, and it was quite a ride.

John picked me up near my house at 6:45 in the morning. We were supposed to meet Marc and Mark at Bear Creek, and we had to be riding by 8:45. It was possible that "a few people might be joining us" too. The early start was, again, due to life-related activities. John had to be back in Douglasville no later than 4:30 PM.

No later.

It was John's lucky day though. Milling around behind his truck, he just glanced down at a 4-leafed clover.

Lucky, Lucky

Wasn't even looking for it, just happened to see it there.

The day was starting off right. Perhaps his luck would hold.

John Vandal had arrived a minute or so before us. He was apparently one of the people who might be joining us. There were two unrelated crews of Floridians parked ahead of us too. They were not joining us, but I did speak to them for a while. I've done my share of riding in Florida. They'd been coming up here for 10 years or more. We had plenty to talk about.

Mark and Marc showed up on time.

Mark, Marc, Josh and John

Everybody geared up, and fueled up, and we proceeded north.

Bear Creek Road

It felt cool and early. It was a little humid and a little foggy, but that just added to the charm.

It'd been like 2 years since I'd been to Bear Creek, but the woods felt familiar, and the company felt familiar. "Yeah, this is how it ought to be" came to mind.

We climbed the road and started up the trail.

Bear Creek Trail

It started getting warm on Pinhoti 1. We ran into one group of Floridians. One of their guys was lagging back though, so they couldn't ride with us for long.

Josh was asking about bears. He's apparently never seen one. He's been riding up there for 15 years and never seen one. I've probably seen 50 or more. I might need to take him on some of my little adventures. They tend to include bears.

I dropped a water bottle on P1. I have one metal holder and one plastic holder. The plastic holder is garbage off road. Garbage! I've dropped bottles out of it 4 or 5 times now, but I keep forgetting to replace it.

Aside from delays related to dropping bottles though, I didn't have trouble keeping up with the frere, which is definitely an improvement. Last time we rode together, he'd just roll away from me on the downhills, every time.

Pinhoti 1 was fun but Pinhoti 2 was the real deal.

Climbing P2

Marc and Josh were chatting away on the climb, which was a little frustrating. My heart rate was such that I could not have been so chatty. No amount of not-climbing in the mountains can prepare you for climbing in the mountains, it seems. I need to get in some more climbing-in-the-mountains.

I followed John on the downhill, and it more than made up for the slight climbing struggle. Following a fast rider down a twisty downhill always reminds me of watching footage of an aerial dogfight. It's like two fighter jets, one running, one trying to stay lined up for a shot, minus the strategic significance of the conflict, and fear of death, of course.

Mark flatted towards the end of P2 and we could hear the air leaking out of his tire as he pulled into the road. Oddly, he hadn't noticed it until someone pointed it out. I guess it had started leaking slowly, and just become part of the background noise.

Anyway, he had to fix it, so we stopped for a few minutes.

Mark Flatted

There was a big crew of people I didn't know gathered at the bottom of P2, about to head over toward Mulberry Gap. We talked to them for a minute, but they got going pretty quickly. They had places to go and adventure ahead.

We did too, actually. We picked up Bromley, Mike and Chris at Mulberry Gap.

John ran up, refilled a bunch of our bottles and came back looking crazy with ten pounds of water stuffed down his jersey.

The plan for the rest of the day was FS18 -> Windy Gap -> Milma -> Tibbs -> FS28 -> Bear Creek.

Apparently, Mark had described the route on the internet, but the new members of our group misunderstand the direction. I didn't read his description. It might have been confusing, or it might just have been assumed that no reasonable person would climb Windy Gap and Tibbs. Whatever the cause, the result was something like "oh man, we're CLIMBING Tibbs?" All around.

But, it wouldn't be tough for a while. The first 5 or 6 miles to the bottom of Windy Gap was mostly downhill, and we had a good time of it.

Riding Toward Windy Gap

We passed the old firetruck and the Little Chapel in the Woods, and ran along Holly Creek for a long time.

Holly Creek

Tons of cars were parked at Emery Creek. People were playing in the water. A guy was fly fishing from the bridge.

Yeah! Outdoors!

Fort Mountain loomed off to the left as we approached the climb.

Fort Mountain

The forest road leading up to the Windy Gap lot was mellow and fun. Something large had died up there in one of the curves, but other than that, the climb was pretty nice. I'd been keeping on top of fuel and water so far. I wasn't hungry, or tired, or weak, or thinking strange thoughts, or suffering non-existent pain, or anything else. I felt good. It seemed like everybody did.

Climbing the Windy Gap trail was really tough though.

John Climbing Windy Gap

Fortunately, it was smooth and tacky. It's so often dusty and rocky and loose. I was pleasantly surprised. It is long though, and the pitch is relentless. There are 3 kicks right before Milma, and John was all: "When I see those 3 kicks, we're almost done."

One, two, three.

Everybody was sitting down waiting for us at the turn.

Everybody Waiting For Me

I checked my bike. I'd noticed a bent link in my chain right before we started. It had been giving me a little trouble all day, and was the apparent culprit in some issues I'd had during the past few rides, but it was manageable. I'd wondered if it would give way during the horrific climbing, but no, it still looked the same. No need to address it just yet, at least.

When Bromley arrived she wasn't sure how she felt about climbing two more miles of rougher trail than that, especially with the temperature climbing as well. Josh had initially planned on turning around at that point too. He was feeling good though. Brom was too, but she wasn't sure how well she'd feel later. John kept looking at the time. He had a deadline and eventually just had to get moving.

Everybody pushed on.

Milma is actually fairly gentle and fun. It's only steep in a few spots, and they're short. It is unfortunately, only accessible via one of two murderous climbs, or one of two incredibly technical downhills, but Milma itself, is great.

John and I both tanked up at Milma Creek. I'd consumed one bottle since Mulberry Gap and it's easy go to through another one on Tibbs. Better safe than sorry.

Though gentle, Milma was also short lived. The great hell lay directly ahead of us.


Josh was all: "I've always heard how hard this is. I guess I've got to find out someday." Or something like that. He seemed to have decided to keep going rather than turn back.

John and Chris took the lead.

Climbing Tibbs

I followed, but Mark and Marc passed me almost immediately.

I think Josh walked most of it, but I'm not sure I rode materially faster than he was walking. He was never more than about 50 yards back.

The bottom 1/3rd was actually in reasonably good shape. I've had a harder time with it in the past than I had that day. But, after the bottom third, it was as tough as it's ever been.

Somewhere in there we ran across a rattlesnake. It was all stretched out across the trail when I rode up, and even though I was probably 20 yards away, that was apparently too close, and it started rattling at me furiously. I've never actually heard one rattle before. I've seen plenty stretched out across the road. I nearly stepped on a timber rattler at Bull Mountain, and a pygmy rattler on Conner Mountain. I walked within a few feet of a pink rattler in the canyon. They were all dead quiet. This one was pissed though. It rattled all crazy and coiled up into a big snake pile.

Rattlesnake on Tibbs

The photo is unfortunately garbage. I had to use maximum zoom to take it and the lens was all sweaty and disgusting.

When Josh walked up behind me, he could neither hear nor see the snake. It had been rattling since it was out of earshot, and to him just sounded like running water off in the distance. It was so well camouflaged that he couldn't even see it without looking for a few seconds, after I pointed out where it was.

Fortunately the trail is really an old road, and really wide right there, and we were able to walk waaaay around it.

Then, not 100 yards later I passed within inches of another snake.

"Black rat snake." [points to it] "Not poisonous. Try not to run it over though."

I swear I've seen more black rat snakes than any other snake. Like 4 to 1 at least.

We climbed and climbed. Eventually the trail degraded into shelves of exposed granite and shale.

Tibbs Ridiculousness

The photo does no justice to its ridiculousness. There's just no riding that.

We walked, and walked, and walked. Josh passed me in some short, rideable section. My legs started cramping. Not that full on, locked-up, going-to-hurt-all-week cramping, but cramping nonetheless. Again. No amount of not-climbing in the mountains can prepare you for climbing in the mountains. I need to do a lot more climbing in the mountains.

As all things do, Tibbs came to an end. As I approached the trail head I could imagine John sitting there, ready to go, counting the minutes until I arrived, but he was actually fairly casual about it. "Hey D, take a few minutes, but I need to get going pretty soon."

No problem. It's not good to sit around for too long after a tough climb anyway.

Mark: "How are you feeling?"

Me: "Heh. I feel like I just climbed Tibbs."

John switched gloves. He'd carried a second set in a ziplock bag all day. Yeah! Nothing like a fresh set of gloves. Apparently Mark had come up with that trick a long time ago. I guess it's starting to catch on.

Chris had already left. Bromley and Mike were still climbing and might still be for a while. The clock was ticking. Me, Mark, Marc, John and Josh headed toward Bear Creek. Josh was out of water though, so he, Marc and Mark took a detour to the Lake Conasauga campground. John kept moving.

"That's my ride guys, I've got to keep moving too."

There are two pretty long, pretty steady climbs on the way back to Bear Creek. They're not bad at all if you're fresh. I could not be described as fresh but they weren't as tough as I'd expected them to be.

The original plan was to take the Bear Creek back, but being pressed for time, we took the road instead. It was just as well though. There are dozens of sweeping turns on the road, and it gave me a chance to evaluate/work-on my tear-ass-around-sweeping-gravel-road-turns skills. I felt a lot more comfortable than I had on Winding Stair when John and I'd ridden there a month or two ago. I was even able to ride comfortably at terminal velocity down the ridge just above the upper Bear Creek lot.


I'd hoped to get a good view of the whole world from the overlook, but the sumac is really taking over up there these days. I had to reach way up above my head just to get a photo.

Bear Creek Overlook

It's funny... In years past I could have named each of those ridges offhand. Today I don't recognize any of them.


One step at a time.

We got back to the car with about 10 minutes to spare, so it looked like forest road detour had probably been a good idea. I was sleepy on the way back, but some Zaxby's and a coke solved that. Seems like I always eat Zaxby's when I've been riding with my brother. It's becoming a tradition.

I took a nap when I got home, but I wasn't super tired yesterday. A ride like that usually wipes me out the next day, but not this time. I'd made an effort to stay on top of food and water, and I'm sure that helped. Also, I suspect that my legs were kind of a limiting factor, keeping the rest of me from getting too worn out. Whatever it was, it made for a good time that I didn't suffer from later, and that's always good.

Thanks for the ride guys! Great hanging out with everyone. Let's do it again.

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