Monday, May 21, 2012

GAC: An out of the ordinary adventure

I try plan my hikes and rides so that they are somewhat efficient and gentle to the equipment and me. This means that I hike along hiking trails and ride asphalt roads with little traffic. I put some thoughts into it to make it enjoyable. But this weekend all that got thrown out of the window. My wife convinced me to participate in the Gladiator Assault Challenge, a 5.3 mile cross country run with 30 obstacles. Basically we paid $49 to run up and down a hill, get extremely muddy, climb over things and wade through water. Now what's not wrong with that picture?

The issues are that you'll get soaking wet and muddy, need to crawl on dirt with rock and water, overcome wooden walls and other structures. Naturally I wanted to wear long pants and shirts that would protect my elbows and knees while crawling and with other things. My nylon hiking shirts and pants would have been good candidates but I really didn't want to ruin them since neither are cheap. I checked out Goodwill, a store that resells used donated clothing at low prices, for nylon pants and shirts. Unfortunately the plastic clothing from the 70s are out but I found pants and shirt that were close to my needs. It sadly looked very close to what I wear every day to work. I added a tie just for fun although I ended up using a really old tie I had at home because my wife liked the other tie better. For safety reasons I cut the tie in the back and added velcro to it to ensure that the tie would come off should it get caught somewhere. To get off the work cloth I spiked my hair crazily with gel and added a bug tattoo that one of my kids had lying around.

My wife and I ready to rock.

I was surprised that nobody else really dressed up funny for this race. Most wore shorts and shirts that would emphasis their athleticism. So I wasn't surprised that lot of people commented about my outfit. "You going to race in this?" "Did you just come from church?" "I like your outfit." Etc. I myself wasn't sure how well this outfit would perform through the course beforehand but it turned out the best thing to wear. I could easily slide though the mud without scraping myself and finished the course without any scrape, bruise or other thing to complain about. Plenty of other people showed off or complained about their scrapes and injuries but I'm not surprised considering people were wearing short shorts that exposes half their but cheeks. But I guess it's just like high heels, nice for me and bad for them. :) I never felt constricted by my clothing but then I'm also used to go hiking and biking in long pants and shirts. Surprisingly the tie didn't cause any issue either. I did wear some ultra short and thin sports shorts under the pants which made showering under the garden hose after the race simple as I could just strip off most of my clothing.

The mud wall and water pit obstacle (#2).

The race started at the top of a skiing hill and went straight down (#1). At the bottom was the first real obstacle (#2) that consisted of three dirt piles each followed by a water pit. The key to that obstacle was to run through it and not to slow down. Of course this obstacle also ended your day of staying clean and dry. Of course next we had to go straight up the slope again and jump over a small fire (#3) which I found somewhat lame. Then we climbed a steep slope banks on ropes (#4) which turned out to be easy, probably because they used some good and well gripping rope. I tore off my number crawling under the barb wire of the next obstacle (#5). I took the safety pins off and stuffed it into my pocket. Next was another but longer rope climb up a steep slope (#6). Just like the previous one the end had a short vertical ascent. The two wooden walls (#7) was an obstacle that I could not cross by myself. I helped my wife over and then she came around and helped me over. Great team work. And again it went down the steep skiing slope (#8). Amazing how wimpy these slopes are for skiing yet if you run them up and down they aren't. First the race went over a large dirt pile and into a water pit under the A-frame structure (#9). I went up it full speed and got insecure about the large drop of and slowed down and caused myself to enter the water a bit uncontrolled. As a result my face went under water. Not the greatest thing since now I had mud in my face annoying my sight as we went around and over the A-frame structure (#10). We had to climb on a rope netting up and down the other side. Doing the transition over the peak did scare me a bit as it usually does when I have to climb anything and transition to something else (e.g. from a ladder to a roof). Yeah, it's one of my weaknesses.

The first A-frame obstacle (#9/10).

And again the route went up the steep slope that this time also had some netting we needed to go under it (#11). It was staked loose enough that you could walk under it bent and let it slide up your arms and over your back. The slip and slide into a pond was my funnest obstacle (#12). I regret that I didn't just go around and did it again. We did take our time though swimming in the pond. I haven't seen anyone successfully cross the rope net mokey bars without cheating (#13). So neither did I. The next one was a simple crawl though a tunnel of muddy water (#14). After a longer stretch we arrived a log pile where you pick up a log and run a loop before dropping it off again (#15). After my wife got a sizable log I picked up the tiniest wig as a joke. The bystanders found it so funny that they took a photo of me before I got a log for myself. This wasn't very difficult either. The log where well dried and therefore quite light considering their size. Next was another mud hill and water pit (#16) under the A-frame net structure (#17). The high horse hurdles were easily climbed (#18). The last couple of hurdles were lower so that I could just jump over them. The paintball field had wooden spools to conquer (#19). The nasty part was that they still rolled a bit forward and backward. The smaller ones I crossed with a running jump and the bigger one, well, I struggled my way over it. Crossing the telephone poles that covered water pits (#20) was quite easy as long as you don't think to much about it. The asphalt pile crossing was kind of lame (#21). Another web to walk bent underneath it (#22). This time not on a slope which made it seem to be harder. Next was another but longer rope climb up a steep slope (#24). Just like the previous one the end had a short vertical ascent. The walk though the creek was nice and long (#25). Seven Oaks has some nice land that I never was aware of. The ski area only covers a small fraction of it. The netting on the stream must have been missing (#26) as we never encountered it. Getting to the end we wanted to take the slip and slide into the water (#28) nice romantically hand in hand but it turned out that it wasn't on steroids and we had to help pushing us down the slide. Climbing on the A-frames rope netting turned out much easier than on the next obstacle where the netting barely had any slope (#29). The last obstacle was to slide down inside tubes and then crawl under barb wires (#30). After that one I started a small mud fight with my wife before crossing the finish line and getting our beer.

The tube and barb wire obstacle (#30) just before the finish line.

After the race by the pile of discarded shoes.

Rear view.  The mud fight added
some extra big globs.

It's a silly event for adults that want to become crazy kids for a little bit. The "race" was quite fun and I was surprised at how easy it was. We took it easy and our speed was between fast walking and a pleasurable jog. There weren't many people on Sunday and we got a really close parking spot. No waits at the obstacles either. If I'll do one again next year will mainly depend on the persuasion of my wife and the cost. I do wonder how much different another race will be and when it would become boring and the same old thing.

Map of the course.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fly - Ride - Bike:
Oxford, AL to Atlanta, GA Tour

 Don't like reading?  Skip to the video at the end.

Thanks to the bicycle layer of Google maps my attention was drawn to the Chief Ladiga/Silver Comet trail that extends west from Atlanta into Alabama.  It would be a perfect activity in conjunction to my upcoming work trip to Atlanta.  Since then I decided to purchase a Brompton folding bike and of course being picky I had to special order it.  About four weeks before my trip I learned that the factory in Great Britain had a delay and wouldn't ship the bike until the following week.  Not knowing how long the shipping would take I started to think what to do if I wouldn't get the bike in time.  Other shipments from Europe that I received have easily taken more than a month to arrive.  So plan B was born, hiking the Springer Mountain summit from the Amicalola Falls, which is the southern end of the Appalachian trail.  The night would be spend at the Springer Mountain camp.

The time of my travel got closer and I found out the week before my trip that the Brompton is in the US but was shipped to a bicycle store in California.  John from All Ability Cycles, where I purchased the Brompton, was confident that they could ship it to his store by Friday and that he could get the bicycle ready for me in time for the trip.  I still had my doubts but I got a call Friday morning that the Brompton arrived and I could pick it up in the afternoon.  I took the afternoon off to go get the bike and start figuring out how to pack everything.  Though I didn't had the full evening to get ready for the trip since I had to coach my son's soccer team that had a rescheduled game that night.  This certainly proves that you don't need tremendous amount of time to pack.

Brompton next to a chair.  Just to show how tiny it is.

The next morning I caught the 6am flight to Atlanta.  From the airport I took the metro train downtown to the hotel that I'll be staying after the bike ride.  At the hotel I repacked what I needed into the T-bag and left the other stuff at the bell desk.  Then I headed to the Greyhound bus station. I got the ticket to Oxford Alabama just as they where calling people to the bus.  Riding the Greyhound was a pleasant experience, nothing like what I read on the Internet.  Finally after arriving at the Oxford stop around noon the bike ride began.  In Anniston was a town celebration and bicycle race.  Of course they wouldn't allow me to race but I crossed the race track a couple times.  The ride between Oxford and the Chief Ladiga trail head isn't too bad if you can keep yourself off the major roads.  I needed to stop at Walmart to get an USB charger cable and thus had to ride a  few miles on the busy roads there.  Instead of locking the bike outside I folded it up and put it in a shopping cart along with my bag.  I even asked an employee if it was OK and they didn't complain.  Much better than having to worry about your bike especially if you depend on it.

Artillery, every small towns pride.

Sad to hear that it's being used a few times a year.
Just recently they used it to get to somebody in the forest that shot a police officer.

The Sunny King Criterium bike race at Anninston.

There were a few parts that wasn't perfect due to the roots buckling the path but otherwise the Chief Ladiga trail is a nice asphalt trail.  I'm sure I would still have complained had I ridden on 26 inch wheels instead of 16 inch.  I stopped at a bamboo forest that was right next to the path. I didn't knew that bamboo grew in the US.  It was pretty cool as it was mature and I could go into it.  On the Alabama trail were mostly local kids that rode their bikes and stray dogs that don't chase bicycles.  Instead I scared them when I approached and rang the bell.    The whole trail is shaded by trees.  On the trail a police car pulled over a four-wheeler since motorized vehicles are strictly forbidden on the trail.  Makes me wonder if e-bikes would be allowed.  The part through the Talladega national forest was cut through the hills and was a longer stretch that didn't pass through towns.  Soon after the national forest I crossed the border into Georgia.  At that point I was exhausted and salt covered from sweat.  But I pushed forward to reach Cedartown for dinner and then Camp Comet for the night. In contrast to the Chief Ladiga trail the Silver Comet trail is nice smooth concrete.  The first section even had a couple of metal awnings setup in middle of nowhere as a rain shelter which would have come handy had it rained.

At the beginning of the trail.

Bamboo forest next to the trail.

Somewhere near mile marker 22.5 on the Chief Ladiga trail.

The project that never happened.

Alabama - Georgia border.

I arrived in the evening in Cedartown and the local businesses were closed already.  I had to go further into town to reach the more common fast food restaurants.  Being stupid I didn't fold my bike asked if I could take it into the Subway restaurant.  Of course the employee said no and leaving it outside was a no-go for me.  So I went next door to a local Chinese restaurant, folded the bike and carried everything inside.  They didn't know what to make of it and nobody commented on it.  Unfortunately Chinese food wasn't what I needed being this exhausted and the food smell wasn't much help either.  I ended up to eat only a little before continuing on.

On the way out of town I filled my water bladder and strapped it on the rack with the tent and sleeping mat.  The ride to the Camp Comet camp site dragged out as the sun was setting and the trail was quite hilly, not being on an old railroad track for this stretch.  Because of exhaustion I pushed the bike on the steeper hills.  I finally arrived the spot where the camp site should have been but the forest there was fenced of from the trail.  That didn't look good.  In addition to that it was already dark.  I decided to ride a bit further than where my GPS indicated the camp site should be and soon found a signage for the camp site and a gate at the fence.  I pushed the bike into the forest along the hiking path.  Not very far in were the tent pads, nicely build up.  But the gravel fill gave me some issue with the tent stake that didn't hold in it.

I'm quite surprised that the folded Brompton fits into the vestibule of the Tarptent Moment without blocking the entry of the tent.  The night was a bit noisy with deers coming into the valley where the camp is to drink water at the creek that ran past my tent.

Tent at Camp Comet.
(Do you see the bicycle?)

Entrance to the Camp Comet primitive camp sites.
While the first day was a bit tough with squeezing a 60 mile ride into half a day, the second day was much easier since I had all day to ride the remaining 60 miles.  Riding a bike trail you're kind of isolated from stores and restaurants this also applies to the Chief Ladiga / Silver Comet trail.  I did find a Waffle House not to far off the trail where I stopped for a big brunch.  Getting closer to Atlanta also meant that there were more recreational users of the path, especially since it was a Sunday.  Most of the guys in Lycra on their race bikes weren't going faster than I did.  Serious bikers hit the rural roads where they don't have to worry and fight the crowds. Some passed me, I passed others and even played tag with a couple riders that were taking frequent breaks.  Six speeds and tiny wheels doesn't mean you're slow.

Riding in Atlanta was quite interesting.  The roads are patchy and have lots of pot holes.  One road had bicycle chevron painted on it but with the road condition you had to ride in the middle of the road and constantly swerve the pot holes and bad patches.

Tunnel on the Silver Comet trail.

Mile marker zero of the Silver Comet trail.

Atlanta skyline.

On this trip I used my phone to take some videos of my ride.  I curious if you'd rather read the blog, watch the video or both.

Below is the full route from the Greyhound bus stop in Oxford, Alabama all the way to the hotel in Atlanta. Added to it is also a loop to Decatur where I went for dinner one evening.

Bike route 1550212