A Great Eskape with Tony, Alex B, Kevin, and Andy
Words by Andy
Pictures by Tony, Alex B, Kevin, and Andy
What a way to shake off the dust. Between February 3rd and 7th the 4 of us embarked on a bikepacking adventure across central Florida (of all places, right? No mountians in sight, but it turns out Florida has GREAT mountain biking!!!!.) We entered and participated in the Huracan 300 Plus race, though I say participated because I am not so sure we really raced it. We took it at our own pace, camped within a couple hours of dark each night, and cut the course early and often in search of gas station food, quieter, and gator bites. We still rolled through the finish line in 99 hours and 50 minutes. Prep for the race was, at least on my part, pretty damned compressed. I only decided to join this idiot fest about a week in advance after coming off my late cyclocross-season-ending knee injury. I was generally impressed with the quality of the route, the great trail systems, and unexpectedly wide open spaces the route offered. My only complaint was that the route included more busy paved roads than I would normally look for on a route like this. I am still not sure whether this was "fun" but I am sure that I am happy I did it. It's really hard to get 4 adult guys living in different states all together to do something like this, and I am grateful for the opportunity to spend good times with good friends doing something so incredibly stupid.
Decided to do this at the last minute, so with some help from the mechanics at Conte's Bike Shop in Navy Yard, we got my 3" tires set up tubeless with about 24 hours to spare. I wasn't sure my knee would be healed enough to do this, and it may or may not have been, but with the aid of a compression sleeve and a lot of Ibuprofen I made it work. With my new Big Agnes tent still on its way from REI I was able to borrow a light tent from Kevin, carpool from Durham with Alex, and haul everyone else's bikes down with me to meet Alex in Durham. 14 hours is a long way to drive, but ultimately the opportunity to skip the bike flights was a great move.
All for of us rolled on steel bikes with plus sized tires on 650b rims and Jones loop bars. The similarities of our set ups ended there, mostly. I (Andy) went full dirt randonneuring, porteur rack, bag and all. Alex also went with a front rack but went with the lighter if less elegant "strap it all down" approach, Kevin went full frame bag classic bikepacking mode, and tony went with a handlebar role the size of a duffel bag. All the set ups worked pretty well for all of us. Different strokes for different folks.
Gallery and Dear Journal:
I (Andy) kept a short trip log so that the 5 days of riding would blend together less. Here it is, more or less verbatim.
Huracan 300 Day 1:
I thought this would just be a big party. Wrong. More mentally and physically challenging than expected. Very remote feeling. Lonely feeling, even, despite 3 good friends being here. Some fear that this will be hard to finish. Lots of sandy roads today. Ocala National Forest, Lower Wekiva River Preserve. People have been nice. Dismal swamps, run down areas, red moon. So. Tired.
Huracan 300 Day 2:
I started my day with a ride down a (mostly) deserted, unfinished freeway. Weird. Wanted to skip the deep river crossing. Drank a bunch of rolling rocks at the Rock Springs Grill. People asked what I was doing with such a heavily loaded bike. “bike racing. Taking it really seriously, obviously” *drinks more beer*. After lunch I did what many people in their early 30s do. I got lost in the suburbs. Finally found the others, then it started raining. It rained a lot. All of my gear is soaked. We did a death march through the general Lake Apopka area on half flooded gravel roads. Was pretty rough. Pelted with rain. Finally saw a gator. Finally, after, more stretches of darkened country roads. Major adrenaline rush helped me feel like a much stronger rider. Over it though. Real personal test today. Or whatever. In a hotel now. It smells in here.
Turduckan 3000 day 3:
The birds beat the pats, the stock market sort of crashed today, and in other major news we finally made it to our camp site before dark today. Thank mary, sweet mother. Today was pretty rough, lots of sandy “roads.” Some shallow murky water. Probably have MRSA now or something equally terrible. Really beautiful national forest lands through the green swamp. More busy roads, but no rain today. We went to a winn dixie. My butt hurts. Put on some diaper cream. My savior. Another early start tomorrow starting with a bunch of 1-track. Raccoons stole kevin’s socks. Camp site has a resident armadillo. I named him Arnold.
Rock me like a huracan vol 4:
Got to give it to the Croom trail builders, packed in some serious, amazing trail into that 20 odd miles. This is what we signed up for. We rode a ton of sandy roads in Withlahoochie state forest. Race organizer described them as fast and hard packed. Sure. Sore. My rear feels terrible. We crossed a foot deep stream crossing on a fallen tree, tight rope style. Alex rode it of course. The crossing was called “Meg’s Hole.” They really have a way with words in Florida. This is by far the hardest and most stupid thing I have done on a bike. Way less sketchy road riding today, except for one stretch at dusk where we detoured to go to “Stumpknocker’s Restaurant.” It was well earned and amazing. Tried gator. Pretty ok. Chicken + oysters. Sort of. All set on gator now. Stayed at a canoe-in site. Quote of the day: “what would happen if you just ripped a crazy fart into a dry bag and saved it for later?” –Tony Pelton, ladies and gents.
Huracan day 5:
Dear, Diary. Day started with the sounds of coyotes yipping and yapping about, and then another hour of us four yipping and yapping about. Circle K breakfast. Another highway slog on a “y’all know people dah out thar all thah time?” road. But then. Then. Singletrack nirvana. We spent the last 30 miles of the trip on fun, fast 1-track. Took an hour or so to re-learn how to rip trails, with the loaded bike and flat pedals and all, but once I got it figured out (just ride it like you are trying to break it) it was super fun and fast to rip these trails in the santos area. Ended the day and ride throwing my shit down at the trail head and chugging a warm shook up 24 oz beer. Today was why we signed up for this. What a great day. The 14 hour drive home will suck though.