Im a dad!!! Its been a while since I have had time to sit down and process life long enough to organize all of adventuring, training, and life-ing that have been going on for the last 4 months.
Micah John-Robert McHone
First off I'm so grateful for such an amazing wife, Shona without your support I would be a mess.
When setting big goals I always let a few close friends know what they are so that they can help hold me accountable to my goals and so that they would understand that I haven't gone mad when I take off for a training ride at 8pm and ride till the sun comes up. So far in 2018 I have spent more time than ever alone traversing mountain tops under North Carolina moonlight but I have also had more people join me in my training. To everyone that pushes me to ride hard and stay on top of my training I appreciate the energy ya'll put out to keep my stoke high. Big shout out to the Beer City CrossFit fam! and the Pisgah riding community.
My top goal for 2018 was to win TNGA. This race has been in my thoughts since my first time taking it on last year. I made several mistakes in my training, bike set up and got off route a few times that cost me energy and time. "Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity." so I stepped up my preparation . My goal this year with my training was to strengthen myself by challenging my comfort zone. Knowing that baby Micah would be arriving midway through my training meant that I would be training after long nights with very little sleep. The day Micah was born I took a 10 mile spin around town before we loaded up to head to the birthing center. Ultra racing has toughened me up in many ways over the last few year. I looked at the birthing experience like the start of a race. The anticipation leading up and then the race is on. My favorite style of races is point to point, the contractions were the starting line with the finish of this ultra being the birth of baby Micah. Ill spare ya'll the details of the rest of the birthing story but Shona is a rock star!
Back to Ultra Bikepack Racing. I had training continued to stay on course once Micah arrived including a 24 hour mountain bike race in Georgia two weeks after his birth. My week roughly broke down into:
Monday: Rest Day, Restorative Stretching
Tuesday: Run, Mountain Bike Fartleks
Wednesday: Long Sustained Climb Day
Thursday: Weight Training/Cross Training, Play Day(Full Squish Fun Ride)
Friday: Middle Distance, Casual Paced Night Ride
Saturday: Long Slow Distance or Race
Sunday: Long Slow Distance or Race
Chain Buster, Nacho Classic 6hr
Chain Buster, 24hr Summer Solstice
River West 24, Milwaukee WI
One big change I made this year leading up to the big Ultras was that I didn't have the time to take off on a 2-3 bikepacking trip to get miles in. My big mile days started before the sunrise and ended just before the sun set. I didn't train "fully loaded" because
the races that I entered this year would only take around 48 hours to complete. Full time father, dad and small business owner kept me from having 4-5 day races and adventures this season. On the long weekend rides I carried everything that I would need for the races I was training for, which consisted of just the bare essentials allowing me to go fast, be safe but not get cozy. I remember during Huracan 300 in Florida I laid my bike down in a swamp next to a tree, put on my rain jacket for warmth and not giving a damn if anyone rolled up to find me laying there for the next 30 minutes. The first gas station that I rolled up to a few hours later I pounded some fresh biscuits, chocolate milk and a banana before taking another 30 minute nap between a fence and some bushes next to the parking lot. I had saved the Redbull I had bought to chug to give me the kick I needed to get going. Races like Huracan 300 and CFITT(Cross Florida Individual Time Trial) helped me to dial in my set up and get races miles in leading up to TNGA. I also raced my first 6 hour and 24 hour mountain bike races leading up to TNGA to work on diet and speed. The mountain bike adventure races like Pisgah 36 and PMBAR(Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race) helped me harden my mind. Eric your a mad man but you have made me a mentally stronger ride through the suffer fest in Pisgah. For example the Pisgah 36 I went full zombie mode in the first 24 hours. I got back from finishing a stage and came into the bonfire circle around midnight, keep in mind Eric is a mad man so the race started at midnight the previous night when temps got at or below freezing as we got our HAB(hike a bike) on up to Farlow Gap. For those who know this trail your thinking dear God why! It was super awesome trying to work my digital camera while shivering due to being soaking with sweat and 40+ MPH freezing winds howling at the gap. Hours later I would have the most memorable of the races when I was flying down Farlow as the darkness began to fade away to an epic sunrise over Pisgah National Forest. The sun beams hit me body and I was reminded how good it was to be alive. Thanks Eric for helping me to toughen up this season. The Ultras I race don't have resupply points or aid stations. Being mentally tough to take on 300+ miles unsupported on a mountain bike will show you your weaknesses and test your grit.
Overnight winter bikepacking trip to Mt. Pisgah. Temp in the pic approximately 0ºF
Taking in Pisgah National Forest on the way up to Heart Break Ridge.
I was feeling strong coming into TNGA after placing top 5 most of the races I had entered in the last year. I had trained hard and put the miles in, now it was just finishing up with dialing the bike in. All of those miles had put a beating on El Mar so I installed a new drive train, breaks, saddle, handle bars and tires two weeks out from the race. Big thanks to Eric at Liberty Bikes AVL for helping me dial in. This was much better than my usual 2 days before a race frantically trying to dial in a beaten up bike. One time sensitive mistake I made was waiting too long before buying new shoes. I bought new shoes 10 days before the race and only road in them during my taper rides. My feet ended up being my most painful area while riding but that could have just been from the 30 water crossings.
We took a family trip down to Clayton, GA which is the closest town to the start of the race at the SC/GA line, this is where Koz would be giving us the pre race briefing. TNGA is 357 mile long route across North Georgia using roads, forest service roads, and single track trails climbing over 40,000 vertical feet. This route goes through a very remote area which has very few resupply areas and even less for those of us that rode through the night. The racers meeting at Universal Joint was nice to get to catch up with some fellow Ultra racers that I have raced along side of for a few other races. Kurt Refsnider was one of the big guns racing this year and the reason I was looking forward to the race. Kurt broke the record for the AZT750 earlier this year which is mind blowing. I wanted to see where I'm in my racing by lining up with one of the best in the sport. After the racers meeting most everyone was hanging out at the Days Inn. It helped ease my nerves to talk to some friends and laugh a little knowing that in 12 or less it was go time. Before going to bed I was a mixed bag of super stoke and nerves. This is the longest I have ever trained for one race and the last few weeks leading up to the race seemed like they were dragging by (I hate the deloading phase before a big race). I had put in thousands of training miles, thousands of feet climbing and many hours in the saddle to prepare for TNGA. The journey to doing something epic isn’t always pretty and at times it is far from comfortable.
Race day I like to stick with my traditional meal pre ultra Waffle House breakfast of champions. This meal is approximately 1300 calories that any other day would be an outrageous portion for anyone to have for breakfast but when loading myself up with the calories needed to ride a bike through the mountains of North Georgia it hits the spot. I bumped into a few other racers with the same idea for breakfast. Once back at the hotel it was time for one final gear list shake down before heading to the starting line with Shona and Micah. The feeling of stoke was now replaced with nerves as we drove through the windy back roads to the Georgia/South Carolina state line.
The starting line was a mesh of bikepackers from all walks all coming together with one intention…make it to the Alabama/Georgia line. My intention also was to make it to Alabama but to do so as fast as possible and if all went well I was hoping to be the first to make it there. After Koz gave us the safety talk it was time to head down to the starting position at the bridge. Heart beat was climbing as we pedaled towards the bridge, this was the last calm before the race kicked into full tilt. I had put the miles in and I wanted to see what the best guys had in their tank so I lined up on the front line full adrenaline and fear. The build up is what makes the training worth it. We set off and before long the lead pack of 5 had separated from the other 80 racers. Remembering the mistakes that I made early on in the race the previous year I was hyper vigilant for the first couple of tricky turn offs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Kurt was on another level as he and 2 others pulled away. It also didn’t take long for my body to let me know that the pace I was pushing was too much. I was putting down as much water and snacks as I could but around 50 miles in I started to feel my legs getting a little crampy. This is no good for a race that is 350 miles. The first place to stock up on snacks was at the Top Of Georgia Hostel and Hiking Center where I put down 2 pb&j sandwiches, a banana, 2 gatorades and a Coke. As I finished up eating Chris Joice rolled up. It was a bit of a deja vu to see Chis because this is the exact same scenario as last year when we first met. A little frustrated that I had fallen back in the pack I took off to put some distance between myself, Chris and one other rider that rolled. The next section was one of my favorite from the previous year. Lots of remote miles of single track and tech jeep roads followed by a section of trail that sees more bears than mountain bikers. Coming down the last decent into Helen was a banger and I kept hearing a strange rattle coming from somewhere in my drive train. I stopped a time or two but I couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. When I popped out at the trail head Chris(AKA Dirty), Jason, the Mulberry Gap Crew were taking pictures and helping keep the stoke up for us who just finished getting banged around. Turns out it my cassette was loose and rattling. Without having the tool needed to tighten it Chris gave me the dirty was to fix a cassette. It wasn’t a complete fix but it would keep me riding.
I rolled into Helen a few hours faster than I had the previous year. The Joice’s (Chris and Eleanor) rolled in not long after and we all sat in the parking lot of a gas station loading up on calories. My dinner included two cans of chicken noodle soup and various other snacks chosen for content and for lifting my mood. I also bought a wine bottle opener to help me tighten down my cassette. I was looking forward to the next 60 miles that would consist of mostly road and gravel forest service roads. At this point I knew I had no chance in catching the lead riders so now the ride was to push myself and ride my ride. The Joice’s got a little head start on me and I wouldn’t end up seeing either of them again for another 100 miles. The night riding is probably my favorite part of ultra distance mountain bike races. A different forest come alive in mysterious yet strangely comforting way. The new sounds leave my imagination to try solve the mysteries of what is off in darkness.
Then next 50 miles was taking more out of me that I had expected. I had climbed close to 20,000ft so far and I needed to close my eyes for a few min and take some time off of the saddle. There is a much appreciated water spigot on the side of the Iron Bridge Cafe and General Store. It is now well past midnight when I took a seat in one of the chairs outside of the closed cafe. I gave myself 15 minutes of to close my eyes before heading off for the Aska Trail section. The Aska section got a little frustrating due to rain and fog which turned the technical climbs in hike a bikes and the decents super sketch, I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me at a time. At one point I laid my bike down and got down into a squat, crossed my forearms across my knees and closed my eyes because I kept falling asleep while pushing the bike. Once I reached the tope of the Aska climb I put on my rain jacket and laid down for a few moments to recollect myself and clear out all of the negative self talk that was kicking in. I had just gotten passed by another rider and feeling frustrated by my performance. 5 min later it was time to suck it up and send it through the fog to the bottom of the mountain. The sun was starting to peak out by the time I made it back to a road on the other side of Stanley Gap. The Aska section had taken me way longer than expected so by the time I made it to Cherry Log where the previous year there was a small market now stood a closed down building. Luckily there was a soda machine that was still operational so I took a short break to air out my feet that now looked like prunes. I had brought a second pair of socks and I was in need of some comfort from the pain that had been slowly creeping in though the night.
I was now about 40 miles from Mulberry Gap and my legs felt like lead. I began cursing the long relentless climbs leading up to Bear Creek and the Pinhoti’s. Just before reaching Bear Creek Chris Reichel was hanging out taking pics and being silly to help keep the stoke going. As I rolled up I had felt defeated and had gone to the dark place of bikepacking. Chris gave me a little pep talk and reminded me that being just a few hours behind one of the best bikepacking racers in the world and that my legs should feel like shit after 200 miles cranking on the bike. Chris also let me know that Shona and Micah were waiting on me at the road where P2 let out. I was several hours ahead of my time from the previous year but I already knew that I wasn’t going to be fast enough to finish in the time I had allowed for. With a wife and new born in the mix I knew Mulberry would be where my race would end this year. Finishing would have meant rolling across the Alabama state line by the middle of the following night. I rolled into Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Retreat just after Chris Joice. After comparing our knarled feet we both flopped out on the floor of the dinning hall. Still coming to grips with making the decision to bail I looked out the door into the Georgia wilderness. Dirty offered me a pair of socks which I sat and held in my trance before walking over to him and giving them back in exchange for a beer. My race was over.
My story didn’t play out how I had hoped. Putting in all of the work and prep for a race only to stop and go home humbled by the course and the level of racers that had pushed me to new limits. To everyone who supported me, I appreciate your love and support. My race stats read DNF for TNGA 2018. Everyone who asked about the race for the next few weeks had to hear some variation of why I bailed after 210 miles. It came down to not wanting to be a shit dad and husband. The night before the race I wrote on my helmet in sharpie: Shona, Micah, McHone, 828, AVL, NC and “In Hope I Byde”. I no longer ride for me but for my family and to represent my home town. Looking forward to future adventures but for now I know where I stand and this has left me hungry to work harder and continue to grow as a father, husband, racer and continue to represent my community to the best of my ability.