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.

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