Monday, June 15, 2020

Jones Creek Ridge and Unicoi

The 6th was the first weekend of June, and though the COVIDs are still a thing, they're not such a thing that we can't work together in the NF any more.

Work party!

Sophie and I met Debbie and a bunch of other volunteers at the Bull Mountain lot, bright and early. Though, we first went to the Jake Lot, didn't find anyone, went to the Moss Creek Lot (old Game Check Station), didn't find anyone, and only then reread the email saying to meet at Bull Mountain. It's stupidity like that...

Anyway, we met everyone, got a weedeater and some loppers, and headed up to the trail above the switchbacks on Jones Creek Ridge. There was a blowdown up there years and years ago, and a lightning strike since then. Tons of light gets through, and it's a bit of a jungle in there. In the summer, it's a lot of work keeping the sight-lines clear.

It's important enough in a normal year, but this year, with the virus, the gyms are closed, everybody's getting outside, mountain bike sales have gone through the roof, and there are inexperienced riders in places you don't tend to see them, in numbers you also don't tend to see.

I took all kinds of great pictures, but for reasons I'll get into later, I don't have any of them.

While working, dozens of riders came through, including a family with young kids - both boys and girls, like 8 or 9 maybe, who totally rode that whole climb! I was super impressed.

We managed to get the whole section clear, right before I ran out of weed-eater cord. I'm bringing a stronger cord next time, or maybe a blade attachment.

We dropped off the tools, and headed up to Unicoi from there. Remember when I said it'd be great to make a habit out of camping with the Pickens'es at Unicoi? Well, I'm not sure if twice in a couple of weeks counts, but I hope it does.


Actually, first, tubing!

There's all kinds of fun, outdoor stuff to do in and around Helen, but for as popular as it is to do, I have rarely actually gone tubing up there. I think there are 2 different tubing companies that run out of Helen, but there was some reason, which I forget now, that they couldn't use either one. And, it was just as well, it turned out. The city was as packed as Helen gets. The lines, waiting for the buses were literally a mile long. Nobody was even thinking about that 6 foot rule. The buses were running at full capacity. Traffic through town was 1-mile-per-hour, tops, and the buses went right through town. It would have taken all day. At any rate, we didn't know any of that when we decided to use our own tubes, and shuttle ourselves, but it worked out.

Billy had to take his dog to a local dog-sitter before we could get in the river, so Sophie and I waited for him at that gas station in Robertstown. While waiting, we noticed a lady ride up on a bikepacking rig, run in the store, and come out with thousands of calories in junk food. "How many miles today?" "I'm not sure... From Dillard." "TNGA route?" "Yeah! You know it?" "Oh yeah!" etc. Her name was Victoria. She was from the Brevard NC area, and said she'd been wanting to do the route since she first started riding. Man, that warmed our hearts. She was making really good time, and looked super strong. Maybe I'll see her at the start someday. We wished her good luck, and she took off toward Hogpen.

Billy arrived shortly after, and wee put in at a parking lot just inside the NF boundary on FS44, a little ways above where the tubing companies' put ins. This was a little sketchy, as they keep the river pretty clear of debris between the tubing companies' put-ins and take-outs, but it's random above and below. There was a semi-sketchy shoal up there, and a downed tree that we needed to get over/under/around. This went reasonably well. Sophie and I had $5 Walmart tubes which were literally just a big fat, inflated donut. They were quite nimble, and easy to get in and out of, but also somewhat unstable. Billy and Megan had the slightly more expensive, but infinitely fancier Walmart tubes which were bigger in diameter, with a mesh floor across the hole in the center, a seat-back, and drink coozies. They also had the kids on their laps. The larger diameter made their tubes more stable, but also much more difficult to get in and out of, especially with a kid in your lap. After a little trouble above the shoal, Megan and I ended up switching tubes, and I wrangled Hank until we got below the downed tree. Then we switched back.

After that, it was great except that our cheap tubes put us pretty low in the water. Like, my butt was at least 6 or 8 inches below the bottom of the tube, Sophie's was similarly low, and there are A LOT of rocks in the water. The ones you can see are fine. Just lift yourself up and ping-pong off of them. It's when the water starts to get shallow, but you can't immediately tell, and then there's a rock, that somehow doesn't lift the water above it, and you slam into it at 6 or 8 miles an hour. After about 10 of those, I was sick of it. You can't possibly prepare for them, you just have to take the hits. No more cheap tubes for us. Sophie also got colder than it was probably good for her to get, but pulled through. Despite all that, we had a lot of fun, it just wasn't relaxing like we'd hoped.

Again, I took great photos of all of this, but don't have them now because my phone is at the bottom of the river. I brought it with me, because last time we went tubing I'd brought it with me, and had no trouble hanging on to it and keeping it adequately safe and dry. I mean, it's in a Lifeproof case, it ought to be fine, right? Turns out no. We really got moving at one point, we through some rocks, I dropped it, it went through the hole in my tube, and that was it. We were well downstream, still moving when I realized. Going back would have been dangerous, especially with our tubes tied together, and I wasn't sure where I'd lost it, or how deep the water was.

So, no photos. I managed to get a new phone the next Monday though, and recover everything except the photos I took that day.

After tubing, we camped at the park. It went much like the last time with the kicking back by the fire, and the hot dogs, and the chicken, except that I'd bought a cheapish 4-person tent from Walmart the previous day, so me and Sophie slept in relative luxury that evening. Also, we had the presence of mind to bring some Chachere's this time, so the chicken was well seasoned.

The next morning Billy and I rode Unicoi again, and it was just as steep as the last time. After picking up and heading out, we ate at North Georgia Barbecue, which was amazing, then hung out down by the river for a while, before finally heading home.

Well, I don't know if it quite counts as a habit yet, but I'm certainly hoping that it develops into one.

No comments:

Post a Comment