Part 2:The Uncooperative Interview

I decided to interview myself. To keep confusion to a minimum I’ll refer to the interviewer as Me, and I’ll be Bill.
Me: Bill, you just completed a 500 mile mountain bike race, but I haven’t heard anything about it other than your write up of the start. Why is that?
Bill: Well, I’ve had a really hard time putting into words what happened. Usually these accounts tend to be travelogues or an epic tale of suffering and failure. This time though, nothing exciting happened.
Me: Ok, well that’s not really any help. How about telling us what is CFITT? We know that CFITT stands for the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial, but tell us in your own words what is CFITT all about. I also understand you brought a video.

Bill: Sure, CFITT is a 250 mile mountain bike race across Florida, Starting in New Smyrna Beach, ending in Inglis Florida on the gulf coast. The trail encompasses every sort of terrain in Florida, from brushy ATV trails, old rail beds, nicely paved rail trails, lime rock and sandy roads, sections of the Florida hiking Trail. It goes through multiple wildlife management and conservation areas, parks, a state forest and the Ocala National Forest. There’s sections mountain bike trails including a very long section on the western side. Did I mention there is sand? There’s several miles of sometimes ankle deep sand near the west coast. It’s a solo self-supported race, which means you have to carry your own gear, and be self-sufficient between towns. There is no pre-arranged support or supplies, and no support vehicles. Racers generally buy food at the few convenience stores along the way, but can use any commercial business they want, bike shops, motels, restaurants. You have to be able to navigate the route accurately and take several photo at checkpoints. Racers also must carry a GPS SPOT tracker to show their location, and for safety.
Me: You did something different this year. A Yo-Yo of the route, what exactly is that??
Bill: A yo-yo is the term that’s used to say that the rider has started at one end of a route, ridden it to the other end, then turned around and rode back the other direction. Double the mileage, which for this route it makes it 500 miles. My friend, and one of my mentors, Jeff Tommasetti had tried it two years ago, but ran into nasty weather and bad conditions and decided to call it quits. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine riding 500 miles. That was the first year I tried CFITT and I crashed and injured my knee while on the ferry bypass route through Palatka, and I couldn’t finish. The first time getting your heart broken is always the worst, and I still feel that one.
Me: On the subject of finishing. Your record for finishes is not very good. Of the 6 races you’ve done prior to this one you’ve only finished two. Would you care to comment on that?
Bill: I’d really rather not. I’ve had a lot of frustration in these bike-packing races. I have kind of made an uneasy peace with it, because when you look objectively at the statistics, the finish rate in many of these self-supported ultra-endurance events is actually pretty low. It’s hard not to take being part of those statistics really personally, when you’re the one having to make that decision to quit a race. It hurts. These races are brutally honest, the race don’t care who you are, what other races you’ve done, how much you trained, how hard you’ve tried. If you can’t physically finish, or you decide that whatever problem you’ve got is insurmountable, then you don’t finish. On the surface it seems very pass or fail, but I’ve had to convince myself that even doing part of one of these courses is an accomplishment.
Me: That sounds like BS to me. How can a DNF (did not finish) ever be an accomplishment?
Bill: Well, maybe it’s simply an attempt to ease the pain it causes, but I’ve discovered I shouldn’t devalue the hard lessons I’ve learned. Failure is not the end, it’s a step, and it’s a turn or a twist that leads to somewhere else. Without failure, there would be no satisfaction, or joy, or sense of accomplishment in success. It’s easy to be successful. I’m not saying it’s doesn’t take hard work hard work be successful, or that success doesn’t deserve recognition, or reward, but successfulness doesn’t necessarily develop character. It doesn’t teach compassion. And it doesn’t require someone to look at themselves honestly, especially when what they see isn’t very pretty. It’s not a matter of lowering the bar, but defining goals to be more than just winning or even just finishing. For myself, if I don’t have some other goals the disappointment will outweigh the rewards and I’ll lose my motivation to do these things in the first place.
Me: That’s a lot for someone who didn’t want to talk about it. So for you there’s a definite psychological and perhaps even spiritual element involved?
Bill: Absolutely, I beat myself again and again on the anvil of these events, hammering away at the metal of my soul and psyche and body, hoping to forge myself into a more fully human shaped object. Hopefully into something of value and usefulness. The experiences I have strip away at the falseness and pretense of my everyday life, leaving the raw core of who I am exposed.
Me: Um… Alrighty then. What about these other goals you mentioned?
Bill: It depends on the race. For this one I had decided my biggest goal was to stay in the present moment, to find my flow in the ride, and to stay happy. I wanted to ride well. I’m not sure how to define that except I know it when it happens. I wanted to really enjoy the race. I feel like I did that while still maintaining a good pace over the distance.

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Finding my bliss while trying to take a selfie.

Me: Given your record of not finishing, what made you think you should attempt a 500 mile race? Honestly, it seems pretty stupid. It seems like the regular 250 mile race would be a better option.
Bill: Last year I finished CFITT. I had done my homework, I created a very detailed plan, I executed it with precision. I had trained very hard for it, doing a couple of all day rides each month. 100, 120. 130 140 miles. Building over the months. I set my goal at a 36hr finish. I made it in 35 hours and 41 minutes and that was after having a major mechanical problem 30 miles from the finish. When I got home I poured over my GPS data, already planning for a faster run the next year. I found a few places where I could shave some time off, but it still wouldn’t get me under 30 hours, even if I didn’t sleep. I’m just not very strong or fast, so I decided to add miles as the challenge, not speed. I mostly kept my mouth shut, because I wasn’t sure I’d really be able to do it.
Me: So how did you train for this one?
Bill: I didn’t. This had to be the least prepared I’ve ever been for a race. I had created a training plan back in September with some big distances, but I never got started on it. Life, work, weather, and laziness all conspired against me. Instead, I was doing a whole lot of 2-3 hour trail rides on my singlespeed cyclocross bike. I worked up to pushing a 42×17 gear on our fairly flat trails. Most of the other rides I did were the usual Saturday Roadie rides, either a 35 or 50 mile ride at an 20-21 mph pace, except I would do them on my mountain bike with all my gear loaded on it. About 45lbs
Me: So you ride a loaded mountain bike with fat tires like a road bike? Is that supposed to be impressive?
Bill: No, I’m probably considered the village idiot of our local road rides. I get dropped from the group a whole lot, usually in the last ten miles when the pace just gets too much for me, no one waits for me anymore. I do end up pulling home a few dropped roadies on those rides.

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My

Me: I still don’t believe that in 500 miles you don’t have any stories to tell? So you had no problems?
Bill: Oh no, there were problems. My GPS started turning itself every few minutes. I was afraid it would quit entirely and I wouldn’t be able to finish. I almost ran out of lights while in the Ocala National Forest at about 3am on the way back to the west coast. The saddle I was using was giving me saddle sores, from the bad pressure points. I managed not to let it get to me too much and I seemed to just get lucky. The GPS had me most concerned for probably about 4 hours, till I was certain it was working. It was great that I had run into Seth Jacoby, and we were riding together some. At his suggestion we went off route for dinner, and I was able to figure out how to do a factory default on my GPS without losing the route or my track.
Me: What was the best thing that happened aside from finishing?
Bill: I really just had a good ride, I never seemed too tired, too hungry, or too thirsty, and everything just seemed to be working out right. Honestly it seemed, not easy, but somehow almost effortless. I felt like I was doing the most absolutely most logical natural thing in the world. I stayed really focused on riding and enjoying the scenery, and enjoying the friends and new friends I saw along the way. I didn’t let things get to me too much. Even the things that didn’t seem like good things turned out really well.
Me: Like What?
Bill: Well for one, the loud drunk girl who woke up everyone camped behind the 88 store and bar at 1 am. I was peeved, but it put me back on the trail at 1am, (instead of sleeping till dawn.) Not having trained at all for this race meant I almost always kept my exertion level well within my abilities. I never got exhausted and I seemed to have almost unending energy. I was happy and excited to be doing what I was doing. I really just stayed in the zone. Things just seemed to flow. I enjoyed the trails at Santos, both in the dark and then the second time in the daytime. I didn’t feel any pressure except in making the ferry crossings before they closed for the day and I had planned well enough that that wasn’t a problem. Had I missed them I probably would have just ridden the bypass. My body worked great, no cramping, no injuries, no muscle aches, no real fatigue. Despite my diet of mostly Nestles Chocolate Quick and peanut M&Ms, supplemented with a few convenience store hot dogs and sandwiches, I had no GI issues, and felt well fueled the whole time.
Me: That’s great. But was there anything you would do differently, or wish you could change?
Bill: Change? No nothing, that’s foolish. Everything that happened worked out just like it needed to. There are some things I managed to learn that I will apply in the future.
Like what?
Well, for me, places like the 88 Store, while an oasis in the wilderness, are comfort traps. I need to get in and out. There’s nothing wrong with some rest and relaxation, and while one of my goals was to have fun and socialize a bit, but at one point I was waiting for a pizza to be delivered. At that point I knew I should be leaving. I tried to leave, but I had gotten so used to comfort that I decided I needed to get in my sleeping bag and be warm and cozy. (But even that worked out ok in the end)88 store night
I need to have back some sort of back up navigation, maps, cue sheets, most probably an offline navigation app on my phone, unless I can find another GPS unit cheap enough.
As long as I can get some sort of solid food like a meal every day, (a couple of chili dogs or a sandwich) I can run pretty well on snacks from the convenience store. I was figuring this out during the 440 mile tour I made in July, where it was so hot to I had trouble eating very much.
Clothes make the man, or at least make him comfortable. I wore the strangest combos of clothes trying to stay comfortable. The long sleeve tech tee I brought to sleep in was my favorite item, thrown on over my jersey, instead of arm warmers. For the first time ever I had a spare pair of bike shorts. I used my cheap raincoat more than my jacket, and except for not being quite breathable enough it worked well. I loved having my bivvy and my sleeping bag combo this time, it kept me warm and dry when I needed it, and I have to have a comfortable pad to sleep on. Well worth the weight.
I had so little I didn’t use. A few gels, my mp3 player, a little skull cap. Gloves. I never once wore any gloves and I had zero issues with my hands getting numb or sore.
Me: We’ve really got to wrap this up. Tell me about finish. How was that?
Bill: I didn’t have any sort of plan for the return trip. My only plan was to finish. I was going to get a motel room and spend the night in Inglis recovering after the finish, so I didn’t care what time I got there. I did start picking up some speed in the last 30 miles. I still felt strong. The sand section slowed me down a bit. It was much easier the first time through when my legs were fresh. When I hit the paved canal trail I really laid on the speed, going into full time trail mode, which for me at that point was only about 17-18 mph. I took my final wheel dip picture, then headed back to my truck in the parking lot. The finishes are always sort of anti-climactic and usually no one is around this one was no different. I gave my bike, my boon companion for 500 miles a big hug.

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Giving my trusty steed a hug at the finish line.

Me: How did you feel afterwards? What did you do to recover?
Bill: I got a motel room, showered, and went to get something to eat. I ended up eating two meals, and then stopped by the store for some snacks and drinks in case I got hungry during the night. I felt pretty good, except for the saddle sores. I realized I had ridden the last 250 miles east to west section in just an hour more than I did last year, but it still didn’t seem like a big deal.
Me: One last question, and keep it short, what are your plans now? What events are you doing this year?
Bill: Well, for starters I decided to race the Huracan route again at the end of January, something I had said I wasn’t doing this year. At the end of February I’ll be hosting my Battle of Brier Creek dirt road ride for the third year running. I’ll be signing up for TNGA (Trans North Georgia race) for a third try in August. I’ll going to try to get some folks to join me this year on the 450 mile Georgia Revolutionary War Trail tour in July. Beyond that I don’t know. I’m also considering doing the Allegheny Mountains Loop 400 in April.

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The Obscure Start: Part 1 of a Dubious Choice of Adventures

The rain began to fall as I crossed the bridge over the Cross Florida Canal, which doesn’t cross Florida at all. I thought about how this rain would affect the roads ahead, wet sticky sand and mud. I didn’t look forward to slogging through sloppy roads soaked to the skin, dirty and cold. It was an otherwise beautiful night and I really was looking forward to riding my bike. I decided the rain, wasn’t really a bad or good thing, it was just a part of the ride. Somehow this small act of acceptance set the mood for most of my ride. start bike profile
At the end of the Withlacoochee Bay Trail along the canal, I turned my bike around and put my bikes back tire in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, or more specifically Withlacoochee Bay, and I took my first checkpoint picture. I had eaten a shrimp diner and gotten a few hours sleep in an old motel in Inglis. The rain had mostly stopped by the time I had neared the end of the seven mile ride to the start from the motel. I had seen three deer and a sort of angry raccoon along the trail. I still had about ten minutes to wait, since my start time was 12:01. I turned on my SPOT GPS tracker, and the Garmin Etrex GPS I use for navigation. I watched some crabs moving about in the quiet water among the rocks as I had a little snack.
I tried to think about what I would write later about this quiet, obscure start. I didn’t have any momentous thoughts or feeling about what I was about to begin. I had no last minute worries, no apprehension, no anxiety, or even real excitement. It just seemed like such a normal thing to be doing, starting a 500 mile ride in the middle of the night. At 12:01 am I rolled my bike back up to the trail, and began pedaling, then stopped to tighten the straps on my bar bag, and then stopped again to rearrange a few things in the bag where I keep my snacks. I was in no hurry, I had all the time in the world.
I try to set some realistic goals to keep me on pace and for an overall finish time. As much as I can, I base those goals on my past performance and my current fitness. Within a ride I will set little goals, both to keep me on track to the bigger goals and to motivate me to push a little harder. Sometimes it’s reaching a place by a certain time; sometimes it’s just riding a short section of trail well. There’s a concept in sports psychology called the challenge-skills balance. If it gets skewed too much in either direction I can be either bored or else overwhelmed. Staying somewhere in the middle of that balance is critical to being able to survive and even thrive in often tough situations. When it’s just right everything just seem to flow naturally.
For three years I’d been doing these long self-supported races. My results are not at all impressive. I’d only had two finishes out of the six ultra-endurance events I’d entered, and last years CFITT is the only one that I consider a strong finish. I had begun to question my reasons for doing these events. I would spend months preparing, money in travel and lodging and new gear, only to end up out of a race because of reasons like my shorts chaffed too much, or I crashed and hurt my knee. I’ve seen other racers endure much worse, for much longer, in order to finish. I was certainly no elite athlete. I began to think maybe I was just a poser, a wannabe, trying to be this bad ass tough guy on a bike. I didn’t want to admit failure, or weakness, or that my character was lacking in substance somehow.
I knew that in these ultra endurance events, in the challenges they presented in the struggle of the course, the distances, the environment, and most importantly in the battles I fought within myself, I could somehow connect with some part of me I had either lost or had never discovered. Doing these events had helped me discover who I am, what is inside of me, and how to be a better human. I knew this was too important for me to just give up, but I had to be able to do it in a way that would align better with my challenge-skills balance.

At the end of the paved trail, I clicked on my helmet light and veered off into the grassy trail and rode up the overlook hill. Not really much to look over in the dark, a few lights and a power plant off in the distance. Within a few minutes I was putting my bike over a fence and I was back on pavement for a bit. A fox watched as I rode up, then crossing into my light just before I passed. Three deer, a raccoon, a rabbit, and a grey fox. My animal count had already begun before I had even gone 10 miles. This was going to be a fun ride. I added “be a fun ride” that to my list of modest goals.

 

A Series Of (Mostly) Well Planed Events

This was my fourth self-supported, ultra-endurance mountain bike race, and my second time attempting the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial or CFITT. My previous endurance races had left me feeling pretty broken. They broke my body, they broke my spirit, and they broke my belief in myself. I had trained so hard for this same race last year, and after having to drop out, I couldn’t even talk about how I felt. It was a private pain that I carried close, like a broken heart, but as time passed, I realized the most painful wound was to my ego.

This year was different, and I have become a different racer, a broken racer, a more honest racer. I was here just to ride my bike, my expectations were pretty low. I had even studied the paved routes back to my truck. I accepted that failure was a good possibility and willing to make peace with another DNF, (Did Not Finish). At one point, earlier in the year, there was a part of me that wanted some sort of redemption for my DNF on this race last year, but I had let that go too. I was out of reasons to race. I was just here for the ride.
I had gone down to Florida and ridden the second half or the course a month ago, and parts of it really kicked my butt, so I knew how tough it could be. I studied the route, and I made A PLAN or in pdf. It was a very reasonable plan, a modest plan. Where I would stop for water and food, where I wanted to try to be at what time, even what and when I would eat, as well as how much water I needed at any given time. It sounds very exact and rigid, but really it was just to help me figure out how to break these long distances it into smaller manageable sections. My plan is like having a support crew, when my brain gets fuzzy and tired; it’s there to think for me. Its thinking I’ve already done all written down in one place.

Last year, I had an elaborate training plan, starting months in advance, and I went about it very seriously, and put in a ton of miles and hard work. This year, I didn’t have the same kind of driven intensity that had fueled my training last year, I mostly just rode. In the month before CFITT, I did a series of fairly easy paced, all-day long rides, covering as much dirt road as I could find. I didn’t feel as strong or fast as last year, but I had become a very different rider, a more clever rider. I knew myself better, and I knew what I could do, and I knew what would break me, and what wouldn’t.

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I dipped my rear tire in the Atlantic Ocean on the sand of New Smyrna Beach at the start of the race. Once on the road, I pushed hard to get clear of some of the other riders. I wasn’t trying to establish an early lead in the race; I just didn’t want to get stuck down behind a long string of slower riders in the trail sections behind the college, and at the Cow Creek. There was one flooded section of trail, and a stream crossing, and I knew the further back in the group I was, the slower it could go. It worked well, and I had minimal delays. By the time I reached the fast smooth dirt of Volco Road, I was beginning to have some pain in my right knee, nothing too unusual, but on the long paved stretch of Maytown Road, the pain got pretty severe and my head was filling up with fear and doubt. Not even 15 miles into a 240 mile race and I was already worried about finishing.
I decided I had to do something to change things right then. I pulled over and raised my saddle up about an eighth of an inch, but the most important thing I did was change my outlook. I concentrated my full attention on what I was doing, and reminded myself, that no matter what happened, I was right where I was meant to be, doing exactly what I should be doing. Nothing was more important to me in this very moment, and I should just soak it all in, every little bit of it, without judging it to be good or bad. I even savored my misery this time at Chuck Lennon MTB trails. I’ve ridden them several times before, but have never had to struggle as hard as I did this time.

I ended up making multiple little unscheduled stops on the side of the road, so I had decided to skip my first store stop, and then the second one. Part of my plan was carrying enough food to eat while on the go, so I wasn’t just riding from store to store, but only as little water as I could get by with. Water stops are very fast, and there were plenty on route. I would have even skipped my first store stop at 109 miles, but I needed some solid food, like sandwiches. I also had promised myself that if I just kept pushing hard, that there would be ice cream and chocolate milk waiting for me at that store. I make deals with my body; I offer bribes, promises of food, and sometimes even a short rest.
It may seem like a contradiction to be both trying to live in the moment and follow such a detailed plan, but having my plan allowed me to focus just on riding, to get into the rhythm of it, find my flow, and enjoy what I was doing. I did have a couple of modest goals for this race, more like hopes, than goals. I wanted to finish the race, I wanted to make it to the critical ferry crossing before sunset, and then to finish in less than 36 hours if possible, but I constantly reminded myself to just ride each section as best as I could, at a pace I could sustain throughout the race.

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Did I mention it wasn’t very warm in Florida?

 

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Doing important racing things, like checking facebook.

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My bike, resting.

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Taking advantage at the long wait at the ferry, giving my legs some rest.

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I made the ferry with time to spare, an hour ahead of my plan, so dug the quarters I carry out of my bag, as I had planned, and had a cold Mtn Dew from the coke machine, while I waited .

On the other side of the ferry crossing at about 135 miles, was the section of Florida Trail that was added to the race this year. I knew it would be some of the most mentally challenging miles on the course, with some of the worst terrain being reached well after dark, in what seems like nowhere, in the Ocala National Forest, which is known for black bears. I did see some fresh bear poop and tracks at one point, but no bears this time. I wanted to get as far as I could, before I stopped to sleep, and out of the woods, so I was ready to ride into the dark. I knew that if I could get about four hours sleep, I could easily ride really well the next day, and I wanted to sleep before I started getting too tired, and clumsy, and stupid.
I stopped about midnight, and slept 4 hours. After buzzing through Marshall Swamp trails and Baseline trail, I realized I was going to be too early for the on-route convenience store to be open, so I stopped at Duncan Doughnuts for breakfast. My breakfast sandwich took too long and the portion size was just ridiculously small for me, and it seemed it would take too long to get more food. I just got a few more doughnuts and rolled on, and by the time the darkness began to lift, I was well into the very familiar well groomed mountain bike trails at Santos. My biggest concern was just being careful through the more technical sections. I’m pretty usually good at crashing safely, but the weight of a heavy loaded mountain bike can make a minor crash much more serious.
I had planned to go off-route and get something to eat at Hwy 200, but now I realized I was getting close to being done. I did a mental inventory of my food, saw that I still had a liter of water left, and figured that the stop at the nearby stores would add at least another hour to my time. I had no idea where the other racers were, but I began thinking I wanted to keep moving to not lose any places in the finish.

The last section of trail, to Pruitt Trailhead, is a place where huge herds of wild pigs root up the forest floor like roto-tillers. Only 25-30 miles from the finish line, I thought my race might be ended.

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My derailleur. Bent hanger , I had a spare, broken jockey wheel, I had a spare. Twisted bent cage, and screw stripped out. Nope, I’m screwed.

 

A small stick caught in my rear derailleur destroying it beyond repair. After a few seconds of panic, I got to work removing the mangled derailleur, and shortening the chain. One rider passed me as I worked. I rode on with just one gear, but once back on the paved road, I realized I had chosen much too low a gear, and was just spinning the cranks and going nowhere quickly. I stopped and shortened the chain again, and got a more usable gear combination. Instinctively, my finger just kept clicking away at the shifter, trying to go faster, and I kept laughing at myself for forgetting I only had the one gear.

My top speed was now limited to about 17mph in very short burst, or about 15-16mph average. This was one of the final section of paved roads, where I really wanted to make decent speed, and my hands needed to get a rest in the aero bar position after being beat up by miles of rough trail. I wondered how I would deal with the ankle deep sand up ahead, I knew I’d walk much of it. My hope now was to just make it to the finish and maybe get there before my truck was locked in the parking lot for the night.
I soaked up the beauty of the Rainbow River along the Blue Run Trail near Dunnellon, the shady coolness of the swamp, and the view from the bridge over the Withlacoochee River. Once again, I bribed my body with food. There would be ice cream at the store near the end of the trail. I had been out of water, since the Pruitt Trail Head, so I would have to stop anyway. I sat down inside the store and ate a couple of ice-cream bars and a Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino drink. I was feeling optimistic about nearing the finish, even though I was well aware of the sand in the final stretch and my lack of any gear choices. I filled my small water bottle with coke, and mixed up my last packet of caffeinated Tailwind Endurance Formula in my one liter bottle.
The final stretch begins with a zig-zag jaunt though the hilly (well, for Florida it’s kind of hilly) streets of a Citrus Springs, before turning out onto the sugar sand roads I was dreading. When I had ridden (and walked) them last time they had really put a beating on me and by now it was hot and sunny, and there was little shade. The only food I had left was two energy gels, and one of them had leaked, somehow making the prospect of getting them out of the ziplock baggie, all messy and sticky, much less appealing.
Despite only having one gear, I still managed to ride more of the sugar sand than I did the last time through. I zoomed the map on my GPS way in so I couldn’t see how much longer the roads were. I was pretty happy when I emerged back on the paved roads. I blasted, in leg blurring single speed mode, through the final streets. At the last fence hop, I could swear I could smell the salt water. It seemed like moments, and also forever, as I steadily rolled down the path along the canal, knowing that in a few minutes I would be dipping my front tire in the Gulf of Mexico. While the idea of finishing was exciting, I also wished that this adventure, like the path ahead wasn’t ending. I ended up finishing in 11th place with a time of 35 hr, 41 min.

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My 2014 TNGA Experiance

 

The TNGA is a 350 mile fully self-supported mountain bike route through the mountains of North GA on trails, forest roads and paved roads featuring challenging terrain, beautiful scenery and over 56000 ft of climbing. It begins at the Georgia/South Carolina border and ends at the Alabama state line. Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way was handling shuttling our bikes and riders to the start and would pick us up at the finish. Without their logistical support, its unlikely this event could even happen.
Being a self-supported race, anything I needed, I had to carry or be able to buy at stores along the route. Due to the distances between towns I needed to be able to filter water from mountain streams. Riding at night meant I needed a decent light and spare battery packs.
My camping gear was as minimal as I could go, a 6oz bivy sack, and a bug net to keep mosquitos off my face. I also carried a small repair kit, a spare tube, and a very basic first aid kit. I had a small amout of “bike food, as well as arm warmers, knee warmers and a rain jacket, which I also used to supplement my light bivy bag.
I had signed up for this race not sure at all if I really intended to do it. I knew how hard it would be, I knew where I was in my own fitness, and I just about dropped out dozens of times before even starting. Even on the drive up I was having second thoughts, but by the time we headed off to the start, I was fully committed to the adventure, it was moving forward and I knew I was as ready as I could be, so I closed the door on doubt and fear.

Before loading up to be shuttled to the start on the South Carolina border near Clayton, GA I went over my bike again, leaving out about a pound in gear and extra food. I knew every ounce would work against me in the mountains.

Before loading up to be shuttled to the start on the South Carolina border near Clayton, GA I went over my bike again, leaving out about a pound in gear and extra food. I knew every ounce would work against me in the mountains.

At the start I was very calm. I was looking forward to heading off on roads I’d never traveled. I decided that I wouldn’t make any hard efforts for two hour, allowing myself to warm up. I knew this was a race of attrition, and that more than half of us wouldn’t finish.
I managed to take things in stride. The group of friends I was with rode away as I got off and pushed my bike uphill. I missed a turn, and had to backtrack. I cut a hole in the sidewall on my rear tire on some sharp rocks, had to stop and patch that. Another missed turn that meant a hard climb back up a very steep road. That was all just in the first 20 miles. I accepted that these were a part of the adventure, and without some adversity this would just be a regular bike ride. I also knew the tougher challenges would come along later when my head and body wanted to quit.

The white part in the cut is the stick on tire boot I put inside the tire to keep the tube from blowing out the cut.

The white part in the cut is the stick on tire boot I put inside the tire to keep the tube from blowing out the cut.

Near the end of Charles Creek Road, I had a pretty nasty crash scraping up my elbow and taking a good hit on my hip leaving a big swollen bruise and a deep scrape. I was glad it wasn't serious, and the slight irritating pain, was a constant reminder of how serious what I was doing, and to use caution as a injury could not only put me out of the race, but require me to be evacuated from a remote place.

Near the end of Charles Creek Road, I had a pretty nasty crash scraping up my elbow and taking a good hit on my hip leaving a big swollen bruise and a deep scrape. I was glad it wasn’t serious, and the slight irritating pain, was a constant reminder of how serious what I was doing, and to use caution as a injury could not only put me out of the race, but require me to be evacuated from a remote place.

By now, I was between groups of riders, off on my own. While I do enjoy company, I had decided not to really team up with any other riders. My concern is that I am affected too much by other people’s attitudes and that when I’m tired and suffering it’s too easy to allow someone to make choices for me. Plus it’s slower. I might stop for a few minutes on the trail, and it’s only a few minutes, but in a group there tends to be multiple stops, lengthy group decision making sessions, slower store stops, waiting up on the slowest guy, (usually me), etc…

In actuality, I was very close, either ahead or behind, a couple of the same people all day that first day. Past theTop of Georgia Hostel I pulled away on the downhill on Forest Service Road 164 with the bunch of creek crossings. I had hoped to make it Helen, Ga, but decided to call it a night before tackling Tray Gap, having heard the descent was pretty difficult. I ended up throwing my bivy sack down to sleep quite literally on the side of the road.

In the morning I finished the climb to Tray Gap and tackled a really nasty jeep road, followed by a fun ride down the Hickory Nut Trail into Unicoi State Park. I filled water at an empty campsite and was off to Helen Ga, where I met back up with Tony and Mike after grabbing a quick breakfast and snack. We all left together, but they soon pulled away, mercifully leaving me to suffer alone in the brutal heat.
Much sooner than I expected I hit a low point physically and emotionally. I was ready to quit after pushing my 46lb bike up the last steep section of Hogpen gap. While I was resting near the top, I checked FB and saw that a lot of riders were pulling out. Not the sort of encouragement I needed right then. I texted a friend for some help, I knew I was in trouble, and the next tough gap climb was not far down the road. If I didn’t do something different my ride would be over, I wasn’t tough enough to continue on like this,

Rest recovery a shower and clean clothes at Vogel State Park.

Rest recovery a shower and clean clothes at Vogel State Park.

The advice I got was to get to nearby Vogel State Park and wait for the sun to set and cool off. I relaxed, ate, cooled off, and rested. Aside from letting me recover physically, it gave me time to get my head back in order for the ride ahead. By the time I climbed Wolfpen Gap it was pitch black and I was really enjoying the cool mountain night. Duncan ridge was rough, but fun and fast in the dark. I stopped and camped (I think) I think along Rock Creek Road, throwing down my bivy sack at a fishing spot littered with beer cans and a smoldering campfire.

Iron Bridge, I just about crashed crossing over on the wet boards.

Iron Bridge, I just about crashed crossing over on the wet boards in the early morning.

In the morning, I once again ran into Tony, my team mate from Angry Monkeys Racing, and another racer, Mike, and we ate breakfast together, at the Iron Bridge Café. The two of them had decided that they were going to ride back to mulberry gap on the road, since they needed to be back at work and couldn’t finish in the time they had allotted. I rode off to tackle the Aska trails, including Stanley gap trail, (one of the toughest trails I rode), but not before getting misdirected onto several miles Flat Creek Trail, following the rock strewn trail downhill then having to climb back out of it. This was followed with some beautiful downhill gravel roads into Cherry Log where I cooled off and filled up water bottles.

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Some of the fasted and smoothest gravel I’ve ever ridden.

I made it to Jacks River Store just a few minutes before closing, and quickly loaded up on snacks, and my go-to no cooking camp meal of instant mashed potatoes and Vienna sausages. Before checking out, I grabbed a fistful of popsicles. They closed before I had finished eating my Popsicles. I bought a coke from the vending machine outside, for the road and headed off back into the mountains.

Cohutta Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness

I stopped at Jacks River Field Campground to eat dinner, and contemplated camping there for the night, but the smell from the chemicals they had added to the vault toilets was inescapable. I also saw how close I was to Mulberry Gap, so I headed off onto the first section of Pinhoti trail, a muddy mess in the fading light of horse poop and mud holes, followed by a slow soul crushing climb in some grassy double track. I tried to be as frugal with my headlight as I dared, since I had run one battery pack out the night before, and knew this one was getting low.

By the time I got to the Bear Creek trailhead, my light had switched itself to the low setting, meaning the battery was almost gone. I decided to make straight for Mulberry Gap so I could charge up my batteries while I slept and hopefully get something to eat. It was about midnight, and I had said I didn’t think id be in till nearly one, so I wasn’t very surprised no one was there to greet me. I found half of a sandwich in a to-go box by the trash can, which I devoured. Andrew stopped in, heading out to go pick up two riders who had finished. I had not had a great night, and was feeling pretty rough myself. I was thinking about calling it quits, but I wouldn’t decide anything till the morning. I plugged in my chargers, took a shower and fell asleep on the couch.
In the morning over breakfast, I talked with the guys who had finished. I can’t remember who they were. They didn’t sugar coat it, there was some tough spots ahead, but they helped me get my head around being able to finish in two more days. I now had a plan, an achievable goal, so rolled out on the road.
My body was working pretty well up to this point, aside from the big bruise and scrape on my hip I was uninjured. My knees were beginning to get a little achy at times if I rode too big of climbs, but nothing too bad. My legs felt heavy and tired, as expected, after several days of rough riding. The night before, I could barely put out any power and was having to walk almost all the climbs. This morning my legs were a little stiff and my muscles just felt tight, like I had been lifting weights. I wasn’t too concerned.
I rolled easy out of Mulberry Gap, back up the roads I had sped down the night before. I pedaled along, confident my plan was solid, and I could finish this ride. When the road pitched up steeply up and pedaling got tough, I hopped off to push the bike, and with the first step I felt a sharp pain in my left calf. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but within a few more steps the pain was enough I didn’t want to put weight on it. I managed to get back on the bike, but only made a few pedal strokes before I had to stop. I sat down on the side of the road. I tried to think of a solution, a work around but not being able to push the bike, or stand on the pedals.
I sat down on the side of the road, next to my bike, trying to massage my painful calf. I thought about what I had ridden so far, through the mountain forests alone in the night, over terrain much tougher than anything I had ever tried, along beautiful rivers and streams, down country roads surrounded by hilly farm fields, and stopped to take in the views along the way. I had blasted down roads jeeps fear to drive, where there were more rocks than road, and taken a heavy loaded bike over mountain gaps with names that are legendary in cycling circles. My leg wasn’t getting better. It was very clear this wasn’t a cramp, but a muscle pull. I knew that if I iced it and rested I might could ride in 24 hrs, but I also knew that a stop that long would give the heaviness in the rest of my muscles time to turn into the soreness that was slowly coming.

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Emotions I had kept in check for the past few days came flooding into my consciousness. I cried. Not bawling like a baby but definitely some tears. While I was of course disappointed, I was also grateful for what I had done. I know how special, how valuable these experiences are to me. I was satisfied that I had done the best I could, with the training, experience, and circumstances I had to work with. This race had been two years in the works for me, and now it was over, so I sat on the road and cried.
I collected myself, accepted the situation, and slowly soft pedaled back towards Mulberry Gap.

Little Chapel By The Creek

Little Chapel By The Creek

I took a minute to stop off at the little chapel by the creek, to quiet myself, listen and be still. I gave thanks for all I have been given, for the conquests and the defeats, for the moments when my soul was soaring, basking in the beauty around me in those mountains, as well as for the dark moments in my head, when I gave in to fear, and doubt and lost my way. I was grateful for flying down dark trails, dodging rocks, and washed out holes, having to hyperfocus on just that very moment, as bats swooped in and out of the light cast by my headlight. Those short times in that flow moment are magic, a gift that money, or drugs, or even being in superhuman physical shape can’t buy you. I saw myself at Hogpen Gap, on the climb that almost broke me, and I celebrated my suffering. My health, my fitness, my life situation that allowed me to come do this crazy ride, the friends and family and even strangers who encourage me on these failure prone windmill joists, I’m especially grateful for my fellow adventurers who share their wisdom, experience and journeys with me. All these things I have to be grateful for.
Maybe my little gratitude list, is just my minds way of dealing with failure, of not reaching the goals I set for myself, a self-protective response. Even if it is, I still favor it over the alternatives of never trying, never pushing my body and spirit to its breaking point, or failing and just never trying again. Failure isn’t the bad thing it’s made out to be. Sometimes a failure is a gateway to another endeavor, sometimes it’s a sign that the challenge/skill balance is skewed unrealistically, or it’s a catalyst for change.
Despite not being able to finish the route, I completed a lot of what I set out to do. I rode some very rough terrain, and got to polish a lot of my mountain biking technique. I stretched myself beyond what I knew I could do, both mentally and physically. I learned a lot, about myself, about this thing we do, about other people, and how I interact with them. I saw some beautiful country, views I earned the hard way, and I tried my hardest to savor every moment of this experience.
Each time I do one of these races, I am more aware of what’s going on with me, while its going on, it’s a learning, growing thing and somehow it work for me, somehow it gives me something that’s missing in my daily life, and something that’s missing in my heart and head. It fixes me, but sometimes it breaks me first. For me, these adventures are still evolving, and I’m learning to trust the process, to allow it to take me where it will. Im already looking forward to my next adventure in November.

The Devils Deal

Warning: This post contains real feelings. Mine. They are not intended to hurt or minimize or invalidate anyone’s feelings. They may not be popular or convenient, but are truthful none the less. It’s also not about cycling. Well mostly not.
I still have very mixed feelings about having our dog euthanized. I don’t really feel sad about the end of his life with us. I accept that death is the inevitable conclusion of life, and the beginning of some new existence. He had a very good life. He was a good dog. Of course I miss him, but I would miss him if he were gone, but still alive somewhere. Equally I just miss having a dog in my life, any dog.

Having him euthanized, ending his life, was, (and is) an ethical dilemma for me. I do not regret the decision, and there was no viable alternative, but I feel that in making a decision like that, I may have incurred a debt. I have asked myself if by doing this, I may have changed the dogs fate in a way that harmed the purpose of his existence here, or taken some experience from him, or perhaps from us.
I don’t know if it’s karma, or guilt, but it weighs on me. I feel I had to make the “devils deal” in choosing the least harmful path. It’s also the cost of having a pet, being responsible for it’s wellbeing. It doesn’t make it one single bit less wrong, even though logically it was unavoidable. As I see it, I can either accept it and carry it in peace, or find a way to release it.
I’ve heard, and made, all the arguments about it being the “right thing”, the humane thing to do, easing suffering, letting him go out with some dignity, but none of that really soothes me.
The other side of those arguments against euthanasia are things like: “for our convenience”, sparing our own emotional state, saving the expense and trouble of caring for him, etc…
I would still make the exact same decision, even knowing now how I would feel about it, and knowing the full weight it would carry for me. I’m not looking for absolution, or even sympathy, or advice. I just need to acknowledge it and put it out there, as part of trying to live honestly.
I believe there are things in life that accumulate. A failure here, a fault there, a word spoken thoughtlessly, or in haste. For me these things are not easily removed, not easily let go.
Here’s where the bit about cycling comes in. I process stuff best in solitude, and riding allows me to shut down all the day to day crap and pay attention to things deeper inside me, below my normal consciousness. I’m going out for a long ride tomorrow, not as an escape, but in part as a meditation, a prayer, a way to honor the truth of what I feel. I don’t expect any magical change, or some psychological breakthrough, or the weight of this debt to be lifted, but the isolation of a long day of riding does let me restore some order to my head.

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Full Circle: The Empty Ending.

My bikes chain clattered and ground, after having slogged through a sticky peanut butter smear called Maggie Jones Road. The rain still poured down on me, and I rode trough the puddles, hoping to wash some of the mud off me and my bike. My chain would be fine, but it needed oiling when I stopped. Ahead of me was Paisley, which had a store. I needed some solid food, I needed coffee, and I needed to take a break and get out of this rain and warm up a little. I was in a deep calorie hole, soaking wet, and pretty cold, and given the heavy rain, I was thinking of finding somewhere to hide out and sleep for a while.

I was enjoying best the Paisley Mart could offer, a dry place to eat some food, while apologizing to the nice lady for dripping all over the floor, and hanging out by the two crockpots of boiled peanuts which were throwing off an impressive amount of warmth. I was just glad it was a little mom and pop store, and they were not running the air conditioning very cold.

I was enjoying best the Paisley Mart could offer, a dry place to eat some food, while apologizing to the nice lady for dripping all over the floor, and hanging out by the two crockpots of boiled peanuts which were throwing off an impressive amount of warmth. I was just glad it was a little mom and pop store, and they were not running the air conditioning very cold.

I was enjoying best the Paisley Mart could offer, a dry place to eat some food, while apologizing to the nice lady for dripping all over the floor, and hanging out by the two crockpots of boiled peanuts which were throwing off an impressive amount of warmth. I was just glad it was a little mom and pop store, and they were not running the air conditioning very cold.

It didn’t look like this, the rain was falling in sheets, but I found this pic on the internet.

Shortly, I was joined by a very wet Charles and Brett, the pair I had traveled with the day before from Clermont to Apopka. We ate, and dripped on the nice lady’s floor, and I wolfed down a second nasty microwave hamburger, and bought a few more snacks for the road. We discussed options. I told them my plan was to find a spot to pitch my tarp and maybe sleep an hour or two. They talked about hiding out on the covered overhang at the post office across the street, but they had no camping gear, it was going to be cold and wet for them. After some back and forth they found out about a little hotel in the next town.

I knew I needed to at least get out of my wet clothes and in my sleeping bag to get my body temp back up. I knew that this was pretty much the last stop before the finish. What ever I needed to do, I had to be refueled with food and drink before I left. Next up was Paisley trails, some long sandy roads in Billy Bay, the water pump at Farles Lake, and then the long hilly dirt roads of the Ocala National Forest.

Off we went to Umitilla, miles off course, to a little motel. The promise of the comfort of a motel overpowered my sense of adventure and courage once again. We cleaned up and changed into whatever clothes we had and went in search of some dinner.

Off we went to Umatilla, miles off course, to a little motel. The promise of the comfort of a motel overpowered my sense of adventure and courage once again. We cleaned up and changed into whatever clothes we had and went in search of some dinner.

In the morning, at a convenience store, the guy at the counter was a nice Indian man and he was interested in the trip we were on. As we got ready to go, he came outside to wish us well and see us off, and wave goodbye. I thought it was a really nice gesture. A remnant from another time, when traveling was still seen as an adventure. It reminded me that I was indeed on a grand adventure, even if it was just following a route. I was seeing things I’d never seen, and facing difficulty and challenges I’ve never faced. For me this was exploring, but I wasn’t just exploring this little bit of Florida, I was exploring what I’m made of. What I’m capable of. I’m exploring the very edges of my courage, my endurance, my resourcefulness, and my resilience. Each time I go a little further, and I often fail, but each time I grow, and get stronger, and acquire new skills. I learn new lessons, and most importantly peel back facade of my life, the routine, the unimportant, and the superfluous parts of myself to reveal what’s at my core.

A while ago I bought a wrist band being sold to help the family of an endurance racer that recently passed away, I didn’t know the man, and had only seen his name mentioned here and there, and I still don't know much about him.

A while ago I bought a wrist band being sold to help the family of an endurance racer that recently passed away, Ray Porter. I didn’t know the man, and had only seen his name mentioned here and there, and I still don’t know much about him, except he was well respected and admired.

I think when I first saw “Never Stop Pushing”, I thought of it more in the athletic sense, as a cyclist. Pushing yourself to be stronger and faster. But I realized that I was very wrong, that what it meant for me, was to keep pushing the envelope of what I’m made of. To push past my fears, past what I see as my limits, to continue to grow, and define my character. To keep pushing into adventure.

We headed back to where we left the course, towards Paisley. I knew before we even reached the Paisley Woods Trails, that my legs still had not recovered and that my seat had also slipped back again. I was already struggling to keep up. I told Charles and Brett to go on ahead without me, that I couldn’t keep riding at their pace, and I wished them well, for a second time.

I stopped trail side to fix my seat with the Allen wrench I had bought to replace my lost bike tool. After I sliding the seat back forwards, as I was tightening the front bolt, the head of the allen wrench broke off in the bolt. I tapped on it a few times, but realized it was stuck and I would not be able to fix my seat if it moved
I caught back up to Brett and Charles who had stopped to pick up a pannier bag one of the bike tourist, Marc and Renny had dropped. We carried it up to the paved road and stashed it behind a tree. Marc had given me his phone number at the river crossing, so I could send the pictures I took. We texted him the location so he could retrieve it later.

We all said goodbye a third time. I knew I needed to keep my pace down a bit if I hoped to finish. I really still wasn’t doing very well, my hamstrings were very sore and my legs overall were weak. Every time I pushed myself beyond a certain pace my energy level would quickly drop off, and I could not sustain it. I knew this last bit was going to be all about keeping a steady manageable pace.

Through the Ocala National Forest, I was slow moving, but I kept rolling steadily. The hilly roads were in good shape after the rain the night before and I wondered if I should have kept riding, on through the night. I imagine the roads would have been at least as bad as Maggie Jones Road, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. It also began to dawn on me that I was going to finish this today, that all this was coming to an end. As miserable as a lot of it was for me, I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

I thought about that piece of limestone, I had picked up as a souvenir, but then it occurred to me that limestone is not a very hard stone, and it will crush it fairly easily. When you put it down on a road it crushes and it get packed solid by the load it carries, and the rain beating on it, and the sun baking it, until it’s almost as hard as concrete. Like that limestone, I think I need to get crushed and rained on and beat on a little bit in order to become something harder, more durable, and more useful.

The first bit of civilization I saw coming out of the Ocala National Forest, was the Solid Rock church, another milestone on this route. I knew that I was closing in on my goal of finishing. I think there was some pretty farm country along the way, but honestly I was just focused on the road, and getting down it.

The first bit of civilization I saw coming out of the Ocala National Forest, was the Solid Rock church, another milestone on this route. I knew that I was closing in on my goal of finishing. I think there was some pretty farm country along the way, but honestly I was just focused on the road, and getting down it.

Marshal swamp trailhead was the final milestone for me. I had ridden the last ten miles of the route as a little 20 mile shakedown on Thursday afternoon before the race, and it felt nice to be back somewhere I recognized again.

With all the rain, the swamp lived up to being a swamp. I rode straight through the flooded trails, with no regard for staying dry or clean. While dodging a downed tree limb, I managed to hook a vine on my handlebars instead. I went down easy, so it was no big deal, but it made me more aware that in a few minutes I would be on the Baseline Trail, then back in busy traffic, and would need to be really vigilant and focused.

Back on pavement, and within about two miles to the finish, I thought about the finish. I knew not to expect anything at the finish. It was just a bike shop parking lot, I was actually lucky that the bike shop would be open. “The Finish” to me was just an empty place, there was nothing at the finish for me, nothing physically or emotionally. Whatever I found, whatever I was looking for, whatever I needed, was out there on the trail. This finish was just a hollow place, and a part of me felt kind of hollow when I got there, like I had been emptied out.

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Charles and Brett, the pair I rode with a good bit were still at the bike shop, and it was good to see them again, and once again we said farewell. I took my picture in front of a Greenway Cycles, and turned off the SPOT GPS tracker  from Trackleaders.com who provide real time tracking of the racers. I got several congratulatory messages from friends and family, and even other racers I barely knew, which meant a lot to me. I ate several ice cream sandwiches at the bike shop to celebrate, but it did nothing to quell the feeling of emptiness I had. This race was over, and surprisingly, I wasn’t ready for that.

A friend had invited me to stay the night at his house, so I showered and drove over to the East Coast. I was grateful for the gift of his hospitality, especially a long soak in his hot tub. It gave me some time to relax and decompress, before returning back to the regular world. We talked about the race, and he listened without ever criticizing the decisions I made. He gave me one of his painting to commemorate my finish.

A friend had invited me to stay the night at his house, so I showered and drove over to the East Coast. I was grateful for the gift of his hospitality, especially a long soak in his hot tub. It gave me some time to relax and decompress, before returning back to the regular world. We talked about the race, and he listened without ever criticizing the decisions I made. He gave me one of his paintings, “The Bannock Road” from a series he did inspired by his Tour Divide Race.

I was the last official finisher, and I believe set a new record for the longest finish. I wasn’t very pleased with that, but took my “Lantern Rouge” title with good humor. While I would like to have finished stronger, I wasn’t disappointed with finishing.

I told myself in Marshal Swamp, that I would be happy with my finish, that I would be happy and not nitpick and tear down what I had accomplished, (at least not for a few days.)

I was surprised when I saw the official results. Out of the 41 entrants, 3 finished but missed sections or control points, 21 did not finish, 1 did not start. That left 16 of us who completed the entire course. I was the very last in, the Lantern Rouge, at 3 days, 10 hours, and 7 minutes.

There are a lot of things I figured about what works, and doesn’t work for me. Anytime I’m riding with, or around, endurance racers I listen to everything they say. I look at their bikes, their gear, what they eat, what they wear. Not all of it is useful to me, but I take whatever I can use. Most of the guys and girls are so friendly and welcoming, and freely share what they know. It’s a great bunch of people and I’m honored to be included.

As I shed clothes towards the end I simply tossed them on top of the handlebars. There was still half a ham sandwich in my vest pocket, and I ate it  after a shower.

As I shed clothes towards the end I simply tossed them on top of the handlebars. There was still half a ham sandwich in my vest pocket, and I ate it after a shower.

My Salsa El Mariachi performed flawlessly, aside from the seat issue, which nearly caused me to quit the race on the first day. There aren’t any big changes I would make to my gear, except towards the constant goal of carrying less and lighter. There is much I would do differently as far as how I did the race, but I feel that for the most part, given the problems I had, I made the decisions I needed to make to ensure I finished the race, even if it was last.

How did I get here?

I left Apopka through a cute little neighborhood, a park and bike path, with food in my belly, and cash in my pocket. Down the road, riders are ahead of me, as I stop to take my picture at the check point. I’m soon over the back gate into Wekiwa State Park and on to the trail, but they are now out of sight.

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In the swampy section, the trail is pretty torn up from all the bike traffic. Someone is very near, I feel it, or smell it, or something, and within a few minutes I roll up on a pair or bikepackers who say they are touring the race route, and they wave me past.

I come out on the dirt road and the trio I saw outside Apopka are all bent over studying their GPS units on their handlebars. They say are looking for the river crossing. I turn down the road to the left and can see water not fifty feet away. “Look up” I holler back to them.

I strip down and wade into the river to first check the depth, and the bank on the other side, then return to carry my bike and clothes across. Near the other bank it’s muddy and I struggle to hold the heavily loaded bike at shoulder height. On the other side, I quickly dress and snap some pictures of the others crossing. 

NO pictures of me, I strpped down "neked" to keep my bike shorts dry as long as I could. The river water felt amazing refreshing.

Hopefully, there are no pictures of me, I stripped down “neked” to keep my bike shorts dry as long as I could. The river water felt amazingly refreshing.

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Renny Vogel. 74 years old. just out on a little 300+ mile mountain bike tour. Very pleased that Karlos Gave Renny and his friend Marc official finisher status! They completed the whole course,

One of the “tourists” Renny Vogel. 74 years old. just out on a little 300+ mile mountain bike tour. Very pleased that Karlos Gave Renny and his friend Marc official finisher status! They completed the entire course!

Renny Vogel, 74, hauling his bike across the Wekiva River

Renny Vogel, hauling his bike across the Wekiva River

Marc Goodwin, the other hardcore "tourist" traveling with Renny Vogel.

Marc Goodwin, the other hardcore “tourist” traveling with Renny Vogel.

Rain begins to fall lightly as I fight my way out of the palmettos on to the road. In the openness of the scrubby pine hills, I can see the dark grey storm clouds closing in behind me. Looks like tornado clouds, and I hear thunder. Is it in front of or behind me? This is not a very safe place to be right now. Maybe it’s just the two tourist behind me, but I also feel like I’m being watched, maybe I’m just being silly. I’d like to head off into the thick woods in the distance, into safety, where I’m not so exposed. Long stretches of the “road” are completely un-ridable, being nothing but deep loose sand, or plowed firebreak, I ride the edges in the grass.

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Soon enough I’m out of Wekiwa State Park and after a short stretch on the pavement I’m into the lower wekiva river Preserve, the Seminole State Forest. The rain is coming down heavily, so when I see the port-a-john and empty check station I stop to make sure I’ve got things covered, and to put on my rain jacket. I ate, and filled one of my water bottle from the faucet marked “Non-Potable”, (just in case).

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I left the cover of the hunters check station headed back out into the rain, and I tried to find a clean line to ride in the road as rain water flowed across the surface in little rivulets and I thought about the things that led me to this pock marked limerock road. How did I get here? The rain picks up, from a steady rain, to a heavy downpour, and my raincoat leaks only a little bit, but it’s still warmer than nothing. I have to keep opening the cuffs to drain the water out that collects in the sleeves.

This is not a good race for me, I’m having some problems, with my bike, and my body. Yes, I’m out here doing this race, but I’m not even sure where here is anymore, with all these dark clouds closing in behind me. I’m maybe looking for some kind of redemption, or perhaps trying to prove how tough I am to myself. I’m not even very good at deciphering my own motives. I don’t know. But in a few minute, whatever reason I think I’ve got, will disappear, as if washed away by the rain.

As I make it onto Maggie Jones Rd, a group comes riding back towards me. I recognize them as the trio I was following at the river crossing. As they come riding slowly up the muddy road towards me, all I could think was that the road must be up ahead must be really bad, that they would turn around. Is it even passable? They are calling it quits, and I can’t bear to even look at them, not because they quit, but because I’m afraid I’ll see myself reflected in their eyes. They tell me they’ve had enough, and they are quitting. I think aloud as we pass, not for them to hear, but to hear myself say it, “I don’t think I have that option”.

As I ride on I keep waiting for the road to get worse. How did I get here? I got here because the wheels are always turning, because the land moves beneath me, because I know what it is to be broken, because I’ve failed again and again, and because I have hope, and sometimes just because I have no other options.

Around the first bend, maybe a quarter mile down soggy Maggie Jone Road, I see where they turned around. I stop and spend a minute to study their tire tracks I want to understand it. I try to make sense of the muddy road, the tracks, the rain running slowly down my back beneath my rain jacket, and their sudden abandonment of the race. I study the wide loops of the tire tracks they made to return back where they came from. I can see my own tracks behind me, weaving along, constantly seeking out the best line, just a clean, fast bit of road for myself. In front of me, the wet road is now a blank sheet of paper and any traces of previous travelers are now washed away. There is just me, this road, and the rain.