Monthly Archives: December 2017

Long Branch.

421962I put up some crazy numbers last week, and even crossed over 44 million steps (and it only took me 18 days to add another million steps to my totals). This may have been my best week ever; I’m not sure, and I’m not really motivated enough to dig through all my stats to see. Nonetheless, great numbers. I’m not sure I can keep up this pace for long, but if I can, I might just hit my 50 million step goal by June. We’ll see.

click for larger, or Endomondo data or Movescount data

click for larger, or Endomondo data or Movescount data

Ironically, my worst numbers day was Sunday, but that was by far the most challenging overall day for me, in the form of a mountain bike ride on Lookout Mountain. I decided to knock out another major section of 5 Points; specifically, 5 Points to the Nickajack Trailhead via the appropriately-named Long Branch Trail. Only 21.5 miles round-trip, but it was brutal. Just brutal. I started at 5 Points at sunup, under cold, damp and gray weather, and took the Peace Can Trail into the woods to the northernmost end of the Cloudland Connector Trail. This is the same trail I took last weekend, but headed north by northeast (sorry, Cary Grant) this time. Crossed the highway, and picked up the Long Branch Trail. Now, I’m not a real “hardcore” mountain biker, but I am skilled – still, this trail was challenging. 500 feet in elevation shift, crossing Long Branch Creek back and forth several times (so, wet feet) – just super-tough, especially in the less-than-favorable conditions. A little sunshine would have helped take the chill off – it was about 40 degrees – but I was layered up nicely, so I never really got too cold.
one of several bridges crossing Long Branch - click for larger

one of several bridges crossing Long Branch (that’s a horse crossing on the left) – click for larger

Anyway, after the long trip on Long Branch, I exited the end of the “official” 5 Points/Cloudland Connector section, and continued north on the highway to Rock Creek Road. No real reason; this was just the route I planned. From there, back across the highway to Mt. Olive Road and south on Vulcan Road, looping around back to the highway. I kinda thought once I was back on the highway, it would just be a breezy 4 or 5 miles back to the trailhead. Not true. About 2 miles of this route was uphill – tough uphill. When you’re driving, you don’t really think about/appreciate how steep roads can be; when you’re pedaling, it becomes painfully clear. Still, no choice but to do it, and do it I did. All told, about 10 miles on the trails, and 11.5 miles on the road. A good ride, and probably my last in this area. There are still trails at 5 Points, but these are primarily short mountain biking trails; no more long routes like this one.

Because I’m (clearly) fascinated by maps, I’ve composited the 3 recent bike rides in this area onto one satellite-imagery map. There’s this ride, as well as last weekend’s Cloudland Canyon ride, and the Lula Lake ride I took back in November. This is just the southern end of Lookout Mountain; I’ve done lots of exploring on the northern end, in the form of bike rides and hiking – this is all visible on the Master Adventure Map.

click for larger

click for larger

So, what’s next? I don’t really know. There’s still a lot of ground to cover (on foot) at Savage Gulf, and I’d like to do a highway bike ride up in the Foster Falls area. And, as warmer weather (hopefully) rapidly approaches, I plan on taking as many motorbike trips as possible. Life is friggin’ short, and it’s getting shorter every second. Got to get out there and live it.

Link:
Long Branch Trail Photo Album on Facebook

A Little Cold Never Hurt Anyone.

At the Ascalon Trailhead - click for larger

At the Ascalon Trailhead – click for larger

…but a lot of cold can wreck you, and can be extremely dangerous if you’re not prepared for it. And I would know. All week, I’ve been planning my first mountain bike ride at 5 Points, in the Cloudland Canyon/Rising Fawn area of southern Lookout Mountain in Georgia. I’ve heard lots of my MTB friends talk about the trails here, but I’ve never personally ridden them. After finding the trailhead (pretty much by accident) during the Cloudland Canyon dual hike a couple weeks back, I decided it was time to hit it. Now, the prognosticators indicated it would be in the 30s in the morning, rising into the 50s by afternoon.

They were…incorrect.

When I arrived at the main 5 Points Trailhead at sunup (gym, after, natch), it was 19 degrees. Nineteen. Nonetheless, I was committed to hitting the trails – I didn’t drive an hour just to bail because it wasn’t Speedo weather. So, I layered up (I had on 19 articles of clothing – I would have been unstoppable at strip poker)(try to contain your disappointment), and headed up through the aptly-named 5 Points to the Cloudland Connector Trail; a fairly easy multi-use trail that leads all the way to Cloudland Canyon. An uneventful but challenging ride about 7 miles through the woods via the Ascalon Trailhead to the southeast end of Cloudland Canyon State Park. But cold. Did I mention it was cold? Have you seen those National Geographic photos of climbers on Everest with icicles hanging off their faces? Yeah, that. It was so cold my water bottle on the bike froze. Good times.

Cloudland Canyon West Rim - click for larger

Cloudland Canyon West Rim – click for larger

At least it was sunny, and by the time I made it to the West Rim parking lot, I felt pretty good. Temps still in the 20s, but really, not that bad, and the park was deserted, because only a crazy person would be out there in that weather. It just goes to show that it’s all about preparation, kids. So, from the West Rim, I rode the entire park, from one end to the other, and then exited down the abandoned road that leads to Sunset Drive on the western side of Lookout Mountain.


Then, just an easy – but long – ride back to the trailhead, via the highways on Lookout Mountain. The route I took looped back around past the main entrance of Cloudland Canyon park, so I stopped in the Visitor’s Center because a ranger I spoke with earlier told me they had coffee. The last time i was here, the Visitor’s Center was closed because it was early, but I found it’s actually quite nice – not only did they have coffee (which was free – just a suggested donation)(that I gladly made), they have souvenirs, food, drinks, etc. A bag of trail mix with my coffee and a calorie-laden Duncan Donuts vanilla coffee drink for later on the road was just what I needed to get my second wind.

Cloudland Canyon Visitor's Center, AKA The Happiest Place on Earth (at the time) - click for larger

Cloudland Canyon Visitor’s Center, AKA The Happiest Place on Earth (at the time) – click for larger

Anyway, it took a while to get back to 5 Points; the highways are very hilly, so there was some pushing the bike, since the cold was causing my legs to cramp up. Leg cramps can be completely debilitating when riding, making every pump excruciating, so I was trying to alter my activities to keep my legs stretched out. In fact, although the entire adventure was just under 30 miles, I’d say it was about 10 miles of actual mountain biking, 15 miles on the streets, and 5 miles walking/pushing. Good full-body workout, I guess.

click for larger, or Endomondo data, or Movescount data (more accurate)

click for larger, or Endomondo data, or Movescount data (more accurate)

Of course, the Master Adventure Map has been updated, and the thing is just getting bigger and bigger as my exploring spreads farther away from home base. Thanks to the Jeep, I’m covering a lot more ground now, and really getting out there (in fact, I had to put last weekend’s Monte Sano adventure in a box on the map, because it’s so far away). Eventually, the map is going to get larger than Photoshop’s max file size – but just like when I’m exploring, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

And now, because I’m obviously very sick, I’m going to crawl under the electric blanket. For about a week.

Links:
5 Points Mountain Bike Ride Photo Album on Facebook
Monte Sano Hike Photo Album on Facebook

Savage Canyon.

43milAnother weekend, another round of adventure. More on that in a sec – but first, I crossed over 43 million steps on my FitBit. That’s just an insane amount of steps, in 4.5 years. My goal is to hit 50 million by my 5-year anniversary next June; not sure that’s doable, but that’s my goal. That means more than a million steps a month for the next 6 months, which is probably overly-optimistic, but I’m gonna shoot for it, nonetheless. Probably need to go get some more shoes.

So, this weekend, adventures at the opposite ends of the earth (well, to me, anyway). Saturday, it was Savage Gulf, about an hour north in the South Cumberland State Recreation Area; and Sunday, it was Cloudland Canyon, an hour south and high atop Lookout Mountain. All told, more than 26 miles exploring, 3 impressive waterfalls (and many smaller ones), bluffs, vistas, full-on Mother Nature.

Savage Falls - click for larger

Savage Falls – click for larger

I rode my motorcycle to Savage Gulf last weekend, just to figure out where it was and what it was like, but didn’t actually explore. Not this time – I explored the entire South Rim, for a total of 18.5 miles. The highlight was clearly Savage Falls, just a few miles into the hike. A somewhat small yet spectacular waterfall, nestled deep down in the canyon. A little tough to get to, but the steps leading down made the climb a little easier. Following that, an uneventful hike all the way to the end of the South Rim, with side trips up shorter trails to the many overlooks above the gulf itself. I had intended to turn north at the end of the trail, and take the connector trail to the North Rim and get back that way – however, by the time I was at the “decision point”, I knew there wasn’t going to be enough daylight to do that. After-dark hiking is forbidden here (because of the high bluffs), and my trail name is “Dangerboy”, not “Stupidboy”, so I had no choice but to backtrack back. I had also read that the connector trail is the hardest, most dangerous trail in the area (it goes down into the gulf, then back up to the North Rim), so that helped with the decision-making process.

Still, there was enough daylight left to divert onto the Day Loop trail for the last couple of miles. I’m not a fan of straight-line hiking (following the same route in and out), so this at least gave me a little variety. By the end, though, I was wiped out. Bruised, cut up, aching legs – but worth it. 18.5 miles is the longest hike I’ve taken in a while; my goal will be to break my 26-mile record this season. The only thing stopping me will be the amount of daylight available. We’ll see. Regardless, there are still trails to explore at Savage Gulf, so I’ll definitely be back.

click for larger, or Endomondo data, or Movescount data, or the Official Trail Map

click for larger, or Endomondo data, or Movescount data, or the Official Trail Map

Sunday, a pair of hikes that ranked right up there with the Best Hikes Ever. Not particularly long or challenging, but step-for-step, some of the best scenery I’ve ever seen. My first trip to Cloudland Canyon, and it did not disappoint.

Cloudland Canyon - click for larger

Cloudland Canyon – click for larger

Because I was still pretty well shredded from Saturday, I decided to break this hike up into two shorter hikes. By doing this, I didn’t have to carry my pack or any gear other than water and my camera. This made the going much faster, and was easier on my still-sore bod (I did go to the gym first, though – naturally).

Hemlock Falls - click for larger

Hemlock Falls – click for larger


I started out on the West Rim Trail right as the sun was coming up. I just can’t say enough about this trail – the views were spectacular, even with the fog laying over the valley below. There are multiple overlooks, all nicely constructed with steps and fencing where necessary (because it’s a long fall down to the valley floor). The trails themselves are very clearly marked, which is a big plus. The West Rim isn’t a long trail; it was only 3.5 miles to make the loop back to the Jeep.

After that, a drive over to the main park area, and the Overlook Trail. As the name implies, more spectacular scenery of the canyon as the trail winds around the bluffs. It connects to the south end of the West Rim Trail, and spurs off to the Waterfalls Trail. This is where the scenery transitioned from “spectacular” to “breathtaking”. My favorite parts of any trail are the waterfalls, and there are two on the Waterfalls Trail. First, down into the canyon to Cherokee Falls. Because there hasn’t been a lot of rain lately, there wasn’t a huge amount of water (far different than the recent Lula Lake adventure), but it was beautiful, all the same. Following Cherokee Falls, back up the trail, then down hundreds of steps and multiple bridges to reach Hemlock Falls. This is by far the tallest waterfall I’ve seen in my trekking, and was totally worth the climb down. I must go back after the next heavy rain – I can’t even imagine how fantastic it would be with more water coming over. Of course, going down means going back up, and I actually sprinted up most of the steps back to the top (and my calves are complaining about that today).

After the falls, a pretty quick trip back to the Jeep. All together, 5 miles on these trails, but in a much more condensed area than the West Rim trail, especially since a large portion of the hike was getting down into the canyon (twice!) and exploring around the base of the two waterfalls. But after the marathon hike Saturday at Savage Gulf, this was a perfect hike.

I’ll definitely be returning here, soon. In fact, my mountain bike friends are always talking about 5 Points, which are a series of multi-use trails just northeast of Cloudland Canyon that connect to the park. I’m already mapping my next MTB adventure here, which should be a good 30 – 40 miles of riding on the trails as well as on the highway between Cloudland Canyon and the 5 Points trailhead. Next sunny, mild day, you know where to look for me.

kuatAddendum: I received the Kuat Skinny Roof Rack I ordered for the Jeep, just in time to not have it over the weekend. I like it, a lot – in addition to being able to carry more gear up top, it also doubles as a bike carrier, if I don’t want to use the hitch-mounted carrier I have (or if I need to carry more than 2 bikes). The best part is that because it’s half-width, I can use it in conjunction with my kayak rack, so I can carry my boat and gear, my boat and my bike, whatever. The downside is that I won’t be able to carry two kayaks, but I rarely (if ever) do that, and if I need to, I can always use the truck. Here I come, more adventure!

Links:
Savage Gulf Hike Photo Album on Facebook
Cloudland Canyon Photo Album on Facebook

Two Years.

So, I’ve now hit my fitness goals on my AppleWatch for two straight years. While that may seem impressive, it’s probably more impressive that I haven’t lost the thing, broken it, or at the very least, forgotten to charge it.

Motivation.

Motivation.

So, we’ve got badges for hitting my goals every month from December 2015 to November 2017, as well as 5K Turkey Trot badges from last year and this year, an Earth Day badge, Mother’s Day badge, Veterans Day badge, National Parks badge, a badge for hitting everything in January 2017, plus a slew of various workout badges, and badges for 100, 365 and 500 workouts completed. That dimmed “1000” badge is taunting me – I’ll see you next July, badge.

Now I need a nap.