Tuesday, December 7, 2021

P6 Overnight

This past weekend, I felt like camping. I didn't feel like crushing out miles, or crashing in the woods, too exhausted to move. Just camping. Every trip these days becomes a bit of a gear test, and I did need to test a bit of gear, but that wasn't the specific purpose. I just wanted to be in the woods. I'd originally considered doing some kind of Bull Mountain/Noontootla loop, but the more I thought about it, the better the Choutta Pinhoti sounded.

Saturday afternoon, I headed up to Mulberry Gap, parked the truck, and started getting ready. There were a bunch of folks gathered down by the campground there. According to Tori, it was a birthday party. There were a million 9 year old girls, and they all wanted to pet the cat. Actually, they all wanted to pick up the cat. The cat loves to be pet, and will tolerate being handled to a point, but he was way past that point. I saw him walking around earlier, and he gave me a very suspicious look, like: "What are your intentions, sir?" and kind of kept his distance.

Later I saw him up on top of my truck, presumably hiding from kids.

Cohutta Cat on my Truck

And he was wise to do so, for as soon as he got down, he was immediately scooped up by two girls. He got free and ran toward the house, but they chased after him yelling "We love you!" the whole way. When they eventually caught him, they hugged him half to death. By then, he had given up, and gone limp, resigned to his fate.

It was hilarious to watch.

I got my gear together, but kept remembering stuff that I needed, one thing at a time. I'd lost a water bottle last week, so I got a couple of those from the store. I also needed a travel pack of Chamois Butt'r. Oh!, and gatorade. I purchased each of these individually, and separately from parking. Tori had to ring me up like 4 different times. Sorry about that.

I ran into Zeke Lilly as I was about to head out. He'd just come back in from doing the Mulberry Mayhem Short Option. That's a gravel event, and I've never actually done it, so I wasn't familiar with the route, but he described it to me. Cool to see him again. I think the last time I saw him was under similar circumstances.

I hit the trail with my bike fully loaded, and a messenger-bag-type pack with food and cooking stuff in it. I'd only ridden with that pack once before, and wasn't quite used to it. Unintuitively, it needs to be pretty tight against you when climbing. Unlike my larger pack, which I usually loosen all the way up when I climb. It's small and light enough that it ends up getting slung around if it's loose, whereas a larger pack has enough inertia that it stays in place and lets your body move underneath it. I re-remembered this climbing that first kick over Mulberry Gap proper, and had to stop about halfway over to get it under control.

I had a good time climbing P3. I only missed 1 switchback. IDK, I love that trail. Some people apparently hate it. It's narrow and steep and rugged, but so is Turkey Mountain that it climbs. The trail has the same character as the mountain itself, and I dig that.

It was super, super leafy, and I had to ease into some corners.

P3 Sidehill

But, it is almost winter, so that's what you get.

P3 Switchbacks

The Cohutta Overlook was up to my left, and as I was there to enjoy the forest (as opposed to being there to crush out miles, build fitness, or rip singletrack) I hung a left and moseyed on up to it.

Cohutta Overlook Northwest 
	Cohutta Overlook Northeast

A couple walked up from their car while I was there and took a bunch of photos. The most interesting thing to me was the sky. A front was coming in, and it cast a distinct shadow on the mountains. Beyond the front, the leaves were bright and reflective. Beneath it, everything was a lot darker. I probably sat there for 20 minutes. Long enough to enjoy it, but not long enough to get cold. It was in the mid-60's, I think. I was in my tri-suit, so I was comfortable if I was moving, but I didn't want to sit around too long.

P4 went by quickly. I remember back when nobody rode P4 and the leaf duff would get really built-up. Not so much any more.

At the intersection with Tatum Lead, someone is building a house to the left and there were all kinds of construction materials and equipment scattered around. The gate was tricky to get around. You can normally just jump up onto the backslope, but it's been regraded and now you have to actually open it and close it behind you.

From there, I hung a left and climbed The Most Horrible Climb in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

The Most Horrible Climb in the Chattahooche NF

I took a photo to send to my Dad. We both hate that climb. So does Billy. I've heard several people comment on it, unsolicited. It's not that terrible, in and of itself. It's that you've just climbed P3 and P4 and you're not really expecting to climb any more, and it doesn't look bad, but there's like 5 times more of it that you can't see, and the gravel is usually really loose... I don't know, I mean, I know that describes a lot of climbs. This one is just a perfect storm of all of that.

A normal person rides Tatum Lead to P5 and drops down into the valley. I had other plans. It had been a very long time since I'd been all the way out to the end of it, and I'd never ridden the northern leg of the Rock Creek ORV Trail. So, that's what I did. I rode alllll the way out to the very end.

It's mostly downhill, and actually a lot of fun. Near the very end there are a couple of climbs, but they're not bad. They're certainly not as bad as The Most Horrible Climb in the Chattahoochee National Forest. There were a lot of overhanging thorns though, which you'd think wouldn't matter much on a road, but I ended up off to one side more often than not, and they ripped me several new ones.

Thorn Damage

I'd remembered a Private Property sign out there at the end of the trail, but in the 15 to 20 intervening years it has disappeared. There was a trail leading on...

The End of the Tatum Lead Road

...but I was in no position to explore it at the time.

Instead, I turned around, made my way back to Rock Creek and took it down into the valley. Rock Creek was really fun, especially in the dark. I need to check the elevation profile, but it felt as steep as Tibbs, just way cleaner. Like, beautifully clean. There were only a few rocky sections at all, one of which surprised me, as it was covered with leaves, and I couldn't really tell what I was riding into until I was into it, especially in the dark. Fortunately I rode into it at a sane speed.

All right, I've now ridden P5 and both legs of Rock Creek.

Rock Creek ORV Kiosk

It was, at that point, officially dark, and I'd had my light on since the end of the Tatum Lead. It wasn't late yet, but it was definitely time to start looking for a place to camp. I remembered some spots along the P6 grasstrack that had looked good in the past, and there was at least one creek that crossed it. I could tank up there and then pick a spot.

Or, kill 2 birds with one stone. There was a turnout right next to the creek. Just above it was a flattish spot with a fire ring and some cords where someone had hammocked recently. All right! That'll do.

I set up my gear and got a small fire going.


I kept it small - just enough to stay warm with my puffy jacket unzipped. Dinner was tortellini and some weird little beef jerky sausages. Oh yeah, I'd also picked up a dum-dum from Siracusa's on the way out of town. They still have a bowl of them lying around from Halloween. So, I ate that too.

I didn't do much but sit around the fire, keeping it going for the next few hours. It was supposed to be in the mid 40's overnight, but it tends to get colder down in a draw like that, and with the creek it would be a damp cold. I'd recently picked up a puffy jacket, puffy pants, and puffy booties, and I was curious if just wearing those under my SOL bivvy would be adequate in that weather. It turned out yes, more than adequate. It was something else entirely that gave me a problem.

For many years, I used a Thermarest NeoAir, and was always happy with it. But, Big Agnes came out with their AXL last year, and it looked intriguing, so I picked up one of those. It weighs a bit less, and packs a bit smaller, and I've used it several times in warm-weather conditions. I guess it was just a bit too cold for it that night though. At first it was fine. I slept for hours and woke up warm when I had to pee. Then I slept for several more hours and woke up cold. But, just my hip and shoulder, not the rest of me. Just the parts that pushed down into the mat. Maybe it was underinflated. I topped it off and slept a bit more. Nope, a bit later I woke up cold again. It wasn't unmanageable, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. If I'd get up and walk around (eg. to pee) then I was totally warm. It was just lying down that was cold.

I'm not sure, but I may have ended up with a mat that I didn't mean to buy. If you go to the Big Agnes website, they only have one AXL product - the Insulated AXL Air. However, if you google AXL Air, 2 of the top 3 links are REI catalog pages. One is for the "Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Sleeping Pad" and the other is for the "Big Agnes AXL Air Sleeping Pad". Note the conspicuously absent "Insulated" keyword in the second case. Neither are currently available, but the photo for the second one (not insulated) looks just like mine. Same color and everything. I bought mine from REI. I'll bet that I googled Big Agnes AXL Air, and the non-insulated one was all that was available (from REI), at the time. I bet that I bought that, not realizing that it wasn't the insulated variety that was displayed on the Big Agnes site. I don't have a specific memory of there ever being two of them, but it would appear that there are, or were, or something.

I wonder if I can adequately insulate this mat by putting it inside of a second SOL bivvy, or some other heat-reflective thing. Would that be heavier or more bulky than just carrying the NeoAir? Definitely something to play around with in the backyard.

When I woke up again I was warm and it was light out. Aside from a few cold minutes, I slept well all night. No lying awake, slightly uncomfortable for hours and hours. As camping sleep goes, it was pretty good.

I got the fire going again and cooked some potatoes and hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate

I'd grabbed the wrong variety of potatoes though. I usually grab garlic and butter or something, but this time managed to grab the most completely plain potatoes of all time. No salt. Nothing. They provided adequate calories, but were roundly unsatisfying to taste. The hot chocolate kind-of made up for it though, as did some weird fruit bars that I impulse-bought on the way back to the check-out.

I got packed up reasonably quickly. I've been riding around with my tarp for a year now, but I rarely pull it out. In Pisgah, even, me and John just camped under the stars. So it was a little bit of a challenge to re-pack. It was probably in the low 50's when I got moving, which felt ok, especially since I started climbing right away.

I thought I heard an airplane at first, but soon realized that it was light thunder. Hmm... That's not good. There had been a 29% chance of rain in the forecast. I wasn't completely unprepared for rain, but I wasn't dressed to push through a storm. Soon enough I started feeling mist, which eventually became drops, and before long I had to find a place to post up.

I was still on the grasstrack, so there was plenty of room next to the trail to set up the tarp, but being a decomissioned roadbed, the ground has a hundred years of gravel driven down into it. It's challenging to drive a stake into that, to say the least. On top of that, it was almost impossible to find a rock. It was like the only place in all of North Georgia where there aren't a dozen big ones lying around everywhere. I found one, but it was some weird shaly thing that broke apart after like 5 hits. I ended up breaking one of my stakes too. Woohoo.

I eventually found a better rock, and managed to get everything square. I've only had to pitch the tarp quickly twice. I'm apparently just fine at it whem I'm relaxed, but under pressure, it's frustrating. I guess I need practice.

For the next 3 hours, the rain came in waves.

I evnetually stretched out on the ground, and I think I fell asleep for a bit.

It turned out that I did have one bar, so I was able to look at the weather map. A little band was moving right across me and fizzling out as it moved east. Just lucky, I guess.

When it appeared to have quit, I packed back up and got moving again, only for another wave to come through. That time I just threw the tarp over my head like a poncho and waited it out. Twenty minutes max, that time.

Ok. Are we done?

Let's go.

P6 was a blast, even wet. There was a good layer of leaf duff on the trail, like there had been on P3, which really helped.

P6 Shred

In the middle, there's a pretty long, steep climb, that I remembered being super techincal, but it didn't seem bad to me that day, like maybe some recent work had been done on it.

I'd forgotten about the dedication out by the parking lot, and was pleasantly surprised to see it.

P6 Dedication

I could hear people sounds as I approached the lot, and it turned out that there was a guy and his kid, packing up and heading out. They'd stayed at MGap the day and night before, and driven out for a quick out-and-back on P6. I'd seen what looked like evidence that someone else had been through earlier, and wondered if somehow someone had passed me while I was posted up or something. It made sense after talking to them.

Dennis Mill Road had a "Road Closed" sign on it, but I hoped it was something I could navigate on the bike, so I went that way. It turned out that a tree had fallen across the bridge near Dennis Mill proper, damaged the guard rail, and possibly the substructure.

Dennis Mill Bridge


It looked safe enough to walk across, so I did that.

It had warmed up a good bit by then too. It wasn't "warm", but it was comfortable if you were moving.

It was overcast and wet. The last bits of green were still holding on. There was was a weird, gloomy beauty everywhere.

Dennis Mill 
	Dennis Mill Road

I took pavement north to the Stallion store, which is, apparently, no longer called the "Stallion". It's now just the Kwik Shop.

Kwik Shop Nee Stallion

In the direction of Fort Mountain, there was more of that gloomy beauty. I tried to get a shot of it, but these church signs were kind-of in the way.

Church Competition

Later, looking at the photo, they made a more interesting subject than the background. "Go to my church. No, go to my church! No! Go to MY church!"

Heading north, there are better and better views of Fort Mountain.

Holly Creek Church with Fort Mountain 
	Fort Mountain

When I hit CCC Camp Road, I passed several riders coming from the other direction. I recognized 2 of the 3, but couldn't place their names. It's terrible how bad I am with names.

Having recently ridden that same stretch from there back to MGap, unloaded, I was able to compare the experience directly. I was definitely NOT tempo climbing that day. I didn't make terrible time, but I wasn't setting any PRs either. I'd planned on climbing up to the top of Bear Creek, coming down, and maybe hitting some Pinhotis on the way back, but it was super wet, and I'd already lost like 3 or 4 hours waiting out the rain. In theory, I had lunch waiting for me too, though it was like 2PM at that point, and lunch was long over, so I wasn't too sure about that.

I bailed on the Bearhoti, and headed back in, past the old firetruck...

The Old Firetruck



Aaaand I forgot entirely about lunch until like an hour later after I'd gotten showered and dressed. Oops.

I considered staying for dinner, but it was like 3 hours away.

In the end, I visited for a bit, then hit the road. On the way out, I passed this horse-drawn wagon!

Horse Drawn Wagon

And, it's not the first time I've seen that same wagon. However, the last time I saw it was more than 10 years ago at the bottom of Noontootla, flanked by several additional riders on horseback. This time, it was just the wagon. I'm pretty sure it's the same one, but I'm too lazy to go digging through my old posts and photos, so I'm going to assume that it's the same one. I mean, how many of them could there be these days?

I tried calling Mark B. on the way back to town, but he was heading home from Chicago at the time, and nowhere nearby. I ended up eating at that Wood Fired Pizza place, and checking out one of the local antique stores.

Yeah, I do that now. I'm officially old.

Actually I felt OFFICIALLY old that night, or maybe the next day, driving around Atlanta. I put on 97.1 The River, the local classic rock station, and Jeremy was playing. Jeremy. From Pearl Jam.


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