Sunday, September 5, 2010

TNGA Start and Rabun Bald

TNGA time. Yes, it's that time. After work, the girls and I rolled up to Mulberry Gap. I met Karlos and Rob Roberts on the way into the barn, and everybody else almost immediately after walking in. Diane and Ginny fed us spaghetti and I had a Dr. Pepper with an old-school logo on it, prompting "That's the wrong Dr. Pepper" from Sophie.

Sophie immediately began exploring her world, taking photos of everything.

 Sophie the Photographer

There were 4 or 5 dogs running around, Kathryn is allergic, the girls are dog-starved and they couldn't get enough dog time. While they ran around and played, I attended to some logistics, talked to the riders, talked to some folks just up there for the weekend, talked to some folks doing the Drama Queen ride the next day, talked to Rick Moon of NWGA Sorba, who was going to do most of the shuttling and generally ran around loading up bikes and talking to everybody.

The girls were getting sleepy, so we checked into our bunkhouse. Then, as soon as they got in bed, Sophie had to pee. The closest bathroom is up the hill a bit, so they had to get re-dressed and walk back up there. Mulberry Gap is IN the woods, so it's pretty dark. I needed to get back to the barn, so post-urination, I let them walk back by themselves, which included navigation down a pitch-black road and around a switchback and finding the proper cabin. I lurked in the shadows, keeping an eye on them the whole time, but as far as they knew, they were on their own. They got it though, and they were confident, even in the dark. Intro to night-nav.

Matthew Lee hit a ton of traffic and showed up around 11. He'd forgotten to bring his lefty rack adapter so we had to just take his wheels off and put his bike in the back of my truck. Around midnight we were all set and I hit the sack.

The girls were already sacked out, with the lights on. I guess it was too scary with the lights off.

 Kids Sacked Out

We slept fast. At 3:45 it was wake-up time.

The girls and I ran around, making sure everyone was up, which involved a little more pseudo-night-nav back up to the barn. Again, they were pretty confident walking through the woods in the dark. Good stuff. At breakfast, I met several of the riders that had hit the hay before I got there, including Charley Rome from my home town of Baton Rouge, woohoo! These guys and girls are all characters, I'm privileged to have them riding this thing, if only just to meet them.

 TNGAers at Breakfast

Rick was driving the riders over in his Cadillac Limo.

 Cadillac Limo with Bike Trailer

Now that's a sight. A Cadillac Limo pulling a trailer full of bikes. The girls and I ferried 3 riders over in my truck.

We left about 10 minutes late, and as awesome as it was, the limo was a little slow on the highway. Loaded down, it couldn't hold 55 along much of the route. We made a coffee and bathroom stop at McDonalds in Hiawasse, and also discovered, en route, that the rental Spots required Energizer Lithium Ultimate batteries. No other batteries would do. We didn't have enough, so we made another run through Wal Mart in Clayton, which, of course, had only one lane open, and the cashier was chatting up the customer before me " did he ever find out if the one she's carrying now is his?..."

We arrived at the start at 7:50. I'd planned to start everyone at 8, but I held the start long enough for everybody to get ready. I knew several riders were planning on riding to Helen that day and then picking up lights though, and I didn't want anyone descending the Hickory Nut in the dark, without lights, so I tried not to hold it for long.

Johnny and Norma were there to heckle everybody and it was cool to see them. We all agreed though, that while it felt odd to be at the start of a big ride like that, but not be kitted up and ride-focused, none of us felt that "darn, I wish I was riding" feeling that we usually have when we volunteer at an event.

The field...

 The Field

It was cool to see everybody's set-up. Different bikes, different gear, different strategies. One common theme - 29'ers. I think only two riders had 26 inch wheels. Only one was on a singlespeed.

At 8:15 we had a brief meeting and at 8:24 (by my watch) they rolled out.

Joe Polk of MTBCast talked to Johnny, Norma and I. "What aspects of the ride are people underestimating?" We all agreed: navigation, the amount of climbing and the Pinhoti singletrack out past Dalton, which looks easy on the elevation profile, but is probably the toughest part, being late in the ride and all. We may be eating our words though. Since then, most of the riders have exceeded my expectations, some by a lot, some by an almost absurd amount. If they can hold out, we're the ones guilty of underestimation, of them.

With everybody out riding and nothing left to do, Johnny and Norma went for a run on the Chattooga River Trail. Me and the girls headed back to Clayton for some Waffle House. The kids had slept in the car, but not me. I was nodding off at the table. My eggs were good though, and bacon... yum, bacon. Recharged, we turned around and headed up Hale Ridge Road to the Rabun Bald Trail.

I usually carry a camelback for these things, but yesterday I'd brought my REI pack and a bladder. A bladder, with a hole in it. No duct tape, no patches, but I rigged up this!

 Rigged up Camelback

It was all water-cooler, glug-glug-glug action, but it worked.

We climbed and climbed. For the most part, the trail runs directly up a bumpy ridge. We kept track of our location by counting the bumps as we climbed over them.

 Kids on Rabun Bald Trail 1

I can't get trail assessment off my mind. It looks like Turner Creek wasn't the only trail ravaged by this year's bad weather. Look at all that silt:

 Silty Rolling Dip

Fortunately that's a rolling dip. This poor water bar's had it:

 Overcome Waterbar

Everybody knows what I think about water bars, so I won't go into it.

Iz loved these mushrooms and required that I title the photo: "Iz Says That's a Lot of Mushrooms"...

 Iz Says Thats a Lot of Mushrooms

The trail had one switchback and a short sidehill, so it was easy to tell where we were when we were on those sections.

 Kids on Rabun Bald Trail 2

The last kick to the top goes directly up a steep, steep ridge, forever. You can't see anything but trees and brush, so there's no way to tell how far from the top you are, or at least I couldn't.

Iz found this cool snake skin.

 Snake Skin

The trail got pretty rough in places. More trail assessment... Basically, it's too steep. The shear strength of the soil is too low to withstand than the force applied by feet, struggling to climb or arresting themselves on the descent. Feet loosen the soil. Water washes it downhill. See, it can happen on a hiking trail.

 Gnarly Chunky Rabun Bald Trail

But I digress. The foliage began to change and we suspected we were near the top. There was a little clear spot with a fantastic view.

 View from Near the top

The kids were digging it.

 Kids Digging the View

But the trail kept going up, so we went up. Then, suddenly, we heard people, and saw this...


There's a tower up there! I'd just heard it was "cool on Rabun Bald" but I didn't know why. I guess this is why.

The views were amazing.

 North Carolina From Rabun Bald

The girls were impressed because the platform on the tower was bigger than their bedroom, but they weren't totally convinced that the climb was worth it.

We stayed there for probably an hour and talked to a bunch of folks. Amazingly, one couple lived in New Orleans, had grown up in Baton Rouge, the guy worked at Capitol Schwinn on Jones Creek Road and we knew some of the same people. It's a small, small world.

The descent was faster than the climb, but not materially less strenuous. My legs were burning. If you don't want to slip, you have to move a certain speed, which is tough to sustain. The girls impressed me with their ability to keep up. My legs are actually still a little sore right now from it.

On the way down, Johnny Garner called me. Don Meredith had dropped after climbing for 10 miles on a singlespeed and ultimately deciding that he needed to refactor his approach. Johnny'd found him at the start after his run and gave him a ride to his house in South Carolina. Just another reason that Johnny and Norma are saints. Another reason.

I also got a call from Shey Linder. He was at Moccasin Creek State Park with a torn hamstring. Kari was coming to pick him up. My heart sunk. Shey is a great guy. An inspiring guy. This was his second try. He was back, his game was down and I was really pulling for him. Did he push too hard or was it just bad luck? No way to tell with a pull, sometimes they just happen. Next year brother. Stay strong.

The girls and I ate dinner at Mama G's in Clayton. Again, I was nodding off at the table. Iz was too though, so I didn't feel so bad. A few of the TNGA riders had done some last-minute gear analysis and left some stuff in my truck prior to the start. We drove back to Mulberry Gap and dropped the gear there. The drive over was challenging to say the least.

When I was in college, during the summer, I'd work in New Orleans during the day, drive to Baton Rouge after work to practice with the band I was in, visit Kathryn for a few hours, then drive back to New Orleans, more tired than a person should be and still drive. One especially bad evening, I hallucinated multiple times, once believing that I saw a 747 landing ahead of me, perpendicular to the road. It turned out just to be an overpass, but that was the last straw. No more tired driving. Ever. Ever.

On the drive to Mulberry, I hit that "I won't drive tireder than this" point a few different times and had to stop and walk around. We got there though, ate and recharged again. The girls played with the dogs. I hung out with the remaining Drama Queen riders for a bit, then checked the tracker. Eddie and Matt were both past Helen and still moving. Brad Key was on their tail. John Hightower and Trey Woodall weren't terribly far behind. Virtually everyone was past me, Johnny and Norma's stopping point. Yes. That's what I'm talking about!

Apparently the Spot's don't work as well in the Appalachians though. Out west, there's almost always a clear view of the sky. Not here. Too many trees. The newer units were sending updates every 20 or 30 minutes. The older units were sending them every few hours. For most of the day, several folks were showing up like they were at the start. But, then, while we were watching, suddenly they all moved to the right spots. Since then, they've been sporadic too. Ruth Cunningham's unit still says she's in Ellijay, but we checked it at the start and it was set up correctly then. The units have to be cycled each day, so hopefully it'll start working soon.

We hung out and watched the Spot's move across the state for an hour or so. Ginny offered me and the girls cots. I was totally down for that, but they really wanted to see their mom. They crawled into the back of the truck, got in their sleeping bags, buckled in and sort-of camped out in the truck. An hour later we took off. When we got home, Sophie didn't realize we were home and didn't understand why I wanted her to get out of the truck.

It goes without saying that we slept in today.

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