Shona and I pull up to the Santos Campground with Drew around 8pm to find several of the racers having brews with the race director Karlos Bernart. Karlos was sitting at a fold out table at had a spread of waivers, and whiskey. Karlos and the rest of the group gave us some playful banter to make sure we knew what we would be in for in the morning. Jimmy #partyonwheels was the instigator of drinks and stories of the race from previous years. The scene was a compilation of cycling adventurers. Some race veterans who were recanting of past years on the “pain train” and others(Shona, Drew, and myself) who were trying to get as much info about the ride as possible before heading out in the morning. After a few big fish stories we headed to get some rest with our minds flooded with so many stories of what this adventure was soon to bring.
6am and it’s about to get real. Santos Campground is now bustling with adventure cyclist giving their bike set ups one more inspection before the grand depart. I had bought the GPS that I would be using for the race 2 days prior so I asked decided to ask a fellow racer who had the same GPS if he could double check my device to make sure I had set up the route proper. Drew smiled and said that the scene looked like what he had expected. There were some racers, some enthusiast and some party peddlers. I had made the final gear decision that I would not be bringing camping gear on this adventure to prevent me from over resting. This rest is a test of what I’m made of so it was time to see what I have in the tank. I eyed some of the racers at the starting line and quickly realized that I was carrying excessive weight. Not knowing what I would be encountering along with Karlos description of what to expect on the Huracan 300 website I had a large knife and grizzly spray. I was ready for war with the swamp!
The race was on! I took off with the lead crew staying on the tire of riders who seemed to know the route well so I didn’t have to waste time stopping and looking down at my GPS to find my way through the swamp. 30min into the race I received a text from Shona letting me know that my Spot Tracker was showing me in Asheville still. I pulled up to some other riders and got assistance to get my Spot working properly then it was go time again. The extra weight on El Monster was apparent as I was pedaling harder than riders who were less conditioned. The crew of 3 riders that I linked up with had road the race several times in the past and seemed to have a good strategy to pace themselves and decide if they were going to sleep later. I knew that I wouldn’t be riding the whole race with this group but they were very informative and kept me at a good pace to the first checkpoint at Lake Lindsey Mall. This checkpoint was a small deli market where riders poured in for sandwiches and snacks. Peter and Dave(two riders I had been pacing with) pointed to a crew of four that had just pulled up and informed me that they were last year’s winning pack. I quickly packed my supplies up and hopped on the bike to make sure I set off ahead of the lead pack. About an hour later the lead pack of Peter, Andy, Shane and Rachel caught up to me in a section of swamp where we all found ourselves searching for the right trail to stay on route. Once we found the right way out I linked up with the team of 4 for the rest of the race. This crew was a team of adventure racers who were dialed in with ultra light riding set ups and a solid plan of how to take the race on. We formed a peloton on the roads to increase speed and efficiency.
The race as a blur off swamps that reminded me of Jurassic Park, tarmac(paved road sections) and white sand roads which were nearly impossible to pedal. The rest of the checkpoints were 7/11 gas stations, one of them actually told us that we were loitering and needed to leave as we were sprawled out refueling on doughnuts, subs, gatorade and other delicacies that one should only eat while racing a 340 mi mountain bike race. We linked up with Colt another racer who had been ahead of us but when we caught up to him at the 7/11 in Clermont he was over riding solo. Colt had been riding solo for hours and was board and was delighted to join us. Looking like a train cutting through the swamp we swooped through single track. I love central FL, the good ole country folk remind me of home. Around 3am we came across 2 guys hanging out on their 4 wheelers on a section of white sand roads. An old blue monster truck soon joined them. By 6:30am we were all delirious and nodding off while riding. Shane made the call to stop next to Apopka Lake for a 5min power nap. Yes it was literally 5min. The morning air was cold and humid which made out core body temperatures drop so that when we got up our shivering kept us awake. This was the toughest time from me of the race. My mind and body were almost done and all I wanted to do is tell them to go on and I would lay down on the side of the road for an hour. I’m so grateful to have linked up with this crew. Their positivity and teamwork was so inspiring. One of the things that I love is that we are all the same, wild animals traveling in a pack.
24 hours into the race we stopped for breakfast at a Publix. My breakfast included: 1 cup of chile, 2 doughnuts, coffee, banana, potato chips, gatorade. Under normal circumstances this combo would be a very bad idea before hopping on a bike but this was far from a normal ride as we have put in around 240 miles and burned around 14,000 calories. Because of the volume of stress on our bodies during the race we have to take in about 2,500 calories every rest stop(every 5-6 hours) and eat around 250 per hour in between stops in order to keep the calories in vs. calories burned equation equal. My preferred snack bars currently are Larabars. There is a variety of flavors and I’m able to get them down still even when i’m feeling nauseous. I’m also still a fan of Honey Buns but in moderation, I ate three during the race. The other reason for my random assortment of foods is to make sure that I’m not only getting lots of calories but i also need sodium and other electrolytes to make sure I don’t dehydrate. Potato chips are a go to for me to keep my sodium high and bananas for potassium. I also make sure to buy 2 Gatorades every stop. I chug one and take the second one as a chaser for water when water starts getting less appealing.
We finally got to the infamous water crossing at Rock Springs Run. Due to a drought the past yeah the river that has been talked about being chest to chin high in now less than waist deep but more like high thigh. The majority of the the rest of the ride was chill rolling through more slamp, sand and road. We rolled back to the the Santos Bike Shop as a crew of 6(Shane, Peter, Andy, Rachel, Colt and I) 34 hrs and 340 miles later. I could stop pedaling! Shona rolled over to meet us and treat us with brews that she had in her triangle. The pain train has pulled into the station!