Saturday, February 20, 2016

Chimney Mountain

Goodness! The backlog...

It's been almost two months. I've been burning the midnight oil, burning the candle at both ends, and burning whatever other metaphors there are for working too much. Duty calls, and I've got too many pimps to pay. In all that time, I've hardly had a free hour or two. In fact, the only reason I have time now is because Sourceforge is up to something and I can't commit any of my code until they're done. So, I'm taking advantage of it.

Almost a month ago I rode Chimney Mountain. I distinctly remember it qualifying solidly as Adventure. I hope I can remember the details and relate them in a manner that does justice to the experience.

I remember that it had been raining, seriously raining, every day, for weeks. I figured I'd get in some gravel miles, as the trails would certainly be a mess, so I headed up to the Upper Chattahoochee as I am prone to do. The Chattahoochee was super high:

High Chattahoochee

Not that one can tell from the photo without another photo of the same spot for reference, but trust me, that's high.

There was some other guy ahead of me on the road in, and we ended up parking in the same little spot. He was from Birmingham, I remember that, in town visiting relatives, and had been a little discouraged by all the rain. He was optimistic though, about riding the Upper Chattahoochee, in much the same way I was. Seemed like a good choice to him too.

We'd both passed another rider on the way in. That rider saw us getting ready and came over to say hi. He wanted to know which way to go to get to Unicoi Gap. At that intersection, both ways get you to Unicoi Gap, but the scenic route was the way he'd been going. That was the way he meant to go, so he kept at it.

Right as I was about to get going, some guys pulled up in two trucks, roofs loaded with kayaks and canoes. With all the rain we'd had, the Chattahoochee was actually paddleable from there into town. It hadn't been in years and they were pretty excited. I wondered if it was viable to put in even further upstream, and there was apparently enough water, but too much deadfall since the tornado in 2012 (I think it was 2012) to make it worth doing.

I love getting little bits of perspective like that from other forest users, especially people out doing stuff that I don't do. I was already feeling good about the day and I hadn't ridden even 10 feet yet.

About a half mile in, a couple in a little Honda stopped me and asked me how much further the road was unpaved. Fortunately for them it was only a mile and a half more. They'd apparently gotten on just below Unicoi Gap, been on it for 14 miles or so, and had enough gravel road for one day.

I didn't run into any one else for a while. I remember that I felt pretty good too. I'd been climbing-in-the-mountains for the past few weekends, and it had been doing me some good.

The backslopes up there are really steep in a few places, and with all the rain, I expected to see a particular feature along the road. It turned out that I didn't have to look for long to find it either. Slump:


The hillside below the road had moved downhill an inch or two, and cracked up the road. That's one of those you-never-know kinds of things. They had a pretty massive landslide up there a few years ago that took out a few hundred yards of road. I'm sure it looked like this for a few days before it finally went. The whole hillside could go tomorrow, or it could firm back up never move again.

Climbing the road made me happy.


I felt a lot better than I had, even just a week prior. It didn't look steep to me. It had the previous week.

At one of the food plots, I'd seen some raggedy camping gear the week before. It was still there, and looked even more raggedy that week. Figuring it had been abandoned, I took a closer look.

Abandoned Camping Gear

Yep, the tent had been filled with garbage. Bags and bags of it. It was kind of weird too. I imagined a caravan of migrants, living out of their trucks, on the move, accumulating trash, camping for a few days, then dumping their garbage and old gear, and moving on. Who knows though?

Near the upper campground the river was still very high.

More High Chattahochee

It's usually a good 2 foot drop down to the water from the shore. Not that day though.

Oh yeah, the weather... The weather was nice. Unseasonably nice even. Low 50's. I was comfortable in my long sleeve jersey with no jacket, knee or arm warmers.

The Long Sleeves

Along Wilks Creek, I ran into an older gentleman. Quite a character, in fact. One of the recent storms had brought down some trees in one of the campgrounds, and he'd been able to cut a chunk out of one of them a day or two prior. The log weighed like 250 pounds though, he couldn't lift it into his truck, and he also worried that if he drove his truck down into the campsite to try, that it would get stuck.

He'd apparently just driven out there and hoped someone would come along and give him a hand. Lucky for him, I felt up for it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Log

We rolled the log up to within maybe 10 feet of the road, but the hill was kind of steep, and he wasn't up for manhandling it the rest of the way. It seemed like a bad idea to me, but he wanted to try to pull it up the rest of the way with a rope attached to his hitch. The rope ended up just slipping off of the log though, and it rolled all the way down past where we'd originally started.


His dog chased it all the way down too, even got in front of it, and it was a miracle she didn't get run over.

We rolled the log back up to the same spot, chocked it, and got prepared to wrench it the rest of the way. Just then, a truck with two more guys passed by and he managed to holler them down to help out too. The four of us could just carry it, and the task was accomplished.

The guy had some Louisiana-themed tee shirt on, and when I asked him about it, it turned out he'd been stationed at Fort Polk for a while way back, and then lived in Alexandria for some time afterwards.

We shook hands and took off though. I kept climbing, and they actually did as well. It was funny though, they were in no rush. I was able to stay well ahead of them all the way up to the gap, on my bike, even stopping and taking photos along the way.

For example... I stopped to check out this weird thing that I'd seen the previous week.

Weird Semi-Permeable Tree Bags

There were a bunch of these semi-permeable bags zipped around the ends of hemlock branches. Probably 10 or 20 of them. ????

I stopped at the falls too, and topped off my bottles from the settling tank.

Falls on FS44

I want to say that there were some roadies heading the other way as I approached Unicoi Gap, but I don't 100% remember if that happened that weekend, or the previous.

Unicoi Gap

Bombing down off the back side of Unicoi was fun, but ever since I broke all those ribs, if I get into just the right position, my shoulder blade, or the muscles under it, or something, rubs on the site of the injury and catches. It's not painful, but it's uncomfortable, and tucking on the road seems to be one of those just-the-right-positions.

On Indian Grave Gap Road, there's a little house on the left, right at the border of the Forest. I've passed it dozens of times, but this time, there were a bunch of people milling around outside of it. I assumed the occupants. They waved. I waved. All those times I've ridden by, I've never seen anyone. It was neat to see them because it was different, I guess.

The ford was extra high, and there was no hope of ratcheting through it.

Ford on Indian Grave Gap Road

While it wasn't "cold" in the absolute sense, it was certainly cold enough to want to keep my feet dry, or at least not to ride 20 more miles with wet shoes.

So, it was shoes off for that crossing.

Shoes Off

Fortunately, that week, I'd remembered to bring all my goodies, including a little camp towel. High-five to myself for that foresight. My feet were nice and dry.

The climb up to whatever gap it is near High Shoals Falls was a little less difficult than it had been the week before, and I had plenty of energy along the back side of Rocky Mountain. I hadn't ridden Jasus Creek though, as I had the previous week. I remember debating with myself about whether I was actually in better shape, or whether I just hadn't worked as hard.

Rather than bailing down Tray Mountain Road though, I pressed on to Tray Gap. It actually started raining for a bit in there somewhere, and I wondered if the care I'd taken to keep my feet dry would prove shortsighted after all.

Wet and Rainy

Tray Gap is a popular destination for people who enjoy doing donuts in the middle of the road, and as a result, Lake Tray Gap now emerges after every decent rain.

Lake Tray Gap

The road past the gap is gnarly and deteriorated too, and a very popular spot for Jeeping. Years ago I drove my Durango all the way down it, and in 2010 or '11 I drove the Subaru as far as I could before getting blocked by downed trees. I'm not sure I could get either of those down it now. It was rough. Reminded me of FS28-3 on the west side of Nimblewill Gap.

This photo really doesn't do the road justice without an object in there for scale. That trench is 3 feet deep or more.


About 15% of the way down the road, I ran into a lady walking toward me in street clothes. She was a long way from anywhere though, and I didn't immediately understand how she could have gotten there.

Turned out her husband was a few hundred feet behind her in their Jeep, and she'd just gotten to where she'd rather walk than ride.

Jeepin on FS79

I must have passed 20 or more Jeeps and other trucks between there and the bottom of the mountain. Actually, that's probably a conservative estimate. It looked like that was the day to be out, and that was the place to be.

I was fairly impressed too. Most of what I looked at, I didn't see a driveable line through, but these guys had it, no problem.

I passed Jeep after Jeep after Jeep. Each successfully navigating something gnarlier than the last. I finally passed the last one about halfway down Chimney Mountain.

It was a lot wetter on that side than it had been on the other. There were several water crossings...

Water Crossing FS79

...and I managed to get my left foot a little wet.

But that turned out to be irrelevant soon after, as the wet spray soaked me from head to toe, including my shoes.

Descending FS79

In turn, the soaking turned out to be irrelevant, as the temperature was noticeably warmer at the bottom of the mountain.

I found myself in a rare situation too. There was a road to my left that I'd never been down before. Seizing the opportunity, I took it out to the highway, rather than just continuing directly downhill. The detour added a few miles to the loop, but they were some scenic miles, and I was happy to have added them.

It seemed to take an eternity to get back over by Unicoi State Park, and a second eternity to get back to the car from there. I didn't feel super tired, it just seemed like I'd discovered a never-ending road. Which is weird, because I've ridden it before. I don't know, I can't really explain it. Or maybe I could have a month ago, but it's gone from my mind now.

When I got back to the car, I noticed the other guy was long gone. I hope he enjoyed his ride.

I have no memory of dinner or the drive home. I remember feeling really satisfied though. If slow, I'd at least felt strong all day. I had that whole-body tired going, which I love. I'd met some interesting people, seen some interesting things, and managed some interesting conditions.

All-in-all, it had been the kind of ride that I always hope to have.

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