Rose and Thorn: My First Bikepacking Attempt

Rose and thorn was a vespers topic that was used a lot at the summer camp I worked at for years. I always considered it a cop out done by the counselors, but right now I can understand how someone could be too exhausted to evaluate an experience in a deeper way than this. I will make an attempt to evaluate some of my thoughts on the (slightly failed) experience as well though.

Rose: I’m a bit tired to really appreciate it right now, but I did somehow ride 50 miles over the course of an afternoon. This is more than twice the distance of my longest ride to date.

Thorn: Because of my lack of research on my destination and lack of preparation (I didn’t bring any cash), I didn’t actually “bikepack” but more or less just rode a VERY long distance with extra dead weight on my bike.

The Plan:

I had hoped to ride from my apartment to Dawson Forest Tract, ride on some horse/bike trails, camp, ride some more, then ride home. The total length would be around 60 miles, 30/day.

The Execution:

I printed my GORP pass (aka, the WRONG pass) Saturday morning and put together some final preparations for the trip. It rained, hard, all day long, and the weather channel was claiming 100% chance of rain during the time I meant to be riding, but I decided I would give it a go anyway and walk the bike on trails if they were just too wet.

I started out my trip in a slight drizzle, and made the short trip to the Big Creek Greenway, which I had never been on. It is a multipurpose, paved and boardwalked path. I was a bit worried it would be crowded and slow going. However, with the rain, the trail was nearly empty and totally flat, which made the approximately 7.5 miles very easy and gave me a chance to get used to the weight on my bike. After about five miles I realized I should have put just a few more pounds of pressure into my tires to make them roll better with a bit of added weight, but they still did fine.

By the time I got off the Greenway, the rain had basically dispersed. The roads from here on were two lane, country roads, with varying speed limits, and surprisingly high amounts of traffic. Cars rolled past me, going way over the speed limit, making me dream about getting to some single track or the Greenway again. Most people tried to give me plenty of space, but not all. I’d like to thank anyway smart and kind enough to slow down and give me space as they passed. I’d also like to say that there is a special place in hell reserved for drivers who honk at cyclist to tell them to get off the road (especially for the one that gave me the finger on top of it).

I finally arrived at the Atlanta Dawson Forest Tract a couple of hours after I started riding and was quite happy with myself. After reading the sign telling me that my pass was not accepted here, this happiness disappeared. These trails required either a $7 daily or $75(!) annual fee for use. The $7 was a bit of a daunting price to me considering how wet the trails probably were and the sight of so much horse manure throughout the parking lot. I, of course, also had $0 on me, no GPS, waning daylight, little knowledge of the area, and a decision to make

I could either stay and use the trails and just not pay for them, or I could start riding home. I understand that trails take maintenance, which costs money. Taking the existence of trails for granted will eventually lead to there being no more trails to use. And so, I made a very difficult decision to turn back home.

I figured I had about two hours of daylight and wanted to be at least back to the Greenway (about 15 miles) before it started getting dark, so I needed to make a good pace on tired legs. On my way home, I decided to purposely take a different road that ran “in parallel” to the one I took up, because it had a bike route sign and lower speed limit. It turned out to a be a rolling country road, which was very fun riding.

About halfway down this road, two dogs charged at my from a yard with no fence. I was forced off of my bike and had to walk the bike, using it as a shield. Unfortunately, the dogs were blocking me from getting to the side of the road, so I had to walk down the middle of the road. A couple of people stopped to ask if I was okay, which I was, and moved on because there was nothing else to be done really. As I kept walking down the road, I hoped that maybe there was an invisible fence somewhere, but realized that one dog didn’t even have a collar! I walked maybe a quarter mile down the road with these two dogs circling me, and me cursing at whoever owned the dogs, even though they was no one in sight. It seemed to me that I would have to walk the next 20 miles home and would just own a couple of new dogs. Luckily, the dogs’ owners had some place to go and drove up behind me and yelled at the dogs from the window of the car.

I continued on my way, faster than I expected probably thanks to some added adrenaline from the dogs, and eventually found a road name I recognize. I took a left here, hoping I was just north of where I needed to be. I eventually came to a highway I knew I needed to cross but not right here. I asked someone at the gas station for some help because I was lost. When I told them I road up from Alpharetta, they seemed quite shocked. They map quested our location and told me that I was about 1.5 miles off track down the highway and offered me a ride to the intersection I needed to be at. I happily accepted and hopped in the bed of the truck.

From there I was only a couple miles from the Greenway and the rest of the ride was pretty uneventful.

Sitting on the internet and reading some more reviews, it seems like the Dawson Tract trail fee may not be overpriced considering the grotesque trail damage the horse traffic causes, but also may not be worth it for a cyclist because of the same damage. It does seem to me that this area could be perfect for some bike specific trails (with a lower annual fee maybe), and I would be happy to volunteer on that project.

So this trip was a bit of a bust, but not completely. I loved the ride regardless of not having a chance to camp. I think it would have been made better with some single track for sure, but things happen sometimes and plans must change. While I wasn’t in the woods, it was exciting to be able to cover such large distances, completely self powered. Unfortunately, in my current research, this is my best bet for a completely self powered trip starting from my house, but the Trans North Georgia is supposed to be a fantastic trail and is within reach. I enjoyed my ride and will be working on plans for another bikepacking trip in the coming weeks, possibly up on the TNGA somewhere. I’ll also work on a post with thoughts on the carry system I used and how it fared this week. I can say I was happy with it, but do expect to change aspects.

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