|At the start|
I began my adventure at Moccasin Creek State Park at 8 am. My bike and gear weighed in at a hefty 45 pounds. That is 41% of my body weight! Having never ridden with weight like this before, I immediately felt it ... even on the beginning flat section of asphalt. Climbing up the Wildcat Creek forest service road gave me a chance to get used to the weight and how it was distributed on the bike. I think I packed Stumpy, aka The Yak, pretty good, as the bike felt balanced. The downhills took some getting used to, especially the tighter turns.
The morning hours were quite pleasant with the forest service roads offering plenty of cover from the sun. I was just at a cruising pace and had planned to make Helen by 11 am. But ...... then I made the approach to Hickory Nut Trail. I looked for it for several minutes, first going to the right and then to the left on trails that led nowhere. I then came back to the intersection, switched my GPS from breadcrumb trail to compass. The cue sheet said proceed around dirt pile and head south. So I did and entered the bushwack from hell! Poison ivy, poison oak, and blackberry briars greeted me. Nice! I finally found a resemblance of trail, only because of the wild hogs that had cleared some small sections looking for breakfast. The next 2.5 miles was a combination of pushing, soft pedaling through derailleur-eating sticks and large rocks, hoisting Stumpy over downed trees, and hoping no copperheads were lurking in the thick underbrush. A few choice words were said, including "tartar sauce!" and "pickle juice!" (Carly has taught me well.)
The last mile of the trail was rideable but not what I would call fun. Those 3.5 miles took an hour to get through! And then I had to stop at the lake, remove socks/shoes and scrub the ivy/oak resin off my legs. Was I ever glad to get to Wendy's! Although I had to wait in line due to the lunch hour rush, it was worth it. The last time I had a Wendy's burger was after the 2006 12 Hours of Oleta in Miami, Florida.
Hunger satisfied, I began the long pedal up Hogpen Gap. This is a 7 mile paved climb, with grades ranging from 8-15%. Pedaling a fully-loaded mountain bike was a far cry from riding a 16 pound road bike during the 6-Gap Century! From there it was a 4 mile descent to my next turn. As I began my descent, my speed approached 40 mph. As I came around the second sharp turn, there stood a mama bear and 3 cubs! I had nowhere to go and could not stop. I managed to wrestle the bike to the middle of the road and just as I became even with the bears, she jumped over the guard rail and the babies followed. Whew! That could have been ugly.
The remainder of the day was anti-climatic, just turning over the pedals while a steady drip of sweat fell from the tip of my nose. I was happy that I had chosen Stumpy with 120mm of travel, fore and aft. I call her my "recliner" bike and felt comfortable all day. Some of the fire road descents were pretty eroded and rocky, but seemed effortless and fast aboard my full-suspension steed.
After 11 1/2 hours, 95 miles, and 10,500 feet of climbing, I found a nice spot along the Toccoa River and set up camp for the night. The ThermaRest Neoair pad, size M (14 oz) was very comfortable and the Kelty Lightyear down 40 (11oz) kept me warm when the temps dipped down to 60 degrees. Yes, at about 3am, I got cold and had to burrow into the bag.
The next morning Loretta joined me for the ride to Mulberry Gap. We got moving shortly before 8 am and the Aska trail system was the first real bit of single track that I encountered on my HEAVY bike. A bit more pushing was involved and it was harder to steer through the switchbacks. Amazingly, my legs felt great and I was able to ride more than I thought I would. My body had finally adapted to The Yak. The descent off Stanley was fast, but not screaming XC fast.
Loretta and I refueled at the small grocery just before the climb up to Watson Gap. Unfortunately, this store won't be open when I come through during the race. This section from Shallowford Bridge Road to Mulberry Gap is devoid of stores. It will be imperative to find water to purify (easy enough) and have enough food on board to make it without putting myself into a deficit. At least on this section Mulberry Gap will be my carrot.
|Mulberry Gap food!|
The South Fork Trail was chewed up by recent horse traffic. We encountered a group of five horses, but the people were very congenial. Surprisingly, if you just use common sense and give the horses and their riders respect, you come to find out that they are mostly good people.
The climb up the remainder of Potato Patch from Buddy Cove was brutal. It was here that I hit my lowest point of the ride as I had expected a short journey from the Pinhoti to the 3-way intersection. Fortunately I had drunk a Red Bull which helped to see me through.
|It gave me eagle wings, but I was really needing condor wings at this point.|
We finished up our ride with the Bear Creek descent. We opted to skip out on the P1 and P2 as time was getting away from us and we both had families that were expecting us home soon. Mulberry Gap was fulfilling, what with a hot shower and Ginni's cooking.
|A PR for Loretta ... longest MTB ride, ever!|
We covered 61 miles and 7500 feet of climbing today. This was a great test for both my gear and myself. I felt sparkly the whole way, save for Potato Patch. This also had been the longest I had been on the bike this year. If I can keep my bike and body working well and the weather is good (meaning hot and dry), the TNGA is definitely doable ... and perhaps winnable!
My hands held up well, but I think I will swap out my Ergon GC2's for the GS2's. With the GS2's having a slightly longer bar end and with the grippy rubber, my hands and ulnar nerve will be happier over the long haul, especially if I get wet during the race.
The Chamois Butt'r 1oz packets did their job well. No chafing/sores, but I still had some sit bone soreness after the ride. I suppose the only way to fix that is to ride more ... which I can do.
I had so much fun than another bike packing session is being planned for late July.