DEATH MARCH REVIVAL
Sean Barton (2)
I didn't ever fully intend to do this route in the ITT format. Perusing as we do I had been eyeing the north Georgia parts of the mountains for a while. "I should ride and camp the Jake Mountain singletrack." "Camping at Mulberry Gap for a Pinhoti bike-cation would be swell." "The Death March route would be a perfect overnighter."
While those ideas swirled around, the Fall season was shaping up to be spectacular. A few things fell into place and I found myself wanting to challenge myself with a big, full day out in the mountains. I'd go as slow as possible but still aim to be done after approximately 12 hours of adventure time outside. With that being said this would still be my longest day riding the bike; I have been out exploring "all day" plenty but that includes creek time and coffee outside and such; this would certainly be the most work pedaling as well as elevation gained in a day.
The day before at work I started to get nervous. I was pretty tired and hadn't been sleeping enough during this work week. I figured getting to camp early and snuggling in for one good night of sleep would fix that (oh yeah I haven't driven to the Ocoee since college nor am I familiar with the roads; welp there should be plenty of national forest sites.). I looked at my bike. Is my gearing too stiff? Should I run and grab more quick-links for the chain? As my final thoughts came together I realized I would need to start a little before sunrise ("don't worry that will be sweet! Up with the birds!") and ride a little bit after dark. OK, I can do that, but I'll need to carry extra clothes as a contingency plan.
I arrived at Thunder Rock that evening and things started going great. There was a first come site available. What luck! I was in the woods! Additionally my bike was squeaky clean and lubed up. After a pleasant time packing my bike and lounging at camp, the family next to me asked what I was up to. We exchanged pleasantries, and they invited me over for sizzling spicy masala chicken over the fire! Things just kept looking up.
The next morning I set off from the parking lot around 640, meaning I'd only ride in the dark around an hour. The stars were gorgeous; I tried to find Orion to see some stray meteors, but the canopy was dense. Despite the pleasant evening prior, 1.5 hours into the ride I was starting to worry again. My average speed was not looking good for finishing at a decent hour. Oh well, it's early, may as well press on. And besides these woods are stunning! Ultimate Fall vibes. The reds along the ridge vistas were in full swing.
A while later I got a front flat from a small piece of glass while "ripping" downhill. I pulled over at Jack River Fields and after 20-30 minutes of the most difficult tire seating of my life I had my single spare tube installed as well as patched the popped tube for later use. At this point my front break had been rubbing as well. That's usually no big deal; loosen the bolts and center the caliper. However, after three stops to work on it the time was adding up...
Eventually I made it up Mountaintown. I remember this early in the ride I was thinking that I wasn't sure if I could turn the cranks over much longer. Curse me for not switching my front chainring. I cannot recall any big outings where I have had this feeling so early, although I was still absolutely reveling in the scenery. The ridgeline I was traversing was beautiful and Mulberry was coming up for a lunch stop.
Kate and Andrew were awesome. I got a hot cup of coffee, water, and microwaved my burrito I was packing. Stoked to see people and scrambling to charge my phone I never snapped a Mulberry Selfie. I realized this ten minutes or so after riding out of Mulberry, so I snapped one at the Shakerag and Conasauga intersection up the street.
Somehow I made it back up to Potatopatch Mountain. It was this part of the route that I felt like every third pedal stroke slipped on some malted milk ball sized pebble. It could not have been dryer or more marbly. My reward at the top was half of a five hour energy (I've only had one once during college finals); 30 minutes later I didn't realize any change in demeanor, but I must say I was still pleasantly "chugging" (I think) along the Conasauga Rd ridgeline, and it was serene.
Finally headed back towards Tennessee, I felt like there were some recovery miles along Hwy 2 and Peavine Sneed Creek. Climbing along the state line into Big Frog I felt steady. The weather was perfect, the gravel road was just narrow enough to up the aesthetic, and I was traveling through endless red leaf tree tunnels. Big Frog was one of the more beautiful sections, but it also had back breaking descents that reminded me (almost) of Old Mitchell Toll Rd. Good thing I went with flat bars for sending.
Reaching the bottom of Big Creek I still had something like 12 miles to go? But I had some energy (I thought) and was turning over the pedals really well as I passed by multiple groups lighting up their fires for the evening... mmmm... stay focused. Flipping my lights on I was at an all time slowest of the day, and I was quite surprised at the chegrundley river rock sections testing my late night skills. That last 4 mile climb to the left turn descent felt like forever. Two sweet old ladies in an old jeep pulled alongside of me as they headed home (they were "from around here") and offered me peanut butter crackers and a ride. I took the crackers and thanked them graciously. At 8:07 pm I was back at Thunder Rock campground. There were firepits galore and the boaters were partying and playing guitar. I went over to warm up before taking a lukewarm shower. It was a pleasant end to a nice big day out.
It felt amazing to see and cover so much ground in these mountains. I feel so lucky. I carried x2 32oz bottles and a small filter. I drank 4.5 of them over the day and an 8 oz coffee. Snacks every hour, one midday nuun, and eventually one 5-hour energy. I carried chain tool, links, brake pads, one tube, patch kit, pump, multitool, portable charger and an extra bag for my layers.
Bike was 2.3 inch tires on my rigid monkey running 32x20. In retrospect these tires were great; I never felt slow and had good grip descending. Ideally I think this route would be best with front suspension though.
Cheers to adventure! Now for a beer.