I am blessed with the most astute and keen powers of observation and deduction. I have determined this because My Lovely Bride is not so gifted, and our interpretation of events that we both observe is often diametrically opposite. She can be very strange at times. Let me provide a recent example. We were driving through metro Atlanta, and I commented to MLB, “Suzanne, I have deduced that commercial fishermen in Georgia are having a great season.” She looked up, a bit befuddled, and said, “Ty, where did that come from? We’re driving down I-75, and I don’t see any fishing boats around here.” “Well, My Dearest, I just observed a very attractive, flashily-dressed 20-something woman driving an expensive, hot, white convertible sports car. She must be a successful commercial fisherman, because her license plate read “HOOKER2”. You would not believe the look Suzanne gave me… followed by a “Smack!”
After departing Atlanta and its fishers of men, we headed east for several hours to our next campground outside Augusta, Georgia. We have a very nice water view campsite at the Fort Gordon Army Recreation Area, located on Strom Thurmond Lake. Our nearest neighbor (about 100 feet away) is a nice young couple from Fort Gordon with a two-year old boy and one in the oven, as the saying goes. They are living in a small trailer while awaiting the closing on their new-to-them home in Augusta. It’s nice to meet young families for a change, but I’m glad I’m out of the diaper-changing business…
This Army couple also have a very affectionate and playful boxer (the canine variety) named Sasha who wiggled out of her harness yesterday and had a field day turning over their trash can and sorting through the rubbish over a wide area while her Dogmom and Dogdad were at work. Being the neighborly sort, I convinced Sasha of the error of her ways, gave her a belly rub and reconnected her harness. She’s now my new best friend.
While walking the puppies, Suzanne found a new way to torture me. We were passing the towers where “Ropes Courses” are run for the 20-somethings from the local Army post, and she suggested that I give it a try. “Let’s see, you want me to pull myself up hand-over-hand for 30 feet, then use the rock climbing handholds on a telephone pole that’s swinging freely from a cable, then slide down the wire 50 feet over the ground? I don’t think so… Waiter, another glass of Pinot Noir, please!”
The reason we chose this particular location, far from Suzanne’s last or next speaking venue, was outdoor-related. Three weeks earlier and we might have been mistaken for Masters’ tourists, but when I walked up to the window at the tiny post office in Modoc, South Carolina, just across and up-river from Augusta National, I asked, “Where is FATS?” I received a bewildered look from the postal lady who proved not to be a cyclist, because I had to explain that FATS stood not for a local billiards or pool shark, but for the Forks Area Trail System, one of the Top Ten Mountain Biking Destinations in the USA. Once we had looked at our map and used her local knowledge, we were on our way to the almost unmarked trailhead for 37 miles of the best MTB trails the South has to offer. We had just unloaded our bikes and were getting ready to ride away when a local rider pedaled up. In usual friendly Southern fashion, he asked whether we had ridden here before; the Florida plates may have been a give-away. It was obvious that he was an expert rider; the high-end bike covered with mud and the multiple bruises and scratches (not yet healed) marked him as A Hard-Core Mountain Biker. After we explained our novice level of riding ability, Marco asked us if we’d like to ride with him for a bit on Skinny, one of the least challenging trails. We happily agreed, and he took off like a bat out of hell.
Marco is a retired Coca Cola marketing guy, but his real passion in life is mountain biking. He’s been doing this for 18 years, so he has a bit of an advantage over The Old Coot and His Lovely Bride. We did our best to keep up, but it was obvious that he was in a different league than we… but he was also a perfect gentleman, and slowed to our “less insane” pace, taking care to warn us when we might want to consider slowing or dismounting and walking at those really demanding parts of the trail, such as the steep double-dip with attendant rocks that was marked with a skull and crossbones and DANGER!!! signs. We were curious, and asked Marco why his bike had only one fork… turns out that Cannondale’s top-end MTBs are often equipped with their proprietary “Lefty” design single forks (lighter, stronger, stiffer, smoother, etc.). It sure looks weird, though!
Overall, the trail was a real joy, mostly pine needle-covered and twisty, with moderate climbs, except where this past winter’s ice storm had wreaked havoc with the forest. In several places the Forest Service had conducted controlled burns to get rid of the highly flammable fallen treetops before the hot, dry summer fire season arrived. Several areas were still smoking, and the smell of smoke and charcoal lingered over half our route. The trails here are known as “fast and buttery”; after 40 minutes or so we transitioned to Brown Wave, another novice/intermediate trail with lots of Whoop-de-Doos, which are the MTB equivalent of downhill skiers’ moguls.
As the name suggests, national forest trails are located in… well… the forest. That often implies that there are lots of trees around, right? MTB trails are known for rocks and roots, uphills and downhills, and the occasional branch that falls across the trail. Depending on the size of the branches, you can pump your bike just before reaching the branch and pull up on the handlebars, lifting the front tire up high enough to clear the obstruction. Suzanne had some difficulty clearing these tiny branches on her bike…
Lest you think that these trails were totally smooth and wussy, it should be noted that we were soaked in sweat and exhausted after two hours of up-and-down workout. The mud in some of the down parts was… well, interesting… particularly to My Lovely Bride, whose mantra as a child was “Little girls do not get muddy”. Well, you’re a Big Girl now, Baby! (Check out those legs!) On a mountain bike, if you’re not getting down and dirty, you’re not having enough fun…
The trip is not all outdoor fun and zest, though. Suzanne is giving readings daily by Skype or phone, and in person whenever possible. Internet connectivity can be challenging. We have a 3-bar signal at this campground, but when we drove into South Carolina for our MTB rides, our AT&T phones were searching unsuccessfully for a signal. If you’re on her waiting list, please be patient! Meanwhile, she’s preparing to give her “Making the Connection” presentation tonight (Wednesday) in Greenville, SC, and tomorrow in Wilmington, NC. See the “events” page on her website, www.LoveAtTheCenter.com for details.
To celebrate our first week out and a truly memorable mountain bike adventure, I suggested we have a nice dinner out at Five Guys. Regrettably, I made a serious blunder in letting Suzanne navigate. Instead of burgers and fries, we wound up at La Maison, a top-shelf French restaurant in Augusta where many of the pro golfers dine during Masters Week…. Sigh. Chef Heinz and his gracious, lovely wife Zelda put on a dining experience worthy of Paris or Berlin. And as you can see, My Lovely Bride cleans up pretty good for a Dirty Girl.