Monday, August 8, 2016

Simms and Lavender Mountains

This has been the worst summer on record, for fitness. I was sick for almost 6 weeks at the beginning, then for a few weeks I was more-or-less well, but now that the kids are back in school, they've brought new germs home with them, and we've all been sick again for the past week. I've been less sick than everyone else. No fever, at least, but man, come on!

I'd planned on getting in some good miles during the week and hitting the Drama Queen on Sunday, but I'd barely managed 40, over two days, and one of those was Kathryn and I struggling to put in 10 on the Silver Comet. The Drama Queen was out of the question, but I didn't want to completely waste the weekend. I had an idea for a decently long ride, but one that wouldn't involve an absurd amount of climbing. The tail end of the Pinhoti... I'd never actually ridden it.

Way out by the Alabama line, the Pinhoti follows Hwy 100 for several miles along an old rail corridor. I used a bunch of that for the TNGA, but down near the intersection with Hwy 20 the Pinhoti veers back east for a while. There was no pressing need to send riders back east at that point, so I never even explored that section of the trail. I always meant to though...

I parked along Hwy 100, at a fairly nondescript location. I guess it's not entirely nondescript though. There is some sign nearby, but I forgot what it said. It's also the spot where the Pinhoti crosses Hwy 100. It didn't really stand out as a good parking spot, but upon closer examination, it was clear that people did, so I parked there too.

The second I was ready to ride, it started raining. It was a gentle rain though, not really a sprinkle even. The kind that probably wouldn't even get into your shoes for several hours. I'd come all that way too, I wasn't about to bail because of a little rain. It was pretty warm out, too. Who knows? The rain might even be refreshing.

The mountain looming over from the east, was Simms Mountain, and the trail that led along the base of it was, as one might expect, the Simms Mountain Trail.

Simms Mountain Trailhead

It turns out that the Pinhoti co-opts that trail for most of its length.

There's not much to see on the Simms Mountain Trail, except for the trail itself, which looks about like this:

Simms Mountain Trail

Or, at least, that's how it looks when you're riding it on a bike.

Every so often, thanks to the ever-present kudzu, there is a bit of a view. For example, here's one:

Kudzu and Mountains

Thanks, kudzu.

The trail mostly-follows Friday Road. I could either see it, or kind-of see it most of the time. The trail crossed back and forth over it a few times too.

At the final crossing, the sign across the street indicated that the trail continued, and there was a fairly obvious old rail corridor in that direction. But it looked way more like a junkyard than a bike trail. There were TV's and old furniture, but my favorite, by far was the boat:

Boat Garbage


I love when I find an abandoned boat. The last place you'd expect to find a boat is in the middle of the woods, halfway up a mountain.

The old rail corridor was easy to follow, but it was much more overgrown than the previous section. I started to wonder if anyone ever actually went that way. At about that time, I emerged in someone's front yard, and was accosted by several, quite friendly dogs.

They were like: "Get out of here! But, first, give me love and scratches!" As soon as I turned around, most of the dogs ran back to their yard, but one big pit-bull mix ran along side me for a while, no longer barking, just kind of showing me the way out. He'd get ahead of me, then turn around and wait, and kind-of prance back and forth in anticipation, then he'd do it again. The whole time, he had that happy-dog smile on his face. I felt like finding a stick to throw, but I had a long ride ahead of me and I didn't want to waste too much time.

I rode all over the local roads, trying to determine if the Simms Mountain Trail kept going or not. The old rail bed kept going, but it was closed to thru-traffic and it looked like it would eventually join an active rail.

I also expected to see little turkey feet marking which way to go, but I never found any of those. Looking at my map, it wasn't immediately clear whether I should keep heading east, or turn southwest on the main road. I realized that I probably should have studied the route a bit more closely before I got all the way out there, but hey, that's Adventure, right?

I kind-of knew where I was, and I kind-of wanted to figure out how to connect the Pinhoti with the Berry College trails anyway, so I kept heading east, hoping I'd figure out exactly where I was after a few miles.

Almost immediately, I passed a house with two white re-bar swastikas on the gate.

You don't see that every day.

And, a few miles later, I did figure out where I was, and where I wanted to go. To the left was Fouche Gap road, which I figured led up over Lavender Mountain and ought to lead to Sand Springs Road. Yep, it did, and it was a nice little climb. At the top there was a house, and the guy who owned it was getting his mail as I rode by, so we said hi to each other. The descent on the back side was sketchier than I imagined a road-descent could be. Wet mountain bike tires on steep, twisty, wet roads seem to be the worst possible combination. The bike felt really squirmy, and I ended up keeping my speed way down. It's good I didn't see anyone else out there because it would have been pretty embarrassing.

I took Sand Springs Road east.

Sand Springs Road

...and there was a lot to see on that road.

An old church:

Sand Springs Church

Several clear-cuts:

Clear Cut



An old farmhouse and barn:

Old Barn

Both on Berry College WMA property, it seemed.

The road seemed interminable too. I could see the mountain to the south, the whole time, and knowing that I'd just be turning around and climbing all the way back along that very ridge made me want to hurry. I'd gotten a late start. I expected to get back after dark, but there's always that instinct to push when you realize it's going to get dark on you.

When I finally rounded the end of the mountain, I took a right on a gravel road that Billy and I had ridden once before, and climbed all the way back up along the ridge. It didn't seem to take nearly as long on dirt, for some reason. When I made it to the college trails I took the House O'Dreams road down into the Mountain Campus, and rode around for a while, trying to figure out how to get over to Possum Trot Road. It's a bit of a maze in there, and if you don't know where to go, it's not easy to figure it out.

On the upside, I ran into deer after deer, and managed to get a decent photo of one of them.

Berry College Deer

The deer at Berry College have no fear of people. They come out in herds to graze in the fields every evening. I literally saw hundreds of deer during the course of that ride.

I eventually got on the right road. I was headed southeast, and Lavender Mountain was to my right.

Lavender Mountain

It was getting darkish, but it wasn't officially dark. The last time I was up there, I remembered seeing a road leading southish, out near Possum Trot Church. It ought to lead to Technology Parkway, which would take me almost directly back to my car.

I rode out to the church...

Possum Trot Church

And I found the road, but it was gated and there was a sign saying that you needed a permit to cross the gate. Dangit. I'd once run into a sign like that on CCC Road. I'd called the number on the sign, which rang the campus police, and they told me that it was fine to cross such gates on a bike or on foot, just not in a motor vehicle. But I couldn't exactly remember what the other sign said. I don't remember if it had any language about a permit or not. It didn't seem like it did. I didn't want to break the rules, and I didn't feel like engaging the police, so I ended up backtracking and taking the Viking Trail back toward the main campus.

Viking Trail

It was getting really dusky at that point.

The main campus was as much of a maze as the mountain campus, and though I tried pretty hard to find a way out to the south, I eventually ended up just riding out through the old front gate.

Dark? Almost. Really close. I think it was 8:15 or so. Fortunately it was nothing but roads back to the car. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn, or more precisely, failed to make the turn, onto Friday Road from Huffacre. In the dark, it wasn't until I saw the smokestacks of Plant Hammond directly ahead of me that I realized what I'd done.

On the upside, I managed to accidentally follow the route of the Pinhoti, all the way back to Hwy 20. So, now I've ridden that whole chunk. On the downside, I had to ride along the shoulder of Hwy 20 for several miles, and the shoulder has a bunch of grooves cut into it to make noise when you drive on them, and there's only like 3 or 4 inches to the right of them that you can ride a bike on.

Tough to manage in the dark.

I made it though, and almost immediately checked my phone to see how late it was. 9:00. Hmm... Not so bad after all. I could still grab some Mexican food in Rome. Woohoo! Seemed like a long 4 hours though. Guess I'm just out of shape....

I got dressed, threw my bike in the car, and headed toward Rome. It was at that point that I realized it was actually 10:00. I had just been close enough to Alabama for my phone to pick up signal from a tower across the border. My phone thought it was in the Central Time Zone. Ha! Well, I felt better about being tired. 5 hours seemed more like it.

Dangit, I had to settle for Zaxby's instead of whatever that Mexican place is called. And, I had to eat in the Lowes parking lot because their dining room was closed. I was fairly well entertained though, as it was quitting time and the employees were carrying on in the parking lot as they walked toward their cars to go home. There were also two cats hanging out in the adjacent lot, lying on top of each other, and then batting at each other, before lying on top of each other again.

Ahh, the life of a feral cat.

I felt a bit like a feral cat myself, actually. I guess that's a good word to describe how it feels when your ride takes you on strange roads and trails, way into the night, when normal people have been sitting at home for hours, watching TV or something.

Feral. One feels feral. Or, at least I do.

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