Saturday, December 31, 2016

Olde Rope Mill

I was napping hard yesterday when the phone woke me up with it's you've-got-a-text noise. I had 2 texts, actually, both from John. The lower one read something like "Meeting Baldwin at Rope Mill tomorrow. 10AM start." I presumed this meant that Mark Baldwin would be in town, down from his new crib in Ellijay, and wanted to ride Rope Mill at 10. I was pretty sleepy though, so I didn't answer. I glanced at the previous text and it said something about playing SRV's Little Wing for Lauren and then I got another one immediately asking if the Rope Mill lot was gravel. Or so I thought. Later when I woke up I could distinctly remember the Rope Mill invite, but I couldn't distinctly remember if I'd actually read those other 2 or just dreamed them. They seemed so odd.

I forgot about it quickly and never checked the phone, but later that same day I actually rode with the frere at Cochran Mill and he confirmed that he had send those other two. I hadn't dreamed it.


We ripped most of Cochran Mill and I felt pretty good doing it. We had to abandon the loop at the back of the Yellow trail to avoid getting caught out in the dark, but hit all of the red, orange, and green loops. I definitely felt up to riding with Mark, which is kind of new because I've grown old this year and though my fitness isn't at an all time low, it is definitely unsatisfyingly low.

The next morning my brother met me at the parking lot next to the Starbucks off Atlanta Road and we rolled up to Woodstock to get in on the festivities.

We were early.

John and My Bikes

Mark was on time, as he is prone to be.

John and Baldwin

Marc Hirsch showed up almost immediately afterwards. There were a dozen and a half more riders meeting us though. It was apparently a birthday ride for a guy named Aaron that they all know. I didn't actually recognize his name, but when I saw him, I recognized him. I must have ridden with him before somewhere.

The rest of the crew trickled in over the next half hour and we got moving around 10:30.

We hit the Explorer Trails first, which are really my favorite trails in the system. The Mill trails are faster and they have lots of jumps and berms, but the Explorer trails are more what I think of when I think of mountain biking. They wind around and expose you to the terrain. You experience the land when you ride them. They're not just a contrived means to an end.

So, we rode those and it was a lot of fun. I haven't followed a train of riders in a long time. I had forgotten a lot of the dynamics and it was great to get back in touch with them.

Aside from having to pump up my front brake constantly (my bulletproof 2014 XT disc brake which no one I have ever heard of has ever had any problems with, except me, that my brother got me because I had constant problems with my Magura Martas, which no one I have ever heard of has ever had any problems with, except me!) it was a great couple of miles.

Whoo! Done with the Explorer Trails.

Done With the Explorer Trails

After that we kind of milled around for the next 15 minutes. It wasn't clear why. It didn't seem like anyone needed to fix anything. It had been in the high 30's when we started and it felt like it was getting up into the mid 40's, so I shed my arm warmers, and I saw a few other riders shed theirs as well, but that took all of 10 seconds, collectively.

Eventually we were like "Ok, lets just get going", and most of us went over and rode The Mill.

I think of The Mill is a contrived means to an end. However, since that end is incredible fun, I'll take it! The Mill trails are just super, super fun. Jumps and berms and switchbacks and log-rides and rock gardens...

I love it!

I did not love that I dropped my chain in the first 100 yards of Turbine though. One thing that sucks about a 1x9, if you drop the chain, you must stop and put it back on by hand. There is no hope of just pedaling it back on. I'd left a few links in it because I wasn't sure if I'd like the 30 tooth front ring or if I'd want a 32 or even a 34. Between that and my freewheel not freewheeling super well, there's a lot of slack in the chain and that was the end result. Also, I need to learn how to adjust the derailleur clutch properly.

No good!

I struggled to catch and once I did it was tough to stay in contact with the rest of the riders. I managed, but it was a bit of work.

At a point, one of the guys ahead of me crashed and tacoed his front wheel in the process. I think he overjumped one of the jumps and came down nose heavy. That's exactly how I broke all those ribs in 2015, so I was a little worried until I saw him walking around and laughing it off.


It's funny. I just had to look up the date of that crash. Apparently it was September of 2015. Man, time flies. Even though I know the date now, it still seems like it happened earlier this year. Man, more than a year later, I still don't feel fully recovered.

Done With Lap 1 of The Mill

All right, done with The Mill... Wait, nope, one more lap!

As soon as everyone caught, Aaron wanted to spin another lap. No argument from me. And, no crashes that lap.

Back at the lot there was an effort to decide whether to spin another lap of the Explorer trails or hit the Avalanche. I had a new problem though. Just standing there my rear tire went flat, rather suddenly. It had been feeling a little soft for a while, but I thought it was just my imagination. It didn't feel right cornering, but then if I rode over something it seemed ok. I haven't done a forensic analysis of the hole yet, but I suspect that either I picked up a thorn yesterday and it leaked down a bit, causing it to half-pinch-flat today, or that the valve stem steadily detached from the tube. The latter is actually more likely. I've had a rash of that lately. For a while I had a pump that you had to shove on to the valve stem and it would push it way up into the rim, and the tube, forcing the valve stem away from the surface of the tube, in the one direction that it's probably the least strong. I finally replaced the pump, but I was reticent to do so until I had to because Tim Winters gave it to me when my old one broke and I was so strapped for cash that I couldn't even afford to replace it.

Either way I had to fix it if I wanted to ride, and I just couldn't get the tire off of the freakin' rim. I guess the beads are tighter these days because everyone likes to put together tubeless set-ups with regular tires and Stans. Or maybe rims are a little taller for the same reason, or both. Whatever the deal, the tire was not coming off on its own, and I had to borrow Marc's pink tire tool. Come to think of it, I had to borrow the same tool once up on Bull Mountain a year or two back, for a similar reason...

Airing it back up was equally frustrating. The CO2 got stuck on the valve stem and required equal parts force and finesse to remove it.

And, though I spent an entire 16oz CO2, it didn't fully inflate the tire!

My tire and front brake are just metaphors for my life these days. Things like that happen a lot. I misjudge something and I pay for it. I had a seemingly good basis for the judgment, but some set of things changed slowly and covertly out from under me, and the accumulated changes finally created problems. What I could reasonably have expected last time I checked, I can suddenly no longer reasonably expect, and I pay for it. And then, some things just fail outright, for no obvious reason. What I should reasonably be able to expect, by any objective measure, I simply don't get, and I pay for that too. All that paying-for-it taxes my resources and makes it that much less likely that I'll be able to keep up in the future.

"My God, are you serious? Come the f*** on!"

I find myself saying that a bit lately. I hate the words. I hate that they come to mind. Years ago I might have been awarded a merit badge for Tolerance to Adversity. But I guess tolerance is only sustainable for as long as you have the resources to spend on it. Whether it's bikes, computers, vehicles, companies, or individuals, one or more of those, pretty regularly these days, need to just come the f*** on!

Of course, if I had the resources I'd buy a new bike, or a new car, or have free time to troubleshoot computers, or to break ties with difficult clients, or spend more time on less difficult clients, or buy stuff for people who like to have stuff, or pay to do things with people who like to do things... But it's a cycle. When you get behind, you have to burn through your resources to catch up. You may never have enough to get ahead. If your luck is bad enough, eventually you won't even have enough to catch up.

All that came to mind as I realized I didn't have enough pressure in the tire to jump on, which I would have had to have done at that moment. I had a second CO2 in my pocket (always prepared!) but no time to use it. There was certainly no time to go back to the truck, dig out the pump, and get it right.


But, the "dangit" was short lived. It started raining at almost that moment. John and I got dry and warm and as we were pulling away everybody else showed back up at the lot. They'd turned around after the first section, hoping to avoid the weather.

So, in the end I didn't miss much. Also, I spent a disproportionate number of words complaining there. The ride and the company were great. Pretend that there are a lot more words saying that.

Me and John grabbed a burger at Canyon Burger in Woodstock, which was good except that I ordered it with no cheese and they had clearly put cheese on it, and taken it back off after a noticeable amount of it had melted into the patty. Seriously? Figures. Christ, that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. I was too hungry to send it back though, and though I could taste it, it wasn't awful. It just wasn't what I wanted, or what I paid for, or what I should reasonably be able to expect. I don't mean to knock them too much though. That's never happened before, and I don't expect that it will again.

I'll be back.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Chestnut Flats

Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, so everybody had Monday off.

Billy and I had spent the previous Wednesday evening burning brush from his backyard in a 55-gallon drum "Detroit-homeless style", and had such a good time of it that we I decided to get together and do something even more fun on that Monday. Some manner of Adventure.

We were all excited, but then Sunday night it rained, and was still raining Monday morning. At least, it was in our county. This seemed like a drag at first, but the forecast called for only a 15% chance for the rest of the day, and according to the weather radar, all of North Georgia was clear.

All right!

So, we drove up to the Chestatee WMA, and it rained on us the entire time. We drove back up in there, past Dick's Creek Falls, and parked just up the road from the Crow Mountain Cliffs. There was no one at the falls. Maybe because it was in the 50's outside, and also maybe because it was still fricken raining. We did pass two horse trailers parked in the lot, but that was it. Normal people had stayed home that day.

We climbed up the road a bit and then up the Old Blood Mountain Creek Road, which I'd never climbed before. I'd only ever divined my way over to it from above the last waterfall on Blood Mountain Creek, and taken it back down. Turns out it goes a little further, and tees in to FS34. There are about 100 yards or so though, that are really flat, were probably once part of the nearby clearing, and would probably have been overgrown if it hadn't been winter. In fact, I'd come from the other direction once, with my family, and tried to find the intersection, unsuccessfully. Funny how much easier it is in winter, and from the other direction.

We hung a left on 34 and it was a short walk up the road to the clearing at Chestnut Flats.

Chestnut Flats

Note that it is still raining in that photo. 15% chance or not, it never stopped raining for the entire rest of the day.

Chestnut Flats is what the old USGS topo quads call an area along the border of the Blood Mountain Wilderness kind of above Crow Mountain. There is a much larger area up there that is flat or flat-ish than the area specifically designated on the map, so I wonder if the whole area wasn't once called "the flats" rather than just that one little corner, but who's to say?

The quad alleges an old road or trail of some sort leading northish out of the clearing up along some unnamed creek, deep into the Wilderness.

We searched for this road along the edge of the clearing, and thought we'd found it in the northeast corner. I still don't understand what it is we found though. It was sunken into the backslope, like a road that had been worn in below grade, but it only went for 100 yards or so before petering out into nothing. There was a little ridge to the left that appeared to get plenty of traffic, and it even appeared to have been rock-armored at one point. It had little berms every few hundred feet though, like a firebreak, and quickly became pretty overgrown. It didn't look like what I'd expected to find either.

Looking around a little harder though, we spotted this little treasure.

Chestnut Flats Homestead

I guess someone lived back there at some point.

In the past, I'd found what appeared to be other homestead ruins, and there are lots of spots that looked like they'd been artificially leveled. It seemed likely that there might have been a community back in there at some point. It was nice to find some less controvertible evidence.

Mmm, hmm, that imaginary fire is nice and warm.

Billy Warming His Hands Over the Nonexistent Fire

It looked like we weren't the first ones to make that particular discovery though. It looked like it had been a stop on some old Poker Run.

Poker Run

I guess someone had forgotten to collect that particular card.

It reminded me of a time once when I found a checkpoint from an adventure race on the south face of Frozen Knob. The race had been held weeks prior and someone had just forgotten to pick up that particular checkpoint. At the time, I even knew who to contact about it, and when I did, he was like "Yep, that's mine. Must have missed that one."

Those were the days.

We never found the road we were looking for, though in retrospect, I have a new idea about where to look for it so I'll probably go back up and do that sometime soon.

I had several more dotted lines on my map from previous outings in the same area, so we hit some of those. None of them really went where I expected though. In fact, each of them just went a little ways up into the woods before looping back to intersect themselves or the main road.

And it continued to rain.

General Blood Mountain Wilderness

I realize now that I keep "complaining" about the rain, but I don't mean to. I really just mean to point out the irony of the 15% chance. I was having a great time. I remember mentioning when I took that photo that it might look dreary and miserable, and that looking at it in the future, it might be difficult to imagine how appealing the experience actually was at the time. On paper, it should have been terrible. It was cold enough to see my breath. I was soaked head to toe. My feet were wet. Water was falling from the sky constantly. Pushing through brush was the walking shower. I was a little cold. But none of that really matters except when you first make the transition from dry and warm to wet and cold. Once you're wet and cold, it seems normal, as long as its sustainable. I.e. as long as your body's natural functions can keep you warm, and as long as the clothes you're wearing don't chafe.

Speaking of which, I was wearing running tights, a base layer, an orange hunting vest (still big game season until Jan 8), barefoot shoes, and a camelback. Billy was wearing more traditional clothing: jeans, layered shirts, hiking shoes with socks, and an orange jacket. Super comfortable when it's dry. Not so great when it rains.

I once read in National Geographic that cold weather is only miserable for those who don't know how to dress. I might say the same about wet weather. How you dress makes all of the difference. Tight and stretchy. That's the way to go. Bib and bike jersey or base layer and running tights. To stay warm, opt for the fleece-lined versions of those, or add layers on top of them.

Mmm, hmm.

We eventually ended up back on FS34 and just walked down it back to the car. We passed some old boys a tear-assin' up and down the road in an old truck. Yee haw!!! But they were friendly to us. We also passed a guy who, from the neck and forearm tattoos, looked like he'd spent his fair share of time in the pen. He wondered if we'd seen any deer or bear. He and his girlfriend seemed to be out driving around, hoping to spot some wildlife. I realized that we hadn't seen any wildlife at all, the entire day. I couldn't remember a single squirrel even.

Just as we arrived back at the car, two ladies on horseback came down the road from the direction we'd come from. We talked to them for a second or two. I'd seen their tracks all day, and hoped we'd run into them. Funny that we didn't until right as we were both finishing up.

I had plenty of warm and dry clothes to put on. Billy had to sit around in his wet and cold clothes. I felt kind of bad for him. I hope he wasn't too miserable.

We ate at Big D's Barbecue in Dawsonville. They are so generous with their portions... One of their "plates" is easily enough for two grown men. Also, we ordered Mac and Cheese but they didn't have any ready, so they gave us extra fries, and 2 slices of key-lime pie to make up for it.

Ha Ha! Yeah! Score.

Friday, December 23, 2016

South Louisiana

This past Thanksgiving, my family and I visited relatives in South Louisiana.

It was a pretty good trip, all things considered.

South Louisiana is home to some of the best food I've ever eaten, and whenever I manage to get down there, I plan on consuming mass quantities of things like red beans and rice, jambalaya, fried shrimp and catfish, gumbo, blackened alligator, and so on. And, since it was Thanksgiving, I also planned on consuming mass quantities of things like deep fried turkey, plain old baked turkey, pork loin, homemade mac and cheese, bread stuffing, pumpkin pie, and similar.

With plans to consume so many calories, I also needed a plan to burn them. The road bike was the plan, or at least operative in it. 50+ mile days, every day, might do the trick.

I managed to do just that. Well, I did miss one day, I think, because of a wedding, but I'll get to that later.

The first ride took me out of the neighborhood, along the initially quiet streets of Gonzales...

Bishop Woods

...out onto the incredibly busy streets of Gonzales. My goodness, the traffic. You'd think it was Black Friday already. After a few miles I managed to find some roads with more than an inch or two of shoulder, and the traffic wasn't a problem any more, but it sure had been for the first bit there.

I don't remember the highway numbers, but I basically headed east for a while, then turned north and crossed the Amite River...

Amite River

...near Port Vincent.

South Louisiana had recently been victim to a 1000 year flood. I.e. a flood so bad that such a thing only occurs once every 1000 years or so. It rained for weeks, and the storm was all hemmed in by various atmospheric pressure zones. The Amite, Comite, and Tickfaw Rivers overflowed and you were incredibly lucky if you didn't get at least 3 feet of water in your house.

We had lots of family, directly in the path of the flood, and by the most inconceivable stroke of luck, by and large, they managed to stay dry.

The residents of Port Vincent were not so lucky.

Flood Damage

Every yard had a pile of debris in it, or a spot where it was clear that there had recently been a pile of debris. I felt bad. Like I was a disaster-tourist or something. Everywhere you looked there were gutted homes. A few had even burned. The irony.

I saw dozens of signs like this one.

Professional Gutting

Professional gutting.

Yep, that's a thing.

Actually, my father-in-law was doing that every day. Either gutting or rebuilding. He'd been hanging sheet rock all week. His church coordinated a relief effort and they had a bunch of volunteers, he among them, doing whatever needed to be done. Thinking about that made me feel even worse. I was riding around, gawking at the disaster, burning all kinds of energy but not lifting a finger to help.


Up north of Port Vincent lay Colyell Bay.

Colyell Bay

Unfortunately I don't have a really good concept of how all the waterways intersect up there. I think there's a creek that flows into the Amite and that little bay is part of it, but I'm really not too sure. I should study all that someday, I guess.

At the north end of my route I found the unmarked Satsuma Road, which led to the also-unmarked Hood Road.

Hood Road

And there was remarkably little traffic from that point on, until I looped back around to the Amite.

I passed a really cool building on Highway 16 heading back toward Port Vincent. It was a roadside bar named "The Beer Box" (I think) and I can't believe I didn't take a photo. The whole thing was painted red. Just imagine a ramshackle roadside bar in South Louisiana, and you're probably imagining it correctly. There was an old abandoned prison bus across the road from it too. Why Dave? Why, no photos?

On another ride, I figured I'd head out along Manchac Bayou to the River Road and wander around down there for a while. So, I took a different route out of town, and passed a cemetery in Prairieville with some of the most perfectly iconic Great Southern Live Oaks I'd ever seen.

Massive Live Oak

That's the tree I really think of when I think of South Louisiana. There are some massive Magnolias down there too, but Live Oak is what really comes to mind. They line every boulevard. They dot every park, playground, and campus. They're everywhere.

Apparently, Manchac Bayou Road is also called Alligator Bayou Road. I knew of both names, but I hadn't realized that they referred to the same road until I rode past it and eventually realized I needed to turn around.

And then I had to turn around again because it was decidedly closed.

Alligator Bayou Road

Not just one, but two layers of barricades. The second more formidable than the first. I guess the recent flooding tore up the road a bit. I'd have to come up with another idea if I wanted to keep to my plan.

Looking at the map, as the crow flies, it wasn't terribly far from my in-laws place to the neighborhood I grew up in, and before coming up with the Bayou Manchac plan, I'd originally considered taking a spin out that way.

So, that was my Plan B. I backtracked to Hwy 73 (Old Jefferson) and took it north to Baton Rouge.

BTW, there is no longer any discernible border between Gonzales, Prairieville, and south Baton Rouge. It's just a consistent density of neighborhoods and farms from one to the next. There is a unique bridge over the Amite that I swear was wood-planked when I was a kid, but other than that, no discernible border.

Tiger Bend Road is a 4 lane highway now, and Jones Creek Road was presently being widened into a 4 lane highway.

I passed some familiar sights.


J's neighborhood. The strip mall that used to house The Bicycle Source. The first gap I ever ollied. The church where I slid my first handrail. The curb I learned to do blunt-slides on.

My old house.

13639 Windy Ridge

Hickory Ridge Boulevard.

Hickory Ridge Boulevard

Man, it really looks like a boulevard now, with sprawling oaks that shade the grass to death and the street has been paved over so many times that the curbs are getting short.

I had to kind of burn it down to get home before dark that day. I remember it getting dusky on me before I even rode out of my old neighborhood. I had commuter lights on the bike though - red flashy in the back and a solid white up front - and I made it home safely, despite the traffic.

I did a couple of rides through Geismar to the River Road and around and around down those parts.

There are a bunch of robot cities down there.

Robot Cities

They inhabit a myriad of enigmatic vessels such as this one.

Vessel of Some Kind

And the robots live in placid solitude. The surrounding roads are quiet as can be. I guess most humans prefer to avoid contact with them.

River Road

On one of the rides I made it to Carville.


I remember Carville as being where I'd turn around when I rode south out of Baton Rouge in years past. It seemed funny that it was also where I had to turn around when heading north out of Geismar on that ride.

On that same ride I passed Ashland plantation too.


I've passed it so many times, but I've never been inside. Do they even give tours? It seems like they do. I think my kids got to go once. Maybe someday.

So, I did all those rides leading up to Thanksgiving, and one on Thanksgiving day proper, and I still don't think I managed to burn as many calories as I consumed. It didn't help that we had Thanksgiving day at my in-laws, and then another feast at my aunt and uncle's place in Covington the next day, and then also feasted at my cousin's daughter's wedding the day after that!

Fall and winter are always tough from a fitness perspective. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. All feasting holidays. Christmas is coming up. It's only like 2 days away. Fortunately I'm broke, so I probably won't be doing all that much feasting this year.

Ahh yes, what happy fortune.


Yep, wildfires.

We had wildfires. An unprecedented number of them, I believe. Some in Georgia, some in Tennessee. The ones in Tennessee turned out to be arson. Stared by kids, no less. Darn(ed) kids. The ones in Georgia were started by lightning, I think. I'm not sure how though, we hadn't had any rain in as long as anyone could remember. Thus the extent to which the fires could burn.

There were a few fires in Rome, and some up on Rough Ridge in the Cohutta Wilderness.

We got a ton of smoke from them in Atlanta, which made for some interesting sunsets.

Smoke from Wildfires in Atlanta

Eventually it did rain, and not a moment too soon. Then it rained for like 2 weeks straight and foiled every plan I had to get outside.

All that, and we're still in a drought! A level 2 drought or something.

I guess we need more rain.

Come on rain.

Jake Mountain

Goodness, this was almost 2 months ago. Where does the time go?

On November 5, I finally made it to the first work party I've been to in 4 years, I think. Or nearly 4 years. It's been a tough 4 years and trail work has unfortunately been pretty low on my list of priorities. Sadly, so has Adventure and writing about Adventure. Work and Money have been near the top and have been occupying all my time. Like 14+ hours a day, most days.

But, on November 5th I managed to steal away for a few hours and get some work done up at Jake Mountain.

Man, it was good to see Debbie again. And Nancy, and Kathleen, and I even saw Cindy for a few seconds before I left.

It was also good to see Raven the dog, and Debbie (or Nancy, I forget)'s new dog Buddy. Here they are, a-wrastlin, as dogs are prone to do.

Raven and Buddy

It's funny because I called Buddy "Buddy" when I first saw him, like "hey there Buddy", and that turned out to be his name. I think that's why they named him that, actually, because it's what people tend to call foreign dogs.

There were like 20 riders getting ready to ride when I got there. Among them was Lisa Randall whom Kathleen noticed. I got to say hi to her too. It was just like "old times" - where every time I'd go somewhere in the mountains, I'd randomly run into someone I knew.

After a tricky coordination process, made inordinately complex by the navigation of some unusual circumstances, I managed to join Debbie and Kathleen's group that was heading out to do some work on the Bull-Jake Connector.

The work itself was standard fare - cleaning out and restoring turn-outs and rolling dips. Nicking. De-berming. etc. As I began the work, I recalled fond memories of swinging the tools full-force, indefatigably, for as long as they needed to be swung. It's a hell of a thing to remember how to do something in your mind, but then not be able to make your body do it. It's like when it's been too long since the last time you played guitar, or like trying to kickflip a skateboard. I grew tired quickly, and had to rest before I could get back at it again. I can't remember that ever happening before doing trail work.

It's like I've grown old these past few years.

On the upside though, all the concepts came back immediately. It was always clear what to do. I guess it takes longer to lose that. We really did get a lot of work done too, and it was all soccer-ball approved, no less.

And, man did I get dirty.



I had to take off as soon as we got back, so I didn't get to hang out and chat, but maybe I will next time.

I think I grabbed some Zaxby's in Dawsonville on the way back, but I don't really remember.

I do remember that there's a new gas station on the corner of 136 and Highway 9. It was so new that it wasn't even done yet.

New Gas Station

Man, how many hundreds of times have I been through that intersection over the last 15 years? The sudden appearance of the gas station might as well have been the sudden appearance of an alien spacecraft, it seemed to oddly out of place.

It'll be nice though - a good place to grab some drinks or snacks on the way in and gas on the way out, without having to get on and off of the highway in Dawsonville and contend with red-lights.