Thursday, July 5, 2018

Bull and Jake Mountain (Again)

Last Saturday, I rode the Bull/Jake system again. It had rained torrentially, multiple times, since the last time I was up there, the Rainbow Family Gathering was kicking off the following Sunday, and the trail work party on the 7th was going to be cancelled. I wanted to take another look at how my rolling dip had fared, determine, if I could, where the Family traffic would most likely be concentrated, and see how so much rain had affected the trails.

Those were my pseudo scientific objectives. Of course, I also wanted to ride awesome trails, get in some good climbing, and gawk at the beginnings of the spectacle, if there was anything to be seen yet.

I wasn't disappointed, on any of those fronts.

The spectacle started early. Three miles out from the Jake lot, there were about 20 police cars parked up and down Hwy 52 and about the same number of officers in the road, conducting a very expeditious license check. I'd read about the law enforcement presence that was planned for the event. They weren't kidding.

When I got to the Jake lot, I immediately ate like 30 blackberries.

Blackberries

They were everywhere, all along the edge. I had to stop myself from eating more when it felt like I was spending too much time doing it.

When I was done gorging myself, I got dressed, and a Foxworthian thought, that I'd actually had once before, hit me. If standing in the middle of a parking lot, applying a liberal dose of minty balm to your chamois and to yourself doesn't seem weird to you, or to the guy sitting in his car next to you, you might be an endurance cyclist.

And, speaking of guys in cars sitting next to me...

There were 4 other vehicles lot when I got there, two of which were pulling horse trailers. The riders had just gotten back, and were just starting to get packed up when I arrived. I went over and said hi to them, and to their horses too. The horses were Traveller, Fire, and another one with a regular name that I somehow can't remember now. They were hot, tired, and hungry. Traveller was in no mood to be stroked and pat but the other two were very friendly. The ladies who'd been riding them were very friendly too. They were also out there to ride awesome trails and gawk at the beginnings of the spectacle. One of them was wearing a tie-dye'd shirt, and had gotten compliments on it from Family members, or "non-members" as they might prefer.

The occupant of the third vehicle was Dave Greenwell! Yeah! We used to race 6-hours together, a lot. I'd last seen him about 4 years ago at Blanket's Creek. He'd had some health problems for a couple of years, and was just finally getting back into the swing. He'd just gotten done with the Winding Stair Loop and warned me about some super chunk gravel at the top of FS77, as well as some felled trees above FS28A that I later learned were intended to keep trailers and RV's from attempting to climb it. Man! It was cool to see him, and I was really glad to see that he was able to ride again.

The ladies pulling the horse trailers left before I got on the trail, and Dave left shortly after talking to me.

I didn't see the occupant of the 4th vehicle, but this was the state of the lot when I got on the trail:

Jake Lot

A lot less busy than it was feared to be. I wondered if that would continue to be the case all week.

I'd replaced my other pedal the day before, and my bike was in really good working order. I felt pretty good too, so I was going for a decent ride - Bull -> Jones Creek -> 28C -> 28A -> No-Tell -> Connector to 28-B -> Moss Branch -> Jake.

Go!

The Jake-Bull Connector and 83 Bypass both looked scoured. The steeper sections were in rough shape, but fortunately on the Connector those sections are very short. There's a long run on the 83 Bypass, basically from the road to the switchbacks that needs some attention. We need to re-gravel the little kicks up from the road on both too.

The Bull lot appeared to be where everyone was parking their buses and trailers.

Hippie Bus

Tool's "The Pot" was emanating from this awesome hippie bus, right as I rode by, and got stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

"Liar, Lawyer, Mirror for you, what's the difference?"

(jam)

The lower (newer) section of Bull looked a lot less scoured, but could really use some love and attention; like the kind that we put in on the new Booger Holler trails after they were first built.

Further up there were a couple of crossed trees down, immediately after a quick descent, and I was a little worried about whether I could stop in time to keep from hitting them.

Trees Down On Bull

Turned out yes, with PLENTY of trail to spare, but they are scary at first glance. They could use some tending-to.

Above the Y, the tread was scoured, rough, and pebbly. It was tough to keep any speed.

Further up, that one really bad, chute-like spot had gotten a little worse. I'd been able to ride it last time. This time it was full of 6-inch diameter rocks. And, leading up to it were hundreds of similar rocks, strewn about the trail, and wide to either side, like there'd been a slide. It was bizarre, I'd never seen anything like it. Had the water exposed them all from within the chute, or had they all poured down from further up and some gotten caught in the chute? I really wanted to know.

Further up, the trail is a lot less steep, and it looked and felt pretty much like it always does.

Bull Singletrack

Beautiful.

Of course, no trip to Bull Mountain is complete without a photo of your bike leaning against the truck.

My Bike at the Bull Mountain Truck

Bear Hare also felt rough and scoured but I could see that the erosion control structures were mostly still working.

There was another notable tree down on Lance Creek Road near the gate.

Tree Down on Lance Creek Road

Like the ones on Bull, it would be tough to get a horse around it.

The Booger Holler trails were fast, fun, and clean. The rain didn't appear to have affected them at all.

Ditto for Jones Creek.

The lake was surprisingly low.

Jones Creek Pond

The grass was not surprisingly high.

Singletrack Across the Dam

I passed some Family Gatherers heading north, before I got to the lake. I presumed that they'd parked in the Bull lot and were heading over to 28-A to camp. They were friendly folks, though our interaction didn't involve much more than pleasantries.

There is one bad spot on Jones, in some switchbacks, leading up from the dam. It's just super-sandy there, and a runoff channel has formed along the inside (upslope) edge of the trail, kind of like what you do intentionally to drain a road. People actually ride to the outside (downslope) though, and that part of the trail is totally fine. It's not ideal, but we might do well to just rock-armor the channel, if we can find any rock in the area.

The rest of the trail was great, and the decent to 77A was as fun as always, though someone had laid their tent and bag out in the middle of the trail, close to the road, presumably to dry.

77A was a beehive. It appeared to be a designated parking area and cars were parked along the east side, in both directions, as far as I could see. Everyone appeared to be heading north from there to 28A.

I took 28C and Lower Turner Creek to 28-1 and took that north to 28A.

The "Shitter" sign had been taken down, and no one was parked or camping along 28-1 any more, except in the Beaver Pond campsite, where another awesome blue hippie bus was parked.

It's a bit of a downhill to 28A, and I was must have looked like I was moving pretty fast as I approached it. There were various people milling around, directing everybody to park on 28B and walk west on 28A. The most vocal guy was shirtless, tattooed, dirty, and wild eyed, and he barked something unintelligible at me as I began braking.

"What?"

"You're gonna get a speeding ticket!" ...and erupted into intense, awkward laughter.

"Ha! Yeah, maybe!" struck me as the most disarming response.

It was the only awkward exchanged I'd had yet, and the only vaguely threatening looking guy I'd seen. It seemed unfortunate that THAT guy was probably the first guy that a lot of people would encounter or talk to as they drove by, as he reinforced various negative stereotypes generally associated with people who don't float the mainstream.

It looked like the bulk of the Gathering was going to happen along 28A. About every hundred feet or so, I passed a small group of campers, walking west. Some looked like they really knew what they were doing. Others looked like they'd just picked up 100% of their gear at Walmart in Dawsonville.

There were dozens of signs hung on trees to either side. Many gave helpful camping tips, but others read a bit like rules. For example... Don't use money, barter only. Protect the land...

Protect The Land

...as well as trees, plants, local fauna, etc.

There was also a rule about photography. No photography without permission. At first I wondered if they interpreted that to apply to wide shots too, or just to individuals, but then it made me think a little deeper...

The Gathering is controversial because the USFS wants any group of more than 75 forest users to obtain a permit for whatever activity they're going to be engaged in. Everybody I know that's organized a bike race in the NF has had to do this. I did it for the TNGA, even when we had fewer than 75 people riding.

As I understand it, the Family has classically dodged the permit in 2 ways. First, they argue that they are not an organization, there are no leaders, there's no hierarchy, there's no one with any more authority than anyone else. There's no individual qualified to sign any permit. Second, the first amendment grants any US citizen the right to peaceably gather. Any law or rule that contradicts that is unconstitutional, unenforceable, and just plain wrong. I don't know if its ever gone to court, but they've been successful with that argument for 50 years.

The USFS's take basically amounts to "OK, OK... Technically yes, but come on guys, we're tasked with protecting the land. We can't just trust you. Forest user groups are going to kick US in the balls if YOU screw around. Come on... Play ball... Eh? ...Eh?" Or, less figuratively: If you would please comply with this rule, even though it contradicts a higher level rule, and we really don't have a legal basis for enforcing it, it would demonstrate respect to the people who have vested interests in the continued success of this land.

Change the last word in that sentence from "land" to "event", and I think it accurately describes the spirit behind the no-photography rule. The higher level rule that it contradicts being that people in a public place don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy and can therefore be photographed without their explicit permission.

That idea struck me, as I debated whether to take a photo of their Protect The Land sign. I wondered if anyone had thought about it before. I figure a reasonable middle ground was to kind-of follow their example, and kind-of flaunt their rule, but not for individuals, which is what I suspected they probably meant by it anyway.

As I took the photo, a legion of law enforcement officers crested the little hill ahead of me, marching east. There must have been 30 of them, 3 abreast. It was a diverse group - county and state police, and DNR and USFS officers. Someone was shouting some unintelligible thing when they first appeared. I couldn't tell if it was one of them, or somebody shouting at them. I felt like I couldn't have looked less like an event-goer, on my bike, in my completely black and white kit, and short hair. I was pretty dirty though, and I was out there in it. I wondered how I looked to them. I nodded to the first guy, and said what I've said to every officer directing traffic at a bike race, that I've ever passed: "Thanks for being here."

The guy next to him kind-of smiled, but the guy I said it to just looked away.

I hoped he didn't think I was being sarcastic. I wasn't. I've been to enough outdoor concerts to appreciate the security, and probably more importantly, trained first responders.

Up the road a bit, just before No-Tell, there's a big food plot on the south side of the road. It looked like it would end up being the epicenter of the festivities.

Rainbow Family Gathering

You could hear the low drone of voices from a few hundred yards away, and it was surreal hearing that out there. Some dude was singing too. Some droning, repetitive lyric, at the top of his lungs. I might have heard a guitar too. I'm not sure. It had the vibe of a music festival, while people are arriving, before the first act. I imagined a stage down in the southeast corner of the field, and that Hendrix would be entertaining that crowd in a few hours.

That's the closest experience I've had that I could relate to what I saw. There was no stage though. There would be no screaming guitars. It wasn't a big rock show, nor was it the solitude of camping.

It was intriguing, but not intriguing enough to stop and mingle. 100% of my interactions ended up being: "Hey, I'll be on your right (or left)", "Thanks", and "Hey, how's it going." Sometimes with "brother" thrown in, if it struck me to say. The Rainbow Family call each other brother and sister, but I'm not sure if it's right to say if you're not a (non-)member, so I had mixed feelings about saying it. I regularly call other cyclists "brother" when I pass them on the trail though, especially during a race, so it was kind of instinctive to do.

There were tents and tarps in the woods surrounding the field, and along No-Tell, right up to where the new singletrack diverges from the original route. It pretty much looked like this, all over the place:

Rainbow Family Camping

They'd cleared leaves from under their tarps, and trampled vegitation to the extent that you might expect from someone camping somewhere, but I couldn't discern any impact to the No-Tell trail itself. The road, of course, had looked like it always does, except for footprints in the low spots.

There was one funny thing... A guy with no shirt, leather pants, boots, a cape, and a Gandalf hat was lying on his back, directly in the middle of the No-Tell trail, with his eyes closed, apparently sleeping. People were walking around him, and I figured I'd dismount and do the same, but right as I stopped, another guy walking toward us half-shouted: "Guy on a bike!" and it woke the sleeping guy up.

"Good morning!" he announced, instinctively. It reminded me of Everett's "My hair..." in O Brother, Where Art Thou when he wakes up in the barn, surrounded by police, and it made me smile and chuckle a little.

That was about it for the Rainbow Family. I rode No-Tell, and the Black Branch Connector to 28B. Both seemed unaffected by the rain. The No-Tell roadbed was maybe a little rough. Maybe. There was a tree down somewhere in there, and stepping over it, I caught the my right calf on a "hatrack" (the short, spikey remnant of a dead branch that got knocked off before the tree fell) and lacerated it pretty good.

Dangit! I'm smarter than that. I even specifically taught my kids how to avoid doing exactly that. They both immediately knew what had happened when I showed it to them the next day, and chastised me a bit for making the mistake. Those things can be deadly if you manage to impale yourself near your upper, inner thigh.

Fortunately it wasn't too deep, but man did it bleed.

On 28B there were cars lined up along the south side of the road, forever, in both directions. Near the intersection with 28-1 a very gender fluid individual was sitting at a table, I guess directing traffic. I was greeted with the friendly demeanor I'd generally come to expect from the folks out there, as opposed to how I had been by the guy out on the main road. He did shout something to me as I rolled away though...

"What?"

"Did you know that your leg is bleeding?"

"Oh! Yeah, it's fine. I caught it on a hatrack."

"Oh, ok, just wanted to make sure you knew about it!"

"Thanks! Sometimes I don't!"

And we laughed. Something like that anyway. I wondered if he knew what a hatrack is. I wondered if he even heard the word correctly. Does anyone else call them hatracks? I learned it from Woody Keen in a trail maintenance class. No idea if it's a common term.

A little farther down the road, I passed 28A going the other way, and the loud guy was giving someone directions. On the left hand side of the road though, I spotted a guy standing over a full-on bikepacking rig. I stopped and suggested that he looked like he was training for the Trans North Georgia. Actually, it turned out he was riding the Cohutta Cat Loop, had gotten a little off route, and wanted to take 28A back to the route, but wasn't sure if he'd be attacked and robbed if he tried. He'd passed a different checkpoint earlier, and the police warned him about camping in the area. Apparently one event goer's car had been broken into and he'd gotten his gear stolen, presumably by another event goer! Plus, he'd been watching that one belligerent hippie for a few minutes and worried that he might be representative of the rest of them. Ha! That's exactly what I'd thought might happen earlier.

We talked for like 10 minutes about all kinds of stuff. As we talked, I noticed and picked off 3 different ticks that had been crawling up my legs. If watching someone do that mid-conversation doesn't strike you as odd, you might be an endurance cyclist. I think his name was Caleb Young. Cool guy. I hope his Cohutta Cat went well, and I hope I'll run into him again on some epic ride some day and get to ask him about it.

At Moss Branch there were parking signs on one side...

Parking Signs

...and an open-top on the other side.

Open Top at Moss Branch

I had to ride around it to get onto the trail. I wondered if the Family put that there, or the USFS. Either way, it seemed like a good idea. I might have located it south of the Y though, so people would see it coming down 77 or 28-1.

The geotextile at Moss Branch is getting exposed. It's not an environmental problem, but it could be a problem for horses.

The Moss Branch and Jake trails were in fine shape. The rolling dip looked identical to how it had a few weeks earlier.

Soaking myself in Jones Creek was a welcome experience.

Jones Creek

It was hot outside. I think it was 96 when I started, and it didn't feel like it had gotten any cooler later in the day.

I noticed that chair that I found was on the opposite side of the creek. Someone must have taken it over there for some reason.

A busted old bike shoe was lying next to it too.

Washed Up Shoe

I think that's a Garneau Montana. I had a pair like that for a while. If it's not, it looks a lot like one. No idea how it got there, or how it got in that shape. Maybe an animal had been gnawing on it. I find shoes in the woods pretty regularly, actually, and they're one of the more mysterious things that I find. I mean, how did you lose a shoe? It seems like that's the one thing that couldn't possibly go unnoticed. The best theories I have are: 1) For some reason, someone had two pairs of shoes, and lost one of the spare pair, somehow. And 2) Someone suffered such an injury to their foot that taking the shoe off was required to treat it, they were better off not putting the shoe back on, and limped out on one shoe, leaving the other one behind.

I had no reasonable means to pack out the shoe. Maybe I can pick it up during the next work party.

I felt really strong climbing out and pushed it all the way back to the car.

4 hours, 30 minutes. I was tired at the end, but it wasn't terrible. Sadly though, I think my best Fools Gold time was pretty close to that, and it included additional loops of Winding Stair and Montgomery Creek.

On the way out, I passed through another roadblock, this time on Nimblewill Creek Road. It appeared that they'd just moved the same cars and officers from the one earlier.

"You headed in to the Gathering?"

"Noooo... I've been riding my bike. I'm headed out."

"Sounds good. Take care." (returns license)

Something like that. Super quick. I wondered if they'd actually arrested or even cited anyone all day. I could imagine someone pulling up smelling like Indonesia, answering with: "Dave's not here man..." and the whole thing going south from there. But I wondered if anything like that had actually happened. Except for belligerent guy, and the guy who was literally asleep, everyone I ran into had been unstereotypically lucid.

The festivities have been underway for a few days now. I've been too busy to wonder how it's going, but I'm a little curious now that I'm thinking about it. Best case, everybody has a good time, law enforcement has nothing non-medical to respond to, area residents barely notice anything except for a few more cars on the road, the Gold Creek Gas Station makes a killing, local restaurants make a little extra as everyone leaves town, all trash is picked up, leaves get spread back out, the underbrush recovers in a matter of weeks, and impact on the trails is indiscernible. I'm not planning on going back unless Debbie and/or Stan decide to actually have the work party, so I'll have to wait until everybody's gone to find out. Actually, if they do decide to have the work party, I wonder how many volunteers we could recruit... Maybe this is a golden opportunity.

Who knows?

I ate at Big D's Barbecue on the way home.

Big Ds Barbecue

I'd missed them by minutes last time, but this time I made it with minutes to spare.

They give you so much food. I still have a few hush puppies in the fridge.

Jones Creek had washed most of the blood off of my leg.

Hatrack Damage

Kathryn didn't want me in bed until it was dried up though. "Eww... It's all weepy. Don't get in bed with that, or it'll get blood on everything!" If a wound like that doesn't freak you out, and you're mainly concerned about whether or not it'll mess up the bed, your husband might be an endurance cyclist.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Cohutta Pinhoti

A few weeks back I had a great idea!

I'd been spinning a lot of laps around Blankets recently, successfully dodging bad weather, and feeling reasonably strong. I'd had a few successful rides in the Blue Ridge WMA area, but it had been a while since I'd ridden in the Cohuttas. Not a terribly long while, but long enough to make me want to get in some more.

So, me and Sophie drove up to Mulberry Gap. I rode while she milled around the place, did a little summer homework, and kicked back.

Kate had just returned from a rough trip to Kansas where some wicked dehydration had put her in the hospital. I'd read the story, but it was cool to hear it firsthand. I could totally relate too, the same kind of thing nearly happened to me the last time I did the Huracan.

I changed in the midstation bathhouse and noticed this weird dedication on the back of the toilet.

In Memory

What could it mean??? Last I heard, Brett Davidson was alive and well. I think he's even leading some bikepacking training rides this summer.

I was almost ready to roll out when I remembered that I hadn't changed my pedals. The one on the non-drive-side had seized up at Bull Mountain the previous weekend, and I'd acquired a new set during the previous week, but hadn't get changed them. I'd even done a mid-week ride on the busted one, seriously pushing my luck. I mean... Just to get every last mile out of it.

Dangit. Frustrating little delays.

Fortunately it was quick and easy to swap. To save time, I only swapped the busted one though. So, I was riding a brand new black Eggbeater 2 on one side, and a blue Eggbeater 3 on the other side where the spring is so old and worn down that you have to lube the body on either side of the clip so it doesn't squeak against your shoe all day.

Every last mile.

Finally, I took off in the general direction of Adventure.

Ginny's last words to me on the way out were something indicating that I was going to get rained on. It did look possible, and that is how my luck goes sometimes, but I was optimistic.

There was another day rider there who left just before me. He checked in just ahead of me, and was new to the sport, and this was his first ride in the Cohuttas. I recommended he take the shuttle over to the upper Bear Creek trailhead and ride it and P2 back, but he went for the tough climbing instead - P3 to Hwy 52. We ended up rolling out at the same time and climbed over Mulberry Gap proper together.

When we hit P3, he dropped back, but he looked like he had it - like he might enjoy it even, if he took it easy. I never saw him again though, so I'm not sure how it turned out.

P3 was in great shape. The tread was perfect, and it was a little overgrown, which is always fun.

P3

I guess overgrown isn't ALWAYS fun. There can be ticks, for example.

I felt strong, and I cleaned every switchback.

As usual.

Heh.

And I still felt good at Hwy 52.

Hwy52

On P4 it started to rain, but not enough to even make it through the canopy.

That changed on Tatum Lead though, and by the time I hit P5, it had drizzled, poured, soaked me, dropped back to a drizzle, and stopped altogether.

P5 was beautiful.

P5

People had been riding around some of the rougher sections, and they'd started getting backfilled and overgrown. "Healing" so to say.

There were some downed trees near the bottom.

Downed Trees on P5

And the grass in the field was super tall, almost over my head.

P5 Field

It started raining pretty hard again, somewhere around there, and then stopped abruptly again.

Baker Creek was roaring, but I had trouble getting a good photo of it.

Baker Creek

At FS3 I had a decision to make. I'd planned to take P6 over to Dennis Mill but the clouds were super dark in that direction and it was thundering constantly. To the north it was a lot clearer and I could even see the sky in a few spots.

North it is.

Actually, it was west and then north, but not south.

I've only ridden Peeples Lake Road a few times, and I had forgotten how punchy it is. It's like 100 short, steep climbs and descents. There's no good way to keep speed, and then at the end, there's the final insult, followed by an almost dangerous downhill to the highway.

At Peeples Lake proper, there was all kinds of excavation going on.

Peeples Lake Work

I couldn't make heads or tails of it. It wasn't clear what they were doing, and I didn't remember what it used to look like. They might have removed the old toilets and dug up the tank. I couldn't remember if that's where they had been though. They may have been down a little side road from there.

No idea. It was a mess though. Something to see.

Heading North on Old Federal Road, the sun was getting lowish, and the patchy sky made me happy.

Old Federal Road

I didn't stop at the Stallion.

Stallion

I thought about stopping. It's traditional. But I had plenty of food and water and opted to keep moving.

There were good views of Fort Mountain to either side of Holly Creek Baptist.

Holly Creek Baptist Church 1 Holly Creek Baptist Church 2

And even more between there and the gravel, but nothing I hadn't taken photos of before.

There were a lot of people hanging out along Holly Creek. Some fishing, others just playing in the water. There was one kid splashing like crazy, having the greatest time in the world. Her parents were well amused by her antics and it made me smile seeing it too.

Further up I paced a pickup up the road, and around the first switchback. The guy sitting in the bed was like: "Man, I don't know how you do that!"

Ha ha!

Validating.

Even further up, I passed the rock slide repairs. Last year I'd ridden through when they were still working on them. There's some kind of weird felt and chain-link slurry wall in place now.

Chain Link Slurry Wall

Awesome.

I was still feeling good when I got back to MGap, but the final climb up the hill to the barn was as tough as always. Sophie happened to be walking around right as I got back too, threw her arms up, and greeted me: "Dad!!"

It was nice to see her.

She'd had a pretty good time. Shed walked all over the property, including the trails, played with the dogs, and ate some steak strips and ice cream with brownies under it.

I let Andrew know that I'd made it back safely, grabbed a quick shower, got changed and stood around in the barn talking to Ginny for a while before finally heading out.

I hadn't eaten steak, ice cream, and brownies, so I grabbed some dinner on the way back. I think Zaxby's, but I don't really remember. I do remember feeling worn out and really content, like I had after the previous week's ride. I hoped it would be the start of a trend.

Sophie crashed and slept most of the way back. I guess she was pretty worn out too!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Bull and Jake Mountains

I'd made a bit of a commitment to myself to ride Jake and Bull more this summer. It's a great system, and I've done so much work up there, I should reap some fruit of that labor.

But... The Rainbow Family Gathering was going to be held up there this year, for a week or two, starting early July. Some folks were allegedly already up there getting things ready. I'd never heard of such a thing until a day or 2 before, but I'd seen a "Rainbow Family" sign at 52 and Nimblewill Road the last time I was up there. I didn't have any idea what it was about, and I didn't see anyone that I thought might be involved. To add to my confusion, I'd also seen a sign for a wedding at Nimblewill Road and 28-1, and I thought maybe the two of them were related.

Turns out no, the gathering is a much bigger event, and it could create a lot of traffic into and out of the area. It was still mid June, so I figured I ought to get some riding in then, if I could, in case it proved logistically difficult to do so later.

I had some trail maintenance objectives too - it had rained A LOT the past few weeks, and I wanted to see how some features had held up. In particular, I wanted to see how the rolling dip I'd built earlier that month had fared, and to check on the one that me and Iz and Sophie built on Moss Branch last year.

Traffic was horrendous through Cumming on the way up. Not because of any Rainbow Family action, just from the constant road work on 400. It must have taken 45 minutes to get from exit 14 to exit 15.

There was no traffic in the Nimblewill Area, but there was a mobile communications tower set up at Nimblewill Church.

Mobile Cell Tower

I was sure it had been set up for the event, but I wasn't sure if had been set up for the participants, for law-enforcement, or for both.

I also noticed that the port-a-potty was missing from the Jake Lot!

Missing Port-a-Potty

Well, if Woodstock '99 can be taken as a reliable indication of how a crowd can mistreat a port-a-potty, removing it was probably a good idea.

There was one other car in the lot when I got there. A lady was taking her dog hiking but didn't know the system at all, and planned to follow the map on her phone. I've seen a lot of people doing that lately. I wonder how reliable it is. Every time I ever tried to do any GPS-related thing on my phone, it nuked the battery. I could maybe get 2 hours out of it.

She asked me some questions, I gave her a little info, and she was off.

It took me a little longer to get going, and when I did, my left pedal felt a little funny. Like it was pulling my shoe in one direction of the other. I couldn't figure it out though. When I'd coast, the float felt normal. But, while pedaling, it would tug at my shoe and eventually my foot would pop out.

The heck?!

I finally got frustrated enough to stop and fiddle with it, right as I caught up to the lady and her dog.

I turned out that the pedal was almost completely seized up. I hadn't washed my bike since riding in the rain at Noontootla, and then washed it thoroughly earlier that day. Apparently that's not so good for pedals. The lady looked at it with me, and thought it was funny how small my pedals were. I needed a flat blade of some kind to get the dust cap off, but neither of us had one.

I got it kind-of broken free, and figured I could limp back to the car, fix it for real, and hit the reset button. She thought I was nuts. How could I possibly fix that? I felt pretty confident that I could, and complete my ride. My bike isn't called "the rolling junk show" for nothing.

On the way up 28-1, the pedal unscrewed itself from the crank and fell off onto the ground.

Pedal

Ha!

That's a new one.

Nothing to do but screw it back in, finger tight, and pray.

My prayers were answered though, and it stayed in place long enough to get back to the truck. There, I took it apart, applied copious amounts of tri-flow, got it loose enough to call it fixed, and headed back out. I didn't have an allen wrench big enough to get tighter than it had naturally gotten from wrenching on it with my hands, but pedals tighten as you ride, so I figured that would be good enough. That or it would seize again and I'd be walking out. I was prepared for both, but I figured I'd hedge my bet by asking anyone I happened to meet if they had the right sized allen wrench.

When I'd driven by earlier, there was a crew of guys hanging out by that coms tower. They looked like they might have a more well stocked toolbox than mine, so I headed over to see. Despite three of their trucks running, there was no one to be found when I got there.

It seemed strange, but that's how it goes.

Onward!

Climbing out on 28-1, I'd seen this big highway sign, but I hadn't turned around to read it.

Towing on FS28-1

Apparently, parking would be prohibited along that road.

On my way to Moss Branch, I ran into several people in cars, none of whom had the correct sized allen wrench. One of the guys was headed to the gathering, but had missed the turn on to FS83. I gave him directions, but I wasn't sure that he understood them.

On Moss Branch, I saw where some dude had built a makeshift shelter off in the woods.

Rainbow Family Shelter

Barely discernible in that ridiculously blurry photo.

Trust me, it looked very, very, not waterproof, and I wondered how he'd fare over the next few weeks. There was a guy camping along the former route of the trail too. I actually ran into that guy further down the trail. We were both headed down to the creek.

I was heading down to see how the rolling dip was functioning.

Rolling Dip on Moss Branch

Pretty well, actually! Water was turning off. The mound was intact and looked really solid.

Rolling Dip on Moss Branch Detail

One of the huge rocks we'd buried was exposed, but it looked firmly cemented in place, and it was armoring the mound exactly as I'd hoped. The rest of the rocks were still buried, and the ground looked exactly like the matrix of rock and dirt that I'd hoped it would devolve into.

Perfect. Now I just need to see how long it lasts.

I ran into the guy again on the way back and warned him about drinking out of the creek. I had a hunch that he had been. He had, in fact, without filtering, boiling, or otherwise treating the water. His mileage may vary, but in 2008, I'd run out of water, tanked up there, and gotten ill from it, so I figured I'd give him the heads up.

I also got a photo of this carving that someone did way back.

Entrance

I'm pretty sure this predates the Rainbow Family guys. I recognized it. I swear that I saw it last time I was on Moss Branch, which was forever ago. So long ago that I'd have to look back through my blog history to figure out when that was.

"Entrance" or "En-trance" i.e. to put you into a trance? No idea. No idea what it would be the entrance to, other than the creek, or how it would en-trance you, except with its fine, fine flow.

At 28-1, I headed up to 28B, rode out to Jake, and rode down to check out the dip I'd built on the drop to Jones Creek.

On the way, I passed a sign that, I guess, indicated where a latrine was to be located. Maybe?

Shitter

You decide. I saw no latrine or anything like it in the vicinity.

I saw some folks walking up the road with some dogs. One dog only had 3 legs. I saw a few people parked along the road too. One guy had leaned some deadfall up against his car, thrown a rug over it, and was dead asleep, directly on the dirt under it. No blanket. Directly on the dirt. Not on the forest floor. On the gravel at the edge of the road. I did something like that at the camp fire ring on Dug Gap Mountain once, and on the side of the road at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Florida, and once on the pavement, halfway up Hogpen during the TNGA. Must have been a long drive.

It was weird to see so many people. I typically go out there, ride 5 hours and run into like 1 other guy, usually on foot, bike, or horse.

It looked like 28B was where everyone was supposed to park. At least down one side of it.

Parking Signs on FS28B

I also passed a turtle in the middle of the road.

Turtle

He didn't seem too upset with me for taking his picture.

On the way down to Jones Creek, it looked like some trail work had been done. Some nicks and grade reversals had been cleaned out. A lot of brush had been cut back. Me and Iz had done a good bit of that the last time we were up there, but this was much more aggressive than we had felt was appropriate. We had thinned. Since then, someone had mowed. The work looked good though. Did they have a work party up there that I didn't know about? Debbie said there wouldn't be a party in June, so I didn't even bother to come. Maybe there was one.

When I got down to the dip, I barely recognized it.

Rolling Dip on Jake

It appeared to be functioning as expected, but it also looked like it had been re-engineered a bit. Those 4 bit rocks armoring the outflow were new. They looked suspiciously like the rocks I'd buried in the mound. Maybe there'd been enough rain to expose them, rather than cement them in, and someone moved them. Or, maybe they weren't the rocks I buried in the mount, those were still buried, and someone drug these up from below.

Climb on Jake

Comparing this photo to the one I'd taken earlier in the month, I could see that the rocks had been moved around, and several of the largest ones were missing. I'm not sure who did this, but I would imagine it must have been the same crew that did the rest of the work. I'll have to inquire.

At any rate, the mound was firmed up, the dip was functioning, and the intuitive route through it appeared to be settling where I'd hoped it would. So, we'll see how it goes.

I headed directly back out the way I came in and rode up to 28A, which looked like it might end up being where the main gathering takes place. There were 20 or so people doing various camping-related things in the general vicinity of no-tell, near the largest of the food plots.

Everybody was super friendly - smiles, peace signs, and energetic greetings. They seemed legitimately happy to see me, and each other. If any of it was false, it was a good show. I didn't really talk to anyone though, other than to say hi.

This was about what it was like:

Rainbow Family Campsite

Tarp strung up between some trees back up in the woods. Maybe a tent underneath it, maybe just another tarp on the ground with some gear on it. Maybe less.

There was a more elaborate tarp shelter strung up, uphill of no-tell, where it intersects 28A.

We Home Community Kitchen

It looked like it was going to be a kitchen, but it was in its early stages.

There were a few more shelters along the older section of no-tell, but I didn't seen anything past the beginning of the newer singletrack.

It seemed like there were maybe 30 people total in the entire area. Again, it was weird to see anyone there at all. 30 seemed like a lot. I couldn't imagine the 20,000 that are alleged to attend some of these things.

My phone died somewhere in there and I couldn't get any more photos. There wasn't much else to see though. I rode no-tell -> Black Branch -> 28B -> 28C -> Turner Creek -> Jones Creek Ridge -> FS83 and through the Bull Mountain lot.

Climbing up off of the dam on Jones Creek Ridge, I saw 2 different turtles, each of which had dug a hole in the ground and was backed up to it. I think they lay eggs like that, but I didn't see any eggs yet. I was pretty disappointed that I couldn't get a photo of it.

Below Bull Mountain, someone had run a hose down from a spring up there somewhere, to a point near the parking lot and put a sign on it encouraging users to boil or purify the water. There was 1 car in the lot at the time, and a guy camping near it. I don't think he even noticed me ride by.

I took the trail up to 83 and rode out on gravel from there. Right as I was about to turn on to 28-1, I saw the same guy that I'd met waaayyy earlier in the day, who had missed the turn ont 83. Finally, it seemed, he'd found it, like 5 hours later.

When I got back to the lot, I was beat. My pedal had managed to stay loose enough to ride on, and, miraculously, stay in the crank.

I'd accomplished my goals, but the ride was just kind-of ok. Not spectacular. It had been a little wet, and I'd been keeping an eye on the pedal, and my tires are getting pretty worn out, and I had a new spoke in the rear and half-expected another one to pop, and I'd ridden a couple of short out-and-backs instead of long loops. Just that kind of stuff.

I can't remember eating dinner exactly. It seems like I tried to eat at Big D's Barbecue, but they were closed, so I waited until I got back to my side of the world, and everything was closed except Wendy's, and the drive-thru was super slow. That sounds right. Something like that at least.

Noontootla/Winding Stair

Early last month we were in the middle of some garbage weather patterns. It would pretty reliably rain whenever I wanted to go do something outside. Never for very long, but the timing and duration always seemed perfectly tuned to ruin my plans.

"Ha!": I figured. I'll just go do something where it doesn't matter if it rains. Of course, that "something" was the Noontootla/Winding Stair loop.

It seems like something interesting happened on the way up, but this was long enough ago that I don't remember what.

When I got to the Mt. Zion Church, my standard starting point for that loop, rain seemed to be the furthest thing from the sky's mind.

Mt. Zion Church

It was cloudy, but the clouds were all big, pillowy, white clouds - the kind that make the sky fun to look at because you can imagine they look like animals and people and stuff. It was a little warm though - mid 90's, but that's just how it is this time of year, and I was accustomed to it.

I rolled out of the lot, past the entrance to Camp Merrill, and up that little stretch of pavement on Cooper Gap Road, right before it becomes gravel. The instant I settled into the climb, a spoke broke on my rear wheel.

Broken Spoke

Ha!

I didn't expect that.

No problem though. I have a lot more spokes on that wheel, it ought to be fine. I wrapped up the hanging bit of it and left the other bit dingling around in place, as it didn't look like it could get caught on anything.

Turned out it couldn't, but it could definitely rub on something. I didn't notice it while climbing, but when I got onto FS42 and was able to coast for a while...

FS42

...it made a most obnoxious racket, and I had to stop and figure out what was going on. Turned out the head of the spoke was dragging against the inside of the cassette when I'd freewheel. It needed to be wrapped up too, but that was no easy feat considering how little of it was projecting from the hub. I managed to get it threaded between a couple of other spokes, but 15 minutes later it was loose and dragging again.

Dangit!

I threaded it through the other spokes again and hoped it would stay. That time it did.

As I headed toward Hightower Gap, it started getting chilly and the sky started getting dark.

On the last little drop down from Mauldin Gap, it started raining.

And it poured all the way down FS69.

FS69

Torrentially.

Ha! though. I was riding gravel roads. On purpose. Because they're fine to ride in the rain.

Take that space coyote.

Passing Rock Creek Lake, I saw a guy in a canoe way out on the lake, frantically paddling in. It seemed like he hadn't expected the rain either.

Right on cue, it was starting to let up as I approached the Fish Hatchery.

Approaching the Fish Hatchery

It was barely a drizzle a few seconds later, and a beautiful band of mist formed above the entire length of Rock Creek.

Misty Rock Creek

I could see Blue Sky at the Fish Hatchery.

Fish Hatchery

And it hadn't rained at all at the church.

Shady Grove Church

So, it had been a short, intense burst, directly above me, and seemingly nowhere else.

At the bridge over Rock Creek, the "please avoid this area" sign had been taken down, but I felt like riding out to the Highway, just in case it had rained over in that direction.

The Toccoa was high, as expected.

Toccoa River

And Tooni Mountain was mistier than Rock Creek had been.

Misty Tooni Mountain

My phone, gloves, and even bare fingers were too wet to function together. I was barely able to get that photo. I wish I'd been able to get a photo closer to the mountain, because by the time I got there, the mistiness had tripled, and it was spectacular. I tried for like 5 minutes, but there was nothing I could do to get the camera app to open. That's the balance with a Lifeproof Case. Your phone says dry, but it barely works.

The pavement was wet around there. It had apparently rained there too.

Doublehead Gap Road

It was drier in the direction of Alex Mountain, but not dry in the absolute sense.

Alex Mountain

I felt strong at the bottom of Noontootla.

Noontootla

Stronger than I had expected to feel. I'd put in a lot of mid-week miles at Blankets, and Rope Mill, and Cochran Mill, but there's not a lot of extended climbing on any of those trails, and no amount of not riding in the mountains can keep you (or, me at least) in shape for riding in the mountains.

I kept a good pace up Noontootla, until the very top, where the last 2 kicks got me, as they are prone to do.

I was crawling when I reached Winding Stair Gap. I think there were some people there when I got there, but I can't remember who the were, or what they were up to.

Nimblewill. Yes, that's the general direction I needed to go.

Winding Stair Gap

The gravel at the top was loose and the road was a little washboardy. I sketched once, but saved it easily. The rest of the descent was just fast and fun. The road was a little soft and tacky, which I guess is good for being safe.

I don't remember much about the grind back to the car except that it was almost dark when I got there, and I was glad I'd put new batteries in my lights because several cars passed me on the road, in both directions.

Aside from breaking a spoke, it was a great ride. I half-bonked at the top of Noontootla, but I'd half-expected to, so that was fine. My bike was filthy, and so was I, but that was fine too. Gravel roads are good for a ride like that.

I ate at El Jinete in Dawsonville on the way back. It was surreal. The wait staff was the least ethnic staff I'd ever seen at a Mexican restaurant, and they were playing runway modeling music the whole time. The high point was a pretty great cover of the Cure's "Whenever I'm Alone With You." They gave me so much meat in my Chili Colorado that I couldn't fit it into all of the tortillas, and it was so spicy that I couldn't eat it all without them. I had that whole-body tired action, I was nearly stuffed, and my mouth was on fire. That may sound bad on paper, but I hadn't felt so content in a long time. I had a weak smile on my face all the way home, and you should have seen the water running off of me in the shower.