3 days, 2 nights......final TNGA test run

Fully loaded with 3L of water
and all food
If you read my previous write-up you'll know that this past weekend I went out on my first solo bikepacking trip.  First and foremost I am thrilled to report that I had ZERO mechanical or major physical problems.  So stoked about this.  I am going to break this down chronologically the best I can.  I did a pretty good job of taking pictures but not such a good job of taking notes through the weekend.

Thursday I spent a good amount of time finishing getting my bike packed up as well as getting bags packed for a quick trip to San Francisco on Sunday afternoon.  Just in case I ran into any problems on the ride home the last day I needed to make sure I was ready to hop on a plane.  On Friday morning I focused on closing out meetings and wrapping up work so I could hit the road for the long ride north.

Little caps on the Rez
I hit the road around 11am for what was bound to be a long relatively boring journey into a northern headwind.  Remember that the goal of this trip was to get some long days in the saddle and test everything in the kit.  The terrain was not paramount.  The entire ride was essentially on two different two lane highways.  The first was the Natchez Trace Parkway which is a historical roadway.  Pretty decent road surfaces, fairly low traffic and a strictly enforced speed limit.  There were a couple of perfectly placed rest areas which had water fountains I refilled at.  Most of the ride up the Trace is pretty exposed which meant the sun was beating down pretty hard and there was no protection from the constant 10-15 mph headwind.  The entire day I pretty much felt like my legs were empty and this was validated by my power output.  Normally on a steady state ride like this I have no problem maintaining 210-230 watts but today I had a really tough time staying about 160 watts.  If I am not doing something very structured like intervals I rarely look at power output but today proved it as a useful tool to confirm what I was feeling against objective numbers.

The second leg of the ride was on MS-12 which is another small state highway.  The nice thing about this road is that it offered a little more feature in the way of neverending rollers whereas the Trace was more or less pancake flat.  A few miles in I stopped in a small town named Ethel where I found a dirty little general store that had cold drinks and ice cream sandwiches.  Like a lot of other cyclists I really do not drink sodas on a regular basis but I was having the coca cola cravings.....and ice cream, I had an ice cream sandwich too.  Back on the road.  Miles started ticking by a little quicker with the rolling terrain but the headwind was still there.  Power output was still stuck and I was very happy to see the "Ackerman Corp Limits" sign.  Job one was to find something to eat.  I wasn't terribly hungry but I knew I needed to replace some calories before I got to camp.  I was really craving a chocolate malt from Sonic but it turned out this little town did not have one.  They did, however, have a similar chain called "Bumpers".  I had never heard of it but it looked like a complete rip-off all the way to the menu design.  The only thing missing was a chocolate malt.  I ordered a two hamburger, two tater tots and two drink combo and found a little shaded spot to sit on the side of the building.  Order came out quickly and I scarfed one of the burgers and tots.  Before the carhop swiped my card I asked her to put a vanilla cone on my tab.  Once I was settled up I refilled bladders and bottles and stashed the second burger and tots under the pouch on my seat bag.

Great view at sunset
It was a pretty quick and familiar ride from Ackerman to the campground at Choctaw Lake.  I had raced the trails there the past two years for the Skool of Hard Nox 50 miler.  I think these trails are probably some of the most technical and well maintained in our state and I always look forward to riding them.  Once in the campground I cruised around for a while trying to decide where I was going to setup and if I was going to pay or stealth camp somewhere on the trail.  After thinking about it for a while I decided to grab a campsite near a bath house so I could take a quick shower and get down for bed.  After getting cleaned up I hung all of my rinsed clothes over my bike to dry and setup my sleep kit.

More comfortable than it looks
For my first bivy I had decided on the Mountain Laurel Ultralight.  It seemed to get pretty good reviews for breathability and minimal weight.  The first time I used it was a quick overnight in the backyard a few months ago and found that down to 65F I didn't need a bag to stay warm.  The first sleeping mat I tried was a Thermarest NeoAir and I found that is was just too big, too hot and too way too much effort to inflate.  I imagined trying to blow the thing up after a long day in the saddle and decided to return it.  The next mat I grabbed was the Klymit Intertia X-Lite.  After trying the Thermarest I found that I really didn't need support below the hips so I figured I would give a half mat a shot.  The Klymit looks pretty extreme and was very happy that it was a third of the price and almost half the weight of the Thermarest as well as packing up very small.  I also picked up their little inflatable pillow which I still am not sure I'm in love with but it was only $20 and packs to the size of a lighter.

After the above all setup I put devices on charge for the night, choked down my second (now smooshed) hamburger & tots and slammed a serving of a powdered recovery drink.  Crawled into the bivy and tried to get some shuteye.  I tossed and turned and just couldn't get to sleep.  It wasn't really due to comfort but more because I was amped up a bit.  After really hard efforts or long days in the saddle I have found that it sometimes takes me hours to fall asleep.  I am also starting to think this may be due in part to the massive amounts of caffeinated Tailwind I drink on a day like this so I think I may tried the uncaffeinated version for TNGA and supplement my addition with cokes, coffee and 5 hour energy as needed.  Around midnight I finally fell asleep and was out until woken by chirping birds and sunshine leaking through my bivy.  I absolutely love waking up outside.

Breakfast (minus sardines)
Tearing down my sleep kit was just as quick and simple as it was putting it up.  Less than 5 minutes and everything was deflated, back in a single stuff sack and jammed back into my seat bag.  Next order of business was getting some coffee and food in my belly.  Being someone who really enjoys coffee this was one of the most difficult items to reconcile for the idea of bikepacking races.  In research I started down the path of a jetboil system with a french press plunger, then to a small alcohol stove and Ti mug to heat some water for instant Starbucks Via and finally accepted the reality that these options were just too bulky and heavy for a 3 day race.  Two Via packets in a bottle with cold water ended up working just fine.  It didn't really satisfy the enjoyment factor I like about the coffee ritual but it did deliver a good dose of caffeine.  This also paired nicely with a can of sardines in olive oil and a belgian waffle.  I really doesn't sound like much but the richness of the canned fish and oils satisfied my stomach while the waffle gave me a little instant fuel to kickstart the day.  Talking to my friend Jas a couple of days after this I realized that there are two kinds of canned meat people......sardines and SPAM.  You are most likely one or the other.

The Nox!
After eating I threw on my kit which was about 90% dry just as Wendi was pulling into the park.  She was really excited to ride the trails here at Noxubee.  She has been here many time to support me for races but had never put tires on the dirt.  As soon I finished packing up our friends Louis and Alison Harkey pulled into the lot.  We chatted for a bit, everyone got geared up and we headed over to the trailhead to take a look at the map.  I went over the loop with everyone and showed them what the different blazes meant and we were on our way.  The trails were in really great shape and my legs were feeling much stronger today compared to the headwind effort the day before on the ride up.  The Noxubee trail system is a really well built and well maintained network that has equal parts fast downhill, technical twists and challenging climbs.  All in all we rode about 25 miles on singletrack in about 4 hours or so.

Once we got back to the trailhead parking lot we said our goodbyes to the Harkey's as they were making their way up to Memphis for a wedding.  Wendi and I decided to grab a bite to eat in Ackerman before I started my 100 mile journey down to Roosevelt State Park.  I didn't really process this until well after the fact but she immediately offered for me to ride there while she drove.  My wife is so supportive of what I do to the point of knowing that I would much rather ride that drive.  Not knowing what was available in the booming metropolis of Ackerman I suggested we just go to the same drive-in I went to the previous day.  I placed my order with Wendi and we both hit the road.  It was a pretty quick spin north to the city and by the time I arrived my food was already there.  Same routine as yesterday.....eat a burger and tots and pack the second pair for the road.  We had a really good conversation over lunch talking about the day of riding, how I was feeling and how well I thought she did on the new trails today.  I topped off water and hit the road.

Lotsa ice for a hot day
The wind from the day before was still out there but today it was at my back.  Overall today my legs felt like they had much more depth that the day before.  I had no problem maintaining 200-240 watts on road sections which was fairly typical for me.  Ackerman to Louisville on MS15 ticked by pretty quick and I stopped at a gas station to grab some water and a big cup of ice.  When doing really big rides on hot days it is always fun to talk to random people in gas stations.  While I was checking out and talking to the cashiers about the ride I was doing from Choctaw to Roosevelt they genuinely seemed amazed.  I didn't realize there were another 3 or 4 people behind me listening to my story.  They all chimed in with either words of amazement or stories remembering one of the parks or how they used to ride bikes.  It's little times like this where I realized that people are generally good.  I put most of the ice in my bladder to cool it down and ate the rest of it.  I was starting to realize how hot it really was out there.  95 fahrenheit and about 95 percent humidity.  Neither of which really bother me much unless I stop for an extended period of time.

Smokes and Cokes
Back on the road I stopped in Noxapater and Philadelphia for water.  By that last stop the sun was making its way behind the trees and the temps were finally starting to drop a bit.  I knew that after getting off of MS15 and onto MS485 south of Philadelphia there weren't any more big towns for about 50 miles until I made it into Morton.  Little town after little town rolled by.  Legs were feeling great taking in the never ending easy rollers down ribbons of asphalt.  A little town called Sebastopol came along around mile 92 where it looks like everything had shut down for the night with the exception of what you'd think of as typical discount tobacco shop.  I popped my head in and asked the girl working if they had anything cold to drink and she welcomed me right in.  Couple of waters, a coke and a snickers bar.  I sat down outside and shoved this down, packed up the water and got back on the road.

Gravel Sunset
Shadows were starting to get longer as my route took me off of state highways and onto some really nice old country roads and even onto some nice stretches of gravel.  It was definitely a change of pace from the monotony of the asphalt.  Somewhere along the way I took a pitstop to swap clear lenses into my glasses and pop my helmet light on before I lost sunlight.  Gravel roads fed into Harperville and then into Hillsboro as the sun disappeared from the sky.  After Hillsboro I knew that I would be getting into the Bienville National Forest for the rest of the ride to Roosevelt State Park where there are no services and more or less only wilderness and low maintenance country roads.

Flying down dark gravel roads
Cooking down Hodges Lane lit only by the torch on my head and dynamo powered light on my bars a sinking feeling came over me when the asphalt abruptly turned to grass.  I came to a stop and took a look around.  It appeared as though the road at one time passed through here but had either become abandoned and was now flanked by two long commercial chicken houses.  If it were daylight I may have scouted through the private land to see if the road hooked back up but I decided that this probably wasn't the best idea a night in the middle of nowhere.  I pulled out my phone and started looking for some alternate routes.  New course laid in I backtracked and made my way down unplanned roads.  This made me a little nervous but ultimately pretty confident that I could find my way around obstacles or impassible roads if need be.  After travelling down some very narrow and fun gravel roads I finally made it back on course to Sparksville Road.  Along this road I would occasionally notice forest service roads with Bienville signage.  This made me feel pretty good that I was on the right route and that I wouldn't hit another dead end.  That thought was still lingering in the back of my mind and I had decided that if I ran into one more closed or abandoned road that I would just setup camp on the side of the road for the night.

Made it!
Before I knew it the lights of the city of Morton were glowing in the sky.  Very close to the park now.  The course I had made took me on a pretty urban route through the city getting chased a number of times by dogs protecting their turf but finally made it through the city and out the other side to the entrance of Roosevelt State Park.  I pulled in took a look at the empty guard shack when a ranger pulled up and asked if she could help me.  Told her I was just looking for a site for the night and she directed me to one that was right next to a bath house.  I nearly repeated verbatim my routine from the previous night eating my second burger & tots, taking a quick shower cleaning my kit, setting up camp and tucking in for the night.  Tonight I had a much easier time falling asleep likely from the long days starting to catch up with me.

Awesome way to wake up
The next morning I was once again awoken by the sound of chirping birds and the glow of sunlight coming through my bivy.  I love waking up outdoors this way.  Got out of bed and walked down to the lake to eat breakfast and drink cold coffee.  Slipped on my kit which was now starting to stink a bit, broke camp, packed up and hit the road.  The ride back into Jackson was pretty mellow at only about 38 miles with good rollers through Pelahatchie and Brandon.  Before I knew it I was in familiar territory passing by the airport and eventually getting dumped into downtown.  Coming through the door at home I was feeling great and was greeted by a much more hearty second breakfast from Wendi.  We chatted about the weekend and how I was feeling.  What worked, what didn't, what I could improve.  After eating I got cleaned up and took a little nap.  When I woke up we took the boys to lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant and then they dropped me off at the airport for my quick trip to San Francisco.

All in all it was an awesome weekend of riding.  Another great building block preparing me for TNGA in just a few short weeks.  Between now and then my training volume really starts to decrease and I'll spend a lot more time stretching and working on core strength.  I setup a call with Lynda Wallenfels this week to talk through how I am feeling and race strategy.  Those calls always help me remove any questions or concerns I may have with my self-developed strategy.

Right now I am writing these words on Tuesday night after getting back home from San Francisco.  Body is feeling pretty good.  Legs are a little tight but pretty normal after a hard weekend like I had.  My pinky and ring finger are still a little numb and I noticed a little numbness in both of my calves yesterday but that has pretty much subsided.  Have a massage schedule for this week to work out any tight spots.  There are really very few things I am going to change after this weekend.  I'll probably go through everything in my kit and eliminate tiny little things that I could do without for a three day race.  I have a pretty good week-before-a-race list that I have followed this year that has served me well.  Ready to get this show on the road!

Ride on.
Jason Shearer