Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TNGA: To Mulberry Gap and Beyond!

Sitting atop Stanley Gap was a good feeling.  Here I was reenergized pedaling along on my third day completely against everything my body was telling me to stop.  I took one last look at the rising sun and dropped into some very nice single track.  It rolled on nicely for a few miles switching back and forth with some tricky sections sprinkled in just to keep you focused.  At some point I noticed a gnarly washout on a right turn which led me to believe a few riders had messed up the turn and bailed outwards to my left.  Yuck!  I carried onwards enjoying the feeling of not having to climb and really just getting to finally play with my bike for a while.  I make it down to Cherry Log and enjoy the moment as the early morning single track descent truly made my day a positive one!  Then I start pedaling onwards again into the Cohutta Wilderness.  Over and through bushy head gap I trudge, reloading on water a few times here and there realizing everything I climbed before ain't nothing compared to what I was about to get into.  A few times I find myself cruising along beautiful rolling stretches of country roads with the Georgia mountains offering an incredible backdrop.  I love where I am currently at and am enjoying the day immensely.  I open my Skittles and start to enjoy the ride. I start to get hungry as I missed dinner and breakfast was a cinnamon roll and a Kind bar washed down with filtered creek water.  Yum.  Finally I connect to Hwy 2 and roll into the infamous Jack's River Country Store.  I park my beast, limp my way indoors, find my way to their hot breakfast sandwiches and immediately devour 2 of them with their special homeade jelly.  I chase them down with more coconut juice, and feel the acidic taste of filtered post treated water leave my mouth and throat.  I then munch on some chips, and drink a soda.  After about 10 minutes, I load up all my fluids, grab another hot sandwich for later, pop a few more advil and get ready to roll.  The lady who runs/owns the store was very pleasant to talk with and I hung out there mostly because I was trying to be polite and respectful since she really had gone out of her way to feed me when I first walked in.  I also learned a lot about where I was about to pedal into and it concerned me.  She claimed it was an incredible climb which can be difficult in the wrong car much less a bicycle.  It was the Potato Patch climb and I was scared.  So after saying my goodbyes, 20 minutes later, I was rolling again.  The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold and not at all humid anymore!  I had to make the most of this!  I started pedaling across a vast expanse of valley for the next 10 miles which led me to believe this was going to be a long moderate climb, but I knew better because I had taken a moment at Jacks to look over my elevation charts and I was in for a hell of a workout.  Right on target, the mountains popped upwards in front of me like a wall that kept growing and growing.  It was awesome and intimidating to say the least.  I went into the first climb with very little effort but it hurt everywhere.  I looked up and there was a power line going almost vertical and right beside it there was a gravel road that I was supposed to climb.  I could not wrap my head around it, but I trudged onwards and stopped looking up so far and just took it a little at a time. I then entered a section that I believe was called the South Fork Loop.  This section was nasty mucky burly crap.  I was very worried when I entered this section as I quickly assumed that the next 30 miles were going to be like this.  Fortunately, I made my way through it all and found myself on clean grippy gravel.   Surprisingly, my legs were responding and powering through the climbs!  I don't know why, maybe it was something in that homemade jelly, but I was climbing like I had fresh legs and it felt good to push it.  I started to throttle back worried that I was going to bonk heavily, but it never really came.  The climb went on for hours and hours and I
knew it was going to take time and considerable effort, so I just lost myself in my thoughts and I kept going and actually held my head up regularly to enjoy the views.  I stopped once at the peak and took some great photos of a vista since I knew I was about to descend into Bear Creek and onwards to Pinohti 1(P1)...Mulberry was within my sights!!  As I descended down from Potato Patch 5 hours later, I realized I had missed the entrance to Bear Creek and had to do some bonus climbing to find my way again.  A mile or so back up the gravel and I find the entrance gate was smashed by a giant pine tree which made it nearly invisible from the road.  I had to crawl under and through this giant tree dragging my 60lb beast behind me.  Once on Bear Creek Trail, I lost myself in the fun rolling down and through creek crossing after creek crossing, across great single track and even coming across people every now and then.  I reloaded on water here as I had planned earlier to skip Mulberry and continue onto Chatsworth and possibly Dalton if my mind was into it.  After reloading I pedaled on into P1 and experienced the effects of many riders trudging through rain soaked single track.  It was a messy nasty chain throwing experience.  I stopped about 10 times to clean my bike within 5 miles.  Finally the overgrown single track started to pack down and my speed picked up.  I raced through the rest of P1 bombed the super steep descents, loving it all and onwards into P2.  As I entered P2, I crossed a nice clean stream and reloaded my water once again as the mud slogging earlier took a toll on my reserves.  Again I was off and actually enjoying this section of trail as it simply snaked along and had great flow.  I came across some riders who started cheering on the TNGA guy!  It felt great to hear the encouragement and cheers and really had me racing forward to get to Dalton!  P2 went on and on and on and as I usually don't complain about never-ending single track, I really wanted to find Mulberry Gap.  Ironically, it was only about 10 miles to Mulberry Gap and finally I was pedaling up Conasauga Rd!  I was stoked, energized and extremely please with my pace for the day.  At this point I should have stopped and pedaled up to Mulberry Gap to rest, but my judgement was impaired with visions of reaching Dalton by nightfall.  As I pedaled into P3, I stopped briefly to check my quick
notes.  My notes had an ETA to Chatsworth at 5mph in about 2-3 hours.  I could handle that.  No Problem!  As I started up P3, I immediately started to doubt my brilliant plans.  My legs burned with every upwards switchback I climbed.  These were some steep off camber switch backs.  I was starting to feel the burn, but just thought I needed to work through it.  About an hour and a half later I crossed over Hwy 52 climbed a bit more and finally found relief in a little bit of  downwards descent on single track that turned into doubletrack.  I was excited because the elevation charts showed this as down, down, down into Chatsworth.  Thanks to Mother Nature, I was thrown the ultimate curveball.  Darkness settled in as I started to settle in and enjoy the rolling hills.  Then I came across a few downed trees which I had to quickly dismount and hop over.  I got back on and kept rolling.  A few more trees showed up.  And more trees. and more trees....I was starting to get worried...very worried.  It was already close to 4 hours and I was still hopping trees on what was supposed to be a 3 hour tour....I kept pedaling forward concerned about what I was encountering.  Suddenly, I came up on a tree so massive I could not figure out a way to easily get around or under it. It covered up the entire trail and hung off the edge of an embankment. I was stumped and quickly got off my bike to scout out a way around this beast of a tree.  No sooner had I walked around and down that I looked back and realized that I had lost track of my bike!  I panicked and immediately backtracked to where I thought it to be.  It was close by, but it took me a few moments to relocate it!  Everything was on my bike!  EVERYTHING!  I then had to plan out how to scout away by placing my road blinky on top of the bike as well as carrying the GPS in hand just in case I could not see the blinky.  After I had my system down, I had to scout around the tree sometimes for a few hundred feet.  Then I had to figure out how to get my bike to the other side.   I physically hoisted my bike a number of times straight over the tops of some of the trees thanks to the paracord I had packed.  It was more effort than I was expecting to put forth that night.  At one point I scouted around the tree as I could see where others had gone and found myself utterly lost yet parallel to the main route.  After about 30 minutes of going back and forth, I realized I was on another trail parallel to the main route but I could not see it since the trees had pushed me down a level on the ridge.  I then backtracked to the original tree that had pushed me down, clambered around the tree and then physically rock climbed my way back up onto the main trail route.    After that incident I was either going straight over or under the trees.  I hoisted the beast about 10 times and then the trees cleared up and I was back under way...5 hours later.  I then found myself flying along hoping for a clean exit out of this pit of trees until I looked down at the GPS and my dot started moving radically away from the main route.  I was so tired and frustrated at this point that I just stopped and sat there in the woods.  I initially started to setup camp and sleep it out since the spot was not a bad one, but I noticed I was running low on water.  So many trees, so much effort, hydration was paramount.  So, I put the blinky back on my bike and started hiking with GPS and cue sheets in hand.  Back and forth I went looking for this entrance to a jeep trail that just did not seem to exist.  I yelled a lot of angry words out there in the dark, but they were all justified.  45 minutes later, I have a eureka moment as I blast my headlamp for one final look at the woods and voila, there is a narrow entrance to another overgrown trail much like the Hickory nut entrance earlier via Tray Gap.  I start to realize my night vision sucks.  I carefully start down this path and realize it is a little off from the GPS, but they both zig zag at the same places, so I pedal along slowly at first until they finally line up and I start crushing out some miles.  After some time, the jeep trail opens up and turns into super nice single track and I try to enjoy it, but I am so tired and getting thirsty so I just focus on pedaling and listening for a stream.  I also know I am close to an exit point soon, so I pedal harder.  I go down deep into a valley and find a small stream which I unknowingly share with a copperhead(?) as I am reloading my
bottles.  The snake pays me no mind and slithers off.   I load 2 bottles and continue on.  I find myself climbing out of this trench and quickly finish off my 2 bottles and pop out onto a road up near Chatsworth!  Elated, and very much grateful to be out of that quagmire of never-ending wrong turns, I start pedaling towards the lights ahead which can only be a gas station!  As I am pedaling towards them I am buzzed by a patrol car not once, but 3 times as he flies past me.  He seems to slow down and look for erratic behavior, but after what I just went through, I am on point and pedaling a slow steady line.  He rolls off and I pedal towards my next feed zone.  As I approach the gas stations, I make the sad discovery that they are both closed for the night!  Seriously?  It wasn't even close to midnight yet....or was it?  I look at my watch and it shows quarter to 1am!  Wow... 21 hours in the saddle.  What a day.  So I sat there, thirsty and tired and made the snap decision to pedal 5 miles up towards Chatsworth and hope that something is open there to feed me.  I pedal onwards and my legs and arms start to shut down from the amount of effort I have been demanding with no liquid to spare.  As I approach town, I spy an old run down restaurant and quickly pedal around to the back to look for a water faucet.  I find one and it works!  I plop down to drink from it, but stop short as the handle is covered in sludge.  I pull out my filter and fill it up and drink from it instead.  After 20 minutes sitting in the dark in the back of some rundown building drinking as much water as I can stomach, I pedal on into town to look for food and more liquid.  I come across a gas station and quickly fill up on orange juice, water, ravioli, frank and beans, and a turkey and swiss sandwich consuming all of this in the parking lot sprawled out and exhausted.  I take a few bags of chips for later and reload all essential liquids.  I pedal back to a motel I had seen and check into a room as I just didn't feel Dalton happening that night.  I wish I had continued onwards to Dalton as I did not realize I was almost there!  So, I check into this creepy motel along with a creepy front desk person and the room takes an hour to cool down and the bed is riddled with actual bedbugs.  I would have been better off sleeping in the woods!  Too tired to relocate, I shower up(great water pressure), clean my kit, hang them carefully to dry, tear all the bed sheets off, layout my emergency bivy, pack all my stuff for an early exit and fall into a deep sleep. It really was a deep sleep.  I slept until about 9am and slowly make my way out of the roach motel back to my original exit point of the course and have breakfast at the gas station whereupon I deal with my chafing issues once again now that the adrenaline has worn off, I can feel it all.  Then off I go to Dalton with a whimper and a smile knowing that the only thing left to conquer is the Snake...and I know the Snake well.

GPS Stats:

Chatsworth for the Night

TNGA: Iron Bridge, Visions of Mulberry and the big rain...

I awaken as my alarm goes off gently pulling me back into the reality that is TNGA.  Swollen ankles subsided, arms reporting new pains, back pain reminding me I am alive and fully awake.  I reach for some water and guzzle it down.  I quickly realize I am now in a race against time, the weather, and my rapidly deteriorating body, so I get up scurry over to the bathroom, grab my still damp chamois and jersey and switch into them before my body protests the cold and wet.  I am very happy to see that I have packed up everything already and the only thing left to do is put my thermal layers back into my seat bag.  I pack it in tightly, finish off any food leftover from last night's feeding frenzy, clean up any junk laying around, check for anything I may be leaving behind and push my bike towards the door.  In my haste and anxious tunnel vision to get moving,  I forget about Derek, who is sleeping soundly not even trying to make an effort to get rolling yet.  I whisper to him that it is time to get rolling and he mumbles something about not really being able to go further, and that he just needs a little more time to reassess his current condition.  I truly understand his state as I am ignoring my bodily urges to simply stop as well.  Nonetheless, I am grateful for his hospitality and lay out a $20 on the dresser and jokingly thank him for a wonderful night.  He forces a laugh at me and rolls over and goes back to sleep.  I shove off out the door into the brisk cool morning air awake with a new sense of awareness.  It is like an entire new experience as I silently roll along out of Helen not knowing what may be in store for me today.  As I reach the outskirts of Helen, I stop in at a gas station and load up on coconut juice, big pickles, pickled sausage and a bag of chips.  Weird what my body craves at times like this.  I also bump into Celso with the same look in his eyes as Derek.  He mentions that Helen may be as far as he is going.
 He tells me a group of riders are considering quitting but are going to have breakfast first.  I quickly depart as I do not want to entertain any notions of quitting so early in the race.  Yes, it almost seemed like this ride was now turning into a race.  More personal than against others, but most importantly, I was in a race to finish this beast!  I speed away from all the activity back to the solitude of my bike and the climbs before me.  The next challenge on the menu was Hog Pen's Gap.  This was a road climb and was unexpectedly steep.  It took a slow steady constant grind to conquer that climb with my mental fortitude intact.  Andy Schleck's name was painted on some of the portions of the road as I found out later this was a part of his training grounds.  I groaned, moaned and squirmed from the intense pressure of hauling my 60+lb knobby tired bike up this wall of concrete.  The best thing to see upon cresting a climb such as this was the trucker's steep descent warning sign.  I finally reached the pinnacle of this climb and screamed down the other side flying past Vogel State Park in the twilight hours.  I was feeling good after that insane warmup.  I started to encounter light traffic as I started climbing my way out again up towards Wolf Pen Gap.  It is another road climb for quite a ways before turning onto a gravel road.  At one point, I tore into a Lemon Lara bar which I was savoring and enjoying, but before I could finish my mini meal, a swarm of bees decided they wanted it more!  Something about the way it smelled was driving them crazy!  I sped up, swerved a bunch, swatted at them and thought I had lost them, but they returned with a vengeance.  One stung me on the chest and the other tried to sting me on my leg, but got caught in the fabric and I flicked it off violently.  I kept pedaling and could feel the burn of the bee sting on my chest.  More bees kept coming, so I threw the Lara bar at them and yelled that they could have it.  I stashed the wrapped deep in my feedbag for fear the wrapper would continue to draw them but they went for the bar and left me alone.  Mental note: no more Lara bars.  As I was climbing the road portion of Wolf Pen, I realized it was getting much hotter out.  I did a quick mental check on my water and all was acceptable.
Onwards I pedaled up some more ridiculously steep roads hoping for a break sooner rather than later.  I finally reached Duncan Ridge which was gravel and climbed up some more.  I was getting hotter and hotter and it was a dense humid kinda hot, very much like Charleston midday in the summer.  I knew this meant I needed to keep drinking and pacing carefully.  Bonking was going to occur.  I kept an eye on my rate of speed and trudged onwards breathing in the thick heated air all around me.  It was really working me into a death march.  The climbs at this point were just plain ugly.  I even tried hike a biking for a little while only to re-discover how much heavier my rig was when I pushed it rather than pedaled it.  So I reached deep inside, sucked down some more electrolyte rich liquid and pedaled upwards to the summit of Wolf Pen Gap.  There I found a double track downhill which I started to fly down, but almost wrecked because it seems the heat was shutting my body down to the point that I almost fell asleep in the descent.  I nod off and quickly awaken, grab a handful of brakes, skid to a halt, dismount and throw myself into a bit of shade on the side of the hill.  I pull my bike towards me and quickly start drinking, and forcefully eating.  I scarf a Caffeinated Gu, chase it down with liquid, and then tear open my pickled sausage to handle my caloric deficit.  No sooner had I taken a big bite out of the pickled meat, did I realize it was not what I was expecting.  I expected a tasty salty, vinegary greasy treat, when instead all I experienced was salty, burning searing pain.  It seems my pickled sausage was also 300% HOTTER than the original!  This was a ultra spicy pickled sausage!  Damn my luck!  I chased the pain down with more liquid.  I was about to throw the meat away when my brain reported that it actually enjoyed the real food.  So there I was, middle of the day, in a heat wave, exhausted, dizzy eating a spicy pickled sausage and not even able to descend without getting dangerous.  After some time choking down my food, I washed it down with the remainder of my bottled water.  All I had left was my 1L bladder of water, so I was careful not to hit that unless I needed it.  I mounted back up and rolled along enjoying the cooler air while moving.  My head stopped spinning and my senses came back to normal as I started to pickup speed.  Before long I was flying along and then just like that I popped out off Duncan Ridge onto a countryside road.  I stop at a convenience store and reload on all my liquids and then reward myself with a few cream sodas and a bag of salty chips.  I enjoy the moment in the sun, but know I have some major miles to put in before relaxing, so I pedal off along this road enjoying the feeling of being rehydrated and balanced for yet another moment.  I start to realize that I might make Mulberry Gap before dark and look forward to losing some time there and possibly getting some sleep there as well.  A few more miles and the skies turn dark.  The source of the massive amounts of humidity makes itself known.  I know I am in for a hell of a ride as I pedal onwards under dark and ominous clouds.  I feel the first
few raindrops and it feels so good.  The cool water after being baked inside and out feels wonderful.  The rain comes down hard and after a bit chills me off, so I pull out my rain jacket and keep pushing forward.  I pass some riders hiding under an old barn and wonder why they aren't enjoying this break from the heat.  About 10 more miles and the rain is following me the entire way.  I don't mind it, but I start to realize I have a new problem.  It seems the rain has washed away all my chamois butter and I am chafing with every stroke of the cranks.  The pain becomes something very real and I alternate sitting and standing positions.  I stop and reapply chamois butter which helps for a few minutes, but it is evident the damage has already been done.  I have 2 gashes along my sit bones and they are screaming for attention.  As I pedal along, I now realize I am going to have a rough remainder of the ride.  I am pissed and upset with myself for not listening to my body sooner.  I take a few advil, chase it down with a small coke I had stashed away and try to overcome the injury.  The flattish road along this section is very scenic and I lose myself enjoying the sights.  More rain and I am a bit more than soaked to the bone.  I find my way to  Iron Bridge and find it is closed and I am super hungry, chafed and exhausted from my bout with heat exhaustion earlier.  I notice that Iron Bridge is also a Hostel and poke about until I find the owner.  The rate is ~ $10, so I decide to use it as a quick break from the elements as well as to assess my posterior damage.   The hostel owner is really cool and offers to make me a sandwich.  I accept as he goes off to the kitchen.  I shower, clean my bib shorts, hang them to dry and proceed to hang out in front as the sun has popped out again.  Out of nowhere, Colin Campbell rolls up and excitedly tries to get me to go along with him.  I explain I need a little time to get my strength up after my 1-2 punch between here and Helen.  He understands, hangs out for a bit, eats a sandwich with me and then rolls off around 6pm.  My plans are to rest a bit, eat, then roll out later tonight.  Thanks to Facebook and Red Molly, I have more information about where the heck I am and where good eats are.  My phone shorts out from the extreme humidity shortly after and I find myself sitting there in the hostel quite tired and sore.  I decide to take a quick nap before heading up to a nearby restaurant to eat, but it seems my body needs more rest than I imagined.  I close my eyes around 7 and next thing you know it is 4am!  I missed dinner! I am in shock at the time warp I just created.  I pack up all my gear, slither into my still damp bib shorts & jersey, carry my bike down from the hostel and pedal off into the still of the morning darkness.  I am still amazed at how long I slept but feel refreshed and ready for action.  I pedal off to find Stanley Gap.  Up another super steep road climb to connect to an even steeper gravel road which I believe was Aska Rd.  I find my way to some double track which led to Stanley Gap, but not before missing my right hand turn several times adding up to about 30 minutes of lost time backtracking.  After realizing where I needed to turn, the pitch went beyond hike a bike steep.  I was grabbing onto trees and pushing and heaving my beast of a bike to the top.  Once at the top, I was able to take in an incredible sunrise which left me very humble and privileged to be here at this very moment.  The air was cool and silent and the sun was welcoming me to the top before the awesome downhill.  Today was going to be a good day....

GPS Stats:

Leaving Helen

Iron Bridge or Bust