Monday, December 7, 2009

Dual-Sporting Again

November 14, 2009, about three weeks ago.

Well, I did it again today -- I went off road on my Ninja. At least I went off paved road. On purpose.

It started innocently enough with an easy ride up to Devil's Fork State Park, then to Whitewater Falls, and the Bad Creek pumped storage access. Let me tell you about these places first.

I had spotted a few roads on the map leading out of Pickens South Carolina that I had not been on before, so I decided to check them out.

The day starts out at just under fifty degrees, so it is a nice temperature for riding. The roads I had found start out with Shady Grove, SC-133, leading toward the crossroads called Nine Times. That is another of the unusual place names here in South Carolina that I'll have to research. I follow this road all the way to SC-11, the smooth, sweeping "get-to" road used by many to view the Blue Ridge Escarpment and to get from one good twisty road to another.

I turn left near Keowee-Toxiway State Park, cross over a branch of Lake Keowee, and turn right toward Devil's Fork State Park. The road in starts out with a few easy turns, but becomes tighter without warning closer to the park. I pass the pay post and ride down to one of the boat ramps that is used by SCUBA divers nearly every Saturday and Sunday. I park, grab a snack and a bottle of Gatorade, and walk down toward the ramp. Sure enough, there is a group standing in the water listening to an instructor explaining the dive that is about to take place. Soon, he is finished; they put on their masks, and disappear, except for these three who linger a bit then dive in. You can see the concrete boat ramp leading downward in the water.

Well, no more activity here until they surface again. I take a few pictures of the lake, eat the last of my food, down my drink, then head back to the bike. It has gotten warmer, so I shed a layer and put it into my tank bag. That's better.

How about a map showing my trip today? Here it is.

View Larger Map

Devil's Fork State Park is located at pushpin "H" on the map.

I make my way back up the hill and exit the park, then go back out to route 11 and turn right. It is only a little way to SC-130, Whitewater Falls Road. This road has a lot of nice sweeping curves, and the falls is one of my favorite places to visit. It is at pushpin "J." The parking lot has quite a few cars in it, and two bikes, both Harleys. I park, secure my helmet and take my camera with me.

As I reach the walkway leading to the falls, I note a group of about ten people with their backpacks strewn about in one of the picnic shelters. I ask them where they are going. It turns out that they have been kayaking on the Chattooga River for four days, and are now hiking for another four. The Chattooga is one of the best whitewater rivers around. These adventurers look a little rugged, but then I think I would look that way too if I had been out for that long and done the things they have done. Maybe someday I can do that. After all, here I am riding a motorcycle, starting late in life. I wish them well and begin the walk of a half mile to the falls overlook.

Along the way, there are two couples taking one another's pictures in front of the view of Lake Jocassee on the right side of the walkway.

They see me coming and ask if I can snap a picture of all four of them together. I oblige. The fellow who asked has an accent, so I inquire of his background. He and his wife are from Yugoslavia, and the other couple is from Croatia, I think. They have lived in Charlotte North Carolina for several years. I walk with them to the falls overlook and they want a few more pictures of the four of them. One asks if am actually a member of their paparazzi, following them, then selling their pictures to the tabloids. No, I don't think so.

It was here at this overlook back in February of 2008 when riding with Adam that we ran across a photographer, J.M. Farrey, who was taking pictures of people in front of the falls, then immediately printing them on a battery-operated color printer for sale. Pretty neat idea.

The falls are quite full today, as there were heavy rains about a week ago. I take a few pictures from here before I start down the 154 steps to the lower observation platform. Just before I get there, I notice that there is a wide section of a rainbow* visible about half way down the falls. This is the first time I have seen a rainbow here. In combination with the heavy flow of the falls today, it makes for a nice sight.

Note the size of the people standing at the top of the falls, below, center. The falls are 411 feet high.

I stay a while taking in the view and snapping pictures before I huff and puff back up the steps.

An aside:
Even though I am advancing in age at an alarmingly rapid pace, I don't baby myself when it comes to exercise. For example, these 154 steps certainly make my heart rate climb, but I make it a point to continue climbing all the same rather than stopping to rest periodically on the way up.

I am also one who tends to park a long way from the retail store so I can get in a little more walking, and I usually choose the stairs over an elevator whenever I can. I have recently read the book Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge. Crowley is an old guy who was seeing his body deteriorate with age and wanted to slow that down. Lodge is a doctor who helped figure out how to do that.

Anyway, they advocate one hour of exercise six days a week from now on. Weights three days, cardiovascular, the other three. We'll, I have been trying to follow that prescription, which is a huge change for me, particularly in the lifting weights department. The last time I lifted weights was in high school about a hundred years ago, and I was pretty scrawny then. ...and I still am, but I think I am beginning to feel a bit stronger as evidenced by the slow progression in the amount of weight I can handle -- and maybe becoming slightly more muscular looking according to my wife.

The idea is that the cardio makes your heart and other innards work hard and slow their aging, while the weight lifting makes your extended life worth living; keeps you from getting dottery and falling all the time like so many old people do.

Back to the scenery.

I walk down the path to the parking lot, and on my way I get one of the fairly usual comments about my riding togs, this one tailored to the presence of the falls: "You dressed to go over the falls?" I answer that I am not, at least not today, and smile graciously. I wonder: If I were dressed in a squidly ensemble consisting of a tee shirt, cargo shorts, and flip flops, whether anyone would have commented.

On my way by again, I bid the kayak/hikers a good trip, walk over and put on my helmet and gloves, start up, then go back out of the park. Just a short way south is the Duke Energy Bad Creek Pumped Storage Facility access road. At a whim, I decide to turn in. I check my mirrors for anyone behind me, see no one, and turn left. The automatic gate is open as it usually is these days during daylight hours. The road is nicely paved and leads to an overlook near the end of the publicly accessible road from where you can see Lake Jocassee and Lower Whitewater Falls in the distance.

This Google Earth image shows the location of the overlook. Caution: Note that there is a gate in a blind left had curve just beyond the overlook entrance. If you go past the overlook and are running fast, you will likely crash.

Lower Whitewater Falls near where it enters Lake Jocassee, center.

View of Lake Jocassee.

Once I have taken in the views from here, I ride a little way back to the branch of the Bad Creek road that leads to the pumped storage maintenance facility parking lot.

This facility is a good place to understand power generation, particularly peak demand. You see, almost all types of power plants including coal-fired and nuclear are best operated continuously. That is, putting out a constant amount of power. Unfortunately, demand for power is not constant, so utilities must purchase power from other power plants when they are short and sell their excess when possible. This works to some extent, but they still have a good deal of trouble coping with peaks in demand. One way is to use natural gas-fired turbine peak shaving plants. Another way is to use pumped storage. The latter is what they do here. There is one lake at a higher elevation -- Bad Creek Reservoir, 375-acres, elevation 2,130 feet; and one lower -- Lake Jocassee, 7,500-acres, elevation 1,110 feet. When demand for power is low, such as at night, the plant uses excess power to pump water from the lower lake into the upper. When demand is high, some of this water is let through the power plant to produce power again. Simple and clean.

From the Duke Energy website:

"The Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station is a 1,065-megawatt pumped-storage facility located in Oconee County, eight miles north of Salem, South Carolina. The four-unit station began generating electricity in 1991, and is the largest hydroelectric station on the Duke Energy system. It is named for the two streams, Bad Creek and West Bad Creek, which were dammed to create the Bad Creek reservoir.

"The Bad Creek facility [uses] two reservoirs (or lakes) to generate electricity: an upper reservoir and a lower reservoir. Water stored in an upper lake is released into underground power tunnels. The water rushes down the tunnels, driving huge turbines, which are underground at the base of a dam. The spinning turbines are connected to large generators, which produce the electricity. The water then flows through draft tubes into a lower lake.

"A pumped-storage hydroelectric station uses the same water over and over again, making more efficient use of water resources. When demand for electricity is low, operators can refill the [upper] lake, as if they were “recharging” a battery. Using power from other generating stations, the generators act as electric motors spinning the huge turbines backward. This pumps water back up the power tunnels into the upper lake. Water is generally pumped back to the upper reservoir at night and on weekends."
The powerhouse is entirely underground and contains four pump/turbines. A one-mile long, 30-foot-diameter tunnel bored through the mountain bedrock connects the reservoirs and powerhouse.

Diagram from website.

This is an aerial view from the East. At the top is the Bad Creek Reservoir. At the bottom, just left of center, are the draft tubes exiting the powerhouse into Lake Jocassee. The powerhouse is underground between the two lakes. Lower Whitewater Falls comes into Lake Jocassee from the mid-right emptying into the lake from behind the foreground hill to the right of the draft tubes.

From the Duke Energy Bad Creek website.

As I reach the powerhouse maintenance parking lot, I spot it: The sign for the Musterground Road. ...and it is hunting season, so the gate is open for access. I dismount, and walk a few feet on the road.

The gravel is not loose, and it is reasonably well graded. I have heard that a high-clearance vehicle is needed for this road, but this section looks harmless enough. Temptation seizes me. I can't resist. I decide to ride it a little way to see how it is.

About six tenths of a mile along, there is a bridge that crosses over the headwaters of Lower Whitewater Falls. The falls are about a half mile to the left in the photo along a trail. (To the right of the road on the way in.)

This Google Earth image shows the Musterground Road the best of any image available. It was taken on March 24, 1995. I have annotated it to show key points.

The Musterground Road surface is fairly easily negotiated with a street bike with a little caution -- to a point (see below). There are some larger rocks and some ruts, and loose gravel in places. The scenery is mostly wooded with a bit of fall color remaining.

Remember my little friend? He is again along for this [bumpy] ride today.

Every so often, there is a view of Lake Jocassee.

The first 2.7 miles of the road, up to the only tight switchback I know of, is a no-shooting zone. I suppose this is to reduce the likelihood of a hunter firing at a vehicle on the road.

I go in about six miles all together. At that point, the road becomes more loose stone, more steeply graded, and more rutted. I find it fairly easy to go up the hills, leaning forward to transfer weight toward the front wheel, but I become concerned about going back down. Oh, and my low fuel light is coming on.

I reach a little flat place, and decide to turn back. The turn around isn't too bad, but the loose, steep now-downhill section lies just ahead. As I go down into the loosest place, I am in first gear, and the rear wheel starts to slip. Oh, oh. This doesn't feel good, I think to myself, but what is the right thing to do? I pull in the clutch. That seems to work to get my stability back. Now, however, I gain more speed than I want to, so I dab at the rear brake and lock up the wheel again. Fortunately, I do not skid sideways too much either time, so I can recover. I finally decide to use intermittent front and rear brake on the steep section to control my speed without too much tire slippage.

Is this why they make knobby tires, do you suppose?

I make it back to the easier section again, and motor along at about ten miles an hour. I am getting my off-road reflexes by now, and there are no more harrowing incidents.

...and I have not gotten shot at by any hunters yet.

All of this first gear riding makes me a little concerned about running out of gas, but at last I reach the paved road again. I still have to leave out of the Bad Creek road, and run down 130 to 11 again, then find the closest gas station. I expect that I must go about twelve miles. Can I make it? I hope so.

Well, I do make it, gas up, call my wife to let her know where I am, and head back home. My wife is tolerant of my Saturday exploration trips, so I try to let her know if I am going to be later than usual.

By the time I reach home, I have ridden about 140 miles, and the temperature has reached the low seventies.

What a great day for a [dual-sport] ride!

Now, I wonder where I can buy some Ninja knobbies....

If you go:

The Musterground Road is open -- as indicated by the green gates being open -- between September 15 and January 1, and between April 1 and May 1. Red gates are closed to public access at all times.

Places in and near the Jocassee Gorges.

Fishing in the area.

Lower Whitewater Falls.

Google Books: Scenic Driving South Carolina by John F. Clark, Patricia A. Pierce.

Foothills Trail information.

Foothills Trail and the area surrounding Lake Jocassee.

Videos of area waterfalls by Rich Stevenson.

SC-11, Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway attractions and sights.

* Rainbow
Did you know that in the Book of Genesis, the rainbow came in the wake of the great worldwide flood brought by God in order to remove sinful and evil-minded man from the earth? The rainbow symbolized the covenant God made with Noah (representing mankind) not to destroy the world in such a way again:

"I do set my [rain]bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which [is] between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that [is] upon the earth. " (Genesis 9:13-16, KJV)

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