Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dahlonega Days.......

Why Dahlonega? Well....Dahlonega is well-known to my darling husband, who has many times in the past driven up there to ride the Six Gap Century (the North Georgia Cycling Club's annual 100-mile bicycle ride that traverses 6 of the area's biggest mountain climbs).

Our lovely cabin lay within a few miles of Neel's Gap (a.k.a., Blood Mountain), one of the 6 mountains featured on the yearly Six Gap ride. Blood Mountain is also the first major stop along the Appalachian Trail for hikers setting out for Maine from the Trail's southernmost point at Springer Mountain, GA. We met some through-hikers at the hiker hostel/camp store atop Blood Mountain. We were told that it takes about 6 months to walk the entire AT, and generally at least 2 pairs of hiking boots!

Bicycle sculpture inside the camping supply store:

A political bumper sticker outside the camp store. I guess it should not come as a surprise that the Free Tibet crowd has passed through Blood Mountain.

Well, I am no mountain climber when I'm on my bike. I have always wondered why some cyclists seem to love to endure a great deal of pain in order to struggle their way up big, scary mountains. According to Andrew, it's "the challenge."

My road bike has not had its drive train modified, meaning it's equipped for moderate hills at best, with regard to its gearing. So refitting my bike to make it more suitable for climbing mountains would require replacing my rear cassette (the little gears attached to the back wheel) and also my crankset (the big cogs attached to the pedals that turn the chain). It's all about the gear ratio, and I currently don't really have the right gearing to allow me to pedal with relative ease up a really steep incline. Having said that, I don't kid myself. I truly believe that what happens, good or bad, on a bike ride depends more on the "engine" than the bike. And my bike's engine (me), is just not physically up to the task of climbing 6 back-to-back mega-mountains.

Despite my commitment to mountain avoidance, I knew that Dahlonega would make even me want to prove that I could do at least one badass climb. So, of course, we rode.

I hoped to do Three Gap (the shorter, 50-mile route of the yearly Six Gap ride). But, we set out after 10 a.m., due to misty weather conditions that threatened rain. I ended up doing One Gap, and my one gap was Neel's Gap. Ten miles of unrelenting uphill climbing, with a 6 to 8% grade at times. (Regarding hill grades, FYI: "6% grade is enough to cut speed to well under half, and absorb more than 80% of a rider's power output, leaving less than 20% to fight air resistance and rolling friction"). I never got the lactic acid "burn" in my legs, and I was able to keep a slow but steady upward pace, spinning in my lowest low gear, but I was panting by the time we made it to the summit. Yes, my engine could use some hill training.

We were passed at one point on our ascent by two flatbed trucks delivering a doublewide. The sound and sight of being passed by half of a house inching up the mountainside around hairpin turns, with gears whining, and spewing black diesel exhaust, while taking up 3 lanes (both of the uphill lanes and one of the downhill lanes, too) , well....it got my adrenaline going! All that kept running through my mind was how my obituary would describe the circumstances leading up to my death.

I made it.

Andrew and me, at the top of Neel's Gap:

And the reward for all that pedaling, the misty view from atop Blood Mountain:

In retrospect, getting up Neel's Gap was not really that hard, physically, just longer than LOOOOOONNNNNNNGGGG. I was delighted to see the sign saying, "Blood Mountain Cabins," because I knew that a couple hundred yards past that sign was the summit, designated by this marker:

The reward for the hard climb was the downhill. It's so steep and winding, it was impossible not to brake and brake. I never came close to reaching Andrew's descent speed, though I'd estimate you could easily get up to 50 m.p.h. on that downhill. Nevertheless, even my relatively slow descent was pretty exhilarating. The mountain that took me an hour to climb took less than 8 minutes to descend!

Me at Turner's Corner, after making it back down the mountain:

Andrew, my cycling coach and cheering squad:

A nice old barn along Highway 19 on our ride back to the cabin:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Georgia Mountain Getaway

Skipping ahead to the week of Labor Day....

Andrew and I decided to take a little time off and head up to the mountains of North Georgia. That started me searching online for a place to stay in the Dahlonega area. We found what seemed to be the perfect cabin rental, located on the Chestatee River, but we were told it was already booked. The cabin owner emailed me back to tell us about a second cabin that she had recently put on the market that was still available, and that's where we ended up.

The cabin was perfectly situated in a clearing in the woods, on top of a hill, and a short walk from a stream. It was nicely decorated, with lots of antiques, very quaint and homey.

Andrew brewing some Starbuck's French Roast on our first morning at the cabin:

Coffee on the deck on a cool mountain morning:

One view of the kitchen/living room area:

The bedroom, with French doors opening onto the screened back porch:

and a couple of photos of the bathroom, since I adore old vintage-style bathroom decor:

Who's that handsome guy in the medicine cabinet? Don't you love the white beadboard walls? This cabin had some very interesting moulding details throughout. I hope to steal and use some of these ideas myself one day. The fish sink was quirky, but kinda cool.

Nice tile detail, and, like the rest of the cabin, wood plank ceilings!

We ate all of our meals on the porch, and spent most evenings there relaxing with a glass of wine by candlelight.

Like everyone else in America, we barbecued on Labor Day!

Chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and steamed asparagus. on the porch, by candlelight.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our North Country Honeymoon, Part II: The Good Stuff.

No, not THAT good stuff....

Stuff like hiking and gemstones and wildflowers and blackflies. We hiked some of the trails adjoining the Garnet Hill property, including one trail that goes up to an old abandoned garnet mine. Those who know me know that I LOVE jewelry. I hoped to find a record-breaking, gem-quality bauble in those hills and rocks. I did not, but it was still fun trying.

Andrew braved the highest, steepest wall of the old mine.

I didn't get quite that far up. See, I am afraid of heights, and I figured that the laws of physics would prevail, and gravity would tend to keep the really, really BIG garnets down at the bottom of the pit.

I searched among the rocks at the base for awhile, then reconsidered, thinking that maybe the really, really BIG garnets would be up at the top of the mine, where people afraid of heights would not be so apt to search, so up I went, to knee-wobbling height.

The reward for our hard work: handfuls of teensy little port-wine colored baby garnets. Tiny little precious sparkly delights.

Too bad the local garnet jewelry-maker (within walking distance of the lodge) was closed, or else I might have come home with a golden, garnet souvenir of our wonderful honeymoon trip. Guess it wasn't his "season."
So, I turned to hiking and exploring with Andrew. We started with an easy 1-hour hike from the lodge up a small mountain. The ground was wet, due to recent heavy rains (that had washed out parts of the gravel road leading up to the lodge, we were told). This log bridge crossed a particularly mucky place on the trail:

Here I eat an orange while pesky, annoying, blood-sucking blackflies eat ME. They are straight from the depths of hell, these insects. We had to buy netting to go over our hats in order to keep the blackflies out of our ears, noses, and mouths. They are that bad. And the bites are no picnic, either.

Our hikes were full of encounters with beautiful wildflowers like this one, a purple trillium:

Me, on one of our hikes. This was a short, but very nice, walk that we did just before dusk one evening while driving back to North River from Lake Placid. We did a rolling hike through the woods and ended at this peaceful lake.

Our last hoorah before heading home to Florida was whitewater rafting on the Hudson River. (I'm in a blue helmet, Andrew is to my left, in a yellow helmet). My first whitewater rafting trip! A highlight of our day was when we both accepted the dare of our raftmate and jumped off a big rock in the middle of the river, into the 52-degree water!!