Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tanasi is Tana-riffic!

On the forth and final day of my trip I went to the Tanasi Trails near Ocoee, TN, about 2 hours north of Atlanta. This another IMBA Epic area. A trail map can be found here.

This place was incredible. The trails just seemed to flow very well. Moderate climbs were rewarded by great downhills. The possible combination's of trail seem endless. The scenery was majestic from every viewpoint. I could have stayed here for days.

The Ocoee Whitewater center is where it all starts. Don't Google map it, you'll go to the wrong place. This is the building you need to find. Just drive east on 64 from Ocoee and you'll find it. If you get to North Carolina you've gone too far.

Just like in Tsali, the parking lot has an envelope type fee system. Put your $3 in the envelope, write down your information, and keep the receipt. At Tsali you keep the receipt with you, here you need to hand it on your mirror. Its really easy, but it does require taking a few minutes to read the instructions.

The parking lot runs along the river. It was the first of a lot of scenery yet to come.

The trail head for the Bear Paw Loop is very well marked at the end of the eastern bridge. This trail was the most difficult climb of the day. Although it was challenging, I was able to do it without any issues.

All trail junctions and roads were very well marked. I missed a few turns, once because I interpeted the sign wrong, the other time because I was going so fast downhill I didn't see the sign. As usual, I paid for my mistakes with long climbs back up the hill, but for some reason I didn't mind. This place was that good.

From here I ran the Chestnut Mountain Loop CCW until I got to the Thunder Rock Express. I screamed down the TRE, then I climbed back up the fire road and West Fork Trail to get back to the Chestnut Mountain Loop, where I made my way back to the parking lot.

Although the trail was covered in leaves, it was always easy to find.

Trail markers at every junction.

There were sections of the trail just like Tsali. Skinny and slippery with zero room for mistakes. I learned from my nasty fall at Tsali and slowed down when I needed to. No crashes today.

These downhill runs were a lot of fun. I can imagine they are a lot better before the leaves fall and it gets so slippery.

This view at the powerline area was very nice.

This bridge was near the bottom of the Thunder Rock Express. The Thunder Rock Express is great fun, and the climb back up to the Chestnut Mountain Loop is primarily on fire roads and double track, and it really wasn't that steep.

Here is the bottom of the Thunder Rock express. It was really a great time getting here.

After the Thunder Rock Express I started up the Fire Road. Slow and steady wins the race.

At the top of the fire road is the well marked beginning of the West Fork Trail.

The caution portion of this sign warns about the Black Bears. I talked with a hunter who told me this area was a bear preserve. I ate my Cliff bar quickly and went on my way, before the bears sniffed me out.

This is the top of the fire road at the beginning of the West Fork Trail.

The West Fork Trail started out as some downhill singletrack, but then it quickly became more of the same slow steady climb uphill. It was a small price to pay for the fun I would have later.

This picture does not do justice to the scenery near the highest point for the day. It was 60 degrees and sunny, I just climbed to the top of the world, and I knew this was my last fun run for this trip, as it was time to go home for my Thanksgiving dinner. At least the trip was ending on a good note.

I didn't take any more pictures from here on out, I was going too fast too stop. The rest of the Chestnut Mountain Loop was fast downhill runs with some easy to power up climbs. Then I got in the car and drove home to Cleveland. Someday I will return to ride here again.

Take the Bull by the Horns!!

On Tuesday I drove north from Atlanta to Bull Mountain in Dahlonega GA. This is another IMBA Epic ride area. You can see the trail map here. This trail was by far the most difficult I have ever been on. It was way beyond my ability, and it was way beyond the ability of my $600 hard tail bike. I suppose this area is a great challenge for someone looking for an advanced ride, it was just way too much for me.

From the parking lot, which is waaayyy up a long, skinny red clay road, you make the short climb up the fire road to the trail head.

This is the start of the Bull Mountain Trail. From here it was a very steep climb through a lot of roots and rocks. I ended up walking about 80% of the first mile. It was just too much for my meager ability.

It's hard to see in this picture, but somewhere on the climb up the mount on my saddle bag broke. If I'm breaking things going up the hill, I can't imagine how it could have lasted a downhill run through here. Hard core downhill riders would be well served going down this trail. I had no desire to beat myself up quite this much.

Luckily I had some zip ties in my backpack, so I strapped the bag back to the bike and went on my way. I made a mental note to not put my car keys in this bag any more. If I would have lost this bag I would have been in big trouble.

This is one of the few pictures I took of the trail. It looks OK here, but under those leaves is a cornacopia of rocks and big tree roots. This part of the climb should have been easy, but it was still a slow go. It was unbelievable how long it took me to get this far.

When your grandfather told you he walked uphill to school both ways, you can be sure this is where he went to school. This must have been his dad's truck that broke way up here in the middle of nowhere. Grandpa had to walk to school ever since. The path seemed like it was always uphill, never downhill. Lots of pork and beans so far, I need a little candy.

Near the top of Bull Mountain was the Bare Hare trail. This trail was a little better, at least I could ride it....

Lots of these little stream crossings on Bare Hare. So many leaves make the streams hard to see until your already in them.

Since it took me so long to get to the end of Bare Hare loop I decided to abort the rest of my riding plans for the day and take the fire roads back to the car. These roads were fun and fast. If only I weren't so tired from the climb.

This was a little bigger stream that I had to cross to get to the road back to the parking lot. It was very cold at this point in the day and I didn't want to get wet. I kept looking for a way to walk across it, no such luck. It was really easy to ride across...

Right after this crossing was when things got really bad for me. There were about three forks in the road, all of them not marked very clearly. The first two ended up being dead ends on private property with large "Beware of Dog" signs. Finally choice number three took me back to the car. If you get to this stream remember to take the first right. Don't go left, else you will have a very long climb to get back.

Perhaps someday I will return, once I am a better rider and have a better bike. I made through the Bull, but the Bull sure did beat me up on the way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

F.A.T.S is PHAT!

After the aborting the slickrock plan, I took the long drive south to the Forks Area Trail System in the Sumter National Forest. This is also an IMBA Epic ride area.

My trusty Garvin helped me find my way to the parking lot at the trail head. The big sign on the road let me know I had arrived.

The large parking lot was very empty. Apparently some people actually have to go to work around here.

The trailhead was very well marked, yet I still went to the left instead of the right. The trail to the left circles back around to the parking lot, so I knew very quickly I went the wrong way. It was a good little warm up for the fun stuff to come.

All the forks in the trail are very well marked. I decided to ride the Great Wall trail, as it was describe as being the more difficult of the choices. Since this was going to be a short day I decided I could take the challenge.

I certainly was not disappointed with my decision to take this trail. This trail was like riding a roller coaster without rails. It was smooth, fast, with just enough uphill runs to make the downhill runs even better. This was an incredible ride. I wish I would have had more time to ride this loop again, I'm sure I could have done it better the second time around.

For me, there are two parts to every trail. There is the pork and beans, and then there is the candy. On every trail you must eat some pork and beans if you want to get the candy. This trail has a whole lot of candy for very little pork and beans. When you ride this trail you get to eat your candy with the pork and beans, just like it goes in my favorite Weezer song.

This is my friend Carla who I stayed with on Monday night. She was less then thrilled with me taking this early morning picture of her working in her sweats. I assured her she was beautiful at any time of the day. Don't worry Carla, anyone who reads this either already knows you or will never know you. Either way you're safe from embarrassment.

This is the view of downtown Atlanta from Carla's balcony. It looks like the sun will be out today, so I'm going to head north to Bull Mountain for my next ride.

When the slickrock is too slick

After the ride in Tsali on Sunday I drove through Pisgah National Forest to Brevard NC. I stopped at The Brighter Day Coffee Shop for a cup of coffee and some free internet access. Very nice place for coffee, highly recommended.

I made a reservation at the Holiday Inn Express in Brevard. Very nice hotel in a great location. When I come back here to finally ride the slickrock and maybe Pisgah this is where I will stay.

The weather forcast for Brevard on Monday called for cloudy skies in the morning and rain afternoon. I took the short drive from the hotel to the Dupont State Forest to go on the Eastern Slickrock ride. As soon as I got out of the car the wind was very strong which made it feel very cold. Then I got the bike out of the car, the back tire was flat. Then it started to rain. This was the point where I decided to abort and packed it up and headed south for the day. I was on my way to the Forks Area Trail System in the Sumter National Forest in South Carolina. I'll put the details in my next post.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tsali goes left, Tsali goes right

I rode the Tsali Left Loop and the Tsali Right Loop yesterday. It was a killer for me and certainly pushed my limits. I look forward to the day when I can do this kind of ride and not fell like I am going to die by the time I get back to the car.

Tsali is an IMBA Epic ride, and it is also described here (scroll down to #7).

I followed the ride description that can be found on the mtbikewnc web site:

  • Difficulty: Most Difficult
  • Total Length: 18 mi
  • Trail Tread Condition: Some Obstacles
  • Climb: Hilly
  • Total Elevation Gain: 900 ft
  • Ride Configuration: Loop
  • Starting point: Tsali Recreation Area parking lot.
Essentially the ride consisted of the left loop CW until it meets the right loop, then I rode the right loop CW from there.

Even thought it says 900ft elevation gain, it sure felt like a lot more. Maybe it felt like more because for every 50 ft you climb up the hill you were instantly rewarded with a 50 ft drop. The constant up and down on the left loop made for quite a bit of fun. The right loop went a little deeper into the woods, the climbs became longer, and the rewards became greater.

The trailhead pay station. Put your $2 in the envelope and keep the receipt with you. The left and right loops start here.

The famous chimney. An old house once stood here. Now the trail goes right through it.

The left loop follows the shoreline of Lake Fontana. The trail winds up and down through all the streams that feed the lake.

These are some people from Houston that I met with several times on the trail. They were king enough to take the next picture of me. Next time I'll take off the backpack so it doesn't look like I'm wearing a dress.

The trail gets much narrower than this in spots, and the hill to the right gets much steeper. You do not want to crash in some of these areas, which is exactly what I did. I took a really bad fall on one of these sections of trail. I was going a little to fast, the leaves were slippery, and I was falling of the edge of the path. I hit my brakes and went over the handlebars. This was the low point of the day. My rib cage has been very sore since.

At the end of a huge climb on the right loop it suddenly got very warm. Then I noticed the smoke and realized the area was still smoldering from a recent fire. I took these two pictures and then decided it wasn't good to hang out in all this smoke. Breathing became a little more difficult in spots. Note to self: Avoid biking in burning woods.