Monday, April 2, 2018

Brutal Loop

This past Saturday, Mulberry Gap held their annual Brutal Loop ride. Last year I wasn't prepared, suffered, crashed, and suffered some more. I had a great time. This year, I figured I'd have an even better time if was marginally better prepared, so I slept well, ate well, and rode right the week before. Saturday morning, I woke up feeling good. I was sure that it would be brutal, as advertised, and that I would suffer some amount, but maybe a little less this year than last.

I grabbed some breakfast at my local Waffle House - order scramble well, dry toast, hold the grits. The waiter had either just come on duty or had been at it all night. Her eyes were only half open. She didn't speak, just put pen to pad and kind-of looked at me for my order. I could relate. That's how I'd felt last year. She did utter a few words when I paid: "I am so sleepy..." Ha! "Yeah, it's either really early or really late", I replied. "Yeah...", was all she could say. I never determined which it was.

Fortunately, I was wide awake, and after a quick run through the Racetrack for gas, bananas and gatorade, I was on my way to Ellijay.

Misty Ellijay

It was a misty morning in Ellijay. And cold. 35 degrees. Probably colder than that at Mulberry Gap, on the north side of Turkey Mountain, drenched in shade.

Barn at MGap

Everybody was gathered in the barn for breakfast. I'd already had mine, and my Brutal Loop registration only covered lunch, so I relaxed on the couch for a while, talked to a couple of folks, and got my gear together.

One of the guys I ran into was Chris of TNGAMovie fame. He and his crew shot footage of the TNGA last year and are, in theory, putting together a film about it. They put out a teaser trailer last November that looked really good. He's going for it this year, so he and his buddies have been through-riding sections of the route. They weren't there for the Brutal Loop, but rather to ride from Cherry Log back to MGap, or something.

Whooo! I told him to enjoy Bushy Head Gap.

One of his buddies was a guy named Jeff (I think, can't remember his last name because I'm terrible with that) who used to run Paulding Sorba (or whatever they renamed themselves to) a while back. He knew my brother but I'd never met him before. Cool guy. Currently lives in Woodstock. I wonder if he had anything to do with the recent Blankets reroutes and improvements. I'm a big fan of the work they're doing up there, at least the sustainable trails side of me is.

I ran into Terry Palmeri behind the counter at check-in. Terry! It had been like 5 years since I'd seen her. Neither of us recognized each other at first. She told me about the new trail work at Aska and Talking Rock and Ridgeway. I got caught up on what eventually happened with CoTrails. Man, it was good to see her.

I also ran into the guy from Singletracks who was sponsoring the ride. Again, can't remember his name because I'm terrible with that. Seems like it was also Jeff, but who knows... Also a cool guy. I saw him several times later too, during and after the ride. Seemed like he was all over the place that day.

I also caught up with Kate and Andrew and other MGap folks, and purchased some Chamois Butt'r because I'd just run out of whatever non-Chamois Butt'r thing it was that I'd bought from Smyrna Bicycles way back. Buttonhole?

At the actual start, I got to talking to the guy next to me. His name was Jay, and he was from Orlando. Having both ridden all over Central Florida, we had plenty to talk about! At the riders meeting the guy said to find an "accountability buddy" and I kind-of hoped Jay and I would be compatible enough to be each other's.


So, it was 35 degrees at 8:30AM. It was probably 45 at 10:00 when we rode out. It was supposed to get up into the 70's later, and with all of the climbing, I figured I wouldn't need a jacket, base layer, or arm/knee warmers. I did put on some warm socks though, because of all the creek crossings. The descent to CCC Camp Road was chilly, but it's still early spring, and I'm still kind-of used to it, so it wasn't bad.

And, no kidding, after a very short bit of climbing, I was glad I wasn't wearing warm clothes.

Climbing CCC Camp Road

Shane Shreihart passed me near Holly Gap (I think that's the name of the Gap). He had a couple of guys with him that I knew from somewhere. They were standing up and feeling good, it seemed.

Jay was either just ahead of me, or just behind me, all the way up to the overlook. He was wearing warm clothes, and felt good in them all day. Of course, being from Florida, that made sense.

We didn't stop at the overlook, but I did manage to get a photo of it, rolling through.

Bear Creek Overlook

I still felt good on the kick up to Potatopatch. Me and J yo-yoed back and forth with a guy who was part of a group that were going to ride out to Dennis Mill after P2.

Me and J Climbing

It looked like we were pretty compatible riders though. I was really impressed with how well he climbed. They do have Sugarloaf Mountain down there though, and earlier he'd mentioned that he had recently climbed over it 10 times in one ride. I don't think I would do that. Once was enough for me.


At Potatopatch, we waited for the next group and rode with them over to Mountaintown. The guys who were riding to Dennis Mill were training for the TNGA, and talked amongst themselves about it on the way over.

I was, surprisingly, still feeling good, but not good enough to join in the conversation.

MGap had set up a SAG at the Mountaintown Overlook and I downed half of a banana. I was still good on blocks and gatorade though.

Mountaintown Overlook Sag

Jay was still right behind me. He was having a little trouble ripping through turns on gravel. There's no gravel in Florida! Otherwise, he was feeling good too.

The overlook is right at the bottom of a hill, and I always joke that it's a good thing - who wants to carry any speed into that climb anyway? It was like that. My legs got a little cold, and that next climb is steep at first.


But, then you get like 5 miles of gradual downhill to Mountaintown, and then of course, Mountaintown itself.


Lets go!

Lets Go

I ran into that couple at the second little creek crossing. I usually manual through it, but they were stopped there, and it turned out that I was in the wrong gear to bump through it. How embarrassing!

With all the rain we've had, the falls were churning and raging, and I couldn't help but stop and get a couple of photos.

Mountaintown Creek Falls Upper Cascade Mountaintown Creek Falls Lower Cascade

I always forget... Mountaintown is tricky because it requires precision braking, but your brakes get very wet. Even disc brakes struggle. I used to ride it with v-brakes on ceramic rims, but I have no idea how anyone ever rode it without at least that. Slowly, I guess.

Here's J handling the rockiest section like a North Georgia native.

J on Rocky Mountaintown


We ran into Shane and crew a little further down. One of the guys had destroyed his rear derailleur and they were busy making it into a single speed. They'd apparently dropped the power link onto the ground and had to find it multiple times.

Those links should be painted pink or something. I think I'll do that with mine. Fingernail polish to the rescue!

Here's everyone at that one creek crossing that's impossible to ride.

J at a Tricky Crossing

The water was extra high that day, and I was thankful for that downed tree to hold on to.

Further down I ran into one of the Dennis Mill guys working on his bike. He'd cut through his sidewall and flatted. I offered him a boot, but he had it under control. Mountaintown eats bikes.

Everybody thinks of Mountaintown as a fast, fun downhill, but the bottom end is pretty flat, and I always think of it as a wrestling match. Downed trees, muddy spots, rocks, roots, creek crossings... Everything.

In one of the creek crossings, I saw a guy walking upstream in waders with a fly rod. We were less than 20 yards away, but he couldn't hear us over the roar of the creek and didn't even pause.

At Cohutta Wilderness Road, I ran into the Singletracks guy again, making sure people went the right way. I forget how many turns there are out there. So many opportunities to go the wrong way... That's North Georgia though. Part of it.

I really started feeling it on the climb up to the Bear Creek trailhead. P1 was tough, and I fell back pretty badly after having to stop and lube my chain.

J waited for me somewhere in there though, we rode the rest out together, and caught up to the Dennis Mill guys at the next road.

There was a SAG at FS90 but we didn't stop. On the way up to the P2 trailhead we passed a lot of riders. There were long and short options, and we'd apparently managed to catch a bunch of the riders doing the short option. I could only imagine how tough a day they must have been having.

I felt good on the P2 grasstrack, and we stopped for a second for a little maintenance and food at the P2 singletrack.

Pinhoti 2

And then it was on!

P2 is generally fun, and that particular day was no exception. It's almost all downhill, except for two little kicks. The first one has this funny root in the middle of it, and J got caught up on it. Other than that, we were flying. At the end he said that his calves were getting super tired though, and he was about to just hit the brakes and sit for a while, when he saw me and some other guys at the end of the trail.

Just in time!

The push over Mulberry Gap proper is always painful. The final insult.

My right hamstring kind of wanted to cramp on the climb up to the barn too.



For lunch they served us these foot-long sausages on hoagie rolls. Yeah, you get a brutal ride and then you get a giant wiener! I'd eat a bite, and as my stomach would go to work on it, it would noticeably drain me of energy. I had to recover before the next bite.

It was like that.

I only vaguely remember eating, changing, packing up, etc. I do remember Jay mentioning that his last name was something like Derullier. Some french-sounding name. Which seemed funny to me because he was born in Puerto Rico. It's possible that I misunderstood him though. I was definitely impaired at the time.

I have no memory of the drive home. I think I got home around 6PM and I was still hungry enough to get some Otters Chicken with my family.

They'll be in Gulf Shores for a week. I usually don't want to look at the bike for a day or two after a tough ride, but I suspect I'll get plenty of miles in while they're gone.

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