Monday, July 2, 2018

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


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 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.


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.



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.


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.

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