Written by Craig Spoon Thursday, 03 September 2015 17:59
In a moment of insanity, I decided to register to do the TNGA (Trans North Georgia). It’s a 350 mile, 56,000 feet of climbing, self-supported ride / race that has a 9 day time limit and has a 50% failure rate at first attempt. After gathering the gear, bags, food, and outfitting the KONA King Kahuna, it was training time. Training was hit or miss this year due to weather and grad school, but I felt it was adequate to finish in a respectable time.
The TNGA started at the South Carolina Border on Highway 28, east of Clayton Georgia on Saturday August 22. The weather was good and had a typical Georgia chance of showers for the summer. The TNGA is a mix of dirt roads, single track and pavement. There are a lot of turns to miss along this route and navigation can be very challenging. A gps, cue sheets, and SPOT are required to keep on the right track. Off of the start, everything was operating fine, gear was intact, and GPS was working. Then things began to spiral at mile 50. The GPS, Garmin eTrex 20x lost the route and would never pick it up again. It also lost all mapping capability. So, at this point cue sheets became necessary and a GPX app I loaded in my iPhone assisted on some turns. The climbs on day one were more long and low grade, but bountiful. I had planned on riding to Unicoi State park and sleep the night, but Mr. Rain had other plans for me. On the descent from Tray Mountain, it began to lightning and soon, a torrential downpour followed. It lasted for about an hour and forced a stoppage and hotel stay in Helen, GA. The day ended with 110 miles covered and 12000 feet of climbing, which was about 14 miles longer than it should’ve been due to navigational errors.
The beginning of day 2 was cloudy, but not raining. Loaded up the gear, filled the water, and stomach. Today, the goal is to make it to Dyer Gap and camp overnight and push through to the end. As I began the first climb of the day, Hogpen Gap, the rain began again and continued for an hour and fifteen minutes. At this point the majority of the climbing has been on paved and forest service road. It can be characterized by long and sustained climbs, followed by equally long and continuous gravel descents. This day was probably the easiest due to the majority of paved and fire service road. After the rain it became a more pleasant ride. There was a group of riders that played leapfrog all day and met at the top of Dyer Gap for the night.
The start of day 3 left me with about 140 miles to the finish. The next, and one of only two developed cities we pass through, is Dalton. Well, new at this route and tired, I was unaware that the most difficult trail is ahead of me. The first gap to tackle is Stanley Gap. The average grade through this gap is greater than 10%, with pitches of 35%. I saw somewhere that 3% of the route is not rideable. It’s just in the last 140 miles or the route. I went in to Stanley Gap averaging 9.8 mph and watched that quickly diminish. The weather at this point was excellent, but the moment you leave Dyer Gap, there no no plumbed water source until Dalton. It was necessary to use a steri-pen and fill water from streams. Dalton was only 75 miles from Dyer Gap, but it took the same time to cover that distance as it did to do the 100 mile days. Arriving in Dalton at 11:00p.m. warranted a hotel for the night. The guys at Bear Creek Bike Shop and Koz, race organizer, were waiting for a much needed tune-up and re-supply.
After a much needed rest, day 4 and another 70 miles ahead, but the most difficult trail system in Georgia. After climbing the steep grade out of Dalton, it’s back onto the Pinhoti. This part of the ride is called Snake Creek Gap. It’s only about 70 miles to the end, but they are the slowest, most technical miles of the whole ride. The trail traverses the rocky ridge line of the southern Cumberland Plateau. It’s full of boulders and large rocky passes. There is little water along this section except in the small streams found in the valleys. Once the traill hits highway 100 it is smooth sailing to the end. Just a few more miles of flat pavement and it is all over. In the end it was 3 days 15 hours. The KONA King Kahuna handled great and took the abuse. The gear from BikeMan.com was needed and held up great. I learned a bunch about myself and my riding in this time and will take it all to the drawing board for TNGA 2016.
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