Just outside Macon, Georgia, tucked between adolescent pines and old, decaying baptist churches lies two different 50 mile gravel grinding routes, the Red Clay Ramble and the Fried Green 50. Laden with long stretches and brick red dirt both routes offer something different for riders.
The Toecutters decided to take a long weekend out to nearby Lake Sinclair just an hour and a half outside Atlanta where we setup our base camp quickly in order to prepare for what we thought was a 3 day outing with proposed torrential rain. Sean set up a tarp over our table and Rob, Ron and I quickly gathered wood and made a bonfire to keep the mosquitos and ticks at bay. It was late afternoon when we arrived but our tents were pitched and our bikes were unloaded soon enough for us to check out the beach as we watched some ominous clouds roll in.
Lake Sinclair campgrounds is a first come first serve campsite situated on the south end of Lake Sinclair. Most of the sites are located either on the lake or nearby with views of it. At the end of the main street the campgrounds host a rather nice well maintained beach with sand on the lake’s edge overlooking the north side of the lake which is lined with large houses and double decker boat docks. There are several bathrooms and showers and Ron managed to scope out the cleanest one nearest the lake where I decided to set up shop for my numerous ‘morning routines’ Hey, I’m all for roughing it in the woods but why not take full advantage of the on site amenities (one use of the bathroom near camp and it was lake side for me). The campgrounds were fairly empty save for a large tent town across the way which looked rather permanently lived in and the grounds host.
Once the fire had turned into white hot coals we settled into dinner of marinated chicken grilled over the fire on hot tortillas just as the rain started. All four of us sheltered under a 5×5 tarp eating soggy but delicious tacos, we turned up Marijata on the speaker and started on probably our 4th beer. Sean wanted to save the fire in case the rain stopped and threw bundles of sticks to perk it up. When the rain finally died down we had a nice fire to return to. Drunk off beers we turned in for an early rise to set out on the Fried Green 50.
The next morning after eating a large breakfast of eggs, Bacon, and some of Sean’s wife’s home made bread and numerous cups of coffee we set out for the Fried Green 50. From Lake Sinclair it was a 20 minute or so drive to a suitable spot to park our cars and start our ride. There was an abandoned gas station just at the start that looked safe enough to unload.
The Fried Green 50 is an undulating system of roads paved in gravel that winds through the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. Normally as an event put on by OMBA (Ocmulgee Mountain Biking Association) it starts and ends in the small riverside town of Juliette, GA (more on this later).
This ride was more than the Toecutters expected it to be. It was filled with fast descents on loose gravel that often times ended into a plunge of cold creek crossings into a nice steady climb on the other side. What surprised the others and me most though was the amount of exploration you could take on this ride, often times stopping us to reply to a “Hey, wonder what’s over there?”. Half way through the ride on one of these side quests we came across a large smoothed over rock outcropping filled with small and large water holes each one dumping into the next with a waterfall. The waterfalls kept spilling down the rock sides into the thick woods. We parked and explored keeping mindful of our steps after Sean ran into a rattlesnake. Once finished taking pictures we rode off to finish the back half.
Finally we made our way to Juliette in hopes of some late lunch or a convenience store with snacks. Sadly we didn’t get either but what we did get was a visit to a small, one street town that on first glance was comically fake looking. The street was lined with a city hall that couldn’t fit more than 10 people, an Opry house that didn’t look functional in any way and several knick knack stores ending at a functional diner called the Whistle Stop Cafe. All this sits in the shadow of a large, abandoned power plant. Due to how fake the town looked we immediately Googled to find out that Juliette was created as a set for the filming of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ that later was turned into this functional little town. One problem with Juliette is if you don’t plan on waiting for food at the cafe it offers little in refueling on snack except for a couple cans of soda. After sitting on some picnic tables to cram some Lara bars we set back off onto the gravel path.
We were using a combination of Garmin cycling computers, Etrex devices and google maps to follow the route, as a result we came to a section that was closed off for foot traffic only which we were informed by a man having his lunch/guarding that he wouldn’t allow us to ride this section. Beware when following this route that you might have to deviate from the original path in order to complete it either due to road closings or active hunts. After altering the route slightly we finally finished the ride with a huge descent over a blind hump which allowed for some float into another huge descent ending in a creek plunge. Rob, abandoning the ride earlier from possible heat stroke, was immediately informed upon return to the cars that he missed the best park after he left. I don’t blame him though. After all it was rising in the 90’s with heavy humidity. No wonder this ride is in November usually.
We returned to camp with enough time to jump into the lake to swim and rinse the dust off and start our late afternoon beer drinking and make snacks before Tyler came to cook us a hot meal of cornish hens in a dutch oven over the fire. Up till midnight telling stories and drinking beer and it was time to turn in for tomorrow’s ride on the Red Clay Ramble.