Monday, July 26, 2021


Earlier today I checked the weather forecast. 20% chance of rain. I looked at the radar, and clicked the "future" button. Small pop-ups east of Atlanta. Nothing in the mountains.


I'd been feeling like riding some non-system trails in the greater Blue Ridge WMA area - trails that, due to their non-system-ness, and dubious sustainability, I limit myself to riding each of only once per year (and would encourage anyone else who rides them to do the same). I had a particular loop in mind, and it has been way more than a year since I'd hit any of those trails. I think like 2 years for one of them, and like maybe 8 or 10 for the others. Maybe longer. It would be Adventure, with that capital A, for sure.

I was excited.

But, first things first. I somehow lost my flip-belt, maybe in Texas, I don't know, and I've just been jamming my phone down into this weird leg pocket my kit has. It's not a good solution. It's bound to go flying out at some point, and I don't need to deal with breaking or losing a phone right now, so I stopped by REI on the way up to see if they had some reasonably secure way to mount it to my bike. Everything they had looked super janky, but I tested each potential solution out by putting my phone in it and just shaking the everliving crap out of it. This technique surprised the associate that was helping me, and she took a step back, possibly reflecting on the life choices that had led her to be in this situation with this, apparent, madman. After a second though, she seemed to understand what I was up to, and suggested a particular unit, which, no doubt, really held the crap out of that phone, despite looking flimsy and useless.

I'd give it a try.

I was back on the road, having spend fewer than 15 total minutes from getting off of the highway, to getting back on the highway. Most efficient run through REI ever.

As I drove down Nimblewill Church Road, I could see that it had rained there recently. As I pulled into the Jake lot, I could see that it had rained there quite a bit, in fact. Man, come on! Seriously?

I've joked about it before, but I swear a 20% chance of rain means that it's going to rain on whatever 20% of the state that I'm in.

I got dressed, got my bike ready. There were like 6 people standing around talking about the ride they'd just finished, but I didn't know any of them. I realized I needed to mount that phone thing where my GPS was, and move my GPS, but the GPS mount needed zip ties, and I didn't have any. I asked around, and it turned out, between them, the entire group had a single zip tie. I needed two though, so I let them keep the one, and just put the GPS in my pocket for the time being. The phone mount seemed really secure, and since it wasn't in my pocket, in contact with any soon-to-be-drenched fabric, it might actually cooperate better than it tends to when it's wet. That is, if it doesn't just rain on it the entire time.

As I was rolling out, one of the guys mentioned Mountiantown Creek, which piqued my interest, and I ended up getting into a conversation with everybody about all kinds of trails, including the ones I was going to ride, and everything else up there. We could have talked for hours, but I had to get moving, and almost immediately upon doing so, it started sprinkling.

As I headed west up FS28-2, it unloaded. Big fat rain.

Big fat cold rain!

I began to question the life choices I'd made that had led me to wearing a super-thin trisuit, but soon enough realized that it wasn't the worst decision, as I acclimated to the temperature change. I was climbing, which meant it would cool off as I got higher, but also I was climbing, which meant I'd warm up quite a bit as well. Worst case, I could turn around. Absolute worst case, I was carrying a full complement of bikepacking gear and could probably get sheltered, warm and dry if need be.

I realized it had been a long, long time since I'd just ridden in the rain too. I don't think I'd done it on that bike yet, at all. It was a thing I used to do without concern. Why the concern now?


Then, like a lightswitch the rain stopped, or I rode out of it, and where I was, it looked like it had never rained.


I guess the storm had moved up from the south?

Whatever. I kept climbing.

I reached Nimblewill Gap way before I expected to.

Nimblewill Gap Memorial

I think of that climb as being interminable, but I guess the rain had been pretty distracting. I felt great. Nobody had flicked the suffering switch yet.

A few vehicles had passed me way down at the bottom of the climb. There were also a few people parked along the road, and a few people camping. Near the top, a red truck came creeping down the road, with a white-knuckled driver gently bumping over every rock. I wondered if his GPS had led him over Nimblewill Gap for some reason.

It made me wonder about FS28-3 on the other side. I've seen it in every conceivably condition, from recently regraded to crisscrossed with 2 foot deep ruts. It's always a crapshoot.

Turns out it was about like the last time I was up there. Lots of exposed rock, and some loose rock, but no ruts to speak of.

I was able to absolutely rip down that trail. Fully relaxed at terminal velocity. I'd never had it so easy on a road like that. It's taking a while, but I'm really getting to like my bike. It's very capable, and it's fun to keep finding out just how capable.

The phone mount, which had performed so well up to that point, was overmatched by the chunk though. It flopped back and forth violently, and eventually sent the phone flying. I like to have a pink phone case so it's immediately visible if I drop it in the woods, but my last one wore out, and I'm still rocking the black back-up case. I saw the phone fly out. I knew exactly where it landed. It still took me like 20 seconds to find it. I will be ordering a pink Lifeproof case as soon as the budget permits. I ended up sticking the phone in the good old leg pocket, and over the course of the day would alternate it between the mount and the pocket. I like the grabber part of the mount though. I may try to rig it up to a more stable base or something.

I'd originally planned to ride over Nimblewill, climb back up Van De Griff, take 42 to Ball Mountain, take that ridge back down, then see how I felt. If I had another climb in me, take Silver Dollar/Gold-Coin to FS141, then take roads back to the car. I probably wouldn't feel like climbing Silver Dollar, but you never know.

It would now depend, entirely on the rain. If Ball Mountain Ridge was wet, I wasn't going to ride it. Both to preserve the trail, and to preserve the opportunity to ride it. Ditto for the other backcountry trails, except for Van De Griff as it's just an old roadbed, and I'd be getting increasingly committed to it as I rode toward it anyway.

FS28-3 becomes Old Bucktown. I rode that out to Tickanetley Road, took that to Parker Road, and hung a right at Old Parker Place. There's a neat little cabin on the corner there, with a fenced in yard and a million dogs. They bark and bark at anyone riding by, and since I rode entirely along one side of the property, turned, and rode entirely along the other side of the property, the dogs barked for so long that the owner came out to see what was going on. We waved at each other and he tried (in vain) to get the dogs to stop barking.

Old Parker Place is super steep for a while, then kind of becomes rollers. It's a bit of a "highlands" kind of area, I guess. Where it flattens out a bit, there are lots of houses, some little farms, some little neighborhoods. There's at least 1 cemetery, and there might be a church. If it had a couple of country stores, it would be a highlands, but I guess you'd also need a way to drive through it. As far as I know, there's just the one road in and out.

Most of the way up, there's a pipe that you can get water from, but when I got there I still had a bottle and a half. I guess one good thing about the weather was how cool it was. I'd expected to be tanking up several times, but it turned out I was doing quite well with what I had.

Right past the pipe, it started thundering like crazy, and a few minutes later I got stormed on again.

The violence of the rain let up after a bit, but the volume didn't seem to. So much water.

I forgot to mention that I managed to fix my shifter after last week's fiasco. The shifter was fine the whole time. I'd just gotten some crap jammed in the derailleur that kept it from moving past a certain point. Funny thing though... I had assumed that I'd broken my shifter again, and scoured Atlanta looking for one. There are none to be had in Atlanta. None. The Great Shimano Shifter Shortage is bearing down on us pretty hard at the moment. I did manage to find some online, but only from a single vendor: The Pro's Closet. They had 71 of them! I have no idea why they have so many, but that's your source, if you need one. I bought two, just to be safe. And, then figured out that I didn't need any. I inadvertantly hoareded shifters. Watch though, I'll break mine tomorrow and actually need one.

I mention shifters because the rain was giving mine fits. I swear, this cable is ridiculously sensitive to water, for some reason. One drop and it becomes incredibly slow to drop out of any of the top 3 gears. The lower gears are fine. When it's dry, it works fine. I expect some shifting problems in bad weather, but it's usually double shifting, ghost shifting, or you have to go 2 up and 1 back down. I've never experienced this specific issue to this leve. You shift, then wait 5 or 6 seconds before it begins to drop. Then it finally does a few seconds after that, if you start pedaling really lightly, or slowly, or something. Or if you nudge the derailleur with your foot. Sometimes there's nothing you can do. It just doesn't shift.

I was in shifter hell, but I was resigned to it.

Finding Van De Griff was confusing. I remembered climbing all the way to the top of Old Parker Place, and it just became the trail. Now there were "This is a private drive. No turn-around" signs up after the turnoff to Rockwater. I remembered that you don't continue on Rockwater. I don't remember the private drive signs though. There were additional, new looking "No tresspassing" signs on either side of the road. It looked familiar, but I didn't want to be on somebody's driveway.

Turns out nobody was home at any of the cabins along the road, and it turned out also, that yeah, the road just becomes the trail, but it's tricky to see in the summer with brush having grown up and stuff, and there's a freshly graveled, gated drive there now that, from a distance, looks like it's what the road becomes... Anyway, I found it, and I guess the private drive thing is just to discourage people from driving down there and using their driveways to turn around. Or, maybe the road really is owned by some private entity and there's a variance for residents, like Triple Hill Road. Zillow probably knows, but I'm too lazy to look it up.

Anyway, I climbed that trail, and despite the raging storm, it was easy going on a good, solid surface. There's packed gravel under the duff, and packed clay under that.

Well, actually... about 2/3rds of the way up, there is this terrible rut, and with the torrent pouring down it, it was easy to see why it was there. It's difficult when it's bone dry, and in the rain, there was just no way. So, I walked all of that. Near the very top, you can screw up and keep going instead of taking a left, but someone had kindly blocked it off with sticks. I walked the first 50 feet of that too, but the rest was solid and rideable.

It was still freaking pouring when I got to 665.


Somehow my phone worked.

The last time I was up there, a burned out old jeep was parked on the side of the road. No longer. I guess someone came and picked it up.

The rain finally let up when I got out to FS42. However, it had clearly rained as torrentially there as it had been on me just prior. I couldn't remember if FS665 hits 42 before, or after the steep kick up from Doublehead Gap Road. I passed the 180's soon after, but still couldn't remember if they were before or after the kick. Then, I passed FS58-A, and I was pretty sure it was after the kick, so maybe I wouldn't have any more tough climbing left?

This turned out to be the case.

I'd abandoned all hope of riding anything other than gravel for the rest of the day. I no longer minded being in the actual rain, but I didn't want to spend hours and hours in it either. I'd ride to Winding Stair, and take that back to the car.

There were a couple of little climbs, and some rollers.

Nobody ever flicked the suffering switch. I never felt any discomfort in my chest. My back was another story though. My lower back was giving me the business. It gets that way sometimes. IDK, maybe I slept funny, maybe I haven't been stretching enough lately. Maybe I just don't climb like this often enough any more. Whatever it was, my back hurt and it was becoming the limiting factor.

It got drier and drier as I approached Winding Stair. My shifter started working better and better too.

One of the campsites had 2 rainbow beach umbrellas set up at it. I also noticed what I think is a newish Benton-Mackaye Lot. Or, if it previously existed, then I don't remember it.

I noticed the Ball Mountain Ridge Trail, so I'll keep that in mind for later.

Woohoo, Winding Stair.

Winding Stair Gap

I can't adequately describe how effortless the screaming descent down Winding Stair was. It was wet, so I took it easy, but I still felt like I was flying, and I managed to set a PR. I imagine I'll set another one next time I'm up there when it's dry.

Yep. This bike is great.

I don't remember running in to anyone on the way back to the car. I had an easier time than usual with that final kick up to the road.

There were a ton of cars at Nimblewill Church. I guess it is Sunday.

Back at the lot, I got changed and packed up, and a young lady pulled into the lot right as I was leaving. We chatted for a few seconds. She'd been out for 3 hours, and might have been going out again. She didn't look nearly as wet or dirty as I'd been though. No fair.

In Dawsonville, I grabbed a French Dip at Ray's Signature Grill.

Ray's Signature Grill

It was so wonderfully salty, which was exactly what I was craving at the time. I think I'll be eating there again.

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