Friday, August 21, 2020


Last month, I got a text from Billy: "Aska?"


The TNGA was coming up. I'd been putting in work for it all year. A full tour of the most strenuous trails in Georgia, at the end of one of the hottest weeks of the year so far seemed like an ideal shakedown of my gear and fitness. I met him at his place, right at dawn. We loaded up his truck, headed north to Ellijay, and then bent around to the East above that. The blazing sun, right in my face, kept reminding me of the kind of day it was going to be.

Blazing Sun

It wasn't super hot yet, but it would be. Soon enough.

Finding the Green Mountain Trailhead was a little tricky. I'd never parked at it before. I'd only been to it twice, and both of those times it was in the middle of winter, with snow everywhere, and both of those times I'd just ridden to it from Aska and turned around. The last time I'd even driven around the little neighborhood down there was scouting the TNGA like 10+ years ago. Turns out there's this FS road leading alongside a guy's property. Years back, it had been unmarked and struck me as a driveway, so I didn't try it. That's the road you have to take. It's got a street sign now. Plus, GPS tells you to go that way.

Anyway, we found the trailhead.

There were ribbons and pin flags in the area. EMBA (or whatever they're called now) had been planning a stacked-loop system down there for a while. I wondered if any of it had been cut...

But we weren't there to explore. We had a plan: Green Mountain out, Stanley Gap out, Stanley Gap back, side loop around Flat Creek, Green Mountain back, side loop around Long Branch, Green Mountain back the rest of the way. Not a ton of miles, but tons of elevation, and not a lot of water. I was rocking my full TNGA rig (basically just my UL pack and GPS) for good measure.

We got our stuff together...

Billy Getting Ready

...and hit the trail

Billy on Green Mountain

Almost immediately we ran into some guys camping. The trail runs directly through a campsite. There were a couple of spurs, and we managed to go the wrong way. The campers were really cool about it though.

Then the trail ran directly through another campsite, with a car parked at it, but nobody to be seen. It was a while before we finally passed a guy hiking towards us. I guess it was his car. He'd apparently gotten up and on the trail earlier that us. Smart guy.

I say that, but it still wasn't exceptionally hot yet. 80's maybe. I mean, it was summer in Georgia, but it wasnt SUMMER in Georgia yet.

I realized that it was probably 15 years ago that I'd last ridden that exact section of trail. I'd ridden the bit between Long Branch and Aska Road a dozen times since then, but not that tail end bit. I remembered it being difficult, but early in the ride like that, it wasn't bad at all. It may also have helped that it wasn't freezing and snowy. Whatever the cause, I was feeling good and having a good time.

Before long, the trail passed right along somebody's fence line, then ran directly along the side of two different driveways, benched up a good 10 feet above them. That definitely wasn't there 15 years ago. I think I'd have remembered that.

At the top of Green Mountain, I took a quick nature break, then we bombed down towards Aska Road. I don't remember running into anyone on the way down. It was still reasonably early in the day. At the Aska lot there were a bunch of people just getting started, both hiking and riding. It was starting to warm up too, and the real climbing was about to begin.

Stanley Gap.

People fear it. I think it should be feared. It's not exceptionally dangerous, but it'll still hurt you.

We climbed, and sweated. So much sweat. Rolling shower levels of sweat. Be-careful-with-those-ergon-grips levels of sweat.

The trail was in perfect shape.

Stanley Gap

The woods were dense.

Woods Near Stanley Gap

Full-on summertime.

I made the tough kick up to Rocky Mountain, but Billy had to push.

Billy Pushing Up Stanley Gap


We made really good time down to Stanley Gap. I recently watched a video of an enduro rider bombing several runs in the area during a race. I wondered just how much faster he was moving than I was. I was off the brakes, fully spun out, most of the time. On a trail like that, is it all turns and cornering? I'd dig trying to follow Aaron or Eddie down off of the top there.

At Stanley Gap proper, we took a bit of a break.

Billy at Stanley Gap Proper

It was getting legitimately warm, and we were both getting into our water. We weren't low yet, but we didn't have a lot to spare.

Back at it.

The climb up the back side is shorter than the climb up from Deep Gap, but it's a good bit more technical in a few spots. In two separate incidents, we both managed to lose our balance and fall to the downside of the trail before being able to clip out. I fell, and he rode up on me while I was climbing back up. Then, he fell not a minute later, almost the exact same way. Stanley Gap. The only trail you can crash on, while climbing.

Neither fall was significant. We weren't hurt. Nothing got broken.

We finally started running into hikers and other riders as we were headed back down toward Deep Gap. There's one rocky section on the way back down, that I swear I used to be able to ride, way back. I don't know if it's chunkier now, or if I've just gotten old, but when I ride into it these days, I don't see a line. Even riding into it from the bottom, I don't see how I should come back down through it. So, there is this one little 15-foot section that I have to walk, and it always bugs me.

We took the connector over to Flat Creek, and were out of water right up near the top. This was perfect timing, as there are a set of feeders up there, with springs immediately above the road. One of them has a culvert, and it's easy to fill as many bottles as you like. I filled one, pounded it entirely, then filled two more. Billy did the same, and we were pretty well set for water for the rest of the ride.

On the descent down Flat Creek we ran into plenty of hikers. There are some good, long runs there where you can hit terminal velocity, but there are plenty of really windy sections too, and you can't just rail through them - there's just too much of a risk of running into somebody else on the trail.

In antiquity, there was a bridge at the bottom, that was the most slippery bridge in the whole forest. It has since been replaced with a much less slippery, but still troublingly narrow bridge. We crossed that bridge, and sat down for a few minutes to collect ourselves before the climb out.

Taking a Break on Flat Creek

I had some White Cheddar Cheez-Its.

White Cheddar Cheez-Its

These things are so good. Especially when it's hot. That salt. Oh, boy, that salt. It's just right.

Almost immediately as we got going again, we ran into some oncoming riders. The lady in front was all: "Coming through! Coming through! Coming through!" and made no effort to yield or even slow down. The trail was not exceptionally wide there either. I was already off to the right, but had to stop and pull my elbow in to get out of her way. Goodness. I can't remember ever seeing that before. People complain about "almost getting hit" sometimes. In my experience, when you press them about it, what they almost always mean is that someone was riding really fast and had to get on the brakes pretty good. There is almost always a good 20 feet of distance between them when the rider finally stopped. They weren't in any actual danger, just feared that they might be. Of course, ideally no one should even experience that fear, so I like to slow down to like 5mph before I'm even noticed, announce myself, stand, wave, etc. unless I'm passing another cyclist who looks pro enough that our eye contact says it all. Then there's usually just the deference nod. We didn't even get the deference nod. Goodness! Lots of new riders these days.

We climbed up and out, and passed a lady hiking with a cute, tiny dog.

We passed like a dozen more hikers climbing back up Green Mountain. I felt freakin' fantastic at the top of Green Mountain. Way better than I expected to be feeling. I was sweating so much, I could have watered a plant, but other than that, I felt really good. I'd had a relatively easy time of Stanley Gap, in both directions. I mean, it's still a tough climb, but it wasn't painful like it I always remember it being. I had plenty of gear and, apparently, plenty of legs. Billy was feeling about how I expected to feel. Probably enough left in the tank, but it was going to be a tough finish, and he'd been feeling it. We bombed down to Long Branch, and spun that loop, passing many more hikers along the way. One set, we passed twice, as they were heading the opposite direction and we came back around to them.

At the little bridge, there was a lady burning incense and boiling something in a pot over a fire that she was somehow keeping going down in the actual creekbed. Like on the rocks of the creek itself, not up on the shore. I did not understand this weirdness, and asked her how she was doing, and where she was headed. She appeared to me, to be through-hiking. Turned out no, she had native american ancestors and was just out getting in touch with the forest.


I waited a bit for Billy at the Green Mountain Connector, but right as I decided to sit down and get comfortable, he came riding up. Dangit!

We made quick work of the rest of it. There's a bit of a kick leading back up to the Green Mountain trail, but it's just rollers or downhill from there back to the trailhead. We did have some amount of trouble remembering where to go when we got to those two campsites, and managed to take another wrong turn (well, I did) but in the end, we made it out.



It never fails to impress when you're riding it but then you look on Strava and it's like 25 miles in 4 and a half hours. Ugh.

Whatever, I had a great time. How often can you say that after riding Stanley Gap?

1 comment:

  1. Hi david, I am planning a trip. If I understand correctly from your post, is there dispersed camping at the north end of the green mountain trail? where the trail ends near lake blue ridge? I have ridden green mountain but turned around before the end. Thanks!