Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Brutal Loop

The Brutal Loop!

Sounds terrible. Why would I want to do anything named The Brutal Loop?

Well, for one, Mulberry Gap was hosting the event and it's been far too long since the girls and I were regulars up there. I managed to see Ginny a few months ago but I haven't seen Diane in years. They missed the girls, and the girls missed the magic. Kathryn, for some reason, had never even been there. Opportunity!

Also, since cracking myself up a few months back, I've gotten comfortable shredding in-town singletrack again, gotten comfortable kicking around in remote locations again, and gotten somewhat comfortable climbing in the mountains again. A week or two ago I did a decent loop at Bull Mountain and felt good about it. Getting broken off in the Cohuttas seemed like the next logical step.

To those ends, I woke everyone up at 5:30, and after some breakfast at Waffle House, we drove up to Ellijay, and arrived when you still couldn't even see the actual sun over the ridge yet.

Early Morning Ellijay

As we approached MGap, the sun started peeking over though, and it made the dew on the pine trees glow a faint orange, like some kind of backwards autumn where it's the evergreens that change color. As many early morning rides as I've done, I'd never noticed that particular effect before.

We drove in, parked near the barn, and walked over to the house to check in. A few minutes later breakfast was being served, and not too long after that I started getting ready to ride.

The brutality started early for me. I lost control of my feet climbing the slippery stairs up to the bath house and danked both shins on the next step.

Shin Dank


The day was already living up to its name and I hadn't even begun to ride.

As it approached 9 o'clock, I was ready to go but it didn't look like anyone else was in too much of a hurry to get moving. The advertised 9AM start was looking like more of a suggestion than a deadline and I took the opportunity to mill around the property a bit.

It was 2012 when I last camped up there, for the 2012 TNGA, to be exact. A few things have changed since then. The Barn is much more of a focal point than it had been in the past. It's been enclosed, floored, and climate controlled. Its kitchen has been improved as has its deck and nearby campsites. The game room has been consolidated into the barn as well. The Meeting Place has been converted into a group cabin. The chicken coop is gone - they were going through so many chickens that they were at risk of having to comply with all kinds of farm regulations, or something like that. The house has a small store now. There's a trail that runs around the property, with tough climbs and fun obstacles. Diane and Ginny have handed off most of the operations to Andrew and Kate, who apparently have a booth that they take to races and shows, all over the place, getting the word out. They host tours and events year round...

And I'm sure much more.

The Koi Pond is still there though.

MGap Pond

The campground and cabins and hot tubs and bath houses are still there too. Ginny is still cooking, and the food is still delicious.

Oh, man, I've missed that place.

In my wanderings, I ran into Mark B. who I had no idea was going to be there. Ha, ha! He values punctuality, was also ready to ride, and somewhat frustrated with the delay.

I ran into Farmer G as well and talked with him for a while. At first, neither of us recognized each other in street clothes. It's always funny to me when that happens.

When I got back to the barn, I found my whole family riding these little circus bikes in circles, inside, which is apparently something that you're welcome to do. There were several acoustic guitars there as well, and while waiting, I tuned one of them and tried to play it, but man, I'm rusty. My fingers just wouldn't do what my mind wanted them to do.

Eventually we all got organized and grouped up for the start.

Mark B and Friends

My family was outside too, to see me off.

The Family

Sophie kept wanting to ring this big bell next to the road. There's a sign next to it that says "Ring Bell, if no Answer, Pull Weeds" so I told her she could ring the bell, but she ran the risk of having to pull weeds, and I think it was enough to dissuade her.

After a quick riders meeting we took off down the hill and started climbing FS68.

Climbing FS64

I felt weak from the start, but I knew I would, so as unfortunate as it was, at least it wasn't unexpected. I managed to stay about mid-pack I think, for a while, but only for a while. I don't think I dropped to dead last, but I wasn't too far from it.

With all the rain we've had lately, there have been several washouts in the Cohuttas. Most between Three Forks and Dyer Gap, but I got to see one of them on the approach to Barnes Creek Falls.



I was surprised to see a small regroup at the Bear Creek Overlook.

Regroup at Bear Creek Overlook

It wasn't the whole group, but it was about half of the riders ahead of me.

It had been a while since I'd been to that overlook too, and the last time the sumac was too tall to see much. Fort Mountain was unobstructed today though, except for the clouds sitting on top of it.

Bear Creek Overlook

Strangely, I felt a little better on the climb up to Potatopatch. Or maybe just everyone else felt worse. Either way I managed to more or less hold my position, which wasn't great, but at least I wasn't last.

About half way up, a convoy of vehicles with Forsyth County plates passed us. Must have been 7 or 8 of them. I figured they must all be together but it didn't occur to me why. I hadn't paid attention to anything but the plates though. Another rider said he thought it looked like a boy scout troop. Ahhh... That made sense. We never saw them again though.

I was surprised again at Potatopatch proper. The entire field was parked up there regrouping again.

Regroup at Potatopatch

And I wasn't last after all. We waited at least 5 more minutes while more and more riders arrived.

The run along the ridge was really nice. It had been cool at the bottom of the mountain just because of how early it was, but as we climbed, the sun had come out and it was starting to warm up. Up on the ridge, the sun wasn't hitting us so directly, and it was nice and cool again.

I forget how much elevation you actually gain as you head over to Three Forks. I was feeling better and better though, and though I noticed the climbing, I felt ok doing it. Much better than I had earlier, at least.

We regrouped again at the Mountaintown Overlook...

Mountaintown Overlook

...and one of the guys took a group photo.

At Three Forks, the gate was closed to keep people from driving into the washouts. The East Cowpen Trail leads north east from there though, off into the Wilderness. It's a popular trail and its parking lot is a little small for how many visitors it gets. Today the lot was full, and cars were parked up and down FS64 as well. Since the gate was closed, several cars were parked in front of it as well. The cars kind-of made a chute, directing traffic towards the trail. I was behind two riders who were unfamiliar with the area and, I guess, thought that East Cowpen was Mountaintown, so they headed straight down the chute.

Riding a hiking trail, in the Wilderness, even by accident, is actually a Federal Offense, so I was all: "Wait!!!! Stop!!!! Hiking Trail!!!! Wilderness!!!!" and they were like "Oh man! Ooops! Thanks!" and as I turned around, the entire rest of the field, 20 or more riders had made the exact same mistake. I wondered if I hadn't more or less accidentally ended up at the head of the group, how many of them would have ended up riding off into the Wilderness, unaware.

We got on track though, and the road over to Mountaintown was a lot of fun. First extended descent of the day. I missed the big ring a bit, but not enough to want to put it back on. I didn't see any more washouts though. They must all be further east.

We regrouped again at the top of Mountaintown, and the ride leader told us to give him a few minutes before coming down, to let him set up to take a video. There was a group of a few guys ahead of all of us, and two riders from our group had gone down ahead of the ride leader, but the rest of us waited. Of the remaining riders, I ended up leading the charge, and realized that it's been a while since I rode Mountaintown. I think the last time was during the Drama Queen ride in 2011 or 2012. The water bars at the top seemed much taller than I remembered. They were as oddly placed as I remembered though. You always have to turn coming over them. They all look good to launch, and it's tempting, but you'd almost certainly end up off line if you tried, either hung up on the backslope or tumbling down the mountain.

I passed the ride leader at the bottom of the first descent and got on what I think of as Mountaintown proper - the old roadbed that crosses 18 creeks or more.

It was damp back in there, and slip management was the name of the game. It wasn't really muddy, just wet, and the spray and little bits of debris didn't make it any easier.

Mark and Ed were behind me. We crossed several creeks, all rideable. I crashed at the bottom of the chunky descent adjacent to the first waterfall though. Man. It was almost the exact same spot that my dad crashed 14 years ago, and for almost the same reason. I'd ridden through the chunk, felt like I was out of it, started looking down the trail, and caught my front wheel on one last rock. If it hadn't been so wet it might not have mattered, but it sent me into the backslope and I got spun around 180 as I bailed. It wasn't bad though. It sapped my energy, but I wasn't hurt or injured. Later I discovered that something had apparently whacked the bridge of my nose, most likely during that crash, but I didn't notice it at the time, and it doesn't hurt now, you can just see that it happened.

The creeks started getting less rideable and more walkable after that.

Mountaintown Creek Crossing

It's so beautiful back in there, but it was hard to enjoy it with the slippery conditions. I stopped and took a few photos though, so I could enjoy them later, should I so choose.

Mountaintown Creek Trail

I'd like to have taken more, but I didn't want to dally about. It was tough going. Slipping all around takes a lot of effort to wrangle, and there was a lot of debris on the trail. I don't think I've ever worked that hard on that descent before. I didn't get any of the recovery I'd hoped to.

Mark and Ed were waiting at the Pinhoti intersection.

Mark and Ed

We waited for the next group of riders and rode out with them.

I want to say only two of the rest of the stream crossings were rideable. There were several mud holes too. "Ride directly through the center of the mud hole" goes the conventional wisdom. Manual if you can. While unintuitive, and unsightly, the mud will actually just settle back in and riding around widens the trail. Ok. Right through the middle then, of several that were deep enough to sink cassette deep in. Skills though! I didn't crash and even managed to carry speed out of them. Woohoo!

They left me a little muddy though.

A Little Muddy Also a Little Muddy

When I got back later, Kathryn was like "Why are you so much muddier than everyone else? I mean look at Mark. He looks like he didn't even do the same ride." Yep. Mark was all: "That's right. Skills." Ha! No! I've got skills, I just care. That's why I'm so muddy, cause I care. About the woods.

We regrouped again at the bottom of Bear Creek, but eventually reasoned that the vast majority of the riders would take eons to get down the trail, and were probably spread out by miles. The sun was blazing too, so we headed up to the bottom of the Bear Creek Trail proper. There were dozens of Tiger Butterflies swarming around up there. All males though. I didn't see any females. Poor guys. They were all: "Woohoo! Party! This party's for the ladies!" And then only dudes showed up.

The next group to arrive was the singlespeed pain train. They'd stayed together most of the day. Nobody was behind them for miles though, so we rolled out together. They stopped again at P1 but I was getting weary of all the stopping and starting so I kept going. I figured they'd catch me eventually.

I was getting hungry too. I'd brought enough Clif Blocks to eat 3 an hour, and I'd just finished the last 3. It was time to get back.

As expected, the pain train caught and dropped me at the tail end of P1.

Singlespeed Pain Train

But I ran into them again at the road.

I ran into Trudy at the head of P2. I recognized her immediately as I approached from the rock candy in her hand. She loves her some rock candy late in a ride. I also recognized her by her Dutch Monkey jersey and brand new, bright yellow frame bags. I knew she'd be up that way, and I thought I saw her truck at the start, but she didn't roll out with us, so I thought I was mistaken. Nope. She just did an entirely different, and I suspect, much longer route. She'd apparently taken the old Cohutta Death March route up into Tennessee and back. She had to be on mile 60 when I saw her. Instead of just rolling down 68 to MGap though, she apparently wanted to get a little singletrack in at the tail end there.


The singlespeed guys dropped me on the climb up to the singletrack, but I more or less hung with them on the descent. That is, until I dropped my chain. Seriously!? I have a clutched derailleur and a newfangled chainring that's designed specifically to NOT drop the chain. "Dropped chains are a thing of the past" says their marketing literature, or something like that. Ha! They haven't ridden the end of Pinhoti 2 yet. In all fairness, I probably need to remove a few links. I left it long in case I wanted to swap the 30 tooth ring for a 32 or a 34. I guess that's the cost. I might be able to adjust the clutch too. All I know is, the chain slap was indescribable, and then I dropped it, and then I couldn't just drop the front ring and pedal it back on, because there was no front ring to drop! What a disaster! Oh, the humanity!

The singlespeed guys were stopped again at the bottom of P2 and once again, the dropped me on the climb to Mulberry Gap proper (the geographical location).

Getting Dropped Again

On the MGap property, the climb up to The Barn was the final insult and I nearly cramped as I crested the hill.





As it should be, I guess.

I refueled with a bratwurst and some baked beans. My family had been running around all over the property taking photos, playing with dogs, riding the circus bikes, and playing life sized Jenga which shakes the ground when you lose. Seriously, it's got to be made of at least 40 pounds of wood.

I hosed off in the shower but I didn't have the energy to get as clean as I probably should have. All I had to dry off with was my napkin sized camp towel that I'd trimmed down for the TNGA too. It was much like that scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles where Steve Martin was trying to dry off with a washcloth.

Trudy was finished with her ride and dead tired. She did not want to walk down to the lower bath house, but the upper one was occupied. Upon walking down though, she realized she'd left her clothes at the barn and had to walk all the way back up, get them, and walk all the way back down again. I only know this because I managed to drop my bib and one sock on the way out of the bath house, didn't notice until I reached the barn, and had to walk all the way back down to get them myself. To an outside observer, we must have been quite a pair.

On the way home I had to get Kathryn to take over driving just south of Woodstock. I was that tired. As luck would have it, we hit bad traffic almost immediately and got stuck in it all the way into Smyrna.

Goodness! What a day. I had a good time, but I never felt strong. Not once, all day, just better or worse, here and there. I was weak climbing, and I recovered slowly. I couldn't keep my heart rate up. My legs wanted to cramp off and on, but never did. Then they'd be fine later. I'd get super tired, but if we stopped for 5 minutes, I'd recharge and feel good again for the next 30 or more.

So weird.

I need mid-week miles and good sleep. I need events to look forward to too. Group rides, races, and the like. As I sit here, I'm motivated. We'll see if that persists :)

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