10 February, 2008

Where Riders Go When They Die

Everyday at sunset, all mountain bikers should orient themselves towards Northwestern Georgia and have a happy little thought about burmed singletrack, grin inducing downhills, long climbs to picturesque vistas and country fried steak. Once a year, we should all caravan together, like the prairie schooners that traveled west in search of adventure and make our way to the Mulberry Gap Bunkhouse. The last day of my extended southern trip found me in need of a little spoiling. I woke up Saturday morning in a motel room so dirty I wouldn't even shower in it, there was some kind of fight going on in the parking lot all night, and most of the guests were interested in how much "rent" was, rather than getting a room for the night. All that fun for 44.95 per night. I left there determined to find a better alternative.

The Mulberry Gap Bunkhouse has been a sponsor of the Snake Creek Series for the past two years, but being a northerner, a 13 hour northerner, I never had a chance to pay it much mind. My desire to ride, and my homeless state for Saturday night provided the opportunity to finally check it out. Upon arrival, Diane, one of the owners, took me on a quick tour of the area. She pointed out my bunk house, a converted storage shed, that had nice wood paneling and windows, a bunk bed with fleece blankets,
a little bench for getting changed and some robes. What are the robes for? The hot tubs just steps away, of course. The hang out spot/dining room/wood burning stove room is stocked with maps, mountain bike magazines, books about the wildlife of the area, games and everything else you'd need for an evening in the woods, without anything you don't (crutch electronics/stereos/tvs etc). We jumped in her truck and she took me around all the forest service roads, pointing out the various trailheads along the Pinhoti and Bear Creek Trail systems.

Dinner was served right around 7. And by dinner, I mean a home cooked, organic/free range meal expertly prepared by Ginny, Mulberry's Chef in residence. Some Mulberry Gap regulars were celebrating a birthday and had requested Country Fried Steak. Ginny paired that with a sweet potato casserole, mash potatoes, some kind of delicious sweet corn dish (which I would probably know if I lived in the south) and homemade corn muffins. There was plenty to go around, and I stuffed my stomach for tomorrow's ride.

Mike, from Cartecay River Bicycles, just down the mountain in Ellijay. was kind enough to lend me a bike because mine was back at Bear Creek Bikes being shipped to Sycamore Cycles for TMHTE. Mike seems like a guy who's in the bike biz for the right reasons, and his shop offers a lot of rides throughout the year if you find yourself in the area. After a breakfast of cinnamon waffles, cheese eggs and maple sausage I simply rolled down the driveway to Consauga Rd, and made my way to the Bear Creek Trailhead. This does involve a little gravel road travel, but they roads are narrow forest service roads, twisting through pine trees and streams, and make for a nice warm up. This section of Pinhoti held up to all the hype. If the Snake Creek Pinhoti and Pinhoti 1/2/3 were sisters, you'd date Pinhoti 1/2/3 because she's prettier and much easier to deal with. Snake Creek Pinhoti is always picking fights just to fight, throwing unnecessary challenges at you. The fairer sister is hardpack clay, dressed with just enough pine needles to make it interesting. Alright, analogy done. I only rode 2 and 1, which was about 17 miles, and almost 3,000 feet of climbing. The best part of these trails is their elevation profile. When you are climbing, you know it, but then you level off, and its definitely the top. Then you start heading down, and you don't really stop until you are at the bottom again. The downhills were lightning fast, smooth and burmed, a few logs and water bars, but not a single rut or loose rock could be found. They were wide enough that a gravity novice like myself felt safe riding it open most of the time, but through in a couple turns to remind you that you're on a trail not a fire road.

I left out Pinhoti 3 and the Bear Creek Loop/Trail, that way I still have new trail to ride when I return. All said, there's probably 30-35 miles of riding real close to the bunkhouse, and quite a bit more in neighborhood. Diane even offered a pick up if we went out for a long day. Hmmm...maybe ride all the way to the convention center...summer dreams.

GPS info for the southern trip:

Mulberry Gap

Chilhowee (Near Ocoee and no doubt misspelled)
Franklin State Forest (very partial)
Raccoon Mountain (GPS died before the finish)

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