TNGA – kinda fun to sing it like Y-M-C-A!
I’m not sure what exactly drove me to the Trans North Georgia Adventure ride, but I did it and it was Epic.
But let’s not mix epic with fun. This was not a fun time, in fact one of the last things I said as I was finishing up the last few miles of the TNGA was: “This isn’t the Trans North Hold Your Hand Ride”
This TNGA was hard and tough. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life to be honest – both physically and mentally.
I have been training for the TNGA for months now. When I say training, I’m saying about 20 hours a week just to be able to handle the absolute Hell this ride had to offer. This training has taken a toll on me and my wife as well as my social life. It’s been hard to say the least. I’ve had to learn about testing gear, seeing how far my legs could go in a given time span and to think of riding in hours not days. The stress leading up to this ride was 10x worse than the actual ride to be honest. While I enjoyed every bit of the TNGA, it was brutal.
I arrived at Mulberry Gap a few days before the TNGA. A fellow rider, Ryan was there and we had a pleasant conversation about prepping, gear, food and life in general. Ryan was a bit younger than me and looked strong and confident. Me? I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up at any given moment.
I was still in “eat clean” mode so my meals were mainly eggs, veggies, some lean meats… that’s until Ginny of the Mulberry Gap said “dinner’s ready!” Then I chewed through breaded chicken, rice, brownies, whipped cream and sweet tea.
It was bliss…and I went back for seconds.
While eating I ran into Lisa and Chris of Mountain Goat Adventures who were no strangers to the TNGA and gave me a bunch of tips, tricks and warnings about the the ride. Their tips and advice made things even more nerve wracking but it was none the less, informative and it did help me finish the TNGA.
That night I watched Mike Dion’s “Reveal the Path” and sadly was let down. While I thought it was a fantastic movie with beautiful sites, imagery and motivation – it didn’t live up to his epic movie, Ride the Divide. Still, it was good and a great way to get mentally ready for my own path.
I’m a fairly type-a person being extremely regimented with my ways and very punctual. I hate missing dates and deadlines and if I do, it’s an almost instant meltdown. To me, a time-stamped date is something you don’t miss and I rely on those because of the way I’m structured – I can’t help that, it’s just the type of guy I am.
The theory describes a Type A individual as ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status conscious, can be sensitive, care for other people, are truthful, impatient, always try to help others, take on more than they can handle, want other people to get to the point, proactive, and obsessed with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving “workaholics” who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.
I had understood that the pimp wagon would be here at 2:30pm to pick up the TNGA riders and take them to the Yurts just past the South Carolina border line where we’d start our epic adventure. It was just a tad after noon and I was hungry for lunch. Ryan was too and we decided to go into town. I stressed to Ryan that I MUST BE BACK before 2:30 so I could leave and not miss the TNGA – he said “no problem” and we were off to the grand city of Ellijay to get some food.
We made our way to Ingles Grocery Store where I picked up some leafy greens, berries and beef jerky. I paid, went out to the car and waited on Ryan. He was a few minutes later, we hopped in the car and I noted we had plenty of time to get back to Mulberry Gap so I just kicked back and tried to relax. Ryan and I talked about biking and how this was our first multi-day race.
As we were entering into the fire roads of Mulberry Gap I saw the pimp wagon taking the TNGA riders and their bikes out. My heart sunk, I’d missed the group out to the South Carolina borderline and now I was going to have to figure out option B. I walked up to the office and asked Diane what gives and she said everyone was getting impatient and wanted to leave.
I was bummed but I knew a later ride was happening so I didn’t stress about it. Still, I think riding in the pimp mobile would have been awesome.
I gathered all my stuff from my cabin, took the time to look over my bike and gear and made sure all was in order. I found myself shaking with nervousness trying to make sure I had all together. 350 miles was no chump change on a mountain bike where you’d be averaging about 4-5 miles per hour, so I wanted to make sure I had it right. I packed the rest of my stuff, drove my SUV and bike up to the event barn of Mulberry Gap and met the other TNGA riders.
There were several types of TNGA riders hanging out, some had a serious look on their face, some were ready to get the show on the road and some were looking like they were just having the time of their lives just chilling. Me? I could barely speak I was so nervous.
I made small chit chat with one guy who had just finished up the TourDivide, he gave a lot of insightful advice and told some great stories about the Divide race (the race I’m ultimately training for). He, along with several other people, asked me what I was running in my tires and when I’d say “tubes” they’d look at me and say “boy you’re going to have some trouble since you’re not running tubeless.” This worried me a little bit but I honestly have so much trouble with tubeless tires and it’s a pain to have to repair one in the woods if you don’t have a bunch of compressed air and even then, it doesn’t work for me. I certainly didn’t want to risk it in the TNGA.
We were slated to leave around 5:30 from Mulberry Gap and get over to Yurts, the place we’d stay the night before the ride. I had all my stuff together and was sitting there ready to go at 5:30pm.
5:31pm started and my blood started pumping (remember, Type-A, must be on time, must not miss deadline or appointed times). 5:45 came around and I politely asked “are we not supposed to be leaving about like 8 hours ago, yo!?” I was informed that a person was late and was just a few minutes out. 6:30 and I was a nervous wreck from waiting (I have to work on this punctuality thing, it’s an issue).
Finally sometime later a red car shows up and it’s the last rider we’d be waiting on who’s name was Scott, so at least he got a small pass for having an awesome name. Scott hops out of his car, smiles, apologizes and gets his bike out to prepare to head towards the South Carolina borderline. Scott didn’t even look like he was a bit stressed out, I’d been a complete basketcase if I’d been that late. How do these Type-B people stay so calm? Damn you Type-B Scott!
We all pile in a van and take off.
If you’ve driven behind me or with me, you know I just sputter along in my SUV. I honestly don’t like going blazingly fast whether it’s in a car or on a bike – it seems when I lay on the gas I’m at Fagan’s Sports Medicine having them tell me “yep, you broke your clavicle again.” So speed demon I am not. However our van driver was no stranger to the word fast and we went barreling down the road in a van
down by the river towards the Yurts just past the South Carolina borderline.
After we hugged every hairpin turn and dumped onto the highway he said “who’s hungry and where do you want to eat?” We all agreed on pizza and this would be my second “not-on-scott’s-diet” meal. We stopped at some Pizza place in some little town somewhere in the middle of no where. The pizza place had a drive-through which I thought was kinda cool as I’d never seen that for a pizzeria. I kept telling myself as we walked in “be smart, eat light and right.” That lasted about 2 seconds as I watched all the other TNGA riders pile pizza on their plate so I followed suit.
It was bliss.
I had at least 8 slices of pizza, a salad, spaghetti, a dessert slice of pizza and then one more sausage pizza to go. I probably packed away more unhealthy eating in one sitting than I have in the past 6 months.
I waddled back into the van and the driver took off again at a rapid speed. This speed is all fine and dandy when you’re in a small car whipping around curves and such but in a van, sitting in the back, belly full of pizza and feeling every turn pushing you left and right? Well let’s just say I probably should have skipped the dessert pizza because I had to really talk my stomach down a few times as it was turning green.
Regardless, I had a pleasant conversation with the other TNGA riders finding out we had connections with other people and listening to stories of mountain bike races from other folks. No one was pretentious or snotty which is true to mountain biker etiquette (at least that’s my experience). Type-B Scott had several fun stories that included him making every mistake in the book while riding. Last year he attempted the TNGA with only a garbage bag for shelter, this year he said he’d really sunk some cash in upgrading his ziplock bags to industrial strength.
Type B Scott’s stories put me at ease and we all had several good laughs over his previous race follies.
I don’t know what a Yurts is, I suppose I should look it up. All I know is that we stayed there and it was a series of Big Top Circus Tent looking accommodations with bunks built into it. They honestly were really cool and it looked like something out of a science fiction movie like Avatar. I asked one person “how does one Yurt here?” And he had no idea, nor did anyone else but I did not want to make any wrong moves and offend the Yurt gods or anything.
I made my way up to the mess hall and met a few of the other TNGA riders. We chatted for a few moments and then I decided it was time to at least ATTEMPT to get some sleep before the epic ride known as the TNGA. Surprisingly I was able to slip off into a sleep until about midnight when the yurting started.
A group of people a few Yurt tents away apparently had drank the magical yurt juice and had started talking and laughing increasing their volume with the laughter. That lasted for about 30-45 minutes and then the guitar came out followed by musical numbers done by the group tripping on yurt juice (it could have been Pabst Blue Ribbon…one in the same). The music was pleasant and they could really sing…it’s just that I did not need to hear the sounds of yurting while I was trying to sleep for the TNGA.
Morning came and I made my way up to breakfast – eggs, greek yogurt, fruit and coffee….and more eggs. I ate it and looked around at all the other TNGA riders. Some looked nervous, some looked ready and some, like Type-B Scott, looked like they were having the time of their lives at breakfast. In fact Type B Scott looked like he was having the time of his life all the time.
I went and got all my stuff ready for the ride, I filled my water bottles up and made sure my nutrition was ready. I also powered up my Spot GPS tracking device to make sure it was blinking green. It was indeed blinking green however I didn’t realize the batteries were about dead in it and I’d packed all AA batteries instead of AAA which ended up being a nerve wracking error on my part.
We loaded back up in the van and headed towards the South Carolina borderline where the TNGA grand depart was only about an hour away now.
We pull up and I see tons of TNGA riders already there. I was happy to see my nerves had ebbed and I was honestly just ready to roll and be on my bike tackling the TNGA. David Muse, the ride coordinator, had a short meeting with us and said we’d be departing at 8:15. I chit chatted with Steve, another guy from Alabama (there were 3 of us) and asked him if he was ready. He said he was ready as ever and couldn’t wait to get the show on the road as well. The other Bama boy, Chad was also gunning to go and looked super excited.
David looked at his watch, gave the countdown and then said “go!”
I heard the sounds of shoes clipping into their pedals, the whirring of fat tires hitting the blacktop pavement and a sea of TNGA riders all heading downhill towards the first fire road. The TNGA 2012 had begun!
I watched the leaders take off like a bullet and saw the front pack start to form up as well. The cool weather felt amazing and all I could think of was “I’m here, I’ve made it. I’m doing my first multi-day race!” It was an amazing feeling and a great time to see people take on something epic like the TNGA.
Every long training ride I’ve done, I’ve always had complications at the start. It seems inevitable as things weren’t set right, something goes loose, things were shifted or I just simply forgot to do something. I tried really hard to take care of all these things before the TNGA but even then, I had complications. As we barreled into the first fire road, I looked down at my Garmin Edge 800 to see where I am and how far I have to go for the first segment. It’s showing a message that says “route truncated.” I have no idea what that means but I’m assuming my route was cut short. Also, I noted my Spot Tracker was blinking red. “No worries” I thought, “I’ll just replace the batteries at first rest.”
The A group missed a turn which helped me out because by the time I was about to miss the turn too, they were back tracking. As the TNGA riders started to spread out I found myself riding with two guys from Atlanta. We had a pleasant time keeping a tempo and occasionally chatting about what it was like to be out in the North Georgia Mountains doing a crazy bike ride such as the TNGA. One guy from Atlanta had mentioned he’d not had a lot of sleep and his internal gas tank was rather low. The other guy was just doing a segment of the ride seeing if it’s something he wanted to do next year. He had no gear on his bike so he was able to climb rather easily while me and the other trudged on with heavy bikes.
I took my first break and decided to change the batteries out in my spot. I turned it around on it’s back to pop the battery case off and it read “AAA Lithium Batteries only.” I had AA Lithiums and that was it. I asked both my buddies if they had any AAA liths and they said “no.” Some TNGA riders came by and I asked them and the response was “oh I thought it was AA too!”
I sat and thought about my wife, and others who were trying to track me at home and how they probably thought I had complications because my spot’s last checkin was back at the starting line. I tried to beam out a checkin there in the woods but the batteries were so spent that I was getting nothing through and I was sure by this time already my wife’s hair was a new shade of grey.
I looked down at my GPS to see where the next turn was and it was blinking “Sorry, route too big, internal error.” I rebooted the map and it kept wanting to take me back to the start or I’d get the “route truncated.” So this was so super awesome and I was now reliant on my printed queue sheets and the mercy of other folks who would let me tag along with them.
Being Type-A is a good thing for these races. You make lists, you prepare, you don’t waver and you plow through things. Basically, you never give up. Well, you don’t give up unless something goes to Hell then it’s just game over because your precious little plan is now all screwed up. My coach knows this about me and before I left for the TNGA he said “Scott you need, more than anything else, to be flexible because shit’s gonna happen.”
Shit happened. A lot.
My Atlanta buddies were long gone and with my GPS on the fritz and my spot not working, my first inclination was “give up and do it next year.” So I sat and thought “how can I be flexible?” I knew that I needed to find someone who had a reliable GPS and I’d call Kate (my wife) the moment I could tell her my spot was low on battery juice. A guy named Chris and his brother in law Andrew came up on me while I was in the woods figuring out what to do. Chris and Andrew were younger than me and Chris really seemed to be sharp as a razor when it came to adventure cycling.
We took a break, ate some food and then took off into the first bit of real single track which was exhilarating. Chris and I talked about what we did in life, things we liked and any general chit chat to pass some of the time. He had the GPS tracking down to a fine science and was a really strong rider. His brother in law was having a tad bit of trouble and I think was dealing with a little bit of illness. So we’d climb a bit and then break waiting on Andrew which was fine because I’d burned through a fair amount of energy well into the first leg of the race.
We found an area with cell service and I called my wife explaining what had happened and that when I got to Helen, Georgia I would get new batteries and fix this GPS issue. She handled everything like a pro, was very supportive and just cheered me on saying I was doing awesome.
Andrew and Chris ended up being my riding buddies for the first leg of the TNGA.
I was getting low on water, wanted to find some AAA liths and we all could have used a break. We entered in the outskirts of a tiny little town of Dillard.
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We rode around on the blacktop looking for anything that might have water. The area was beautiful with pristine views and a true “mountain village” feel. As we kept riding we saw what was either a university or a school. It ended up being a private school for teens and I looked at Chris and said “they have got to have water!”
So we rolled up on the quad complete in our bike kits looking for a hose or water. We saw a student and said “hey! you know where there is any water!?” I’m sure he was pretty freaked to see three grown men, covered in mud and dirt on bikes asking him this. The student sort of shrugged and said “I don’t know, maybe over there?” He pointed to a building and we rode behind it finding a faucet and a hose. A lady came out and looked perplexed at us while we were filling up our water bottles. I explained to her that we were in a race called the TNGA (this was technically a ride but I called it a race) and needed water. She shrugged and said “yeah sure no problem.” I asked her if she knew a place where I could pick up AAA Lithium batteries and she looked at me as if I said “blah blah blabby blah blaaah.” She said the town of Dillard was down the road but not much would be there. I stretched my lips and said thank you anyway and rode off.
Feeling refreshed Chris, Andrew and I started onto the next leg of the TNGA. We’d already climbed around 8-10k feet of elevation and as we were on the paved road we saw what we had in front of us which was yet another mountain.
The start into the climb was beautiful, quaint little homes, long spans of farmland, giant mountains and…oh yeah, let’s stop there…. GIANT MOUNTAINS and we had to conquer them.
The climbing was no walk in the park, at all. In fact there were several times that hike-a-bike was the only thing I could do. General fire road climbing is a no brainer for me as I can just set my brain on autopilot and spin up a hill. Oh it’s painful, mind you, but I’ve got my body adapted to climb like that. It’s the single track climbs I can’t handle and have a hard time dealing with those. The TNGA had several single track climbs and they just ate through my energy system.
As we proceeded up the next mountain, all we had to deal with for a while was general fire-roads. They weren’t bad, just long and grueling. I’d take a break at times, fuel up on some nutrition and keep going. In the past, my legs would have cramped up by now but I have finally learned that keeping your body well fueled is key for doing these long haul rides.
The hunt for AAA Liths continued for me hoping that around each bend we’d come up on a store, gas station, town or something. It was just epic views and long climbs. I knew my wife was still pretty concerned about me and I also knew my family was trying to track me as well so I was kind of bummed they couldn’t follow me but they did know to watch Chris’s spot as I was right next to him.
We started a downhill on a paved road and it was amazingly fun. We flew down hearing nothing but the whirring of tires and the occasional squeal of the breaks as we’d round a corner. The weather was cool, crisp and in the distance it appeared we were going to get rained on as the sky was turning grey and thunder was rumbling.
I looked to the left and saw a campground, I yelled to Chris that we should break there, get water and hunt for batteries if he didn’t mind. He didn’t and we rolled into a RV campsite. I went from RV to RV asking if anyone had any AAA’s, they didn’t. I finally found the “office” which was a permanent RV there where the office lady, Louise, had many antiques and wares she was apparently selling. She had tents setup with benches overlooking the stream.
Louise looked at us and said “how y’all boys doin’?” We said we were fine but tired. I asked if she had any AAA’s and she said didn’t think so but would look and then something in my body said “ask for a Coca Cola.”
I don’t drink soda, ever. I don’t like the taste, I don’t like what it does to your body and I certainly don’t like all the calories it packs in it – but my body was screaming for a Coke. I asked the lady “is there anywhere I can buy a coke around here?” She responded by saying she’d give us all one. She came back out of the RV and said she had no batteries and handed us all a cold coke.
I think I drank it in less than 20 seconds. It was the best thing I’d ever tasted on the trip. It also helped me rally and get some mental and physical energy back in me. Before I left Louise caught me and said “hey I just spoke with Jim who just spoke with Bob’s wife and said that Bob may have some AAA’s if you don’t mind waiting.” I said that was fine and that I needed to take care of gear anyway.
While I was working on my bike I saw an elderly man walking my way. He had in his hand something shiny and I hoped it was batteries. It was! He said “you the guy that needs the batteries?” I told him yes and asked him if I could pay him for them. He sort of went back and forth grimacing, so I said “I’ll give you 5 bucks for them” and his response was “Well that’s not enough so you can just have them.” I sort of cocked my head sideway and said “okay. thanks?”
I popped the batteries in and the spot fired up for a moment then started blinking red – the AAA’s were not lithium and I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy I didn’t need them. So we took off to the next section of the TNGA.
This year there was a reroute in the TNGA and it was put to us as “it’ll make the entire ride shorter but the reroute will be over much difficult terrain.” Well that’s just fantastic, more difficult terrain. And it was difficult.
As we came off some beautiful vistas of farms, mountains and sunsets we started up a rather gnarly looking fire road (if you could call it that) and entered into the reroute. I instantly went from riding in a decent gear on my bike to dropping it into granny (Granny is known as the easiest gear to ride in) from granny I started to hike-a-bike. The climbs were very difficult and it was starting to get dark.
Let me restate that, the climbs weren’t difficult…they were absolute Hell. We’d wagered we had around 500 feet of very steep climbs so I told Chris that what I’d do is count 50 steps and we’d rest. I bounced ahead of Chris and Andrew and when I’d get to 50 I’d yell it out as if we accomplished another small goal.
It started to get dark and for the first time my nerves jumped back up. I’m a designer/illustrator by trade which means I think creatively. Creative people use their imagination to make beautiful things but the flipside of that is that their imaginations can get the best of them. Mine does that easily.
Growing up I was always afraid of the dark and even though I made it all they way from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout – I hated being out in the dark, especially alone.
As twilight set in, my sense of smell shot up and I’d occasionally get a whiff of something musty which I instantly thought “ZOMBIE GRIZZLY BEAR.” Once I heard a snort and I knew it was a boar. I never saw the boar but I knew they existed in the woods and were nastier than a bear because they traveled in packs and they actually sat and thought about things before they run off thus I guess if they get pissed off enough, they’ll do more than break spokes with their tusks.
I continued the 50 steps then instead of just announcing “Fifty” I would yell it louder and louder as it got darker. We got through a break in the woods going over some gnarly fire roads when a couple of Jeeps came by. The first had a bunch of Jawja Frat boys in it making fun of us because we were climbing in the easiest gear (granny) and the second jeep were more country boys who stopped and said “watch out, bad storm coming your way.”
I whipped out my Gore Bike Wear rain jacket (which ended up being one of the most awesome pieces of gear I had on the trip) and slid it on. It’s a short sleeved jacket that’s very breathable so despite Chris saying “you’re going to get hot” I assured him that I was going to be fine. True, I did get a little toasty but I’m a cold natured person anyway so I don’t mind the extra heat.
We finally got to the top and saw the last little bit of light as we started the very steep downhill. I turned on my light and started the downhill. Chris screamed “SCOTT! Watch out!!” I yelled back “what!?” and he’d said I just ran over a snake. We never determined if it was a poisonous one or not, but he’s now a pancake on the top of some mountain in Georgia.
As we descended down into the single track the bugs were instantly drawn to my light. That was fine and it didn’t
bother me at all however then I saw something swoop right in front of me, then it swooped again and then it flew straight at me where I saw the tiny little dog-faced looking mammal, the bat. These were the most aggressive bats I’d ever seen in my life diving straight at you hoping to scoop up a mouthful of bugs my light was attracting.
We entered into a stretch of nasty muddy trails and I started to slip not being able to see much. Not wanting to completely bite it at night I slowed my pace down which meant more bugs and more acrobatic bats. Occasionally I’d hear a grunt or movement in the woods which meant ZOMBIE MAYAN GRIZZLY BEARS but I had Chris and Andrew with me and I was faster so they’d be dinner before me so all was well.
At the Cohutta 100 I did not properly consider my nutrition which resulted in massive cramping and bonking. It was a terrible defeating feeling and I was so upset at myself thus that’s one reason I was so determined to finish the TNGA, I wanted to come back and prove to myself that I was stronger than those Georgia Mountains.
I think Andrew might have missed a few key times to take in some nutrition and from what I understood, he was dealing with some sickness so I watched him slow down and start to physically break down to ultimately bonking. I shined my light at him and I saw him going through what I dealt with at the Cohutta 100. It wasn’t pretty and he was done for the night. I hated it for him because I’d been in that position and I knew what he was going through – he needed rest, to recover and to get some nutrition going through his body.
Chris said he wasn’t going to leave him which left me in a weird predicament – push on with my GPS on the fritz or stay with them throwing away energy I still had. I decided to press on.
I thanked Chris and Andrew for the great time spent together. I’ve hooked up with other riders temporarily and they make the difference in a ride plenty of times. Chris and I found out we had mutual acquaintances and exchanged numbers as maybe we might bump into each other later on the TNGA.
After I left Chris and Andrew I tried to figure out what to do. Every time I tried to enable the GPS route of the TNGA on my Garmin Edge, it’d try to lead me back to the South Carolina borderline or say “message truncated.” So I decided to use the queue sheets I printed off before I left. The queue sheets were dead on accurate but there was still some guess work going on especially at one notable spot that was a four way intersection on trail and fire roads. I stopped to try to route find looking for previous bike tire tracks and any sign to see which way to go. That’s when I heard a grunt, then a rustle in the woods, then a bat, then a vampire snake, then ZOMBIE ALIEN MAYAN APOCALYPTIC GRIZZLY BEARS FROM MARS…
…god I hate an over active imagination.
To battle this, I went to my go-to security blanket which was a playlist of good country music. Oh, and we’re not talking that pop country mess, I’m talking about good country like Conway Twitty, Willy, Waylon, Hank Sr and Hank III (don’t really care much for the imbecile in the middle) and of course my all time favorite childhood country band, Alabama. The twangs, fiddles, banjos and songs about “mama” turned the night from a scary scenario to something of a pleasant dark ride.
I was still lost but knew I had to be closer to Helen than I was. I figured if I could just get to Helen, I could figure out what was going on with my Garmin and get myself on the right path. I set my GPS to find Helen and I’d get down there, recollect then back track and take on Unicoi and Hickory Nut Trail. This was going to cost me some time but I was so disoriented and flustered that I thought it would be the best thing to do.
So I took a series of fire roads following my GPS getting me to Helen. I ran across campers, steep downhills and tons of orange eyes in the woods staring at me. Fortunately I had campy country music that really took the edge off.
Helen was much further off than I’d originally anticipated off the TNGA route and it dumped me out onto a road that went up for forever. An excited climb turned into me throwing it into granny which ultimately had me in hike-a-bike mode for a few hours. I finally made it to the crest of the hill and started the descent and I saw that Helen was just about 5 miles away. I got excited and hammered down on the pedaling. It was a great feeling, the cool air hitting my head, cooling me off, cooling my body off, cooling my core down…
…hmm, this cooling. Not so great. My teeth started chattering and I became absent of body heat.
I looked down at my Garmin and it said 3 miles until Helen. Generally in a car this means about 5 minutes, but on a bike I still had a good 20 minutes of riding and I was miserably cold. To make matters worse, my light went out on me and I had no means to proceed on except with my tiny night light that I held in my mouth to finish powering my way into Helen.
As I started to see lights, buildings and remote signs of life at 1-2 in the morning I saw another rider. It was Ruthie, the only female to do the TNGA this year. She yelled “biker!” So I made my way over to the road shivering and somewhat incoherent. She said “why are you coming that way?” I told her I’d gotten turned around and needed to use Helen as a point of reference to get things together. She said I was going to have to backtrack and I told her I was going to take Unicoi up and then Hickory Nut back down which put me several hours back, but that I was going to do it. She said she was going to go camp and asked if I wanted to join, I told her that it’s probably best if I get a hotel room and recollect myself. We parted and I made it into Helen.
Helen was dead when I rolled in. I was wet and cold and just wanted a place to sleep. I found the Quality Inn and went into the office. I told the guy behind the desk “I’ll take your cheapest room, hell, I’ll take a closet – just something warm.” He said that there was another rider here and that he’d give me a 40% off on a room. I thanked him profusely and started out the door. Before I walked out of the office he said “oh and I left the air conditioning on for you so it’s nice and cool in there.” I just about died of sad thinking about the Arctic room I was about to enter.
I walked in and it felt like winter time in there. So I instantly threw on the heat and took off all my clothes to dry off. I sat there for a moment recovering and then realized I was hungry. I’d noted there was a snack machine just down from my room and downstairs. I was naked and didn’t really want to throw on my wet clothes but I was hungry and needed something. So I reluctantly threw on my chamois and went down to the snack machine.
I put dollar after dollar in getting snickers, chips, cokes and anything else that looked like it had some energy in it. A group of girls walked by and took a double take at what I’m sure looked oh-so sexy…a 39 year old man in nothing but bike shorts and arms full of candy. The snickered, walked off and I ran up to my room where I had a feast of sugary snacks.
I slept for a few hours in the hotel then sat down to figure out the Garmin Edge 800 and retool a few things on my bike. I calculated how long it’d take me to do Unicoi and Hickory Nut and decided to just go get it done, then come back down, have breakfast and get the rest of the TNGA in order.
The reroute was un-fun with all the climbs and Hickory Nut Trail was an absolute mess with me crashing here and there not seeing the huge hidden logs and rocks. Hours later I made it back to the Quality Inn where I consumed a large continental breakfast, bathed and rested for just a bit more.
Since I was in Helen I was sure I’d find some AAA Liths. No such luck, nothing was open in Helen except the Dollar General. I went in there and they had lithium aa’s but not aaa’s. I gave up and got some regular AAA’s in hopes I could beam out a signal which somewhat worked. I also texted Kate and let her know “no dice” for liths and I’d just have to check the next town. I bought a few other supplies at the Dollar General and then headed out to the next stretch of the TNGA.
At this point I’d climbed over 20,000 feet in one day. I surprisingly was in very good spirits and felt like I’d taken a sizable chunk out of the TNGA. The problem was, the TNGA was about to take a sizable chunk out of me with the onslaught of Hogs Pen and Wolfs Pen climbs just on the horizon.