Born to Suffer: The North Georgia Adventure Race (NGAR)

Born to Suffer: The North Georgia Adventure Race (NGAR)

Born to Suffer
By Coach Erik Cagnina
I’ve visited Hell. Contrary to popular belief, it’s cold, not hot. Having grown up in Buffalo and Cleveland, I like to believe that I’m well versed in dealing with cold weather. The North Georgia Adventure Race (NGAR) gave me a whole new appreciation for the preparation and equipment required to tangle with 24 hours (or more) of brutal cold.

We arrived at the race start area around 4 AM. The temperature was 5 degrees and I’m talking good old-fashioned Fahrenheit, none of that Celsius monkey business. Part of adventure racing is keeping 90% of the race details secret right up until the start, so we anxiously waited for the clock to roll to 5 AM so we could send one crewmember up to the pavilion to receive maps and our first set of instructions. Once the signal was given, the maps were delivered back to their teams so checkpoints and paths of least resistance could be plotted. After working with the maps for about an hour (as mentioned last month, I’m directionally retarded, so a truthful account of this part of the race is my team and crew worked on the maps while I got our gear ready and watched other teams setting off into the darkness) Team Born to Suffer was ready to take off.

The first section of the race consisted of mountain biking to six checkpoints with the last one being a transition area. We left the starting area looking for a ranger station that marked the first turn. Ten minutes and one giant hill later, we realized we were already lost. We turned around, enjoyed our man-made –50 degree wind chill and got back to the bottom of the hill to find about 15 other teams all huddled around discussing the mysterious ranger station. Eventually we realized that the grocery store we were parked next to must have at one time been a ranger station and we were back on course. About an hour later we hit checkpoint one just as the sun was coming up over the mountains. It was beautiful.

Fast forward four hours. After battling through packed snow or 4” of powder – sometimes riding, sometimes pushing – we reached a clearing. Teams were leaving here on two very different routes: one was a single-track trail leading down, the other was single-track going straight up. Riding was not even a consideration for this trail. We decided to take the trail leading up since the other trail looked like it was heading towards a road we were not allowed to use. After a lot of pushing and a little riding once we hit the ridgeline, we realized two things: 1) we had gone the wrong way, and 2) it was too late to go back. We were with two other teams at this point so at least there were nine of us to share in the misery. About an hour later, after bushwhacking our bikes through the snow, brush and a little stream, we hit a forest service road and cruised the final four miles or so to reach checkpoint two around noon.

The next two checkpoints were found without too many problems, though some very long climbs were starting to take their toll on us and zipping downhill on loosely packed snow was a little frightening as you were fighting to keep upright the whole time. We were now well into the afternoon and, being the idiot rookies we were, had run out of food several hours ago. My teammate said he knew I was toast when he looked back and saw me face down in the dirt dragging my bike under a log that had fallen across the trail. Oh well, I’ve always thought pride was a good thing only in small doses. After carrying our bikes – one baby step at a time – about 25 feet across two small logs bridging a river, we made it over the river and up onto the sweet, non-technical asphalt. It was now dusk, but at least we were on our way to checkpoint five.

Sheets of ice are tough to ride on and most of the hardest falls I’ve ever taken on a bike were lumped into the next hour. We hit checkpoint five and found out that the canoeing section had been canceled – the lake was completely iced over. One more checkpoint to go and we took our time since we were riding in the dark. We finally found the road and started riding straight up a dirt road laced with patches of ice. Up and up we went, walking when you got tired of falling trying to ride and riding when you got tired of falling trying to walk. Finally, we reached the “summit” and started back down, which might have been less fun than going up since you inevitably picked up speed before you wiped out. Sometime just before 7:00 PM, we rounded the corner to checkpoint six and transition area one where our crew had a fire built and food and sleeping bags laid out. After some discussion and a team vote, it was decided that it was time to call it quits.

While it was the first race I’ve ever dropped out of for physical reasons, the decision was not difficult. The reality of the situation was I felt we were not good enough at navigating to hike 25 miles through the mountains hitting checkpoints in near-zero degree temperatures. It was, I believed, a dangerous situation and I couldn’t get my wife and child out of my head as we were deciding what to do. The fact is, I know too many people who have had accidents of one kind of another over the last few years. To put it bluntly, shit does happen. So I’m glad we gave it a shot and actually very proud of the effort we put forth. We ended up finishing right about in the middle of the 80 teams that started, with only eight teams actually finishing the course. Someday I will give another adventure race a try (and I will know how to navigate!!) and I promise you, the temperature will be at least a balmy 30 degrees when I do.

“Born to Suffer” is a monthly affair in which to share my tales of suffering. Feel free to contact me at and share your tales of suffering. I might even use your story if I’ve been unlucky enough to have not suffered recently. The purpose is nothing more than to generate a smile. It’s good to train hard, but it’s better to smile while training hard.


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