Sunday, June 23, 2019

Baldwin's Burger Ramble

Mark texted a bunch of us last week, hoping to get some folks together for a ride out of his house, then some swimming, then some burgers.

Sounded just right.

Me, Hirsch, and Peter Josky (Joski?) showed up. Eddie was house hunting or something, so he couldn't make the ride, but said he'd be by afterwards for festivities.

On the way up, I stopped at the QT on 515 near Jasper and apparently there was another ride going on.

The lot was full of trucks with bikes on them, and the gas station was filled with the chisel-calved set. There was apparently a social ride heading out of Mulberry Gap. Sounded like they were heading up to the overlook, then taking Bear Creek, P1, and P2 back. I had no idea what we'd be riding, so I couldn't compare it, but I wished them well.

Heading into Ellijay, it looked like a tornado had come through. The roads were still wet, and there was leaf debris everywhere. When I got to Mark's place, he was cleaning up his pool. They'd had a pretty significant storm the night before, and he'd woken up to the same kind of mess in his backyard as I'd seen on the road. That's luck, right? The day you invite friends over, nature wrecks your pool. He had it in hand though. I wouldn't have known, except that he told me.

I got there at about 9, but everybody else would be there around 10, so I got to hang out for an hour or so with him and Ryn. During this hour, I got to know all of her dolls, horses, and "stuffies", and we had a dance party with a rotating light ball and the Karaoke version of some Megan Trainor songs. Kalee showed up about the same time as the rest of the guys, Mark handed off Ryn to her, and we all hit the trail.

Well, the road first. We actually had to spin down Hwy 52 for a while before hitting any actual trail.

There are some rollers on 52, and I'll tell you, I had a little trouble with them. Not that he was ever weak, but Mark has gotten exceptionally strong since moving up north. He was riding his long-travel bike, with some weird new bulk-monster Trust fork on it, and he was STILL moving. Hirch is always strong. I hadn't ridden with Peter in like 15 years, since we all raced GAP/GSC/SERC together, but he was as fit and shredded as I remembered. It was tough keeping up.

We hung a right off of 52 and rode all the way down to the Cartecay. There's a bridge there that you can cross and get a good view of the river, but as fate would have it, that one day, there was a security guard there, turning away anyone that didn't live in the Blackberry Mountain neighborhood on the other side. People were tubing in the river, there's a take-out just downstream from the bridge, and we could imagine they'd get out, then go stand on the bridge to watch their friends come down the river, and block traffic. So, it made sense, but it was a bit of a drag.

Still, we went down to the take-out, and watched the tubers for a few minutes.

Good enough.

Next, we hit the River Loop.

The River Loop is, allegedly, the oldest official trail in the state of Georgia. It was formerly opened to mountain bikes in the mid-80's. I'd only ever ridden it once, in the early 2000's, when I first moved to Georgia. Me and John rode it, I think. The road in appeared to have been improved a bit since then, but the trail was the same as I remember. There's this super-sketchy descent down to the river. I remembered it. Not in detail though, just that it existed. Mark warned us that it was sketchy. "I've crashed."

There are 2 lines, one to the left, and one to the right. Pick one.

I picked the left.

The trail was deceptive. The tread seemed dry, but the rocks and roots were still damp. That plus new tires equaled me crashing about halfway down. I tried to go left of this stump, but just couldn't get around it. I went over it, got kicked around into the rut, and thrown into a tree. That's how you break a collar bone!

Fortunately, I did not. I was uninjured, and not even hurt. I did get a little brush-burn on my right shoulder, but I couldn't even feel it.

Ok, let's try that again.

Immediately, crashed again.

This time, I didn't lift well enough over a root crossing the trail at an angle, and it yanked the front tire out from under me. It was one of those where you hit the ground faster than you'd expect that gravity could pull you down. I never even let go of the bars, and slammed hard on my left shoulder, this time.

Come on!

Peter was behind me the first time, and Hirsch the second.

I just sat there for a few minutes, expecting to have broken a rib or something. The crash was so much like the one at Cochran that had injured my rib, that I fully expected to have done it again.

Turned out no though. No obvious damage, actually. I felt basically fine.

I was at the very end of the downhill too. There was nothing left but a little rock garden that you don't even have to ride.

Man. I used to ride that kind of stuff, all day long. So confidently, that I'd ride it solo, with no mishaps. What the hell?

Hirsch said I was just having a bad day. I'd like to believe that. It felt like the new tires were throwing me off, but I couldn't be sure. My instinct are tuned to Continentals, but the Ikons like to "right you" more. It's hard to describe. If you turn, you have to kind of lean into it a little harder. They kind-of want to pop you back up out of the turn. I couldn't immediately tell how that translated into the two problems I'd had on the descent though, so there could be other dynamics that I haven't learned yet. They are definitely grippier than the Conti's. Like, when it's dry and marbly at Blankets, you can lean into the corners harder than with the Continentals. Maybe I'd been expecting them to be grippy when it's wet too?

No idea.

We regrouped at the bottom and Peter pointed out that I had actually taken a little damage during that last crash. I was bleeding through my shorts from a 6-inch gash, running all the way up my thigh.


It wasn't immediately clear how bad it was. It was bleeding a bit, but I couldn't tell if it needed stitches or not. No matter, I'd been carrying around some first aid supplies for years now, and finally had a chance to use it. Turned out it was entirely superficial. No need for the butterflies, just some gauze to keep it from getting dirtier.

Let's ride.

Actually, we only rode a few yards. There was a nice spot on the river there to chill for a few minutes.

So we did.

I led out after that, and was gunshy for the next couple of miles. The rest of the trail along the river is flat, but there were plenty of slick roots and rocks. I didn't have any trouble with them though. So, I felt a little better after a while. The climb out was tough, but it turned out that the 34-52 was plenty of gear for it.


And, I hadn't had any shifting issues at all, the whole day. Looks like the new cassette might actually work out.

On the way back towards Mark's place, we spun a gravel loop through the Rich Mountain WMA, some of which I'd ridden during the Tour De'liverance. The 34-11 turned out to be enough gear to stay hooked up through most of that too, at least as well as the rest of the guys. With the 30-11 that I'd been running before, I'd regularly get spun out and watch everybody just ride away from me.

No longer!

To get back to Mark's place, we went around the back of the mountain and climbed "Kill Hill." On Strava, only 9 people have ever climbed it. Me, Mark, and Marc were 3 of them (Peter's not on Strava). It's less than a mile, but it's super steep. I wanted to see if I could just sit back and climb it though, and I totally could. Another win for the 11-52 cassette. Not having such ridiculous gears, the other guys had to grind it out, and as a result, they all beat me back to Mark's house by over a minute.

When we got back, Mark was like: "I've got a garden hose with your name on it."

I was covered in dirt. Both shoulders, and all the way up the left side of my body.

I had a chance to get a good look at my wound too.

The cut is actually nothing. It looks bad, but it's totally superficial. The wide bruise beneath it, that you can't see in the photo yet hurts much worse than the cut today.

Pool time!

I realized I'd hardly been in a pool in years, and had the greatest time. I also realized that I'm getting old, and had to warm up a bit before going for gymnastics off of the diving board. I managed to do a pretty good faceplant going for a one-and-a-half early on there.

Eddie showed up soon after. Mark grilled some fantastic burgers, and we all sat around in the shade "just getting all fat and sassy." Kalee had made some brownies too, that were just right - nice and crispy at the edges and corners, but still a little soft in the middle.


What a day! I managed to crash my brains out twice, and yet somehow, when I think back on it, it's still a fond memory.

Whittier Mill (again)

Saturday before last, at 11:30PM, I picked up my bike from PBR. Glen did all kinds of work on it, the most significant of which was a new pair of Maxxis Ikon tires and a ridiculous cassette. I'm now running a 34 up front, and an 11-52 in the back. I thought the 46 looked weird. Little did I know. The cassette is finicky. The big 4 gears are precision milled from a single piece of aluminum but the smaller ones look to be commodity quality and I don't think the spacing between them is even. It took us a while to get the derailleur adjusted, and I wasn't sure how well it would shift under power.

A test ride was in order, so I took it out for a Local Ramble the next day. This took me up to North Cooper Lake Park, back down along Nickajack, and out to Whittier Mill. I got to test it out on some diverse road and trail, and it performed admirably. Only minor shifting issues. You have to overshift a little, sometimes, but I apparently already had instincts for that.

While at Whittier Mill, I figured I'd look around a bit more than I had the last time.

Off a little side trail, down near the creek, on the left hand side of the field, I found this weird old well or something.

Some old shaft into the depths, with water trickling down into it. I guess it's deep. Thus the fencing. No idea what it is, but maybe I'll be able to figure that out with some research.

I also managed to explore the trails on the opposite side of the tracks. Most of them at least.

Some run right along the river.

They also take you out to a trestle.

With a really cool mural.

I'd seen photos of that before, but forgotten that I had until I saw it in real life.

In a lot of places, the trail back in there is idyllic.

In others, it's pretty overgrown. Near the tracks, it's overgrown with briars, and I managed to get a thorn in the webbing of my right shoe such that it poked into the top of my foot with every pedal stroke. It was persistent, and after stopping to mess with it a few times, I finally had to take the shoe off and spend 5 minutes isolating the actual thorn. Funny how such a little thing can drive you so crazy.

There appear to be more trails over there, but they're a little tricky to get to. There's a bit of a ravine that one of them crosses, and it looks like there was a bridge across it at one point. These days, it's lying sideways about 50 yards downstream. I didn't bother that day, but I'll have to go back at some point and follow up.

It was super, super hot that day. Over 100 degrees. I climbed directly back up Veterans to my house, and actually had to stop at the church for a minute because my chest hurt. It had been a while since I'd felt that. I was 165 pounds that morning, and 160 when I got in the shower later. And, that's after rehydrating.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Whittier Mill

Brett Davidson keeps running at Whittier Mill and posting it on Strava. Every time, it piques my interest. The Whittier Mill website makes it seem like a cool place - industrial history, ruins, trails, etc.; all things that I like. So, when I ended up down that way a few weeks back, I was happy that I had a chance to look around.

This is what it used to look like, apparently.

And this is what's left.


As soon as I arrived, I met a guy playing frisbee with his dog that sort-of gave me the rundown on the place. There are trails off to the right that link up to a main trail running along the back of the property, pretty much paralleling the railroad. There are more trails on the other side of the tracks, down by the river. And, so on.

Cool! Time to explore.

He was right, but man, what a maze. I've got the GPS data, but I haven't even begun to sort it out yet, and I didn't even bother to explore on the other side of the tracks yet.

According to the signs, all that remains of the once-bustling complex are the mill tower and the carpenter's shop. But, that's not entirely true. Back up in the woods there, one can also find the ruins of something else.

I'm not really sure what buildings those are, but I can see them in the aerial photo. Maybe I can consult one of the Sanborn Fire Insurance company's maps at some point to figure out what they were.

There's basically a giant field where the complex once stood. The mill tower stands to the right/center. Those ruins are in the woods on the right hand side. The carpenter shop is way over to the left.

The wooden beams around all of the doors and windows reveal that it burned at some point.

These days, it's the Will and Dessie Sammons Pavillion, and looks like it gets a good bit of use.

There were more trails back behind it, winding around, and leading out to the rear entrance.

It looks like the trails get lots of hikers, dogs, and bikes. There aren't any signs anywhere indicating what kind of traffic is preferred. The trails aren't anything exceptionally special, but the history of the place makes is pretty interesting, and I'll bet I can find a way to work it into one of my local routes.

Of course, there are still trails left to explore, down by the river, so I guess I have that to look forward to as well.

Lost Mountain Park

I forget who's Strava I was looking at, but a while back I noticed that someone rode at Lost Mountain Park. I'd ridden by it on the road dozens of times over the years, and driven past it on the way to Allatoona, but I never knew there were any trails there. It's somebody's job to keep me apprised of such things! Damn you, anonymous slacker!

I kept meaning to run by and check it out after work, but the opportunity didn't present itself until a couple of Sundays ago. I felt like I'd been beaten with a hose after the previous day's work party, needed to get in some recovery miles, and a spin around some local flatness seemed like the right thing to do.

I got to the park, meandered around the various lots, looking for a kiosk or a carsonite post, or something, but there was nothing. There was a walking trail, labelled "Walking Trail", that some kids were riding on, but nothing else as far as I could tell. Was I wrong about there being a trail here?

I eventually looked up a map online and it set me straight. You have to head toward the tennis center, then take this random, unmarked dirt road up around a hill. Upon cresting it, though, you're greeted with a familiar-looking lot...

...and a beautiful pond.

Now, we're getting somewhere.

As I got ready, a loudmouthed guy got out of his car and started walking around the pond with his family. I could hear him shouting and complaining about every little thing someone else was doing from the lot until about halfway around the lake, where they apparently decided to turn back, because I could then hear his ridiculous voice just getting louder again as they approached. When they got back to the lot, they left. A guy who had been fishing looked at me, and the two of us simuntaneously shook our heads with the same mix of relief and disbelief at what we'd just seen.

Time to hit the actual trails.

I'd recently started using my brother's eTrex 20, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn its ins and outs. Boy, was it. At first, the trails were incredibly confusing. Just a total spider web. I had marked a dozen waypoints before I'd ridden a mile. I hoped the whole system wouldn't be like that.

Thankfully, it turned out no. Before long, I figured out how you're supposed to perceive the system. There's a hub, with 3 loops off of it - Backwoods, Bigfoot, and Hawthorne. There's also a connector over to the walking trail coming off of the loop. What was confusing though, was that the lot is partway through the Hawthorne Loop. In fact, the trail leading directly away from the lot cross-cuts the loop. The loop itself actually crosses perpendicular to that trail. If you bomb downhill on that cross-cut, you actually have to take a right or left to get on the loop, but it looks like you ought to just keep going. Doing that, though, puts you on some non-system trails that eventually connect-up with Bigfoot.

Super confusing!

But, once I had it figured out, it was all shred.

Like 4.5 miles of shred.

That is, until I almost ran over a chunk of barbed wire that someone had strategically placed in the dead middle of the trail!


I rode the whole system, then went back to check some little side trails that I'd marked. One basically followed the spillway from the pond. The spillway was armored in concrete, which someone just had a great time decorating.


I managed to flat crossing the spillway, and then spend the next 15 minutes fixing it because I'd failed to pack a spare. The tube that was in my pack turned out to be the one that I'd flatted on Aska Road during that last ride. Patches to the rescue, but it really slowed down the process.

When I got rolling again, I followed every little side trail I could until I was satisfied that I'd explored everything worth exploring. Then, I headed out.

Cool system. Well built, fun to ride. Reminded me of Allatoona, which I guess makes sense given its geographical proximity. I wonder if I could put together a Tabor - Lost Mountain - Allatoona loop.

Hmm... that might be fun.

Turner Creek

The first Saturday of this month, we had the first Bull/Jake work party in as long as I can remember. Last year there was the Rainbow Family Gathering, then some bad weather, then the government shutdown, then more bad weather, and now, forever later, we're finally getting back at it.

About 10 folks showed up to work. Debbie took one crew over to the 83 Bypass to continue gravel-armoring a section near the road that got some machine work a year or so ago, but needs armoring, long term. I took a crew to Turner Creek to work on the section that drops down to it from FS77 at the intersection with 77A.

Sadly, that section violates pretty much every rule of trail design. It's technically bench-cut, but there are no rolling dips, no grade reversals, and though, I didn't have a clinometer on me, it doesn't strike me as being 1/2 backslope either. Not to mention its proximity to a creek. Fortunately, that is dry most of the year. For now, rerouting it is out of the question, so we're making do with what we've got.

J.K. cut some turn-outs into it a few years back. Only one of them was still functioning, so we re-established those.

There was a great deal of semi-decayed deadfall in the area as well, so we placed it such that it encouraged folks to ride out of the path that water liked to take, and raked/established new lines where we wanted people to go. "Turn the trail, not the water" as they say.

We actually made quick work of that, so we headed down toward 28C and reestablished two of the turnouts on the little chunk that drops from Turner Creek down to that road. Then we just worked Turner Creek proper in the direction of 28A until it was time to head back. This was mostly deberming and knicking, so we got a lot of it done.

I had a great couple of guys working with me that day. One of them was primarily a trail runner. The other a mountain biker. Both worked super hard. The mountain biker guy really knew what he was doing, and the trail runner guy was just indefatigable. It was the kind of crew you always hope to get!

When we got back to the lot, lunch was ready and included, among other things, watermelon. I swear, there is nothing more refreshing in the world.

I'm already looking forward to next month. I'm hoping to start working up Bull proper at some point. I've got some RTC ideas that I'd like to implement up there. We'll see...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Bull Mountain to Aska and Back


It had been a while since I got in some legitimate Adventure, but about a month back, I managed exactly that. I forget exactly how it all started. I remember texting back and forth with Eddie about whether some trail that I hadn't ridden in 10+ years went somewhere or not, looking at an overnight route that he was hoping to do, fixing a bunch of errors in it, and getting invited on the ride. Sounded great! "Feel free to invite someone else." "BTW, it's me and you and Shey."

Ha! That's Eddie O'Dea and Shey Lindner. Both former TNGA record holders. Eddie still holds the record for the fastest pace. What had I gotten myself into? I joked that technically we were all 3 former record holders, in the sense that I shared the record with Norma and Johnny for several months by virtue of no one else having yet finished the route at the time.

Still sounded good though. I'd recently overhauled my gear and was hoping for a good chance to test it out.

We were riding Sunday and Monday (Monday being Memorial Day). I tried to get Justin to come, but he was busy. I tried to get Joe to come, but he was too smoked from the the Toccoa 6-Hour that Saturday. The temps had been in the high 90's all week, and didn't look like they were going to let up.

Heat-stroke pain-train, here we go.

We were set to meet at the Jake Lot at 11am. So, I slept in, grabbed some lazy breakfast at the Waffle House...

...and moseyed on over to the meet-up.

I was the first to arrive, 30+ minutes early, and I took my time getting ready. There was another guy in the lot having trouble with his bike, so I helped him out a bit. I double-checked my pack. Everything looked like it was in order. Food, water, and gear all looked right. I was wearing my PBR bib, but just a sleeveless base layer on top. I'd ridden that kit, with the pack all week, so it all felt natural. My shoulders were good and tan. I'd slept well all week too. I felt good.

And, on top of that, it was my lucky day.


Shey arrived a few minutes later, Eddie a few minutes after that, and just like that we were heading out on the Bull-Jake Connector.

And, that was about it for Bull Mountain. At 28-1 we hung a left, hung a right on Nimblewill and climbed all the way up to the gap. The pace was exactly what I expected. Leisurely for them, but just slightly harder than I wanted to be going. It's a long climb, and I fell back a bit, but they didn't have to wait long for me at the gap.

Allegedly, at least.

We bombed down 28-3 into Bucktown, and in standard form for North Georgia, I got no rest on the descent. Steep, rocky, and chunky. Just taking hits and wrenching the bike around, for miles, at speed. Chad Hungerford talks about that a bit in the R2E video. Tough climbs, followed by tough descents, and then you're just climbing again. You don't get any real recovery. Maybe some cardio recovery, but none for your body.

A quarter mile or so down, we passed a guy in a minivan, trying to climb it from that side. 28-3 was in fair shape. It goes through cycles. At its worst, it can have 3-foot-deep ravines snaking down from the gap to the next intersection. Then they'll get out the bulldozers, push everything that ran downhill back up, and for a while, you could drive my wife's Honda Fit on it. But, soon, the loose top fluff runs off, and it's just a jumble of exposed rock. That's how it was that day. I was amazed that the guy had managed to get his minivan that far up that road. It seemed unlikely that he was going to be able to get it any further, but he seemed determined, so we left him to it.

The descent was super tricky, basically because of shadows. The sun was super bright, and the canopy was variable, so little grey shadows danced back and forth across the entire width of the road as the leaves tumbled in the breeze. The sun gleamed off of any break in the trees, and in each of those breaks, the rocks cast pitch-black shadows on their leeward sides. To say the least, it was confusing to the eye. Add speed and sweaty glasses, and I really had my hands full.

I kept Eddie in sight, but couldn't ever close the gap. He's riding a 9-42 cassette, with a 38 up front these days. A 38. In North Georgia! I think Shey was riding an 11-42 with a 34 or 36 up front. Also impressive. Last time me and Eddie rode together, I was happy to have an 11-46 on Stanley Gap, and a 30 up front. But you do get spun out quick with gears like that, and if someone gets ahead of you, there's no pulling them down. I've got a plan for that though... Glen's implementing it right now. We'll see how it works out.

When we hit pavement, we soft pedaled for a while, waiting for Shey to catch, but he'd flatted, so that took a while. It was our first mechanical, but odds were it wouldn't be our last.

The pavement through Tickanetley went by quickly, and we eventually got on Old Parker Place Road.

It's a net climb, but it's got some serious kicks and drops. Kindly, it also had a settling tank, and we took full advantage.

All day, I made sure to pound the rest of the bottle before filling up. I'd made the mistake of just filling up in Florida years ago, in similar heat, and it had turned out pretty badly. Never again!

Parker Place becomes old Van De Griff Creek road. It was the first trail of the day that I hadn't ridden in 10+ years, and even then, it was one of those trails that I'd limit myself to riding once a year way back. I hoped it was still open. Turns out yes, all the way up. In fact, it looked exactly as I'd remembered it, except at the very top, there were a couple of reroutes around downed trees.

I was granny gearing towards the top, and Eddie and Shey were well ahead of me when I hit the FS road. Not too far away I passed this newish wreck.


That's 2 abandoned and burned up vehicles in 2 rides. What are the odds?

At the intersection with FS42, Eddie and Shey were nowhere to be found. I wondered if they'd taken a wrong turn. It was possible. We were all following a GPS track, but you do have to hang a left, and it doesn't really look like it on the track.

I was just about to try to call them when they came around the corner. I joked that I'd made them show up by deciding to call them. Like when you're a kid, waiting for the movie to start, and it starts right when you decide to go to the bathroom.

We hung a right, dropped down FS58A and took Lovinggood down to Noontootla. Another once-a-year trail that I hadn't ridden in forever. Again, it was just as I remembered it. Maybe even a little less deadfall. I later heard that TU had done some work in the creek itself. They might have cleared the trail a bit too.

There was one branch that I had to duck under though, and not yet being too familiar with my new pack, I smashed it into the branch pretty hard. This popped the zipper on the zipper-pouch and sent everything flying out. It took me a few seconds to notice, and I mainly noticed because I could hear my keys jingling. The contents of the pouch were scattered nearby, and though I scoured the area for them, I wasn't 100% sure what was even in there. Again, new pack. Not totally familiar with it. Turns out I missed an item or two, and this would be important later.

Fifteen years ago, there was a tree across the creek, with steps on it. Then that got taken out by a storm. A few years later, an even bigger storm jammed 6 or 8 trees together and covered them in little stick debris. This made a bridge that lasted for like 5 years. That little stick debris eventually broke up and washed away, but you could still walk on the trees. Eventually bank erosion released the trees, one by one, and now they're distributed around the bend, and you can't really cross on them any more.

So, we waded across.

And it was warm out, so Eddie spent a little time cooling off while I grabbed a snack.

Oh, that reminds me of something weird that had happened earlier. Back before climbing Old Parker Place, I'd gone into my pack for a pop-tart. I'd packed two sets of blueberry pop-tarts. Or so I thought. I'd bought them. They were in my truck. I thought I'd put them in my pack. Apparently not. This was before the zipper-pop yard-sale too, so it's not like I lost them then. Even stranger, they were not in my truck when I got back later, and I haven't found them since. It's not like they worked their way into some odd crevice or something. Or if they did, it's the oddest crevice ever. No idea.

From there, we climbed up along Noontootla. I managed to kind-of keep up with the guys for most of that climb. They never got out of sight at least. It was a little tough though, and I'm pretty sure they were even taking it easy.

We stopped for a minute below Noontootla Falls to fill up.

Again, chugged what I had first.

At the sign for Hickory Flatts, we hung a left, followed that out to the cemetery, then followed the old road there up to Fryingpan Gap. In antiquity that was the main drag through those parts. The road once ran from Winding Stair over to Fryingpan, down and across Frick Creek, up to the Cemetery, down to what's now the AT, but was once basically the town square of the bustling metropolis of Hickory Flatts. There lived the likes of Edmondsons, Lovinggoods, Fricks, and other folks with local geography named after them. Check the names on the headstones, then check out a map. You'll see a lot of the same names. At any rate, we took that same road up to Fryingpan, hung a left on 42, and ripped over to Hightower Gap.

At Hightower, I just veered left, not remembering the route correctly, and not paying any attention to my GPS. It can happen that easily. Next thing I know we're a half mile down Rock Creek Road and Eddie's shouting at me. Oops.

And, adding insult to injury, we didn't just have to climb back up to Hightower Gap, but we had to take a left and climb that steep, loose kick up to Mauldin Gap immediately after. I hate that little chunk, and I suspect that it might have influenced me, subconsciously at least, to keep descending. I fell back pretty good on that kick, but managed to almost catch back up on the way over to Horse Gap.

We took Horse Gap down and around the east end of Greasy Mountain, opting for the older route to Williams Gap Road, rather than the more popular Frozen Knob route. Everything back in there was exactly as I'd remembered it too. The Rangers use that area a lot, and they keep the trails pretty well open. Williams Gap Road was a lot more fun than I remembered it being. Years ago, I always ended up riding or hiking it at the end of some long day, when I just wanted to be done. I guess that was the difference.

Somewhere in there, I decided that I wasn't likely to cramp. I'd been a little conservative up to that point, for that reason. We had a very long way to go still, and I didn't want to burn too many matches and get stuck somewhere. Seemed like my body was up for it though. At least, at that level of effort.

We bombed Frozen Branch, which was totally dry, unlike the last time I'd been up there. Then we bombed Rock Creek Road. Correctly, this time.

At Frank Gross, I looked for a spigot. I'd swear there used to be one, but I couldn't find it, and I didn't feel like drinking iodized Rock Creek water, so we kept going, even though we were all starting to get a little low.

Next up, Wildcat Ridge. Nothing like a long, steady climb when you're low on water.

There's a little side-trail up there that leads up and over Bryson Gap. Another hadn't-ridden-it-in-10+-years trail. Eddie and Shey managed to ride right past it, because, again, the route doesn't look like it bends off to the right there, if you're looking at the GPS. Nice! Gave me a little break.

I remember being able to ride that trail once or twice waaay back, but there's generally some deadfall that you have to go around, or just enough litter on the ground to trip you up. This time, there was both, and we walked like 60% of it.

We did stop to tank up at the spring though, which was great, because I barely had a sip left at that point.

The drop off of Bryson Gap to the north was extremely messy. Not even a year ago, I'd hiked it, and it was perfectly clean and free of debris. The storms earlier that year appeared to have worked it over though, and it was strewn with little bits of deadfall and dead saplings crisscrossed the trail high and low. Eddie had never ridden that trail before, and he started calling it "Pick-Up Sticks." Shey, in fact, picked up a stick, and broke a spoke. I got rapped in the mouth by some vicious little sprig too. Near the bottom, there are 2 ways out. I used to get them confused way back, and managed to get them confused again that day. We got out though, and took Peter Knob road over to Eddie's buddy Rich's place.

Unfortunately, nobody was home except for dogs. They were inside, but they really wanted out to play with us. Fortunately, there was plenty of water, and a comfortable porch to lie down on.

The rest was welcome. So welcome! As I said before, you get none on any descent in all of North Georgia.

We didn't hang around too long though, we still had to get to the Iron Bridge Cafe before closing, or worst case the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant. I crammed my last bag of Cheez-Its, and we got moving again.

Fortunately, it was all road from there, and mostly paved. I think there was a little dirt on Black Ankle. Disappointingly, all of Old Aska had been paved since I was last on it.

We missed the Iron Bridge, but made Toccoa Riverside.

Fortunately, both were this side of that horrible climb on Aska Road.

Toccoa Riverside was buzzing. It would be 30 or 40 minutes before we could sit, but that was fine by me. Waiting = rest, and I was eager for rest.

Shey took a look at his spoke while we waited.

Eventually they had a table ready for us. Big, big thanks to them for even allowing our sweaty, possibly stinking bodies into their establishment. They didn't even make us wait for a table outside. It was lovely to sit and eat. The only downside was that the floor was incredibly slippery and I went sliding a few times. Always saved it though.



Right before we were seated, Rich drove up and joined us, so I got to meet him and thank him for his hospitality earlier. We had all kinds of random conversation. My blackened chicken sandwich was delicious. We had planned on pushing over Stanley Gap, Green Mountain, and Long Branch that evening, before crashing in Dan Brooks' yard, but over dinner, we decided to get to bed early, and hit Stanley the next day.

Don't stop riding, or you won't want to start riding again.

Oh! Yeah. Right as we got seated, I reached into my pack for my wallet, and it was gone. That was one of the things that I'd failed to recover from the Lovinggood yard-sale. I'd have to either go back and try to find it later, or order new cards, renew my license, and buy another wallet. I ended up opting for the latter. Meanwhile, Eddie and Shey covered my meal. Thanks guys.

At some point during the meal, I went to use the facilities, and there was a distinct, slightly bleeding slash from the corner of my mouth to my ear where that tree had gotten me earlier. I laughed out loud when I saw it. The guys hadn't mentioned it at all. I wonder what our server thought.

Post deliciousness, we were all in good spirits, and looking forward to a good night's rest. My bike wasn't having it though. The front tire was low. Not totally flat, just low enough to make it hard to steer. Great. I reached into my pack for my pump, and it was gone. That was the other thing that I'd failed to recover earlier.


You monster.

Again, Eddie hooked me up. I tried just juicing it, but it was flat again halfway up that shit climb. By then, it was just dark enough that I had to use my headlamp to fix it. But, I found a thorn, pulled it out, didn't find another one, swapped the tube, and was good to to.

Have I ranted adequately about how much I hate tubeless-ready tires? "Back in my day, we used to" be able to pull the tires off of the rim without even using a tire lever. It took a minute or two to swap a tube. Literally. Now, the tires are so tight on the rim, it's a 5 minute ordeal just to get the tire off of the rim, and another 5 to get it back on. Reminds me of wire-beads on BMX bikes.

Tubeless has been a thing for at least 10 years now too, and I'm still not on board. Every time I do a ride of any decent length, someone either pinch-flats their entire tire, gets a thorn so big that Stans just pees out of the hole forever and never seals, or discovers that their tire is just full of tumbleweeds and snakeskin. As a result, you still have to carry a spare tube, and a valve stem tool. And, you spend 10 minutes trying to get the Stans to seal, give up on that, spend another 5 minutes fighting the tire off of the rim, and another 5 fighting it back on. In the case of a pinch flat, now you're running a tube until you replace the tire, the whole time praying that the valve stem doesn't eat up the rim so the tubeless stem won't seal.

For what? To save the weight of the tube? You lose half of that in Stans and extra rubber anyway.

I'm officially old. There's a popular technology that I don't like.

I did fix my tire though, and we climbed that terrible hill, and made it to Dan's in reasonably good time.

Eddie knows Dan from NICA, and I think Dan also managed Eddie's logistics during the Tour Divide. Something like that at least. I didn't get the full story. Or, if I did, my brain was not functioning well enough to process and store the information accurately. All I know for sure is that they're friends, and Dan's house is great.

His garage is like a bike shop. He even had a truing stand, so Shey was able to improve the situation with his wheel quite a bit.

We were planning on camping in his yard, but he was like "Nah, you guys can stay in the guest room above the garage."

Woohoo! Sounded great.

The guest room had 2 bunk beds, an L-shaped couch, a gigantic television, an X-Box, a bathroom, with shower, and a full bar. It was amazing. I felt bad just standing there, considering how dirty I was. There were no towels or soap, but I always carry a camp towel on such excursions, so I got so clean.

Mmmm, hmmm.

None of us wanted to ruin the beds, so Eddie slept on the couch. Shey found this weird flip-mat in the corner and slept on that. I slept in what I'd brought - thermarest, emergency bivvy, and silk bag liner. And, not to forget, the secret weapon, an inflatable pillow. It all worked great, except that the emergency bivvy was super noisy. "Are you wrapping a present over there?" That's what it sounded like. Fortunately, it quieted right down after I managed to get into it.

I slept hard, but not well. It was one of those nights where you're not aware that you've been sleeping, but you keep noticing that it's later. Camping sleep.

I had some really good stretches the next morning though, so my body must have gotten some good rest, if not my mind.

I don't remember what time it was when we got up, but it was before 8 because the Iron Bridge Cafe opened at 8 and we were there well before they opened.

The owner kept telling us he'd be open soon. I hope we didn't come across as impatient.

I kept telling Shey how I wanted little potatoes, and that I hoped they had little potatoes, and how much I loved them at the Highland Bakery, and about how happy I was during the CFiTT when the place we ate at happened to have them. Lo, and behold, little potatoes! They totally had them! Thank you Iron Bridge for your little potatoes! Not to mention the blueberry pancakes and eggs, and I don't even remember what else I ate.

I do remember overhearing a woman asking everyone there about whether she should mount her storm door with the hinges on the same side as the hinges of the door, and the great debate that ensued. I don't remember what they all decided, except that the overwhelming response was that it doesn't matter because nobody will notice which side the hinges were on.

At length, we emerged from the cafe. Thanks again guys, for covering my meal.

Time to climb.

The community along Stanley Creek Road is called "Due". It's a good mix of modern cabins and old farms. One of them had this clever sign posted in the yard.

We debated whether it was a joke or not. Seemed like it could go either way, really.

I remember trying to keep up, but falling off during the last little kick up to Stanley Gap.

I fell off immediately when we got on the trail itself though. Whooo! People are calling Stanley Gap "Satan" these days. I'd never heard that before about a year and a half ago, but apparently it's a thing. It's tough, no doubt, but it ever occurred to me to go full on Diablo about it.

I remember that I got incredibly sweaty climbing. So sweaty that part of the challenge descending was just hanging on to the grips with soaking wet hands.

I met Shey and Eddie at the Deep Gap lot, took a breather, then tempo-climbed up Green Mountain.

Green Mountain is underrated. The old roadbed section is glorious, in either direction, and the singletrack is Pinhoti-esque until it drops down along the ridge toward Long Branch. It gets gnarly in there, but that's actually also great. Long Branch is just beautiful. More glorious bench cut, and the old roadbed is well converted.

The only janky bit is this weird little bridge across Long Branch proper. There's a pile of wood next to it like: "We were thinking about improving this at some point..."

Eddie managed to catch his derailleur on a little chunk of a log right as he hopped on to the bridge. This wrapped it up in his spokes and bent the hell out of the hanger. Bending it back just broke the hanger. He ransacked his seat bag for another one. He had every conceivable thing in there, other than a hanger. Too late, he remembered that he'd broken it during the Tour and not replaced the spare.

The end.

For him at least. Me and Shey still had adequately functioning bikes and bodies, so we were all "well... bye" and continued to shred.

Dan lives just up the road from the Long Branch trailhead, so coming off of the trail, we'd almost made a loop. That hill on Aska is only slightly less horrible in the opposite direction, we'd already climbed it once that morning, and still had to climb it again.


We needed water, and though the Riverside Restaurant was closed, their hose was working.

We passed the cafe again, crossed the Iron Bridge itself, and went rolling along the Toccoa for a couple of miles.

People were out fishing, and tubing, and generally running around. I forget how jealous of them you feel after a day on the bike. It's not usually until day 3 or 4 that I start feeling normal, but I'm rarely out that long, so it's kind of a funny situation.

I kept hoping that good old diesel mode would kick in. It felt like if I'd just stop pushing the pace, I could settle into it, but there was none of that to be done.

We hung a left below Brawley Mountain, and followed a road that I'd driven several times, and hiked sections of, but never actually ridden.

It felt like Milma. Relentless rollers. I'd get recovered, settle into a tempo pace, and then just drain away, a little bit with every climb, until I was off the back, and lose sight of Shey around the next bend. I think he had to stop and wait for me 4 times on that little 5 or 6 mile chunk.

Eventually, we popped out on either Skeenah Gap Road or Little Skeenah Gap Road, I forget which, and that led to Hwy 60 and the Cooper Creek Store.

We refueled there, and I tried to get recovered while Shey waited patiently, possibly pondering existence.

We were supposed to hang a left, push up over Mulkey Gap, take Duncan Ridge to Wolfpen, take 180 back into Suches, then take FS42 to Cooper Gap.

After sitting there for 15 minutes, not feeling one ounce better, I proposed just taking Hwy 60 and Gaddistown Road to Cooper Gap directly. It would cut of 10 or 15 miles, but also a ton of climbing. The kick over Cooper Gap would be murderous, but it would at least, not be prolonged.

I have no doubt Shey could have done the longer route. Easily, I think. But, I'm grateful that he agreed to the shorter one. Also, I'm grateful that he spotted me $10 at the store. Thanks again Shey.

I was only about 90% sure that Gaddistown road was ahead, so I found a map inside to confirm, but it didn't show the road at all. One of the guys there was sure though. I remembered there being some little jog that I needed to take over to it. Parker Road, or Harkins Road. Something like that. He confirmed this, but also couldn't remember which road it was. I hoped I'd recognize it. Turns out I didn't, and we ended up jogging over on the wrong road, backtracking, and then going the right way.

I forget how picturesque Gaddistown is. I used to ride there a lot way back when I was exploring that area. There are like 6 or 8 beautiful waterfalls off to the east, between there and Hwy 60 too. I lamented not having the energy to check out at least one of them.

Man, the kick over Cooper Gap. It was so much worse than I remember. It didn't help that it was so hot, and dry, and loose. I walked like 4 times, I think. Shey must have waited for at least 10 minutes at the gap.

The previous day, we'd seen Rangers everywhere along FS42, and we saw the medical humvee again as we regrouped. Some guy pulling a trailer full of junk pulled off of 42 onto Cooper Gap Road too. Not sure where he'd come from though, with all that junk, or where he could possibly be going with it. Turns out there was a line of 3 trucks ahead of us as we descended towards Camp Merrill. The dust was ridiculous. I was determined to pass all three vehicles, and really wished I'd had a bigger chainring. It also didn't help that I lost my chain like 1/3rd of the way down, had to stop, fix it, and then try to catch those trucks again.

We managed to pass the last truck about 90% of the way down. In retrospect, it would have been better to just have waited out the dust, but there's no way we could have known that ahead of time. The guy with the junk wagon passed us on 28-1 and stopped just ahead of us on the road. "Great, here we go..." Turned out he was just amazed that we could descend so fast and wanted to tell us. He felt like he was flying and the next thing he knew, we passed him on the outside.

Nice guy. Fortunately. I was in no shape for an argument.

At 28B we cut over and picked up the Jake Mountain Trail. Shey hadn't ridden Jake in more than 10 years. He'd somehow not been notified of any of the reroutes, and in his mind, Jake was still steep, rutted, and terrible. I felt it my duty to advise him of it's current status, and further lead him on a guided tour to back up my claims. "Would you believe that this is one of the most popular horse trails in all of North Georgia." "No way. I don't even see any prints." "Exactly." I'm not sure he even believed me, but there were a few spots later where you could see some prints. I hope he gets out there and experiences the full shred sometime soon, if he hasn't already. I imagine it will be quite a shock.

We paused, upper-thigh-deep, in Jones Creek for a while. I can't accurately describe how that felt. We were compelled, simultaneously, to stop and just stand there. It turned out to have gotten up to 106 in Atlanta, so probably high 90's at Bull/Jake. When we reached Jones Creek, it was at the height of the heat wave, and the water was probably in the high 60's. When I hit that spot in the creek, the heat drained out of me so suddenly, and so comfortably... It was like falling asleep. It was like telling the truth.

Don't stop riding though, or you won't want to start riding again.

We were maybe 2.5 miles from the car, but it was almost all uphill. There are some switchbacks, then a long, meandering bench. The switchbacks took as long as I expected, but then it seemed like I was suddenly at the car. I didn't realize where I was until I saw the fence along the campground road.

Shey took either a photo or video when I emerged from the woods.



Heat-stroke pain-train.

I don't remember too much after that. I do remember that we milled around the lot for a while, after getting loaded up and ready to go. Seemed like it had started cooling off in the shade a bit, or something. I don't remember the drive home, or what I did for dinner. I do remember trying to watch a movie when I got home, and falling asleep part way through it.

All-in-all not bad. I seem to be fit enough to ride all day, in the mountains, even if I'm pushing it a little. If I can avoid losing that fitness over the next few months, I'll be right where I want to be. My gear worked out great, other than popping the zipper. I can shred and climb comfortably with everything in the pack. The only problem is that I need to pull that plastic back-thing out of it. It ground a seam in my bib right through my skin. I didn't get to test the tarp direcly, but I'll have plenty of chances for that soon. The sleeping gear was great for summer temperatures. The bib/base-layer was a good choice, though I could even see going with shorts instead of the bib. I need to make some changes on the bike. I've got a new seat. I'm going to try a 34 x 11-52 and see how that works. My pedals are shot. I may even need new shoes. Brake pads are shot. Some hellacious squeak developed in the front end about halfway home, but I can't figure out what's causing it. Nothing major though, as far as I know.

Epilogue: A week and a half later, Scott Hanson emails me that he found my wallet. He didn't even know that I'd lost it, but saw my route on Strava and thought it would be fun to check out Lovinggood. Ha! I probably ought to get my insurance card from him. And my fishing license. And, importantly, my Siracusa's loyalty card.