One of my most anticipated post-lockdown events of 2021 was the Fried Clay 200k route. Last year’s event was cancelled just as the pandemic was beginning to cripple the world, our country, state, and all the things I was taking for granted. When word came out that Pat Goral (@patpattersonproductions) was putting the event on this year as an on your own event, emotions began to stir.
Arriving at Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Area Check Station to park, the excitement began to spark as I scrambled to strap water and bike bags to my handlebars, frame, and seat. As other riders began to show up, Fried Clay enthusiasm was beginning to take hold of me. Separated by small groups, we departed the Check Station parking lot at approximately 8:15 a.m.
Rolling along Checking Station and Firetower Roads felt right. It was a beautiful morning and the weather was perfect. The first 30 miles of gravel were a combination of sweeping roads and slight hills, nothing overwhelming. Over the next 30 miles of gravel, it was easy to stay out of my head noticing the landscape and occasional bottom-bracket-deep stream crossings. Spring was happening all around.
Daylight savings was happening this weekend, and I think this partially contributed to the allure of choosing this weekend to do the route. I’d be exhausted and lose an hour of sleep the following day. Perhaps this contributed to my anxiety about getting to camp before dark. And as long as there was daylight I could keep outside my head, focusing on the beauty all around, and chasing down other riders on 5,000 feet of descent for day one.
Arriving at the entrance near Wise Creek to the elusive singletrack and horse trail section, we contemplated whether or not to ride into this section entrance or walk our bikes down into it. Becoming impatient, I rode into the unknown first. I’d looked forward to this singletrack section and found it to be initially flowy and fun for the first several miles. To my surprise, my gravel monster bike loaded with 20 pounds handled this section quite well. There were a few rock sections that I didn’t expect, and short punchy climbs that required some lunging forward momentum to get the bike, bags, water, and myself up and over obstacles. A couple of wrong turns and a river portage later, the rest of the group caught up as we began to enter the horse trails. The horse trails were at a slow and steady pace. We dismounted our bikes courteously to oncoming equestrians, and when clear, blasted through as best we could through what might have been mud, slosh, and sand. This was the place that took its toll on me and others. I may have gone through these sections a little fast, adrenaline was running high.
Finishing that section near Crow Branch and feeling pretty good, it was time to be on the lookout for one of many designated water spots before getting to Juliette. Riding into Juliette was relaxing, old bridges, quaint houses, and old industrial buildings were a nice backdrop and nice place to share a Moon Pie and orange soda with Jay before heading back out to meet others and eventually finding Hadaway Hunt Camp.
The next 25 miles to camp seemed very far away. I’m not sure why, it may have been the Moon Pie and orange soda I introduced into my system, or that the sun was going down. It now became a race against myself and getting to camp during daylight. When I realized I’d lost the race with the sun, and seeing became increasingly difficult, I pulled out my headlamp and strapped it to my front bag to see just enough in front of me to navigate the rest of the way. Off of Caney Creek Road, with a dim light and about 10 more miles to go, those last climbs toward camp seemed like forever climbs. I’d lost my sense of pitch and it seemed like a long climb into camp.
Rolling into camp was marvelous. A fire was already stoked and people were scurrying about pitching tents, preparing food, and getting cozy. This was what we were all looking forward to. With the nighttime temp predicted to be in the 50s, I’d packed a light tarp and sleeping setup. With my tarp pitched and comfortable camp attire on, I joined the group to sit around the campfire and prepared dinner.
This was the reward. Familiar faces, good laughs, the stories of the day being told. Being around like-minded adventure seekers who make up the Atlanta adventure cycling community. Today, there were no winners or losers. We came for the adventure, encouraged each other on the route, helped each other with mechanicals and advice, invested in the miles for our smiles, and secured an overnight stay in the middle of nowhere, Georgia, putting the Fried Clay 200k, a physically and mentally challenging bikepacking route, on the map.
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