Saturday, September 10, 2016

TNGA 2016 (Spectating)

This also happened a while back, like 3 weeks back...

It's been 4 years since I had anything to do with the TNGA. Four years is a long time. It's funny, for all of the scouting, group rides, thru-rides, and general organization, I only coordinated the actual event for 3 years. Derek has actually been handling it for longer than I did. When I turned it over, I was worried that it didn't have a critical mass, or that no one would be up to the challenge of stepping in and picking it up. I'm glad to see that I had no reason to be worried about either. In fact, in the intervening years, everything I had trouble with seemed to have been worked out.

It was quite a thing to see.

I drove up to Mulberry Gap Friday morning. Most of the riders had reservations there. The reservation got them a ride to the start, and a pick-up from the finish, or from wherever they called it quits. They had been arriving all morning, packing up, and getting ready.

I didn't have any of that to do though. I was just wanted to meet some people and watch the spectacle.

One part of the spectacle that I never expected: merchandise!

TNGA Merch

Ha! There's a shirt, that you can buy, that says TNGA on it.

The enterprising mind might think "whoooaaah, hold on, isn't there some kind of trademark infringement opportunity here?$$$$" But if a mind can just smile, mine did. This thing is for the community. It always has been. For the riders, the clubs, the shops, the stores, the lodging, the transportation, the organizers, the forest service... For everyone that makes it happen. It's not for me, or at least no more than for anyone else playing the roles I played. I don't feel like I have any more right to it than anyone else. I may love it a bit more than some though, especially after a few days on the trail :)

Another part of the spectacle was transport.

TNGA Bike Transport More TNGA Bike Transport

Andrew pulls a huge, enclosed trailer full of bikes and there are a couple of church vans involved too. Sadly, Rick Moon and his Cadillac limo seemed to be out of the picture. I guess that's progress though.

The thing that struck me the most was how relaxed everyone was. The way we used to do it, everyone would arrive on Friday, at all hours of the day and night. They'd eat at MGap and hit the hay for a few hours. At 3am I'd wake everyone up, we'd caravan to the start and get right to it.

Then somebody at MGap coordinated with a campground in SC to provide lodging the night before and a dining hall the morning of. They'd eat at MGap, hit the road mid-afternoon, stay in the cabins overnight, have an early breakfast, and take a short trip to the start.

In the intervening years, the time-to-leave MGap got pushed forward, and there's now a stop at a restaurant in Clayton halfway through the drive to SC.

The result is everyone arriving much earlier, even the night before, and getting everything loaded up at their leisure. There's no forcing yourself awake. No rushing around. No one is tired. It's as laid back as I could ever imagine.

In fact, most people were ready before noon, and just hung around talking for hours.

Pre Ride Conversation

It was during all this that I met Derek Kozlowski for the first time, formally at least. When I handed this thing off, I basically asked Eddie O to see what he could do with it. I half-assumed he'd take it over himself, but what I didn't know it at the time was that he was getting out of the event business. He was actually planning on handing off the Fools Gold and Southern Cross that year; and those were events that people paid to ride. Koz found Eddie, or Eddie found Koz. I don't know the exact details, but it worked out really well. I talked to Derek a few times on the phone, but I hadn't actually shaken his hand until I saw him sitting on that tailgate, that morning.

We had a lot to talk about. Oh, man, so many stories. That's pretty much what everyone did, right up until it was time to go. Shake hands, hang out, and tell stories.

The pre-ride meeting was just more of that.

Pre Ride Meeting

In the early years, we'd see many of the same riders each year. Probably half of the field had done it the year before, and a quarter the year before that. These days, it's the same distribution, but a whole new group of veterans have rotated in. I don't think anyone rode this year rode 4 years ago. Maybe a few, but very few. No one was around for the formative years. People wanted to hear about it. "During the first year, how long did you think it would take people to finish the route?" We didn't know. I guessed two-weeks or less, but I wasn't really sure it could be done at all. When I announced the event, no one had actually ever finished the route. Shey, Rob, and Jimbo, some of the hardest guys alive, at the time, had tried twice. I'd failed fewer than 100 miles in. It eventually took me, Johnny, and Norma 5 days and change. That seemed like a good average. Since then, I think only 2 people have taken longer than that to finish. Dozens, maybe over 100 have finished way faster. I'm still amazed how quickly people finish.

Everyone took off a little after 1 and I headed back home. I had a ton of work to do, but I'd be back up the next morning.

I set my alarm for 3AM and woke up spontaneously at 4. The heck? My phone was sitting on the Apple-reboot screen. It was warm to the touch. I was worried it was completely dead, but it wasn't. The cable had gone bad, sometime that night. Not only had the phone not been charging, somehow it had been discharging. If I positioned the cable just right, it would charge in the car, but it couldn't be positioned right with the wall charger.

I really hoped I'd have enough time to get to the start. It looked like we'd barely make it, like make it, or miss it by 1 minute. It didn't help that I needed gas. It also didn't help that I pulled into a gas station 5 minutes after they were supposed to be open, to find the attendant driving up a minute later yelling: "Them pumps ain't on!" It surely didn't help that the next available gas station was behind me, and their pump wouldn't work with debit, and my card apparently has the wrong zip code associated with it, so I can't use it as credit. And, beyond all of that, it didn't help that Sophie told me that she had to use the bathroom two minutes after we pulled away from that gas station!

It was as if God wanted us to be late.

On the positive side, driving up 985 in the morning is consistently beautiful.

Heading East

And, as luck would have it, we managed to get there with about 10 minutes to spare.

Sophie walked across the bridge into South Carolina to take some photos and videos of the people getting ready. I never got any of those from her though. Hmm... Maybe I should. I stayed on the Georgia side, perched on the guard rail to watch the start.

I used to just start everyone from the lot on the SC side. Koz lines them up on the actual border. Ha! I love it. I love all the little refinements like that.

And they're off!

Sophie got video too.

It was noticeably better than mine.

We hung around for a few minutes after the riders left. Joe Polk was hanging around too. I hadn't seen him in a few years either, and we caught up a bit.

Next stop though, Sarah's Creek. Me and Sophie drove up there and waited for the riders to start coming through. There was another guy up there too, with a cowbell. He was planning on watching all of the riders come through, then setting up camp and kicking back for a couple of days.

At that point the riders were starting to get spread out, so you'd see little groups come through every few minutes.

Glen and Justin were giving it a go this year.


Glen and I go way back. I rode for him for years, back in the BOR days. 24 HOA 2004/2006!

Justin is more of my brother's buddy, but I rode with him at Cochran Mill earlier this summer.

One rider had to stop and tighten his spokes.

A Little Maintenance

...of all things!

I chatted up the camping guy too, told him the history of the event. He'd heard about it in Scott's book, and become enthused. He had literally hundreds of questions and seemed tickled that I had reasonably authoritative answers for them.

The gnats were merciless in the field there though, so we eventually headed out.

I don't remember if we got lunch on the road or later. I'm thinking pretty hard right now and it's not coming to me, so it must not have been that great.

What was great was relaxing on the couch back at Mulberry Gap. There was almost no one else around. I think there was one group up from Florida, and one random Georgia guy, and they were all out riding. Other than that, it was just Koz, his wife Libby, me and Sophie, the staff, and their small herd of dogs and cats. I crashed on one of the couches in the barn. Several dogs took it as permission to crash on the adjacent couches. One of the cats decided to climb all over me. At one point, it was just standing there with all four feet on my body, for like a minute. Sophie thought this was hilarious.

She and Libby ran around the property while I tried to get some rest. Sophie's been a regular up there since she was like 8 years old. She knows where everything is, and she knows what everything was, and how it's changed over the years. So, she was eager to show someone else around.

At the Koi Pond, she found a Banded Water Snake, so she came and got me so I could see it too.

Banded Water Snake at MGap

Apparently that one in particular is a regular at the pond. He's recognizable by his damaged tail.

When I got back, Ginny, Koz and Libby were all up and about. We basically did this:

Ginny, Koz and Libby

and this:

Ginny, Koz, Libby, and Sophie

For the next 3 hours or so. By that, I mean, sat on the couch, checked the trackers from time to time, and swapped. For example: Ginny's apparently going to Japan soon, and she had to change all kinds of flight details to be able to get on the same flight as her daughter. I think it's her daughter. They originally had the two of them flying out of two different airports and it was a monumental effort to fix it.

Several hours later, Sophie and I decided to head back over to Helen to see if we could get some video of riders coming off of the Hickory Nut.

There was a Rainbow in the sky over Blue Ridge.

Rainbow in Blue Ridge

And we got a decent view of Brasstown Bald from Blairsville.

Brasstown Bald

And we saw the race leader just as he pulled onto the pavement from the Hickory Nut. I managed to beat him down the road and get a video of him turning onto the highway.

We tried to find a good spot on the trail, but it's really, really overgrown to either side these days. There's a thin ribbon of singletrack through pretty dense brush. We walked a good quarter mile or more up the trail and it never got better. Several riders passed us, and we couldn't see or hear them coming long enough to set up, and they were gone in a flash. We ended up going back down to the intersection with the Smith Creek trail, and it worked out way better from there.

It started raining on us a few minutes later, and drizzled off and on for the next hour or more. It had been doing that all day, actually. It would be dry and sunny, then rain intensely for 2 minutes, stop for 5, drizzle for 2, stop for 10, drizzle again, and then completely dry up for an hour before starting the cycle over again.

It was getting dark too. Riders were starting to put their lights on. I imagine some riders had to face their worst nightmare: getting stuck on the Hickory Nut, in the dark, in the rain.

When it got sufficiently dark, we headed over to Woody's. There was a bit of a party going on when we got there.


His shop is right on the route, and a lot of riders get there late on the first day.

Riders at Woodys

Many camp overnight, but many more rest up, resupply, take care of any mechanicals, and push on.

I ran into John Hightower again. He'd been at the start, and he rode out ahead of the riders. I saw him again at Sarah's Creek about a third of the way through his ride. He has some loop he likes to do up there. At Woody's he was dressed in street clothes. He was standing on his truck, trying to get cellular data working, when Woody's wife told us there was WiFi up by the house. No kidding, there was. So, we stood there in the pitch dark looking at Trackleaders on his phone until he'd figured out where the guy he was looking for was.

"Woody's wife" told me her name, but I'm super bad with names, and dangit, I've already forgotten it. I noticed a map of the Yonah Preserve Trails posted nearby though, and I had no idea what they were, so I asked her and she was very pleased to give me all of the details.

Yonah Preserve Trails

Eventually, I realized the property was the old YMCA property off Asbestos Road. Clark and Suzy had told me all about the trails way back. It looked like they had become a reality, or were steadily becoming a reality. It's funny, Helen is a mountain biking destination, but most people go there to ride gravel roads. The only singletrack in the National Forest is the Hickory Nut, which relatively few riders brave. Unicoi Park has a 5 mile loop, but it's a really strenuous ride. YPT looks like it's going to be what's becoming standard for a bike park: a stacked loop configuration with beginner, intermediate, and advanced loops. Nice. I'm looking forward to getting out there some day.

The night was wearing on, and it didn't look like Glen or Justin would arrive any time in the next 3 hours. We needed to get some dinner, and we eventually needed to get some sleep, so we headed out around 9 or so. The Nacoochee Tavern was still open, so we availed them of their hospitality. I had a cuban sandwich. Sophie ordered some kind of panini but only ate part of one bite. Turned out she'd had some pizza at Woody's and didn't realize she wasn't still hungry until she tried to eat her sandwich. Ha! Kids.

Actually, she had it the next day for lunch, so it worked out OK.

Quite a few people pulled out in Helen. It's a good spot to pull out, and these days someone associated with MGap gets a hotel room there, collects up the fallen riders, and gives them a ride back to MGap together. Another subtle but important improvement.

We watched the trackers for the next few days. I'm always impressed how strong and fast the riders are. Even the riders that bail early on their first attempt tend to get further than I did on my first attempt.


It never fails to amaze.

1 comment:

  1. Woody's wife is Kathy Wood! Sorry we missed you, we were off doing something jelly related.