Wednesday, April 4, 2012

HuRaCaN 300

Last year I drove to Florida, rode my mountain bike for 160 miles and laid down for a nap. When I woke up my GPS was missing, I had no way of figuring out where to go for the next 140 miles and I all I could do was just drive back home. To call it "disappointing" might be technically correct but it really doesn't say it. A few months ago I rode the CFiTT down there, hoping to get some small bit of closure, but it was such a different ride that, while satisfying, it was no Huracan.

A week or two post-CFiTT, Vonnie McClung called me out of the blue: "I'm thinking about doing the Huracan in 2012 and I've got a few questions..." Somehow I'd missed the announcement myself but before he'd even finished his sentence I had already decided to join him.

A few months later, the now-familiar pile o-gear had accumulated itself in my living room...

 Gear Pile

...and again, adventure was imminent.

The drive down flew by. I'd remembered it being 8 hours, and I think it was last year when I had to go to Minneola. I think it was for the CFiTT too when I had to go to DeLeon Springs but this time I just had to go to Ocala. The start was at Greenway Bicycles, across from the Santos Trailhead. It took about 6 hours. I got there at 4 PM and had all night to eat and relax.


I scored a campsite and a multi-day parking permit at the Santos campground with the secret phrase: "I'm here for the 300 mile bikepacking adventure." I'd been leapfrogging Jason Murrell all the way down and he and Chad Parker had the site next to mine. We hung out for about half an hour before Vonnie and Steve arrived.

Last year I had a chance at a good, competitive finish. This year, it was WAY less likely. Jason and Chad, for example, are the real deal. Shey Lindner was signed up too. For that matter, so was Kari Lindner, not to mention Ruth Cunningham. Yeah, I know those last two are women and they technically don't count against me but they were still guaranteed to finish ahead of me. At that point I was optimistically hoping for 7th or 8th, maybe 9th.

When Vonnie and Steve arrived we had a few loose ends to tie up. I'd apparently missed the required gear list entirely. In fact, none of us could find it. I had to call Karlos, the Naked Event Director, to get the run down. I always hate bugging the event director, even if he's a friend. Actually, especially if he's a friend cause he's less likely to ignore my call, even if it's an imposition. Every year, on the day before the Fool's Gold, me and Eddie are always running around trying to get stuff done and his phone rings every two minutes. Usually it's somebody who needs some bit of info that's already been sent out - like the required gear list, for example. Karlos was cool though and read it off to me. I needed another tube and an emergency whistle. The irony is that I actually have an emergency whistle it was just still on my other pack from the trip to the Canyon. Dangit!

No problem though. We ran by the bike shop, ran by Wal Mart, and then randomly ended up at Abio's pizza for dinner.


I don't know how this happened, but somehow Florida ended up with all the good pizza places. We ate some fantastic stuffed-crust pizza when I was there a few years ago for Isabel's gym meet. Last year I had another amazing one at Lil Anthony's in Minneola with Rob. Abio's was just as good, though very different. They put sauce on top of the cheese at Abio's. Oh, man, it's making me hungry now. Eat at Abio's. You eat there! The owner was apparently a marathon runner for years too and he's got all kinds of photos and a jersey and a bunch of his old numbers all over the back wall of the place. It seemed fitting, given what we were about to do.

That night I slept under my makeshift tarp and woke up about 4 hours in because it had gotten a little chilly. My little mylar bivvy was enough to keep out the cold but I was a surprised. I mean, come on, it's Florida. How does it get cold in Florida? The gear worked though. I got a good night's sleep and I was confident that it would work for the coming nights. It's one thing to test it on your porch, but you're never really sure until you've slept on the ground, in country.

The next morning we assembled at the now-familiar Greenway Bicycles.


I told Vonnie (left) and Steve to hold still for a photo but they just kept screwing around.

 Vonnie and Steve

Fine, y'all keep screwing around, I'm still taking pictures.

Karlos and his son Kailan were riding the route on a tandem.

 NI and Lil'r NI

I hope one day I can share a similar adventure with my girls. Maybe not a 300 mile mountain bike ride on a tandem, but something.

The field assembled and Donnie (who runs Greenway) lined us all up for a photo but I prefer to get those "Night Watch" style shots and managed to get one before the line-up.

 The Field

And the orchestra finished tuning, and the crowd got quiet, and the anticipation rose, and I closed my eyes and let my whole life sweep back, and when I opened them again, all I could see was the road ahead.

Nothing else.

If it were a movie, triumphant music would have exploded out of nowhere. Most likely, the intro to All Along the Watchtower. It was like that.

Just like that.


The first few miles were supposed to be a neutral rollout so I hung around the back and talked to everybody. At Marshall Swamp everybody started riding for real. We rode through the greenway and onto the first dirt of the day.

With towering, almost unnaturally green palmettos, Marshall Swamp had been the most beautiful section of the CFiTT, but now the palmettos were recovering from winter and most of them had brown edges and dead fronds. It was by no means hideous, but it was a bit like going back to that restaurant you loved as a kid and finding that it doesn't taste as good as you remember.

Vonnie, Steve and I were in a little group by ourselves. The really strong guys were off the front. Everybody else was a minute behind.

About halfway through the swamp we heard whirring and buzzing and cutting and eventually passed a gigantic machine a'rippin and a'tearin through the woods, right up to the border of the greenway property. The machine was huge and mauling through the jungle like that, it reminded all of us of a scene from that movie Avatar. We were looking right at it and it still didn't seem real.

We ran into a hiker, made a wrong turn, corrected it, ran into that same hiker again, and then shortly after, were out of the swamp and on our way into the Ocala National Forest.

Something was squeaking though. I thought it might be a bird at first, then somebody else's bike, then finally my bike, and I spent a while trying to figure out what it was. I hoped to god it wasn't a pedal, as that is one of the few things that would require a trip back to the nearest bike shop to mend. After about ten minutes, I finally realized that it was my new emergency whistle. It both whistled in the breeze and squeaked as it jangled around on the little clip that held it to my Camelback. Hah. I was glad that that was all that it was.

The Ocala.

It's huge and the roads are long and straight.

 Ocala 1

The last time I crossed it was the middle of the night and I got chased around for an hour by a truck full of jackasses but this time it was like 10 AM and there had to be 10 or 12 of us within a mile of each other and it was really unlikely we'd run into any real trouble.

I will tell you though... It's uncanny. Every truck in the Ocala is a big grey pickup. Every single one. And every one put me on edge, just that little bit. No good.

The crossing was broken up into a couple of sections. The first was that limestone road above, then a stretch of pavement, then another long stretch of the real, deep woods.

Before entering that real, deep woods, we topped off our bottles at the Solid Rock Baptist church. I guess I shouldn't call it the deep "woods" because it's really about 50/50.

 Ocala 2

Half of it is dense woods and the other half is prairie and the scenery switches every couple of minutes. I suspect that at some point it was all woods, but sections of it get clear-cut and they go through this long succession process before becoming woods again. In the satellite photos, it looks all sliced up into crazy geometric patterns. On the ground though it just looks like trees, grass, scrub, more trees, and it feels lonely.

I saw dozens (plural) of snake tracks but never saw an actual snake. In fact, the only wildlife I saw was this poor old raggedy dog.


He had a radio collar on, so he must have belonged to somebody, but he looked like he'd been out in the woods for a long time.

The dog was right next to the only feature in the entire forest - a fence.

 Navy Bombing Range

Or, more precisely, a fence that surrounds a Naval Bombing Range. The satellite photos of the forest itself look oddly geometrical, but the photos of the Bombing Range look like somebody was just playing around in Photoshop. I guess the shapes are targets, or contain targets and are designed to be highly visible from the air. Again, from the ground, it just looks like trees.

It would have been awesome to actually see or hear some bombing runs, but we didn't get lucky with that.

That dog got lucky though. As we skirted the range, we passed another grey pickup and the driver had an antenna hanging out the window. He was close, less than two miles and right on track. Yay! Puppy dog was on his way home.

So far, I seemed to be on a similar pace to the one I'd kept on the CFiTT. I felt good. I'd been eating right. Occasionally, I'd pull ahead but then a few minutes later, Steve and Vonnie would catch or the whole group would catch, then somebody else would pull ahead for a while. Everything seemed to be in order. Seemed being the operative word. I had already made a critical mistake, or more correctly, had already repeated the same mistake dangerously many times. It would become painfully clear later, and I'm not sure why it wasn't more obvious at the time, but it wasn't and I would pay eventually.

At the Farles Prairie trailhead, I still had a bottle and a half. It seemed like I could make it through Paisley before running out so I wasn't inclined to stop but the whole group did and I figured I might as well top off.

 Farles Prairie Pump Crowd

When the group pressed on, Vonnie and I were off the front for a little while but he soon dropped back to pick up Steve.

Steve was funny. When he'd stop, he'd take off his pack and helmet and gloves and shoes and pull everything out of his pockets. We didn't realize it yet, but when he'd say: "Ok, lets go" we were thinking that meant "Ok, lets begin pedaling" but he meant: "Ok, I'll eat something real quick and check my camelback bladder and get dressed and throw away my trash and put my gear on and then lets begin pedaling." So we ended up riding away from him at Farles Prairie, thinking he'd be right behind but it was actually minutes before he got going. It's generally not a good idea to try to force a change in somebody's routine in the middle of an event though. We all knew this, especially from doing team 24's. People have all kinds of odd routines that they're really comfortable with and if you try to force a change, it can really throw off their groove, so we just started mentioning leaving about 3 or 4 minutes before we actually wanted to leave.

At the time, the three of us had no specific plan to ride together. Steve and Vonnie were definitely going to ride together, but thus far I just hadn't shaken them, nor they me and other riders kept catching on and dropping off left and right. No specific organization had emerged. These things are like that. They dynamics are interesting.

Shortly after Farles Prairie we hit the first legitimate suffering. Billie Bay Road I think it's called. In Florida, there is a lot of sand. More than you might think. Everywhere. There are a million different textures and colors and flavors and they all have slightly different properties, but usually a trail will be punctuated with a sand pit or a little strip of it, or sometimes a road has a thin layer on top that forces you to take a certain line or kicks you around a little bit, but Billie Bay was straight up riding in sand and there was no escaping it. In the two tracks there was semi-solid sand and to get up out of the tracks, into the grass, you had to go up over a little ledge/pile and then the ground was, somehow, just as soft up in the grass as it was down in the track. _And_ it was four miles long. _And_ it was in the hottest part of the day.

In sand I try to get some momentum going and hold it but always be ready to drop back to a spin. It's crazy how quickly and often you have to alternate between the two. You have to distribute weight just right too. It's rare that you can stand up, I guess because it shifts too much weight to the front wheel and causes it to dig in. You can't follow a wheel too closely because you can get slammed to a halt if you get a centimeter off-line. Sometimes there's a just hair's breadth between putting in a hard effort, pushing through and keeping momentum vs. putting in a hard effort, getting hopelessly bogged down, wasting 10 minutes worth of energy and spending the next 5 minutes building momentum again and the next hour trying to catch your friends. It's so tricky and it takes so much force and four miles in that kind of sand is a long four miles.

That said, we got through it and it was a serious relief when we rode into the singletrack of the Paisley Woods.

I mile in, I started to fall off. I was getting tired. Actually, it was worse than that but I hadn't put the pieces together yet. The sun was a factor. I did know that. It was probably in the low 90's but it was hotter than I was used to yet. In Atlanta it's been in the 70's and low 80's. It only hit 90 once when I was in the Canyon even.

Falling back or not though, we were making good time and pulled well ahead of the riders that had been sparring with us all day. We stopped briefly about a mile from the end...

 Brief Stop in Paisley

...realized we were just a mile from the end, and then pushed on to the Paisley Mart, just off route to the northeast.

 Paisley Mart

We all sat under a big shade tree on the right hand side of the building and debated what kind of oak it was. The leaves were oval and boring, but they looked too big for a Live Oak. Water Oak has very distinct leaves. It wasn't one of those. What else could it be? We didn't know and we felt dumb. Maybe only I felt dumb. I felt dumb.

Another rider was there already when we arrived and he didn't look too good. He had that vacant stare and general immobility that I've seen the ORAMM slap people with. He had one foot in the grave but he was eating, drinking, and resting and he'd pull it out soon.

Lynne and Paul Daniels and a lady named Chris (who's last name I forget now, dangit) arrived. We ate, drank and re-provisioned. Maggie Jones Road was next and though it had been 500 degrees a few minutes before, dark clouds were gathering and I'd been warned about how Maggie Jones turns into cookie dough when it rains.

Fortunately I felt a few drops but it never really rained. Lynne and her crew caught us. I got boxed in crossing a bad patch of sand. Steve and Vonnie got off the front and I couldn't catch. They were gone.

I had flat tires and a backpack full of rocks. I actually checked my tires several times. They weren't flat and I knew my backpack didn't have any actual rocks in it. My stomach started to hurt. No. Wait. It wasn't my stomach, it seemed to be my bladder. In fact, my bladder went from "hmmm..." to "Christ!" in about 10 minutes. It felt like a UT infection. This seemed strange at the time but it shouldn't have. It should have been familiar and I should have paid attention. Ten minutes later I tried to pee and I could barely produce a trickle. Five minutes later I had to go again. Actually I didn't have to go, I just felt like I did, and it wouldn't go away. The washboards in the road started punching me. It was hell.

I drank and drank, but I didn't realize how deep a hole I was in.

I caught Lynne and Paul entering Seminole. Rarely does a single photo capture the feel of an entire trail system, but this one does a pretty good job for Seminole.


The trail was wide, clean and fast and except for a few random fields, the woods just draped itself over the trail.

About halfway through we ran into Ruth and Chris at a very scenic creek crossing with what had to be a 12 foot alligator just hanging out on the bank about 30 feet away. It was the biggest gator I've ever seen in the wild but it might well have been a statue for all it moved and surprisingly it didn't strike any of us as particularly threatening.

Alligators aside though, I had begun to suffer in ways that I had not yet suffered in my life. The problem was simple: dehydration. Nothing else. I've managed it a million times but I'd never had it hit me so suddenly and so hard. It was becoming clear what I'd done wrong too. Early on I'd conserved water because I didn't know how quickly I'd burn through it and though I'd researched all the places that you can get water, I wasn't sure how quickly I'd be able to get to them or how reliable they were. This made sense at first, but I should have realized pretty quickly that I had plenty of capacity to get me between sources and increased my consumption. Further, at each source, I should have pounded as much as possible and only THEN topped off. Further still, the struggle in the heat at Billie Bay just put me over the edge and I didn't recover enough at Paisley Mart.


The next reliable source was Rock Springs Run, a stream crossing some 15 or more miles away. I had a bottle and a half - about 35oz. It was enough to maintain the status quo but not enough to recover. It's one thing to get in over your head, push hard, feel bad, keep pushing and just get worse and worse, but it's quite another to already feel "worse and worse", know that you've got two more hours of exactly that same intolerable suffering and then willingly commit to it. Quite another.

About 15 minutes later I passed Ruth. She was completely out of water, had been for a while and was starting to have the same symptoms that I had. She was confident though that there was water at the next trailhead though, not a mile away. She'd seen it last time.

All right! My research hadn't turned that up, but it was great news and it really lifted my spirits.

When I arrived, no kidding, there was a hose and even a sink and I topped off my still nearly half-full bottle immediately. Only then did I see the sign though: "Water not fit for human consumption." I smelled it. It smelled like sulfur. Great. The water from the hose smelled the same. I'd ruined a third of my supply. As lifted as my spirits had been, they were now that much more crushed. I could no longer maintain the status quo. I'd live, but it was going to hurt just that much more. Yeah Dave, that's what you get!

Rock Springs Park is ringed with a 15 foot barbed wire fence and a gate that closes automatically at 6PM. I'd worried all day about whether I'd get in on time but it worked out fine. I had over an hour to spare. I'd fallen off of Lynne's crew but caught them again just inside the park. Better yet, Steve and Vonnie were there too. They'd apparently decided to wait for me. Thanks guys.

I can't accurately describe Rock Springs, my mind wasn't really on it. You know how it hurts really bad when you really have to pee but you've got to hold it and it's really bumpy. Imagine that for hours and hours except that I could try to pee all I wanted but only 3 drops would ever come out and they make it hurt even worse! Add in the general fatigue that dehydration causes and that's what it was like. Rock Springs seemed mostly yellow. I do remember that. I remember a lot of yellow and toward the back it got green again, and sandy. Sandy. Who'd have guessed, right?

Rock Springs and Wekiwa Springs parks butt up against one another. To get from one to the other you have to cross Rock Springs Run, the run-out from a gigantic natural spring. Yeah. We had to cross a waist-deep stream, in Florida. To say that I was nervous that there might be alligators would be laughably understated. However, I had done some research there too. Alligators are generally scared of humans and they generally see you as too big to be good food, especially if they're alone. They might see you as a threat, but they'll warn you if you get too close, or they'll just run away. They are fast but they don't like to chase. They'd much rather just sit idly by until something gets close enough to eat, and that's mainly fish. Also, they prefer dark, slow-moving water but the run was supposedly swift and crystal clear. We had to bushwhack a little down to the creek from the north, but a big trail lead directly to it from the south. It seemed unlikely that there would be a trail leading directly to an spot that where gators would likely be waiting to eat you. All that said, I was still a little concerned and somewhat extra vigilant when we arrived.

It turned out to be a non issue. The crossing went smoothly and easily.

 Crossing Rock Springs Run

I drank 22oz of water in a single draught. Five minutes later I did it again, and then after eating and wading and swimming in the creek for 15 minutes I drank about 10 more ounces. We had a real party going too. About 7 other riders showed up while we were screwing around.

I think that was the most memorable part of the ride. I'd been brushing Death's hand off of my shoulder for miles to get to a sketchy creek that turned out to be the most refreshing thing conceivable. Then on top of that, I got to spend a little time just purely enjoying it with friends and a bunch of other folks arrived and enjoyed it too... It was around then that it really started feeling like an adventure and not just a ride.

We were getting eaten alive by some kind of weird biting gnat though and we got going quickly after getting out of the creek. Apparently in Florida the gnats can bite. What's that all about?

I don't honestly remember all that much about Wekiwa either. I was on my way back to the realm of the living but I wasn't there yet. We took some roads west towards Zellwood and for the first time in a while, made really good time.

At Discount Tobacco, we stopped and assessed.

 Discount Tobacco

Apparently every rider had stopped there and the clerk was very excited to see us. He told us we were in 7th, 8th and 9th places. He'd told all of his regular customers about us. Some of them were hanging around to see more of us come in. They shook my hand when I walked through the door. It was a little overwhelming.

I guess it's like that though. We've certainly had a bit of that in Georgia for the TNGAs. When people hear what you're doing, it sounds like one of the most amazing things they've ever witnessed, they're excited to be a part of it and they're very encouraging. They'll remember it. They'll tell their friends and you'll remember them and you'll tell your friends. I love it.

I wasn't getting worse any more but I wasn't yet beginning to feel any amount of recovery. There was nowhere to camp for 50 miles and I checked on lodging options. There was a hotel 5 miles to the south in Apopka or we could push another 30 to Clermont and stay there. Vonnie and Steve wanted to push through to Clermont. If I didn't start feeling better soon, I was heading south. We sat there for probably 45 minutes, ate, drank and recovered. Ruth caught up and hung out with us too. Twenty minutes later I started to feel like I might just have another 30 miles in me and the four of us rolled out together.

Ruth was nervous about crossing the Apopka Restoration Area at night because it's home to literally hundreds of thousands of gators. Lake Apopka was once famous for bass fishing but nutrients slowly leached into it from the muck farms along the north side and eventually caused plants and algae to take over. Eventually the state made muck farming illegal and bought up all the old farm land. They then did a huge clean up and built a network of canals and wetlands where the farms used to be. Now they use pumps to flood the wetlands and let the water filter back into the lake. It'll take decades but eventually it ought to clean it right up. As if that weren't good enough, the wetlands are now a perfect habitat for birds and, as it turns out, alligators. Bikes and horses are allowed on the network of roads that border the canals of the preserve and on a set of trails on the west side but all users are warned to stay away from the water.

Almost the second we set foot in the preserve, it sounded like somebody drove a car into a lake to our left.


Fortunately though, it was exactly the sound we wanted to hear - that is, the sound of alligators stampeding away from the scary humans into the safety of the water, and it was actually very reassuring.

By then it was officially dark and as we rode, we scanned our lights down into the canals, and dozens upon dozens of beady little red eyes stared back at us, for miles and miles and miles. Now and again we'd hear a rustle and a splash, but nothing else. They all seemed content to hang out in the water and leave us alone.

For a while, we made great time. Road became trail though and eventually trail became fire break. Imagine two miles of freshly plowed beach. Not down by the water where it's wet and solid, but about 20 feet up from there where your foot sinks in with every step and your stride is noticeably diminished. Now imagine pushing and carry your bike through that for miles. I had to dump my shoes out 3 times. Steve just took his off. Steve and Vonnie are a lot taller than Ruth and I and by virtue of just a longer stride they got way ahead of us and there was nothing we could do to keep up. I'd seen plenty of those fire breaks in the Ocala before but I never considered that I might be actually be sent down one. It was the most miserable slog of my life. Were I Karlos, I might consider excluding that section in the future, if possible. Between it and Billie Bay... If you've done it once and you know it's there, the idea of facing it again could be enough to keep you from signing up. I actually excluded a couple of sections of the TNGA for similar reasons. It's a really fine line though because that kind of stuff is part of what Ultra Endurance is and there's a tricky balance that you have to strike. It's hard to know what to do sometimes.

We hoped for some easy road miles into Clermont but instead we got routed back and forth, over and over, up, down and around the only hill in the entire state of Florida like 7 times. One of the roads was named Sugarloaf Mountain Road and that "Mountain" part is pretty accurate. I had to walk part of it. Vonnie and Steve and Ruth were lying in the grass at the top when I got there, getting eaten alive by more of those gnats and none of them cared.

It did eventually get easier though and we made our way into Clermont. I was perpetually off the back until we got out of the hills. At some point Ruth fell off entirely. Steve cracked about one mile from the hotel and could barely climb the last climb.

The Hampton Inn looked like paradise but we almost failed to check in because I didn't have my ID. I'd brought my credit card, why would I need my ID? It just hadn't occurred to me. Luckily, Steve had his. Apparently the ID has nothing to do with who pays, they just want somebody to show ID, for some reason. I didn't bother the clerk to explain why.

It was almost 2AM when we got into our room. Ruth joined us a half hour later.

 Hampton Inn

We all slept well. I set my alarm for 7 but then apparently turned my phone off and woke up naturally at 7:15. Nobody wanted to get up. At about 7:45 we started moving. Around 8 I got some continental breakfast. Around 9 we got dressed. Ruth left shortly after 9. I don't think the rest of us left until around 9:45 or 10:00.

The night before I'd pushed through the worst dehydration of my life and that morning even, I wasn't sure how hard it had been on me. I'd eaten, drank and slept well though and standing there, that morning, I actually felt pretty well recovered. I wasn't sure though and I knew that I wouldn't be until we got moving.

I wasn't nervous, just uncertain.

 Uncertain Future

Very uncertain.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. I might not have been completely recovered, but I was close enough - free of all pain and even of most fatigue. My sit-bones hurt a little for the first half hour but even that wasn't too bad. Things were looking up. I might finish after all.

We cut around the south of Lake Louisa. Thousands of little random lakes dot that area.

 Some Lake

To get from Clermont to the Withlacoochee Trail, you have to cross the Green Swamp/Richloam area and it is deceptively desolate. There are houses and farms but there are no facilities of any kind - no stores, bathrooms, hoses, pumps, wells, campsites... You have to load up, commit, and just keep going. As far as I know, there is just one little oasis - a fire tower near Richloam with a shack at the bottom and a hose.

We stopped there.

 Fire Tower Crash

I drank as much as I could and filled up. We also ate and just generally rested. Rain came in the second we sat down though so we took shelter behind the building and the rain came in at such an angle that Dri-Ducks kept off what the building didn't.

I felt great after twenty minutes but the rain was still coming down. Steve and Vonnie seemed to need a bit more rest and I couldn't think of a good reason to leave. Yesterday I'd knocked myself out of any serious contention and I didn't realistically think I could catch even one of the riders ahead of me, except maybe Ruth. Maybe. If we'd had several more days then maybe, but we had one day left, maybe a day and a half. At that point I didn't stand to gain anything from striking out on my own, and these guys were my buddies, and they'd waited for me the day before. I would ride the thing out with them unless something significant happened.

I did get up and walk around a bit though and there was giant oak tree in the field behind us, cloaked in rags, pointing an old, half-amputated arm in the direction we needed to go.

 Ragged Moss

It felt ominous. The rain had stopped for the moment but I could see dark clouds to the southwest and even the occasional strike of lightning. That felt even more ominous. We were headed due west though, so maybe we'd miss it.

No. We didn't miss it. We rode right through it. Right through the worst of it. We even had to stop to put on extra clothes. Fortunately though, we were on the road at the time and it only lasted for an hour or so. When we got back on dirt, the rain had even firmed it up for us. We could see Ruth's lone tire track ahead of us but nobody else's. The first 6 miles or so were just backbreaking. The road was soft and it demanded a huge amount of energy. Fortunately it was consistent, perhaps a gift of the rain. There were very few pits or rough sections. You could pick a line and ride it for a long time, assuming you could keep your speed up, which was, admittedly, quite a lot of work.

When the sand gave way, it gave way in style, to hard packed, glorious limerock. We'd slogged for an hour but the next hour made up for it.


After crossing, I think, Hwy-40, the roads were more like jeep trails but they weren't too bad.

There was a gas station just off route near Ridge Manor and we pounded down more calories. I discovered Honey Chipotle Barbecue Doritos. Man, those are good. I also microwaved a bowl of Ravioli. Ordinarily I would avoid any kind of meat until the very end of the day, but Ravioli has a lot of carbs and honestly, at that moment, even if it sat in my stomach for two hours, the mental satisfaction of warm food seemed to be worth it. Vonnie and Steve ate bean burritos.

Lynne's crew caught us at the store and we rolled out together toward the Withlacoochee rail-trail.


Again, we were turning really fast miles and it felt good. What felt even better though was that when you hit the Withlacoochee, you turn north and then generally head north for a long time. The turn itself just felt good to make. We were well over halfway in miles and certainly in effort, but that turn felt like "heading home".

We rode into Croom at maybe 7PM and moved pretty well for a long time. The Ravioli was still sitting in my stomach but I didn't care. I fell back for a while but I still didn't care. Eventually the energy arrived and I hung on easily.

In Florida, it gets slightly darker for hours and hours, and then suddenly it gets pitch black. That happened to us in Croom and we had to stop for a minute to turn on the lights. I can't even describe how many fireflies there were. There were hoardes and hoardes and hoardes of them. It's pretty flat there, and you can see a long way. The woods goes on forever and the fireflies went on forever too. Forever! It didn't even look real. It was unbelievable. At that moment, more than anything in the world, I wanted the girls there to see it with me. If it had been possible to magically transport them there, I might have made all kinds of irrational bargains to do it. Fifty years from now I'm still going to remember the fireflies in Croom.

The fireflies were amazing, but almost equally amazing was that for some reason, immediately, at that moment, all of my technology failed. I'd been carrying my headlamp on my helmet all day so I just switched it on, but then when the guys had to unpack theirs I switched mine off. Now suddenly, it wouldn't turn on again. I swapped batteries. Nope, still dead. My GPS had turned itself off to for some reason too. The GPS came back on, but a few minutes later it turned itself off again. I'd tried to do an MTBCast call-in a few minutes earlier and couldn't get my phone to work without restarting it, despite 3 bars of 3G. What the heck?

The light was the most annoying thing. The switch probably had water in it. Ditto for the GPS. I had a little commuter light on my bars, which is designed more so that people can see you than for you to see anything. Hey, better than nothing, right? We pushed on.

There are two little sections of Croom that run in, over, around, up and down through old pit mines and the tailings of said mines and there are innumerable Easier and Harder options. Karlos said "Take all the Harder options" but the GPS track led us on all of the Easier options, and in the dark, it's very easy to miss a sign. I was very diligent about taking the Harder routes but it was also extremely difficult with a bar-mount commuter light and I had to walk a lot and our progress became extremely slow. Several times, Steve and Vonnie missed the signs and it was luck that I even saw them, but of course then they had to turn around.

I got into bikepacking without ever having known any bikepackers and my setup is very unusual. On a ride like this, I just carry 2 bottles and about 6 or 7 pounds of gear (excluding food) in an overstuffed camelback. As a result, my bike is light and nimble and I can ride just about anything on it. Vonnie and Steve were taking the more traditional route route though and the ridiculously technical terrain was ridiculously strenuous to ride with traditional rigs, especially 10 hours in, on day two.

Steve was at his wits end and Vonnie wasn't far behind. Emerging from Croom, I was tired, Steve was pissed and Vonnie was desperate. We headed north, picked up the Withlacoochee, rode a few miles and stopped on the side of the trail for a while. They'd pushed through but they were low on brain sugar. I've seen it a hundred times, most of those times in myself. They'd be OK but they needed a little rest, a little sugar and a little time to get their heads around the situation.

The situation was, simply stated, that we had 20 miles to go. They were easy miles but there was no other option. In about 15, we'd hit Floral City and a Citgo and in about 5 more, we'd hit lodging in Inverness. We could get to Floral City by about 11 and then Inverness within half an hour of that.

And we did. We skipped the Citgo though and just got a little rest on a bench by a corner store while I called ahead to get a room at the Central Motel. I kept screwing things up though and I had to call the lady like 4 different times. First I had to just be sure they had a room, then I couldn't find my card, then I called back to confirm that we'd be there on time so she didn't need to leave the key in a drop box. Then I figured I'd make sure she left the key in the drop box, just in case something did happen. Poor lady. She was very nice though, and the Central Motel was wonderful.

 Central Motel

I think we got to bed before midnight even and that was even after an excellent meal courtesy of the Kangaroo next door. Vonnie and Steve even scored a six pack of morale-boosting Miller High Life. They'd been at wits end an hour earlier but well before bed time they were both already talking about the remaining trail and what the next day's schedule would be like.


We slept really well and managed to dry out the few articles of clothing that were still wet. For some reason, mid-night my knees both hurt in the dead center of both knee caps but by morning it was gone.

Vonnie's bike needed a little attention the next day though. His singlespeed had become a fixie on the ride in. It turned out that the nut on the drive side had a collar on it that prevented him from screwing it on more than about half way. The strain was too much for the threads that did catch and they had begun to strip and loosen. This allowed the hub itself to loosen. By the end of the day, it was so loose and the wheel was cocked sideways so much that the freewheel wouldn't work. Fixing it required pulling the wheel out, tightening the hub, then putting the wheel back on with the nut reversed so it would screw on all the way and being really gentle about tightening it as not to strip the remaining threads while attempting to correct the ones that had gotten deflected already. It was a delicate operation, but it worked, and soon everything was back to normal.

From then on, the miles just flew by.

There were two reasons. The first was that the remainder of the route was relatively flat, non-technical, not especially sandy, and much of it was designed specifically for mountain biking. The second was Diesel Mode.

On long enough rides, I'd say 14 hours or more, I've noticed that I get into this "groove" where somehow I feel like I can go on at that pace forever and it's impossible to go hard enough to ever get tired. If it doesn't set in on day one, it will definitely set in on day two and it seems like it will persist until you just wear something out, like part of your bike, or the soles of your feet or maybe the skin beneath your sit bones. It's a fascinating experience and one that I truly hope that every human gets to feel at least once because it's just that good. Maybe it's an adaptation left over from our migrating ancestors, or maybe it's an Easter Egg from God. I can't say. All I can say is that I really love it.

I've actually been looking forward to this event so that I could study it a bit. I'd hoped to study it in the Canyon, but I never hit it there, I was always pushing too hard. I had plenty of opportunity this time though.

I think what happens is that after a while, you'll get a certain level of muscle fatigue - enough to prevent you from punching it. If you try, your legs will just get tired very quickly, though apparently not anaerobic, just tired, and you simply can't push hard enough to fatigue them any further. You hit an equilibrium and you can continue at that rate forever because it won't do any new damage, and it's impossible to get really tired because you can't get your heart rate up too high without first getting signals from your legs to back off. When you hit that mode, if you push a little you can turn it into an endless deathmarch, but if you sit back on that equilibrium, it can be endless happiness.

This is apparently a very well known phenomenon and it's generally referred to as Diesel Mode, and I've got to say, that is a very, very accurate metaphor. I've asked people about it though and all they can do is describe how it feels and how awesome it is, but they've never explained how or why it happens or had any theory of any kind on it and all the descriptions include more metaphors so I've never been sure if we were even talking about the same thing. Now I am. Also, I don't think that Diesel Mode is the same thing as Runner's High. I've gotten what I think that is during 6-hours sometimes and it seems like a very different feeling. Maybe it's not though. I'll have to study that a bit more too.

That morning, I was in Diesel Mode the minute I started pedaling. We all were.

We sped past the caboose.

 Inverness Caboose

The road to Potts Preserve was a blink of an eye. Except for comparatively few sand pits, Potts itself was extremely fast. I usually think of riding the Tsala canal as like trying to ride your BMX bike across your front yard as a kid, but somebody had mowed it, and even it was fast.

There were throngs and throngs of Black Vultures in the canal pecking at the skeletons of some of the biggest catfish I'd ever seen. They had to be 3 and a half feet long. Jeez, if there are fish like that in that canal, I'm bringing my rod next time I'm in town.

 Black Vultures

We stopped at the gas station near Stumpknockers and refueled but we didn't stay long. We'd seen Ruth's tire track all morning and her distinctly small footprints, but nobody else's. Lynne's crew was apparently still behind us and we were damned sure going to stay ahead of them. We hoped to catch Ruth but it seemed less and less likely. That little girl is hard as a coffin nail and she just kept proving it over and over every time we'd round a corner and she wasn't there.

Halpata was sandy, but nothing like we'd pushed through already.


The Greenway was great. The first mile was a little more solid than Halpata had been and once we got under the cover of the canopy, we averaged 14 miles per hour.

At Ross Prairie, we stopped for about 10 minutes and watched a guy who had to be in his late 60's come back from a run. "7 miles today. A short one today." It had to be in the 90's by then too. He was walking around with his shirt off and man, I hope when I'm his age I can walk around as confidently as that.

At Ross Prairie, we hit the real singletrack of the Santos trail system. For the first time in days we had real, solid trail beneath us; lime-base with pine and scrub-oak duff on top and armored hill climbs. Rock. If we hit even one sand pit, it would have been a lot.

I made absolute certain to ride the Canal Diggings Trail, even though it wasn't on the GPS track. We were told to follow all the blue trails, independent of what the GPS route says. I specifically even asked about that trail in particular because it would be really, really, really easy to miss it and it takes like 15 minutes to ride. We rode it.

There's an odd trail in Santos, called "Christmas" of all things and a long section of it runs right through the middle of a clear cut.


"Here's your Christmas present: massive timbering! Merry Christmas!"

"Uhhh... Thanks?"

We stopped again at Landbridge, maybe for 5 minutes and pushed on. The rest of the trail was wide open, sweeping and just way more fun that we expected it to be. Apparently we held a 13.5 mph average from there to the end. It was a really good decision to have the ride end with that trail. You just finish so strong, it wasn't just the icing on the cake, it was icing AND those little curly bits of chocolate.

For some reason though, Vonnie decided that the most appropriate thing to do was to wait 298 miles and _then_ slide out in a turn. I guess it wouldn't have been right to do it except at the very last minute. Scrub oak leaves on top of more scrub oak leaves might as well be Teflon. They're tough and waxy and they just slip sometimes. We'd been dealing with it for a while, but it had become fun and we may have gotten complacent. Earlier on, I'd sketched pretty bad and done a long slide myself, but he went all the way down. It wasn't bad though. He was fine. His bike was fine. We carried on.

And then we were done.


We finished at 3:30 on the nose, Sunday afternoon. So, 2 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes. We soon found out that Shey Lindner finished in just over 24 hours, beating Rob's previous record by about two hours I think. My God. The result still haven't shaken out, but I suspect I'm somewhere in the 7th to 9th place range.

The clerks and customers at Greenway Bicycles had been watching Trackleaders, and one of the customers bought us a round of beers when we arrived. I don't drink so I had a Dr. Pepper and it was a really good Dr. Pepper.

Not 20 minutes later Peter Kraft rolled in. He'd been chasing us for two days solid. We hadn't been watching the trackers so we had no idea. He'd apparently gotten a bad start, gotten locked out of Rock Springs and then gotten up as early as possible and put in two really long days to chase us down. He'd been 20 minutes back all day and even caught and passed Lynne's group, but in the end, still missed us by 20 minutes. Tough break.

One terrible thing about these multi-day events is that after a while you don't feel like you're eating any more, just fueling. Everything begins to taste bad and since most of it is junk food, after a while you start getting these specific little headaches or other bad feelings that, who knows, could be the result of getting 2000 times the daily allowance of yellow dye number 11 or something. In the wake of a long ride like that, I want to eat the "realest" food there is and everything that it would have been bad to eat while riding. I want a huge slab of meat with a rough grain that I can really appreciate biting through, and fresh, soft, doughy bread, and a raw, crunchy vegetable and forget soda or sports drinks, just bring me 6 oranges that I can squeeze directly into my mouth.

We didn't get all of that, but we ate at Cody's, and it was close enough.


I had french onion soup and a roast beef sandwich and I ate it in stages, making sure to savor the deliciousness of every stage. I waited for my mouth and stomach to rest up and be ready for every bite. I can't even explain how good it was.

And so it ended. We walked out of Cody's, shook hands and parted. Steve and Vonnie went home to Albany. I drove to Baton Rouge to visit my in-laws. Enough of this riding bikes all day... The real world awaits. It is nice to get away, but getting away makes it that much nicer to get back.


  1. Your the man sir. Great write up! Im praying wolfs head(sand pit after lake apopka) some day gets better. Not too many choices on getting thru there, congratulations! See ya in game next!

  2. You kept me reading til the end. Good write-up. Next time, leave the small wheelz at home. 29ers were made for FL.

  3. Ha ha. Yeah! I was a little sad that you weren't there in person to make make fun of my tiny-wheels but I'm glad you were able to do so on the back end. You're totally right. Maybe next year.

  4. Super good read.....good job

  5. Way to go man, nice work! I'm glad you got to go back and make good on the race after the trials you experienced last year. Congrats.

  6. Awsome write-up Dave! Captured the pain, agony, and then blissful euphoria that all of us experienced at one point or another during the race. An amazing weekend for sure!

  7. Excellent write up Dave! It was a joy chasing you guys. Thanks for helping me understand why I was able to "Motor" so long. Your description/explanation of "Diesel" mode was something I was fortunate enough to experience Saturday night late and all day Sunday.

    Peter Kraft