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.


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.


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?"


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


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.


"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 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...


"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.


  1. 4th car in the lot was me and Thomas Turner. We saw a crazy amount of law enforcement that day. Didn't really ride through much of the hippie areas except what was on fs77. At one point we came out of fs141 to head up coopers gap and the guards at Merrill said that we weren't allowed to ride fs141 through the camp right now or anywhere through camp Merrill property. Hopefully that changes after the rainbow people leave because I typically ride through there on almost every ride I do there.

  2. Dave, as of 7/21 I am having issues getting your trail GIS website to load, have tried multiple computers/browsers. Just FYI!

  3. Ha. Sorry for the delay. I'm not getting comment notifications for some reason.

    Site's back up. Had random problems recently.