Sunday, September 6, 2009

TNGA Attempt

In 2007 I came up with a mountain-bike route from South Carolina to Alabama connecting as many epic or scenic forest roads and trails as possible and as little pavement as possible. 330 miles, 56000 feet of climbing. In '08 a group of us rode it east-to-west over a bunch of weekends in ~40 mile chunks. Earlier this year we tried it west-to-east, and finished one leg, but a bout with Blastocystis Hominis that I contracted over Christmas put an end to that. By the time I was healthy, the race season had started.

A few months back some friends of mine attempted the route end-to-end. They made it from South Carolina to Mulberry Gap in 3 days (!) and called it quits when they ran out of time and energy and faced serious mechanical problems.

It was an inspiring attempt. I figured if I took a week off of work, giving me 9 days, I might be able to get it done. My plan was to ride about 50 miles a day, finish in 7 days and have 2 days to deal with emergencies or rain. You never know till you try.

Skipping ahead to the end. I felt great on day one, took it easy, camped before I was tired, went to bed early and so on. Day two I woke up tired and sore and it was a deathmarch all day. If I could get to Helen I'd take an extra recovery day and press on. At 4:30 I started to climb Corbin Creek up Trey Mountain and about a half mile up I physically couldn't make the pedals turn. Walking made my heart rate spike. No way I'd make it to Helen that day. Even if I camped there, I don't think I'd make it the next day. End of the line.

But, I took pics, so here they are, and some details.

My gear:


13 pounds. Ultralight by backpacking standards, but far too heavy on the bike. I've got a lot of work to do on that.

My wife and kids dropped me off at the S.C. border just in time to throw down a tent before it was pitch black. The only place I could find was a little bend in an old forest road, FS417 I think. Closing my eyes, I realized I'd never camped alone before and it took a few hours to tune in to nature.

In the morning:


I camped just up the road from the border, but it wouldn't be right if I didn't actually start at the border:


The Chattooga.


My pack was immediately heavy. The last few times it was even heavier, but it really felt heavy. Maybe Overflow Creek Road is just steep.

On Tottery Pole it felt OK. I stopped at Sarah's Creek for breakfast. This guy hung out with me the whole time. I think it's a whip scorpion.

 Breakfast Buddy



Endless gravel roads.

 Endless Gravel roads

My pack didn't feel heavy any more. When I got near Wilson Gap the trail I took last time had been marked with a new-looking carsonite sign. The Forest Service had recently re-marked all trails in the entire national forest. In the past the trail had been completely unmarked. Now it was marked as a horse trail. The stickers said hike-yes, horse-yes, atv-no. Nothing about bikes. Ehh, it's a short trail, so I walked it, I even took off my helmet and tied it around my stem.

The trail leading to Darnell Creek Road was unmarked so I rode that. I'd been climbing all day and still felt great. Way better than last time I rode this stuff, and that was with no pack. My left knee hurt a little, but it always hurts when I ride more than about 4 hours and never gets any worse.

I bombed Darnell Creek Road to the town of Rabun Gap and headed north to Canzones Pizza, past the Nacoochee School.

 Nacoochee School

I don't think the lady at the pizza place realized I was a cyclist, I think she just thought I was dressed really weird for a reason and it made her kind of nervous. Later when I told her I couldn't take the pizza with me in a box because I was on my bike, I think that's when she figured it out, and from then on she was relaxed. I ate till I was full, uploaded some photos, charged up my phone and rode back to the bottom of Darnell Creek Road. No short-cutting the route.

Patterson Gap was easy. Last year I bonked out hardcore. No problem this year.

FS36C had apparently gotten some attention from the bulldozer. It was still pretty gnarly, but I bet I could drive it now. I bombed down Coleman River Road, but stopped briefly to tank up at this settling tank.

 Water supply

The climb up along the Tallulah River was scenic. There are so many awesome shoals, pools and rock formations, it's hard to decide what to take a picture of.

 Tallulah River

At this point I was just starting to feel the ride. I'd been taking it easy all day, but I was finally starting to slow down. Time to call it a day. I'd probably ridden around 60 miles, which was just about right.

I forded the river, which completely amazed some kids who were playing in it, took Charlies Creek Road and camped about a quarter mile down on the left.

My campsite was luxurious, complete with it's own bathtub.


I set up camp, bathed, washed my clothes, built a fire, dried my clothes, ate and crashed out early. Ahhhh.


I slept for most of the night, but the next morning I felt like I'd been riding all night. My legs were more dead than the day before, my knee still hurt, my head hurt, my sit-bones hurt. Basically I'd gotten no recovery. Maybe even anti-recovery. Maybe I just wasn't warmed up.

Charlie's Creek Road.

 Charlies Creek Road

I saw a bunch of waterfalls along Charlie's Creek. I'll have to go back up and check them out someday.

The community of Titus.


I skipped Mr. Burt road, and am planning on removing it from the route. Apparently a few hundred yards of it cross private property. It's a cool trail, but I'd rather stay on public land. Climbing on Hwy 76 was still tough and I still felt terrible. I ate breakfast at a little picnic area at the AT crossing. Maybe that would help.

I got some good rest bombing down Kennesaw Lane. By a miracle I made this creek crossing without slipping or getting my feet wet.

 Kennesaw lane

Lake Burton.


The climb along Wildcat Creek was agonizing. I passed ten thousand folks fishing and was jealous of how relaxed they were. Wildcat Creek has some nice waterfalls too.

I walked some hills. Too many. It wasn't going well. The night before I was thinking maybe I'd try to tackle Hogpen if I got to Helen soon enough. Now I was thinking I'd get a hotel room in Helen tonight and stay a full day tomorrow, recovering.

Addis Gap. At length.

 Addis Gap

I got zero rest Bombing down Mill Creek Road. Too steep. There's a nice view of Brasstown Bald at the end though. Tallest point in Georgia.

 Brasstown Bald

At this point, the insanity had set in. I was tired and hungry, but too tired and hungry to realize how tired and hungry I was. I'd planned on stopping at a country store between Mill Creek and Corbin Creek Roads and eating some real food. I took a left, but before I knew it I was at Corbin Creek. Maybe the store was the other way. I rode back, but it wasn't that way either. Maybe it was past Corbin Creek toward Helen. I turned around again, passed up Corbin, but it wasn't there either. I needed rest and I needed food, but my brain was focusing on the store. Extreme fatigue causes this. It's a strange phenomenon, but I've seen it in everyone I've ever done long rides with. "If I can just get to such-and-such, then I can eat" but you need to eat NOW, getting to such-and-such does nothing. When that happens, it will never occur to you to eat unless someone tells you to, or unless it's been drilled into you by having happened so many times before. I am fortunate to have had it drilled into me. In the back of my mind, the voice of Johnny Garner told me to eat. No lie.

I actually winced when I realized what I needed to do. I had a ton of food in my pack, and a nice shady spot to sit. Time to eat. I sat, ate and the insanity slipped away. Still, I could use some real food. It might just save me. I called Kathryn, who found the store on Google Maps. It was the other way, I just hadn't gone far enough.

Standing up, I'd hoped for some revitalization, but had received none. It was probably less than a mile to the store, but it felt like five, and their kitchen was closed. I pounded Gatorade, candy and chips. Maybe I needed electrolytes, maybe I just needed salt. No harm in trying. I filled my bottles with Gatorade, rested until about 4:15 then pushed off for Corbin Creek Road.

I climbed about half a mile up and reached the point where I couldn't produce enough force to make the pedals turn. It was steep, but not that steep. I just didn't have it. I tried to walk, but that just spiked my heart rate. Heat exhaustion? Maybe. If so, it was just one more thing to add to the list of trouble I was in. I had about 3 and a half hours to get to Helen. No possible way. Of that I was confident.

Ok, maybe I can camp here, make the push early and rest all day. This I mulled for a while. But I'd been in this particular hurt locker before, and even a good night's rest hadn't gotten me out. I was fairly certain it would take most of the day to get to Tray Gap. Or at least so much effort that I'd need even another day of rest. And the rest of the route isn't any easier.

That was it. The end.


I called Kathryn, she picked me up.

At my current level of fitness, I cannot cover enough miles per day and then recover enough that night to do it again the next day.

I also need a lighter pack. Thirteen pounds is light by backpacking standards, but heavy on the bike. After a while I don't notice it, but it's still there, just burning up my legs.

I really need to cover way more ground per day too. Heck, if I could get to Helen on day 1, Blue Ridge on day 2, Dalton on day 3 and be done on day 4, I wouldn't even need a pack. Those are 90 mile days though, off-road.

I've got a lot to think about and a lot of work to do. I'll try again, but I don't think any time soon.


  1. That's some epic suffering! Knowing your fitness, this really puts the route in persepctive.

  2. Great read Dave. Rode P3-Pinhoti parking lot near AL border on Sunday 9-6 (96 miles). The route did not get any easier but its really beautiful. See you on the trails soon.


  3. Dave,

    I am impressed. What a great effort and thanks for the article.


  4. Hey Dave,

    I read the story. GOOD JOB... I could almost feel like I was along the journey with you. You should write a book about your cycling journey. Love the animation and pictures. Way to go... It really sound intense and fun; a little scary on the camping part - don't think I could have done that..but who knows.

    This is very good. Next time you will get it accomplished.

    Clif M