This write up is on our blog with pictures if you want to see them at: Beyond the Treelines
We were told by several people who know a lot more than we do, "Don't try the TNGA in February." Looking back now I definitely know why they gave us the warnings. The route is hard and there's no friendly welcome to work your way into it. It starts off climbing and I'm not sure if it every really stops.
We got started a little before 10am on Sunday when the very helpful folks from Mulberry Gap met us at the start point to pick up our truck, which we thought we wouldn't be seeing it again for 3-4 days. The route opens with a few miles up a paved road before throwing you into the first of many dirt roads, some more maintained than others. The first few hours of the ride had us spending as much time walking, pushing our bikes up the mountains, as it did riding the parts we could actually ride. One road in particular, FS155, continued to climb, climb, and climb some more and was really taking a toll on the Mrs.
By the time we made out way into Dillard, GA around 28 miles or so into the trip, the Wife was finished. The route was wearing her down physically from all the climbing and mentally she felt like she wasn't prepared enough for how hard the route really was. We hung out in the beautiful little town of Dillard for awhile deciding what to do next. There was no convincing her to head back into the mountains but she wanted me to continue alone. The weather was starting to drizzle but wasn't really coming down too bad yet, so we decided she would get a room in Dillard for the night and I would continue the route on my own. She planned to have Diane from Mulberry Gap pick her up and take here back there and then I'd see her a few days later once I made it that far.
I started off back on the route and before I had made it 3 miles outside Dillard, the rain had really started to come down. The route was more slow climbing, followed by some truly amazing downhills. One great memory I'll have was the jeep I ran into at the top of a really good climb, one of the few vehicles we saw anywhere along the way actually. The jeep started off down the mountain and I followed behind him as the sun was setting. He kept a pretty good pace and it was a riot chasing him down.... until my front harness detached and my tent bag got caught on the side of my front fork, rubbing against the tire. I stopped to fix that and realized the strap had broken. I used an elastic strap to fix it and worked my way back down the mountain.
By now the sun was gone, it was dark, and the rain had turned all the climbs into muddy slime and the downhills into dangerously slick roller coasters. To make it worse, my main light continued to flicker on and off on the downhills and the rain was getting worse. I pushed on for a few more hours into the darkness and came to what I assume is usually a small creek but it was now a waist deep 12 foot wide stream that I had to cross. My worthless rain gear didn't help in waist deep water, but by then I was already completely soaked anyway. What the stream did though, was make sure most of the dry clothing I had in my bags was now wet as well. I wasn't thinking at that time, but next time I think I'll carry my bike above of the water...
Another climb warmed me up but the next decent had me shivering pretty bad as the temperature dropped into the 30s. The route took me down to a paved road that passed a sign for a campground so I decided to set up the tent for the night and try and warm up. I was shivering worse as I tried to set up the tent but I managed to get it up and throw a tarp over the bike without too much trouble. Unfortunately, a good amount of water had made it's way into the tent while I was setting it up. First thing I had to do was warm myself up so I took out the emergency blanket I had in my camelback and wrapped it around my feet. Once I could feel my toes again, I set up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag and checked my bag to see if anything was still dry I could put on. My jacket was only a little damp so I put it on and crawled into my sleeping bag, which was soaked from the waist down as well.
I was actually pretty warm in the sleeping bag with the e-blanket around my lower half and the jacket up top. I ate a bunch of almonds and drank a good amount of water and tried to get some sleep. I woke up a few times to find the tent leaking slowly and it still pouring outside. I hoped that the morning would bring better weather.
When I woke up my body felt pretty good but all of my gear was still soaking wet. I looked outside I realized I had set up my tent right next to a river and didn't even know it. It was actually a beautiful spot to camp. I got in touch with my wife who was still in Dillard and let her know that I was going to take the main roads and ride back there and meet up with her. A part of me really wanted to continue to follow the route but at the pace I was making, there was no way I'd finish the entire thing by our deadline to pick up our son on Friday. I had spent over 10 hours of actual riding on the route, and had only covered 50 miles.
It was only raining lightly as I rode back to Dillard. The ride back took me along a beautiful river and down some of the most beautiful roads I'd ever ridden. I was happy to be heading back to my wife but couldn't help feeling like the trip was a failure. I had planned and thought about completing the TNGA for a long time and it didn't happen. Once back in Dillard, we got the truck and hung out in the area for a day. Northern GA has some breathtaking scenery and the people are wonderful.
So..... we learned a lot on this trip and definitely enjoyed ourselves. My wife had what she said was a reality check and wants to train hard and come back and try the route again. Myself, I definitely learned about what to expect and would love to come back and try to ride the complete route. Hopefully next time we try, it won't rain so much and it will be a little bit warmer.
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