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Chris Reichel roamed the woods of northern Georgia during this year’s TNGA to photograph and heckle the riders who took part in this tough bikepacking race. Find his thoughts on the race and a full set of photos with captions here…
Words and Photos by Chris Reichel
Since moving to the Southeast three years ago, I have spent a lot of time at a little piece of paradise in the north Georgia woods called Mulberry Gap. If you chat with the locals long enough, you inevitably hear about this bikepacking route called the Trans North Georgia. This relatively young route spanning from the South Carolina border to the Alabama state line is already draped in myth and legend of its difficulty. Having been shamed by the Arizona and Colorado trails more times than I’d like to admit, I immediately scoffed that such a difficult route could be east of the Mississippi. Then I went for a few big rides and started to grasp the scale of these steep old mountains. The bikepacker in me instinctively started looking at maps and .gpx tracks of the route and as I dug deeper, this route started to look more legit. Being a fan of everything cycling, I thought back to the Tour of Georgia and a mountain top finish that had even the worlds best dopers wincing a little. That hill is pretty darn close to the route. Oh yeah, and the Appalachian Trail starts in this neighborhood too.
Looking for any excuse to spend time at Mulberry Gap, I decided to head down there and help out with the race, and maybe get a few photos in the process. I’m not a photographer, but I do like to make pictures. So I attempted to tap into the spirit of great photographers such as Eddie Clark and Devon Balet who have documented bikepacking ultras in the past. I drove a van full of riders to the start where there were more high 5’s and laughs than nerves. I lurked in the woods waiting for hours in the rain. I heard my friend from the desert curse the spider webs across the trail. I saw people fully give up and say they quit then rally and eventually finish. I witnessed enormous amounts of gas station food consumed. I met so many amazing folks from all over the southeast who were always stoked to see me on trail, even when suffering. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself standing on the bridge over the Chattooga River starting this ride next August.
Here are several groupings of photos from the race. Each has a set of captions ordered from top to bottom and left to right:
All captions from top to bottom (left to right): Mulberry Gap was the pre-race meeting point for about half of the field; riders could take advantage of the home cooking, hospitality and a ride to the start line courtesy of the fine folks at Mulberry. A shuttle driver’s view as we pulled into the closest town to the start, Clayton, Ga. The pre-race riders meeting led by Derek “Koz” Kozlowski sent the riders off with some great advice and positive vibes were abundant. Riders Dave Chen, Kurt Refsnider, and Steven Mchone were the quickest out of the gate. The TNGA starts on a bridge over the Chattooga River at the South Carolina state line. A few more faces at the start. The front row was stacked with experience and stoke (cover shot).
Heckling Kurt Refsnider as he was the first rider to the Taullah river crossing somewhere around mile 40. Steven Mchone decided to keep riding a the river crossing. Sam Scipio was one of the few powering through the water with one gear. Rhonda stumbled upon the TNGA four years ago by accident while having a picnic at this spot. She has been back every year since to cheer on the riders.
Dave Chen all smiles on Hickory Nut trail. Bailey Newbrey feeling good on the singlespeed cruising down into Helen. Hickory Nut trail around mile 95 was a love or hate affair for the riders. But it sure was pretty up on that mountain.
This little gas station on the outskirts of Helen, GA is the first on-course resupply point for the racers at mile 100. Eventual Women’s winner and 3rd overall, Elenor Joice mid gas station feed. Cold cans of Campbell soup were popular among the front runners. She waits. Chris Joice leaving the gas station feed behind him and heading off into the setting sun for a long night. Some much deserved chips for Audrey Tangye. That look you have when you just tell everyone that you had to climb the last mountain twice because of a wrong turn.
Don’t let the sun fool you. It rained most of day 2 and the trails were slick and rowdy around mile 195. Kurt Refsnider with a hefty lead at 9am of day 2. somewhere around mile 200. Kurt riding off on the Pinhoti section of singletrack. With thoughts of warm food at Mulberry Gap in their heads, riders navigate sections of primo singletrack interspersed with some high quality gravel roads. Road closed to benefit wildlife and bikepackers.
Bike parking. Every rider has their own method, this person appeared pretty dialed. Gear was spread everywhere as riders tried to dry out and rest up. This was a common position on the floors of the Mulberry Gap as most riders ventured a mile off course to take some time to refuel, catch a nap and dry gear. Another day, another misty trail. Jeph Burgoon with a dawn start of day 3.
Taking a breather in between sections of perfect Pinhoti singletrack.
This was the last photo in my camera. I shouted good luck to the riders as they climbed into the clouds and I pointed my car home. This was one impressive event that I won’t soon forget.
About Chris Reichel
Chris Reichel is a freelance writer, good times instigator, and teller of campfire stories that get people motivated to go out and explore the world around them. You can follow Chris’ adventures at his blog or on Instagram @dirty_biker.