So I had TNGA (Trans North Georgia) weighing heavily on my mind and I was knee deep in finalizing my race/bikepacking rig. I was nervous, anxious and had no idea what was too much in regards to a 350+ mile bike packing race. Basically I was packing everything except for the kitchen sink on my 29+ Surly Krampus. I knew the bike could manage the load well and was surprisingly well balanced for the girth it carried before loaded. I had made many gearing choices, saddle choices, stem length choices, handlebar choices, you get the picture... So here comes August roaring in like a lion and I am going through a "dress rehearsal" by making a set date to go out midday and ride my bike in some of the nastier trail I could think of for a few miles. I chose leaving from the house, connecting some gravel to the Palmetto Trail and riding it to Lake Moultrie upon which I would decide to knock out 60 more miles to truly verify the load weight choices. I set out out Wednesday evening as it just would not stop raining and since you really cannot pick your weather when biking, I set out when I saw a break in the rain pattern. As I sped along through the connecting gravel, I made note of a few things which would have to change in regards to how my lights were setup as well as the amount of weight on my handlebars. Being near sea level, it is always difficult to visualize how a loaded bike will feel when climbing countless feet of elevation. As I connected and entered the Palmetto Trail, the countless roots and murky conditions really forced me to get out of the saddle and focus on my technique on a fully loaded bike. It was pretty damn tricky. The weight would definitely take its toll on my arms and torso as falling out of balance required forced techniques to get back on track. I rode on like this through the quagmire for several miles sweating like mad in the intense humidity. It felt close to 102 degrees in the evening closing. Dark came very soon and my first discovery was that my awesome Revo/Dynamo setup really suck for 2-3 mph crawling through dense forest. I stopped, and remembered my awesome new flashlight(gear will be detailed and discussed in a future post) which had been recommended to me by Mark Sackett and Jefe Branham Velcro'd to my helmet and set on midrange, the night lit up and onward I rolled. Another mental note was made to make sure I verified length of time each battery would last in my flashlight as it would definitely play an important part in my night riding. The Palmetto seemed to roll on forward as it was thick, mucky and just plain poorly maintained. All previous bridges nearing Lake Moultrie were in terrible shape and I had to double check my step upon rolling each and every one since my bike weighed around 65lbs. As I pedaled and slogged my way through, I had a flashback to riding a top heavy dual sport motorcycle through muck like this and having the same issues. Balance is very critical in situations like this as dumping your bike means you are going have to expend some major energy to right it again. Anyways, after a small eternity, I popped out of the Francis Marion and crossed Hwy 52 and rolled into the Santee Canal Reserve park area which was now closed due to lack of federal funding. Here is where I planned on pulling out my night sleeping gear and determine what worked and what did not. I setup my Ultra Lite Hennessy Hammock. It was so humid that the inside and out was soaked. I tried to slide in my thermarest to simulate the lack of a quilt. Nope, not gonna work. I left my ultralite sleeping bag in my rear bag as it was just too nasty wet and hot out here to even test it. I also had reservations about bringing it along, so that was that. I hung out for a bit thinking through it all and determined the hammock might also be left behind as it was too much effort as well as a a pound and a quarter of weight to carry along. So many decisions yet to make and I was still unsure about my fitness approaching this major event. I finally checked the time and realized it was close to 11pm and suddenly I realized I had spent way more time in the woods getting to my first checkpoint than I intended. This would not have been a problem any other night as I was prepared to ride all night if needed, but I had also confirmed with Stephen "Asheville" Janes that we were to ride early tomorrow morning on a few gravel roads and possibly parts of the Palmetto Trail. I really wanted to meet up with him as I always miss hanging out with him when he comes into town, so I made a decision to skip pedaling around Lake Moultrie for the additional 60 miles and simply connect onto 402 and pedal home...but then I thought a little more about that decision and realized I was still 3-4 hours out. This would have me getting home close to 3am at the earliest. I quickly pulled out my phone and called Wifey for a possible extraction. Unfortunately for her, she answered the phone and within the next hour, she was carting my soaking wet muddy butt back home. I quickly jumped in the shower, set my gear out for tomorrow and made the decision to just ride the Krampus again tomorrow since it is the bike I am supposed to be focusing on. I pulled off the front handlebar bag and loaded it up with water and grabbed a few hours of sleep.
Rick Ashton, gave me a call to "talk me through" my thought process on what I was going to do going into TNGA. He gave me some great tips and I really appreciated his time giving me reassurance that I would be fine based on my current preparation procedures. Another great source of knowledge and inspiration was Karlos Rodriguez, The Naked Indian and master epic trail rider...many more blog entries will discuss the help he gave me...
Next up was a Bandit Cross race that night which was put on by the Blue Collar Bandits. Obviously I was physically skunked so racing was no longer an option but I still wanted to go and support the local scene. Fortunately, a close friend of mine, James Cooper, was enroute to race this event. A few hours later, I was hanging out drinking super tasty craft brews (thanks to Holy City Brewing for donating so many delicious yummys!) and James Cooper was getting ready to throw down. Bandit Cross racing is a totally
One of the busiest days ever involving bikes came to a close and with that I stopped riding my bike for the rest of the week until TNGA as I was nearing meltdown mode...but that didn't mean the bike packing decisions did not stop...to be continued...oh an thanks for the Dales Pale Ale Asheville Janes!!