Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mountain Biking Chicopee Woods

Gainesville, Georgia
November 8, 2013

This vaguely medieval looking structure is the Elachee Nature Center at Chicopee Woods.
The mountain biking trails at Chicopee Woods have very good word of mouth in the Southeast. I've noticed there are two camps, those that like it as fast and flowy and those that dislike it for lack of technicality. I personally like to ride what is known as "buff singletrack," which is in the fast and flowy category. Singletrack denotes a traditional trail, typically wide enough for only a single bicycle or hiker. Buff means smooth, something that is rare in mountain biking in the eastern half of the United States. I don't mind some technicality from time to time but I particularly appreciate smooth trail. I decided to check out Chicopee last week.

The trail system starts out at a very nicely improved parking area, with some of the loops marked as directional based upon day of week. The trails nearest the main parking area are easy, but interconnect with more difficult trails to form a series of nested loops, occasionally crossing over or joining in with fire roads. It's pretty smooth on the easier trails and the fire roads but some of the intermediate trails have too many tree roots in my opinion. Still, it's a pretty smooth trail system on the whole.

Stream crossing on the outer loop at Chicopee Woods. This photo demonstrated "fire road," which is a wider type of path found on older trail systems and threading through Forest Service property, or other places where infrequent access is needed. When found on Forest Service land, it is usually intended as access to wild areas to facilitate fire fighting, hence "fire road." Contrast with below . . . 
Baby roller-coasters at Chicopee Woods. This is "singletrack," a traditional hiking trail, in this case groomed for riding mountain bikes.
Although Chicopee Woods is not in the mountains, it is surprisingly rolling. I racked up 1000 feet of total climbing in 11.9 miles, which is a good workout for me, especially since I have converted my mountain bike to a single speed. This means that I have only a single gear and can't change to easier gears for climbing. Occasionally the trail drops into ravines and there are several nicely constructed bridges for most of these, although I ran into a couple of stream crossings that appear to have been deliberately left in place for "fun." These are among the few points of interest, along with the markers for the location of a small plane crash from the 1990s.

There are several bridges at Chicopee, of which this is the coolest, although the photo understates the scale a little bit.
This cross marks the location of a plane crash, March 3, 1995. Two lives lost.

Second stream crossing on the outer loop.

There are few points of interest, but there were a couple of small dams that look like the remains of a mill at the major stream crossing.
Slightly taller dam. This was after the major stream crossing. I had to HAB for a bit to get over the stream and back up to the rideable trail.

I suffered from the leaves for almost my entire ride, but there was someone operating a backpack leaf blower when I was getting ready to finish. This shows a pretty dramatic difference after the job is done.
It was about 2 hr 15 minute drive for me to get to Chicopee Woods, and although fun, it is probably a place I will only ride once unless I happen to have some other reason to be over that way. Since I had driven over on a Friday when I took a day off work and wanted to avoid the Atlanta rush hour, I decided to take the scenic route home, taking some city streets over to Georgia State Highway 53 which I followed through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains over to Cartersville, Georgia where I jumped back on the interstate. I discovered that Gainesville is sort of a "Little Mexico" for the greater Atlanta area, and drove for miles passing businesses with signs in Spanish, or in both Spanish and English. It was kind of interesting.

It was a pretty good ride at Chicopee Woods, and I would recommend it as a destination if you don't have to drive too far.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Jack Daniel's Distillery and Lynchburg, Tennessee

Mom contacted me via Facebook to invite me to join the Murfreesboro family with (Step) Uncle Ed Jablonski and his wife Mi Young to visit the Jack Daniel's whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. It was a rare opportunity to see expatriate and career Army veteran Uncle Ed. I've also had an interest in visiting the distillery for quite some time since it's one of the things most well-known about the State of Tennessee (for good or bad) yet I've never visited, despite having lived in Tennessee (or nearby) for most of my life.

Jack Daniel

I enjoyed the drive from the greater Chattanooga area into Middle Tennessee, which includes leaving the Appalachian Ridge and Valley region, crossing into the South Cumberlands/Cumberland Plateau region, dropping down onto an area of table land called the Highland Rim, and then down into the Nashville Basin to get to Lynchburg. The distillery rests on the slopes of the lower edge of Highland Rim, where water is drawn from a natural spring that flows out of a cave in the karst terrain. It's a neat location.

The original source of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, a natural spring flowing out of a cave in the side of the Highland Rim, with a surprising volume of flow.

I was a bit shocked by the distillery as a tourist attraction as there was a huge parking lot with about 400 cars in it, mostly tourists. It was initially baffling. There is an elaborate visitor's center with tours leaving every 5 to 10 minutes in air conditioned mini-buses. I had never imagined that a whiskey distillery could be such a huge tourist draw. In the process of going through the tour it becomes clear that people literally come from all over the world to visit the distillery (or at least it is on their vacation itinerary). I also did not realize that Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey is the best selling whiskey in the world. Perhaps that explains the level of tourism.

The visitor's center.

Tour ticket resembles a bottle label. The tickets were free.

The tour of the distillery operations was interesting and aromatic. The huge vats and columnar tanks reminded me of the Elsinore Brewery from the movie Strange Brew (haha), except it's not beer brewing of course. I would love to have gotten more photos but the company respectfully asked that no photos be taken in the operational areas to maintain trade secrets. I saw several people breaking the rules anyway but I thought it rude.

Anyway I would recommend it to anyone with a day to kill in Middle Tennessee. Hit up the shops and restaurants in downtown Lynchburg and be sure to check out the historic court house in the middle of the town square. Lynchburg is also known as a place where the politician and Texas revolutionary Davy Crockett once lived and is the current home of "oldies" rock and roll artist Little Richard.

The historic courthouse in Lynchburg, constructed in 1885.

It was a nice place for a family gathering and entertainment for a Saturday.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Tennessee River Gorge

The Tennessee River Gorge, just outside Chattanooga. You can see in this photo why the eroded edges of the Plateau are sometimes referred to as the South Cumberland Mountains (South differentiating it from the Cumberlands, a hundred miles to the north). Paddler: Stacy Stone.

I've wanted to paddle through the Tennessee River Gorge since I moved to Chattanooga in 2003, but I never got around to it until last weekend. The gorge is one of the largest canyons in the eastern half of the United States and is a place of great natural beauty and inspiration. It's ridiculously close to Chattanooga and can literally be reached within 10 minutes from downtown. I had to miss a couple other opportunities to paddle it, but finally my good friend Lois invited me to join in on a trip being organized by our mutual friend Mike to view the Fall foliage and I took great pains to try to make the trip.

The Tennessee River is one of the great rivers of North America. The river flows 652 miles from it's source at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers in Tennessee, through Alabama, Mississippi, back into Tennessee, and through Kentucky to the Ohio River, and it is the largest tributary of the Ohio. The Tennessee River Gorge, also historically known as Cash Canyon, is found where the river cuts through the Cumberland Plateau. Fortunately it has been mostly preserved by a series of land acquisitions by the Trust for Public Land, barring some pre-existing homesteads and some property of the federal government that has been developed for electricity generation.

Even the boat launch looks promising, especially in Fall when the leaves are changing. If I'm going on a river trip, this is the type of thing I like to see when I'm getting ready to launch.

Mike chose to launch at a boat ramp off Suck Creek Road, just inside the mouth of the Gorge along the foot of Signal Mountain, with the intention to paddle down to another boat ramp at the foot of Raccoon Mountain, my usual mountain biking location (nearly 1000 feet above the river). The paddle is now about 9 miles of flat water, although prior to the construction of Nickajack Dam downstream, there were several major rapids in the Gorge. The dam floods out the whitewater. Since I'm a whitewater paddler, I hope someday in the future to see the rapids uncovered, like when Nickajack Dam is undergoing maintenance. On such a large river, the dams were constructed to provide navigability for freight traffic on barges, and to provide electricity generation, so unfortunately I think we can assume that any significant dam maintenance will be held to a minimum.

A nice wide view of the Tennessee River Gorge. It's actually part of Nickajack Reservoir these days. Unfortunately there were numerous motor boats racing through the gorge, including a "cigar boat" that must have been running in excess of 80 miles per hour if not faster. That said, all of us on the trip were whitewater paddlers so we are  not troubled by even very large wake.

We were initially encouraged by a fairly significant current at the launch, but within a short distance the current became negligible and we even got pushed back upstream by a mild headwind if we stopped paddling. It was as if we really dropped into Nickajack Lake proper. An examination of the upstream releases from Chickamauga Dam indicates that the flow was a relatively low 19,000 cubic feet per second for our run. I suspect the current would have been much stronger had we been luckier about those releases.

Rock chimneys and cliffs on Signal Mountain. The mountain got it's name from it's use during the US Civil War by the federal army.
The mouth of Suck Creek, a popular class V+ whitewater run that drops precipitously off Signal Mountain. No, I don't paddle that. Suck Creek got it's name from the days before the gorge was flooded out by Nickajack Dam, far downstream. There was once a huge rapid featuring a great whirlpool called "The Suck." I presume the rapid was once right below where we were floating on the surface of the lake when I took this photo.
The bluffs and cliffs on Elder Mountain.

Fall colors at the lower elevations.
Fall colors below the residence of an heir to the Olan Mills fortune. As the saying goes, if you have a good view, then someone else does not. I'd rather not see a house in this section of the Gorge which was otherwise the most naturally preserved stretch. One of the peculiar things about living in the Chattanooga area is the presence of several "old money" families, unusual for such a modestly sized town. This seems to date back all the way to the Reconstruction era after the Civil War and continued through the post-Reconstruction times when Chattanooga was one of the few towns in the South to benefit from the wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution.

The river bends left and right, walled in by the forested scree slopes and the rocky bluffs of the mountainous edges of the Cumberland Plateau. Most trees were still clothed in leaves, although we all agreed that the colors had been slightly more vivid the previous two days and had tamed to russets, browns, and burnt oranges. It was still beautiful, just not as bright. We had just missed the peak colors. That was unfortunate, but it's a beautiful place to be at any time of year. Above us rock chimneys and caprock looked down on us, with a perfectly clear, deep blue sky arching between the canyon walls. It's a place to build memories.

Spectacular cliffs across from the takeout on river left at the Raccoon mountain pumped storage facility. This picture is totally lame. The actual scene was stunning in the falling light of late afternoon.

The inlet of the Tennessee Valley Authority's Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Facility. Water is drawn in here and pumped up through tunnels in the mountain to a lake on top when the price of electricity is low. When the price goes up, water is released from the facility back down through the mountain for power generation using turbines located inside the tunnel system, barely visible in this photo. There is an elevator that runs up through the mountain to the building visible up there on the bluffs, roughly a thousand feet above the river level. I mountain bike up there all the time and the view from an overlook platform up there is one of my favorite places. I plan to blog about that some other day.

We were awed by the scenery, but eventually the lengthy flatwater paddle became trying. We reached the takeout tired, but rewarded. After some boat loading and banter at the takeout, we retired to Mojo Burrito in the St. Elmo neighborhood for some delicious food and beer. It was a good way to spend a Sunday. Thanks Lois for including me!