Tuesday, October 8, 2019

2019 Bikepacking Summit

A few months back, Justin mentioned that the Bikepacking Summit was going to be at Mulberry Gap this year. He planned on riding over to it from his place in Blue Ridge, then riding back afterwards. Sounded good to me, but then I discovered that the Tally Tango was the same weekend, and I really wanted to ride that. So, I had no plans to attend.

Then real life intervened. The week before, the water line into my house broke, the washing machine at my rent house broke, and one of my VMs got hacked. I had to dig up the yard and wait for the plumber on Thursday, work all day Friday to make up for it, and then Saturday run over to the rent house to let the washing machine delivery guys in. And, then, as it turned out, Sophie's friends had a surprise party planned for another friend of theirs around 5PM Sunday.

No way I could make the Tango. For that matter, no way I could meet up with Justin either. But, I might be able to hang out at the Summit, and just getting away for a weekend would be great. So, Thursday afternoon, last-minute, as usual, I called up Palmer and managed to secure lodging and a pass for the event. Once again. Thank you guys. So much.

Everybody who showed up Thursday had gone out for an overnighter on the Pinhoti. That would have been fun. I didn't see any actual riding on the itinerary, but I threw my bike and gear in the truck, just in case an opportunity presented itself. When I got there Friday night, it was right about dinner time.

Ever show up at a race and then realize you're totally outclassed as you walk through the lot? It was like that! I recognized Lael Wilcox and Logan Watts immediately. I actually recognized Logan from the hand-drawing of his face on bikepacking.com. I'd heard of Lael for a long time, but recently run into a youtube video, so I knew what she looked like. Bunch of other guys I recognized but didn't know where from. Probably from articles about some monumental thing they did on bikepacking.com... Hey look, there's Kris Wheeler, the R2E series producer. And, he's sitting with Audrey Tangye, who recently crushed me by like 2 days or something...

Oh! It's Mike Rasch! Him, I can sort-of relate to. Yeah, he's finished like 3 times as many epic rides as I have, but we're both from South Louisiana, rode the Tour DeLiverance together, and he only beat me by like a day and a half on the TNGA this year. All right.

Mike greeted me with a big, unexpected hug, and it seemed like it might actually be a good weekend. Daniel Jesse (Cohutta Cat guy) was at the table with him. I'd briefly met Daniel once at REI like 10 years ago, and neither of us knew who the other was until later. Brett (mother-f-ing Eastern Divide) Davidson was walking around, but I didn't get to talk to him.

Kate and Andrew and Palmer were there, running the show. Diane! Diane was there! Up from Florida to help out and hang out. Ginny was in the kitchen, so I didn't see her until much later. But I did run into some of her Halloween humor.

The hobknobbing was fun, but I needed to check in, so I ran over to the house to do that, and right when I got back, Lindsay and Neil (organizers, also general bad-asses) found me and gave me a my event pass and cup. I was officially there. And, not a moment too soon.


At dinner, I met a guy from Fort Wayne Indiana who'd finished the Tour Divide in 2017. That was the average accomplishment - couple of Tour Divides and a bunch of other random stuff. There was an older, retired guy there, from Pennsylvania. Seemingly out of shape. His thing was riding rail trails. Thousands upon thousands of miles of them.

After dinner, there was a little meet and greet with the presenters.

Pepper Cook was one of them that I recognized but didn't know her name. Joe Cruz was another. They did 2 truths and a lie, and there were random stories and general banter and it was fun.

That night, I shacked up in the Pond Nook with Rasch, Steven McHone, David Dam (local Maxxis tire rep I think) and another dude who's name I forget (dammit!).

Oh, the stories... and the delivery of said stories, especially by Rasch. So much fun.

I'd gotten the best night of sleep of my life in one of those beds a month back, and it all came back to me when I crawled in that night. I had to get up and pee like 5 times, but other than that, it was wonderful.

Breakfast was at 7AM. I was well rested, and especially looking forward to the fruit for some reason.

Joe gave a presentation about overcoming fear, which ended in a story of them getting accosted in a tribal area of Ethiopia! Then, apparently we were riding. Yes!

We rode up over Holly Creek Gap and up FS90B to the P2 grasstrack lot and gathered around for a Wilderness First-Aid presentation by a Pisgah Sorba guy named Charley. The last time I'd gotten any First-Aid training was in '98 at Houston Marine in New Orleans. A good bit has changed - mainly CPR-related stuff, and A(irway)B(reathing)C(irculation) has been replaced with C(irculation)C(onsciousness)C(ervical Spine) followed by ABC. I managed to get some details later about the CPR changes (30 and 2) and got some questions answered about snake bites. I'd learned a while back to wrap the bitten limb above the bite, but that's been changed. These days, with hemotoxins at least, don't do anything. Just get out, get to a hospital, and even at the hospital, they usually just monitor the progress of the venom and treat as needed. They're apparently not too hasty with the antivenom these days. Very interesting stuff.

Charley also had a cool shirt with "Be Nice, Say Hi" on it with a guy on a bike, a guy on a horse, and a guy hiking all waving hi to each other. The icons and that message is almost exactly what I was talking to Debbie about putting on the CTHA kiosk at the Jake trailhead. Something super simple, that you can't miss and can't easily misinterpret as you ride by. I'm glad I got to see his shirt.

Then it was shred. P2 shred!

Me and Ft. Wayne guy (damn I wish I could remember his name. Kyle seems right, but I'm so bad with names...) seemed to have an especially good time.

Somewhere in there, Karlos showed up! Kim Murrell was set to give a presentation about building a bikepacking community, but had to cancel at the last minute for some family/personal reasons. Somehow, somebody managed to pull Karlos away from running the Tally Tango, to fill in, and Brett had just picked him up from the airport. He was changing his shirt behind the door of the van, and I recognized his voice. "Is there a Naked Indian around here?! It sounds like there's a Naked Indian around here!" And I gave him a big hug while he was still partly naked. He seemed happy, but I could tell that his mind was still in race director mode.

Lunch was almost ready when we got back, and there were more presentations, but I had to eat and run. The washing machine was due at 4:00 at the rent house in Cumming, and that's like 1.5 hours away. I left at 2:15 to give myself a little extra time, and 15 minutes later got a text saying they're 30 minutes out. No freaking way. That's 30 minutes early. I called the guy and convinced him to wait until 3:45, got there at that exact minute, let them in, got everything taken care of, and blazed back.

It's been a while since I drove Hwy 52 between Bull Mountain and Ellijay. Apple-picking and associated farm fun are popular this time of year, and the farm near Kinnard's Corner now grows fields and fields of sunflowers, and appeared to be doing pretty well with the public.

I got back right at the end of Lael's packing presentation. Kate saw me walking around and was like: "Are you leaving?" "No, I had to leave earlier to get a washing machine delivered to my rent house, and I'm just now getting back." Her WT-actual-F look drove home how WT-actual-F my life has been these days.

I forgot to mention that I'd run into and hung out with Shey Lindner the day before. Kari too. She'd come back from running basically an off-road marathon the prior evening, and while she was out running another one that day, Shey had gone and ridden a defunct chunk of the original TNGA route that we removed from the route because we decided it was just too difficult to reasonably expect people to do.

Yes, these are my friends.

They were both back by then though, and I got to hang out with them for a while again.

Dinner was served shortly after, and I got to hang out with Rasch and rail-trail guy some more.

After dinner, Rue gave basically a massive slide show of her and Lael touring the Silk Road Race route, and then Lael racing it. My goodness, Kyrgyzstan. I might have learned something interesting too. Touring third(ish) world countries is pretty amazing for bikepackers, for several reasons. There is the obvious terrain and scenery being very different from what you'll find in the US, and people being very culturally different from any western country. But aside from that, their infrastructures are still dirt. The dirt is maintained, but not on an industrial level like it is here. A good bit of it, while technically a road, is not reliably passable by most vehicles. A bike or horse is more realistic. In fact, in Kyrgyzstan, horsemen roam the countryside, as they would have in the US 100 years ago. It's just a very different perspective, and you can take it in very well on a mountain bike. I guess. I don't know for sure, but that idea really struck me during the presentation, and it hadn't before.

Possum and the Bear Band struck up right after Rue's presentation...

...and I got to hear a bunch of wonderful old-timey songs. I expected them to break into "In the Highways" or "Big Rock Candy Mountain" at any moment. That kind of music. I loved it.

Ft. Wayne guy had mentioned earlier that he was going to do a night ride on P2. I figured he'd be leaving after dinner, and might like some company, so I mentioned it to Rasch and went off looking for him. Never found him though, so me and Rasch, and McHone, and David Dam ended up heading out on our own. Instead of P2 though, we hit P3. Mike and Steven had only ever ridden it one-way, up, during the TNGA.

And! As tends to happen, once again, though Karlos and I were in the same state, in very close proximity, we would not actually ride together! Again! This time, because he had flown up on a moment's notice, and had no bike to ride. We've known each other for like 10 years, ridden each others events many times each, run into each other in each others' states several times on top of that, and yet ridden only one entire ride together. And, that just this past year.

So weird.

We ran into Ft. Wayne guy right as we were headed out. He'd left way earlier, and ridden through the sunset. He'd managed to crash on some gravel somewhere and skin up his back a bit.


On the initial climb, Steven found himself overdressed in long sleeves, and just took his shirt off.

I realized I'd never ridden P3 at night before. Those switchbacks are a lot more difficult at night.

Steven put his shirt back on for the downhill, only to take it partially off again on the next climb, leaving it dangling around his neck with the sleeves flying around.

Back at the cabin, David was like "Oh man, I can't wait to take a shower." And the rest of us were like: "Ehh... Too much work, I'm going to bed." Then when he came back he looked so happy and characterized his shower experience so positively that I felt compelled to get out of bed and take one myself. Apparently Mike and Steven came to the same conclusion while I was in there. Best decision of the day, and so obvious in retrospect!

The sheets felt so good clean. Such comfort. The sleep that night was, again, fantastic.

Next morning, breakfast at 7. More fruit!

Pepper gave a presentation about inclusiveness in bikepacking. The presentation was interesting. She said the discussion usually leads to bagging on men, which she didn't want, but nobody really knew what to say. I tried, realized how I should have put what I was trying to say too late, continued on, and eventually sounded like an ignorant dick. Kari saying something that kind-of helped, but not totally. I left wondering if I'm finally just getting too old to talk to people.

After that, Brett Davidson gave a detailed presentation on the state of the (freaking amazing) Eastern Divide Project and it's singletrack nephew, the Southern Highroads Trail. There were maps and slides, and stuff that I love to geek out on. Karlos talked all about the Florida section and kept going on, with a very positive tone of voice, about alligators, mosquitoes, and extended desert-like conditions... Heh heh, classic. Eventually, I was like: "Dude, you're supposed to be promoting the route!"

I can't imagine my life being organized such that I could ever through-ride either of these, but I can certainly imagine section-riding it, so that's now on my list.

We had a pretty good ride after that - clockwise over Holly Creek Gap again, then about half of us rode out-and-back about 9/10ths of the way to the pavement on CCC Camp Road.

I was pretty happy to have gotten in 3 decent rides, especially given that I was expecting zero.

Lunch was chili. I had seconds. There were apparently people still getting changed from the ride that hadn't had firsts yet, so we needed to wait a bit before getting seconds. Mike informed me of this. His crass reputation is well deserved, but one generally expects such behavior to be driven by deeper anti-social tendencies. This could not be further from the truth with Mike. I watched him all weekend, and I suspect that he's one of the most conscientious guys I've ever met. I would even go as far as to guess that he has a very high degree of empathy, and is able to say ridiculous stuff with a high degree of confidence that it won't offend whom he is speaking to because of this.

I could be wrong, of course, but I call em like I see em.

Karlos was talking later, but I couldn't stay. Sophie had a surprise birthday party to get to, and I had to hit the road.

What a weekend. I felt like less of an interloper on the way out, but not entirely unlike one. The obvious remedy is just more riding, and I can probably do that now. I'll probably be able to do even more starting next year.

It'll be interesting.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Old Cooper Gap Road

Goodness, I don't hike enough any more. Too much TNGA-prep and not enough just walking around. I could feel my back and various leg joints getting softer and softer that whole time too. Fortunately not soft enough to prevent me from doing the ridiculous amount of walking I had to do, but softer than I like. It was even more tragic than that too. I'd bought new shoes a few months back, threw them on the floor of the basement, walked past them a hundred times, and never put them on.

No longer!

Old Cooper Gap Road!

If you climb FS80 a bit, there's an old, unmarked road off to the right. I noticed it the very first time I ever rode up there. Some years later, I rode out on it, only to find lots of downed trees and ripped-out culverts. The road had clearly been decommissioned and abandoned. At the time, I didn't know much about such things. In fact, it was one of the very first side-trails I'd ever explored. I did remember that it led way out to a weird intersection where like 5 other old roadbeds split off of it. I (much) later discovered that two of those were part of the original route of Cooper Gap Road.


That was my destination. I wanted to see what the old road was like these days.

So, I drove up, parked, and got distracted immediately. Three troop transports came tearing down from the Gap, a few minutes later I heard a loud explosion near the Ranger camp, and then a commotion of vehicles as well. The Ranger candidates would be involved in maneuvers soon. If I was lucky, I might run into them. But that was only part of the distraction. 10 seconds into the hike, three motorcycles came straight up the slope ahead of me to the left, turned toward me, waved, and rode out onto FS80. Hmm... A trail?

Yep. There was a little spur a few hundred feet up, blocked by a couple of downed trees, and a fall-line trail bypassing them. I explored that little spur 15 year ago. It didn't go far back then, but by the looks of it, it would now.

Yep. These days it becomes a nice little sidehill, and goes and goes...

When it starts to flatten out, there are some interesting signs of former habitation.

An old post of some sort:

Some "organized rocks":

I eventually ended up on Old FS879, which I recognized from having explored it from the other end some 15 years ago as well. There's a bit of a waterfall down there.

Near the road are old bridge piers...

...and there's still even some debris from the bridge itself.

The wooden abutments are still in place too, but they were so covered with rhododendron that it was tough to get a photo.

On the way back up, I noticed even more stuff.

There were three distinct mounds off to the west.

Tailings of some kind, maybe?

At the end of Old 879, there was once a distinct campsite. It's overgrown now, but before the advent of fire rings, 55 gallon drums were apparently common at camp sites, and this one's was still in place.

Woohoo! Detroit homeless fire!

At a point, the trail jumps up onto a little ridge for a bit, and nearby are a couple of fairly deep pits.

Mine shafts? Old bunkers seemed more likely. If so, they were VERY old. But, I think Camp Merrill was founded in the 50's, so that would be plenty of time.

Higher up... It'll be deer and bear season soon.

What seemed like forever later, I finally got back to that original road I was headed out on, and followed it east. There was a small falls-ish thing nearby.

Probably looks more like a waterfall in the winter.

The road was like 20 feet wide, but very flat. I mean, shallow like an old railroad grade. Like a mainline. There was even a good cut that was clearly made to keep it straight and shallow.

The width and lack of stone fills at the creek crossings suggested vehicular traffic, but for a while, the pitch made me suspicious.

There was a ravine up there too, with a rough trail leading up both sides. It looked unnaturally deep and steep.

It struck me as having been mined hydraulically. There's a similar ravine up on Old Jones Creek Road that struck me the same way. I can't find any distinct record of mining in the area though, so who knows?

At length I got to the million-way intersection. It turns out that 6 roads come together there. I took the one that I figured was probably Old Cooper Gap Road.

Immediately I found this weird old metal band.

It looked to me like an old barrel hoop. Appropriate. But it could have been anything.

There were long rock walls along the outside edge.

Another sign that this was an old wagon road. As the road wears in, rocks would get exposed in the steeper sections, and people would move them to the side. This eventually forms a rock wall, which encourages erosion, and exposes more rocks, but also makes the road safer. I've seen this on the Hightower Express, Old East Mountaintown, the Dockery Lake Trail, and lots of other unnamed trails.

The old road got decidedly less overgrown at a point, and then soon after, I hit a private property sign.

Time for some lunch.

Mmmm. Delicious.

So, that was as far up as I could go. Down proved a lot more difficult. To start with, the old road was like 6 feet below grade, and a newer route had formed immediately to the east. Following the original route was super difficult. It was much easier to just walk in the woods beside it. Following the newer route wasn't actually that easy either, as it was much less distinct in some places.

I found an old air filter that I remembered having seen way back when I originally explored the area.

I thought I remembered some tires too, but I didn't find any this time.

Progress was terribly slow, as both the old road and woods to either side were pretty dense with brush. The road forked once too, so I got sidetracked for a while.

There was another old post out there on the fork.

Must have had a sign on it at some point.

At great length, the old road flattened out and joined a modern, well-maintained road. Though unmarked, I figured that was probably the beginning of some private property. I knew there was a farm down there somewhere, from aerial photos, and from driving up the road from the other end years ago. When I got back home, and crunched the gps data, it turns out that there's an oddly-shaped inholding up there, and the land that the road lies on becomes private fairly quickly below the intersection. It's totally unmarked, but who'd be crazy enough to go walking around in there?

Climbing back out was even slower, but I made much better progress when I reached the old roadbed that I'd come in on.

When I got back to my car, my brother and Mark B had apparently ridden by it.

I'm a "Psy" it would seem.


They'd ridden a fairly epic lasso route that day, starting at the north end of Noontootla. Whew!

I was pretty satisfied with the day's wanderings. I'm now curious about those 3 other old roadbeds at that intersection, but it'll be deer and bear season soon, so it'll probably be a while before I have a good chance to check them out.


We've got a meeting coming up in November to plan future work at Bull/Jake Mountain. In preparation, we have to come up with lists of stuff we'd like to get done out there. To come up with my list, I figured I'd better do a mini-assessment of the system.

I headed out early Sunday morning, stopping by the local Waffle House for some breakfast, and two chicken/bacon sandwiches to go. The ladies working there are always chatty, noticed my bike, asked me what I was up to, and were pretty shocked and amazed at how far I was planning on riding. I'd actually put in relatively few miles since the TNGA, and the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I was up for it myself.

Best not to worry about such things. They tend to work out, I find.

At the lot, there were various other folks gearing up and heading out, but nobody that I knew.

I basically did a big clockwise loop of the system, with a couple of out-and-backs thrown in for good measure: Bull/Jake Connector -> 83 Bypass -> Lot Connector -> Bull Proper -> out-and-back on Upper Lance Creek -> Bear-Hare -> Booger Holler -> out-and-back on the Whoop-de-Do's -> rest of Booger Holler -> Jones Creek Ridge -> Turner Creek -> No Tell -> Black Branch -> Jake Mountain.

Overall, the system is in beautiful shape with some notably bad spots. Sadly, some of the bad spots are close to the lot, so they get a lot of attention. Also though, it makes sense that they're close to the lot, as those trails get the most traffic.

For example:

Glorious Bull/Jake Connector:


Bad spot:


Glorious 83 Bypass:


Bad spot:


And so on...

There are some particularly beautiful spots out there, both from a trail maintenance and user experience perspective. For example...

Bear-Hare climb above Lance Creek:


Bear-Hare descent:


And then, on the other hand, there's the Great Rift:


And the total absurdity of the Whoop-de-Do's:


I did, however, give a second look to "the jump" at the top of the Whoop-de-Do's, and it is, in fact, an old Kelly Hump. It was not constructed by the contractors who did the recent work out there. It was always there, as is evident by the double-hump on the outside edge of the old roadbed, and the many years of debris covering it.


I had one chicken sandwich at the end of the Bear-Hare singletrack.


It was a little flat, but otherwise delicious.

I had the other on Black Branch, near the creek crossing.


You know you got your drive-up's worth if you have to stop and eat twice.

So much glorious trail out there! I wish it were reasonable to post all the photos.

I was beat when I got on Jake though, so I didn't hit Moss Branch or Beaver Pond that day. Instead, I came back a week later and picked them up. The ladies at the Waffle House were surprised to see me still alive and eager to find out if I'd be riding the same distance again. Sadly no, but I still got a couple of those chicken sandwiches to go again. This time, minus the bacon. Seriously, Waffle House makes really good chicken sandwiches.

When I got out by Jones Creek, I noticed Mike Reiter's trailer parked off to the side.


He's been doing work on new singletrack out there that bypasses most of the old roadbed leading to the dam. We have a work party coming up on Oct 12 to do some hand-finishing work out there.

So much more beautiful trail out there...

IMG_5448 IMG_5461

So much.

Few bad spots, actually. Basically just the climb up off of the dam and some exposed geotextile at Moss Branch proper.

I ran into Ed Freyer on Jones Creek Ridge. He'd actually run into Debbie and Nancy on Turner Creek. I thought I recognized their trucks in the lot, but they both got new trucks recently, and I wasn't sure. I texted Debbie. She was on No-Tell. Then I ran into them on Beaver Pond and we chatted for like 15 minutes. Some riders came through and didn't quite know what to make of us. They rode yesterday and Debbie's new horse Smoke was tired. He fell asleep while we were talking and took a second to wake back up when she was ready to go.


I did like half the miles that day, and only stopped once to eat.

It's funny, looking back at the GPS data... I was out there for 8 hours the first day and 5 the second. But, I probably only rode 25 miles the first day and like 10 the second. So much stopping and starting. It felt epic.