Warning: This post is super long and barely edited (I create content for a living so I feel like should confess that this may read more like “dear diary” than any sort of decent piece of content). But, there are some key takeaways at the top and some subheaders that might be helpful if you’re interested in certain parts of the course. You may need to dig a little to find any “drama” since that can happen any time you’re bikepacking across the most remote places of north Georgia. You may also find the write-up on bikepacking.com helpful in understanding this crazy event.
Otherwise, here’s what went down for the trio of Chattanooga women who finished second behind the famous and big-time badass Sara Dallman in their first (and maybe only) TNGA.
- Most challenging thing about TNGA: saddle sores/monkey butt
- Runner up: Sleep deprivation after about 36 hours (an impaired mind makes me anxious)
- Second runner up: Super heavy rains at the start (rain drops that hurt!)
- Favorite thing about TNGA: Sharing the journey with my friends
- Runner up: Riding The Snake rock garden backwards
- Second runner up: Actually feeling fit and not hating my legs or body (thanks, Carp!)
- Third runner up: Last section of Taylor’s Ridge and descent down to High Point
- Lowest moment: After Taylor’s Ridge part 1
- Runner up: Getting the news about Jim’s hospital trip at Mulberry Gap
- Sleep system: No tent or bivy, just rain pants/jacket, pillow and emergency blanket + garbage bag
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/3936663991#kudos
Months into quarantine, COVID continued to cancel mass-start bike races across the U.S.. For years, TNGA was always one of those events that I kept an eye on but never really considered something I’d be able to do. I was still settling into ultra-distance mountain and gravel bike races so 350 miles in Georgia heat and humidity…on very technical terrain, seemed a bit much for me. But this year, I wouldn’t have the SBTGRVL race to challenge my race distance. I was planning the 140 mile route this year after finishing the 100 mile route in 2019.
All it took was for my long-time teammate, Susie Farmer, to lightly mention, “TNGA might be fun” (after she learned Mike Pollock was going to give it a go) to seriously consider the idea. I immediately messaged my coach, Steve Carpenter, for a gut check on whether or not it was a good idea and if I had enough time to get ready. He immediately responded, “absolutely” and I knew at that point this journey would be more of managing the elements vs. being “fit enough”…and that was reassuring.
My other training partner, Monica Desjardins, had wanted to do TNGA for a long time but she also had enough scheduling conflicts to prevent an attempt. Finally, after days of pushing and bothering Susie and Monica, the stars aligned and we signed our lives away to Jeff Williams (TNGA race director and long-time bike friend).
This was June 7. TNGA started Aug. 15. And I’d just sold my hard tail mountain bike weeks prior. Time to do some serious gear gathering.
I train year-round for cycling races so luckily I didn’t have to start from scratch. Coach Carp has also incorporated strength training and hiking into my training for a while so that ended up being a huge asset for TNGA, since it’s a very physical course with all the demanding single track and hike-a-bike.
Because the distance of the course would span across several days, Carp scheduled a few weekends of 2-3 days of long rides (one weekend had 24hrs over 3 days scheduled). We used the course itself for a lot of training rides and I was able to see all of the course except the last 50 miles or so. We also did a ton of climbing with a core group of some of Chattanooga’s strongest women cyclists. I also made sure to stay on top of sleep and weight so I wouldn’t go into TNGA feeling underweight and tired.
This probably took more time than getting my fitness ready but I really enjoyed it. I got to make what felt like a million tiny decisions (and I love making decisions, researching and over-analyzing possible things that could wrong and creating a solution for it). My priorities were lights, clothing (kit, socks) and power bank. The next thing was hygiene, especially when it came to chamois area and feet. I knew saddle sores and trench foot could be a real problem if I didn’t manage those issues accordingly. Here’s a quick overview of my gear:
|Lighting||Clothing||Bags, Power and Repair||Sleep and Comfort|
|Bontrager helmet w/custom Natty Light graphics for Motor Mile Racing||Pactimo Summit Strike bib (w/Pactimo Summit Raptor bib as back-up)||Rogue Panda bags – jerry can and top tube bag||Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket and rain pants|
|Bontrager Ion Pro helmet light||Pactimo Summit Aero Mesh jersey||Road Runner handlebar bag||Klymit pillow|
|Bontrager Ion rear light||Lululemon sports bra (2 total)||Apidura Expedition Downtube pack||Emergency blanket + Hefty garbage bag|
|Fenix tactical flashlight on handlebar||Halo sweatband||Revelate mountain feed bags||Ben’s bug spray and wipes + tick remover|
|Fenix headlamp strapped to helmet w/velcro, double tape||Handup Gloves bandana||Revelate Shrew saddle bag||Native travel deodorant|
|Handup Gloves wool socks (3 pairs total)||RavPower 15,000mAh power bank + short type C and USB quick-charge cords||Wet wipes + microfiber face towel|
|Handup Gloves short-fingered and Summer Lite long-fingered gloves||GoPro + spare battery||Corona ointment for chamois|
|Cuore shorts (Skratch Labs)||Back-up batteries: 21800 for tactical flashlight, AAA for headlamp||Neosporin and Vitamin A&D|
|Pactimo zero weight base layer + Pactimo summer sleeves||2 Tubolitos, Dynaplug + spares, tire boot, tire levers, air pump||Bull Frog sunscreen|
|Shimano XC7 shoes||Wolftooth chain tool + chain break tool, 2 spare chain links, T9 chain lube||Gold Bond powder|
|Leatherman multi-tool + select Allen wrenches||Allergy eye drops|
Trek Chattanooga built-up a custom Lynskey Pro 29er Titanium Hardtail for me. Building a bike during a pandemic was quite the challenge. Parts were limited and many bike manufacturers had limited inventory. Lynskey went above and beyond to make a frame for me in time for TNGA. They also let me customize it to my needs (3 bottle cages), which was fantastic. Here’s my parts list:
|Frame||Lynskey Pro 29er Titanium Hardtail|
|Drivetrain, brakes||Shimano XT 12-speed|
|Cassette||Shimano XT 10-51|
|Chainring||Wolf Tooth 30T|
|Fork||Fox 34 Stepcast, 120mm|
|Wheels||Bontrager Kovee Pro 30 Carbon|
|Tires||Vittoria Mezcal 2.35|
|Handlebar||Next carbon 760mm, 20mm rise|
|Dropper||Fox Transfer, 125mm|
The start felt rushed and hurried. I didn’t quite have my mind where I wanted it, but I suppose that’s because I knew what was ahead. I think I barely had a minute to say goodbye to Spencer before rolling passed race director, Jeff Williams. We were very quickly going uphill in a small group that included The Kid and Rasch. The moment Monica and I spotted a Black Bear Rampage jersey on a rider, we looked at each other and knew it was a good luck sign (we saw one at Pisgah Stage Race last spring, too, and it’s amazing all the places we’ll see that jersey pop up).
+ First 30 miles
Soon after the start it absolutely poured on us….rain that’s so heavy it hurts. The first 30 miles had some seriously steep gravel climbs and a crazy rocky/rooty downhill that was a literal creek bed…and it was flowing pretty well with the rain.
I walked a ton of the downhill to avoid injury and was impressed (but not surprised) to see Daryl Myers easily making his way down the Darnell Creek trail. I said a quick hello before telling him to go around since I’d be walking quite a bit. Susie and Monica were waiting for me at the bottom of the trail and moments after I got there, a huge tree limb fell inches from us. Phew! Time to roll on.
+ Mile 30-60
We passed through Dillard (mile 30ish) and stopped at Raybun Presbyterian Church to fill up our bottles before making our way toward the Patterson Gap climb and more super steep gravel climbs (but no single track again until the Aska Trails around mile 150ish). We eventually entered Tallulah River area, which is absolutely beautiful. We ran into Audrey Tangye by Charlie’s Creek and tried to convince her to carry on with us. She wasn’t feeling it and had a nagging neck injury that made her decide to throw in the towel.
We rolled through Charlie’s Creek before having to navigate the longest line of jeeps up the muddy climb. I think I weaved in and out of at least 15-20 jeeps. We kept carrying on up the climb before another long, chunky gravel descent that took us back on pavement and eventually to the Dick’s Creek trailhead (where the AT crosses around mile 60ish).
+ Mile 57 and my first/only “wreck”
Only a few creeks, a quick stretch of double track and some pavement stood in our way of dinner at Lake Burton….or so we thought. Creek crossings and sandpits are usually my strongest skills, but the creeks were super swollen compared to our pre-ride in July. One had a huge pit of quick sand at the exit that sucked Monica’s wheel in, stopping her abruptly. Trying to avoid crashing into her bike and stepping on her AXS derailleur, I fell over still clipped into my bike and took a nice bath in the creek. I felt my bike lift in the water and frantically (but mostly hysterically) got up and out of the water. My glasses fell into creek but eventually found them once the mud settled.
After the creek chaos, we finally arrived at Lake Burton and got a couple cheese pizzas to share, drank some Coke and washed our jerseys in the lake. We dried our clothes in the sun as best we could and at this point I changed my bib, socks and sports bra. We spent a good bit of time here relaxing, knowing we had hours of climbing ahead of us. When it came down to it, I think we each wanted to enjoy TNGA as much as possible (without taking TOO much time).
+ Mile 64, Wildcat and Tray Mountain climbs
After dinner, we climbed Wildcat, which is about an 8.5 mile climb that gains just under 2,000 ft. Then we descended about 6 miles to Unicoi Pike before it started getting too dark. It wasn’t until we were well up Tray Mtn (a 10 mile climb that gains more than 2,000 ft) before I felt like turning on my headlamp at its lowest setting. We had one rider pass us on the climb…he had 36” wheels!!
At that point I was well-behind Monica and Susie, which was no surprise to me since they’re both very strong climbers. At some point, they needed to filter water, but I had enough left in my bottle to make it to Helen, so I decided to roll on so I wouldn’t keep them waiting as long for me. Luckily we all got to the top basically at the same time so we took a minute to chat and make adjustments to clothing, etc.
+ Mile 88, Tray and Hickory Nut descents (approx. 10:30 p.m. Saturday)
I was starting to get a little cold so rolled on to the Tray descent and waited a few minutes before I got cold again and decided to go down. Tray is a very physical downhill so it took a good bit of focus and my lights on brightest settings to navigate without issues.
We all descended the Hickory Nut single track together and it was a lot of fun considering it was late at night. Monica led the charge which was reassuring and helpful to have a “heads up” from her on any obstacles on the trail. We arrived in Helen (mile 98ish) after midnight. Susie’s husband, Jim, who was also racing, was there. He was having some stomach issues and knew we wouldn’t make the store stop so bought us water and snacks.
+ Mile 98, Hogpen road climb (approx. 1 a.m., which equals drunk driver time)
We left Helen around 1 a.m. after a long break. Once you make the left turn off Hwy 75, you have almost 10 miles of road climbing, including the infamous Hogpen climb that challenges 6 Gap roadies well-enough on skinny tires with next to no added weight. We got to slog up this climb on fat tires with a crapload of extra weight. But, I was happy to ride it at night because we pre-rode this climb on a Saturday afternoon in the July sun with tons of traffic.
It was all happy, foggy climb time until Susie and I heard a vehicle cross rumble strips on both sides of the road. “Oh no!” we both said in unison. It could only mean a drunk driver and we were right. After nearly dropping the clutch on his jeep, the driver pulled up next to us and muttered something about riding on gravel roads instead of the highway (which we basically did all day long but the route did require a couple road sections to connect to other gravel roads/trail).
While we did not engage, Monica did turn her bike around to come back toward us (she was still climbing very well). At this point he drove off and we thought that was it, but turns out he wanted to taunt us more so we soon saw his headlights coming back toward us. He then turned around behind us so he could have another chat. As soon as I heard him speak to Susie again, I finally said, “Sir, you need to move on!” as sternly and clearly as possible. Guess we were boring enough for him to move on and give all the other TNGA riders ahead a hard time.
I thought it was ironic that a drunk driver was trying to tell us that WE shouldn’t be riding on the road when HE was the one driving intoxicated, which is actually illegal in all 50 states. We may have seen maybe one other car on that stretch of road the entire time so all and all it was a peaceful climb up Hogpen and I was glad to have it behind me.
The back-to-back Wildcat, Tray, and Hogpen climb section was what I was dreading most – phew!
+ Mile 108, final push in the dark to Vogel State Park
The descent off Hogpen was the most terrifying section of the TNGA course for me (which I made sure to yell at Susie as she flew by). I didn’t like the descent during the daytime and I definitely didn’t like it at like 2 a.m. in dense fog with basically no reflectors on the road or sharp turns, while on a heavy mountain bike.
Turning into the Helton Creek Falls area was such a relief but then also a complete BLAH fest. We were all tired and wobbly riding (my least fav thing). So we committed to pushing to Vogel to take a short nap. This section is deceiving because it’s “barely any climbing” compared to what we just did but slightly degrading because it was so much more difficult under sleep deprivation and fatigue from 19 hrs of riding.
But we made it to Vogel and found some concrete outside of a bath house to snuggle up and close our eyes for about an hour. Susie and I slept in our rain gear with our garbage bags while Monica buried herself in her bivy. Needless to say it was too cold for us to lay down long and we were soon up and standing under the air dryer in the bathrooms before rolling out to climb Wolf Pen as the sun came up.
+ Mile 117, Wolf Pen and Cooper Creek, time for breakfast
We made it up Wolf Pen (road climb) and Duncan Ridge (double track climb) as the sun was coming up. We saw a tent of TNGA riders on Duncan and I was immediately jealous of the good night’s sleep they probably had compared to our concrete nap.
I enjoyed the breezing descent into the Coopers Creek WMA but was already preparing my speech to Monica and Susie about how they should go on since I was so much slower than them. They refused and we rolled on. We soon ran into a truck trying to push a fallen tree off the road. Apparently, it fell after they went into town for breakfast so they no longer could drive back to their campsite. I think they ended up having to go find a chainsaw because the tree wouldn’t budge.
We rolled into the Cooper Creek store around 9 a.m. or so and received the warmest welcome from Toni who said she’d been watching our group of ladies on the tracker. She was so sweet and said she’d be “our mama for an hour” while she brought our tray of food to us while we relaxed in the store’s yard. It was amazing and set a good tone for the rest of the day.
+ Mile 137, On to Toccoa River and some familiar faces
We spent quite a bit of time at Cooper Creek Store, talking to “Mr. Pickle” (Canaan Barrett aka The Kid’s dad and old friend from my Dalton days) but eventually we rolled out. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first but there was Carey Lowery riding toward us! It was a nice surprise. She rode with us for a little bit and checked to see if we were taking care of ourselves as best we could before giving us her final encouragement and waving goodbye.
It was smooth sailing to the Toccoa River and we basically chit-chatted about what was ahead before a few roadies warned that the Iron Bridge Café was closed due to flooding. Luckily we weren’t planning to stop there anyway but we appreciated the gesture. After we crossed the bridge, we stopped to dip our heads in the river to cool off. We had a short, but brutally hot and steep road climb ahead of us before entering the Aska Trail system.
As soon as we turned right off the highway to climb to the trail entrance, we heard a familiar voice. Audrey came to see how we were doing and cheer us on. I was cooked at this point from that stupid open road climb and needed to lay in the shade for a minute. The sun was so brutal so I was glad to get back on single track…or so I thought.
+ Mile 153, Aska Trails to Cherry Log
I knew the Aska Trails would feel nothing like they did during the July pre-ride but goodness this section was difficult. I was able to ride the last rooty uphill on Green Mountain in July but it was challenging to even hike during TNGA. This worried me a little because I knew Stanley Gap would be more difficult…and yep, it was.
It probably took Susie and me about an hour and half to go up and down Stanley Gap and we hiked a good chunk of the climb. In some places I wasn’t sure how to get my bike up and over root sections. Monica rode ahead of us at the base of Green Mountain and we had dreams of her already in Cherry Log and making her way into the Cohuttas. Susie and I arrived at the Pink Pig some time before 5 p.m. and texted Monica some encouraging words. Turns out she got lost and ended up behind us somehow…so the gang was back together at Pink Pig, enjoying dinner together.
+ Mile 166, Heading toward Bushy Head and the Cohuttas
We spent a good bit of time in Cherry Log trying to rest but were decently restless and kinda uncomfortable. Looking back, we probably should have left Cherry Log right after dinner to ride during as much daylight as possible but of course, that’s easy to say after the fact. We rode for almost an hour before grabbing some snacks at the community center after the Bushy Head turn. Rasch and The Kid were already there and going to rest for a while.
We carried on into the darkness toward Old Hwy 2 which takes you up Watson Gap and into the Cohuttas. Once you turn left on Old Hwy 2 from Bushy Head, it’s only a few miles of pavement before you start climbing into the Cohutta. And after that is the dreaded South Fork horse (poop) trail followed by the Pinhoti 0 (terminus) trail. Basically, you turn off the Old Hwy 2 part of the course, straight downhill, then climb straight back up to resume the course back on Old Hwy 2. This trail is wet, gross and overgrown pretty much year-round and I was not looking forward to riding it in the middle of the night/morning hours.
SO, after I couldn’t take the long-blinks anymore, I made a quick turn into a church just before Watson Gap. I told Susie and Monica I needed at least a power nap before moving on and that they could go on without me, but they decided to stay. If TNGA has taught me anything it’s that I have one night of sleep deprivation in me before a serious fear of loss of mind control sets in…I do not like feeling like my mind is impaired or too unfocused. I’m lucky to be able to sleep almost anywhere and benefit tremendously from even a short bit of sleep (or at least laying down, not riding my bike).
We laid down on the tables under the pavilion in the back of the church and I set an alarm for 30 minutes. When no one really moved at the alarm, I set it for a few hours later and went back to sleep. I fell asleep in my entire kit, including my shoes (managed to take the helmet off) with rain jacket and pants on. I actually used my pillow this time and eventually pulled out the emergency blanket when I started shivering. Luckily I was able to fold it back up nicely the next morning. Surprisingly, no critters came into our “camp” which was good since our gear was basically laying all over the place (and I slept with an open pop tart in my jersey pocket). I did wake up several times to a mosquito biting my forehead over and over again…I didn’t care at the time though.
+ Mile 187, Up Watson Gap, through the Cohuttas
We rolled away from the church after the sun came up on Monday. I felt relieved to get to ride South Fork and Pinhoti 0 in daylight and that feeling made it seem like I was floating up Watson Gap (even though it was pretty slow). Monica flew up the climb. She was having some sort of discomfort so I think she was just trying to get through it ASAP. Eventually we met her at the top and made our way to the double/single track slog. South Fork and P0 were as expected and we made it back to Old Hwy 2 without any issues.
After we stopped to air out our wet feet (we did this somewhat frequently along the entire route to prevent trench foot) we kept climbing up to the Mountaintown Overlook, stopped for a few pictures before putting a fork in the rest of the climb around Three Forks and finally to the Potato Patch intersection at mile 200! I felt refreshed and chipper during this climbing section, but the Cohuttas are like home to me so being so close to Mulberry Gap put my mind at ease.
+ Mile 201, Bear Creek, the Pinhotis (1,2,3) + Jim’s emergency
We arrived at Bear Creek around 11 a.m. Monday. All three of us have ridden these trails quite a bit so we rolled through them pretty quickly, relative to what you’d expect during a TNGA effort. We took quick breaks before P1 and P2 before finishing up and making our way to Mulberry Gap to refuel and rest (we committed to making it as quick as possible).
Once we got to MBG, we heard the news of Susie’s husband suffering from Shermer’s neck…except it was much more dramatic than that and pretty emotional for us to hear, especially Susie. His phone stopped charging (so he had no phone numbers), his spot tracker died, and the most severe symptoms hit him at the top of Fort Mountain, so he was left to get himself down the mountain and to medical care in Chatworth, on his own…which barely able to hold up his head or use his brakes.
MBG staff let us know they eventually picked him up and took him to the Hampton Inn in Dalton but we had limited ways of getting ahold of him. There’s little to no cell reception at MBG but Kate let us use the phone to call my husband, Spencer, so he could work on tracking down Jim at the hotel and text us with updates. Ultimately, Jim got a burner phone and we were able to contact him when we got to the top of Pinhoti 3 (which had a lot of hike-a-bike compared to normal).
Getting a shower and food at MBG was definitely rejuvenating. At this point, my saddle sores were getting very painful (even with refreshing my chamois care every few hours). Icing on the cake was the TNGA volunteers washing and lubing our drive train. My drivetrain was hanging in there but getting noisy here and there and simply wiping and lubing the chain wasn’t doing much anymore. The bike wash helped a lot and I’m super grateful to Brent Nelson for taking care of our bikes. He’s a TNGA veteran and knows what’s up.
+ Mile 217, The “lesser known” Pinhotis (4,5,6)
We got to the top of Pinhoti 3 around 6 p.m. to a truck with boxes of pizza and coolers of water and coke. Susie was able to talk to Jim, we all shared a coke and decided to try to get through the next section as quickly as possible so we could make the final surge to Dalton.
Pinhoti 4 was short and sweet but we hiked up a good bit of the Tatum Lead gravel climb. Deep down it annoyed me to have to walk sections I can normally ride, but that’s part of TNGA. It was okay because we knew we got to fly down the descent to the Pinhoti 5 downhill. We let our brakes cool off at the bottom of P5…it feels even more steep and stupid fast when your bike is loaded down.
I was already grateful I decided to go with a dropper post but I was REALLY happy to have one there. I’ve come to terms with my riding style and am willing to take on the extra weight for the control it gives me.
We hurried through the Pinhoti 6 section as fast as we could but there were a couple of dirt climbs that hurt only because we were doing TNGA. I was so happy to get to the rolling grassy section because that meant the true downhill was coming soon. Unfortunately, we flew past the entrance and had to climb back up to get to this section. Oh well, it happens. We had some delightful convos in this section before an angry, screaming boar interrupted us.
I had so many moments of gratitude to be experiencing TNGA with two of the most amazing women I know, but this section felt extra special for some reason, maybe it was the sunset and anticipation of the hotel in Dalton.
+ Mile 232, Bottom of Dennis Mill and onto Dalton
ROADIE LEGS ENGAGE! We ran into Mr. Pickle again (The Kid and Rasch weren’t too far behind us) and he wished us a well and fast ride to Dalton. We motored as fast as we could on the roads to Dalton. It felt so much longer than it took us to get there because the steady pedaling had increased the pain I was feeling at the saddle. My butt. Hurt. So. Bad. I basically had two options, pedal standing up or sit in the draft so I could lower my cadence (fewer pedal strokes hurt less).
After a while, I was barely able to take my turn to pull on the open roads. We passed two guys and Monica was kinda enough to invite them to join our pack, but we ended up completely dropping them (whoops!). All we could focus on was getting to Dalton and it didn’t feel like it was happening fast enough.
“Y’all motored to Dalton!!” said Spencer in a text. So that lifted spirits a little because it didn’t feel like it. Eventually we made the turn on Walnut Ave…home stretch to Hampton Inn. We’d just passed Shaw HQs when I saw a familiar Iowa Hawkeye license plate! My cousins live in Dalton (and I lived with them after college when I first moved to Dalton) and had been tracking us. They drove by to cheer us on and it was just the encouragement I needed.
We went through the Taco Bell drive-thru at 10:45 p.m., had a quick chat with my cousins before checking into the hotel. Monica and I shared a room and we managed to communicate through mutters and get some laundry done. The lady at the front desk was very friendly (although I’m sure I didn’t hold much of a conversation) and gave me some quarters for the machine (I only brought enough quarters to get the washer going).
I think it was about 1 a.m. before I finished drying the clothes and crawled into bed. The bed felt SO good!
+ Mile 254, time for the “hometown” trails
I woke up to some serious inflammation, and even after icing my butt, I was in a lot of pain. Susie brought some lidocaine because numbing the saddle sores was my only option at this point. Oh well, it did the trick.
After a quick ride through the McDonald’s drive-thru, we waved goodbye to Jim and Spencer (Jim had to scratch because of his injury so Spencer came to pick him up that morning). We were in familiar territory as we’d all raced The Snake Time Trail before, except this time we got to ride it in the fun direction (after the slow slog up Dug Gap Mtn, of course).
The trail to Snake Creek Gap is actually a delight in this direction because you get to do the rock gardens slightly downhill. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of climbing and difficulty but I love the rock gardens even more in this direction. I’m not a small rider by any means so it’s much more enjoyable to monster truck over rocks when you don’t have to go uphill.
We all reunited at the gravel descent and filtered at the bottom. At this point I started to feel my back sting really badly! Monica did, too. Turns out we got some stinging nettle on our clothes…joy!
Having enough water can be a serious issue in this section (unless you’re super fast) so we tried to stay on top of our filtering. There are basically no gas stations unless you go way off course so that was something to keep in mind. Luckily, we found some trail magic before crossing Hwy 136, which was definitely a life-saver to have even a tad bit more of water to carry.
+ Mile 272, Horn Mtn, Pine Needle Hill, John’s Mtn
I don’t have too much to say about climbing Horn Mtn, then Pine Needle Hill, then that absolutely awful gravel climb to John’s Mtn. Seriously, this part was very challenging, and I knew it would be (I’m sure many others didn’t because it looks kinda harmless on paper), but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to be cranky about it during TNGA. Somewhere along Horn Mtn, we picked up Mike Palmeri. We all knew of him and we definitely knew his sister, Laina, who is an absolute beast of a bike racer (and crushes all downhills like a pro). There was also some logging going on near Pine Needle Hill so needless to say I kinda interval-paced my way up the climb since the trees were falling so close to the trail.
John’s Mtn was a shit show and we got beat up by briars and weeds. Monica and Mike were ahead of me and Susie but luckily Susie and I were together to help each other climb over a tree that came up to my chest. I think others were bushwhacking around it but we didn’t feel like playing in the weeds at that point.
As we inched closer to Dry Creek, we ran into Daryl Fagan, a local cyclist I’d known for a while from Dalton days. He lived off Pocket Rd and came by to say hello. Not long after we took a much-needed break in the East Armuchee Creek (which is normally more like a raging river during The Snake Time Trial), up rolls Eric Henderson! He also came by to say hello and check on Rasch who had a pretty nasty wreck early on The Snake (ended up breaking ribs and fingers, etc.).
We finally got our crap together (and Susie suggested I use my allergy eye drops since my eyes were pretty swollen) and ran into Gennie and Gay as we rolled out of Dry Creek. Gennie and Gay are big-time trail maintenance volunteers (thank you!) and also race directors for The Snake so it was wonderful to see them for a second.
+ Mile 287, Strawberry Mtn and The Narrows
We made the turn on Manning Mill and the 4.5 mi climb up then “downish” Strawberry Mtn to The Narrows. There was some serious trail clean up since Monica and I did our pre-ride so that was really nice. There’s nothing worse than having to push your bike uphill through briar patches. At this point fatigue is starting to set in and I have a hard time recalling anything other than being tired. At the bottom of The Narrows, my feet were wet/sweaty enough for me to want to change my socks. The group waited as I changed my socks and up rolls Jim in Susie’s car. He asked us how we felt (Mike was still with us at this point) and I gave Jim a look that made him LOL haha. I had my cranky pants on but putting dry socks on helped.
We snuck past the rowdy dogs on the way to the climb but they circled Mike for a bit as we took the “ladies first” approach probably a little too far. They eventually lost interest in him as we soon found ourselves at the entrance to the Pinhoti section that parallels a perfectly good gravel road. Monica and I missed this trail our first pre-ride but we came back another day to make sure we knew where it was (again, I’m a a bit of a control freak who hates feeling lost and likes to know what’s up ahead). This trail and upcoming Taylor’s Ridge was burned into my brain and I sighed thinking how long it would take (even though it looked flat and quick on paper).
+ Mile 296, Taylor’s Ridge, part 1
In total, Taylor’s Ridge is just over 18 miles, but Hwy 27 splits the middle of it so you have to ride off the tip top of the ridge and climb back up on the other side of the busiest country highway ever. In the middle of part 1, there’s an “M” shaped trail that goes downhill then straight back up. There was supposed to be some water at the bottom of the downhill but we couldn’t find much of a source, probably because it was a bit darker at the bottom of this part of the trail.
It was Susie’s birthday, so we (me/I haha) tried calling Dominoe’s to place a delivery order after the M with about 2-3 miles left. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a proper address and Shannon’s manager deemed us a “security risk” when requesting they drop off the pizza the intersection of Hwy 27/Pinhoti Trail. It’s amazing what fatigue will convince you to try.
I was kinda fired up at this point after Dominoe’s turned us down, and we were out of fluids. So that meant we had to go completely off the ridge for supplies (I had some food but I think that’s it). We crossed the highway and agreed to go off the east side of the ridge (away from Summerville) since the climb back up would be shorter. Monica needed a minute to get her lights situated before we silently floated off the mountain and nearly got taken out by impatient drivers on the way down. We didn’t have much of a specific plan once we reached the bottom so we were a bit all over the place and a little irritated.
I reached my limit at this point and firmly said I would not ride anymore without some rest but that it was fine if they wanted to carry on. I did not feel even remotely in control of my mind and didn’t trust myself to finish the remaining single track without putting myself at risk for serious wrecks/injury (which I’d managed to avoid so far during TNGA). Eventually everything calmed down (as I sat in silence outside the Hi-Tech gas station eating a Honey Bun), and I had a quick text convo with Spencer to ease my mind and he reassured me it was okay to rest (and basically been suggesting it for a bit).
Susie caught a glimpse of a young guy with a pick-up truck getting gas and suggested we ask him to drive us back up the ridge where we left the course. This felt like the best idea of the whole trip because a.) that highway was dangerous and cars were just waiting to run us over while we climbed back up and b.) we weren’t really in a good place that felt safe and quiet enough to rest.
Luckily, the young man agreed to take us up the highway and we squeezed our bikes and bodies into tiny open spaces on the truck (he’d just gotten back from the beach so there were coolers everywhere). At this point we didn’t care and were grateful for the safe ride up the ridge (it was a much shorter drive than bike ride). We tried to give him cash for his troubles but he wouldn’t take it and said he lived really close to where we were. THANK GOD FOR THAT RIDE UP THE RIDGE. Now, we had to carry our bikes and snacks up the steepest half mile gravel climb ever.
+ Mile 305, last sleep before Taylor’s Ridge, part 2
My best guess is that it was around midnight when we fell asleep at the top of the gravel climb by the towers at the top of Mack White Gap. We laid down just past the Pinhoti trailhead but at around 2:30 a.m., I woke up to a bicycle almost running me over. He was out of it and missed the trail and apologized for it over and over again saying something like, “I can’t believe I missed the trail, I’m so sorry ladies!” Crap is really hitting the fan for anyone riding this section at this time of day and there’s no telling what sort of ride he had for the remaining single track.
Welp, it’s 3 a.m. and I’m awake so I turn on my phone and a text from family friend, Brad Cobb, comes through. “So proud of you. Don’t let up. You got it!! Kick ass!” Monica is awake (and basically hasn’t slept) so we start slowing getting our stuff together while we let Susie sleep a little more (she’s fastest getting ready anyway). Eventually I have a lot of my random knickknacks back together (had to keep my InReach and Garmin 530 alive overnight with the power bank) so I decide to lay down for a minute and stare at the stars while eating some Pop Tarts and Doritos before chugging a 5-hour energy.
Around 4:30 a.m., we roll away from our final “resting place” and I’m feeling more alive than ever as my lights shine their brightest on the last section of single track. It felt like I was flying and I even PR’d a few parts of this section. My mind was in control of my body and I could “smell the hay” as Monica often says on our training rides.
We sat down for a minute when we got to the bottom of High Point and up walks a baby kitten. It was so cute and sweet but unfortunately looked sick and we weren’t in the best place to take it to a local shelter or anything. We finally had to roll away and push through the last section of the course.
+ Mile 313, the finish
We had about 45 miles left which took us about 5 hours. It was mostly grassy, muddy rail trail that maybe had a few gravel-ish sections (and one angry little dog on course). For the most part it was rolling but there was a little bit of climbing at the end past Cave Springs.
Rasch caught up to us at the Coosa Store (before Cave Springs) so we all had a gas station “meal” together before rolling on the Rome Bypass and other country roads that took us to Cave Springs. We stopped to soak it in this cute little town and get some water (Rasch had a can of Campbell’s Vegetable Beef soup lol). Last part of the course was the final Pinhoti single track section, which felt a lot like Enterprise South, before rolling the last bit of gravel and paved roads to the Silver Comet. We lucked out and didn’t encounter any of the crazy dogs racers usually see.
After turning onto the Silver Comet, my mind started to relax and I don’t remember having any specific thoughts. It was kinda weird that we were finally finishing…just before noon on day 4. Of course, Susie and I locked handlebars at the end and nearly wrecked after the finish line (luckily we’d “practiced” this with Amy Christian before so we knew what to do and ended with a NOT TODAY, SATAN! moment) We got off our bikes, safe and sound with no major wrecks, injuries or mechanicals and were greeted by the most supportive men on Earth.
I immediately stripped my gross cycling kit off and just sat in a towel and bare feet for a few minutes…drinking some chocolate Skratch Recovery and Funfetti cupcakes my cousins made for us.
UNTIL NEXT TIME, TNGA? Maybe one day again…but I’m good for now.
Thank you for reading (if you made it this far you’re pretty resilient).