6.20.2009,12:35 PM
Tennesee: The Big Green Marshmallow and Trails

On Monday, Janet (a friend from home) and friend Rob rode down from Sweetwater, TN, to visit at the campsite. It was good to see Rob again. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), and was one of the several riders I met up with for four days in Moab, Utah back in 2006. We still joke at how Rob and Janet have been buddies for many years. I found that out only when Janet handed me her cell phone one night and Rob was on the phone. Rob invited me to go white water rafting with their crew on Thursday and, as much as I wanted to go, I had to decline. My sister and Tom were driving down from Warsaw, NY, with their bike. I haven't seen my sister since she and Tom joined us in Moab (September 2006) and I wanted to spend time with them.

Now Tuesday evening, when we returned to base camp, my sister and her significant other, Tom, had arrived and were setting up camp. Apparently we have different ideas about camping. Although we were both 'truck camping' (hauling bikes and camping gear with trucks), I'm still of the 'less is more' idea. Granted, the extra room allows for several amenities of comfort that are impossible in bike camping. Yet, Cathy and Tom's campsite was dubbed the 'Taj Mahal'. At least a TV and radio were nowhere to be found.

The Taj Mahal:

The Cottage:

After they were set up and the bike unloaded, we coerced (didn't take any effort, really) Jack to join us on a ride into town for ice cream. The four bikes with the five of us took the back road into the town square, parked in front of Mike's Motorcycle Outfitter's shop and crossed the narrow street to his wife's ice cream shop.

Tennessee area has it's locally-made ice cream brand (can't recall the name) that might just push the limits beyond Texas' Bluebell. And I pointed out later to Ed why that is: the Ice Cream cows. Jersey cows dot pastures all over the place here in TN. Their milk makes the best ice cream and butter; it wins, hands down.

After we closed the shop (they waited patiently for us to leave), we walked out and around the corner to a parking lot where a wide ditch cut the lot in half. According to Jack, a stream runs under the road, parking lot and shops along the street. After all these years and all the recent rains, pavement started caving in. I was told that the shop floors are also 'moving'. So the pavement in the parking lot has been dug up and is being rebuilt to direct the stream through new concrete conduit. Old meets new. Old sometimes wins.

We returned to camp and visited until the day's ride caught up with me and steered me to my bag in the tent.

The next morning Jack finished putting his DR250 together for a day's ride. He has been working on it for months now, replacing the leaking stock tank, changing chain and fixing other things, in anticipation of our visit and riding off-road. A parts bike he picked up -DR350- serves as an 'organ donor' for his 250. Otherwise he rides a ST1100.

The first leg of our ride was familiar Whitt Rd, a gravel forest road that meanders through four streams. We had ridden the same road in '07, but this time there was a lot more water. Jack led the way and we followed his lines; he knows these roads and crossings like they were his backyard. Well, they are his backyard, come to think of it. He grew up here.

The first three crossings were crossed just fine even with deeper water. The last one was the tricky one. Ridges of ledge run perpendicular to the water and this time they were submerged. No way could someone pick a line through them. So the choices were a line right of the ridges or left. Jack entered the water to the right of them and exited through a narrow gravel bar, requiring a fast left turn. As he rode up, he pushed away several branches that overhung the gravel bar.

Jack's choice of crossing surprised Ed. He wondered why he didn't go to the left. I commented that we should trust Jack's judgment; he knows these streams and crossings. Ed followed Jack's line and I saw how deep the water was: deep. I watched for cues and entered the water in first gear and on the throttle, lifting off the seat and weight down through the pegs. I plowed through. But when the front tire got on the short gravel bar, it wouldn't turn left like I wanted it to. The wheel and bike went straight and a instantaneous 'Holy shit!' went through my head. I was on a course for a big tall green boulder covered with moss.

In that same instant, the front wheel pierced the 'boulder' and stopped. It had speared a huge soft green mound of moss, leaves and green stuff all the way to the forks. The bike stopped, I put my feet down and proceeded to nearly laugh my helmet off. The bike had just pierced a Giant Green Marshmallow. And I couldn't get it out. Jack and Ed pushed the bike out into the water and I was laughing so hard, it took me a short while to get in motion out of the water. Soon, with the throttle wide open, I sprinted up the gravel to the road and out of the water, still laughing. Looking down, moss and organic debris coated the tire, rim, axle and forks. Green Marshmallow Goo.

When Ed asked Jack about his preference for riding right of the ridges, Jack explained that the left side is deceptively deep. Once while crossing in his truck, he almost buried it in the water by crossing to the left.

Whitt Road follows a creek for several miles then exits into a small community called Epperson. At an intersection of four roads is a small church and one house. That's the town, folks. We rode to Hwy 68 on a lovely paved and winding narrow road.

From Hwy 68, we took a gravel road through the forest, climbing in an easy ascent and turned onto another more narrow road that climbs to a favorite spot: Buck Bald. Not sure how high it is, but the views are phenomenal: 360 degrees of hazy mountains. We dismounted and took a short break.

Mounting up, we proceeded to a taller mountain that Jack pointed out to us from Buck Bald. But first, we took a side 'road': FS82. A single-track trail that I love. It had changed a bit since we rode it in '07. Rather than a relatively smooth path, it now had a narrow but shallow rut from bikes riding on wet ground. At one point, my front tire jumped out of a mud hole and up on the higher shelf above the rut. I stopped the bike for a photo or two, but they didn't turn out well. I am still learning the temperamental idiosyncrasies of this new camera and days later realized that when in landscape mode, the default is ISO 80. In a dark forest, that high speed does not lend well to low light conditions. So many of my photos in the forests are blurred and useless.

I am posting the two better of the three anyway for a perspective of the trail.

The trail plops riders down and out onto the side of Hwy 68. On a curve. So it's like playing chicken when getting back on the pavement. Soon we were on our way to the 'big mountain'.

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posted by Macrobe
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