Disclaimer: While the following short story does reference knobby tires and single track trails, it has absolutely nothing to do with motorcycles, dual sport or otherwise.
In the mid 90s I moved to Atlanta, Georgia for an internship, and upon completion was offered a position that I knew would be a bright shiny penny on my resume. I had always lived in big cities so the thought of calling Atlanta home for the next few years was neither enticing nor intimidating.
It did offer plenty of urban entertainment, like standing in line at the grocery store behind a 6’3” drag queen buying lipstick with food stamps. Or watching homeless guys fight in slow motion after drinking too much Lysol and cough syrup.
But as appealing as those things were to me, what I really found intriguing was the prospect of exploring the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain Range in the Chattahoochee National Forest, just over an hour away. So every chance I got I’d throw my mountain bike in the back of the truck and head north into the backwoods of Georgia.
After a year or so of exploration, I had compiled a short list of my favorite trails. At the top of this list was the Bear Creek Trail in the forest near Ellijay – a spectacularly scenic ride that began with a grueling uphill climb on forest service roads that eventually rewarded riders with 10 miles of technical downhill single track, all under a canopy of dense foliage that the summer sun would turn an impossible, magical shade of emerald green. In this lush setting you almost expected to see wood nymphs or leprechauns or some shit riding two-up on a unicorn.
Even the drive in to the trailhead had a fairy tale vibe – passing a few quaint brightly colored cottages nestled in fields of mountain wildflowers, replete with a small picket barn. There was also a cute little old white church that was certainly once a one-room schoolhouse where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn types daydreamed of fishing. It was textbook whimsical. Until late fall. Then it became something else entirely.
After the fall color palate had turned to a uniform UPS brown, and the leaves had died and dropped like they were just double dosed with Agent Orange, the whole esthetic of the area changed and the forest had a much more foreboding feel. Under gray skies, the skeletal silhouettes of leafless trees made the perfect backdrop for several teenage homicidal horror scenarios – lost in the woods, trapped in an abandoned summer camp, or just built my hunting cabin on an Indian burial ground.
The effect was the same for the drive there, the brightly colored cottages looking dingy under cold autumn skies. It wasn’t hard to imagine a ramshackle still hidden in the barn, watched over by scrawny mountain men with scarecrow physiques and shifty eyes; itchy trigger fingers caressing grand pappy’s over under double barrel.
In that light, it also became easy to picture that cute little church packed with sweat drenched parishioners, all speaking in tongues as they danced around holding venomous snakes and sipping strychnine – inbred evangelism hard at work every Saturday night. This was Deliverance country, which we often joked was a documentary, and far far away from urban proprieties like marrying outside the immediate family.
On these bleak windy days, it felt less like riding through Eden and more like trespassing in Sleepy Hollow, where the next twist and turn in the trail could hold an unwelcome surprise. And for me, on one cold November day, it did.
I was riding alone, as (bad) luck would have it, and had made the long arduous climb up the spine of the mountain, then dropped down on to the single track. I hadn’t seen a single soul since setting out from the truck, which wasn’t uncommon, as this area was miles and miles from the sporadic homes that dotted the road to the edge of the forest.
About a half mile into the descent I saw a man in the distance, standing on the edge of the trail. Being a fairly technical trail, it was hard to gather details about him while also focusing on the ground I was traversing, but as I got closer I found it strange that he was wearing a flesh colored full body suit. Obviously made of spandex. Very form fitting. Particularly in the…then it hit me, he was naked.
I came skidding to a stop about 50 feet from him. He was completely naked. No shoes, no pile of clothes near him, no backpack, no water bottle, no nothing. His hair was a mess, his glasses askew. He had nervous bloodshot eyes and a pasty institutional complexion; some kind of weird tic or voodoo mannerism completed the whole just slipped out the back door of the psych ward unnoticed aura he was giving off.
I thought he bore a vague resemblance to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who had been killed in prison the year before. While obviously not his undisclosed identical twin, this guy looked every bit as looney. Perhaps this was a distant southern relative. Maybe his third cousin, Cletus Dahmer. There was one thing I could definitely ascertain – that he was very large physically (no, not like that you perv) and I had to ride within a few inches of him.
I briefly considered the alternatives. I could turn around and ride back up the steep technical trail, but I was pretty tired from the hard climb up to the trail and that just seemed horribly impractical. Plus I’d seen that movie before. Fleeing uphill from a maniac through a spooky forest guaranteed numerous slip and fall accidents that inevitably ended with the pursuer hacking the pursued to death with a machete.
I could try and talk to him, but….uh, no. I finally decided my only course of action was to let gravity work in my favor – put it in a high gear and barrel past him as fast as I possibly could. If he was going to do anything other than stand there and watch me go past, I was going to plant my helmet in his face at full speed.
The next few seconds were all very anti-climactic. I cruised right by him and nothing happened. I got about a hundred feet past him and my curiosity got the best of me, so I stopped again and called up the trail to him.
Hey! Is the nudist colony closed today or are you just out of your fucking mind?!
He let out a strange yowling sound and laid down on the trail in a fetal position. All the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and I thought, well, that answers that.
Back in the city, I told several friends about my creepy encounter in the forest and they all pretended to be concerned until I finished my story, then promptly asked the exact same question with a sarcastic smirk – was he ten-hut or at ease?