Taking On The TNGA Bikepacking Race

Plan. Pack. Rethink. Update gear list. Rethink. Pack. Look at map. Solder something. Plan. Update gear list. Pull it all out of my bags. Rethink. Plan. I feel like this has been the process I’ve gone through in my basement and in my head for the last two weeks as I prepare for the TNGA (Trans North Georgia). The TNGA is a 359 mile off-road route pushing you up and down the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia as you make your way from South Carolina to Alabama. It’s a mix of forest service road, jeep trail, a little pavement, and some rocky singletrack that’ll have you climb 38,000 feet by the time you reach the finish on the Silver Comet Trail. Logan Watts has great write-up with photos over at Bikepacking.com that sums it up well (http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/trans-north-georgia-tnga/). I’ll be taking on the course with about 70 others this Saturday (NOTE: This past Saturday. -ed) for the yearly “race” that Derek Kozlowski and Mike Honcho put together.

It’s an event I’ve wanted to do for a while now, especially since it’s a bikepacking race so close to where I grew up. Originally, I thought I would use the TNGA then Colorado Trail to build up to do the Tour Divide. Instead, I ended up doing that order in reverse but it doesn’t mean the TNGA is any less formidable, just that I bring in more experience to this. The climbing alone makes the TNGA a challenge, but then throw in a hot blanket of southern humidity in August, and some rocky singletrack 260+ miles in and it becomes throat gulping task.

Part of the fun for me with the TNGA is the packing and prepping. I’ve found each bikepacking race/event I’ve done to bring its own set of challenges for packing. I usually make a rough plan for how I want to race the event then hope for the best and plan for almost the worst. For this event I started with my Colorado Trail gear list and then pared down. I also added a K-lite light and dyno hub. Since the TNGA is relatively shorter than other bikepacking races a lot of guys opt to ride through a bulk of the night and get minimal sleep, hoping to finish around 48 hours. I’ve used a combo of headlamp and Fenix flashlight before for Trans-Iowa and the CT but for this I want more light and the ability to charge electronics – thus the K-lite gear. My hope is that it’ll be nice to have more light than just a flashlight provides when I hit a lot of singletrack around Mulberry Gap in the middle of the night.

For sleep I’m going to use a hammock. I’ve always wanted to do a hammock when bikepacking but I’ve usually run into issues of not having trees available during some part of the race so instead went to a tarp or bivy setup; which then means sleeping bag, pad, etc. Hammocks are simple and I’ll have plenty of trees available to me along the course. When we arrived yesterday the hot blanket of humidity hit me as we got off the plane in Chattanooga, hopefully a hammock can help me stay a bit cooler than being on the ground.

The bike choice becomes the most interesting or fun depending on how you look at it for the TNGA. With the course conditions, length, climbing, and amount of singletrack it really produces quite a variety of setups. I’m opting for a Cutthroat with a sus. Fork. I want the large frame bag volume and drop bar that a Cutthroat provides. The drop bar will provide me with a lot of different hand positions that can be so nice after 20+ hours of riding. The sus fork I hope will help me make up for mistakes on the trail when I’m just goofy tired. I may pay for this setup on the singletrack but with more than 70% being on forest roads I’m willing to gamble.

Overall, this setup may have more in common with my previous Trans-Iowa setup than my Colorado Trail kit. I could get everything in my ginormous XL frame bag but I’ve found its just quicker to use a frame and seat bag together and not have to worry about packing everything perfectly when you use them.

I’m looking forward to the event and can’t believe it’s finally here. It’s entertaining being a part of the Facebook TNGA group seeing other’s setups and feeling the nervous anticipation. There will be highs and lows but I’m hoping for a fast run. Looking forward to hitting the trail with 70+ others and exploring the Southern Appalachians that I still like to call home.

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This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Cutthroat Sean Mailen Ultra Racing

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Sean 'Mailman' Mailen

Sean 'Mailman' Mailen

I was born and raised in the hills of Tennessee. I decided in high school I wanted to design the best bikes and parts possible; I’ve been following my dream ever since. I love about every possible mode of cycling, mountain biking is the most fun, but if I’m on two wheels I’m happy.


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