Sunday, March 27, 2011

Settles Bridge (Again)

It rained all day yesterday and most of today. I did a bunch of work for my Dad this morning, but around 3:30 it started looking kind of dry and I started thinking about getting out for a while. We've got the Trillium Trek in a week, so me and the girls headed back to Settles Bridge Park for some navigation practice. This time, we even managed to get Kathryn to join us.

We started at the park, put some checkpoints on the map, defined some out-of-bounds areas, and got going. The girls collaborated on a route, I advised a little. They led and me and Kathryn followed. We followed a creek to the north until we saw a little knob up on the left, whacked up there, picked up a trail, followed it around, whacked over to Settles Bridge Road and took it down to the river. We'd had the option of following a bunch of trails down to the river, but there were a bunch of turns involved in that, and the road was a straight shot.

Yay, Checkpoint 1 - Settles Bridge.

 Checkpoint 1

With all the rain yesterday and today, the river was pretty high. No fishermen out there today.

Checkpoint 2 was the southern boundary of the Settles Bridge unit. We had to walk through a river cane jungle to get there.

 River Cane Jungle

It was taller and denser than I've seen anywhere else.

My calves hurt. The other day when I was walking all around the park, I'd jogged for maybe a mile of the pavement and somehow that destroyed my calves. How is it that I can ride forever and but I can barely run without hurting myself? Ridiculous.

We took a drainage line trail back to the bridge lot. All the rain had made the low spots marshy and there was a pair of ducks paddling around in one of them.


"Look, they're married", Sophie observed. Yeah, I guess that's what they are. They are at least a couple.

Checkpoint 3 was this little open field that we'd been to last time, pretty close to the bridge, actually. Sophie got us there.

From there, Iz nav'ed us back to the car, along a semi-convoluted route that involved several trails and a good bit of just following the terrain. She's really got it figured out. Sophie needs more practice, but given that she's 8, she still did pretty good.

We ate dinner at Rick Tanners, and now that he kids are in bed, I've got to get back to work. It wasn't an epic day, but given the weather, it went about as well as I could have hoped.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Settles Bridge Park

I had the day off of work today. It would have been great to get up early and adventure myself all over the place, but I slept and slept. At 2PM I finally rolled out of bed. First stop: Dutch Monkey. Second stop: Fantastic Sams. I needed a haircut. Third stop: Shipping Post to mail out the Spot Tracker I used for the Huracan. Sorry to send it back so late Matt. I hope it's better late than never. Fourth stop: Settles Bridge Park. I discovered it last weekend. It's nearby. There are trails there. I am compelled to set foot or tire on all trails. Allons-y.

 Park Sign

Settles Bridge Park has a basketball court, several playgrounds, a dog park, what looked like 5 miles of trails and a skatepark. A skatepark. My mind kept wandering in the direction of buying a 20 inch bike and a skateboard and reliving my teenage years. I quit riding when my bike got stolen for the second time and quit skating when I ended up spending more time healing than skating. I'm wiser now and I think I could keep myself from getting that hurt again, but for the time being, I just have to tell myself not to do it.

The first trail was a paved, multi-use trail leading north from the lot, past the dog park and down across a couple of creeks. There, it turned to dirt, or more precisely, bark. There were a couple of more primitive spurs though, one of which led down to the Chattahoochee.

 Chattahoochee River

There was a monument of sorts as well. Thanks Stemblers!


One of the trails had this weird feeder off to the side.


I guess it's a feeder. It had a big tub under it. Despite the roof though, the tub was full of leaves and nasty water.

No bikes or horses on this trail.

 No Bikes No Horses

The sign was in a weird place though, way at the back. There was no sign at the end of the multi-use trail or any of its intersections. I assume the trails are hike-only, but it doesn't actually say except way at the back there, and only in that one spot. It's actually aimed in a funny direction too, toward the NRA. No bikes or horses are allowed there either though. Strange.

There were 3 different kinds of trails there: a paved multi-use trail, big wide, bark-covered, mostly-sidehill trails...


...and some more singletrackish type stuff. One had a strange rock wall along both sides for a long way.

 Rock Wall Trail

I walked all over the place - every trail, and I passed a lot of people coming the other way. It was nice to see so many people out and about. I saw a couple of interesting things.



As I've said before... harbinger of my deliverance - I'll be over my pear and cherry allergies soon.



I saw a good bit of it out there. It's all over Sawnee Mountain and I've always thought that it couldn't be indigenous. Maybe it is though. I've seen it in various places around the Chattahoochee.


 Buckeye Flowers

The first real green of the season. The hillside was covered with it.

The map showed a little dot on the top of a hill, along an old roadbed or trail, which the park trail now followed. That usually signifies a house or structure. All I could find there was a flat spot and some debris.

 Ruins or Dumping

A washtub.


I thoroughly exploring the marked trails and a couple of spurs. There was only one spur that I hadn't checked out yet. It led down along a creek that the girls and I had walked up along last weekend.


Before long, I recognized the trail. There was a parallel trail on the other side. I followed it, and it led to another network of trails to the north. One of them was a loop. It looked a like an old roadbed, maybe where they'd wanted to build a neighborhood, ages ago, but I didn't see where connected to any actual road. Weird.

Of course, there was garbage, I mean artifacts, chucked off to the side. A big ass tank, of some kind...


There were some white-tailed deer walking around in the middle of the loop. I ended up walking all the way around them. There's one in the dead middle of this shot, but it's really hard to see.


I saw part of a TV show or movie or something when I was a kid where this guy was talking about an "Indian Runner" I think. He'd go out in the woods and run a deer in circles until it wore out and he could just walk up and kill it. That always seemed ridiculously impossible to me, but after watching the deer for a few minutes, I can at least see how a tale of doing it might have been spun. If you get close enough to a deer, it gets spooked and runs away hard, but not too far. If you keep spooking it, it keeps running, and it always run hard, but never too far. I wonder if a fit enough person, in an open enough forest, in the right terrain, couldn't run a lone deer around for a long time. Maybe there's something to that story. Hmmm.

The woods out there was kind of odd; old pine trees down everywhere. What it looked like, and this is a totally amateur assessment, is that the land had been cleared for farming - some of the hills were terraced - and nothing but pine grew back, then the beetles got them - gazillions of tiny holes in the deadfall - and in most places, hardwoods have been grown up between the corpses. There's a section in the Bowmans Island unit that looks similar. There were a few stands of healthy pine though, and a few places with virtually no deadfall at all, just what looks like normal secondary growth. Maybe that land was never cleared, or more than just pine grew back.

It was getting late, the fat old sun was hanging low, the girls would be back from gym and dance soon and Kathryn would have dinner ready. I'd only eaten a chocolate twist all day. My blood sugar was low. I headed back.

It wasn't the greatest adventure of all time, but it definitely got the job done. I'm not sure what else I'll be able to get in this weekend, it's supposed to rain - 80% chance. Next weekend is the Trillium Trek though, that ought to be pretty good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Windermere and Settles Bridge

Yesterday (well, a couple of days ago now) I needed some serious recovery. I was feeling Saturday's 6 hour late into the evening and even when I'd wake up at night. Recovery be damned though, I'd been looking forward to spending the day with the girls, and though it probably wasn't going to be strenuous in the absolute sense, it probably wasn't going to be what you'd call rest either.

We slept in a little bit, 'til 10 I think, then headed over to Windermere park again. Actually, wait, first we went to Dick's Sporting Goods and got some softball-sized wiffle balls, or wuffle balls as Sophie pronounces them, then we went to Popeyes for some semi-early lunch, and THEN we went to Windermere park.

At Windermere they have a bunch of soccer fields with many different sized goals. The kids are getting good enough to actually kind of play now. They took turns trying to score on each other.


We eventually had to move up to the next larger sized goal. I taught them what little that I remembered from playing goalie when I was a kid. Iz kept accidentally kicking the ball directly at Sophie and knocked her down a few times.

 Dead Sophie

It looks bad, but they were just playing. She was actually unhurt and laughing.

I played with them too; made them try to get the ball past me and vice-versa. It was so fun that we actually lost track of time. When we first arrived, we had the park entirely to ourselves. Now, suddently there were hundreds of people there for a soccer game, and dozens more at the dog park.

Eventually the girls got tired of soccer and we threw the softball for a while, or actually the wiffle ball, which they have no fear of and actually started learning to catch for real. Ahh, finally, we're making some real progress there.

We set up some bases too and did some batting. If they hit the ball, they'd run while I tried to convince my legs that it was a good idea to go pick up the ball. Iz got to where she could consitently knock the wiffle ball way past second base, so I switched her to the softball, which she almost immediately line-drive'ed into my face. You know how, if you chase a kid around the house, they laugh, almost hysterically. It's one of my favorite things. It was like that when they'd hit the ball and run the bases. Again, we lost all track of time.

Sophie is semi-ambidextrous, and as it turns out, can throw a good bit better with her right hand than her left. But, unfortunately, she can't catch very well with her left hand. Also, she can't bat right handed, but she can kick about equally with both feet. So weird. Neat, but weird.

The wind was really gusty and tended carried the wiffle ball to the inside. Sophie, refusing not to swing at everything, got hit in the fingers a couple of times. After a few of those, she'd had enough and we proceeded to our next adventure.

Settles Bridge:

 Settles Bridge

The girls and I have explored the heck out of the Bowman's Island unit of the Chattahooche NRA. Settles Bridge is a little further south. I think, actually there's another unit between Bowman's and Settles, but it's little and narrow. We'll come back for that one, Settles looked a bit more interesting.

Settles Bridge itself was once used to cross the Chattahoochee but apparently fell into disuse when the Hwy 20 bridge was built a little bit further north. The boards rotted away, some of the bridge was dismantled for scrap. I've seen some old photos of it on the internet though. Now it's an artifact.

There were a few fishermen in the river, trying to catch trout. The girls wanted to catch some trout too. We've tried, but we need lighter rigs. We'll have to get some of those soon. I want to catch some trout too.

There were a couple of trails leading along the river. We followed one for a while and found some rocks to walk out on.

 Girls on the Rocks

There was this cool little loop you could make around a pool.

 Girls on the Rocks Again

The girls did it twice and dared me to, so I did it and Iz chased me like she was going to push me into the water.

Back on the main trail, the girls both stepped over this little snake.

 Juvenile Hognose (Maybe)

I always tell them to look closely when they step over logs. Maybe this will drive that point home. It was small though. I thought it was a shoelace at first. I'm still not 100% sure what kind of snake it is. It was very aggressive, especially for how small it was, but I didn't recognize the markings at all. I first thought it was a juvenile cottonmouth, as it was kind of heavy-bodied, but that didn't seem right. The closest thing me and Iz could find on the net was a juvenile Eastern Hognose. I've seen adult Hognose before, and it's really obvious what they are, but I didn't recognize this little one as a Hognose when I saw it. This one was very aggressive, which Hognose are, but it's all an act, they play dead if they feel threatened. If I'd known, I might have poked at it. The girls were cautious, but fascinated.

After a mile or so, we hit a big creek crossing with a lake just upstream. The trail seemed to end. There might be a trail on the other side, but we left it for next time. We cut cross country to the east and picked up what I guess is the right-of-way for a drainage line.

Some kids had built a clubhouse nearby.


Man, we built a lot of clubhouses when I was a kid, but they never had siding. Luxury.

The hike back to the car was uneventful.

On the drive in, we noticed a new park - Settles Bridge Park just before the NRA boundary. There might be trails there, so we stopped in to look at the map. There were trails, but more importantly, there was all of this radness...

 Skatepark 1

 Skatepark 2

Concrete bowls and obstacles with inset, painted box-tubing coping. Somebody knew exactly what they were doing when they built this. They have a new skatepark in Baton Rouge, but it's in a park with a Velodrome and BMX track. I've seen a few parks here and there with steel ramps and other obstacles, but nothing like this, and nothing in a random public park. I wanted to run home, grab my bike and buy a skateboard on the way back over. I'd have killed to have this near my house when I was a teenager. If a man from the future had come back to the year 1989 and told me such a thing would exist, I simply wouldn't have believed him. I love it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Conyers 6 Hour

In an ideal world, this would be a journal entry about hiking the Escalante Route in Colorado. My brother is finishing that up right about now. I had plans to go with him, but when my job disintegrated a while back, I really had to choose between it and the Huracan. The Huracan was logistically easier, so it was an easy choice, but I'm more than a little bummed that I couldn't go.

Such is life though - full of trade-offs. In this case, not being in Colorado meant that I could ride the Conyers 6 hour. Ok, let's do that.

I was tired last night, so I'd planned on heading to bed early and getting up early to get my gear together. Then, suddenly I realized I needed to wash my bike clothes, and ended up getting all my gear together while they were washing. Apparently there was some sort of minor divine intervention involved there, as this morning my alarm didn't go off and I woke up early enough to get to the race, but not early enough to get my gear together. Score.

I usually like to eat at Waffle House before one of these things, but there was no time for that either. Gas station bagels for me.

I saw lots of bikes on the drive over. Lots.


They were everywhere. It looked like I was heading in the right direction, but then when I got there, for a minute, I did question whether I was really in the right place. There were dozens of runners with number plates on their jerseys, jogging around, getting ready, warming up. It was the South African candy aisle all over again. Quickly though, it began to make sense. Dirty Spokes was having a trail running race there prior to the bike race. Just beyond the runners, it looked a lot more like I expected.


I saw everybody in the world that I know. Too many people to name. Maybe I should mention a few. I saw Sunny, but she was there without Russell. I also saw what appeared to be Travis' old bike, but somebody else was riding it. I randomly ended up pitting with Chris Brown. Randomly because I set up my gear in a chair in an empty spot, and the guy next door said he was trying to save that spot for his buddy, but I was welcome to put my chair there. His buddy ended up being Chris Brown. Smallest world ever.

Ok. So. The race.

Lap 1 was fun. We had a long start on a gravel road that spread everybody out pretty well and I was able to get what seemed like reasonably close to the front. Right as we went into the woods, there was a tricky little downhill thing. Two guys stopped abruptly in front of Carebear, and if you've ever tried to trackstand, downhill, half-wheeling the guy in front of you, you can understand how futile such a thing is. He went down, all the way down, tumbling 30 feet down the side of a pretty steep hill. Then I saw him pop up and start climbing back up with a pretty frustrated look on his face, but otherwise unharmed. You can't kill the Carebear. The rest of the lap was uneventful. The course was wild. Chainbusters has a knack for taking trails I've ridden 50 times and creating an unrecognizable route through them. It was like I was riding somewhere else. They included some of the horse trails too, which, except for a few hoof prints, were narrow, smooth, luxurious, and otherwise very un-horse-trail-like. It might just have been me, but it seemed like they managed to extract about twice as much climbing out of the new route as well.

Lap 2 was also fun, except that Bill Riddle passed me. Either he's getting stronger or I'm getting weaker. Maybe both. It is early in the season, I've been getting a maximum of 6 hours of sleep each night for weeks, I didn't get to do anything last weekend at all, the pear and cherry trees are blooming, the group rides don't start until next week and as yet I haven't figured out how to commute to my new office. Yeah, I'll go with that list of excuses.

Lap 3 was work, but I was stunned to find myself without anything even vaguely resembling a cramp. I did pass Shane Shreihart in need of a power link. "Oh, I have one..." No. I didn't have one. It was sitting in a baggie back at my chair. Dangit.

Lap 4 was also work, and I managed to forgot to pick up my powerlink. I did have a little bit of cramping in my hamstrings, which is really weird. I never get hamstring cramps. Who knows. I also managed to get a stick wrapped up around my cassette. I pulled it out, got going and it felt like I had two flat tires. For about a mile, I thought my brake was dragging. I pulled it a few times. No. Well, maybe my wheel wasn't tight and it was moving around. I stopped, checked that, it was fine, but I noticed that another little stick had gotten jammed up in my derailleur cage, dragging on both jockey pulleys. When I pulled that out, it was like I was riding a whole new bike. Onward.

As I left for lap 5, I did manage to grab the bag with the powerlink, and check the time: 3:29. As in, I've been riding for 3 hours, 29 minutes. Not that it was 3:29 in the afternoon and I only had 30 more minutes to ride. It took me a second to figure that out. I had time for 2 more laps, but not 3. About halfway around, the hurt set in, big time. I'm not sure why, except maybe that it was "hot". I say "hot" instead of hot without quotes because it was maybe 85 degrees, but seeing as it's been in the 60's for a while now, 85 felt like touching the face of the sun. Norma passed me about 3/4ths of the way around. I can usually gauge my fitness by when she passes me, which is usually in lap 5, so I felt good about it until she said she was doing the 9 hour race, not the 6 hour. So, maybe my fitness wasn't so good. Tim Winters got behind me for a while, and at first I thought it was Wild Bill (Riddle) lapping me because of the crazy hollering he did when he first rolled up. Tim, you're crazy.

Lap 6 was pure suffering. I only even did it out of pure cycling addiction. I had no energy. The slow, gradual bonk was creeping in. I didn't have any more cramps though, so at least I had that going for me. About halfway through, Mitch of South Georgia Cycling passed me. He was on his 5th lap though. At the time, I could not comprehend the physics of that. He passed me with authority. It might have been on that lap, or maybe Lap 5 where Josh Vandall also passed me with such authority that it was upsetting. Neither of them were in my class, but I probably lost 3 places during that lap, at least. Ten minutes later, Mitch was knocked out on the side of the trail with a broken chain, and some good samaritan giving him a hand. Now having a powerlink, I threw him my baggie. Speaking of riders knocked out on the side of the trail, I must have passed 10 or 15 riders just stopped, cooling off or otherwise taking a break. The heat was really a factor on those last two laps.

Done. And it hurt. And it hurts right now. I think it's going to hurt a long time.

There's a gang of spigots in the middle of the field at Conyers and I poured cool water on my head for a few minutes. Indescribable luxury. It could only have been more luxurious if I'd had a lawn chair to recline in while somebody else poured cool water on my head.

Back at camp, Chris had come in, taken a seat and all but refused to keep going. I'm not sure if he ever did. He was describing how he felt. I felt exactly the same way. Everything hurt. Every cell. The cells in my head especially. It felt like I had either an under or over abundance of something in my body and I needed to either add more or get rid of some, but I couldn't tell what it was. I definitely had an over abundance of pain, but unfortunately pain is not a chemical.

While waiting for the results, I laid down on the ground and put my feet up on the end of the table. Again, indescribable luxury. Suddenly, Bill Lanzilotta appeared above me "Did you survive?" "Uhh.." and then he grabbed one of my feet and said "Push against it" then slowly bent my leg in an arc toward my head. Oh, man that felt good. I pushed against it, and he did the other one too. "Man that feels good, where'd you learn that." "It's a great stretch." And bam! he was gone. I never saw him again. Whatever it was, it hit the reset button in my legs and I was up and about directly.

The SGC boys gave me coke, and I met Brian Lord's family, including his three month old twins. His son was sleeping, but his daughter was up, looking all around with that intensely curious look little kids have, while also trying desperately to control her muscles. Brian, you've got some really cute kids man, nice job.

I talked to some the GATR guys - Dave Greenwell and one of his friends who's name I should know. They joked about me losing Tim's GPS. Tim had apparently been insane and almost incomprehensible on one of his earlier pit stops, but he rolled up while I was talking to them and now seemed fine. He has a new GPS now too.

Bill Riddle got 1st in his class. If Josh Fix didn't, then the guy that beat him must have been a cyborg sent from the future just to beat him. I didn't hang around for the awards. My brain was screaming for gas station food and I couldn't ignore it any longer. I got 10th. Out of 18. Hey, top 10, right?

My seat officially needs replacement. It's fine on the road bike, but I can't get used to it on the mountain bike. I like the shape, it just needs a little more padding. Maybe such a thing exists.

So earlier, I mentioned pear and cherry trees. I am allergic to both. It's not so bad that it keeps me from doing stuff, but it's bad enough to keep me from wanting to do stuff, and bad enough to make me do stuff poorly, like having a low grade cold for a couple of weeks. Pear and cherry trees thrive in Atlanta and people plant them everywhere. They are beautiful.

 Cherry Trees

Pear trees have little white flowers with little green buds in the middle. Cherry trees have little white flowers with little red buds in the middle. Cherry blooms a little later than pear. They shed their petals like snow when the wind blows. To most people, they are beautiful and magical. To my lungs, they are the apocalypse. In a few more weeks, the dogwoods will start bloom. Ahh, dogwood, harbinger of my deliverance. Come on dogwood.

Come on dogwood.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Windermere Park and Lake Lanier

Today's outdoor adventure barely counts. Iz has a gym meet later and I've got work to do, but we had a few hours this morning, so the girls and I made the best of them.

We kicked the soccer ball around at Windermere Park for a while. It was sort of a breakthrough day for Sophie. She has suddenly become much more coordinated. I remember when I was a skater teenager, I'd spend all day trying to learn some trick and never land it, then I wouldn't skate for a few days, and then when I'd try it again, it would come totally naturally, like my brain figured it out during the down time. I learned to ski like that too. I wonder if that's what's happening with Sophie. Whatever it is, it's pretty cool. They're still scared of catching the softball, but their batting is much better. I'm going to get some wiffle balls, and we'll throw those around until they get some confidence. The football still eludes them entirely. They like it, bit they can't throw or catch it for beans. Eh, one thing at a time.

Next, we tried to catch a few fish at the lake but in an hour and a half, we got zero nibbles and only saw one little bait shad swimming around. The gulls were having a field day, but we were bored and hungry, so we gave up early.

I've got a long night ahead of me, but I'm hoping to get in a more solid adventure tomorrow.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Huracan 300

The Huracan 300 is a three hundred mile loop around central Florida, brought to you and me by the good fellows at Singletrack Samurai Productions - those fellows being Karlos Bernart and Rob Roberts, friends of mine since they rode the TNGA last year. When I was in Florida for Isabel's gymnastics nationals, I'd seen all kinds of interesting green spots on the map, but couldn't dig up enough info on them to be sure I'd have a good time, so I just brought my road bike. When Karlos told me about the Huracan, and I saw that the route passed through a bunch of those same green spots, I was intrigued. When I realized that the temperatures would be in the probably-going-to-actually-enjoy-this range, I was all in.

The week leading up to the event was hectic. I put in some late nights at work, did a bunch of family stuff, and ended up staying up till 4AM the night before driving down. But, Thursday morning I slept in, hit the Dutch Monkey for some breakfast, and ended up having a pretty easy drive. I showed up at Rob's place at about 5:30, where I met his wife Dawn, their 2 cats and their deaf dog Tucker, who I scratched for the next hour.

Dawn had some stuff to do, so Rob and I hit the local pizza joint, Little Anthony's, for some of the best pizza I've ever had.

 Lil Anthony's

I had a stuffed-crust pizza at some other place the last time I was in town. Man, you wouldn't think it, but they do know how to make pizza in Florida.

When we got back to Rob's place, the Pennsylvania crew had arrived - Justin, Carol and Ruth (who I also know from the TNGA) as well as Markley from Virginia. Cricket Butler (of Tour Divide fame, who I also know from the TNGA) showed up a little later to get the route loaded into her GPS. When Dawn got back, there were like 30 people all mobbed into her house. That must have been quite a sight to come back to. We all crashed out on the floor and the couches and in the garage, and at 6AM, everybody's alarms started going off.

I jumped up and headed down the road to grab some french toast at the Minneola Grill, which my family might remember as "that place we ate at after church that time." It's funny how small the world is. The food was as good as I remembered.

After breakfast, I met the rest of the riders - Rich and Jeff from Florida, Lynne and her husband (who's name I unfortunately forget) from somewhere that I also forgot, and I think Lori, who was there with Cricket, probably somebody else I'm forgetting. Man, I need a better memory. Karlos showed up too and it was funny, like with Charley Rome the last time I was in Baton Rouge, I'd only really met him that one time before, and yet somehow it was like getting back together with an old friend. I'm sure it'll be like that next time I see Rob too. I love it.

We all rolled over to start for a pre-ride meeting; something about a bunch of fences and limestone roads in Santos...


...and we were off. The start was pretty well neutral, we took a paved trail out of Minneola, and everybody was just hanging together. A squirrel ran out across in front of us and bounced off of three different wheels before making it to the other side. It was miraculous, but it appeared to have been unharmed.

I felt very un-warmed-up. Everybody was inching away from me. Rob fell back for a while, then came flying by in a corner with one of those "I know something you don't know" grins, and I never saw him again. Eventually I started feeling better and began reeling riders back in.

After a dozen miles or so, we hit the first dirt of the route. I say dirt, but I think it would more properly be called sand.

 Green Swamp

The Inuit have 200 words for the different types and textures of snow. Floridians may have at least that many words for sand. I have never before seen as many different colors, textures and flavors, of what is essentially, just sand. There seemed to be regions of different types, with local variations within each region. Each time I'd come to a new region, it would take a few miles to figure out what I could ride on and what I needed to avoid.

While riding between two sections of the Green Swamp, I ran into Carol from PA. She was really strong, I doubt I could have ridden away from her if I'd tried, and she seemed really cool, so we ended up riding together for a long time after that. After a while, we caught Rich and got caught by Lynne and her husband. I stopped to pee for a second, and it was like somebody hit my reset button. I suddenly had all the energy in the world, caught back up and left everybody far behind, except Carol, who didn't even seem to be working that hard. We rode on every kind of sand imaginable, as well as limestone, tabby, and a little bit of pavement.

I didn't see much wildlife, just a couple of huge turkeys and some cute little Shrek-looking donkeys, one of which actually came running over like it was happy to see us.

We passed through this one section called Ridge Manor where they'd built a grid of roads, presumably for a neighborhood, but have only built out a few lots so far. It was a maze of "twisty little passages, all alike." Few of the roads were marked. Without the GPS, it would have been impossible to get through it. Carol remarked that it was so remote and confusing - you could do anything you wanted back there, nobody would know. It would be the perfect place for a meth lab. Almost immediately after she said that, we passed a house that had burned down. There's your meth lab.

After the Ridge Manor maze, we got onto the Withlacoochee Trail, which is a paved rail-trail, simiar to the Silver Comet here in Georgia. There were bathrooms and water nearby, so we stopped to tank up. When I set my bike against the side of the building, a guy in the passenger seat of a van parked a few feet away went "screeeeeeeee!" like he was making fun of my brakes or something. My first thought was "All right jackass, make fun of my brakes..." but that thought was cut short when I realized that the van was full of what appeared to be men with various handicaps or head injuries. Now I felt like the jackass. I filled up, took a bathroom break and grabbed my bike, at which point the guy made that same screeeeee noise again, even louder this time, and smiled really big. He seemed very well entertained, which made me kind of happy, so I smiled back, completing the most awkward exchange I've ever been involved in.

The next however-many miles reminded me of the Alpharetta Greenway Epics I do with my girls. Easy miles. I felt great. The weather was great, maybe getting a little warm. But, so far, so good. Carol was really good company too. We rode along and chatted; she works for the Lupine lighting company, she knows Ruth and Justin from riding with them in PA, and so on. I told her about my family, the TNGA, how I know Karlos and Rob, and a million other random things.

At great length, we hit Croom, the first real singletrack of the ride. I for one, was glad to get out of the saddle a bit. On a typical mountain bike ride, you're up and down off the seat, getting bumped around or gerching back and forth to climb or descend, but you rarely sit in one spot for long. On a road bike, the seat and bars are optimized for being in the same position for a long time. Riding the mountain bike though, on relatively flat, hard-packed surfaces, and sitting in roughly the same position for long miles had been challenging for my sit-bones. I hadn't yet felt comfortable for any length of time. The miracle of singletrack fixed all that in minutes. Ahh, singletrack.

At Tucker Hill we ran into Jeff, Cricket and Markley, who'd gotten off track a few times. There was water there, and a bathroom. I still had plenty of food. It was nice to sit down and stretch for a few minutes. Cricket's crew took off. Me and Carol were maybe 10 minutes behind.

The rest of Croom was slightly more challenging than the first bit. We went through a section that had undergone a controlled burn.


I realized, looking through the woods, that the forest just appeared endless. I could see in a straight line until the random trees got in the way of being able to see any further. Just imagine being an early explorer, faced with that. In North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, even Mississippi, the terrain itself gets in your way. You can rarely see past a nearby hill or ridge, or something. In Louisiana, you can't see 50 feet because of the dense brush. At Croom, you could see so far, it just seemed endless, and for a second or two, I even had a twinge of panic. Yes. Out of my element. I was getting my drive-down's worth.

Of course, it's not actually endless, and a few miles later, we were back on the Withlacoochee. Carol was texting and riding - something about a light she was supposed to have given Ruth...

 Carol Texting and Riding

Justin texted her back. "Just finished Santos." That seemed a little fast. Santos was 80 miles or more away. We thought maybe he meant Croom, which we had also just finished.

I was starting to get a little hungry. I'd been eating little chocolate donuts all day, as if they were Clif Blocks, and I had plenty more, but even so, I was behind on calories, and we'd been fantasizing about Coca Cola for several hours. As fate would have it, we passed right by the Blue Canoe - a cafe/grocery store right along the trail.

 Blue Canoe

The girl behind the counter became instant friends with Carol because they both had tatoos. I mowed through an ice-cream sandwich, a bag of chips and several rice krispy treats, assimilating their precious, precious calories. But better than all of that was the sweet, delicious coke. It's not just propaganda, it really is made out of happiness, love and magic.

Rich caught us while we ate but only stopped for a few minutes. We played leapfrog with him for the next couple of miles. In Floral City, we caught up with Justin. He had meant Croom, not Santos. Apparently Carol had a light that she was supposed to have given Ruth, and Justin might have been supposed to ride with Ruth, or something. They wanted to wait for her, but it made more sense to keep going to Inverness and wait there.

In Inverness, Justin pulled up the trackleaders map on his phone but Ruth's tracker wasn't working, just as it hadn't for the TNGA. Back then, I'd thought it was the batteries - she'd used Lithium Advanced instead of Lithium Ultimates. But two races in a row? Maybe her tracker is broken.

He and Carol waited for Ruth. After some quick goodbyes and cool-riding-with-you's, we split up. On the way out of Inverness, the trail passed by a vast lake, one of the trillions of lakes in this part of Florida, all equally beautiful.

 Some Lake

After the Withlacoochie, I did a few miles on the road and ran into Rich again at the entrance to Potts Preserve. We rode through Potts together.

 Potts Preserve

I learned some valuable sand-that-you-can-ride-on identification skills from him through there. Getting out of Potts involved a sketchy barbed-wire fence crossing where I just had to drop my bike a few inches and hope nothing got broken, which fortunately it didn't. After that, it was a few miles along a canal on painfully slow grasstrack. Remember trying to ride a 20-inch bike across your yard when you were a kid? It was like that.

Finally we got to the highway. There were a couple of convenience stores there, but I went up the road a bit to eat at Stumpknockers, which is allegedly very good. I guess it must be good. All of Florida was there for dinner. There were literally no parking spaces left, cars were parked all up in the grass, and there must have been 30 people outside waiting for a table. Hmmm, back to the convenience store.

Rich grabbed some Subway and got riding again. I got a Philly steak sandwich, st down and ate it there.


While eating, a guy sat down behind me with his 3 or 4 year old niece. The guy could probably teach classes on how to make little kids happy. He was being so sweet to her. "This isn't a straw, it's a magic wand that makes you laugh. See!" And he's tap it on her head and she'd die laughing. My face actually got tired from smiling.

I had plenty of legs, and the terrain wasn't challenging my lungs at all. It looked like I could probably get to the Santos trailhead by midnight, which was more than halfway around the loop. There was a campground there. I could sleep for a few hours, recharge my GPS, and if I still felt good, get through the rest of the loop in the subsequent 24 hours. I wouldn't even have to worry about the rain forecasted for Sunday. Woohoo!

When I couldn't force down another bite, I got back on the road, lights on.

It was an easy spin through Halpata. Karlos calls it the Helltrack, so I was expecting it to be tough, but it was a breeze. I kind of wish I'd been able to get through during the day, there appeared to be vast open fields toward the north end.

After Halpata, I turned right onto the Marjorie Harris Cross Florida Greenway, the first few miles of which involved negotiating deep sand and hoof prints. Before long it became fast and smooth though. I saw three huge deer too. Not little Georgia rat deer, but gigantic plenty-of-food-all-year Florida deer. The navigation there was a little tricky. The Greenway has plenty of little un-named spur trails, most of them either foot or horse trails, but some open to bikes, and many completely unmarked. The right way to go always turned out to be the way that seemed right, but I double-checked each turn, just to make sure.

After what seemed like a very short time, I was at Highway 200 and entering the Santos trail system.

 Santos -Night

Allegedly, to get through Santos, all I needed to do was follow the Green IMBA epic stickers on the yellow carsonite signs, which should also follow the "easiest" trails through the network. So, I followed the green stickers, but every now and then, I'd hit an intersection with no sticker. There, I'd follow the trail marked "easiest". A few times though, the green stickers said to follow a trail marked "more difficult". I had to check the GPS about 50 times to be sure I was on the right track.

A little background on the GPS. I own a Garmin CS60x, which is great for exploring, but it's heavy and bulky enough not to want to take on a ride like this. So, I borrowed a Garmin Edge 305 from my buddy Tim Winters the night before I left. The Edge 305 mounts to your stem or bars and weighs about as much as a bike computer. I've been thinking about getting one myself, so this was a good opportunity to try it out. One of the weight tradeoffs though, is that rather than taking two AA batteries, it has a small, built-in rechargeable battery which is good for about 11 hours. As such, I'd made a cue sheet and had been trying to follow it and leave the GPS off unless I knew I needed to have it on. So far, I'd been successful in only burning 1 of the 4 battery bars.

I'd hoped to leave it off through Santos and just follow the green stickers, but I soon realized that it wasn't that simple, I didn't want to get DQ'ed for cutting the course, and it would have been trivial to get off route, so I had to leave it on.

It was sort of good that I did too, because after going under some road, the GPS track diverged from the green sticker route. I debated what to do and ultimately followed the GPS track. After several miles, this led to a closed trail and a sign saying that I needed to take the "limestone road". Oh yeah, I remembered something about that from the riders meeting. I knew the road was to the south, there appeared to be a trail leading the south... "Hey it even has green stickers on it. Oh, maybe the GPS track is right, and I'm just supposed to go that way. Let me go that way and check the GPS after a little bit. Yep, right on track." Yay. Or so I thought.

Twenty minutes later Karlos called me. I didn't even realize my phone was on. I'd meant to leave it off. "Where are you?" "Santos." "How far are you from Landbridge?" (Honestly, how should I know that?) "No idea." "Where are you?" "I'm not sure, man. Santos?" We both laughed. My brain was on autopilot. "Have you ridden the limestone road?" "No, I'm headed to it now though." "Ok, I'll see you at Landbridge." Cool. He was going to take photos or something.

I rode for what seemed like an eternity on anonymous singletrack, and then, out of nowhere, three lights appeared. It was Justin, Carol and Ruth, coming the other way. Uh, oh. They'd just come from Hwy 200, like 20 minutes earlier. It took a while to figure it out, but apparently at that trail closure, I'd taken some little trail that just circled back and put me on the same trail I'd ridden out on. I was on the GPS line, but heading the wrong way. Oh, boy. I would later discover that I had been 500 yards or so from Landbridge before turning around. I could imagine my family sitting at home, watching the tracker, yelling at the screen, like that scene from Alien where Dallas is crawling around in the ductwork TOWARDS the Alien. As Karlos would later remind me though, he owed me about 40 miles of getting lost from the TNGA. Hopefully we're even now.

The details are long and drawn out, but we all headed toward Landbridge, Ruth got turned around, Justin went after her, Carol and I took a 20 minute nap in the middle of the trail before finally just heading off ourselves, this time on the correct route. I think it was 2AM when we got there. Karlos had waited for hours before finally taking off to have a few drinks with his girl.

I felt like I needed some real rest, so I parked it next to a picnic table, pulled out my bag and mat, cooked and ate some noodles, and plugged in my GPS in the bathroom to recharge. Me and Carol talked for a while, expecting Ruth and Justin to show up at any moment, but when they didn't, we just went to sleep. When they finally did show up, she took off with them, and I sacked out for a few more hours.

At 6AM I got up, packed up and ate some donuts. Except for that early-morning feeling and the general dampness, I felt great. Woohoo, time to knock out another 150 miles.

I walked into the bathroom to get my GPS, and it was gone.

No freakin' way.

Between 2:40 AM and 6AM, somebody had shown up, gone in to the bathroom, and taken it.

I called Karlos, got the numbers of the other riders and called them. None of them had it. The janitor showed up at 7AM. He hadn't been there yet that day. I'd already scoured the trash cans, tables, grass, parking lot and both bathrooms. It was gone.

Maybe somebody had been driving by in the middle of the night and stopped in to pee. It seems like I might have heard somebody drive up, but maybe not. Later, Dawn suggested that maybe some homeless guy lives in the woods nearby and uses the bathroom to clean up sometimes. My half-full brain wants to believe that whoever took it didn't do so out of malice. Perhaps it'll show up at some lost and found next week. If not, whoever you are, I really hope you enjoy it. Whether out of malice or kindness, the effect was the same. I was GPS-less and it was impossible to continue. There are long sections with unmarked turns that you cannot follow without local knowledge or a GPS, and I had neither.

I called Karlos for a pick-up and rode to Santos trailhead, following the green stickers. Santos is much easier in daylight.

 Santos - Day

Still, there were several un-stickered interesctions, and I'm not 100% confident that I rode the correct route. I did end up at the trailhead though, so probably I did.

As I rode up to Greenway bikes, I recognized Carol's bike leaning up against the wall. Karlos was picking her up too. She'd gotten a call from her boyfriend the night before and had to bail to take care of some business on the home front. She was inside, having a beer. They sell beer there. If they also sold Mexican food, they would have all of the bases covered.

End of the line.

 Greenway Bikes

They might not sell Mexican food at Greenway, but they had plenty of chips and snacks, so I ate those and drank another coke.

Karlos picked us up. He actually had another GPS he could have loaned me, but I would have had to take a 36 hour time penalty, and with all the waiting around, it would have put me well into Sunday, and Sunday's projected thunderstorms. It seemed like my time would be better spent getting back to my family and going to work on Monday.

We headed back to Minneola. I met his girlfriend, Edith, I think, man I hope that's right, I'm so bad with names. I also slept a little. We ended up missing Rob's finish by less than 1 minute.

I can't accurately describe Rob at that moment, but I'll try. He was very dirty, or just very dusty I guess. He had started with 2% body fat, and in the 28 hours it took him to cover the route, that had been reduced to -4%. He still had this super determined look on his face. He looked like an 11 foot tall Terminator with red hair. Seriously, I can't describe it. It was pretty amazing.

Carol changed clothes and hit the road like that was part of the race. I showered, sat on the couch, talked to Dawn for a while and scratched their cats and dogs. Rob was sacked out, so I didn't bother him. He deserved to rest, undisturbed, for days.

I figured I could get back to the ATL by 11PM or so if I got going, so I grabbed another slice at Little Anthony's and headed north.

Today I slept in and took it easy.

They say you learn more from your failures than your successes. I hope that's true here. I did learn a few things... AA-powered GPS's might be a better option next time - just swap the batteries, no need to recharge. A cue sheet stuck to the bars with a bit of duct tape works really well, even in high wind. Don't assume that nobody will show up and take your gear between 2:40 and 6AM. I always have my GPS set to show north as up, but Tim's was set to show your current heading as up. If I'd reset it, then I probably wouldn't have gotten spun around in Santos - I'd have realized I was heading west. I probably could have kept going rather than sleeping. I'd been going for 18 hours, and I'd never been at it that long before. I stopped more because it seemed like I needed to than because I hit some physical limit. I'll have to do some work there. What else? I don't know. I had no mechanicals, nor any physical problems. My seat was uncomfortable. Aero bars would have made a big difference. Some guys were using them, including Rob. I'll probably learn more as I reflect on it.

To everyone involved, thanks for the adventure, it was fun while it lasted, and thanks for the hospitality too; the lodging, the pickup and the company, all much appreciated, I really enjoyed it. I hope I can come back and get this thing done next year. It seems like that's my lot with these things. Second time's a charm.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Huracan 300


The last time I made a little pile like that, I was preparing to ride across Georgia. This time it's for a big loop around central Florida. I should be able to cover more miles per day, but I have no illusions about it being easy.

You should be able to watch me embarrass myself in the company of true warriors at Trackleaders. Wish me luck. Here I go.