“We ride at midnight” – TNGA and CRAAM 2020

One of my favorite songs on the Hamilton soundtrack is “Right Hand Man”, which introduces General George Washington. In that song it talks about the long odds the Americans face in revolution and how Washington needs someone to help him organize and strategize, which ends up being Hamilton. There is an off-beat line towards the middle of the song that says “We ride at midnight”. Well, that struck a chord with me because on this most recent cycling adventure, I started several rides close to midnight. And on top of that, the undertaking of riding close to 1500 miles in a week ending with a very tough unsupported race to get back home seemed like long odds indeed [it ended up being a bit less than that … but I didn’t know as I was leaving my house at midnight that there would be a few of our CRAAM rides cut short due to severe weather].

What does Hamilton have to do with anything? The soundtrack got me through several sections of the TNGA course and even that first night riding up to meet CRAAM in Hamilton, Alabama where I was unexpectedly sleepy towards sunrise having only slept an hour before leaving at midnight. It is 2 hours 23 minutes long. I started measuring parts of the course in terms of Hamiltons. The opening section is just a single Hamilton (started somewhere on the long opening Overflow Creek climb). Tray Mountain was surprisingly only one Hamilton as well. From Helen all the way over to Coopers Creek it was getting very hot so I was shade navigating and needed quiet to hear cars approaching from ahead or behind with a lot of advance notice. After Coopers Creek, the next obstacle is Stanley Gap which ended up being less than a single Hamilton. That was nuts to me given that I normally hit that section very tired, very sleepy in the middle of the night. It was still daytime approaching sunset and it was a million times faster (specifically 34 minutes faster on the climb and 22 minutes faster on the descent … plus it was actually fun instead of torture). This was a big psychological boost for me and I made it all the way to the Cohutta climb with enough light to ride without lights to the vending machine right before the gravel part of the climb. Cohutta itself was a little bit more than one Hamilton as I ended up doing a good part of the descent in silence. No more Hamilton after that until the Snake, which ended up being two complete Hamiltons (I was expecting three). And then the last Hamilton ended up being quite a bit later after sneaking by the German Shepherd on Simms Mountain Trail. Prior to that I Book of Mormon’d the Taylor’s Ridge climb accidentally blaring it riding right through somebody’s campsite where the trail dumps out onto the dirt road before the descent on top of the ridge … it was midnight.

Enough about Hamilton, how did I get there? When my good friend Stephen Peters from Tour De Bicycling told me that he and Seana Hogan were planning a Cruise Across America (CRAAM) this summer since Race Across America was canceled, I knew that I couldn’t do the whole thing with them but wanted to join for the Alabama and Georgia sections. I wasn’t sure how much I could ride with them, though, with the logistics of racing Trans North Georgia (TNGA) and a camp for my son in Colorado.

But then my son broke two of his fingers in a bike race, which meant the Colorado camp and my corresponding training on the Tour Divide trail wasn’t going to happen. I switched over to a backup plan to ride a lot of the gravel forest roads in the Southeast. This meant that I would have a little more free time since I wouldn’t have to travel out to Colorado and back. So when the time came for CRAAM to make it through Alabama, I jumped at the chance to ride up and meet and ride with them all the way to the end in Savannah. Plus, since I could do TNGA as an ITT (individual time trial) this year, I decided I could ride straight up to the start of TNGA from Savannah, and then do TNGA to make my way back home.

This meant that most of my riding in July came in two big trips as summarized below:

July 6-10 Mini-tour of the Gravel Southeast: 1058 miles
July 21-30 Joining CRAAM for Alabama and Georgia followed by TNGA+: 1309 miles

You can read all about the first trip here: Mini Tour of the Southeast. But first, since logistics were such an integral part to this adventure, I have summarized day-by-day the timing of everything as well as included maps showing this most recent trip (note that this is just the 1309 miles of this adventure and doesn’t include the 1058 mile long minitour which overlapped a lot of the same areas).

Maps

The first map below is all the routes on a regular Google Map. Here is the color coding for the routes:

CRAAM Bianchi Teal
Commute to TNGA Yellow
TNGA Red
Home from TNGA Blue

Color coded map of this 1309 mile trip. The gaps during CRAAM are not included in the mileage as that would have taken it up over 1500 miles.

The second map is the same as the first, but showing counties instead. This is my fifth try at the map as it was missing a couple counties on the first few tries.

County topo maps of all the routes. Same color scheme for the routes as previous map.

Data and Logistics

Date, Stats, Start Time Ride Sleep (after)
Tues 7/21
12am
203.3mi
11,700ft
CRAAM Day 15, Birmingham, AL to Gadsden, AL
Carried all my TNGA supplies plus a laptop on this ride. Note in the pic on the left that there is a backpack inside a smaller backpack. Cramped hard in the heat in the afternoon. Stopped just before a thunderstorm hit us hard a little ways out from Gadsden.
Tues
9:30PM-5:30AM
8 hours
Wed 7/22
730am
75.5mi
2,060ft
CRAAM Day 16, Gadsden, AL to Powder Springs, GA
Short fun ride on Chief Ladiga and Silver Comet trail. Highlight of the ride for me was Billy Ritch joining us and asking Seana and me to autograph a coffee mug with the years we finished RAAM. Seana had to write tiny and it still wrapped so far around the mug…epic!
Wed
9:30PM-5:30AM
8 hours
Thurs 7/23
730am
111.8mi
5,660ft
CRAAM Day 17, Covington, GA to Vidalia, GA
Lots of shade and hills on a very quiet (except the first few miles) beautiful route taking us through Milledgeville with its penal and mental health history. Easy to see the topography change as it went from quite hilly through Milledgeville to fairly flat towards Dublin with the Spanish Moss and swamps starting to appear.
Thurs
9:30PM-5:30AM
8 hours
Fri 7/24
8am
90.5mi
1,240ft
CRAAM Day 18, Vidalia, GA to Savannah, GA
Last day of CRAAM, we fought traffic and a couple tremendous downpours but made it into Historic Savannah early afternoon in time to give an interview with Fox News which was aired at 10pm that night. Check it out here!
Fri
10:30PM-6:30AM
8 hours
Sat 7/25
10am
1.5mi
20ft
Rest day in Savannah, CVS for supplies
While the rest of the CRAAM team explored Savannah, I rested in the hotel and went to bed early so I could ride at night to avoid the heat and adjust sleep schedule to start TNGA at midnight in a couple days. Fun watching the huge ships sail right by our hotel room!
Sat
7:30PM-10:30PM
3 hours
Sat 7/25
1130pm
216.2mi
7,208ft
Commute to TNGA Day 1, Savannah, GA to Greensboro, GA
Seana and Stephen stayed up and saw me off just before midnight, loading me up Hammer Nutrition for the journey north! The ride itself was great with lots of unexpected FAST dirt and gravel and shade. Finally got a chance for a Mexican restaurant dinner early afternoon.
Sun
6:30PM-12:30AM
6 hours
Mon 7/27
124am
115.8mi
6,995ft
Commute to TNGA Day 2, Greensboro, GA to Clayton, GA
I left super early again to avoid the heat on relatively short day. Highlight for this ride was hitting Athens, GA at 5am on a weekday and being able to ride the Athens Twilight race course (it’s against one-way traffic normally) since there was nobody out at that time. The pic to the left is taken in Turn 1. So many stories I could tell about each of the 4 turns!
2:30PM-9:30PM
7 hours
Mon 7/27
1047pm
388.5mi
44,928ft
TNGA+ 2020
What a great race! I enjoyed starting the race middle of the night to avoid the heat of the day early in the race. It also meant I got to ride some of the later trickier sections in the daytime instead of being half asleep in the middle of the night. Overall, my time was about the same, but I also had a ton of miles in my legs prior to the start. As many details as I can remember below!
Wed
4:30AM-4:35AM
5 min

The table above pretty much summarizes each of the days and gives you an idea of my sleep schedule. Let me add in some details below!

Joining CRAAM 2020 – Birmingham, AL to Savannah, GA
I had to get to TNGA before I could race it. As I mentioned earlier, my friends Stephen Peters and Seana Hogan were going to be riding through Alabama on their way to Savannah, so I decided to ride up to meet them and ride over to Savannah before riding up to the start of TNGA. I left at midnight and rolled into the hotel they were staying at in Hamilton right as they were getting ready to leave. I had a great ride with Seana as we were pushing the pace pretty hard on all the hills in Winston County (there were a bunch!). We crossed the 50 miles of Smith Lake over two counties (all of Winston and half of Cullman) pushing the pace hard and I cramped bad. At one point Stephen stopped and gave me a bottle of mustard to drink. I took three huge gulps of mustard and followed it up with a nice big pickle I drank the juice from and then carried around in my pocket to munch on.

For the rest of the ride over to Savannah I was struggling a bit every day with cramps and decided to back off the pace, which meant I got to chat with Coach Shangrila Rendon (Feisty Fox Coaching) and New Hampshire rider John Kasbohm some each day. John races as a Category 3 racer in criteriums, and it was great to relive my old road and crit racing days including some of the highlight races like Athens Twilight as we made our way across Alabama and Georgia to Savannah.

It was so awesome to make it to Savannah with them and enjoy a celebratory dinner at the Cotton Exchange Tavern and listen to Seana as she recalled stories from RAAM finishes in Savannah. We recreated one of the photos at the exact spot where the finish line was, and it was just amazing to be standing in a place with so much American history all the way back to the beginning of the country and then also so much RAAM history with a true RAAM legend!

Riding to the start of TNGA
I spent an entire day in the hotel room in Savannah resting and waiting to leave that night to head up to Clayton, GA … 330 miles split over two days. I wanted to leave at night to avoid having to ride at the heat of the day and start adjusting my sleep schedule so that I could start TNGA also at midnight to avoid riding in the heat of the day quite as much. My route took me up through a bunch of Georgia counties that I hadn’t ridden in before. I made it to a hotel in Greensboro early enough in the afternoon that I was able to get some good sleep and still leave before 1:30AM the next morning to finish the ride up to Clayton.

Making it to Clayton took a little over 8 easy hours so that I was able to make it to the Clayton Days Inn by 9:30AM. Thankfully, the hotel manager went ahead and let me check into the room so that I could get started on laundry and getting supplies for the race. There is an EXCELLENT laundromat behind the Days Inn on Warwoman Rd. They had full service laundry so that I could just drop off my clothes and they would wash and dry them. Two hours and $5 later, all my clothes were clean and dry! In the meantime, I was able to go shopping at Ingles and get food and gatorade and Smart Water (needed for filter) to take with me. I opted for 1500 calories of bagels (6 250 calorie bagels) as my primary source of calories along with a couple Snickers bars and Twix bars and all the Hammer nutrition bars and gels I still had with me.

I dropped all the stuff off back at my hotel and then rode over to the U-Joint for a big lunch. It was awesome!!! Outdoor seating and I had a big giant burger I was craving knowing that I would probably not have any meat again until the end of the race. Then it was back to the hotel to wait a bit and catch up on emails and texts before heading back over to the laundromat to pick up my clothes. By 2pm, I was ready to sleep and then get up and race!

TNGA – start to Hogpen
So that’s what I did… slept from about 2:30PM until 9:30PM, got a few things ready, ate some breakfast oatmeal (at 10pm) and then headed out the door by 10:47pm. I was averaging close to 15mph so I thought I might end up getting to the bridge too early (16 miles away), but then I hit the long climb and slowed way down wanting to take it easy and start as close to midnight as possible. I made it to the bridge, made sure to ride all the way across into South Carolina (gotta get an extra state when it’s right there!). It worked almost perfectly as I started the race at 12:01AM after taking a few pics.

Also, I should note that there was a half moon that was quite bright that allowed me to ride the entire stretch of Warwoman road without lights. This turned out to be quite important as I would end up losing a light

Unlike the traditional grand depart which purports to start out slowly, but people start riding faster and faster, I really did indeed cruise on the pavement and onto the first dirt climb. I was in no hurry at all and just tried to settle into as steady a rhythm as possible. I was a little bit worried about some of the steep opening climbs as I was running a 1x setup with a 36T front and a 46T as my largest cog in the bag … compared to my Trek Fuel which is setup with a 32T up front and a 50T large cog. No worries, though, I didn’t have to walk anything and was able to just grind a very slow cadence even on the steepest stuff early.

My next concern was how the Salsa would handle some of the descending early in race. The suspension fork I had Bike Link put on last week was super incredible awesome. I floated over all kinds of stuff and even the larger rocks the front suspension would soak it up and I could unweight the rear part of the bike so that it just kinda floated over as well. Even the Tray Mountain abandoned forest road and the one big Jeep Road on the course with tons of big rocks were fine on the Salsa. I did take those sections slower than I did on the Fuel, but more than made up for it with faster times on the climbs with a lighter more efficient bike.

The first big creek crossing (Overflow Creek) was too deep for my comfort to ride. So I took off my socks, stuffed them in my water bottle bags on the bars and waded across in my sandals and bare feet. Brrrr, cold water! But my feet dried out quickly as I rode barefoot for many, many miles and many creek crossings afterwards. I didn’t put my socks back on until popping out onto the pavement before Helen because I knew we would be on pavement for many miles. I put a ton of suntan lotion on my bright white feet which don’t normally see the sun not wanting to get sunburnt on Hogpen which doesn’t have a lot of shade. It was indeed very hot in the early part of the afternoon as I climbed Hogpen … normally it’s about 6-7 hours later with me hitting the summit usually about sunset. It was so awesome to not have to worry about getting the descent done before dark. It was so awesome not to be cramping from having gone too hard for too long early in the race.

Even though I was very hot, I just kept on climbing at a steady pace up and over Hogpen, flew down to the gravel cut-over road past Helton Falls, which was extremely busy for middle of the day middle of the week. Normally, I ride by there when it is well past sunset getting very dark and everybody has left. It took me by surprise how many cars were on that gravel road either heading to or away from the Falls … which were also spectacular. I had never seen the falls before because it was always too dark to see them by the time I made it there. In any case, I ended up having to pass a couple cars on the gravel road because they were going way too slow with one of them hesitating to even make it across the one deep creek crossing. I flew right across in barefeet knowing that my feet would dry out by the time I even hit pavement again (US-129 I think).

TNGA – Wolfpen to Mulberry naptime
I hit that pavement, turned onto Wolfpen, climbed up and over Wolfpen and enjoyed the gravel descent in the daylight which I could take much faster. After a quick stop at the Coopers Creek store (another place that is always closed), I continued on with threatening clouds peaking out every now and then around the mountains. Thankfully I missed all the storms and stayed dry all the way through the night until Mulberry Gap the next morning. But first, I got to enjoy the Aska trails and the Stanley Gap climb and descent entirely in the daylight. This was SOOOOO much easier than doing that at night sleep deprived. It was easier to see upcoming tricky sections that you could power through during the daytime that caught you by surprise at night and looked hopelessly impossible to ride (but are in fact rideable).

After Stanley Gap, you have quite a bit of pavement before hitting the Hwy 2 climb up Cohutta. I had opted to not get quite as much water as I normally do just to keep the weight down for Stanley Gap and I also opted to skip the Cherry Log hose water, but it all worked out well because the Cohutta vending machine was working and was taking dollar bills this year. So I bought 48 oz of coke and mellow yellow to take with me. I ended up only drinking 24 oz of that before making it to Dalton many, many hours later as I still had nearly a liter of water left and it got cold and rainy overnight. I barely drank anything from Mulberry to Dalton.

Before it rained, though, I got real sleepy and decided that one of the best places to sleep was that dirt road climb towards Mulberry. I hadn’t made any arrangements ahead of time to stay at Mulberry and since it was 4 in the morning, I knew that nobody would be up. I don’t think they would have minded though if I slept on the ground somewhere. But it is a LOT of steep climbing off course to get to/from Mulberry Gap. As it turns out, it might have been a much more comfortable morning for me if I had gone ahead and ridden that way as it started to pour down rain shortly after I left the spot I ended up sleeping. I could have just waited out the rain and slept for a couple hours. It’s interesting to think how that may or may not have cost me time in the race b/c the extra sleep could have meant I rode some of the later sleepy sections quite a bit faster … but probably not a couple hours faster?

Instead, though, I was riding along and saw that there was a mailbox off to the side of the road with the road quite a bit wider to reach the mailbox. So I decided to prop my bike up against the mailbox and lay down in the road right underneath thinking that nobody would run me over since that meant they would be practically running into the mailbox way off to the side of the road. But also, the odds of there being anyone on that dirt road at 4 in the morning were also abysmally small. I laid down at first using my helmet like a pillow, but it wasn’t very comfortable after more than a minute or so of laying. So I put my helmet back on and laid down with the back of my helmet on the ground and my head being propped up inside the helmet by the padding. This was perfect and I definitely fell asleep for some time as I woke up with a jolt… I’m guesstimating 5 minutes of sleep, but I was stopped for a total of 30 minutes so it may have been a bit longer than 5 minutes.

I was wide awake at this point (not sure what jolted me awake), so I got up and started to ride. I made it about halfway up the Mulberry Climb to Fort Mountain when I felt a couple drops. I thought man, the dew is heavy enough to actually form drops. But then it started to drop quite a bit more and I saw lightning and heard thunder and it started to pour. Thankfully, there is a slight delay between pouring down rain and when it hits you on the trail b/c of all the tree cover. So I had enough time to secure my electronics in ziplock bags to save all my electronics from getting wet.

This caught me by complete and utter surprise as I was anticipating afternoon thunderstorms to hit me at some point … not surprise 5AM thunderstorms!!! It rained hard enough and long enough that I was very, very cold which helped with my water situation so that I didn’t end up needing to filter any water before Dalton. In fact, I only ended up filtering one liter of water for the entire race, compared to gallons and gallons of water last year in the ridiculous heat. The other thing that happened because of the rain was a swarm of frogs. There were frogs everywhere! And since it was still pretty dark and I was moving pretty slowly on the climb, my light would shine on them and some of them would be staring at me from almost eye level up ahead on the trail. There were so many of them, I had to have run over a bunch of them, but I tried to avoid them all and I did see one big frog in fact jump out of the way right before my wheel would have hit it. So I’m going to assume and hope that all the frogs that I didn’t see were able to jump out of the way right before I would have run over them. It was so intriguing how many different size frogs there were … from fist size to pinky size. They all looked to be the exact same kind of frog.

One thing that I thought about is that with all those frogs out and it still being night time (early morning), surely there would be some snakes out trying to eat the frogs … but I never saw any until much later on Taylors Ridge … but snakes are pretty well camouflaged so who knows how many of the “sticks” I ran over where actually snakes?!?!

TNGA – Mulberry to the Snake
It had stopped raining (and based on the dryness of the dirt hadn’t even rained at all) by the time I started to drop down off the Pinhoti towards Dalton. By this point it was daylight and even a cloudy sunrise so that I could see well without lights. I flew down the descent and the back and forth green grass powerline section of the Pinhotti that I really like.

I was super happy to make it to the pavement and was greeted shortly thereafter by an interesting surprise. I saw in the distance a bunch of police car lights flashing. As I got closer it was a LOT of them … six police cars and a bunch of police. They looked at me as I rode by and I called out as soon as I saw a bike on the ground “oh no, did someone get hit?”. And one of the police shouted back, “no, someone tried to flee the police on a bike”. I didn’t see him/her anywhere so they must have already put them in the car.

I rode on in fairly quiet 9-10AM weekday roads under a lot of cloud cover. I had been looking forward to subway forever and I was going to have a bit of an extended stop to charge my devices. But subway was only open for drivethrough, so my backup plan was Starbucks, but that Starbucks was inside a Kroger right behind Jersey Mikes. I had been craving a sub and so I stopped at Jersey Mikes, but they have ZERO electrical outlets in the dining area. It’s interesting how some restaurants see that as a draw for customers and others worry about the liability of a kid electrocuting themselves. Ughh, this would bite me later as I ended up having to spend a ton of time waiting for things to charge later and had my own run-in with the police below Taylor’s Ridge because of it!

I changed into my spare bib shorts which were still dry and got cleaned up in the bathroom while they made my sandwich. I ended up spending close to an hour there eating and resting before heading on my way. I needed to stop at a gas station to get more gatorade, but the one I stopped at was quite sparse in its selection of everything (avoid the BP on the right side of the road almost across from Jersey Mikes). I made do with what they had though and continued on my way happy to be hitting the snake about 1pm instead of right before sunset.

I was so happy with how I rode the Snake. I cleared stuff on my Salsa that I never even tried to ride on my Trek Fuel Ex dual suspension bike. Part of that is just me getting better riding more challenging stuff, but part of it too was just how smooth and stable that Salsa is. There were a number of times where I would come to a complete stop on something and without even trying track stand for like a second or two before getting my weight right to proceed forward. I could never do that on the Fuel, it would just fall over. I ended up shaving only 15 minutes off my best time, but that is not a very good picture because the latter part of the snake had way more trees down and was way more overgrown than last year. So I think I rode that first rocky bit quite a bit faster because I know the latter part would have been faster last year. It’s hard to know though because I also did the latter parts in the dark previously so seeing everything in the daytime was quite a bit different. In any case, I am happy with how the Salsa handled the snake given that I had been so worried about it ahead of time.

TNGA – Post snake to Taylors Ridge
After the Snake, you gradually climb up to Taylors Ridge alongside the Narrows Picnic road. That’s a steep long climb and there were sections where the weeds were quite a bit taller than both me and the bike. But it was still daylight and I was so happy that I was going to make it to US Hwy 27 and drop down to the gas stations in the daylight. Hwy 27 is the end of the race for me. By comparison to everything else that has come before it, the 56 mile stretch from Highway 27 to the Alabama border is a cake walk. It still takes forever and there are plenty of things that can go wrong (see my hour long flat tire change in 2018). But it is orders of magnitude easier than everything that has come before it.

This year was a bit of a twist for me as I hadn’t spent the night anywhere so I hadn’t had a chance to charge up any of my devices. Both my battery packs were dead and my Garmin was down below 10% battery and my phone was at 1% battery in airplane mode. Also I knew that I had a nearly full charge on my Garmin Varia headlight, but I had lost my helmet light as it came off in a tree again this year during the day so I didn’t notice it being gone. This happened two years ago, but not last year, because last year I decided to keep my light in my backpack unless I was actually using it. Well, I had forgotten all about losing my light two years ago, and was more concerned about space so of course I kept my light on my helmet … and of course the magnetic mount and light got ripped off through all the overgrowth and trees on the latter part of the snake.

So I was down to one dead light, one fully charged light to make it the last 60 miles of the race. I figured I was OK, but I also wanted to get the dead light charged some, my phone, and Garmin, and battery packs all charged in the wall outlet at the gas station. I dropped down the mountain and stopped at my usual gas station. There was a single young worker there and she gave me a somewhat nasty look when I came in. Apparently I scared her with how I looked because she called the police while I was shopping for stuff to make it the rest of the way and to get something to eat while I charged everything. The store had an outdoor electric outlet so I had first plugged in everything there before going into the store so maybe she saw me do that and it bothered her or something. I don’t know, but the policeman was nice and told me that I couldn’t stay because the store was about to close (in 45 minutes!!!).

Since there was a Dollar General and another gas station across the street, I just unplugged everything and went across the street to the other gas station. It also had an outdoor electric outlet and was going to be open for another hour and 45 minutes until 11pm. I apologized to the policeman (although I didn’t do anything wrong!) and went across the street to the other gas station where the man behind the counter was super nice and friendly to everyone (he knew most people by name) and said it was fine if I just hung around and ate outside the store while everything was charging. Night and day difference, but to be fair it was a fairly young girl working the other gas station all by herself, and I was covered in mud and dirt and quite disheveled by this point in the race.

I got my Garmin up to nearly 40% which I thought would be plenty … but as it turns out I just barely made it to the end 8 hours later. I also got my phone charged up to 75% and I got one of the battery packs partially charged (not even one bar, though). I charged my spare light and made sure the Garmin Varia was indeed at 100%. It all worked out in the end, and for the Tour Divide race I am having Bike Link build up a dynamo hub with usb port for powering a light and an external device. I think this will mean I can get by with maybe a couple smaller external battery packs rather than one large one that might fail at some point.

Eventually, I did need to go so that I could try to finish in a reasonable time (it is a race after all!), but this basically cost me an extra hour, which explains why the overall race felt faster but I ended up with about the same time as previous years: 54 hours this year compared to 56 hours in 2018 and 53 hours in 2019. So without that extra hour, I should have been at about the same time as last year. Last year was WAY hotter, so I think last year was definitely harder. But I also was starting this race with 800+ miles in my legs from riding to the start via Savannah … from Birmingham.

TNGA – Taylors Ridge copperhead to the end
I grinded my way up the climb from the gas station back onto Taylor’s Ridge and up past the towers. I made it through the first singletrack sections, but as soon as I hit the first dirt road, there was a copperhead slithering across the dirt right in front of me. I stopped and it stopped right in front of me. I thought this is great, I’m going to get a great picture. But then it took me several seconds to get my stupid phone off the mount and another second or two to get it to register my swipe to open the camera. By this point the snake had started to move rapidly and even hopped up in the air (I didn’t know snakes could do that) and I got the back half of it as a very blurry photo. Ughh.

But the bigger picture of the snake is that now every single stick or root on the trail was for sure a snake. It gave me the heebie-geebies for quite a while, even though I do in fact like snakes quite a bit. I made it to the final long drop off Taylor’s Ridge and dropped down onto GA-100. Woohoo!

There is still an unfinished rails to trails that you have to negotiate for quite a long ways (nearly 12 miles) that is not easy to ride even though it is entirely flat. Also there are dogs on two different parts of the trail, including one nasty German Shepherd that has been reported to the police at least once (probably way more than that). The first set of dogs did in fact chase, but I had made it pretty far past them by the time they caught wind or heard me pass. So it just served to wake me up and speed me up a bit. The German Shepherd is a bigger problem and since it was late at night, I had my spare light in my hand ready to turn on its brightest setting and blind the heck out of that dog. But it must have been sound asleep as I passed by it without a sound from it.

Long stretches of road take you down to Coosa where I stopped at the gas station (still open!!) and got another coffee and red bull to keep me going until the end. Roads were deserted and I rode without lights at all wanting to make 100% sure that I had enough light to make it through the final singletrack. I came across a lot of fire engines and police cars on the other side of the road but couldn’t tell for the life of me what had happened. If it had been an accident then the car was well off the road. I didn’t see it at all.

The last main obstacles were the singletrack connecting the Old Cedartown Highway with GA-100. This is a relatively new section of the Pinhoti and it is made specifically for bikes with berms and everything. It is super fun to ride during the day, but it was a little bit trickier at night. I made it through and popped out of the last bit of singletrack onto Essom Hill Rd. I knew from having ridden it not too long ago that it has deteriorated a bit with a lot of 4wd/jeep mudding destroying sections of the road. The last time I rode through there I had to hike-a-bike off the side of the road in one section. But thankfully it had dried out a bit and I was able to ride through it all on mud that had dried just enough not to splatter everywhere and load up the tires with mud. I feel bad though if anyone hits that shortly after or in the middle of a downpour. It’s going to be a soupy mess.

By this point, nearly 8 hours after leaving the gas station, my Garmin was almost dead again so it became a race to make it to the end and get the ride saved before the Garmin died. My phone still had a lot of charge left because I had plugged it into the external battery pack which I had also partially charged at the gas station. But that battery pack was now dead again. The Garmin made it to the end, and I snapped the picture below, and hit Save Ride. The ride saved, but when I went to look at the elevation data, the process of loading that data caused it to drain what little battery was left and it cut off completely dead. This was very frustrating for me because it put me in a limbo situation of “did the ride really save?” that I wouldn’t be able to answer until I rode 106 miles back to my house.

TNGA+ – Alabama border all the way home
I was only at the border/finish of the race for a couple minutes before immediately starting up Strava on my phone and starting the ride back to my house. I was thinking I would stop in Jacksonville for breakfast, but since I needed to charge devices again, I opted for the Piedmont McDonalds. It was drive-through only, so I went to the Jack’s instead which had indoor dining and ELECTRIC OUTLETS at some of the booths. I ate and charged and while waiting to charge I was falling asleep … apparently so much so that the manager came over and woke me up and asked very loudly if I needed help. This scared me wide awake and after a few more minutes (maybe 15 more minutes) of charging, I decided my phone was probably high enough to make it home. As it turns out, it was NOT charged up enough and would have died except I bought a pre-charged battery back at the Race Track at Kelly Creek Rd outside of Leeds.

Two more downpours in Leeds as I tried to make my way home, I found myself on the Heart of the South 500 mile road race course from Elliot Ln to the end. It was interesting to end up riding the exact finish of that race because this race also ended up being almost 500 miles! 388 miles from Clayton to the start and then to the finish at the Alabama border, and then another 106 miles from the border back to the house for 494 miles total of racing on just 5 minutes + however long I was asleep at Jacks of sleep. Kristine and Josiah were outside waiting for me and got this video of me climbing up the hill and sprinting to Thomas Jefferson, which is the end of pretty much every ride for me. (Despite the thumbnail in the video looking sideways, it plays correctly once you hit play).

Lastly, check out the pics I uploaded here on these three pickuta albums:

CRAAM – https://pickuta.com/album/183
Commute to TNGA – https://pickuta.com/album/186
TNGA+ – https://pickuta.com/album/187

3 thoughts on ““We ride at midnight” – TNGA and CRAAM 2020

  1. John Kasbohm

    Brian , great article . It was a pleasure riding with you in CRAAM. Hope to ride with you in the near future !

    Reply
    1. kartoone Post author

      Thanks John. Really enjoyed our rides together, hopefully someday I will be able to make it up there to New Hampshire to ride with you. Let me know if you ever down this way in Alabama again, I always love showing people around the state, especially Birmingham.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Trans North Georgia Adventure (TNGA) Bikepacking Race | List of Blogs - thebidon

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