TNGA 2016 notes Confessions from a Backwoods Florida Rider

I was looking for a big challenge and found it on the Trans North Georgia (TNGA) mountain bike ride.

The ride is approximately 350 miles or singletrack, dirt roads anf some asphalt connector. There is around 50,000 feet of elevation climbing.

My goal and big “WHY” reason is to raise funds to help veterans and raise awareness as many Vets die of suicide each day.

This gets me off the couch and excited to ride and help others in need.

So far this year we have raised over $10k.

You can check out my efforts to raise funds for veterans here.

My friend and Navy SEAL Troy Flowers may ride with me in August for the actual race.

To get ready for this ride I had ridden in the Tally Tango (160 miles), CFITT (290 miles) and Huracan 300.

But all of that was a warmup to get ready for this burly ride.

tnga ride with gps photoI decided first to do a shake down ride on the TNGA course in July to get ready for the race in August.

Since I was already in Alabama at Little River canyon I decided to do the route in reverse and start at the Alabama line (picture above).

I rode by myself as a test to see if I could make it day to day without quitting and taking the easy way out. It is much harder to quit when you are riding with others.

The goal is to ride in the TNGA race on August 19th, 2016. (Editor note – I finished the race).

BIKE SETUP
Carver gnarvester frame and carbon fork. I love this frame and fork set up and amazed at how well it responds. The only thing I would change would be to go for a titanium frame in the future. I rode the Carver bikes up at their shop in Maine and they really took the time to help me out.

Going full rigid means lower overall weight than a full suspension bike and less things to go wrong. Simple is good for me. A big thanks to Matt Wilson at the Great Bicycle Shop in Tallahassee for working with me to build this bike and keep it running throughout the big rides.

TIRES
I was on the fence about the larger 3 inch Maxxis Chronicle tires but have finally bought in after using them on several long rides and day to day adventures in the north Florida forest. I thought for sure I would puncture the side walls during the long ride over rocky terrain but they are good to go for the race.

RIMS
I used the Stans Hugo rims for the first TNGA shake down ride. These took a beating with no issues and had also used them on the Huracan 300. No bends or wobbles after 350 miles of hell so they are ready to go again for the race.

COMPONENTS
I used the Shimano SLX brakes and components including the 1×10 cassette for the first shake down ride. At every steep mountain I kept wanting to have an extra cog with more teeth to click into.  Since then upgraded to a 1×11 cassette with a 42 ring which works much better.

COCKPIT BAGS
revelate gas tank bagI like the Revelate bag systems and the gas tank bag has held up well.

The gas tank seems a little small and would like a little more room but it does ok. There was minor fraying of the thread on the inside but that can be solved with a little bit of glue.

I have since bought another Revelate jerry can bag to carry my spare tube for the upcoming race. I am possibly going to get Revelate or J-packs seat bags and front handle bar bags for 2017.

BACK PACK
My go to bag for day to day rides and other long rides (Huracan 300). It is a little big but I would not want to downsize on the longer rides.

The CamelBak M.U.L.E. Hydration Pack has taken a beating and not issues at all. I like the Camelbak system vs other mouthpieces. You can even put a neoprene sleeve over the hose to keep your water cooler in the summer. I like to put ice in the hydration bladder during hot summer Florida rides in the forest.

LIGHTING
Bontrager 100 light as primary. Backup was an extra light that Matt Wilson gave me (name worn off but you can see it in photo on my handlebars). I also used a Petzl tac light once in camp – which is great with the red lens. I accidentally misplaced it so it is still out on the trail. I need to get another one with red lens as that helps a ton reading maps at night and is so much easier on your eyes. Shey Linder is building a dynamo hub so I will have a charging system for the August ride. Thanks to Shey for helping sponsor our upcoming effort on this ride.

SOCKS
I have been using SockGuy socks on all of my rides. I greatly appreciate SockGuy socks for being a sponsor for our rides. Thanks to Jason Fackler for helping me out. These socks are burly and don’t fray or wear out quick. They give you just enough compression to keep the blood flow going in your legs.

CLOTHING
I lost of of my Mechanix gloves after the first day. So I purchased an Endura glove from Bear Creek bikes in Dalton. It says it is an E-touch glove which it is – but it is hard to use your cell phone map to scrunch in on maps and do detailed stuff. I promptly cut off the index finger and thumb and was good to go after that.

BATTERIES
goal zero batteryI used Goal Zero batteries for this ride and

I also use them on my day rides in the forest.

I will be taking the Goal Zero Venture 30 on the race in August.

Thanks to my friend John Dorough for hooking me up with these batteries.

I will be adding a hub charger for the next ride to supplement the battery system.

I have a dynamo hub on order built by Shey Lindner

NAVIGATION
Used the iPhone 5s with ride with GPS app. The iPhone got moisture in it and conked out at one point. I had to pry off the face and dry it out but finally got it going. I had a Garmin eTrex 20x as backup. I have used the Garmin on several other long rides and it works great. The downside to using a phone is that is sucks down a lot of battery and it ruins your night vision while riding in the dark. The Etrex using much less battery and has a pleasant glow that is not as harsh at night.

I also used Strava as a third backup but did not need it. It was nice to look at Strava at the end of the day and see how many hours, miles and how much elevation you climbed. You can follow and see my TNGA rides on Strava here:

For the race my goal is to use the Etrex as my primary and phone as a back up.

BAGS
Front bag (yellow) is a low cost Outdoor Products bag that I bought at Walmat. It worked pretty good with only two small tears. The seat bag in back (gray colored) is a small waterproof bag from Bass Pro shops. It works pretty darn good.

SHOES
giro carbide bike shoeI went with the Giro carbide shoe and Shimano cleats.

After the 350 mile ride there are chunks of the sole missing and i have lost one of the front pegs.

These shoes fit me well and I hope they will make it through another 313 miles .

I am going to order a new larger cog  to climb hills better but I will still have a fair amount of hike-a-bike.

I am looking at upgrading to the TerraDura once the carbide shoes wear out.

SLEEPING SYSTEM
eno fly hammock TNGA rideI used the Eno Hammock and tent fly and give a big thanks and shout out to RockCreek.com  for their help and ideas on this.

I can set this up in less than four minutes.

I got caught in a rain storm one night and threw out the Eno fly over my head to help from getting drenched.

I ate dinner under the fly and stayed dry till the rain passed over an hour later.

I used a thin sleeping bag liner but got chilled in the 60 degree temps at night when it rained.

I may switch out to the Marmot 45 degree bag for the next ride but not sure yet. I wish that I would have brought a thin capilene cap (I have a Hylete that I will bring next time) and a thick pair of socks.

WATER FILTRATION
I carried a small Sawyer SP103 Mini Water Filtration System and needed it on Johns mountain and Snake Creek gap.

I ran out of water four times but part of that was operator error.

I got to Swamp Creek and despite being low on water I kept riding. In retrospect I should have stopped there for 30 minutes and got fully hydrated.

I will be carrying iodine tablets on the next TNGA ride and now have an extra frame bag that can carry 100 ounces if needed. I will not carry water in that bag until I get to Dalton and then I will load up with extra water.

HYDRATION
I used a Camelbak hydration bladder and wayer bottle. Since then i added a custom frame bag by Sharif Hassan at The Spindle in Atlanta.

For liquids I used Skratch labs and Nuun Electrolyte Tablets throughout most of the ride.

I also some Clif Blocks – the margarita flavor with 3x sodium are great.

I tried to limit my carbs on this ride but did have a few Honey Stinger waffles and GU fluids.

FUEL
I ate beef jerky and mixed nuts for day to day fuel. In Dalton I ate two servings of meat and vegetables at Panda express. At Mulberry Gap we ate beef brisket and a great breakfast (i cheated by eating a pancake). I ate a big cheeseburger at the lake Burton marina. All other meals were beef jerky and nuts while camping out. I occasionally ate a honey stinger waffle but tried to keep my carbs at a low level.

HARDEST PART OF RIDE
Running out of water 4 times and hitting the section they call “The Wall” on Snake Creek Gap. This section kicked my butt and I have since gone up and ridden Taylor’s Ridge and part of Snake Creek Gap to Swamp Creek. I had a cleat screw wiggle out which messed up my pedaling but was not a show stopper. I will be adding extra cleat screws for my next ride. My goal is to go back over the coming years and try to reduce my time and suffering on the Snake Creek section.

BEST FOOD and LODGING
By far it is Mulberry Gap. Located near the P2 trail this is a mountain bike getaway. We ate home cooked beef brisket and fresh vegetables and afterwards chilled out in the barn with a cold beverage and told biking war stories. Thanks to Kenny and the crew at Mulberry for making me feel at home.

MISTAKES and LESSONS LEARNED
I learned that the weak link is my long term ability to hike a bike up steep hills. I have to get out and do long endurance trail runs to build up my feet and legs. I have ran in the past but my miles have decreased over the years. On Stanley Gap (one of the steepest sections) my IT band locked up and completely stopped me. I had to rest for a few hours and try to stretch it out before limping back to Blue Ridge for a hotel and ice to put on my leg. I finally stretched it out and got back on the road. I have to commit to getting back and working out in the hills and mountains.

TRAINING
Prior to the ride I had been training in the north Florida forest that actually do have a few rolling hills. I was only riding 50 to 80 miles a week.  In retrospect I needed more mileage and definitely more steep hills. The heat is brutal down this way in the summer which gives you some good acclimation. I was not lifting weights to train and get ready for this.

NUTRITION
athletic greensPrior to the ride I completely changed my diet plan and dropped processed carbs and extra sugar.

No more white sugar in my morning coffee. Instead I used coconut oil, Onnit MCT oil and honey.

Instead of a Subway sandwich or muffin at Starbucks I would drink 16 ounces of Athletic Greens. My wife Ashley likes to drink it also.

I used to eat pizza at least once a week and completely dropped that and any desserts.

I dropped 15 lbs of fat in 2 months using this nutrition plan. Not hauling around an extra weight vest of 15 lbs makes a big difference on a long ride.

BIG THANKS
Could not do this ride without the support of my family and awesome wife Ashley McLeod.

Mega thanks go out to:

Great Bicycle Shop for building my bike.

Matt Bull for helping keep me between the ditches.

The Naked Indian Karlos Bernart for answering all of my questions. Check out his blog at here:

RockCreek.com – Thanks to Chad Wykle, Dawson Wheeler and Woody for their tips to help keep me dry and warm. Dawson rode the Tour Divide route in 2015 and has lots of experience with bike packing.

SOCKGuy Socks for keeping my feet dry.

Petzl headlamps for my camp lighting system.

Goal Zero batteries for keeping my lights and phone running.

Questions from other athletes and riders

Question: What bike do you ride for more shorter technical stuff single track?

Answer: I ride a 29 inch Trek superfly with full suspension with flats. That is my go to quickie fun bike.

Related Articles:
CFITT 2017 race writeup

TNGA 2017 race notes
The Unfair Advantage