Last night of my mountain ride

I haven’t updated my blog enroute because I’ve been busy having fun and/or managing my vacation life. It’s been a great ride. After regrouping in Dahlonega I managed to set out again on Tuesday morning. My first stop will be Dukes Creek Falls.

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The trailhead for the falls is off of the Richard Russell Parkway. The trail is not well marked. When you descend the wooden stairs on the platform after thousand feet or so, go left at the creek instead of right.

Up the road a piece was really the best camping and best waterfall of the trip.

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Raven Cliff Falls were spectacular. The trail to the falls follows the creek thru hundreds of cascades and pretty pools for two and a half miles. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I needed a campsite. And to that end, the trail to the falls (and camping) was challenging for my loaded bike. But I managed to get it to a campsite and was very pleased with the outcome.

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I locked my bike to a tree and set off down the trail. The walk to the falls is a five mile round trip. It’s varied and beautiful the whole way. The falls are a collection of many cascades and spread out. The area is breathtaking. It’s also impossible to capture in a picture. This is just a shot of me standing next to a little part of it.

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Definitely go all the way up! The climb gets steep at the end and for the last couple hundred feet it looks like there’s nothing more to see (although no originating top of the falls has quite made itself visible). But persist and you find that the rocks make a 90 degree turn near the top of the falls, with this chute being the very top. It’s cool and misty on my face and feels so nice.

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I know you have no scale here. Those rocks are BIG ok?

I got back to camp and tried out my new pot with a load of split lintels which turned out yummy. I finished getting camp setup while they cooked.

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I had a really nice sleep by the sound of the creek, with this whole place to myself.

In the morning I filtered water from the creek and headed out to climb hog pen gap. This is known as a challenging climb among the sport riding crowd. Sometimes the hills run at 12-14% grade. I figure I can get off and push if I need to for a short section, or just turn around and go a different way.

I spent a lot of time at barely more than 3.5 mph but I managed to climb the whole thing! But this feels like it must be near the steepest grade I could hold for very long.

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Here’s just some pics with captions for the rest. It was all good – I’m just low on time.

Blairsville fiddle shop.

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Needs a roof more than anything I own!

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Bought a jacket at Walmart. Headed for Desoto Falls.

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I think that’s some of what I climbed at hog pen gap.

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Came down 129 and climbed Neel Gap.

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Hiked to Desoto Falls and camped there.

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Headed for Suches via Turners Corner.

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It’s cloudy and cool and misty. In other words perfect weather to climb to Woody Gap.

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I was going to see the swinging bridge but that will have to wait for another time. It’s Friday and I need to position myself to make it home by Sunday and still be enjoying the ride. I’m heading down towards Ellijay with some quality time next to Tocoa River.

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I’m apprehensious about getting to Ellijay at a reasonable hour. I don’t know these roads and what challenges they have. But so far so good!

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I come out on 76 not a hop skip and a jump from where mom used to live.

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When I got to Ellijay I passed a bike shop with a nice crowd that flagged me down for a photo op.

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Got a room at the Ellijay Inn and had a nice dinner on this 2nd floor balcony downtown.

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Headed for Dawson Forest to spend my last night.

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Riding down the road and starting up a hill, I encountered a man coming the other way that asked me to stop and chat. The man was Jack Fussel and we talked for a while. Jack is a long distance runner. We had a nice time sharing a comradery that’s not to be found everywhere.

Pumpkin season.

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Dawson Forest was full of hunters. I road on and got a room in Cumming where I am now. Tomorrow I ride home. It’s been SO good.

Nice day yesterday – new plan for today

I had a nice ride on Sunday after finally getting some better sleep. I had spent the night in the woods behind the volunteer fire station. The area was a little more populated than I would want – not just long tracts of Forest. I was nestled in the brush pretty well. But I was not comfortable making a bunch of light and commotion cooking in the morning so I had a bananna, a couple boiled eggs (thanks mom), and a granola bar. I had enough light from the stars to tear down camp and pack myself up with only a couple bursts of light from my headlamp. I set out about 6:30 am. with my first stop in mind being the Edge of the World rapids.

I crossed over Amicalola Creek right after dawn.

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I’ve been to a Edge of the World many times when I was younger. It used to be a favorite location for my family. In those days there was just a rough path from the bridge and if you didn’t know it was there then too bad for you. Now it’s built up with a boardwalk and signage and rules and regulations. It is just as pretty though. And fully handicap accessible down to the rapids at least.

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Leaving the rapids, I’m pondering just what to do with my day. I’m heading towards my planned hike to Cochran Falls. Along the way, I’m taking some interesting roads here and there as a weave my way up towards Chattahoochee Forest. The trees and the water are frequent companions and I take a nice break on Goshen Church Road.

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I was tempted here to try out a slushy. But that’s two miles the wrong way to the falls. I feel a little urgency since it will be a long hike and I’m not sure where I’ll spend the night.

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The picture doesn’t do it justice. But there’s a million happy faces watching me ride up highway 183 this Sunday.

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Having taken a few gravel roads so far that include some steep climbs, the reality is catching up to the fantasy and the two of them apparently live in parallel but distinct worlds. In other words this is harder than I thought when I was mapping it out on Google Maps! For one thing I don’t have the tires for a ride like this. I need fatter tires. Continental Travel Contacts in 2″ would probably be ideal as a compromise between street and trail. But I’m not sure I’d be up to the challenge anyway. So the further I go the more my ambitious plans are scaled back and the universe in my mind shrinks down to an area that I can manage and have fun doing it.

Cochran Falls will have to wait. This is only my second day out and my legs are starting to feel it. I can handle pavement and short stretches of gravel OK though. So Amicalola Falls is a nice destination for a mid day snack.

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As I was going up the hill to the falls I said hello to a man coming down with his wife and kids. I overheard him as I went by say “that guy is pedaling a lot but not going very fast”. I shrug that off – am I supposed to be impressed at how hard he mashes the accelerator on his truck?

My plan for tonight has solidified. It’s going to be Dahlonega. I’ve ridden enough to know better what I can do and what I’ll feel like along the way up here. I think the ideal thing will be a rest day in Dahlonega. I’m going to scale my itinerary down a little, sleep in a bed, take a shower, and be a tourist on the square.

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I checked into the super 8, put on street clothes, and I’m out for a walk. It’s a pretty stroll up to downtown.

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I indulge in a little fudge followed by a great dinner and live music on the deck at Bourbon Street Grill. Life is good.

Later…

I stopped at the visitors center and found a pamphlet on 22 hiking trails within 32 miles of dahlonega. Hmm

I’ve left for a week in the mountains

Today I finally exited Atlanta around 7:30 this morning. I’ve been so excited about this adventure. I couldn’t sleep past 3 a.m. this morning. I had allowed myself to sleep late but I couldn’t actually do it. But I’m glad. I’m closer to the mountains now.

It was real cloudy and muggy when I left. I headed up the east side of Atlanta towards Cuming on Medlock Bridge Road.

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Then I took the pretty Bettis Tribble Gap road and made my way to Kelly Bridge Road that took me along the base of Dawson Forest.

It’s about 5 p.m. now. I found a place to camp near Cowen Road. It’s a pretty spot in the woods, with fern and pine straw and a few big trees that will do well with my hammock.

Tomorrow I’ll try to see Edge of the World Rapids and Cochran Falls. Both of those are a hike from the road. But I should have plenty of time for that and some lingering since that’s only about 16 miles from my camp.

Started building a map of my North Georgia ride

I’m focusing on waterfalls for this trip.  I love moving water.  If I can find a place to sleep next to one, that much the better!

I’ve built a map of waterfalls I want to visit – I’ve seen a few of these but many will be entirely new to me.  Right now the list is kind of haphazard.  I’ll update the map soon with a general route I’m likely to follow.

I’ll also be adding some campgrounds.  I expect to stealth-camp as-needed if I’m not close to a real campground when nightfall approaches.  But it would also be a shame to do that not knowing I’m close to a legitimate campground!  I’m finding some good opportunities at this website for one.  I’m just going for the primitive sites.

A week in the North Georgia Mountains is waiting

OK.  I’ve made a plan.  I was going to take a three week trip on the GAP and C&O next month, but I can’t swing the time off and impact to projects going on.  So as a compromise I’m going to take a week and ride in the Georgia mountains this September (9/14-20 or thereabouts).

This will be so much fun.  I’ll make Dawson Forest the first day and keep on trucking from there.  I’ll head into the Chattahoochee National Forest the next day and probably roam all over that area during the week.  Soon I’ll map out a route with some areas like like to visit so I have a basic plan.  But in practice I’ll make it dynamic, where it’s not until the morning that I really know what I’d like to do that day.

The weather may be really splendid – hopefully so anyway.  The heat of the summer (such as it’s been) will have waned, with fall in the wings.

Camping at Etowah River

This weekend I returned to Dawson Forest and camped on the banks of the Etowah River.  I left early on Saturday morning and took my usual ride on the train to the North Springs Station and road the bicycle from there.  The weather was nice the whole weekend, albeit a little on the warm side if you spend much time in the sun.

I’ve been apprehensive about committing to a long day’s ride in the sun since I have trouble keeping myself hydrated.  But since I started out pretty early I had covered most of the distance to the forest by 10 a.m. when it really started getting hot.

The ride was pretty, and trouble free.  The most notable thing along the way was this downed tree on the forest road.  Not much trouble to role the bicycle over, hoisting the rear end so I don’t dig my chainrings into the wood.

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I took the blue trail nearly to the abandoned bridge and then walked up river to my last campsite.  This time I continued along the river for another 500 feet or so and found a more ideal location.  I sited these two trees on the river bank as being about right for my hammock.

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This is a very hidden spot near the river.  The banks are about 25 feet off the water right here.

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I found it interesting to observe the groups of people coming down the river – always either a canoe or kayak.  People floating down the river will apparently invariably keep their eyes on the water and never look up the banks of the river – at least that’s what I found as again and again, folks would come floating down the river and pass only 25 feet below me without noticing my presence.

I’ve decided I need to do something about my water supply.  I tank up at my latest opportunity which is several miles from the forest.  At that point I have five water bottles plus a collapsible container that will fill about five more.  Coming into the forest around noon, as I did this time, that water needs to last through the afternoon, that night, and until I exit the forest and reach water the next day.  With drinking, cooking, and cleaning I might make it out of the forest and to my water stop with a couple of water bottles still full.  That’s all OK but it doesn’t allow me to really explore.  Right now I need to kind of “take it easy” on the day I arrive, or the water won’t last.  I need to either carry more, or figure out how to make the river water safe to drink – I think the latter is my best option.

It was a nice ride home the next day.  I went to Cumming, which I’ve come to think of as the gateway to the Appalachians.  North of Cumming most of the ride is very pretty, with rolling hills.

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South of Cumming, it feels much more like being in the Atlanta metro area and is very industrial.

I had a nice ride home, even though I didn’t get out of the forest until late in the morning and it was getting pretty hot outside.  I can’t keep myself hydrated in this kind of weather and I’ve learned that I need to take frequent breaks (and did).  I stopped at the Waffle House in Cumming and had my favorite treat – pecan pie heated with butter!

The last time I peed that day was at the campsite when I left, even though I was drinking at least a litre per hour and sometimes more.  When I got to the Yacht Club down in Little Five Points I was pretty dehydrated.  I started getting cramps in my legs.  I was able to get my muscles to settle down some by not sitting for long and keeping my legs extended.  I stayed and drank beer for a while.  I know beer is not the best for hydration but I was only a few miles from home at this point.

Picked up some dinner at Willy’s for me and mom – good weekend!

Camping at Dawson Forest – found a new route

I just had a great camping trip, going up to Dawson Forest again.  I left on Friday July 4th.  I didn’t get myself packed till about 10 p.m. Thursday night, but still got up at 4 a.m. so I could make an early start.  I left the house around 6 a.m. and took the train up to the North Springs Station where I started the bicycle ride.

I was originally concerned about making the ride in the hot weather, with proper hydration always on my mind.  But the weather cooled off quite nicely for the 4th.  I guess the big hurricane to the south of us has been drawing northern air down here.  So it was nice and cool as I began the ride.

I had a nice ride up.  I delayed a decision about exactly what route to follow until I got close to the forest.  I’ve been looking for an alternative entrance to the Highway 9/east side of the forest.  There’s nothing really bad about it but I like to stay off big highways when I can.  As I’ve studied Kelly Bridge Road, which hugs the forest along the southern edge, I’ve found a few places where it looked like a bicycle might get into the forest.

I goofed off a good bit on the way up and didn’t get to the Dawson Forest area until around 3 p.m.  So I decided to take the expeditious highway 9 route into the forest.  I took Dawson Forest road to the familiar dead end and then hooked up with the blue trail that leads down to Etowah River.  I headed back to the same camping spot I found a few weeks ago next to the abandoned rail road bridge.

IMG_1159While this spot is nice, I was concerned that it is still a little exposed.  Expecting the possibility of routy July 4th party action I’d just as soon avoid, I decided to venture a little further along the river into the woods.  Behind the railroad bridge is a (naturally) abandoned road.  It looks little like a road anymore, as it is being reclaimed by the earth.  But it made a nice path to follow  as I studied my opportunities.  Picking a good spot to camp is usually a trade-off between finding something secluded, and finding something I can get my bicycle and gear into and out of.

About 100 feet from the river bank I found an easy looking path and followed that for a couple hundred feet where I found two nicely spaced trees to hang my hammock.  You can’t tell it from this shot but this is a spot where I can see and hear the river from the hammock, which always makes for the best sleeping experience!

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This will become a favorite camping destination.

It turned out to be a very quiet evening.  I felt like the only person in the forest.  During the afternoon I would occasionally hear people talking and approaching, but that turned out to always be paddlers going down the river next to me.

Being July, I decided to leave the sleeping bag at home.  For bed cover, I just took my sleeping bag liner and a light blanket.  It was nice and warm out and I went to bed with the covers piled at my feet.  I got chilly after dark and put on the liner and spread the blanket over me.  Then in the wee hours I was a little chilled, but not enough to go find the additional layer of clothing I had packed.

I didn’t wake until after 6 a.m. in the morning, with the light of the sun breaking into the hammock.  I got up and had coffee and oatmeal at my campsite while I stretched and enjoyed the morning air.  I love living outdoors like this!

My mind is back on finding the ideal entrance to the park, and this morning I’m going to search from inside the forest instead of out.  There are a couple of “closed” roads that spin off of the main forest road that I want to check out.  As I was heading out of the forest I saw a little gravel road heading to the right.  No sign post or anything.  I decided to ride down it for just a bit, knowing this to be quite near the power lines on the border of the forest.

The gravel road crossed the power lines and then ended at this berm, where I see that another road begins on the other side.  Paydirt!  Looking on Google Maps, I can see this is Salem Church Road, which is easy to connect to Kelly Bridge Road by following a turn onto Bagwell Road.

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I must be breaking some law to enter/exit the forest this way but do I care?  Of course not.

As I explored a route home things only got better.  I found an absolutely beautiful route for 15 miles or so down to Cumming Ga.  The morning air was crisp and cool and tall trees make this ride dark and green and shady.  The ride is pretty hilly but they are short hills and often my momentum carries me thru most of the climb.  This will become a favorite route.  To follow this, continue on Bagwell Road to Kelly Bridge Road, West Ray Road, Elmo Road, John Burruss Road, and Bettis Tribble Gap Road.  The ride is nothing short of spended the whole way!

As I got close to Cumming I passed Sawnee Mountain Preserve.  I didn’t stop there but want to check that out in the future.

From Cumming I found a route down Old Atlanta Road, and Medlock Bridge Road (which is basically Peachtree Road out in the boonies).  This ride has frequent bicycle lanes and plenty of space, but is otherwise very sunny (i.e. no trees) and kind of uneventful. It’s a good place for heads-down pumping away and quickly getting down to Atlanta.  But being so open, I definitely wished I’d brought some sunscreen with me.

Crossing the Chattahoochee back into Atlanta I enjoyed this pretty view of the river and people having fun on their afternoon float.

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From here I went down thru Norcross and Tucker and then on to the Emory area. I stopped in at Willy’s to pick up take-out for me and Mom and then made it to the house around 5:30 p.m.

Nice time camping!

Lessons learned:

New entrance to the forest via Salem Church Road!

Weekend camping at Dawson Forest and Amicalola River

I took Friday off work and the night before, I got the bicycle outfitted for a weekend of camping. Ever since going to Dawson Forest a few weeks ago on my way to Vogel State Park I’ve wanted to go back and explore this area more. So early on Friday morning I headed out for the mountains.

This is pretty-much the route I followed, not counting substantial differences inside the perimeter of Atlanta and a few offshoots I took.


View Dawson Forest Camping in a larger map

The ride to Dawson Forest was pleasant. My heart was aloft when I left the North Springs MARTA station at 7 a.m. I’ve been looking forward to exploring the Forest since I was here a few weeks ago. I was just passing through heading to Vogel State Park and didn’t have time then.

I stopped at the information center for trail info when I got here around noon. Turns out, it is unattended but had maps that you can take and has a fee box for cyclists or horseback riders to pay $7 for a trail permit. That’s good by me of course.

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I studied the map for a bit and then decided to take the blue trail. That heads to Etowah River, which seems like a good area to camp. I like the sound of moving water, especially when it’s a gentle flow that I can go to sleep to and wake up to.

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I took the blue trail towards Etowah River. The topography is varied. This is a mountain back trail. Riding it on my touring bike was easy in places like this, where the trail is pretty much like a dirt road.

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Other places, the trail is narrower and softer. This is more challenging on my touring setup and tires, but not too bad. The feeling of getting more and more remote from civilization is nice and the views are very pretty. There are some steep sections where I had to walk the bike but they’re only a few hundred feet in a few places.

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I got lost a couple times, where I found myself off the trail and had to backtrack. Ultimately I found my way without going more than a mile out of the way. But while I was lost I got off on the pink trail (I ultimately discovered), when I arrived at where an old bridge used to cross the river in the past.

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Once I got back on the trail I could see that I had missed a marker that was reasonably placed.

Continuing down the blue trail, I finally got to where it crosses the river. On the map, the blue trail crosses the Etowah with no fanfare. I had heard there are no bridges around here. But I was hopeful of a surprise. It would be great to cross, and go to Amicalola River that way. The blue trail is a “horse/bike” trail. But I can see now that the horses cross the river without too much trouble (assuming a rider ready to get wet). But a bicycle? No way!

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I found a place to camp for the night near an old abandoned railroad bridge.

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Waking Saturday morning, I’m having trouble with my stove. Last trip, I let my oatmeal boil over and it fouled the burner. I was able to clear it after a little while and make coffee and then oatmeal.

It’s almost 6 a.m. now. The sky is starting to get light. I’ve turned off my lights and enjoying the sound of the Forest waking up around me. It’s so nice here with coffee in hand, food in my belly, and peaceful sights and sounds as the sun slowly rises.

Leaving the forest, I’m following the forest road out. This is a nice ride. This morning riding on the road, what took two hours on the blue trail yesterday is a 20 minute ride this morning.

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I stopped in Dawsonville and picked up a foot-long at Subway. That will be most of my lunch and dinner today.

Heading towards Amicalola River I see this outfitter. I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. It looks like riding a raft or canoe down the Etowah would be pure fun. There’s a few very light rapids in spots. But mostly it’s just a peaceful float. I’ve never done it mind you, but I’ve seen a bunch of the river and fun being had in rafts.

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About seven miles from Dawsonville, I come to the Amicalola River. I’m hoping to find a place near the river to camp tonight.
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I stopped for some snacks and gatoraid at the “Handy Corner” convenience store. I bought some cookies and some gatoraid and then asked where I could find a water tap to fill my water bottles. The rather unpleasant woman running the place, curtly informed me that “there might be a tap outside the building”. I asked if there’s a men’s room and got “we used to let people use the bathroom but they were too trashy”. Checking outside, there’s no knob on the spigot. I was told the next nearest place would be 5 miles west. I set off, promising myself that I won’t buy stuff until I know I can get water there.

I did manage to stock up on water at the IGA. Then I headed north on Steve Tate road, which proved to be a beautiful road with pretty rolling hills. Then I veered back to the east a few miles and got back onto Amicalola Church Road, which is gravel at this point where I find another river access.

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Amicalola Church Road is an easy ride on well packed gravel and proves to be a quiet ride for several miles with only a couple cars along the way.

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More pretty views of the river.

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I hooked up with Steel Bridge Road, also gravel. Guess where it led me?

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To the steel bridge! There’s river access here. This area is popular with the party crowd, judging from the beer cans and the few people I see around. The opportunity to camp on the river here is appealing to me. But my better judgement steps in because I don’t want a lot of party action into the night, and that looks like a clear risk here.

I went up the hill just a few hundred yards and found this spot where I ate my subway. This is a very unique place where the river makes a sudden 90 degree turn while moving at a pretty good clip. Over the eons the river has formed a deep and high cliff right here. I remember going to this cliff a long time ago. It must have been 25 years past. I used to jump off of this and down into the water. Now that seems like somebody else. I could not imagine. You can’t tell much from the photo, but this is quite a drop into the water.

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Heading up the road another 1/2 mile or so, the sun is beating down on me as I climb the gravel road up from the river. I decided to stealth-camp here, where I found a quiet place in the woods right off the road and covered by lot’s of brush to hide my location.

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I unloaded my gear and hung out in the shade with a nice cool breeze through the trees to enjoy. I setup my hammock on a hillside not far from my cycle and supplies.

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The next morning I start for home, heading south on Amicalola Church Road. The morning is splendid, and so are the views off this pretty road.

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I took a return route to Atlanta that goes down the west side of the forest. This, I found to be quieter than coming up the east side on Friday. I followed Cowart Road, Yellow Creek Road, and highway 372 most of the way to Alpharetta. Very nice and pretty ride with low traffic and wide shoulders.

Crossing 285, I look down at my map case and see my phone is missing! I curse myself, having lost the phone by not securing the flap on the case in the past. I panic at this point. I keep my whole life on this phone! I had not looked down at it in a while. So I turned around to retrace my steps, not knowing how far back to search. Then while starting back across the bridge I heard “turn around when possible” (a familiar instruction from TomTom). Oh, my pulse settled down as I realized I had stuck my phone in a side pocket so it would not overheat in the sun. Back on course, I’m saved from this disappointing turn of events!

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I took the MARTA train down to the Lindberg Station while taking a rest break. Then back on the cycle, I road to Piedmont Park where I stopped to enjoy the jazz festival for a while. I continued on to the Yacht Club in Little Five Points where I had a couple beers, chatted with friends, and then continued on home. A great weekend! I caught just the edge of a thundershower as I headed for the house – enough to remind me that I really lucked out on the nice weather :-)

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Beautiful morning on One Mile Rock Trail

Yesterday I had plans to return to Dawson Forest to camp for a night. But I didn’t get away early enough for that ride. So I set my sites on Panolo Mountain which is less than 20 miles from home.

When I got to the campground all the primitive sites were taken -:(. Actually that’s not all bad. Those sites were built last year and they’re really nice. I’m glad I’m not the only one to notice or care.

So I made plans to stealth-camp and started pedaling the trail to Arabia Mountain, where I’ve seen promising opportunities in the past – not so much “if” I can camp, but “where”?

Eventually I stopped at One Mile Rock Trail, which is close to the Klondike Road access to Arabia Mountain trail. I went to the bottom of the rock and discovered this pretty lake.

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The lake spills over a little damn and makes a creek that forms small cascading pools of water along a nice trail.

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I walked that trail for a few minutes and found that it hooks up with the boardwalk along the Arabia Mountain Trail.

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Returning to One Mile Walk, I hunted around for a bit and found a good spot in the woods near the trail. I had a nice evening last night.

I’m up before dawn. Made coffee and oatmeal. Now I’m enjoying this pretty world.

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Today I think I’ll ride up to Lithonia on the trail and then head home. Beautiful weekend :-)

Note to self: Lithonia to Stone Mtn via Martin road, redan road, rockbridge/ridge ave is very quiet and shady