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.


  1. dude, mystery GPS-thief!!! my guess is that it was a random homeless dude that thought it was an electric razor...

  2. Hah! Yeah. I can just imagine. "Man, how do I use this?..."

  3. awesome. glad you came down. feel free to return any time you feel the need for more variety and textures of sand!!

  4. Enjoyed your excellent write up.

    This may all be old news but---A Etrex Vista or Legend will go 24-34 hrs with 2 lithium AA’s and fit on the bars quite nicely. Also you can turn on the track feature—so you lay down a live/new track over the loaded track –with different colors to help keep them separate. This method will keep you from reversing directions (assuming it’s on all the time). A glance at the live track vs the loaded track also helps you pick out upcoming turns in the dark.