Sunday, December 30, 2018

Mulberry Gap Fireball Fiasco

Today I rode Mulberry Gap's Fireball Fiasco ride. It was basically a poker run, with a few variations. We got a card for hitting each checkpoint, as well as for various weird activities, and for how quickly we finished. We then had to make the best 5-card hand out of how ever many cards we got. Best hand wins. If you got more than 5 cards, then you had a better chance of being able to make a good hand, but there's still a significant amount of luck involved, so it's really about the journey, not the destination, and just about having fun, of course.

I got up at 6:30, left at 7, and made it up there by 8:30. The ride started at 10. Most everyone had spent the night on premises, and was already there, eating breakfast, when I got there.

Their Christmas tree was still up, and man what a tree!

MGap Christmas Tree

The barn was still generally adorned in holiday cheer. Everybody there seemed to be in good spirits too, despite the terrible weather we've had, basically since Thanksgiving. It was dry a few days ago, for one day. I took advantage of that on the FS roads in Alabama. It started raining again that evening though, and has been since. It was 49 degrees on the way in to Ellijay. Probably colder on the north side of the ridge there, and misting steadily. At higher elevations, it was foggy.

We all got kitted up and gathered outside of the barn at 10 sharp. There were a ton of people that I'd probably ridden with once or twice, as well as some good friends including Mark Baldwin, Marc Hirch, and Norma Rainwater.

Norma!!!! Hadn't ridden with her in like 6 years. She was there with her friend Linda, who I'd ridden with a few times. Johnny, surprisingly, wasn't there. I didn't realize they existed apart. I couldn't think of a time when I'd seen one without the other.

Let's get down to business though...

The first activity was a shot. Actually, about 1/4th of a shot. You had 3 options - one small shot of Fireball Canadian Whiskey (the traditional option for this ride), a small shot of George Dickel Bourbon chased with a shot of pickle juice, or a small shot of straight apple cider vinegar.

If you poured 100% of the alcohol that I've consumed in my life into a shot glass, it would probably just reach the rim. I don't drink, as a rule. But, I have made a few exceptions over the years. I've sipped a few drinks that were offered to me, to avoid offending my host, and there have been a few games or activities where the prize or punishment was a sip of something or other. Eg. I took a sip of Cinnamon Schnapps after finishing the Firewater 50 way back, and I sipped some crazy drink they make out of grain alcohol and sugar cane in Brazil once.

That said, the Fireball still seemed like the best option. Pickle juice would certainly induce vomiting. Cider vinegar was almost as likely.

Fireball down. "Holeshot gets the win!"

And I was gone!

The first checkpoint was Holly Creek Picnic Area, and I probably got there 3 or 4 minutes before the next group.

Holly Creek Picnic Area

Mark, Marc, and Chris beat me back to MGap, but then apparently screwed around down by the cabins for a while. When I finally left, I thought they'd left before me, but they hadn't. I was ahead of them for the rest of the day. Ahead of everyone, it turned out. I didn't realize this though, and only found out at the end of the day.

But, back to the action...

When I got back, I had to take another little shot. Fireball again. And, I had to ride a little clown bike under a limbo stick twice. The guy ahead of me didn't make it, so I figured I ought to duck down a lot, which I did, and made it! Turned out I made it by like 6 or 8 inches though. One advantage of being short: clown-bike limbo is easy.

We had to pick up 2 checkpoints on the next leg of the ride. The first was Gates Chapel Road and FS241:

Gates Chapel and FS241

I'd taken Shakerag over to Gates Chapel, then headed toward Barnes Creek Road (FS90) to the next checkpoint.

It was still raining lightly, and super wet, but the temps were probably up to the mid 50's. I'd been comfortable all day, even tearing downhill, in my standard kit, knee warmers, and windbreaker. I'd brought arm warmers, in case I found that I needed them, and even brought my hunter orange vest in case I found that I needed more wind-breaking. But I never needed either. I was super comfortable, even in the rain, all day.

My feet were in exceptionally good shape. My folks had bought me 2 pairs of Smartwool Hike Liner Crew socks years ago. I finally wore them out about 3 years back, went to REI looking for more, and was disappointed that they no longer carried them. I bought 5 pair online for Christmas though, and finally got to wear them today. They are, hands down, my favorite socks. Very thin. Adequately insulating. Very windproof. They work great in all weather conditions. With no shoe covers, they work into the low 30's. With shoe covers, down into the teens. Wet or dry. I didn't think about my feet once today, other than to write this paragraph.

As dismal as the conditions were, there is a certain beauty to it, if you're in the right mood.

Dismal but Beautiful

The creeks were all very high too. Every little stream was clear and moving, even the ones that are usually little trickles. Again, easy to enjoy if you're in the right mood.

I was. I'd have taken more photos if I wasn't on a mission!

Next checkpoint: start of the P2 Grasstrack.

P2 Grasstrack Start

Got it.

I ran into some random dudes riding around in the lot while I was up there too. They weren't doing the ride though, just out riding by themselves.

First non-participants I'd seen all day. I hadn't seen anyone on the road. Nobody was milling around their cabin. It had been unusually quiet.

I took FS90 up to Holly Creek Gap and bombed down CCC Camp Road back to MGap from there. There was a couple walking their dog on that road. I hollered to them, but they couldn't hear me, so I slowed down to their speed and hollered again. They heard me the second time, but it still startled them a little. We all laughed.

Next activity: another (groan) small shot of Fireball.

And after that, I had to ride the clown bike again, this time with one hand, as with the other I had to ring-toss an over-inflated tube onto a weird 5-post thing, without riding past some cones about 8 feet away from it. Those clown bikes are hard to ride, especially in clipless shoes. I ended up riding over the tube and getting it caught under the bike. Reset. Better luck on the next try. Kind-of did it. Got the tube around one of the smaller posts. 1 point. Good enough.

Next checkpoint: Bear Creek Overlook.

I trucked it right back up over Holly Creek Gap and on up past Barnes Creek Falls.

I guess I didn't mention earlier. 100% of the ride today was FS roads. No pavement. No trails. Just dirt roads. I think we were technically allowed to ride trails, but it would not have helped reach the checkpoints any faster, and the tread would have been terrible. I rode 100% FS roads. I think Mark, Marc, and Chris hit P2 at some point, but it wasn't any fun.

Somewhere on FS68 (I think), there had been a landslide on the downslope side of the road. The crew was still up there, repairing it with rock and concrete.

Landslide Repair

I'd seen another, similar slide staring to form near Emory Creek earlier that day. That's another thing this much rain brings. Whack-a-mole landslides. We've had a couple of years of that in a row, recently. Some part of the year has been really wet, and roads have gotten washed out left and right.

Yay, Bear Creek Overlook.

Bear Creek Overlook

Lovely view today.

The traffic had really picked up on the way up there. I must have gotten passed by at least 15 trucks/jeeps, going one way or the other. One had a sticker on the back, so it might have been someone involved with the event, but I didn't see who, or talk to them.

On the way back down, I probably didn't pedal for like 3 miles. I couldn't remember ever bombing down that particular route. 68 to Holly Creek Gap, then down CCC Camp Road to MGap Road. I got behind one guy from Missouri with a hitch rack who made an effort to keep from slowing me down, but when it got less twisty, I still pulled past him. No idea how fast I was going, but I bet it was high 30's or low 40's.

Super fun.

I also passed Mark, Marc, and Chris on the way back, only then realizing that I was ahead of them. I passed one lady too. Turned out that the 5 of us were the only ones who'd even attempted the final checkpoint.

Turned out we rode right at 30 miles total. I was glad to have been able to get in so many miles. That's long for such a wet day. It didn't seem like that many though. I imagine because of all the backtracking.

I dreaded another shot, and fortunately, didn't have to take one!

All done.

I got cleaned up and headed to the barn for the feast. Potluck supper time. I'd brought a giant tray of bulk chunk mac and cheese. Someone else brought a similarly giant tray of lasagna. Between the two of those, and some cool cheese that had some sprinkles on top that made it taste like a piece of pizza, I was well nourished.

I also had a note on my truck that said that my brother had arrived. He was in cabin 2B, and was spending the night up there for the next 2 nights. I ran down and got him, and we all hung out in the barn for a while.

It was eventually poker hand time, so we got our cards. Despite having the most cards, all I could come up with was a 6-high flush. Only good for 4th place. Dangit.

First place got all kinds of swag. Second and third got hats and scarves. Forth, only bragging rights.

Well, at least I have those.

I'll be up there again tomorrow night, for New Year's. I should have the family with me too. Hopefully the rain will hold off enough for the New Year's Day ride.

Fingers crossed.

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