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

No comments:

Post a Comment