Thursday, November 14, 2019

Veterans Day Getaway

So last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to go on a "boys weekend" at the Forks Area Trail System (FATS) down near Augusta, GA with some fellow veterans and staff from the North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League.  Initially I'd decided against it, thinking that I needed to spend every bit of free time "practicing" my bikepacking skills.  But shortly after I made that decision, I reconsidered.  There were several reasons why.  First, I needed to ride with some other people.  Just about every ride I've been on since May has been by myself, and I can turn into one cranky bastard when no one is around to reel me in.  Also, the group was a pretty great bunch of folks, so I knew I would have a fun time.  And since I still need to train for bikepacking stuff, I would have the opportunity to doing some camping with my hammock in not so warm weather.  Seemed like a win-win so I was down for it.

The trip started with most people arriving on Friday to set up camp.  I was arriving on Saturday so all I asked was for them to leave me a couple of good trees so I could hang my hammock.  Of course that wasn't a problem, so I grabbed the camping stuff that has been living on my bike full time lately, along with some other camping essentials that I normally take on other trips.  After spending most of Saturday with my dogs (I didn't want to leave them), I packed up and headed south by southwest.  I knew the two and a half hour trip would be easy, but traffic in the middle of South Carolina changed that to shitty.  Eventually I made it to Columbia, where I stopped for some weekend provisions.  Back on the road, I made it to the campsite at a decent time. 

I noticed that I might be in for more fun than I had anticipated when I saw this sign...

I looked around for some new friends but I was disappoint.  It was too chilly outside for them to be active.  Meh.

When I rolled up to our site, everyone was there.  They had already ridden for the day, but I was just happy to be out in the woods with friends. 

I setup my home for the weekend and made plans to relax.

This is my usual setup, at least since I started bikepacking anyway.  The only problem is, I hadn't really tested it in cold weather.  My other trips had some cooler temperatures at night, but the low for this night would be around 30 degrees so I was a little worried.  I stopped thinking about it, because... Who gives a shit.  We cooked some food, had some adult beverages, and sat around by the fire for a while, just enjoying it all.

I drifted off to sleep but kept waking up.  I thought maybe it was because I usually sleep on my stomach and a hammock doesn't work like that, but I didn't know for sure.  I was plenty warm, but sometimes I just don't sleep so well (even in my own bed.)  I never looked at the time while I was tossing and turning, but at some point I had to get up to get rid of all that beer.  And then I was cold.

I let it out and hurried back into my hammock.  Big problem though, the sleeping bag became cold instantly once I vacated it.  I crawled back in, and once I finally stopped shivering I dozed off.  This time until morning.  Win.

I had my head covered up in the sleeping bag to stay warm, but when I peeked out I saw that the sun had come up.  It was too cold for me to get up (so I thought), but at least I woke up to an amazing view.  I grabbed my phone, and took this picture while I was still in my hammock:

Eventually I crawled out and put some more clothes on to warm up.  I took another picture so I could remember that even though it was cold outside, it was still beautiful.

I made some breakfast and we all started talking about ride plans for the day.  If you've ever been to FATS, then you know there's a fun, flowy side, and a totally different side.  Good side, bad side if you will.  Not really bad, but totally different than the smooth, roller coaster type trails that place is known for.  I found out that the crew rode the "good" side the day before, so we would be riding the other stuff.  Well, with the exception of one of the trails on that side that they missed due to a tire issue. 

Short version, it seems that A-A Ron had a problem with is valve stem that caused it to pop out like a samurai sword and chop down the forest and any rider in his way.  He had to go to a local bike shop to get it fixed, but he was ready to ride again.

So we took off...

The campsite was only about fifteen minutes away, so we rolled out of the campsite to get our fun on.  When we got to the trailhead, I was still pretty cold.  I had plenty of warm stuff on though, so once we got moving I would be good.  We hit up Great Wall first, which was the perfect choice for my full rigid single speed.

I suddenly forgot that I was cold.  We were flying down the hill and making short work of the small climbs on that loop.  I could hear everyone laughing and screaming with joy as we hit the little jumps and berms.  We were having a great time.  Once that loop was finished, we stopped for a snack and headed back out to ride the other stuff.  A few miles in, we saw a little doggo running up the trail with no owner in sight.  It was odd.  She was friendly, and latched onto us while we rode.  We would pass people here and there (hikers and walkers) but that dog stayed with us.  She was a good trail dog though, navigating the singletrack like she'd been there before.  While it was pretty cool to have the company, we all started getting concerned that she was lost. 


We stopped for a small break and I tried to give her some water.  She didn't want it, even though she'd been running for miles and looked thirsty.  We checked to see if she had tags so we could find the owner..

Photo Credit:  Sergeant Major Todd

There was only a rabies tag on the collar, and I noticed it was from North Carolina.  That made us all feel uneasy.  Was she really lost?  Did someone leave her out there and return to North Carolina?  Who TF doesn't keep an eye on their dog in a place like that?  It was unsettling, so the plan going forward to to ride back to the trailhead and see if we could find anyone to claim her, or call the authorities to help.

I'm not gonna lie though, I was having thoughts about bringing her home with me if we didn't find the owner.  I'm pretty sure that A-A Ron was too.

Anyway, we kept riding.  The last part of that loop had quite a few climbs, so we stopped frequently to regroup (for us and the dog.)  We'd passed a trail runner just before we stopped, but he never said anything to indicate that was his dog.  Once he passed us (while we were stopped) she followed him down the trail.  We eventually got back to the trailhead and there was no sign of the trail runner or our new doggo friend.  Maybe that was his dog and she does that all the time, but he's kind of a dick if he lets that happen.  But, that's just like, my opinion, man.

We were still concerned about her, but she was nowhere to be found so there really wasn't anything we could do.  We made plans to hit the final loop out there and finish our day in the saddle.

And I just noticed that I'm getting really wordy today, so I'll pick it back up tomorrow with the conclusion.

Stay tuned... 

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