Let’s rewind from the TNGA for a moment.
I grew up in North Alabama. Guntersville to be exact. It’s a small town, a good place to be raised and plenty of places to ride your bike. When I started ramping up my training for the TNGA I asked my mom if I rode much when I was a kid. ”We couldn’t get you off your bike” she said and the more I thought about it, the more I remember waking up, hopping on my bike and making every summer day an adventure.
Type-B Scott and I were drenched. It’d been raining steadily for the past two hours. It was miserable, a misery the TNGA could provide.
We stopped after one long climb to wring our socks out and work on our feet. The constant pedaling coupled with waterlogged shoes left my feet feeling like they were sausages and each pedal stroke ached and increasingly got more painful over time. It really didn’t matter though, we were in the home stretch with just a tad over 20 miles to go until the TNGA was complete! WOO!
Tired, and ready to see some flat terrain for once we surveyed what was ahead of us. I thought if I saw another climb I was going to scream. We looked on the GPS, another climb. My response was…
We looked past that climb and to see what was after that… another climb.
just a bit further on the TNGA past that climb was, yet again, another climb.
Finally it started to even out and we even saw that the road was not far away from us until yet again, another tumultuous climb on the TNGA.
We looked past that and…
I looked at Scott and he said “let’s take a break and refuel.” I did and felt better but was none too keen on climbing those last few mountains on the TNGA with my now converted single speed bike, tired legs, little water for hydration and dwindling food. But we did.
We managed to make it to a highway crossing and it was the first time I’d really seen busy trafficked roads in days. As we pushed our bikes across to the next Pinhotti trail on the TNGA, people looked strangely at us and I had to sit and wonder if they even had an inkling of a clue of what we’d put our legs through over the past few days.
As we made it across the busy road we started our next ascent which, saying it was a series of rolling hills would be downplaying the steepness of it all. We would have a very fast downhill only to be met with a nasty uphill climb. By this time Type-B Scott and my legs were completely spent and pushing was about all we could do. We rode along in silence and then Scott mentioned something that turned this dismal rainy day into some much needed mental sunshine.
“Hey guess what man, last TNGA queue sheet! This is it! We’re in the home stretch!”
My wife, Kate hates climbing on a mountain bike but loves the downhill. In fact she loves it a little too much as I’ve seen her go barreling down something and I just close my eyes hoping she won’t die… of course every time I close my eyes I go over the handlebars of my bike. I probably shouldn’t do that when riding with Kate, updating my Facebook status is pretty difficult to do while biking as well. I’ve almost got texting and biking down to a fine science if people would just stop getting mad when I swerve in front of them.
Kate would have hated about 98% of the TNGA however the last portion of the single track we had to take? EPIC.
It was a fast, steep descent that rounded the mountain. Deer flew out of the woods jumping left and right at us, there were absolutely no climbs, there were technical spots but nothing to really be concerned about because I was going so fast. We weaved back and forth on switchbacks and then came out to a clearing.
It was one of those clearing where the power lines are placed across a mountain. I stopped for a moment and sort of marveled at the view. I’ve always been in a car and looked up at the clearing with the line of electrical towers but being on the other side looking down was something to marvel. In fact I almost felt like a king on a throne and Type-B Scott was sort of a court jester, or hobbit…or something not King.
Because that is me.
It happens in every competitive cyclist’s racing career, the final sprint. I remember in BamaCross last year in the last 20 yards of a race a guy made a move to pass me. Spent, tired and completely anaerobic, I sprinted giving every bit of energy I had to keep my massive lead on 1st place of the back of the pack. My spin teacher and friend Stacey has us do a burnout spin sometimes in class as well and it’s just something primal in me that makes me want to race someone in and beat them to the finish line. Crazy, huh?
With less than 20 miles left Scott looked over at me, he knew what I was thinking and he said “man it’s been great riding with you – what say you we ride in together?” I’d literally been holding my breath ramping up how and where I was going to hammer it to make it to the Alabama State line before Type-B Scott. We were 15th and 16th in the TNGA and nothing was going to change that, but I wanted 15th. I let out all the air I’d been holding and said “you know what, you’re right. We’ve really helped each other through this race and yeah – riding in together sounds aweso-”
“SPRINT TO THE FIRE HYDRANT!!!” Screamed Scott and he powered it to a fire hydrant 10-15 yards in front of us.
Jerk. He beat me to the fire hydrant and ruined everything.
We laughed for a second and then we hit a long, flat (did I mention flat?) muddy dirt road that signified the last 10 miles of the the TNGA.
I didn’t see as much wildlife as I’d thought during the TNGA. Aside from the bear cub, turkeys and a handful of deer – it was relatively wildlife free. However the last five miles of non-paved trails of the TNGA I saw more deer, a fox, four or five rabbits, a turtle and a hawk. It was like being in a Disney movie – but not the Disney movie where the mom is dead…have you ever noticed that how almost every Disney movie, the mom is either killed off or already dead? I guess that’s why I wrote four very long posts about the TNGA, to let the world know…
Disney hates ur mom. And that’s what is wrong with America.
As we continued to down the muddy trail it turned into a flat ride road allowing Scott and I to ride side by side and keep a tempo. Well, I say that, EXCEPT FOR THE DAMNED LOW LYING BRANCHES AND
LEAVES! Jesus, I ate so many leaves between the end of the ride I thought I was going to turn into a shrubbery.
As we continued on the fire road Scott would let us know how much longer we had left…which wasn’t much longer until the magical paved flattop and the Alabama state line. Four miles, three miles, two miles, one mile…PAVED ROADS!
I remember popping out onto the paved road, hearing the whirring of cars and the sound that only fat tires make when going over smooth pavement. It was bliss. It was also painful too, I’d been fighting my legs cramping up and bonking. I’d not taken in any nutrition or water for over 2 hours now because I was completely out and too excited to get to the finish line. Also, I had some very nasty saddle sores that were causing excruciating pain with the slightest bump from under my bike.
Scott looked over at me, smiled and said “let’s finish this man!” I said a small “Hell yeah!” and we picked up the pace and tried to make the last five miles the quickest ride ever.
As the TNGA was ending for me, I thought about a lot of things I’d accomplished over the past three days. I’d seen tons of different terrain, I’d fought a lot of climbs, dealt with things not going my way and made new friends. It was truly an epic journey and ending it was indeed bittersweet. Last year’s TNGA Namrita O’dea, Eddie’s wife filmed him coming in completing the ride in a massive 48 hours (and some change). It was something to watch the youtube video and as Eddie crested the top of the hill and hearing Namrita say “yaaaay!”
As we topped the hill I looked over to the gas station which was where Namrita had filmed Eddie, there was no Kate. In fact there was no one there to pick us up as well. Which only meant one thing, the Zombie Apocalypse had happened and Scott and I were the only last living souls on earth. We would have to learn how to farm to stay alive, run over zombies with our single speed 29ers and rebuild civilization (but making sure I was still king, not Type-B Scott).
Scott and I, as promised, rode in side by side and checked in our Spots at the same time thus tying for 15th out of the official 35 folks that started the race. We took pictures of each other at the borderline and headed back to the gas station to get some much needed nutrition and contact Mulberry Gap to come pick us up.
I hummed a few bars of Lynrd Skynrd’s “Free Bird” (what, you think I’d been that cliche to have sang Sweet Home Alabama?) as we made our way to food and basically, not being on a bike. I walked inside, got the awkward stare from the clerk and went rummaging for food. I picked the same thing I’d done since the middle of the TNGA, Vienna Sausage, Coca Cola, Yoohoo and salty chips. I went up to the clerk and dropped it on the counter. I told her “Can I use your phone?” And before she could answer me, the door opened and I heard “don’t serve these biker types in here!” I whipped around stunned and it was my wife.
[Warning: sappy parts ahead]
It took a moment to sink in that my wife was here in person and I just paused to look at her (and remark on how good-looking she is). Muddy, sweaty and filthy I flung my arms around her and gave her a giant hug. We kissed and she told me how proud of me she was. I was so spent and so tired all I could do was smile and hug her. We walked outside and I sat down on the curb to consume some nutrition and just leaned in Kate’s arms. Diane from Mulberry Gap showed to shuttle us back to our cars and I asked Kate “you’re coming back with me, right?” She said she couldn’t because of work but wanted to come out and congratulate me at the finish line. She’d left work in Birmingham and creating new land speed records, made it to catch me and Scott at the finish at the Alabama state line.
I gave Kate a giant hug and a long kiss then said goodbye. Diane loaded us up in the shuttle and we started our way back to Mulberry Gap.
Diane asked us what Scott and I would like for dinner and I immediately said “Hardees!” When I’d done the Cohutta 100 and DNF’d, I missed the mass consumption of Hardees
Thickburgers that everyone in my group ate. In fact that ate at me for a while that I didn’t get a thick burger as I never eat fast food, ever. We stopped at Hardees and I ordered the nastiest thing I could find to consume….some burger called a Six Dollar Burger. It really wasn’t worth six dollars but I gobbled it down anyway.
We made it back Mulberry Gap and I limped into a cabin and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I woke up the next day and enjoyed not moving or not having to deal with getting on a bike for a while. I was hungry, wanted some breakfast so I walked out of the cabin and didn’t pay attention to a slick spot on the steps down which rendered my legs above my head and my body crashing into the steps. 350 miles with no major crashes and slip on steps banging myself up pretty awful. I laid there for a moment looking up at the trees.
Man that hurt.
I took a very painful shower (read: saddle sores, friction burns from the seams of my chamois) and then bid my farewells to Mulberry Gap’s Diane and Ginny who were like my other moms during the trip. I was really bummed I didn’t have my iPhone anymore and had no way to get ahold of people to talk about the TNGA. I used my Garmin Edge 800 to find my way out of Mulberry Gap and back to Birmingham but I’d forgotten it was set to bike routes, so I was taken through all these backroads that had me driving forever. While normalcy seemed to a harsh slap back into things, there was one this one thing…
I happened to ride up on a BBQ restaurant in the middle of nowhere.
Oh yeah, victory was mine. Two extra large BBQ Sammiches smothered in sweet red sauce and mayo. TAKE THAT TYPE-B SCOTT!!!
When I arrived home, I was welcomed by a nice steak dinner and a wife that was extremely proud of me. A few days later I got a phone call that a hiker had found my phone and that it still worked!
I wish I could say that I happily resumed back to normal and all was normal. But that was not the case as I paid a price for training and being gone on the TNGA. The 20 hour training weeks, time away from family, working until 1-2am to meet freelance deadlines, two huge art shows and getting back to teaching at UAB was tough and in some respects, tougher than the TNGA itself. The ride ended up making me very irritable and it seemed everything was amplified so what would generally be a tiny little problem, in my mind was like sirens and alarms going off. But was it worth it? Hell yes, every pedal stroke…it was worth it.
Friends, thank you so much for all your help. From local folks to virtual friends – you helped a lot with advice, tips, support and most importantly, laughing. The constant ribbing and ass-busting has made everything leading up to the TNGA very fun experience.
Cahaba Cycles. Much more than just a bike store, but what I consider an extended family. The absolute generosity of Faris Malki and the Cahaba Cycles team definitely made the TNGA a reality as I honestly could not have done it without your help and aid. Also, a big huge mega-thank you to Cahaba Cycle’s tech team Zach, Brian and Chris who made sure my bike held together and did not bust up on the trip. That was one of my main concerns given how much abuse that poor bike gets.
Tracy McKay of Black Market Fitness. Tracy has to be one of the most unique and coolest individuals I’ve known. Calling my wife and talking her off a ledge when I got lost on the TNGA and when my Spot wasn’t working, training my body to do things I had no idea it could do (like a 27 hour push from Helen to Mulberry Gap) and having me fully prepared to take on the toughest thing I’ve done in my life. Thank you, you’re a helluva coach.
Lastly and most importantly, my wife, Kate. To one of the most awesome people I know who puts up with my training schedule, quirky habits and general craziness. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me especially your unwavering support despite the bumps and bruises we’ve had along the way. You’re insides are as pretty as you are on the outside and I’m truly a lucky man to have someone as awesome, beautiful and amazing as you.
What’s going on now? I took a few weeks off and enjoyed mass amounts of sweets, beer and only briefly hopping on a bike to keep my legs moving. I ended up converting my bike for the mean time to a single speed and have enjoyed the Hell out of riding one gear not having to worry if an entire gearing system was going to completely give out on me – something which I seem to excel on breaking often.
I’m writing up an extensive gear list and a “what I’d done differently if I had it to do all over again” which is not much. I should have it done soon.
Many of you have asked “Well what about Macy Gravis? How’d she do on the TNGA?” For those of you who don’t know, Macy is a very feeble cyclist that has a lot of issues when upright and on two tires. It’s always been sad to see her riding and when she caught wind I was doing the TNGA, she had to do it herself despite multiple warnings from friends and family.
So how’d she do the TNGA? Rumor has it she got lost before she even made it to the starting line sadly so no one knows. I hear, however, that in her getting lost in the woods she went feral and can be seen in the forests at night during a full moon. A hiker that was shred to pieces got a small glimpse of what might be Feral Macy on his iPhone. Here is the only footage of what is to be believed to be her. I’m sorry if it’s a little graphic, I understand, it’s been hard for me to watch over, and over, and over and over
and not laugh.