Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mountainfreak Borders-The Ocoee in Tennessee

Tennessee Whitewater
A Pair of Reports From the Ocoee River

Middle Ocoee Trip

Contributed by Heath Hair

Last weekend four friends and I went to raft the Upper, and Middle Ocoee River in Benton TN, about 15 miles north of Chatsworth Ga. The weather forecast didn't look favorable with a storm front hovering around Tennessee for the better part of the morning, so we decided to commit only to the Middle Ocoee instead. Normally, we would camp at the Ocoee Outdoors outpost... it's fun and convenient. But since we opted for the shorter trip, we decided to make it a one day affair and leave early for around 7:30 for the 10:00 o'clock put-in (which we barely made by the way), with Sunburst Adventures. They are good people and we have known them a long time. But if you want to do an Upper-Middle trip Ocoee Outdoors is the way to go. Beside being able to camp at the outpost, the people there take really good care of you, and excellent/fun guides. It isn't uncommon for them to cookout with you in the evening, and hang out with you at Grumpy's later that night. It's a seasonal bar, within walking distance, with decent bands. And of course, if you decide to raft with them all day, they will provide a lunch riverside. Of course most of the companies do that as well.

Anyway, back to the rafting experience itself. That day it rained. I haven't rafted in the rain since I was about 14 years old. Let me tell you, the rain shouldn't detour you in anyway whatsoever, at least in the summer months. It was the first time in years that I didn't get a sunburn on my shoulders. Of course the part of the Middle Ocoee where the river calms down and you can get out of the river and float down was relaxing as always, ESPECIALLY in the rain. Ironically, it is seems more serene than on a sunny day. There is a pretty nice place to stop and have a snack around the underpass just before the rapids start back up, with a nice view of a waterfall.

The Middle Ocoee is the most popular white water rafting river in country, and likely the world. It is comprised of 5 miles of constant class 3-4 rapids that just never seem to quit. Boredom will not be an issue. The Middle Ocoee offers more than enough for any hardcore outdoor thrill seeker, at the same time isn't intimidating enough to ruin the good time of a first timer. The Middle Ocoee is enough of a white water crash course to take on the Upper Ocoee's class 4-5 rapids almost immediately. Basically, the Middle Ocoee is the perfect rafting experience. If you are into kayaking, this is the place to be also. the Ocoee River was a 1996 Olympic venue for a reason.

Ocoee Rafting 101

Dr. Chris Haddock
Ringgold, Georgia

Not far across the state line in North Georgia lie several rivers that are extremely popular to whitewater enthusiasts. These include East Tennessee’s Hiawassee and Western North Carolina’s Nantahala. Both are easily accessible and do not require any guide to raft them. Outfitters are plentiful and rent a variety of inflatable contraptions to float the river or small kayaks and other boats if that’s more your style. Children under 12 can safely take these trips.

The centerpiece of this whitewater scene in this area is the Ocoee River in East Tennessee, site of the 1996 Olympic Games Whitewater events. Dammed up in the mid 20th century by TVA, the Ocoee is a river that has it’s origins in the North Carolina mountains but comes into its own once it drops into the foothills of East TN. It’s comprised of three distinct sections; upper, middle, and lower as divided by the three dams. The upper section contains the Olympic Course and has some very challenging water class IV and V rapids.. Water is not released into this section all the time and you should call ahead to an outfitter to determine the release schedule should you wish to give it a go. . The middle section of the Ocoee is the traditional run that has been used since the 70’s by local outfitters and has plenty of big water as well. Water is released into this section daily in the summer peak times and on weekends early or late in season. Both the upper and middle sections can be floated on your own but unless you’re an experienced whitewater enthusiast with a lot of training it should only be undertaken through an outfitter. The lower section is a placid, flat water section leading down into Parksville Lake providing a very nice serene float and simple tubes and sea kayaks are not an uncommon site.

Outfitters are numerous in the area with over twenty in business at any one time. I myself have always used Ocoee Outdoors as they are one of the oldest and most respected groups on the river. Their experience and emphasis on safety was readily apparent on my most recent trip. Another nice feature that they and some other outfitters provide is a camping area that can be used before/after your trip down the river for a nominal fee.. Ocoee Outdoors has several nice camping sites as well as indoor bathhouse and restrooms.

I’ve gone down the middle section numerous times but this year we decided to do an upper/middle combo trip. Both sections take about two to two and half hours and they are traditionally split up by an outfitter supplied lunch between the sections. The upper had some very challenging rapids and once in the Olympic section it was about a half mile of uninterrupted whitewater which was definitely the highlight of the run.. During our recent trip a boater fell out on a rather innocuous appearing rapid called Edge of the World below the Olympic section.. Although minor in appearance it contains a “terminal hydraulic” on its bottom end and this boater was trapped and was continually churned in the hydraulic staying under for 20 seconds at a time and was growing weaker with each subsequent submersion. The guides for Ocoee Outdoors remained calm and continued to throw safety ropes at the boater until she was able to grab hold and be pulled out of the rapid. In fact one of the guides on our trip had been trapped in the same spot the previous year and had lost numerous teeth due to the repeated pounding against the rocks in this rapid. His story and incident that day were excellent examples of why an outfitter should be used to make your trip and why only those over 12 years of age are allowed on these sections.

Sadly, two great Ocoee Institutions that provided excellen pre and post trip entertainment have closed down. Both Duff’s Bar and Grumpy’s Rockhouse featured cheap beer, live music, and a mixed crowd of locals, river guides, and rafters. Both have closed down within the past 12 months but rumors persist that Grumpy’s will reopen soon. There are several small delis and gas stations in the area should you decide not to bring your own food and the nearby town of Cleveland Tn. provides a wide variety of dining options.

A trip down any of these rivers provides some great fun and entertainment and the variety of the water along with their proximity to each other allows for something to please the whole family. Located less than 2 hours from Atlanta up 411 an easy day trip could be planned or a weekend in the mountains camping or in a cabin rental would provide easy access to the river.

Carter's Lake-Georgia's "Other" Mountian Lake

Carter's Lake seen from the Marina

Conveniently located about midway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Carter's Lake is 3500 acres of unspoiled paradise for boaters and fishermen in the north Georgia mountains. Carter's Lake may not have the panache of lakes Burton and Rabun to it's northeast, or the prime location near a bustling town like Lake Blue Ridge or Chatuge..but it certainly deserves mention along with those lakes when watersports, fishing and recreational opportunities are discussed.
There is only one commercial establishment on the shores of the lake, Carter's Lake Marina and Resort. The marina offers full service for boaters along with boat rentals and cabins. The rest of the lake is pretty much operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The visitor's center operated by the Corps is a great first stop for visitors to the lake. Here you will find exhibits explaining the history of the area and construction of the lake and dam, wildlife in and around the lake, and the recreational opportunities provided. Maps of the lake and pamphlets for the various camping areas, hiking trails and the Ridgeway Mountain Bike Trail can be picked up free of charge.
Carter's Lake is a little less crowded than the other lakes mentioned above, and that makes it a prime destination for fishermen pursuing largemouth, striped and smallmouth bass, walleye, catfish and panfish. The Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources manages 6,000 acres of public land around the lake which is available to hunters during the season.
Carter's Lake is located near Oakman, GA just south of Chatsworth off of US Hwy 411, and south of Ellijay and north of Jasper off of Hwy 515.

Cooling it in Helen-Tubing the Chattahoochee

If you are looking for something easy, cheap, cool and fun for both adults and kids of all ages, it's hard to beat tubing through downtown Helen, Georgia in the summertime. Helen is no more than 2 hours away from most of metro Atlanta, Chattanooga, Greenville-Spartanburg and all points in between-so even the $4 a gallon gas is a little easier to swallow for a day trip or vacation to this popular north Georgia mountain destination. There are two main tube rental companies in Helen and both charge $3-4 for tube rental which includes full shuttle service as needed for what is generally a 2-3 hour float from the north end of town to the south.

Green and Pink tubes and their occupants proceed in an orderly fashion down the river on every summer day from about 9 am till near dark. This is a leisurely float with little in the way of dangerous rapids or fact it is advised that you bring or purchase a "tubing stick" to help you make your way through the shallower areas when the water level is low. Higher water levels make for a faster but still safe and enjoyable trip. Try to avoid the few groups who want to tie 6-8 tubes together into huge rafts..they will constantly clog some of the narrower passages and sit there vacantly wondering why this keeps happening to them rather than untie their tubes and open up the river for those they are causing problems for. Just stop and swim or sit on some rocks for a while until these dimwits clear out. Tube traffic on the river is. of course, lighter on weekdays and heavier on the weekends and holidays.
Tubes are available at Cool River Tubing (the green tubes) and at the Helen Fleamarket/Alpine Valley Waterpark Company (the pink tubes). Both have locations at both ends of the trip and you can pay/start and any of the locations then use the appropriate shuttle buses as needed.
Flea Market Tubing Helen, GA by Mountainfreak Outdoors

Helen Fleamarket Rental Location North Of Town

The water temperature of the Chattahoochee as it flows through Helen varies from the high 50's to the mid 60's, offering a welcome respite from the heat. Tubing is a great way to enjoy the river and the river view of Alpine Helen. I've seen folks pull their tubes up to the shore in the middle of town and make the short walk up to Jordano's Pizza or Wendy's for lunch then go back and continue their float. It really is laid back and relaxed ...and fitting with the pace of life that brings people up to enjoy the .north Georgia mountains.


A common trap for pizza restaurants is for the chef to dabble in serving Italian food. Generally, people searching for top of the line Italian dishes do not go to places that also serve pizza because the Italian food is average, at best. However, Pazzo Pizzeria and Italian Market, located near Lake Burton, is trying to turn that notion on its head. The pizza is truly top notch. The sauce is outstanding, but used sparingly on the pie which is a sure signal that the pizza maker knows his business. The thin crust reminds me of the type of pizza crusts that you find when eating pizza in Italy. We had the cheese pizza, since this is the pizza of choice for my three girls, but it is obvious that Pazzo has the basics mastered.

My wife and I were, as previously mentioned, a little apprehensive about the other fare on the menu. However, Pazzo gets a passing grade in this arena as well. We started with a somewhat unique appetizer called “Baci Bites”. This appetizer was pizza dough stuffed with proscuitto, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese, then deep fried. The texture of dough was similar to that of a doughnut, and the small amount of powdered sugar sprinkled on did nothing to dissuade you of that notion. While it was a tasty appetizer, I must note that the proscuitto tasted more like country ham.

Since we were sampling the pizza too, my wife and I split an entrĂ©e of Eggplant Parmigiano. This dish was truly outstanding, as the eggplant contained none of the bitterness that can sometimes ruin the flavor. Here again, the chef did not make the mistake of other Italian restaurants by overusing the sauce and cheese. Rather, it was blended effectively to accentuate, rather than overpower, the natural flavor of the eggplant. It was as good as my mother’s eggplant parmigiano, and that is saying something. The eggplant was served with grilled zucchini and squash, which was very good, and risotto, which was fairly average.

We passed on dessert, so I will have to leave that to a follow-up review. They have a full array of other dishes on the menu. I am not sure if any of their pastas are homemade, but their sauce is very good. I tried to order beer, but apparently they cannot serve it until July 1. They do serve wine from Habersham Winery since it is considered a “tasting room” for the winery, and I was told both places are owned by the same person or group. It would be nice if they could beef up their wine selection.

The atmosphere is truly outstanding, as it certainly captures the Italian sense of dining alfresco. Even the “indoor” seating is wide open to the outside. We sat in the courtyard which is surrounded by flowers, ivy and other plants. Pazzo has live music every Saturday night.

If you go to Pazzo, do not be afraid to explore the menu as I suspect there will be some gems to discover. For great pizza, you cannot beat it anywhere in the area, and Pazzo is a great place to spend a summer evening if you are in and around Lake Burton.

Mountainfreak Review-

Bigg Daddy's in Helen

Wormsloew made their way up to the north Georgia mountains on June 14 and it was a show I had been anticipating. I have a couple of friends who have followed low country local music for years who had told me that if Wormsloew made it up our way they were a must see, up and coming young band.
I was not disappointed. I was especially impressed with their original tunes. "Nothing to Hide" in particular is a song that really shows off the band's talent. It is difficult to insert this Savannah-based group into a particular niche-the music is definitely southern rock oriented but a lot more melodic and lyric/acoustic based than your basic 70's southern rock clone bands that seem to play all over the south.
This is not to say that these guys cannot reach back into basic blues oriented southern rock..they do a kick ass version of the Gregg Allman/Allman Brothers classic, "Midnight Rider" as evidence.
Wormlsoew's lineup consists of Andrew Gill, who does most of the lead vocals and adds some nice guitar work..Joseph Wilson on drums/vocals..Steve Gerard does a nice job with the lead guitar and Chadrick Norris handles the low end on bass.
The crowd at Bigg Daddy's was smaller than I would have hoped for but enthusiastic. Let's get out and support these guys when they make it back to the mountains-they are a refreshing departure and a band with a great future. Learn more about Wormsloew and check out some of their tunes on their MySpace page-

Good Food & Good Music in Helen

Bigg Daddy's in Helen has a reputation for being one of the better music venues in the north Georgia mountains..and with the huge deck and a full service bar, one of the better places to drink and mingle with both locals and tourists. Some good local and regional bands like Big City Sunrise, The Avery Dylan Project, Big Swig and others are regular performers inside..with ocassional Sunday shows on the deck. My son and I headed up to Bigg Daddy's a couple of weekends ago to see a Savannah band, Wormsloew. Since we had gotten up to Helen hungry and in need of some lunch..the decision was made to give the menu at Bigg Daddy's a shot.
We sat at the bar and ordered a burger for myself and steak quesadilla for the kid. I was immediately impressed when Zack, the bartender, asked me how I wanted my burger cooked. It has become a real chore with all the food scare paranoia to find a place that will serve a medium-medium rare burger the way I like them. The thick, hand pattied burger was cooked perfectly to order and served with Bigg Daddy's version of french fries-sliced into ovals rather than the everyday stick shape, and served nice and hot. Son devoured his quesadilla in record time and commented that it was as good or better than any he had ever had. A good lunch with good fast service. We left to explore a few other attractions in Helen and returned about 9 pm for the band.
My son had spied the Big Freaking Brownie on the menu earlier in the day and decided that would be a good dinner....he couldn't even finish it..the name is well deserved. The brownie comes topped with a hazelnut foam that really makes it a treat (I had to finish it-my duty as a father). The Wormsloew show was great (See Mountainfreak Music page). Bigg Daddy's derserves it's reputation as one of the best places in the mountains for music, beverages...and food.

My Quest for the Best BBQ in North Georgia Continues.......

Bub-Ba-Q in Jasper

Bub-Ba-Q in Jasper, Georgia by Mountainfreak Eat & Shop Ok..I am a BBQ nut. In the 6 months I've been writing for, I have written about BBQ during 4 of those months. I am not sorry. It seems to feed on itself to a certain extent...I write about a BBQ joint or festival, and that seems to spawn suggestions of different BBQ joints and festivals to visit. Keep them coming, by the way.
I came to visit Bub-Ba-Q in Jasper following the advice of some good friends/readers, and I have found a contender for the best BBQ in the north Georgia mountains.
Bub-Ba-Q is well known on the BBQ contest circuit and has the trophies inside the restaurant that testify to their success. The restaurant is very welcoming and clean-with plenty of seating space among all the trophies. I had been told that Bub-Ba-Q has the best brisket in 3 states..but for the purposes of my quest I have been focusing on real southern BBQ, which is, as we all know, pork. Pulled pork to be specific, sampled with the house sauces and sides and big glass of sweet tea. Bub-Ba-Q did not disappoint in any of those areas. The pork was the best I have had in quite a while, and the best I have had so far in the mountain area. The pulled pork is smoky, but not overpoweringly so..moist, and well seasoned. I sampled the three sauces on the table and found good things with all 3. The mustard sauce was very good..tangy with just the right amount of vinegar. The hot sauce was very spicy with red pepper and also had a good balance of vinegar..very reminiscent of a North Carolina preparation. I generally like the sweet sauces the least, but I found Bub-Ba-Q's version to be very tasty with a bit of a smokey flavor. After playing around with the 3 for a bit I settled on a combo of the sweet and the mustard on the majority of my pork.
The beans and slaw that came with the pulled pork plate ($6.95) were very good and a fine compliment to my pork/sauce experimentation.
I am trying to think of a good reason to go to Jasper this month (perhaps John Sosebee playing at the 3 Sisters Cafe downtown?) so I can expand my knowledge of Bub-Ba-Q fare a bit..the chicken and ribs had great potential on the smoker in back (see above)..and the little bit of brisket I conned off the pit master was actually not bad;-) Carry out and Catering are available.

1976 Hwy 53 W.
Jasper, GA 30143

Monday, July 21, 2008

Things we are working on for the August edition of

-Biltmore House & Gardens for our Borders page
-Horsetrough Falls and the Upper Chattahoochee Campground
-Live Music Reviews..Big City Sunrise & Royal Family
-T Dawg's Hootenanny Music Fest in August
-Jordano's Restaurant in Helen
-Go Karting in Helen
-Woody's Mountain Bikes near Unicoi State park

...and maybe some surprises