Sunday, May 15, 2016

Biking Georgia in Columbia County

After taking Denisa's Mother back to the airport, we moved down the road to Petersburg Campground in Columbia County, Georgia. A Corp of Engineers Park, it lies beside the largest man-made lake east of the Mississippi River--Thurmond Lake at Clarks Hill. With 72,000 acres under water, it has over 1,200 miles of shore line. We walked a couple of those miles around our campground area, and there was water as far as we could see.

Even when on perpetual vacation, we still have to take care of miscellaneous maintenance. So we drove to Augusta for an oil change for our car. But we also got to stop by the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area.

Built in 1845, the head gate of the canal is pictured above. It was built to harness the hydro-power and make water transportation easier than the natural course of the Savannah River. If she stood on her tip-toes, Denisa could look over the cement wall of the head gate structure to see the wide Savannah River spilling down into its rocky river bed.

Just south of that rugged river is the smooth water of the Augusta canal. Here boats could navigate easily up and down the waterway, so the canal opened up manufacturing to the region. There were also water wheels and mills along the canal, taking advantage of the flow of the water down the man-made waterway.

Boats could enter the canal from the Savannah River by going through the lock system. Denisa is standing between the two gates of the lock at the entrance to the canal.

We've seen padlocks on bridges and fences all over the country. Usually with two people's names inscribed, couples use it as a symbol to lock their love. Putting a lock on a lock seems to be the most appropriate place we've ever seen.

We took the time to visit the museum (in the former lock-keepers house). Then we took the walk down to the water to see the head gates and lock up close and from afar. In the picture below we can see the water coming into the canal through the head gates, and the lock on the far right.

But the real reason we were here was to get some exercise. There is a tow path along the canal that makes for a great bike path. We were riding where the mules once trudged along the canal, pulling boats up and down the canal. Today the only boats on the water were a few kayaks, taking advantage of the gentle canal current.

Most of the path was completely shaded, with trees on both sides providing a cool canopy for a bike ride. Obviously this tow path hasn't been used for many years. The trees on the canal-side of the path couldn't have been there when a rope was connected from the mule on the tow path to the boat on the water.

Our tow path/bike path was elevated, and served as the divider between the Savannah River and the canal. Most of the time we had the canal directly on our south . . .

and the wide Savannah River to our north.

Besides the tow path trail, we also rode the River Levee Trail. Most of this path was paved, but we made it to the very end where a narrow dirt path leads to the Savannah River bulkhead. All the way back to the head gates made for a nice round trip bike ride of 15 miles. Denisa thinks the best part of this historical trail is that it was almost completely flat!

That wouldn't be true of the next bike ride we made in Columbia County. The Bartram Trail has a trailhead at the entrance of our campground, and we read that it was ranked as one of the top ten bike trails in the United States. With a reputation like that, we definitely will spend an afternoon riding through the trees on this trail.

It was a beautiful ride in a beautiful place on a beautiful weather day. Or if we use the description from the area's mountain bike web site, it was "sick awesome" with "race track fun." We were blessed with cooler temperatures during our stay at Petersburg campground, and we were wearing long sleeves for the first time in a while.

Bartram Trail zigs and zags over tree roots and across spongy pine needles through the trees, and occasionally gives a view of Thurmond lake.

Some of those zigs were up and down hills. Denisa is a self-proclaimed flat-lander bicyclists, but she still enjoyed this ride. That was until she had a bike crash going down a slope into a rough spot. She probably could have ridden it out at the beginning of the ride, but she was tired and tumbled out of it at the end of the ride. No pictures of the crash because Mark knows he should reach for Denisa instead of the camera when she crashes. Nothing got hurt, but she'll be wearing some bruises for a while.

We would agree that Bartram is one of the nicest trails we have ever biked. Categorized as a mountain bike trail, the section between Petersburg and Spring Lake is still easy enough to be fun for bikers like us. With a first class parking lot, there is plenty of room for lots of bikers. But on a week day in May we only met two other bikes on the trail. We were most impressed with the bike repair station at the trail head--complete with a bike pump and every bike tool conceivable. We would ride 16 mountain bike miles, and Denisa is developing callouses on her thumbs from holding on to her handle bars so tight on this rough terrain.

Convinced that perhaps she can now be a mountain biker, Denisa agreed to another bike trail. We made the trip over to Mistletoe State Park and tried their trail system through the trees.

Our first warning should have been the elevation map that we got at the visitor's center. We rode up the hill, and then down to the creek bed, then up the hill and down . . .

Not a well-maintained trail, we completely lost track of the number of trees that had fallen over the trail. Denisa didn't know that mountain biking was an upper body workout to lift her bike over so many trees.

For some reason, Mark thought that going over trees was a fun challenge.

He also thought riding up hill on the spongy forest trail was some kind of fun challenge. He even thought all those bumpy tree roots were fun. Denisa, on the other hand, spent most of those slopes pushing her bike. She definitely had callouses on her hands from hanging on for dear life on the downhills, and pushing her bike up the hills.

So after three long bike rides in Columbia County, it might be time to hang up the bikes for a while. As we are heading to the Appalachian Mountains, it feels like it is time to lace on the hiking boots again.

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