Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Dennis Mill

Last weekend I actually organized a ride for the first time in as long as I can remember. Dennis Mill was the destination, or more precisely Pinhotis over to Dennis Mill and then pavement and gravel back. I did the route once by myself way back, and after noticing some guys riding in that general area on Strava recently, it struck me to do it again.

Marc, Mark, and Aaron were in the night before. Marc said I should invite Eddie O because "Eddie's the best." And even with super short notice, Eddie was also in, thereby reinforcing his status as "the best."

On the drive up I caught up to Marc and he made a goofy face at me when I pulled up next to him. Despite him being immediately behind me almost all the way to the start, I somehow lost him on Conasauga Road. Eddie was there when I arrived, fully dressed, in fact, but Marc took like 5 more minutes to show up. Apparently he had to pee.


We all got dressed and ready...

Eddie and Hirsch

But Baldwin and Aaron were nowhere to be found. Mark had only given an "Alrighty" the night before. I'd taken it as confirmation, but perhaps it wasn't. Mark is super punctual, so we were eventually like: "Eh, I guess they're not coming" and proceeded pedaling up P3. Eddie had to pee though, so we stopped as soon as we were in the trees, and off to the left we noticed a truck tearassing down the road towards us. Not Mark's. But I recognized his bike...

We waited. They stopped. Mark opens the door and before it's even all the way open announces: "Aaron's fault!"

Ha! (again)

Seconds later and we'd have been climbing switchbacks and never seen them.

As it was, we were all able to ride together. Mark had even gotten partially dressed on the way over and it didn't take them long to get ready.

Baldwin and Hirsch

Eddie was happy because he got to wear his puffy jacket for a while longer.

Ok... Let's go...

P3 is all about negotiating switchbacks, and sadly I failed on the very first one. Somehow managed to wheelie the bike out from under myself. I sketched on one of the second set too, and that very last one I managed to sketch before even starting to turn. So, not a great day for technical skills, but I felt good otherwise.

We passed two riders coming the other way near the top, and one of them looked like Paul Madigan. I hadn't seen him in 15 years though, so I hesitated to call him by name. Mark remembered him and in retrospect thought it might have been. Dangit.

Mark and Aaron climbing out of P3.

Aaron and Baldwin Climbing out of P3

On P4 my chain fell off. It's been doing that lately. You know your chain is badly stretched out when it's falling off of your 1x. Eddie dropped his over the top of his cassette too.

Little did we know that we'd both be dealing with those problems for the rest of the day. I dropped my chain at least 4 more times and he shifted his over the top almost as many.

At the wall on Tatum Lead we joked about it being the worst climb in the NF. Second worst being the kick up Bushy Head Gap. Third being the little b*tch gap on FS29-1 near FS28B. If there was anything positive about it, it was that we were still reasonably fresh, and not hitting it 190 miles in.

Tatum Lead was all shred. I wished I had something bigger up front than a 30 though. I'll be looking into that soon.

At P5 Eddie had to put some air in his tire.


He'd be dealing with that again soon as well.

Further down P5 I got sketchy coming around a curve with Aaron behind me. It was on a bumpy, leafy slab of exposed rock, and he said it looked like I just kept steadily bumping to the outside until I almost ran out of trail. That's definitely what it felt like.

There are several stream crossings down at the bottom, feeders of Baker Creek. One I was able to cross on a tangle of logs. Mark was sure I'd fall and was like "I need a video of this..." but then I made it and dangit, he didn't actually get a video of it!

The next one was deep and logless. So, Marc and I took off our shoes and socks, waded across, dried off and continued. Eddie managed to ride it and keep his feet dry ratcheting. Mark and Aaron did too, so it turned out it was actually rideable.

Dangit again!

When P5 flattens out, it's still fast, and you don't have to worry about boulders hidden amongst the same-colored leaves.

P5 Roadbed Shred

...but there are all these big puddles of doom that you have to ride through or around, and near one of them I slipped on an associated log of doom, ditched the bike, and nearly impaled myself on the jagged branch of a downed tree as I ran out of it. I actually had to grab the prospective impaler and break it off as I stumbled toward it to avert catastrophe.

It all worked out though, and so it was actually funny because it looked funny.

At the intersection with Peeples Lake Road we ran into a guy in a silver truck out exploring. He had a map with a bunch of trails on it that I didn't know. Nice. I'll have to go explore those someday.

A guy also rode by on a motorcycle from the direction of Rock Creek and Mark designated him a cheater.

P6 is actually kind of a long way from P5, or at least it seemed longer than I remembered, then I missed the turn onto the grasstrack and had to spin back after a hundred feet or so.

We ran into some riders on horseback about halfway to the singletrack. Super friendly folks. Made me miss doing trailwork at Bull. I usually see horses on the trail while working, or somebody brings theirs up to camp and ride after working. Between weather and the government shutdown, we haven't been able to do any work parties up there for several months.

There are a couple of stream crossings on the P6 grasstrack too. Everybody rode the first one, so I was like, yeah, me too, then stalled, stumbled, and went staggering and through the water with both feet. Managed to splash most of my left arm and my face in the process.

How long have I been riding?

Everyone else made it with no problem. Fortunately it was actually starting to warm up. It had been right around freezing for most of the day, but the sun had actually come out by then and it was probably in the high 40's. Oh, glorious direct radiation!

Mark and Eddie went ripping by me on the last couple of rollers near the singletrack, then Eddie got wide in a turn, Mark followed him, and they almost ran each other over while I cruised on by smiling.

P6 is like a stretched out P2. Grasstrack, followed by singletrack. Singletrack is mostly downhill, but with a steep kick in the middle. I forgot just how steep and rocky that kick is though. Man...

Also, I rode a super steep, chunky section, sat up waiting for everyone else... Waited. Waited. Got worried that someone broke something or got hurt... Rode back down... Found everyone hanging out taking a break.

Break on P6

It was good that no one was hurt or broken, but re-climbing that steep chunk was tough.

You basically climb up over a gap and then hit 10,000 switchbacks down across the face of some mountain to the parking lot. I remembered the descent, but I'd forgotten about all of the switchbacks. Actually, it occurs to me now... Bruce Dickman used to talk about a trail with 21 switchbacks, way back in like 2007. Pre-P5, and definitely pre-P6. I wonder if it's the same trail he was talking about...

Near the bottom we stopped at the Pinhoti Dedication.

Pinhoti Dedication

Conrad Fernandez, Rick Moon, Ginny Taylor, Larry Wheat... All really cool people.

Next it was pavement all the way to the Stallion store. I was spun out for most of the time and glad to have a draft to sit back in.

Cruising on Dennis Mill Road

Man, that pavement takes forever. Doesn't seem like much on the map, but in real life, it's loooonnnnggggg...

Eddie was growing a flat again too, and had to stop to juice it.

At the store...


...we all grabbed our share of calories. I ate a whole pack of little chocolate donuts. My card wouldn't work as debit though. Only as credit. Way back there used to be men's and women's bathrooms. The men's had a sign in it that said "Please flush" or something and someone wrote in "after sharting" under that, and then someone else wrote in "POOPING" under that. But, the men's room had apparently been condemned and the women's converted into the only available bathroom. It looked like it was well on its way to being condemned too though. Just touching the seat released waves of reek like nothing I've recently experienced in the wild.


Back in the lot Eddie and Mark were doing legitimate maintenance on Eddie's tire.

More Fix-a-Flat

It was full of snakeskin and tumbleweeds but they cleaned it out, found whatever was causing the problem, put a tube in it, and got it working.

Eddie's apparently been off his game lately - string of injuries and illnesses or something. He's been working back to his former glory, but it's apparently been a road. A guy and a lady drove up and started talking to us about where we'd been, how long we were out, etc. They were apparently cyclists too. Eddie was joking about getting a ride back over Ft. Mountain and the lady was joking about him being a sissy.


"Vous me connaissez monsieur?" or madame in this case.

Another guy was asking us about it too, and was kind of amazed at the distance. He grabbed his belly and shook it and said something like "Notice that I don't ride much myself!"

Oh, man! We laughed. I love meeting people on these rides.

After the stallion it was more endless pavement to CCC Camp Road, where we eventually got back on gravel and grinded it out back to MGap. Sadly, we were parked on the other side of MGap proper and had to climb up over that last murderous kick.

Always terrible!


Like 39.something miles. I've got to find a way to add another half mile in there somewhere. Make it an even 40 at least.

My left foot was cold, but somehow my right foot was totally fine. A few days later, I realize that I injured my left toe somehow. No idea how. Might not even have been from riding.

We grabbed some food at the new Ellijay Wood Fired Pizza joint on the square. While parking, the same guy who's wife had called Eddie a sissy jogged through the square. I recognized him immediately. Definitely the same guy.

So random.

The pizza was excellent and the service was friendly. I will definitely eat there again.

Mark was telling us about having seen a play at the local theatre the night before. "Spelling Bee" I think. Then, on the way out of the restaurant, we ran into the main actors on the street.

Ha! Also random.

Aside from needing some Mountain Dew to stay awake, the drive back was uneventful, and I enjoyed the rest of the evening with the fam. Looks like February's work party has been called off while the FS recovers from the shutdown, so unless something goes wrong between now and then, I'll be riding with these same guys at Bull or something on Saturday.

Looking forward to it.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Naked Indian Ride

I met Karlos Bernart way back... forever ago now... when he signed up for the inaugural TNGA. We had more back and forth communication than most of the other riders, and it was great because we were doing a lot of the same kinds of things and had a good bit in common. He was well ahead of me though, at that time hosting three endurance events in and around Central Florida. The biggest were the CFiTT and Huracan, which I've since ridden. But he also hosted a "gateway" ride called the Naked Indian Ride which I'd never managed to actually make it down for. Well, finally this past weekend I did.

Why a gateway ride? Well, the ride is like a shrunk down Huracan. Something that the average decently tough and resourceful mountain biker can do, not the full on multi-day Adventure, but enough that you get the idea and can decide if something bigger is for you.

Why "Naked Indain". Well, that's his nickname. For the record, I've never actually seen him naked, though I can confirm his Native American heritage.

I headed down Saturday after moving Isabel back into the dorm and having lunch with her and Sophie. The drive down was pleasant except that good radio stations are tough to find south of Atlanta, and my car stereo is so old that I can't plug in my iPhone to it in any way. I had no choice but to blast tinny rock music through it's internal speakers all the way down, and though it wasn't ideal, it definitely got the job done.

Florida Welcomes You

I saw two really weird things on the way down.

First, all through south Georgia, there must have been some seriously high winds recently, because billboards were knocked down left and right. And any little metal building near the road was shredded. Some trees were snapped off too, but it didn't look like tornado damage proper. Just super high winds.

The second was a trailer a guy was pulling that said: "Hunters in Christ's Kingdom. Nothing says I love you like a blood trail." And the word blood was pink and dripping. I'm sure it means something like: "Verily God demonstrates his love by providing this bountiful game to harvest." But man, what an awkward way to put it!

I was planning on camping in the Ocala and driving in to DeLand the next morning, but after a couple of texts (not while driving, of course), Karlos offered to let me camp in his backyard, and I wasn't going to pass that up. I was also arriving right around dinner time, so we decided to get some dinner too.

He and Edith greeted me with hugs at the door. Their grandson Uriah is staying with them, and we became buddies pretty quickly too. His son Kailin (who's name I have misspelled before, and hope I have right this time) was also there, is now 10 years older. He was a kid last time I saw him, but now he's like a foot taller than me. We grabbed some dinner at Chili's, the same one that we'd all eaten at before some other ride way back, and Karlos hooked me up with some swag from his garage - a Huracan sticker and patches for the CFiTT and Huracan. The sticker was the last one. The very last one he had. Good, good fortune.

I ended up crashing on the couch rather than actually pitching a tent, but I did sleep in my bag, so it kind-of counts as camping.

Next morning, bright and early, we headed over to Trilogy Coffee in DeLand for the start.

Trilogy Coffee

While everyone was assembling in the lot, I spun a few laps around the downtown area checking out some of the cool stuff I'd seen on the drive in.

DeLand City Hall Athens Theatre Hotel Putnam Cool Sculpture

There is no shortage of art and architecture in DeLand. It looked like there were a dozen restaurants nearby too. Not to mention the coffee shop.

Karlos had looked a little stressed out the night before, but that morning he was much the way I remembered him - making jokes and even being moderately silly. Though he did, overall seem about 5 to 10 percent more mature, all the way around. He also looked about 10 to 15 percent more fit than the last time I'd seen him. Just getting more fit as he gets older. I hope that happens to me.

Edith was still there at that point, but she had to leave soon with her friend to go run some wild errands. I wasn't sure if I'd see her later or not, and I'd forgotten to get a photo of them the night before, so I took the opportunity.

Karlos and Edith


I wanted some snacks for the ride, and Trilogy had only pastries. Delicious pastries, to be sure but not the kind I could carry with me. The local gas station had some perfect little brownies, so I grabbed a couple of those. I also had a surprisingly friendly chat with a couple of slightly drunk homeless guys who were curious about my bike and how long of a ride I was doing.

Moments later we assembled for a quick photo.

Assembled Riders

And moments after that we rolled out.

Roll Out

Almost the second we started rolling, two riders pulled on to the back of the group. They'd started at some other point on the loop near their house earlier that day and caught us exactly on time as we rode out of Trilogy.

The first almost half of the ride was on various greenways. We did hit some gravel roads in the first few miles, and some trail through Lake Beresford Park, which I recognized from the CFiTT. But it was definitely heavy on pavement.

A lot of greenway work has been done over that past 5 years though. Way back, we rode down the gravel to one side of those train tracks.

Bridge Over the Train Tracks

Now there's greenway on either side, and a massive bridge crossing the tracks.

Riders on Train Bridge

Karlos' events have been growing and growing. He's also been getting into doing guided tours. As his events grew, it eventually became impossible to keep them underground. The routes used to contain all kinds of dubiously legal connector trails. Now, they're 100% legal, and he has a stack of permits to renew every year. Karlos Calrissian. It made me smile thinking about that. The NI ride is still pretty well underground, but even a lot of it's pirate miles have been replaced with greenways that were eventually built through the same corridor as the old routes.

We arrived at our first rest stop about 30 minutes ahead of schedule: the Central 28 Beer Company.

Central 28 Beer Company

It's a brewery...


...but it's just on the corner of some random building in an industrial park. It looked all underground from the outside, but inside it had a really friendly vibe and it looked like a popular place.

Hanging out at Central 28

Confirming their friendliness, Karlos had called ahead when he realized we were ahead of schedule, and they actually opened early for us!

Fireball Fiasco aside, I don't drink, so I was a little out of place at a brewery. Karlos announced that anyone who didn't have a beer owed him 27 push-ups. Not sure why exactly 27, but I didn't argue. And, I was prepared to give him his pushups, until I discovered a loophole.

The loophole:

The Loophole

Ha, ha! No push-ups today! Take that!

I did feel a little bad drinking it though. Crafting beer is such a process, and the flavor and character derives naturally from the obsessively sourced ingredients and the complexity and nuances of the process. Soda is just real quick mix some crap that probably tastes good together. Drinking it there had that chicken nuggets at a steakhouse feel.

While milling around outside, I saw this little Brown Anole also milling around outside.

Brown Anole

They don't have these in Georgia, just the green ones. The brown ones are like twice as fast, and it's tough to get a picture of them because they run away so quickly. I got lucky though. This little guy was pretty fearless.

And... back on the bike!

More greenway.

Greenway Roll - Canopy

And yet more greenway.

Greenway Roll - Prairie

And there were Sandhill Cranes at the next gas station stop.

Sandhill Cranes

We were right about at the halfway point there, so we stopped for like 30 minutes.

Gas Station Stop

The next section was allegedly a lot tougher and there were no additional stops planned.

Got it. Let's go...

Not immediately, but pretty soon, we were back on dirt. The section of road was a little dubious though. Private, gated neighborhood. Presumably gated because it was dirt and they wanted to minimize traffic and thus maintenance. Karlos had allegedly ridden there for 15 years with no hassles though, and was certain there would be none today. That is not my luck though, so I warned him about my luck.

And, in true form...

Hassle number one was a new fence with a gate.

A quick examination of the gate revealed that the guy who installed it may have been drunk. There was a padlock locking together two pieces of metal that didn't actually keep the gate closed. You could still just push it open. Maybe it was just there just to confuse anyone else who was also drunk. Like, if you're sober enough to figure this out, then you are welcome through the gate.

Hassle number two was another fence, clearly intended to keep out ATV's.

Hassle number three was a recycled highway barrier blockade.

The times, they are a-changin'. This was the 13th annual Naked Indian Ride, and it seemed appropriate that we'd run into some bad luck on the 13th try.

The people we saw were friendly though. No hassles from any of them.

We eventually hit some officially rideable dirt on McCracken and Old Enterprise Roads. Plenty of Phil McCracken jokes. There was also a side road named Wild Wind, and there were jokes about being at the corner of McCracken and Wild Wind. Jokes aside though, that part of the route was exactly what I'd hoped we'd eventually run into: Cat 2 sand.

Only 3 riders (of like 30) managed to ride the whole way out. Everybody else picked the wrong side or got stopped by somebody else trying to switch sides.

Ahh, unrideable Florida sand. The experience was complete.

After that, we hit one more section of fun dirt near some frontage road, but then it was roads and greenways back to DeLand.

I realized somewhere in there that though we've done each other's events, and just hung out a bunch, me and Karlos had never actually done a complete ride together.

The Naked Indian

The closest we'd come was him catching me on Maytown Road during the last CFiTT that I did and riding together for 5 or 10 miles.

So, that actually seemed like another accomplishment.

A few minutes after pulling back into the Trilogy lot, Edith and Uriah showed up with a trunk full of coolers. The coolers, in turn, were full of cold beverages, and pie.


Key Lime Pie

Key Lime to be precise. Edith used to run a bakery or something, has wicked pie skills, and she'd made them while we were out riding.

Not just the icing on the cake... It was icing, and PIE, on the cake!

Man, it was good. Even better because I wasn't expecting it.

Little by little, everybody got changed and said their goodbyes. Pink Floyd's "Dogs" was emanating from the shop next door as I got changed, right at my favorite guitar solo. So weird. Such an obscure song, but one of my favorites.

Everybody else took off, but Edith and Karlos took me up on a dinner offer, and we ate at Halfwall just down the street. I had a burger and they had some wings. The burger was well seasoned and delicious, and their fries were slightly battered and also delicious. It's making me hungry now, thinking about it. Uriah was impressively well behaved for only being 2.5 years old. He's so cute. He says "yup" for yes and he calls Edith and Carlos "GG" and "Pop Pop". The Saints vs. Eagles playoff game was on the tele and the game was getting interesting so I kept getting distracted by it. Damn you football! Stop grabbing my attention when I'm trying to spend time with people.

We had a little more fun with the kid on the way back to the car. He'd been interested in a fountain one the way over so we took him by it on the way back, and Karlos walked up and down the stairs with him at the back of the old court house. He also just kind-of learned to jump, so we were all jumping with him. They're really good grandparents, and they don't just spoil him. He's definitely a little juggernaut, but he's apparently gotten in much better shape since he's been with them. Commendable grand-parenting, right there.

One final thing, before I left town... Edith was pointing out the old jail, behind some building at the edge of the lot. Apparently, that jail's claim to fame is that Aileen Wuornos was held there during her murder trial. Yikes! Well, I guess that makes sense though. If a jail is going to be famous for something, it would have to be something pretty terrible.

And that was it. The drive back to the ATL went smoothly. I didn't get sleepy at all, and I got back in great time - just after midnight. Even got good sleep last night and woke up at a decent hour today, well rested.

So, I've now done all of the classic Singletrack Samurai events. The Tallahasse Tango and Death Loops are more recent additions, so I'll have to add them to my list, and get around to them eventually, but for now I'm pretty satisfied.

Thanks again for the hospitality guys. See you again soon!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

North Cooper Lake Park (again)

Yeah, I've been hitting North Cooper Lake Park a lot lately. It's a nice place for a quick walk, and there are still a couple of side trails out there that I haven't hit yet.

Last time I saw a trio of otters. This time no otters, but I did notice some organized rocks in basically the same spot that the otters were playing last time.

Organized Rocks 1 Organized Rocks 2

Looks like they were stacked and have since toppled over.

An old dam? Perhaps. It's the right kind of spot for one.

I used them to cross the creek and found a legitimate dam on the other side. A retention pond actually, to keep the neighborhood downstream from flooding, I guess. From the silver comet, you can see similar dams/ponds randomly behind people's houses. There's at least one on the route that I take to the park too.

The other thing that it occurred to me that the rocks in the creek could have been for is some shoring up to make it possible to get heavy equipment across. I'd think that would have more likely been done with recycled concrete though, rather than local stone. But, who knows? For all I know, it's a natural formation. Just didn't strike me as one.

Nice walk. I'll be doing more of them, I'm sure.

Monday, January 7, 2019

North Cooper Lake Park

I went for a walk at North Cooper Lake Park again today, and ran across 3 otters playing in whatever that creek is that borders the park on the east side. White Oak Creek? Cardinal Creek? Something else creek? Some feeder of Nickajack Creek.

Two of them took off when they saw me. I only managed to get a video of the one that lagged behind.

So cute!

Talking Rock Nature Preserve

North Georgia MBA had a New Years Day ride/cookout scheduled at Talking Rock last weekend, which sounded like a good time, because I'd never ridden those trails, and who doesn't love a cookout? I was a little disappointed though because it meant that I'd have to choose that or the Cartecay ride at Bear Creek.

Sadistic decision!

But, ha! The one, and maybe only, good thing about this terrible weather we've been having is that it influenced the NGMBA guys to move their ride back a week, and I got to do both after all.

Thanks rain!?

The festivities started around 1PM, so I had plenty of time to rest up after the previous day's accidental foray into hypothermia. But even after sleeping in, I still managed to get up there a little early. This gave me time to gawk at the old, abandoned houses and barns that dot the road leading into the park.

First Old House on Carns Mill Road (Front Right) First Old House on Carns Mill Road (Left Side) Old Barn on Carns Mill Road Second Old House on Carns Mill Road

And, I love such things, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to get a good look at them.

The park itself is just a big chunk of land to either side of Carns Mill Road. From the air, it looks like it was largely clear-cut at some point, and grew back as pine. There are a couple of signs to let you know you're in the right place.

Talking Rock Nature Preserve Sign

But nothing too fancy.

There is a nice parking area though...

Talking Rock Nature Preserve Lot

...with a kiosk and a trail map.

Talking Rock Nature Preserve Map and Kiosk

The lot was packed when I got there and just got more packed as the day drew on.

It was still early though, so I spun up and down the main roads a bit, mainly to try to shake off the previous day's ride before hitting the trails.

At the north end, I noticed a little church, or house of worship at least.

Bibleway House of Worship Sign Bibleway House of Worship

There's apparently another one nearby that I didn't see when I was out there. But, that's North Georgia for you. Two churches on every street corner.

When I got back, I ran into Terry Palmeri at the tent and she gave me the rundown of the system. There are basically 4 loops. Two on one side of the road, and two on the other. The northern loops on both sides are more technical and have more elevation. I ended up riding the northeastern loop first. Unlike most of the rest of the system, it ran through a hardwood forest. There were a couple of old roads crossing the trail, but they were very old. If that section had been logged, it wasn't any time recently.

Every trail I rode, all day, was either bench cut singletrack shred...

Singletrack Shred

...or sat on an old roadbed. All were incredibly fun to ride.

I got back from my initial excursion a little before the main group rides. I ran into Mike Palmeri too, who I've met like 4 or 5 times, but I never recognize him. I always think he's his brother Vic, who I've actually only met once. The part of my brain that remembers people must have gotten injured skateboarding or something. It's really pretty terrible.

I also met Ken Nix who built the trails (or at least half of them, as they are named after him) and shook his hand.

At 1pm sharp we all gathered together for a big group photo, then hit the trail.

There were probably 30 of us, and at least 15 were more of those NICA kids that I'd ridden with at Bear Creek. Man, they're fast. I don't know if they can keep it up for 30 miles, but they sure can for 10. Some of their coaches were out there riding with them too. It struck me as odd to hear coaching on a bike ride. I'm not sure I ever have before. I've heard plenty on the soccer field, but hearing it on the trail seemed like hearing it at the skatepark... Which I bet also happens these days!

I love that kids can just grow up with 30 miles of bike trail and multiple concrete skateparks, in town.

One of the coaches was a guy named Brad Wilmut. I used to race the GAP and GSC series with him way back in the early 2000's. He used to ride flat pedals, a bmx helmet, baggy pants, and autozone gloves, and he'd launch every little bump in the trail and get tabletopped off anything that resembled a real jump, even during a race. But he was so incredibly fast. Like genetically freakish fast. I could never catch him, and it was pretty demoralizing because I was trying so hard and he was just out riding for fun.

He was out there yesterday too, with like 4 or 5 of the faster kids following him around. He's still fast, still faster than me, still riding flat pedals, and still jumping everything. He was wearing actual cycling gloves, but that was the only difference that I could see. I always liked that guy. It was so cool to see that he was still riding and even cooler to see him mentoring kids.

I did get away from the group after a while, to make sure I rode everything out there. I ended up riding Jon's Trail twice, and in yesterday's direction, it feels like 90% climbing. It's never terribly steep, so you feel like you can crush it, but man, it's just relentless.

I even hiked a little foot-traffic-only loop that tees off of Jon's Trail and runs up by a couple of clearings. One appeared to be used as storage for unused picnic tables and benches. The other had an apiary at the north end. Apiary - that's bees. Bees!

Back at the lot, Terry was grilling burgers and hot dogs.

Terry Grilling

And there was a giant batch of chicken gumbo in a big cooler-thing on the table. Gumbo, eh? Not passing that up. Man, it was good. I'm from Louisiana. I've had gumbo my whole life. I feel well qualified to judge gumbo. And, it was good. Really good. It apparently came from the Black Sheep Restaurant in Blue Ridge, at which I will be dining ASAP.

One other totally random thing...

In the 90's, my dad and I, and actually my wife too, though then girlfriend, all worked for a company called Examco in New Orleans. Complicated story, but Examco was related to a company named Houston Marine which trains people for work on marine vessels. After, multiple buy outs and divestments was eventually bought by Falck-Alford, which is now just Falck. Falck specializes in marine safety training. My dad and I still do software and IT work for Houston (now Falck) semi-regularly.

So how does this happen:

Falck Jacket

Apparently Falck sponsors a Norwegian road cycling team. The lady wearing the jacket was with a team that hung out with their team at Worlds last year, she told a guy she liked his jacket, and he told her "You keep", all Norweigeny. So, she did, and was wearing it yesterday.

So random.

Small, small world.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Noontootla - Winding Stair Figure 8

Yesterday, the sun was actually out for the first time in a very long time. It didn't yet seem likely that any trails would by dry, but it did seem likely that some of the more fun forest roads would be decent, so I headed up to Noontootla for some of those.

Actually, first I went to the bank, and ate breakfast at FirstWatch with the girls, which was a bit of a fiasco. 30 minute wait, which was actually 50 minutes. 8 tables were available when we were seated. Apparently this just hadn't been communicated to the greeters. For an upscale place, that part of the service is really terrible. You pretty much have to get there at 7AM to have a decent time.

Though we'd originally left the house at 10, I finally got on the road to the mountains at about 12:45. I would definitely be riding into the dark, but that actually seemed like fun, so I didn't cut it short.

I parked at the church on Doublehead Gap Road, got dressed, and started climbing. It was chilly, but not properly cold, so I just had my normal kit on, with an unzipped windbreaker over it, and just to be sure, I brought arm and leg warmers with me, but didn't have them on at the start.

Climby, climby, climby...

Noontootla Creek Road

Felt good.

I ran into a trio of mountain bikers taking advantage of the lack of foliage to get a good look at Noontootla Falls, and chatted with them for a while. They'd been exploring the trails in the area that I'd explored 15 years ago. Interesting to hear that they're still around. I always wondered what the lifespan of some of them would be. Turns out quite long.

I hung around talking for longer than I probably should have, considering how early it was in my ride, and how far I still had to go, but it was great just getting a chance to relate to some peers out in the middle of nowhere.

Further up, I got some really good views of the creek, which was super high from all the rain we've been having.

Noontootla Creek

I passed a couple of fly fishermen too, all of whom had a little luck. There were 50+ cars parked at Three Forks. I got passed by at least 20 jeeps coming in the opposite direction. Some people were up above Three Forks, just walking their dogs. Despite the cold, it was the first reasonably decent day to be in the woods for a long time, and everyone seemed to be out taking advantage of it.

At Winding Stair Gap...

Winding Stair Gap

...I ran into another couple of guys on Mountain Bikes. They'd done the traditional Winding Stair - Noontootla Loop starting at the old game check station, and thrown in the suspension bridge for good measure. I'd like to think that I came up with that particular addition. I hadn't ever heard of anyone else doing it when I did, and one of the guys that came up with the Cohutta Cat Loop consulted me about it prior to that event. But really, who knows?...

Winding Stair was tacky and slow.

There were some guys camped at PR Gap, but their set-up was so elaborate that I thought maybe there was an event going on or something, and stopped to ask them. Nope. Nothing going on. Just camping. Oops!

I took 28A over to 28-1, climbed over Little B**** Gap, and headed toward Camp Merrill.

There were some Air National Guard guys walking down the road there.

Air National Guard Guys Near Camp Merrill

Not Rangers.

I haven't seen any Rangers up there in a long time. I used to run into them all the time. But it's been a while.

I did notice something new though. There are now signs all along the left hand side of Cooper Gap Road that say "US Government Property - NO Trespassing" or something like that. Basically from the base, all the way up to the private property on Conner Mountain.

There would be one of those signs, then on the next tree, a WMA Boundary Sign. Super confusing. The government has always owned the property. It's part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Is it still, or did the Army grab the land between the base and the road? Or did they always own it? In the past, you could go up to the gate, let the guard copy your ID, and then run around all over the base. Can you still? Could I hike Conner Mountain if I did that? So many questions... I'll have to find out some day.

Speaking of private property, I noticed this last time I was up there, but then forgot about it...

Sky Orchad

Sky or Chad?

Unless it's misspelled on purpose, whoever commissioned it got it wrong, and then whoever made it also got it wrong. And, friends who have seen it have also gotten it wrong. That, or they don't have the heart to tell them.

Well, if anyone knows the folks that live there. I think you might mean "Orchard". Sky Orchard.

At Cooper Gap there were at least 3 different tents, and a nice-smelling camp fire.

On FS42...

FS42 started getting decently chilly.

I expected that, being on the north side of the ridge, and all, but not to the extent that it happened. My feet got cold, then numbish, somewhere around Horse Gap. I should have had my leg warmers on all day. I hadn't really needed them yet, but they wouldn't have been uncomfortably warm. At very least, I should have put them on there, but I didn't, and pushed on into the cold.

Somewhere around Mauldin Gap I realized that my legs were functioning noticeably less efficiently, but with my windbreaker zipped, I still wasn't uncomfortably cold, and I could keep my feet from going numb just by wiggling my toes.

I want to say it was around Coppermine Gap that I'd finally had enough and pulled out the legwarmers. My toes warmed up a little, but I never fully recovered. I basically just didn't get any colder.

There were more mountain bikers at Winding Stair when I went back through. They were heading down, back toward Bull.

The Springer Mountain AT lot was full, and there were several cars parked along the road.

Yep, first good day in a long time.

I've climbed FS42 from Doublehead Gap a bunch of times, and it always seems like a steady climb to Winding Stair, but it's not. From Doublehead Gap, there's an extended climb, a decently long downhill, another extended climb, then a bunch of rollers to Winding Stair. In the direction I was going, late in the day, it was rollers, screaming downhill, tough climb, screaming downhill.

The upside was the gorgeous sunset accompanying me for 90% of the ride down.

Sunset Behind the Ridge

It was a bit darker than that in real life, but I was surprised that my phone was able to capture some semblance of it. Yay new phone.

Somewhere around FS180, it was officially dark, and I couldn't get my rear blinky light to work. The front light was fine, but the rear was dead. I'd recently had to take it apart though, even take the switch itself apart, to dig out the unbelievable amount of super fine grit that had accumulated inside of everything during the Fireball and New Year's day rides. The battery could just be dead, or it could be that the light itself is toast. I'll have to take it back apart, again, to find out.

At Doublehead Gap, I relocated my headlamp to my seat post and turned it on, blinking. Dangerous traffic comes from behind on pavement. I figured it would be better for traffic coming from behind to see me, than oncoming traffic.

I'd actually had to do the exact same thing, in the same location, a few years back, but heading in the opposite direction. What are the odds?

It's mainly downhill from DH Gap (I mean... it's a gap) to Noontootla Creek, but then there's a little kick back up to the church. It's narrow and below grade, and the dangerous traffic would more likely be oncoming there, so I pulled the light off and just held it in my hand as I climbed. Sure enough, multiple cars passed me in the opposite direction as I threaded my way up that little chute.


Death averted.

It took me way too long to get dressed at the truck. I'd gotten a lot colder than I thought and none of my muscles really worked. I had fortunately remembered to turn on the engine and let the truck warm up while I got dressed though, so it was cozy and delicious when I finally did get in.

So cozy.

And speaking of delicious... I grabbed some dinner at Walker's Friend Pies BBQ. Yes, that's the name. Not "and BBQ." Just "BBQ". I'd driven by dozens of times, but they'd always been closed. I was stunned that they were open, but even more stunned to see that they keep pretty normal business hours, I'd just always been out absurdly late, I guess. The pulled pork was delicious. The hot BBQ sauce was also delicious. The macaroni in the mac and cheese was just the right amount al dente. But, the best part was the apple pie at the end. They fried it for me just a few minutes before I was done with the main course, and it had just enough time to cool off. Oh, man. So good.

Leaving, I thought that it was terrible that I hadn't eaten there before, but even more terrible that I hadn't had a North Georgia fried pie at all before, despite driving past a half dozen places that advertise such pies hundreds and hundreds of times.

Well, after that experience, I can say, pretty confidently, that I'll be having more fried pies. And, that I will be having them soon.