Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Upper Chattahoochee

I woke up Sunday morning feeling like I'd been run over by multiple trucks. Even close to 12 hours of sleep wasn't enough recovery for my soft IT body after the previous day's labor. Still though, I had a beautiful day ahead of me and I didn't want to waste it sitting around trying to get un-sore. Hair of the dog, they say. That's what I needed.

My legs actually felt fine, or at least, acceptably fine. It was my upper body that was really tired. Some gravel road climbing might be the right thing to do. No yanking the bike around, just sitting on and letting my legs do the work.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, so I headed up to Helen for some of that Upper Chattahoochee.

I think I remember making good time on the way up. I remember it seeming like it was hot outside too, but only on the highway. It was comfortable in the woods.

On the way into Helen, I noticed that the old Unicoi Turnpike south of town had been paved and turned into a greenway-type trail. I remember Clark mentioning that they were going to do that, but I didn't realize it would be done so quickly. On the way through town, it looked like there were a few upgrades too. They're building some kind of "mountain coaster" on the west side of the main street, and there was a new restaurant on the east side too: "A Slice of Helen".

I liked the name; it puns on both "A Slice of Heaven" and "A Slice of Hell".

But I wasn't there for any of that. I was there for the woods, so I made my way into them, got dressed, and hit the road.

I felt great climbing FS44. My legs didn't seem to be any worse for the wear.

There were a gazillion cars on the road with me, and even several groups of folks just walking down the road. Not sure why that was the place to be, but it sure seemed like it was.

At 44B, I hung a left and ground my way up the Jasus Creek Loop. That climb is super steep. I'd forgotten how steep.

I'd also forgotten the views it affords.

View From FS44B

Rare in Georgia.

The climb is steep, but adding insult to injury was all the fresh gravel that had been laid down recently. My god, what a wrestling match. It wasn't that friendly little 57 stone either. This was big chunky 34, with little boulders here and there. I'd specifically chosen gravel roads to avoid working out my core. I couldn't have chosen more poorly.

There were bits here and there that hadn't been regravelled, but at least 80% of it was, all the way up to the top end.

They'd done a controlled burn up there too.

Controlled Burn

What struck me was how much unburned pine straw covered the ground. I'd think that dry pine straw would be specifically what you'd want to burn. I guess it fell after the burn? Maybe it fell because of the burn. I wonder if they'll have to do a second burn.

I didn't have too much time to think about it though, as I had to use most of my energy keeping from slipping out to one side or the other, bumping along on all that gravel.

There was less on the descent back to 44, but there was still enough to watch out for. Climbing on it isn't a lot of fun, but tearing downhill into a big patch of it is even less fun if you're unprepared.

Back on 44, the tread was a lot friendlier. I climbed up to Vandiver Field, hung around the north end, and noticed a gate closed ahead of me.

FS44 Closed


There was also this sign posted nearby.

Never Heard of This Before

$5000 fine for entering a road, trail, or area of the forest that's been marked closed to the public...

I'd never heard of such a thing. My understanding is that foot traffic is legal anywhere in the forest. Non motorized traffic is technically legal anywhere, but strongly discouraged except on designated trails and roads, even if the road is marked closed. Motorized traffic is only legal on designated trails and roads, which are also marked open. There are rules in the forest plan about this. I double-checked them with Larry Thomas and George Bain way back.

The date on the flyer was 2013. Is this a new rule? Can you have one rule that contradicts another? Which one overrides? Can I not ride a bike on a road that's marked "Closed" any more? Seems really unlikely, considering the network of closed roads that are permitted for the TNGA and the closed roads that are just part of various trail systems...

Who knows?

It seemed like I'd either heard, or read about a recent landslide up there somewhere. Maybe that's the deal. Conflicting rules aside, if there were landsides ahead, I didn't want any part of them, so I turned around. I figured I could bomb back down, climb Martin Branch, and take the highway back into Robertstown.


Gravel Wrestling Match

More gravel. Relentless, endless, perpetual, big, chunky, punishing gravel, from about 1/4 mile up, all the way to the top.

My God, it was awful. Literally exactly the opposite of what I'd hoped to be doing all day.

I think Martin Branch is maybe 4 miles long, but it felt like 10. I spun out and had to walk at least 5 times.

When I finally emerged on 44 again, it was a relief, and the climb out from there felt like riding on the Silver Comet.

I stopped for a quick pic at the little falls with the settling tank...

Falls on FS44

...and then just up the road there was bear trotting towards me. It was a little slow to run away, and I almost had time to pull out my phone, but not quite.

I have a buddy who wants to see a bear in real life, and I've offered to bring him up to that area. We'll see if he takes me up on it or not, but that sighting reaffirmed my confidence that it's a good spot to look.

At the highway, the gate to 44 was also closed. Goodness. It's apparently possible to ride into the closed area without passing a sign that says that it's closed. Sorry guys, it was an honest mistake. I hope I don't get fined $5000 for making it.

A minivan passed me as I turned onto the highway, and I managed to stay within 100 yards of it almost all the way back into town, basically until the road started to flatten out and I was out of gears.

The run along the Chattahoochee back to the car seemed interminable. I guess I was just ready to be done at that point.

What a frustrating ride. Maybe the most frustrating ever. Crawling over shifting gravel all day ranks pretty low on my list of good times. I guess it's ok to do here and there, but that day, I just wasn't in the mood. The bear almost made it worthwhile, but not entirely.

I debated where to eat and ended up at that Slice of Helen place I'd seen on the way in. The restaurant is half smoking, half non-smoking, but the kitchen is in the smoking section, so the staff has to open the door between them over and over as they come and go. I'm sure it's much stronger in the smoking section, but it was pretty strong in the other half too. On the upside though, the waitress was friendly, and I got into a conversation with another customer about the location of Tiger Georgia. He was looking for "Goats on the Roof". Ironically there used to be one just north of Helen, but it closed a few years back. I'd seen the one in Tiger before. I think it's actually on 441 though, not in Tiger proper. Also, he kept saying "Tiger" but it sounded like "Taggart" and his wife had to say it before I could rightly understand what they meant.

I ordered "Sausage and Peppers" with no peppers, and it came out with onions and spaghetti (neither of which were in the description on the menu) and only 3 slices of sausage in the entire dish. Fortunately it tasted pretty good with a brick-oven kind of flavor, so I wasn't too upset. They also had karaoke going in the smoking section, and it consisted entirely of country songs that I actually like, or at least remember fondly - Family Tradition, Mountain Dew, Luckenbach Texas... And the guys that were singing weren't terrible. Plus, everybody over there seemed to be having a good time. Nobody was drunk and disorderly. I was actually pretty happy leaving the restaurant, a far cry from how I felt walking in.

Goodness though, that ride. I think I'll wait a couple of months before hitting those roads again. They need rain and traffic, though I can't imagine 44B or Martin Branch getting much of the latter.

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