Monday, October 25, 2021

Tally Tango 2021

I always forget about the Tally Tango. This year I managed to remember that it exists, and kept checking the date. As it approached, it started looking more and more like a possibility - no family commitments, work was reasonably stable, I wasn't completely broke, I wasn't sick or injured, my fitness seemed adequate, my bike and gear were working to a satisfying extent... Yes, I should sign up for this thing. A few clicks later and I realized that I was one day late. Ok, actually it may have been the previous Friday that registration closed, and it was Monday that I was trying to sign up, but it was something like that.

Not again!

I checked Trackleaders, and there was already a list of folks signed up. It wasn't like 50 people though, it was a manageable amount. So, I did what all event organizers hate for you to do, and I called Karlos directly (or texted, I forget now) and asked him if there was any way to sneak me in. It turned out yes, it was possible, and just like that, Adventure was once again imminent!

Thursday night, I packed everything up, and Friday, after work, I headed south.

It turns out that the trick to visiting Tallahassee is to stay in Cairo, GA. That's pronounced "Kay-row", BTW. Kay-row. A single in a 1-star motel any closer is upwards of $250, and good luck finding a vacancy Friday night during football season. I'd booked a room at the Cairo Inn, and, based on the 2-star review online, I expected it to be a half step above the Summerville Motel. I fully expected to be sleeping in my bivvy on top of the sheets. This turned out not to be the case. The room was immaculate. It was, hands down, the nicest 2-star motel I'd ever stayed in. Everything was clean. Nothing was broken, or janky, or half fixed. The bed was comfortable. There were many different pillows. I loved it. The only issue, and I'm really nitpicking here, is that the cable box was mounted above and behind the TV such that you had to lift your arm way up to change the channel. For $65 a night, I'll take it.

I arrived at about 9PM, jumped in bed, watched most of an episode of American Dad, and crashed. I got wonderful, deep sleep, complete with long, vivid dreams. In one dream, I was, for some reason, demonstrating the different parts of a computer to a Portuguese speaker, and I realized that I didn't know what to call the mouse. I ended up calling it a "rato electrónico", which could be translated to "electronic rat". This cracked me up, I woke up giggling about it, kept giggling for like 5 minutes, and couldn't immediately get back to sleep. Other than that though, I got great sleep.

At 5:30, I headed out.

The night before, my front tire had been lower than I had expected it to be, and there was a bit more stans seeping around and through it than I expected. It hadn't given me any issues all week, had been fine the previous day at home, and had been fine when I put it on the car. The tire was nearing the end of its useful life, and had been seeping a bit for the past few weeks, but it seemed like it still ought to be fine, so I was discouraged to see that it had leaked down during the trip. The night before though, I'd aired it up, and it seemed fine the next morning. In fact, it had the same pressure in it, even.

The Huddle House across the street wasn't open yet, but there was a Waffle House along the route that was, so I grabbed some quick breakfast there. Order scramble well, dry toast, hold the grits, a waffle, and a coke. Breakfast of champions.

It was still dark when I arrived at Tom Brown Park. It's always surreal to me when I go to bed, get up, drive, arrive, and get fully ready for some event, all in the dark. The start was at 7:00am, at the Weems Trailhead. I'd parked at the West Cadillac Trailhead though, as there is tons of parking there, and it gave me the opportunity to ride back to the actual start and shake my body out a bit along the way. Many other riders appeared to have had the same idea. We all arrived at about the same time, and got moving at about the same pace.

When I arrived at Weems, a crowd was gathering. Karlos showed up a few minutes after I got there, but I didn't recognize anyone else.

At first, that is! Mike!

Mike at the Start

Ha ha! The Rasch Hole was among us. Somehow I hadn't seen him on Trackleaders. We jabbered at each other for a bit, but it wasn't too long before Karlos got us all down to business.

He gave us all our Tally Tango 2021 patches, and a little laminated card as well. It turned out that there was a side-event that we could take part in, if we so chose. You could get points for doing various things, like taking a photo with him at the start, doing a handstand on the Pinhook River Bridge, taking a photo of a county/city limits sign, etc. Whoever had the most points won the points competition. This sounded fun to me, and considering that I had to take a selfie at the start anyway as part of the actual event, I took one with Karlos, right before we got underway.

Me and Karlos at the Start

Two birds with one stone.


I had no idea, at all where I was going. I mean, I had a GPS track to follow, and I'd studied the route, to the extent that I was able, online, but I'd never ridden any of the roads or trails ahead of me. It was like when I first rode the Huracan way back. I was excited, but I also figured it would be best to start near the back, and follow people, rather than try to nav myself. Also, it was still pitch freaking black outside.

So, I followed, but I kept catching up to people and passing them, and before long I was pretty close to the front.

The trails were pretty great. Usually Florida singletrack is super flat, but this was, somehow, proper undulating sidehill. Any steep little kick was well armored with chunks of concrete too, so it wasn't just climbing over exposed roots all morning. Plus, there were bridges and obstacles, and some fun downhills. Two thumbs up.

The sun eventually started coming up, and pretty soon I didn't need my light any more.

Somewhere in there, a couple of riders joined us from another parking lot. Some guy ahead of me shouted: "McLeod! Dave, do you know McLeod?" I didn't immediately realize he meant Brad McLeod, so I was like "Ehh, I don't think so." "Oh, man, he's a legend. A legend! McLeod!" was the response, and it hit me. "Oh, yeah, BRAD McLeod. Yeah, I definitely know him!" He's ridden the TNGA a bunch, and is, in fact, a legend in the East Coast endurance community. I ended up passing him as we went back into the woods and we said hi to each other. Really cool seeing him. I think the last time I saw him was the day before the 2019 TNGA. He'd arrived at MGap right before me. I follow him on Strava though, and he does a lot of cool stuff.

As I rode out of the park, the early morning fog still hadn't burned off, and everything had that "you don't get to see this very often" kind of look to it.

Foggy Early Morning Pond

I kicked myself later for not getting a good photo of it, but after crossing that pond dam, I got on a big wide boardwalk that just climbed up into the treetops. It was pretty spectacular, actually. The objective, apparently, was to get up over some train tracks.

Crossing the Tracks

And, this, it accomplished, in style.

I rode more singletrackish stuff on the other side, for a while, then ended up on the tracks themselves.

Riding Down the Tracks

We had to cross Lake Lafayette, and the only way across was the railroad grade. I expected to see water lapping the shore on either side, but I never saw a shore or anything like it. Just stunted scrub everywhere. I couldn't even tell when I was actually crossing the lake. I eventually got down off of the tracks themselves and was able to ride alongside them. I'd passed a bunch of people already, but I had no idea how many more were in front of me, or which option they were doing.

There were 3 options - the "original" 165 miler, a 178 mile option with some extra singletrack, and a 300-something mile option with tons more forest roads tacked on to the end. I'd signed up for the original. My plan was just to get a feel for the event and try to finish. I didn't expect to be competitive. You're encouraged to ride the Tango straight through in 1 day, but I didn't even specifically plan on doing that. It was recon and Adventure. Nothing more. But, I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew, so I went for the short option. Turned out only a few riders did the 300+ option, and I think about equal numbers rode the 165 and 178.

I had some trouble with the railroad tracks. Where they crossed a road, I was supposed to veer off onto the road, but I just kept going down the tracks. I only realized I was off when I zoomed in on the GPS. It was the first of what would turn out to be several backtracks, but hey, it was that kind of stuff that I was there to find out about. I caught some riders on the road and got caught by a guy who didn't understand how I'd gotten ahead of him. I ended up scrolling back through the route while we rode together, just to make sure I hadn't somehow missed something else. It turned out that I hadn't. I wondered if he might have said that on purpose to make me wonder and spend time verifying my route. Clever if he did.

We ended up riding together for a while and catching some riders in the L. Kirk Edwards WMA. There were a couple of long, semi-deep puddles through there. It was possible to ride through some of them. Others you could go around. Some of them were almost hub-deep though, and I definitely dunked my derailleur a few times.

Emerging from the WMA, we had to jump a gate.

Emerging from L. Kirk Edwards

Of the gate, one of the guys commented: "That's just rust holding hands!" Which was a pretty accurate description of it. I was definitely a little nervous about putting my full weight on it, but there was no obvious way around it. It didn't collapse under me, so that was good.

Somewhere around there was the first big turn, and we all rode pavement south for a while. I ended up with different groups of riders off and on. Some I caught, others caught me. I rode with another guy that I'd met during the 2019 TNGA for a while. I ran into him and a buddy of his over and over between Helen and Aska. His buddy dropped out, but he ended up finishing like 20 minutes after me and we got shuttled back to MGap together.

The roads were quiet and remote. There were a few farms, and a few fences, but mostly it just looked like the kind of woods you see in Florida. There was this one old bent-up, half collapsed barn that got my attention, somewhere out that way:


The one thing that I'd really noticed, since the beginning of the ride, was that the woods smelled odd. If you were on singletrack, or even on a road with dense woods around you, it had this very distinct smell. It wasn't bad, it was just distinct. I don't know what generates it, and I don't remember smelling it in Central Florida, but maybe I did, and just don't remmeber. It's almost like tobacco, but not like a cigar shop. Like burned tobacco, but not like a cigarette. I don't know. It's hard to describe, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I do remember that later on, I didn't smell it any more, so either it's specific to that region, or to that time of day, or maybe to both. It was intriguing at the time though.

Somewhere in there, the guys I'd been riding with split off to the east. They were riding the 178, and apparently that was the first deviation from my route.

At length, I hit a limestone road...

Connett Lane

...and then eventually the packed sand roads of the Aucilla.

Packed Sand in Aucilla

Or maybe it was the Plank Road Forest. I'm not 100% sure.

The roads were all signed, and they all had names like "Grade such-and-such" or "Such-and-such Grade" which I guess means that they were once the routes of logging rails, or "Tram Roads" as they call them in Florida. They were all long and straight, and I'd been on a road actually named Tram Road earlier, so this seemed pretty likely to me.

The roads were pretty well packed, if a little bumpy, but I made good time on them. There were a freakin dozen or more of these water crossings though.

Aucilla Water Crossing

You can totally ride though them, but your feet will just barely get wet sometimes, and other times they're deep enough to dunk your rear derailleur. Mine is particularly sensitive to water, it seems. Not just being submerged though - rain, getting splashed a bunch, dew, even just bad humidity, all seem to make it shift slower and slower. If I'm not careful, and drop too many gears at once, the derailleur won't keep tension on the cable, and it'll get bound up in the shifter. I actually broke a shifter that way once. Usually, if it's acting funny, I can release the clutch, and it'll improve. Then later, when it dries up, it's fine again. After a bunch of those water crossings, it was starting to shift slowly, so I stopped to release the clutch. Heh. It was ALREADY released. Goodness. Well, that would at least explain the random knocking I'd heard earlier, but I'd have to be judicious shifting for a while.

Some extended period of time later, I emerged back onto pavement, and it was starting to really be daytime. The sky was blue. The fog was gone. It was warming up. My shifting was improving steadily. The wet sand that had covered every inch of my bike and body was dry, and I could just brush it off.

Ahh, excellent.

The only thing I had to keep an eye on was water. In fact, when researching the route, that was the thing that really stuck out to me. There are long stretches with no clean water. I wasn't sure what kind of pace I'd be able to keep up, how hot it would get, or how early it would start getting hot. I put waypoints for every conceivable water source into my GPS, even if it was miles off-route, and dozens of "bailout" roads. I felt covered on information. But I still had to use it wisely.

I had to make my first decision after emerging from those grade roads. JR's Aucilla River Store was off-route a bit, and would certainly have food and water. I felt totally fine on food, but my water situation was a little questionable. I had a bottle and 1/3rd left, and I had a lot less distance left to cover than I had already before the next opportunity to tank up. But the sun was up, and I had no idea how fast-moving the terrain ahead would be. After a bit of consideration, I skipped the store, hung a right (the second major turn of the route) and pushed on into St. Marks.

St. Marks NWR Grasstrack

It was a bit slower moving through St. Marks, as it was mostly grasstrack. It wasn't that terrible East Texas Trail grasstrack, but it wasn't THAT much better. I rode straight for quite a while, hung a hard right, and rode along what I guess was a levee for a very long time. This was even slower-moving, as it was less travelled than the previous section, and I had to dodge stuff and occasionally hop stuff.

Not too terribly far into that bit, I crossed the Pinhook Bridge.

Pinhook Bridge

I'd seen photos of it before, and I recognized it. Though, in the photos that I'd seen, it looked a lot longer. I guess, maybe because the photo didn't include the far end or something. At any rate, it was handstand time. Gotta get those points.

Not super far past the bridge, the character of the world around me changed dramatically. I emerged from the woods into a vast salt marsh.

St. Marks NWR Salt Marsh

The coast was somewhere, way out there to my left. There was almost nothing but palm trees and grass between me and the gulf, and though there are quite a few trees in that photo, it was just particularly dense there. They were generally a lot fewer and far between. They looked like they were fighting to hold on to whatever bit of ground they could too. So many were snapped off and dead. The palms could kind-of hold on, but it looked like anything else's days were numbered.

The trail itself was starting to get more like that terrible grass on the East Texas.

St. Marks NWR Salt Marsh Levee Trail

Fortunately, it wasn't 15 miles of it. More like 2 or 3, but I was happy when it started to harden back up and turn back into doubletrack.

I eventually started passing people out fishing, and a couple of people just out walking. I didn't see anyone on a bike though, nor any tracks ahead of me.

My water situation was in-hand, but just barely. Exposed to the sun like that, I was definitely drinking more. I double-checked the map, and it looked like I'd be running out, or at least low, right as I reached the St. Marks Visitor Center. I felt like I could time it just right if I kept moving, and it worked out pretty well. As I rode up, I probably had one sip left in the bottle.

You can imagine the horror I felt as I read the signs that said that both buildings were closed.

Not only were they closed, but there were gates closed across the boardwalks leading to them. It had not occurred to me that they might be closed. They weren't usually closed though, it was just because of COVID. Woohoo!

I didn't see a spigot or fountain, or anything. I did see a sign that said that there was water at the picnic area, but it turned out that was 5 miles down the road.

It wasn't really the end of the world though. I was maybe 2 miles from the next water source, some campground, and there was an actual restaurant across the river from that. I had a sip left in the bottle, but really, if I took the top off, I'd have another sip, and the other bottle had that same extra sip in it as well. I could make it 2 miles, no problem.

That restaurant was "Ouzts Too".

Ouzts Two

And when I pulled up, I was surprised to see 3 other bikes already there.

Bikes Parked at Ouzts

The place was a bit of a dive, but in a charming sort of way. They had "patio dining" which was really just a bunch of tables under a covered area where live music sometimes played. The other guys had apparently arrived only a minute or two ahead of me, and were just getting settled in.

Patio Dining

Inside, it was pretty much a bar with a couple of tables, but they had an extensive, delicious-looking menu. I needed water pronto, but I was just after noon when I arrived, so I figured I'd grab some lunch while I was at it, and hang out with those guys for a bit. I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, fries, and a bowl of gumbo.

That gumbo was the real, real, REAL, deal.


I don't know if it was just because I'd been burning through all the salt in my body or what, but it tasted amazing. Absolutely, amazing. The chicken sandwich was good too. Not amazing, but bulky and satisfying just the same. I didn't end up eating too many fries, actually, as it turned out.

When I first got there, I was super hot, and I didn't want cold bottled water. Just a glass of regular tap water. That turned out to be a huge mistake. The tap water was, hands down, the worst tasting water I've ever had. I don't even know how to describe it. If I hadn't been so thirsty, I'd have poured it out. As it was, I only drank one cup, before going back for bottles. I'd gone to the bathroom after ordering, and been mildly amused by the smell. It turned out that the bathroom was clean. The smell was just from the water in the toilet. That's now bad it was.

So, if you're in the area - eat at Ouzts, but don't drink the tap water.

Another opportunity for points was to get proof of purchase from Ouzts.

Ouzts Receipt

Ha! More points.

I hung out with those guys while I ate, and they were an interesting bunch. They were party-pacing the 178 mile route. They'd started yesterday and camped somewhere in the Aucilla. One of them had ridden the TNGA at least once. But, the most interesting thing was that they had a dog with them. Molly Rider Kemp was her name, and she had a spot on Trackleaders. I'd actually seen her while thumbing through the riders. Her profile pic is a dog with goggles on. I figured it was just somebody screwing around, but no, Molly is legitimately a dog with goggles. Her owner has a cargo bike with a carrier on the back. On the road, she sits behind him. On singletrack, she runs along.


They also informed me that I could have jumped the gate at the visitors' center, and gone up to the first building. There's a spigot outside that works year-round, whether they're open or not. Good to know for the future, but if the water from that hose is anything like the tap water at the restaurant...

While I ate, I saw two guys pass by that I knew were also doing the 165, because I'd talked to them earlier. I started to wonder if we were close to the front of our group. I'd passed so many people already, and it had been a long time since I'd seen anyone. It just seemed like maybe...

We all packed up and headed out right as a band was starting to get set up. I wouldn't have minded some live music, but I had too many miles ahead of me to dally about.

Back at it.

They left a minute or two before me, but stopped at a gas station up the road. I'd filled up at the restaurant, and still had plenty of Clif Bars, so I didn't stop.

Before long I crossed a paved trail, and it looked like I was suppsed to jog left onto it.

It then just paralleled the road for a while. About a half mile later, it struck me as odd that I'd have crossed it, if it paralleled the road. Maybe it had paralleled the road on the other side earlier... Maybe I was supposed to ride that. I double checked the route. Yep, I was supposed to have diverged from the road and gotten on the paved trail, about a block earlier than I had.

Backtrack number 2.

The 3 guys I'd eaten with were quite confused by what I was doing until I caught up to them later and explained it.

Rolling on the Paved Florida Trail

Heh, it also turned out that Molly really likes to be in the lead. If anyone passes her, she barks and barks. So, when I was ready to get moving, I had to make sure to pull away quickly, to minimize the duration of her displeasure.

Some time later, I rode back into St. Marks. This time, on endless bumpy doubletrack.

I mean, endless.

St. Marks Doubletrack

And, I mean, bumpy.

St. Marks Grasstrack

Goodness. I really didn't enjoy that section. I probably stood for 60% of it, and when I wasn't standing, I was on the gas trying to keep the pace up to minimize the roughness.

Somewhere in there, I stopped for something, and noticed these longleaf dudes hanging out next to the trail.

Longleaf Pine

There's a lot of wild longleaf pine in Florida. It's nice to see. That was about all I enjoyed through that section though.

I don't remember the name of it, but you eventually emerge onto some nicer roads that lead around some bay. Allegedly, if the tide is in, there can be deep water covering the roads. How deep? I'm not really sure how deep it can get, but some stories put it at knee deep, and others at waist deep. I have no idea how exaggerated or not those stories are.

When I rode through, there was one bit with like 1/4 inch of water for like 200 yards. The rest of the roads weren't even all that damp.

On the road into Sopchoppy, I realized just how filthy I was starting to get.

Getting Filthy

I also noticed just how infiltrated my kit was with sand.

I hadn't remembered prior to the ride, but yeah, that's definitely a thing in Florida. You get covered in sand, and it gets well into your clothes. Short of a shower and a washing machine, it isn't coming off or out either. You can get a lot of it out, but not enough to be like: "I don't have sand on me now." It wasn't a big deal, at least not yet, but I hadn't brought any extra chamois butt'r with me, so it was definitely something I had to keep an eye on.

Ha ha, more points:

Sopchoppy Sign

As I rode up to the Dollar General...

Sopchoppy Dollar General

... I noticed another bike already there. It was one of the two guys that had ridden past me when I was eating. I wasn't sure where his buddy was, but upon seeing me, he seemed in a hurry to get moving. Again, I started thinking I might be nearer to the front of my group than I thought.

I ran inside, hit the bathroom, got a little de-sanded, got some food and gatorade, etc.

The guy behind the counter was pretty cool. He seemed to know the various customers that were in front of me, and he asked me questions about the ride.

Mike showed up a minute or two later.

Mike at the Sopchoppy Dollar General


Mike was actually on the 178 mile route, but had managed to catch me. I'd actually already been caught by 1 or 2 other guys already, so I didn't feel too bad about it, but I guess getting caught by someone you know does feel a little bit worse.

Still, it was nice to see him, and we sat down on the curb together, relaxed a bit, and refueled.

A bit later, I went back into the store later to get some dental floss. I usually bring some, but had forgotten this time, and it was a good opportunity. Nothing worse than some piece of annoying food stuck in your teeth for 100 miles. Then, I remembered that I could get points by bringing a snickers bar to the Samurai Camp. So, I went back in yet again to get the snickers. Some super drunk guy was ahead of me, buying something. He was hammered, but he was being friendly, and wished the cashier a "Happy Sunday" as he walked out. It was actually Saturday, and I could see the guy thinking about it as he walked. He even stopped walking for a second, and you could see the gears turning in his head as he tried to figure out what day it was. The cashier had turned his attention to me by then, and I was like "Hey, it's me again!" and we both kind-of chuckled. Drunk Sunday guy seemed to have figured out his mistake by then, but hadn't yet walked out. However, he heard us chuckle, and being inebriated, and self conscious about his mistake, mistook our chuckes as having been directed at him. "What's funny?! What's so god-damned funny! Something funny?!" It didn't occur to either of us what he was even talking about at the time. We weren't even sure he was talking to us. He just repeated himself again, voice raised even higher, and we both just looked at him, totally confused. It still hadn't clicked what he was talking about. Then he mumbled something unintelligible and stumbled out the door. "Drunk, I guess?" I said to the cashier. "Always."

Armed with a snickers, I went back outside and watched the guy spend a good minute struggling to get into the passenger door. I was just glad it was the passenger door.

A guy on a mountain bike that was not doing the Tango rode up a little later, and we talked to him for a while. He was riding some local loop. He had a lot of questions for us, and he was a pretty nice guy. I kind-of had a good time talking to him.

All kinds of fun at the Dollar General.

Me and Mike had both kind-of figured out how much further we had to go, and what time we'd likely finish, unless we just had to stop again. Barring that, it was going to be a long night, and that would be our last stop. So we made it count, but we didn't really sit there for all that long. 30 minutes, tops.

The next checkpoint was the Civic Brewing Company, just up the road. We took our selfies there.

Selfie at the Civic Brewing Company

We'd also hit another milestone, or at least milestone in my head. We'd turned north, and were actually heading back towards Tallahassee.

There were a few miles of pavement, then we turned off into some vast, expansive forest. It had that National Forest feel to it, but I'm not really sure what it was. All I knew for sure was that it was another long stretch with no water. At some point, you'd get on a paved rail-trail for like a mile, and if you went off route to the north, there was a trailhead with a bathroom, but aside from that, there was nothing. As such, I'd pounded as much as I could at the DG, and filled up as well.

Turns out though...

Karlos had mentioned the "Samurai Camp" a few times - once in an email, once again at the start, and bringing a snickers to the Samurai Camp would earn you points. There were also multiple Samurai Camps on the official set of waypoints for the route, as well as a couple of additional camps. I had originally figured these were just recommended locations for camping, but it turned out he was going to be at one of them during the event.

I don't remember which he was at, but me and Mike eventually found him.

Karlos and Toni at the Samurai Camp

He and Toni and Uriah were all there, and they weren't just hanging out, they had all kinds of provisions, including water. Awesome. I filled up, and didn't worry about it again for the rest of the ride.

We actually didn't hang out at camp for too long. It turned out there were only 2 riders ahead of me. One was that guy I'd been leapfrogging all day. I wasn't determined to catch him, but I didn't want to spend a ton of time sitting around if I felt fresh enough to ride. So, we hung out long enough to freshen up, but then we got right back at it.

It wasn't long until the sun set. It also wasn't long until we got into some nasty garbage sand roads. As bumpy and rough as the grasstracks had been earlier, and for all of the water in the Aucilla, I hadn't yet gotten bogged down in sand. All day, I knew it was coming, but then it just never did. I'd even started to wonder if maybe that was more of a Central Florida thing. No, turns out it's just as bad in the panhandle.

It was inconsitent though. You'd ride for miles on a road that was fast and packed, then turn onto one that looked identical at first, but then quickly degraded into garbage. Each turn was a gamble. There was one, very long stretch that was the absolute worst. It was probably the longest single stretch, without turns, in the entire forest, and it was all garbage. It seemed interminable. I was just on the gas, trying to keep moving, picking every line, very carefully. Usually, it was better off to one side, but not always.

Somewhere in there, I noticed that my front tire was pretty low. It had suddenly gotten low too. It had been fine all day. There was no obvious leak or puncture, but it was remarkably low. Should I juice it or throw a tube in it. I usually carry a pump, but my trusty Blackburn whatever had literally fallen apart when I tested it Thursday night. So, I was carrying 2 CO2's instead. I figured I'd spend the 1 CO2 on it, and if it got low again, I'd put the tube in it, and hit that with the other CO2. I ended up only using like half of the CO2, and amazingly, the valve didn't get stuck open, and I was able to save the other half for later.

We caught that 2nd place guy after a while, and rode with him all the way out of the forest.

I was extatic to be out of it.

Even better, we were were finally approaching town, and most of what lay between us and the finish was singletrack. That would be a welcome change.

I don't remember the name of the first section, but it was wild and gnarly. It wasn't exactly overgrown, but it was definitly not cut-back. Most of the time, I was getting whacked by brush. There were plenty of downed trees too. Some I could hop. Some I couldn't. Some, it turned out I could have if I'd known it was there. There was actual elevation too. I remember feeling like I was actually climbing and descending. It was wild though. It was the middle of the night, and we were just blazing through a tunnel of dense foliage. There was no context. It was just the trail ahead of you, and the tunnel around you. Miles and miles of that.

Near the end, we crossed some super sandy road, and became very confused. My GPS said go straight. Mike's said go right. We spent at least a half hour trying to figure out where to go. We eventually settled on my route. My GPS was dead on the route, and anything he tried to ride was well off of the route in his.

But, it wasn't over. At the next road crossing there was more of the same confusion. The road was an access road for a power line cut. There was heavy equipment everywhere. It appeared that they were replacing the wooden power line towers with concreate ones. The concrete towers were all lying down in a row, in the weeds, ahead of us, to the right. My GPS said to cross that road, and take a right through the middle of some weird fence posts. There was no trail there at all. Maybe we were supposed to ride down the power line cut? We tried that. Nope, it diverged pretty badly too. We couldn't find any trail, of any kind, anywhere, except straight ahead. It looked like, to follow the route, we'd have had to have climbed over the concrete pillars. There was no way that was right.

We eventually settled on just continuing ahead, where we found another trail, leading in pretty much the right direction, with tire tracks on it.

Also, I vaguely remembered Karlos saying, at the start, that there was construction going on somewhere, and if you don't feel comfortable going through it, then find a way around. I figured this must be the place.

We spent at least another half hour there, trying to figure it out. I was sure what we did wasn't correct, but I also felt like I'd made the best effort possible to go the right way.

We ended up at a closed Marathon gas station after finally making it out of the woods.

Mike at the Marathon

They had a picnic table under a pavillion off to the side, so we took a load off, ate and drank. There was a hose on the side of the building too, so we filled up.

We'd long dropped the 2nd place guy, but he eventually came riding up after we'd been there a while. He'd had a hard time figuring out which way to go too. At least it wasn't just us.

Some guy pulled up in a car while we were there, and changed a flat. He seemed pretty confused about what we could possibly be doing there that late at night.

My tire was low again. Not as bad as the first time, but this time there was a lot of stans in one spot. It looked like I'd picked up a big bramble that was still in the tire. I juiced it again with the rest of that first CO2, and hoped for the best.

The next section was the Muson trail system, and it was amazing. It seemed to get a lot more use than whatever that other one was. The trail was reasonably wide, very easy to follow, marked, and the brush was cut way back. We absolutely ripped that trail. It might as well have been daylight. From an energy perspective, it might as well have been the beginning of the ride. I was actually worried that I might have pushed it a little too hard. I felt great at the time, but I certainly indulged, and that might not have been the best idea, strategically.

We stopped again at some random gas station (open this time) and each chugged part of a coke and some candy. Again, my tire was slightly low, but not as bad as the first few times. We were very close to the end, so I hit it with just a quick shot of the second CO2, and it never gave me problems again.

Second place guy rode by us while we were there. When we got going again, I mentioned that I wouldn't mind trying to pull him back down, so we put in a bit of effort for a while. But there was no more singletrack. It was all road and sidewalks. We were back in Tallahassee proper, and basically had to ride through downtown for a while. I backtracked at least twice in there somewhere because the route had us on some sidewalk instead of out in the road. We never saw that guy again. There was no way we were going to catch him, and we eventually gave up trying.

It was Saturday night in downtown too, maybe 1 or 2AM. The nightlife was really cranking when we rode through. There were lots of people out, a lot of cruising, lots of music. We passed at least 2 house parties. A few people looked at us like we were crazy. Two filthy guys in bright ass spandex, tear-assing through downtown on weird bikes with stuff strapped all over them. Maybe we were crazy.

The very last leg of the route was more singletrack. We had to find a trail behind some strip mall, and it split several times. We took the wrong route once, and had to backtrack for like half a mile on that. Then, somewhere near the very very end, like a mile or 2 from the end, I just had to stop for a few minutes and sit down on a bench. I don't relly remember why. I hadn't bonked properly. I just needed to rest for a minute. Then, I was fine, and we crushed out the final couple of miles. I remember that it was rooty, and there were weird little kicks that I didn't expect. Then we popped out on some pavement and rolled downhill to the finish.


Selfie at the finish was the final checkpoint.

Selfie at the Finish

Goodness. It had been unexpectedly difficult, especially towards the very end.

Mike was eager to get moving, and didn't hang around for long. I don't even have a distinct memory of him leaving or what we talked about before he did. My mind was definitely shutting down. I'm surprised I remembered to take that selfie.

My truck was a mile down the road, mostly downhill. When I got there, somebody else had also arrived recently. I don't know if it was the 2nd place guy or someone else, but we were trying to figure out how to get somewhat clean. I was soaked with sweat and covered in sand. He believed that there was a spigot up the road at a little pavilion, and described the location of it pretty well. I turned on my truck, got the AC going, and put all of my gear away, ate and drank the food that I'd left in the truck prior to the event, then drove to the pavilion. There was indeed a spigot, but no water flowed from it. I found the little box with the valve, which was turned off. I turned it on. Still no water. I drove back to the original lot and went into the bathroom. The sinks were off. The toilets didn't flush. It was like all the water to the entire park was off.


Eventually, I sat in the passengers seat with the AC on until I was reasonably dry, stripped, brushed the sand off of myself, used the last bit of water in my bottles to wash my legs, put on clean, dry clothes, leaned back, and reached for my phone.

My phone wasn't there.

Oh no. I'd set it on the bumper when I got off the bike, then driven all over the place. It could have fallen off anywhere. As sleepy as I had been, I was now wired. I looked around behind the truck, backed up, and used the headlights to search the lot.


I started driving back towards the pavilion, searching the whole time.


It suddently occurred to me that I've seen people drive all around town with an open can of coke just sitting on their bumper, somehow not falling off. Man, it would be hilarious if it was still there. Hoping for a miracle, I checked.


But wait! I just happened to glance at the other side of the bumper, and my phone was sitting right there. It had slid from one side to the other, and miraculously, not fallen off, all the way up and back down the road, and in and out of the parking lot twice.


I parked again, and I was out before I could do whatever it was that I was going to do with my phone before.

I'm not sure how long I slept, but it was daylight when I woke up, and it was getting warm. My truck was still running, and the AC was still running, but it was struggling to keep up with the heat. Fortunately the truck didn't sound like it was about to die or anything, so I eased on out of the parking lot, and headed north. On the way home, I drove through Stockbridge, I think, and saw a highway sign for the Italian Oven. The one near me closed down years ago in the wake of some scandal, but we used to love that place. I feasted on some Pasta Deluxe, and got 4 orders of bread to go. Back in town, I delivered one each of those breads to both kids and Kathryn, as they always loved it as much as I did, and who knows when any of us would ever have it again.

Two weeks later, Karlos called me. He had a guy double-check our Strava routes against the official route. Turns out where all of that construction was, we were, indeed, supposed to go through the field near those concrete pillars. There was about a mile of trail that I didn't ride. If you zoom in on Google Maps, you can see the actual trail. With all of the construction though, it had gotten very well obscured. I had, indeed, missed that section. I wasn't alone though. Turns out, only one rider, out of everyone who rode the 165 miler, actually rode it correctly. So, that guy got first, and everyone else got "finished but not scored" status. Ah, well. That's how these things are. I wasn't too upset about it. My goals had been recon and Adventure, and I accomplished both.

I did win the points competition though, so ha!

Also, it also turned out that the guy that I'd thought was in second place, was actually the leader. I'd been leapfrogging the leader all day. I have no idea who he was riding with earlier, but it wasn't anyone in our group. Ha ha!

Overall, it was a pretty good Tango. The only bad thing, and it persists to this day, is that it screwed up my sleep schedule. If I go to sleep at night, I end up sleeping for like 4 hours, then waking up, wide awake. I can't go back to sleep. Then, later in the day, I'll get sleepy again, and sleep for 2 or 3 more hours. I have, multiple times, sat down on my couch, put the TV on, then suddenly woken up 2 or 3 hours later, very well rested, with no distinct memory of falling asleep. It's so weird. I've never had this happen in the wake of one of these things before.

Maybe it's unrelated. That would be weird.

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