The intent was to ride the Trans North Georgia route starting Saturday, as a sort of moderately fast ride testing out some new gear. This route, a point-to-point route from the South Carolina border to the Alabama border, looks pretty nice on paper and includes some of the best trail in Georgia as well as a lot of new-to-me mileage. There is a race scheduled to take place on the TNGA route later this year but with all the rules and hoopla surrounding it, I decided it was not my scene. Instead I thought I'd just take the route and ride it by myself when I had some time. I wanted to do it solo and self-supported because that seemed like the way the route would be most interesting, and possibly faster. This weekend the moon was full, temperatures were forecast in the 80s, I had some time off, and had found someone to drive me back to my car afterward. All signs pointed to yes.
Early afternoon thunderstorms hammered the area, and I sipped coffee and delayed my start until they blew through. The luxury of not racing is not hewing to a specific start time. And the luxury of the multi-day, open-ended, play-it-by-ear trip plan is that you can start your ride at 4pm without worrying about getting back to the car by dark.
The TNGA route, concocted by David Muse, traverses the mountainous north of the state almost completely on dirt road and singletrack. Over its 330-something miles it is billed as having 56,000 feet of climbing. It plots a circuitous path through the intricate spiderweb of hunters' trails, forest service gravel, and singletrack that runs all through these forests. A trail juncture comes every mile or so, sometimes every fraction of a mile. A GPS track is a good thing to have.
My GPS track suddenly ended about 12 miles in. I had taken a look at it after I'd uploaded it, but hadn't checked to make sure the entire route was loaded in. Seemed the files were corrupted or something. But I had the cue sheets for the whole route, so I just kept riding by the cue sheets. Incessant stops to puzzle over cue sheet directions and ponder unmarked forks in the road were adding up. My average speed slowed significantly. And I was getting stressed. The second half of the route would be easier to follow, since it was mostly linked singletrack (including the Pinhoti) and I'd ridden almost all of it before. But getting to the halfway was going to take forever and drive me completely insane.
I came to the first serious error in the cue sheet well after dark. Three options, none of which matched the cue sheet description. I forced myself to sit still for ten minutes, eat, and think it over. I settled on a theory of what the cue intended to say, and jumped back on my bike to ride back uphill (of course, uphill) to get to that turnoff. About ten pedal strokes later, my foot unclipped and the pedal bashed me in the shin. I looked down to see a deflated Eggbeater: one side of the pedal spring had broken clean off. Weird timing. After some moments playing out mental scenarios in which I mashed a broken pedal all the way across Georgia, I had to face reality. I could not ride this bike on singletrack. I could barely ride it up a gravel road.
I tried rigging an Awesome Strap into a pedal strap but it wasn't going to work. I could only really pedal decently on flattish pavement where I could just balance my foot on what was left of the pedal. It wasn't that hard to see what I had to do. I turned around. Slowly I backtracked along the route to the last paved road. It was already about 1:30 AM but I decided I'd rather ride all night on empty roads than set up camp, sleep, then have to ride the roads in daytime when they were full of cars.
Along US-441 a giant convenience store shone like a beacon. Coffee, sandwich, Doritos, water. The cashier asked me where I was headed. It was a simple question and I tried to answer. Out of mutual 2am boredom, she kept asking for more details and I kept elaborating. Yeah, I'm going to the border. Yeah, I started at the border. No, I intended to go to the other border. On dirt roads only. Finally I just said, I know, nutty! Takes all kinds, huh? She was ringing up the customer who'd come in while we were chatting: built like a mountain, long hair, Slayer t-shirt, no shoes on, big rings in his septum and ears, buying 4 Zagnut bars. As she handed him his change she looked at me and said, yep, you're definitely the weirdest customer I've had in weeks.
The roads wound through farmland illuminated by the full moon. The fog draping the forested hills, which had been driving me crazy while I'd been on route, was quite beautiful when seen from the clear roads below. The only dramas on the bailout route were a couple dog sprints (nighttime dog sprints, when you can only see the dogs' reflecting eyes coming at you and can't judge the proportion of bark to bite, are way scarier than daytime dog sprints). The riding would actually have been quite lovely except for the fact that I was so disappointed. I got back to the car at 4:15am, a little over twelve hours after I'd left.
The route: it's fine, though I feel a little ambivalent about it. I think I would rather do a multi-day route on just the good singletrack of Northwest Georgia and make it a loop, rather than do the point-to-point and ride through Northeast Georgia again. The pick-up-and-drop-off at the SC border is complex to arrange and burns a lot of gasoline, and the payoff for it is just a bunch of miles of heavily-forested gravel road. I do understand the bragging-rights appeal of doing a full cross-state ride, but don't feel the need to do it myself.
A route with so little pavement is a nice statement about North Georgia's still-rustic character. Kudos to David for working out such a complex route, linking about a hundred little bits of gravel, doubletrack, and trail. I hope more people ride this route on their own, self-supported, which I think is the only way to do it right. Camping spots (official and unofficial) are easy to find. There are plenty of creeks for water as well as about six decent-size towns along the route, so its not at all difficult to resupply as needed or spend a night in a motel if you want. I would just warn that much of this is clearly heavily used for deer hunting, and should probably be avoided entirely during the season.
Gear talk: I really need to take the time to do a separate post about equipment in the near future. Maybe even with photos of gear. For now, here are a few random thoughts. My new frame bag, custom made for the SIR9 frame, is great and many thanks to Eric for making it. Between frame bag, bar bags, and seat bag (and the aforementioned Awesome Strap for good measure) I had enough capacity to carry everything without a pack. It was nice not having one on a route with this much climbing. The bike has fewer loaner parts than it did at Kanza, and is currently built up pretty much the way I want it. My new cranks from The Hive are light, pretty, and didn't fall off, which is all I ask of my cranks. The new bottom bracket (also from The Hive) did its thing without complaint. New front wheel built by George (Stan's Crest rim, I9 hub, Aerolite spokes) was great, though it's really more of a race wheel. With the extra weight on the bike a slightly burlier rim would be better, especially on singletrack. The Small Block 8s were a fine tire for gravel as always.
My new Reba XX fork really didn't get a chance to impress me on its first ride. Between the fact that there was very little in the way of technical riding on this section of the route, and the fact that the front end of the bike had some extra weight on it, the fork didn't get to do much at all. The hydraulic lockout seemed to work well, though! And with all the miles I was expecting to log on this ride, I was glad I could take it easy on my arms by not using the carbon fork. Overall the bike handled pretty nicely while loaded down, with the heaviest stuff in the frame bag. I think the extra weight made my brakes (Hope Mono Mini, pretty lightweight) a little bit overmatched on steep descents, but that's about it.
Looking forward to getting out again soon for another multi-day ride on a different route... a route that includes more singletrack.