Thursday, November 13, 2014

TNGA: Taming the Snake, End Game....

So onwards I rolled towards Dalton...awake, very, very awake.  My inner legs were chafed beyond understanding and there was nothing I could do except ignore the pain and pedal forward.  Moving alongside a busy highway road, life went on as usual oblivious to the enormous effort and distance I had traveled.  It was a very humbling and personal moment to know that what I was doing was really just for me.  No one had forced me to put forth this effort, but there I was pedaling along very much sore and wanting to just stop and lay in the grass alongside the highway and give up, but I was not giving up the fight.  I knew what was left and it scared me.  The Snake is a very tough stretch of the Pinohti that truly challenged me year after year in the early months of each year during a 3 series event called the Snake Creek Time Trials.  After taking the challenge in the freezing cold for my third year, I swore I would never return as this section of trail had finally broken me.  I cherished my symbolic belt buckle earned during this final event and was content with the fact that I had tackled a most extreme challenge and had inner completion.  Yet here I was not only tackling this same challenge once again, but also doing it on a loaded bike, with nearly 300 miles behind me, and rolling it in reverse!  It was more than enough to occupy my mind all the way into Dalton alongside a very narrow highway with a fair amount of traffic moving by nearly swiping me at times.  As I neared Dalton, traffic increased as well as my survival awareness.  I was looking for some kind of strategy upon entering the Snake and felt a quick reload on carbs was in order.  A local Pizza Inn was the final looming oasis before the long climb up towards the radio towers, so in I went.  I was a few minutes early for lunch buffet, so I had a soda and relaxed while my phone charged.  As the buffet opened up, I loaded up my plate with mounds of fresh cheesy goodness and ate until I was good and ugly stuffed.  The attendant looked at me with wide eyes like I was a hungry homeless person.  That is exactly how I felt too. I felt like I still needed a little more time to recharge since the Snake was doing its best to intimidate me.  I look out the window across the road and spot a Days Inn motel.  I quickly formulate a plan which consisted of checking in, showering,  treating my chafed body and sleeping until sundown, and then tackling the Snake.  Room booked and belly full, I check my Facebook messages, and checked in at the Pizza Inn on my status page.  Within a few minutes, I received a response from Kate from Mulberry Gap asking me if I had caught up with Colin Campbell yet.  I was stumped by the question.  I had assumed Colin had already gone over and was finished.  I was confused.  I surf to the track leaders website and notice Colin's dot was somewhere behind, but very close by!  I had no idea how that had happened as I totally assumed that he was way ahead of me.  Kate let me know that he may need a buddy to navigate the Snake and encouraged me to wait for him and roll over together.  At first, I was apprehensive towards the idea as I usually don't ride consistently with others mostly because my pace varies.  I also was not excited by the idea of possibly having to worry about another rider whose skills on the single track were unknown to me, but it would be good to have someone there to back me up as well.  After last night's mess, a little company on the final stretch would be a good thing, so I messaged Colin and let him know where I would be staying and to find me there.  I headed over to the motel, showered up and no sooner did I get a little bit of sleep, that Colin was knocking on the door.  He was very excited to see me as I was him since we both were kind of on the same mental level regarding this TNGA thing.  We caught up on his nightmare of a night in the land of a million felled trees.   I could not believe his night and hope he fills us all in someday on his blog.  As we were waiting on his new lights to recharge, I went over to Kroger and bought some deli chicken and some topical medication for my chafed sores.  I loaded my bike up with more food and liquid than I thought I would need and our plan on rolling out by 6pm materialized.  Rolling away from a super nice motel room and lots of clean available liquid was a luxury I had quickly come to appreciate.  We climbed in silence knowing that once we neared the radio tower, all bets were off and the final push would truly begin.  The climb to the radio tower really felt like it took forever and my legs burned with lactic acid buildup from the midday reprieve.   We took turns pulling but it was more just to occupy our minds than to cheat the wind.  As we neared the radio towers, reality set in and a sudden surge of energy bubbled up.  Into the first stretch of single track we pedaled, excited with rested energy and focused on the trials that lay ahead we started to really pick up our pace.  I started cruising through familiar rock gardens and find myself pedaling through them with ease.  I start to wonder if the fat tires are helping out with the stability and the ease through the lines, but then maybe it's because I am really tuned into riding my bike after 3 solid days out here.  Colin is keeping up fine, so my worries about his level of skill quickly fade away.  The night was clear and the weather was perfect.  Looking up at massive expanses of the milky way made us want to slow down and appreciate the area we were in a little more.  Going backwards on the Snake was actually much smoother than I expected and that was a good thing.  After more than a few hours pedaling along and taking my little trip down memory lane, I come back to reality and start to focus on my water supplies and output levels.  I was amazed and worried at the amount of liquids I had already consumed.  According to Karlos, there were only a few key locations to reload on water and it was critical that we did not miss these on our way through.  To make things a bit trickier, Colin's lights were acting up and his pace slowed considerably.  We yoyo'd along as best we could and found a common speed.  It was at this point that some hike a bike was needed to avoid wasting energy on the more technical areas.  This was a good plan as we would later find out.  As we pedaled along, I could hear lots of animals close by and then they started howling and we immediately recognized the familiar sound of coyotes.  They seemed to be shadowing us along the edge of the ridge and it was a little spooky.  After about 30 more minutes of hearing them, I realized it was because they could smell our deli foods!  I told Colin we were going to have to stop once we were out of the first 17 mile stretch and eat and get rid of any edible deli foods we had to make sure we were not followed any further.  He agreed and we ate every bit of it down at the mid point trailhead.  We were very much tired and exhausted at this point and our spirits were a bit low, but we sucked it up, reloaded our bikes and carried on.  We pedaled along a bit more quiet as we had not found much in the form of water and we were starting to worry.  After more than an hour later, we found a tiny little trickle of water coming through the rocks, but it was not flowing enough to justify caching water here.  We pedaled on, hoping that we would find more.   After close to a half an hour later, we find a deeper creek, but the water really wasn't flowing, but after some speculation, we decided to cache up water anyways, but not filter it until we really needed it.  We pedal on with our insurance water onboard.  A short while later, we find the "third" noted creek by Karlos and the water was flowing strong!  We celebrate by finishing up our current water as we had started sipping to conserve what we had.  It was an uplifting moment which took more than 45 minutes to filter all of our bottles.  As we left that spot, we knew that the next stop would be the Alabama border, but we had no idea how much more effort it would take.  Onwards we pushed, hiking often as the road was long and arduous.  I have no idea how many sections of the Snake we traversed before we popped out and finished it with desperate efforts to just get this over with.  More single track was encountered after a road connector and lots of vague downhill stretches kept our minds and reflexes busy.  We were drunk with fatigue and found ourselves lost in front of one entrance to a section for over 20 minutes as we could not figure out how to enter the section.  So much great trail was being explored and experienced and it kept getting better and better, but our minds were growing ever more foggy by the moment.  As the sun came up, we found ourselves drunk with fatigue and found a road to stop and have "breakfast"  I pulled out the last piece of "real" gas station food I had on my bike, a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast green burrito. It was so tasty and I was lost in the enjoyment of it until I turned to notice Colin had nodded off while eating his sardines.  It was a definite turning point. I immediately finished my food and rallied Colin to get up and get moving again as I felt there was a strong possibility that we could both pass out and sleep till noon losing precious time before the peak heat of the day.  His core temp dropped and he was hitting a wall, so I shared a few caffeinated Gu gels with him and they slowly pulled him back to life.  At this point, we experienced some insane climbs with vertical walls almost to the point of being too steep to climb.  I could not believe how strong and steady I felt.  I was standup climbing better than I had on the first day and was amazed by my output.  Colin was still getting his motor going and we bobbed back and forth for miles and miles.   Then nearing the final ridge, I felt the power start to drain from my legs and Colin inversely started to speed up.  He looked like I felt earlier and I wanted some of that back, but I just could not get back to that moment.  I hiked easy sections at this point just to shake my legs out, but I was feeling like crap. I forced down some more food and hoped for the best.  My body was feeling the increasing heat of the day and Colin was flying onwards up ahead.  I did find a moment where I was feeling good again and bombed some of the rolling single track hitting some sweet jumps on the monster rig.  Colin and I were stoked to be having fun again!  We wrapped up the final section of that ridge in style with Colin picking up an indian feather and some other trail trinkets.  Upon leaving the Pinohti, we hoot and cheer as we wrap up the final downhill roller to the trail head.  We then proceed to the rail trail leading us to the end.  It is a simple double track path which seems to not be traveled on regularly.   We pickup speed and surge forward.  We stop at a general store and load up on fruit juice to satisfy our cravings for fresh fruit stand fruit which we never found.  After that final reload, it was nonstop to the end of the line.  Alabama!  The final road stretch to the border seemed like it was taking forever and we were nervously double checking our GPS to verify we were not taking any wrong turns at this point.  Once we knew the end was near, we raced on doing everything we could to finish this massive accomplishment.  As we approach the green border sign, we agree on crossing the line together equally since we both felt our efforts were shared.  I felt an incredible surge of elation and an uplifting of emotions after reaching the border.  It was unlike anything I had ever felt during any mountain bike race.  It was most definitely a good feeling and made the entire ordeal an adventure unlike anything I had ever experienced before.  A great new friend was made and lots of other friends were made along the way.  The final push was done and the Snake was tamed once again.  TNGA 2014 was accomplished and I was so happy to know I was a finisher!

The Final Push

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