Monday, November 14, 2011


The Cross Florida Individual Time Trial (or CFiTT) is a mostly off-road mountain bike race along a 180-ish mile route around central Florida, organized by the Naked Indian, the Singletrack Samurai, Karlos Bernart, who I know from the 2010 TNGA. The route changes every year. Sometimes the direction changes. The spelling of the title seems to change too, specifically, which letter is de-capitalized. This year we would spin a loop through Croom, head north to Santos, east through the Ocala NF, then south through Paisley. The distance was reckoned at about 184 miles.

The CFiTT is a gateway drug. It's longer than most long rides or races that most people do but if you've done a long ride or if you've done 6 or 12 hour lap races then it doesn't seem inconceivably long. It is remote though, so you have to treat it like a bikepacking trip, but it's a short bikepacking trip. And it's in Florida, so no climbing, right? You figure: "I got this." Then you do it once, get hooked and before you know it you've moved on to the harder stuff like the Huracan, TNGA, CTR, AZTR and ultimatly, the Tour Divide.

Or, at least that's the idea.

I had some goals for the ride. I planned on riding straight through, or at very least making only short stops. I might grab a nap on the side of the trail, but I would not camp. I hoped to be able to finish in less than 24 hours. I would also enjoy the terrain and scenery. Everything in Florida is completely different from everything in North Georgia and I've been jonesing to get out of my element lately. My final goal was sustainability. I wanted to be "fit-to-continue" at the end; to finish without a limp or a non-functioning brain or a pile of broken parts. I didn't want to just barely make it in.

Thursday night I packed up my gear. Friday morning I hit the road.

I started the day off with a Chocolate Chip Twist from the Dutch Monkey.

 Choc Chip Twist

No better way to start the day, except possibly with a different Dutch Monkey donut.

I left around 10AM so the traffic through Atlanta had died down already. South of town I got off the road for some reason that I forget now and there was a lady on the corner handing out flyers for a new restaurant which had the best name I've ever heard, ever: "Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle"


If I'd been the least bit hungry, I would have eaten there, just to have done it.

The rest of the trip was about like you'd think. Long, straight, fairly uneventful.

At the rest stop just south of the Florida border, I parked in front of this sign.


First time I've ever seen that. I imagine snakes come out of the woods to sun themselves on the pavement and some of them are poisonous. I actually hoped that I'd see a snake but disappointingly, there were none around.

I got to DeLeon Springs in good time but it took me forever to find Karlos. I was supposed to meet him at his girl Edith's house but the address he'd given me was one number off. Ha!

I did eventually find him. He and his son Kailin (hope I'm spelling that right) were rushing around like mad, getting everything ready. He had to replace the windshield wipers on his truck, and print out maps, and run by the store, and get the trackers working, and, and, and... It may seem like these events just pull themselves together, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It's crazy what you have to go through sometimes.

The trackers had arrived that afternoon. If you move them more than about 500 miles, you have to go through this undocumented reset procedure.


Eventually they started showing up on the map.

Derek Bentley and Jesse Durrance arrived shortly after me. Derek is a multiple Tour Divide finisher. I think Jesse is still in college or just out of college, had started riding recently and had done like one cross country race and one 6-hour race, total in his life. Something like that. They both live in Gainesville (FL) and drove over together.

We packed up our gear, ran by the Winn Dixie, staged our cars at the finish and headed back to town to meet Edith, her daughter Shelby and Karlos' other son Edward at Chili's. I'd met Edith at the Huracan, but I didn't get to talk to her much because I fell asleep immediately after they picked me up. It turns out they're a great family. They're all nice and friendly, fun to talk to and fun to be around. If you spend time with them, it makes you feel good.

Me and Derek and Jesse crashed out in the extra room at Edith's place. Sometimes I struggle to sleep the day before an event, but not this time. I was out like a light and got a good, solid 5 hours of sleep before the 3:30 wake-up call.

All we had to do was throw the bikes on the truck and roll but there was some complexity associated with getting Derek's bike on the rack.

 Loading Up

Maybe he had a Lefty but left the bracket in his van? I don't remember. They figured something out.

During all that, I had an opportunity to verify the appropriateness of my attire. It was supposed to get down into the low 40's or high 30's Saturday night and it was nearly that then. I was wearing a standard summer bib, jersey and gloves with a summer base layer under the jersey but I also had arm and knee warmers, a fleece cap, shoe covers and a set of Dri Ducks to keep the wind and rain out, should they be necessary. With all that on, I was comfortable walking around. The wind was blowing too but I couldn't feel it with the jacket on.

All right.

We arrived at the Croom trailhead a little after 6AM. The rest of the gang showed up over the next half hour. I think there were 13 of us. There were a bunch of people I'd never met, but also some people I recognized from the Huracan like Lynne Daniels and Jeff Tomassetti. Jeff had since finished the Tour Divide and was there with his nephew Jack. I got to meet Chris Tompkins too, who'd signed up for the TNGA but then gotten injured and couldn't make it.

 The Field

We had a quick riders meeting and Karlos handed out maps. Before hitting the sack, he, Jesse, Derek and I had highlighted the routes through Croom and Santos the night before. Most of the route was easy to follow, but the trails through those systems are complex and even with GPS, it wouldn't be hard to take a wrong turn.

Derek had said earlier that Florida is weird, it cools down over night like everywhere else, but for some reason that he explained but didn't get fully recorded in my still-sleepy mind, it reaches it's coldest point at 7AM before warming up quickly over the next few hours. At 5 minutes to 7, I was still comfortable riding around in the gear I had on. No last-minute change was necessary. In fact, in anticipation of the start and subsequent warm-up, I even took off my Dri Ducks.

I felt good. I felt prepared. I had no idea what tumultuous adversity lay ahead.


The start felt like the start of the second lap of a 6-hour where everyone is still bunched up, nobody is hammering but everybody is conscious of their position. It was like that. 7 or 8 of us formed a train and pulled away from the rest. A few miles in, I washed out in a sandy corner. I'd washed out in the same corner during the Huracan too. I even recognized it, swung wide and STILL washed out. Woohoo!

I was getting my money's worth though. There are no corners like that in North Georgia.

Five minutes later, I had to pee. I'd had a Dr. Pepper on the way over to help wake up. Everybody else had 3 cups of coffee but I don't drink much caffeine. I'm even drinking a caffeine-free Coke right now. As such, my tolerance to diuretics is what you might call "low." Over the next 20 miles I stopped to pee again and again and again and every time, it was biblical. I drank and drank to keep up but it was terrible. So, new rule: no more pre-ride Dr. Peppers for me.

Croom ends at the Withlacoochee rail-trail which is virtually identical to Atlanta's Silver Comet trail.


I took that north towards Floral City and Inverness.

Karlos came flying by me as soon as I got on the trail. He'd apparently taken a wrong turn at some point in Croom but he was back on track and making up for lost time.

I was incredibly sick at my stomach. I don't know whether it was the early morning wake up call, the caffeine, the 100% junk food breakfast or what, but I'd been on the verge of throwing up for the last few miles of Croom and the rock that kept forming in bladder had only made it worse. Thankfully, the Withlacoochee was smooth and delicious and after a few miles, my stomach calmed down.

It was starting to get warmer so I ditched the arm warmers and fleece hat. I may have even unzipped my jersey a bit.

For the Huracan, I'd borrowed a lightweight, bar-mount GPS from my buddy Tim Winters. It was very light, but its battery only lasted 11 hours and having to recharge it ultimately led to it getting stolen. As such, I vowed to use a AA-powered unit next time. I'd considered getting an E-Trex or something equally cheap and light but eventually I just settled on using my trusty old 60csx, bulk-monster though it may be.

You have to special order a mount for it though and I by the time I discovered that, it was too late. I ended up rigging something up with a mount for the E-Trex, part of a road tube and a bunch of zip-ties. Yeah. Engineering.

Anyway, I was looking down at it like I had for the past 20 miles, but since the trail was flat and straight and featureless, I started fiddling with it, zooming in and out, trying to find the right level, and it occurred to me. I hadn't reset the odometer. I almost always forget to reset the odometer and the kids are always asking me: "How far have we gone?" and I never know but for whatever reason, it occurred to me then and I reset it. I didn't know how far I'd already gone, but it couldn't have been more than 20 miles, but suddenly I had all kinds of stats to geek out over - average speed, average rolling speed, stop time, and so on. I could see if I was on track to finish on time, I could project my ETA. The joy of Information... It was almost overwhelming.

The first checkpoint was the Inverness Caboose.

 Inverness Caboose

There were 10 checkpoints, and you had to take a photo of either the thing itself, or your bike in front of the thing. In this case, it had to be your bike in front of it. As I rolled away, I caught up with two of the other riders, Luis and Scott. They had just finished taking their photos too.

We rode out the rest of the Withlacoochee together and took the pavement toward Potts Preserve. I say "rode together" but the ride was supposed to be an ITT and there were very specific no-drafting rules that we had to follow. We had to stay 6 bike lengths apart or 5-feet to the side of each other. If you wanted to pass, you had to get it done within 10 seconds. So we "rode together", but not like you'd normally think.

After a few miles we got back off the pavement on Dee River Road which is an excellent example of a Florida dirt road.

 Dee River Road

It's hard-packed sand, mixed with crushed limestone and the surface is very hard, except for where it's VERY soft. Sometimes the limestone gets ground up and forms a powdery little pile, or there will be a stretch of just pure sand. It takes a keen eye to spot the trouble ahead and pick the right line through it. I'd sort of gotten a feel for it during the Huracan, but it took a few miles to remember.

As we rolled into Potts Preserve, I stopped to take photos of the trailhead and a map of the trail. I've got some GPS data for Potts that I want to dump into my trail site, but I'd like to have photos and real trail names to go along with it. It would only take a few seconds and I wouldn't have another opportunity, so I let Scott and Luis go and took the precious photos.

Florida is dotted with dozens of little natures preserves. They're mostly owned by the state and the roads and trails through them are only open to bikes, horses and feet except during organized hunts. Potts is just one such preserve.

After Potts, you ride along a canal for a few miles and the grass just sucks the life out of you.

 Canal Trail

Remember trying to ride your bike across the grass in your front yard when you were a kid? It's like that.

I stopped at a gas station past the north end of the canal and grabbed some lunch: an ice cream sandwich, part of a crunch bar, a soda, some chips...


I also grabbed some provisions for the ride ahead.

Lately, I've been making sure to keep plenty of sugar in my on-the-bike diet. Gotta keep the brain working and the brain runs on pure sugar. When my brain gets depleted, I swear it makes up problems that aren't really there. "My knee hurts. My elbow hurts. I've got to go to the bathroom..." Stupid brain. Here's your candy bar. Leave me alone.

Checkpoint two was the sign at Stumpknockers, just up the road a bit.


I'd tried to eat there during the Huracan but the entire state of Florida was there at the time and it was hopeless. Scott and Luis were there taking their photos too and I ended up rolling out ahead of them.

Next up: the Halpata Tastanaki preserve. It's basically just like Potts but bigger.


Somewhere in there I caught and passed Derek and got caught by Scott and Luis again. We ran into several groups of friendly equestrians near the end.

There's a dirt road leading into and out of Halpata and you have to jog right for a few hundred yards before turning onto another trail. The next checkpoint, the Pruitt Memorial, should have been somewhere in that general vicinity. The waypoint in my GPS made it look like it was way off to the left and behind us but Scott and Luis were confident it was a ways on down the Greenway. Long ago I'd seen a map of Halpata and from the map, I remembered the memorial being in the general direction of the waypoint. Also, I hadn't seen any memorial when I rode the Huracan so I was pretty sure it wasn't on the Greenway and went back to look for it. At the Halpata trailhead, I ran into Derek again and a couple out hiking. The couple didn't know where the memorial was. Derek had gotten coordinates off of Google Earth, which, as it turns out, were also wrong and just led us to a circular sidewalk at the equestrian trailhead. The actual memorial was, in fact, a ways on down the Greenway. We passed some equestrians on the way and they confirmed that. I should have trusted Scott and Luis.

 Pruitt Memorial

Apparently, Pruitt was an aviator who died in a crash near that spot. It made me kind of sad to read the story. Somebody put up a marble plaque and a big circle of stones in memorial. I've seen similar plaques and memorials at Nimblewill Gap and at Chicopee in Georgia. Sad.

In other news... I don't pretend to understand the dynamics of sand yet, but I'm learning. If it's loose, you have to gear down and spin but you also have to predict it or you'll just suddenly lose all your speed and be in the wrong gear to do anything about it. If you try to just fly through it, that can work, but only if it's a short enough section. The big patches of loose sand most often seem to form in low spots that are highly exposed to the sun. It hardens a bit if it gets wet, even from dew. Also stuff is constantly trying to grow in it and a little bit of growth makes it substantially harder.

The Greenway afforded me ample opportunity to study every aspect of sand in great detail.

The next leg of the journey would take me all the way across Santos.

The Santos trail system is huge. There must be 50 miles of trail there and there is no such thing as a representative photo. I started taking photos but soon I realized that I'd have to take dozens of photos and I just didn't have time for that. The terrain, foliage and trail layout vary dramatically from mile to mile.

For example, these photos...

 Santos  Christmas

Both taken at Santos.

I picked up the relatively new "Earn and Burn" trail at the Ross Prairie trailhead and started winding through the first semi-technical singletrack of the day. I'd ridden plenty of singletrack at Croom earlier, but none of it was twisty or technical. Earn and Burn was very twisty though and whoever built it ran it up, down and around all kinds of bluffs. It was a lot of fun, but it was difficult to keep any kind of speed. I did my best to just stay off the brakes, flow and recover. I'd been pushing the pace earlier and it did me a world of good.

About halfway across Santos, the GPS track put me on some limestone doubletrack trail. Right as I turned onto it, an owl flew down and glided next to me for a long time. I actually had time look over, determine that it was an owl, look carefully at it, get tired of looking at it, look away and get interested in it again before it changed course. I'm pretty sure that it was the only wildlife that I saw on the entire ride, and oddly enough, in the section most heavily trafficked by humans.

Eventually the limestone trail led away from the GPS track. Upon noticing this, I pulled out the map to double-check but whoever had highlighted the route on the map that I got had failed to highlight that section!

This is classic for me. If you and I walk into a store pick identical items off of the shelf, there is a substantially higher chance that the one I grabbed is defective. This has been a constant throughout my life. I often joke that with all the bad luck I have, in order for the universe to balance out, I must be narrowly avoiding death every day, without realizing it. I guarantee that everyone else's map was complete.

No matter though, I'd traced the route on 6 or 8 maps myself the night before, I knew where I was supposed to go and I backtracked to the previous intersection. Derek was standing there, digging in his pack, looking for his map. He had noticed the error too and we got back on track together.

Just past 49th street there was another error. The GPS said to go straight but the map wanted us to take the Canal Diggings Trail, which was infinitely twistier and longer than the map alluded to but in the end, turned out to be correct.

Checkpoint four was a little drawing of Waldo. Where's Waldo? He's hanging out at Landbridge.

 Landbridge Waldo

Landbridge takes you over I-75 and I stopped for a minute to have a look at the highway.

 I-75 from Landbridge

It's always weird to me when a bike ride crosses some major thoroughfare. It seems unnatural. It's definitely interesting, but weird.

On the west side there were a couple of mountain bikers and a lady on a horse. One of the mountain bikers had a Weimaraner that she called "Banks" which was odd because I'd encountered a couple with a dog earlier in the ride and they called their dog "Banks" too. It's such an odd name and it just made it odder that there were two dogs with that same name in Florida and that I'd run into both of them that day.

I stopped at the trailhead nearby to fill up my bottles and have a bite to eat. I filled up in the same bathroom that I'd lost my GPS in last time.

 Landbridge Facilities

There were a bunch of boy scouts there that appeared to have been hiking the Florida Trail and I had to wait for all of them to wash their hands before I could use the sink. Their adult supervisor was kind of a dick and kept saying strange things, implying that the kids were doing something wrong, like: "Watch it there slick, don't go too far. I'm not letting you out of my sight. I know what you're up to." Stuff like that. It was weird. He seemed like a weird guy.

The next checkpoint was at Greenway Cycles, about 10 miles away via more twisty, though mostly-flat singletrack.

 Greenway Cycles

As I arrived, Jesse was leaving and Derek was about to leave.

"It's Dave Muse! Look everybody, it's Dave Muse!"

"With my tiny wheels!"

"They're so small!"

It's hard to explain why the "It's Dave Muse" part is funny but it had become a bit of a joke the night before and we kept repeating it all day. The tiny wheels part is because I'm still running 26'ers and out of 13 riders, only one other rider wasn't running 29's. This also became a bit of a joke.

I grabbed an ice cream and a soda at the bike shop and ate the rest of my Fritos. I also took off my base layer and shoe covers. It had to be in the low 80's by then. I left the knee warmers on, honestly, because I was too lazy to take them off.

Rolling away, my rear wheel felt funny. It had felt loose earlier but I just figured it was because of all the sand but now it felt funny on the paved parking lot too. I'd gotten the hub rebuilt about two weeks ago and with Chris King hubs, if you take them apart and put them back together, you usually have to ride for about 50 miles and then tighten them up again. Prior to the start of the race, I'd only ridden about 25 miles, but that day, I'd already ridden 88 more. It was definitely time to tighten it up. Fortunately I was at a bike shop and it was no problem.

At Baseline Road I jogged south for a quarter mile to hit a gas station. I would be entering the Ocala National Forest soon, and though there were a couple of places I could get water, from that point on there were no more opportunities for food. I wasn't sure if I'd need to camp or not, so I grabbed two "meals" worth of food and a couple of snacks to get me by in between.

Walking out of the store, I noticed a kid looking pretty closely at my bike. When he saw me he turned away and kind of jogged out into the parking lot. It seemed odd but I guess he might have thought I'd be mad that he was so close to my bike. When he saw that I wasn't, he walked right back over. I'd accidentally left one of my water bottles inside on the counter and when I ran back in to grab it, he even held the door for me on the way out. Nice kid.


As I rode away, I noticed that one of the zip-tie straps was missing off of my GPS. It was definitely there when I'd gone into the store. The whole thing had kind of started flopping to the side and I'd adjusted it right before I'd gotten off the bike...

Holy crap.

That kid had tried to steal my GPS. Suddenly, his behavior made sense. He'd gotten the first strap off, but the second strap is much harder to get off, he couldn't manage it before I walked back out, almost got caught and played it off real cool. Bravo on that acting job, sir. You fooled me.

What the hell is up with Floridians trying to steal my GPS? That's two for two now. Fortunately this kid didn't succeed. Can you imagine having to abandon twice, in as many rides, for the same ridiculous reason? Unbelievable.

The strap that was left held it on to the mount but just the minor bumps on the road made it keep twisting to one side. It would never do on singletrack. Fortunately, I was carrying duct tape. With enough zip ties and duct tape, I can fix anything.


 GPS Missing Strap

Well, it's hard to tell in the photo but I put a piece of duct tape across the back and it was actually better than before. The zip tie had been directly across the screen and obscured a bit of the route sometimes. The duct tape obscured nothing. Nothing!

Yeah, try to steal my GPS...

The Baseline trails were paved but they led to the unpaved Marshall Swamp Trail which was probably my favorite part of the entire route. There were towering Palmettos on either side with even more towering Cypress and I think maybe Black Gum sticking up out of them. It was other worldly. This photo doesn't come close to doing it justice.

 Marshall Swamp Palmetto

Every now and then there would be a little bridge or culvert over an open, swampy, expanse, shot through with cypress knees.

 Marshall Swamp Cypress

It was beautiful, and I hit it at just the right time of day too, the magic hour, about an hour and a half before the sun went down.

About 2/3rds of the way through, I encountered a couple, walking back toward Baseline. Upon seeing them, I stopped, completely, about 10 feet away and said: "Hey, how's it going?" The guy just smiled and replied: "Pretty good." The lady shrieked and answered, with a pissed off tone of voice: "Just trying not to get hit." And with that encounter I now, finally, have a personal experience to support my theory of the hiker/biker conflict which has been alleged to exist in North Georgia.

I encounter so many hikers that it would barely be a stretch to say that I encounter them perpetually, and I can't think of a single instance, except now this one, that I would describe as "conflict." However, I've kept an open mind and I have heard and read descriptions of encounters, and presuming that they are accurate, I got the distinct impression that in a few cases, the biker legitimately acted irresponsibly, but that in most cases, the hiker simply got startled and then drew conclusions about the encounter which were based more on how they felt than on what actually happened. Such was the case here. Nobody was in any danger. I had no problem stopping and left plenty of room between us. The guy wasn't even startled. The lady behind him was though, and then concluded that she'd been in danger as a result.

I mulled this over as I rode away but it wasn't long before I got distracted by the scenery and forgot entirely about it.

The sun was officially down at the Marshall Swamp trailhead. It wasn't dark yet but I couldn't tell which direction was west without looking at the GPS. There was a bathroom there so I topped off my bottles but I didn't need to eat.

From having looked at the route over top of aerial photos and USGS maps, I expected that I'd soon be delving into the deepest, darkest, most unpenetrated woods in the world, but instead I ended up on a series of paved roads with wide shoulders and cars passing me every 20 seconds.

The further I went though, the fewer cars went by and after a while I did, finally feel like I was in "the woods".

This gruesome discovery helped to affirm that feeling too.

 Deer Ribcage

The head was gone and the legs were scattered about. The upper portions had been stripped but the lower parts hadn't been touched. They were all meat and fur and hooves, lying all over the place.

The sun was still down, but the light just refused to die off. I kept thinking "10 more minutes" but I must have thought that 5 or 6 times.

To either side of the road there were various gated dirt roads and one of them had an 80's Cutlass Sierra or something with a super clean candy red paint job and 26 inch chrome rims parked right up against the gate. I've seen Escalades in the woods before and little hatchbacks, but I've never seen anything that looked as out of place as that particular car. It was like Lil Wayne had taken up big game hunting or something. I love seeing stuff like that.

After a while, I did, finally end up on an actual dirt road. Along the length of the road there were dozens of hunters standing to either side, next to their trucks. The first truck I passed had a deer in the bed but that's the only one I saw. I later learned that at the end of the day, on that road at least, the game warden drives through and checks you out. That kind of made sense but then why was everybody that didn't get anything still hanging around? I'm sure there's a good reason but it eluded me at the time.

I gave everybody I passed a wave and a nod and got the same in return. Karlos warned me not to talk to anyone in the forest at night, but it wasn't officially night yet and everybody was all smiles and friendly gestures so far, some even gave me a "hi" or some other pleasantry.

The road itself had an odd feature, or perhaps series of features, depending on how you think about it. There were potholes here and there, and in many of them, somebody had placed a big block of concrete. For the most part, they appeared to have selected chunks that were sized and shaped to fit the hole but even the best-fitting chunks didn't fit all that well. In a truck, you might not even notice it if you ran one over, but on the bike it could be disastrous. Potholes can really sneak up on you, and these were like potholes with landmines in them, so I was extra vigilant.

I'd had my headlamp on since Marshall Swamp so oncoming cars could see me but it wasn't really illuminating my path. Longest sunset ever.

Before long I was back on pavement. I rode that for a few miles, started to get that low-brain-fuel feeling and stopped at some random intersection for a snack. My pack was a veritable pantry.


There were carbs and protein in there but I really just needed sugar and the crunch bars were calling my name. The temps were starting to drop too so I put most of my winter gear back on.

Back on the road...

It was really close to what I think of as "dark" but not quite. A few cars passed me. One of them made the closest, fastest pass I've ever had in my life. I was in a curve, way over on the shoulder and a car passed me with both passenger side wheels to my side of the white line at what had to be 70 miles an hour. I got the impression that he was just taking the curve way too fast and drifted over. It didn't seem intentional. I doubt he saw me at all. The craziest part... The car belonged to a church. There was a big gold cross sticker on the back glass with scripture to either side. The name of the church was written across the trunk and I could even kind-of make out a big sticker on the door. The guy driving it had a big fuzzy hat on too. Crazy.

The next checkpoint was the Solid Rock Bible Church. I had to take photos of my bike in front of the sign. Oddly enough though, there were two signs. I took a photo in front of each. This turned out to be the correct one:

 Solid Rock Bible Church

Across the street, there was some kind of wild paaartay going on. I couldn't tell what kind of establishment it was though. There was no sign out front that I could see but back a bit on the property there was a building and a covered patio to the left of it with two winches like the ones used to weigh deer at a game check station. There must have been 50 cars parked around the property and they were playing loud country music. It looked like a good time but I never figured out what was going on.

My bottles were mostly full but I figured the church might have a spigot and it wouldn't hurt to fill up so I made a lap around the building, looking carefully for a hose or something. I've never seen a building with more pipes and conduits and valves on it. I kept thinking I'd found a hose, only to discover it was part of the AC or something. Finally, in the very last 5 feet, I found a hose. If I'd gone the other way, I'd have found it immediately. Ha.

It was now dark, truly dark, and a few miles later I was back on dirt, heading north.

I zoomed the GPS out, looking for the next turn but the map never looked any different. Was the button broken? I checked the scale. No, the scale kept getting bigger. What the heck? Oh! Wow. There was nothing wrong, the road was just really, really, really long and really, really, really straight. There were some slight bends to it but they were obscured by the scale. That's a new one for me.

Being dark now, I couldn't just look down at the GPS any more, the screen was just a black square on my stem. If I wanted to see anything, I had to hit a button to trigger the backlight. I can't accurately describe how long that road felt. I'd ride for what seemed like an eternity, hit the button and discover that I'd only gone about a fifth of the way. It never failed to amaze me how much further I still had to go.

My headlamp has 4 settings. The lowest setting should last for 11 hours but I've never actually tested it. Just to be safe, I figured it would be a good idea to conserve the battery wherever I could. I've ridden on plenty of dirt roads in the dark before and this one seemed like an ideal candidate. It was wide and solid, I hadn't seen any potholes. I switched off the light and when my eyes adjusted, it was uniquely beautiful. The moon hadn't come up yet, the stars were dense, the road was a ribbon and the forest to either side was low brush with trees sticking up out of it on 30 foot centers. There was no color though, only black and white. It felt like I was watching an old movie except that it was real.

It did get old after a while, but as long and potentially boring as the roads around the Ocala are, riding directly across it would be a lot worse. In the dead center, there's a gigantic Air Force bombing range. Even if it was legal to ride through it, I still think I'd choose to go around.

The next checkpoint was at Lake Eaton. There's a short loop leading from the road to the shore and three overlooks. We had to take a photo at each overlook.

 Lake Eaton Olook 1  Lake Eaton Olook 2  Lake Eaton Olook 2

The lake looked beautiful. I wish I could have seen it during the day.

Oh yeah, also, right as I got on the trail, I passed a small pile of bear scat, still steaming. Yeah. For the next few minutes I was all "Hello bear! You can stay wherever you are. I don't really want to run into you. Just keep up whatever you're doing..." Still steaming! I never ran into the bear though.

The next leg was another long run across the top of the "hammerhead". Together, the roads we took through the Ocala sort of make the shape of a big hammer or maybe an anvil. Karlos called it the hammerhead. It looked like the stretch along the top would be even longer than the one up the west side. Ugh.

There's some kind of groove that I settle into though when I get well into a long ride. I think early on I'm keyed up and I over-spend a bit, then later I get recovered and then after all that, my body tunes itself down to a pace that I can hold for as long as have fuel to keep going or until I hit some hard limit like lack of training for some particular muscle or lack of sleep or something. I was definitely in that groove and the miles just flew by.

The roads up there are hard packed, they might as well be paved, and there are just endless rollers but they're really shallow and you can just plow right through them. I alternated between a couple of different positions. When one set of muscles would dwindle, I'd switch. Standing up, it was amazing. It didn't even feel like riding a bike. I had the sensation that I was leaping down the road in massive strides, 30 feet each. Actually, that description doesn't even do it justice.

The moon was up and nearly full, and though everything was still black and white, I could see a lot of detail. The forest alternated between prairie and woods. Occasionally, when there was prairie on both sides, a blanket of fog would hover a few feet above the brush and as the road dove down into it, the temperature would drop substantially. Sometimes I'd crest a slightly taller hill than usual and I could see the road stretching out ahead of me forever. Forever! I fathomed brand new meanings of the words "vast" and "expansive."

If it hadn't been for what happened next, I would recommend a night crossing of the Ocala to any serious mountain biker.

After an eternity of dead straight miles, I crossed a couple of roads and made a couple of turns. Finally, after the last turn I was heading south again. Almost immediately, a road intersected from the right and a pair of headlights appeared at the intersection. I flipped my light on so they'd see me and they did. I gave them the standard nod and wave.

At first the guy was friendly: "Hey buddy, are you lost? Need a ride?"

"No thanks, I'm good. I know where I'm going."


And I kept moving. But then the guy's tone changed dramatically.

"You know it's dangerous out here, someone could gut you... kill you. A bear could eat you! Fucking Crazy!!"

The guy's tone was odd too. It was a mix of incredulity and contempt, like: "I can't believe what you're doing, and now I've become angry at you for confounding me." The further he got through his little speech, the louder and more distorted his voice got. People yell crazy stuff at me on the road every other day, but it's usually one unintelligible word at 50 miles an hour. This guy had an oddly specific set of things on his mind and since I had to climb a loose, sandy hill after the intersection, he had plenty of time to express himself. It was a little unnerving but they headed off north and I was headed south so I more or less ignored it.

A few seconds later though, they turned around and floored the truck. From the top of the hill I could see their lights heading my way. They might just be looking to scare me but a very compelling instinct kept encouraging me to avoid the encounter altogether. There was a water turnout right there. Ok. I jumped off the bike, walked down to the end and obscured myself in the brush. I'd already turned out my lights.

They drove by and kept going, periodically revving the engine hard. The motor had a distinct sound so I waited and listened for it to die off. Eventually it faded into the background. They'd either gotten tired of screwing with me or maybe it was an odd misunderstanding and they meant to go that way to begin with. Who knows? People are crazy.

I climbed out and got back on the road, heading south. And there they were, headed back toward me with the lights off. Instinctively I flipped on my light, not really thinking, just not wanting whoever it was to hit me on accident. When I did, I could see that there were 3 of them. The driver had this intent look and when he saw me his whole face lit up. He tried to turn toward me but the road was too sketchy right there and he almost ended up in the ditch. After recovering from that, they headed down to the next good spot, spun around and came back after me.

"You've got to be kidding me." I actually said it out loud.

Again, I hid in the woods and let them pass. This time they came by more slowly, with the lights off. It didn't seem like they were up to casual shenanigans any more. I thought hard about it too. Were they just running up and down that road, spotlighting deer? That would explain some of their behavior, but not all that wild revving of the engine or trying to turn toward me. Ultimately all I could say was that I didn't know what their intentions were. I couldn't be certain that they were malicious but given what the driver had said earlier, I couldn't really rule it out either.

I was in a small clearing with really dense brush and a few trees around the edge. I could get way back from the road, there was a bunch of debris in the clearing and I was obscured from both directions. I didn't feel "safe" per se but it was a good spot.

I had the sound of the motor down now, so I listened. It never went away. In fact, it got louder and quieter as if they were driving up and down the road. They were searching and it was a persistent and methodical search.

The next section of trail was at least 10 miles away and they were between me and the trail. I didn't know the roads in the area. The prairie was incredibly dense and I couldn't realistically push through it. I considered hitting the 911 button on the SPOT but then it occurred to me that my phone might work. Yep, 1 bar. How do you like that? A stroke of good luck for once. Should I call the cops? I still heard the motor in the distance. They'd been searching for about 15 minutes already and they were still at it.

Yep. I should call the cops.

I had a hard time explaining the situation to the 911 operator. She kept wanting a street address. Eventually she understood though and handed me off to Lake County PD. I did a better job of explaining it to them and ended up giving them my GPS coordinates so they could figure out what road I was on. Apparently it was FS65. They eventually handed me off to Marion County PD and the Lake County officer explained the situation in like 5 seconds using the power of police jargon. Marion County dispatched a deputy to meet me. He'd be coming toward me from the south and he'd probably call me when he was close. For most of the call, I could still hear the truck driving back and forth in the distance but toward the end it had faded out. The officer said to call him if they came back.

I sat and waited and listened. I hadn't heard anything for about 15 minutes and started thinking about heading south to meet the deputy on the road. Maybe the bad guys had given up. Nope. Right then, the motor cranked up. They'd stopped to the south, killed the engine and waited. I called the cops back and I was on the phone when the truck passed back by. Not 10 seconds later the deputy arrived in another truck. He had a lot of lights and it looked like the sun coming down the road. I didn't get out in time and he drove right past me. The officer on the phone said they'd get him to spin back and they did but it took a few minutes.

I headed south along the road. The bad guys were north of me. The deputy would eventually find me. Worst case, if they eluded the cops and came back south, I'd at least hear them coming and just hide again. Woohoo. I headed south. A few minutes later the deputy came back and I waited. It turned out it was a lady, not a dude, like they'd said on the phone.

Had the bad guys abandoned the search? No. In fact, they'd driven up the road past me and parked with the lights off again. When they saw the deputy they flashed their lights at her for some reason, then fled. She was going to chase but she got the call to spin back for me right then.

I talked to her for a while and explained what I was doing. I half-expected a blame-the-victim attitude for being out in the woods so late but instead, she was friendly and intrigued. That's the reaction I usually get when I run into people on a ride longer than about 50 miles. We were even talking about it in Karlos' car the night before. People are generally friendly and sometimes they offer you help. What you're doing sounds amazing to them and they're eager to be part of it.

I've never had anyone act very suspicious before. I've certainly never had anyone try to chase me down before. Still, I would bet that despite this instance, that kind of thing is still exceedingly rare. That is my lot though and I can only hope that by absorbing all these 1-in-a-millions, somehow it prevents them from landing on my friends.

It doesn't sound that bad when I tell people about it or even when I re-read what I've written here, but at the time, I feared for my life. I really want to believe that there's some relatively innocent explanation that I'm just not getting. Maybe there is. I'd sure like to hear it.

The deputy followed me out to Hwy 40 and then down the road for a few miles.

The rest of the ride was less eventful but still worth relating.

The next checkpoint was at Buck Lake. On the way to it I had to walk about halfway around a different lake through some deep, loose sand. It was hard to even push the bike and I ended up carrying for a while. Then, immediately afterwards, there was a mile or more of downed trees.

The Buck Lake checkpoint was an old water pump. Karlos said it was on the left, but wasn't much more specific and I didn't trust the waypoint. As soon as I was near the lake I scoured every little mini-clearing to the left of the trail. Eventually I found the pump, in the middle of a campground, with a sidewalk leading directly to it.

 Buck Lake Punp

There were tents all around and it was the middle of the night. I tried hard to be quiet and invisible but I needed water and the pump itself made all kinds of racket. It was comical. I tried pumping faster but then it just made an entirely different kind of loud noise. Fortunately nobody woke up, or if they did they didn't make any noise. I heard one guy sort of half-snore when I first walked up but that was all.

There were bathrooms by the road so I made a pit stop and sat down in the lot for a "meal". Zingers, Doritos, crackers. Delicious calories.

The next section of trail was ridiculously overgrown. Ridiculously. I walked the bike. My light kept getting hooked on branches. I lost my glasses.

I've been trying to lose those glasses for years now. Several times I have lost them, only to find them again, miraculously. I paid $24 dollars for them at Performance Bike. I've lost several pairs of $100+ Smiths for good but the $24 ghetto shades just kept coming back to me. Not this time.

I think I heard every coyote in Central Florida around then too. They were barking and howling all over, non-stop. For at least an hour, it was perpetual. They always seemed to be a long way away though and I never saw any sign of them.

The Paisley Road Sign was the next checkpoint. I just had to take a photo of the sign itself.

 Paisley Road Sign

All I had left was the Paisley trail. I wasn't sure how far it was to the south end but I felt as strong as I had all night and I had plenty of time left. Unless something really bad happened, I could still finish in under 24 hours.

The Paisley Woods itself reminded me of Croom but the brush between the trees was shorter. It was actually tricky to follow the trail sometimes, as it so closely resembled its surroundings, especially in the dark. There were reflective yellow markers on the trees though and I did ok.

Long stretches were flat and straight and I stood up and bounded across the landscape like I'd been doing up on the hammerhead earlier.

About halfway through, I saw a house or a building or something off to the left and heard some people talking. There was a strip of yellow caution tape across the trail right there too, with a thing of red reflective dye like I've seen the Rangers use dangling from it. I paused but I needed to keep moving so I just kept an eye out for the next mile or so. There was no obvious reason for the tape. It was a mystery.

The last few miles flew by. For some reason though, all the climbing in the entire trail system seemed to be concentrated in the last mile and a half.

Rolling up and seeing my truck parked in the lot was one of those elating, joyous, uplifting moments. Derek's van was there too but I didn't see his bike on the roof. I was sure that at least 5 riders had finished ahead of me, including him and Jesse. Maybe his bike was inside. I thought about going over and peeking in but that would have been creepy so I decided against it.

I almost forgot to take a photo of my bike at the trailhead kiosk; the final checkpoint.

 Paisley Kiosk

It was 5:22 AM. It had taken me 22 hours and 22 minutes, well within my goal of 24, I had ridden straight through without camping, I had definitely enjoyed the scenery, and for all intents and purposes, my bike and I were both fit to continue an I still feel fine now, two days later. Miraculously, I had achieved every one of my goals, and I was way less tired than I expected.

 Less Tired Than I Expected

The night before, I'd left a stash of Dr. Pepper, Beef Jerky, Twix and Corn chips in the back of my truck along with a pillow, sleeping bag and air mattress. I cozied up, pigged out and crashed.

Not two and a half hours later I hear: "Dave Muse is here! Dave Muse!" It was Jesse. He and Derek were up. They had apparently come in before me. Derek was asleep in his van. I have no idea where Jesse had been. We all packed up and headed back to Edith's place.

I really needed a shower. My hair was disgusting. That's the one thing that really struck me. It was just coarse and sticky and disgusting. I shampooed it like 3 times, just to be sure.

Karlos was already there. He'd had some kind of dizzy spell that got so bad that he had to call for a pick-up. I hope that doesn't turn out to be anything serious.

It was hard to tell who finished when or in what order. Some people forgot to reset their trackers. Some people forgot to take photos at some of the checkpoints. The results will shake out over the next few days. I was shown to be in 5th but I think it was really more like 7th or 8th. We'll see though, you never know.

Edith cooked us french toast and bacon and sitting there eating, the sleepies really started kicking in. I needed to get going though. It was nearly noon, I had an 8 hour trip ahead of me and I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour so I said my goodbyes. It was Shelby's birthday so I wished her a Happy Birthday too, and hit the road. Two Mountain Dew Livewires kept me awake all the way back and I even made it home in time to put the kids to bed.

God, what a ride. Thursday night I joked flippantly about Epicness and "everything Central Florida can throw at me." What is it they say? "Be careful what you wish for?"

Yeah. Be careful what you wish for.


  1. Great story, Dave. Incredibly scary to read about your encounter with the crazed truck. Good thinking to hide and call the police--you may well have saved your butt. I don't own a gun, but I might think about it if I ever ride the CFITT!

  2. Bad to the bone! I'm glad you had the wits about you to hide in the bushes. Thank you sugar!!

    I've been threatened in the ONF at night too. Karlos, I think, has had to dive into the bushes as well. There is a definite undesirable element in that forest at night!

    Way to show the route who's boss!

  3. Hey, it's Dave Muse! When did he get here? Everyone look, it's Dave Muse!

    Nice recount of the story...but so much better when told in person.

  4. Squeal lahk ah peeig for meh!

  5. wow..what a story. I cant believe you didnt hear banjo music at least one time.Nice job.What an adventure.

    -Mark D.

  6. crap so glad you were smart enough to get out of that craziness! i thought last year that place was scary even in the daylight!!