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

Weekend in the mountains was great on multiple levels

I had a wonderful weekend at my mother’s 80th birthday party in Vogel State Park this weekend. The weather could have been better on Saturday. But thank goodness we had an enclosed area for the party – we had a great time together.

I had a good time camping at Dawson Forest. I’ll be going back there many times I’m sure!

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Click to see Dawson Forest on a map.

The ride from North Springs Marta to Dawson Forest was 55 miles.  But that could have been more like 45-48 miles were it not for bad directions from my TomTom app :-(

TomTom usually does good bicycle routes, but it sent me down Bagwell Circle which is a private road I refused to take.  Unfortunately, that turned into a pretty big detour – not that I was super wigged out or anything – it was a good day for the ride.

Note to self: Avoid routes that use Bagwell Circle.

Friday morning I awoke and felt strong after getting a good night of sleep in my hammock.  I looked at the radar and forecast while my coffee water heated over the stove.  There was a solid bank of light rain across the whole countryside and moving north – no question at all that I would get wet.  I got my rain gear out and made it handy.  Judging from the radar I might ride a couple hours before the rain arrived.

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I broke camp and headed towards Dahlonega and then started the climb to Woddys Gap in Suches, not knowing how my energy would hold up to the mountain.

After leaving Dahlonega and climbing for a while, I knew it was work but the tree cover next to the highway didn’t give me the gratification of feeling higher until I broke thru and was greeted with a nice view.

It was sinking in now, that I could do this.  My gearing was such that I didn’t have to walk any of these climbs.  I very rarely even wanted first gear.  And I was able to hold first or higher without “feeing the burn”, so I know I could have managed something a little bit steeper still.  This is very good to know I can handle a loaded bicycle up here, if only because that lets me make plans for other trips with a feeling of confidence.

I checked the radar and as I’d seen a couple times already, the rain keeps disintegrating when it gets close to where I am.  I’m staying dry for the most part.  Light sprinkles here and there :-)

IMG_1096I made it to Woddys Gap just fine.  By the time I made it to the top of Wolf Pen Gap I was pretty tired.  I was finding first gear for hills that weren’t very steep.

This made me highly welcome the steep descent from the top of Wolf Pen Gap to Vogel State Park.

 

I made the park feeling like king of the mountain!IMG_1097

Getting close to Dawson Forest

I’ll camp at Dawson Forest (City of Atlanta Tract) tonight. I’m at the Subway, about 15 miles from where I’ll camp.

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The weather is very nice, other than a pretty stiff wind.

I remain apprehensive about the ride to Vogel tomorrow. That’s more difficult than any touring-bike ride I’ve ever done. I’m working on a mantra I got from the old story, The Little Engine That Could.

I think I can, I think I can…

Getting my feet wet with a mountain ride

This coming week, on April 17th, I’ll make my first venture into the mountains on my loaded touring bike. I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I got that puppy in November 2012. I just haven’t found the time.

I’m a little apprehensive about this trip because I don’t know how difficult the hills will be. I’ve ridden up in this area a lot over the years, but always on a lightweight road bike. Never with the rig I’m riding now. But there’s only one way to find out and that’s to go!



View Ride to Vogel in a larger map

I’m riding to Vogel State Park where my mother Lois will be having her 80th birthday party!

I’m keeping the miles as short as I can so I’ll have maximum energy when I make it up to the steep climbs. So I’ll take the Marta train to the North Springs station and ride from there. My first day is then about 50 miles to Dawson Forest where I’ll camp. This forest is owned by the city of Atlanta and is about 10,000 acres of watershed. You can camp anywhere, with the only expectation being that you pack out any trash of course.

The forest hosts two beautiful streams of water – the Etowah River and Amicalola Creek. My tentative plan is to camp on the river somewhere. I’ve never been to this area, but studying with Google Earth indicates some shoals/rapids to be found. I’ll try to find myself a campsite near the river where I can hear the water.

Getting to Dawson Forest will be similar to riding around in Atlanta. The serious climbing happens the next day. For the route I’ve planned I’m expecting 6000 feet of elevation gain that day and about 4500 feet of elevation loss. Seven hundred feet of that loss is a really steep hill I’ll go down right before getting to the park. The maximum grade should be about 13%. I don’t know if I can ride that or not? Maybe not a problem – or maybe I’ll do some walking!

It’s not like I can’t get a ride, mind you. But what kind of adventure would that be?

Waking at Panola Mountain

I got finally went camping last night at the new primitive campground at Panola Mountain State Park. This campground opened about a year ago. It’s a very pretty setting on Scott’s Lake (a little pond really).

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Beautiful morning! After some coffee and oatmeal to break the chill, time to go play!

Planning the C&O and Great Allegheny Passage

Started a new page about my next big tour. I’m excited about this ride. This should be a nice trip in June. Hoping for good weather. I can’t wait for warmer temperatures.

This will probably be a relatively easy ride with lots of good camping and sites along the way. And I’ll visit my brother Robert, his wife Terri, and witness the high school graduation of my niece Katie.

I’m so ready!

I love my new saddle

I just got this new bicycle seat, a Selle-Anatomica. I found it more attractive as a touring saddle than the better-known Brooks. For me this is a better transition from a racing saddle.

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My saddle is Watershed leather with copper studs to secure the leather. They have several different styles to choose from. The setup guide is very well written so it’s not hard to get dialed in so you’re fit to the bicycle just right for the best comfort and efficiency.

It is made of leather and has no padding to “sink” into and potentially cut off blood flow. The saddle has adjustable tension so it can be very flexible, very tight and hard, or anything in between. I’ve only been about 25 miles on it so far, so I can’t say for sure how it will work out on real long rides. But I am very impressed so far!

I can already feel the subtle positive effects of just a little bit of “give” in the surface. When I’m powering up a slow steep climb and planted hard in the seat and going over bumps, I can hardly feel them. It puts me one with the bicycle. My old racing saddle would jar my sit bones as I went up a surface like that.

There’s a sale running right now where you can get these for $99.