Where I go on a bike is not just a physical journey. What would be a one hour drive has become a 6hr adventure through swamps and mountains. In these moments time stops while I float down a river of altered consciousness before washing up to shore drained, depleted and delusional. It’s in these moments I find what I’m made of. Who am I when no one else is around. How mentally and physically sound are my mind and body? Racing ultras on a mountain bike is a life changing experience. My friend Drew has broken it down that there are 3 types of people show up for such events. 1)Hardcore nut jobs looking to finish the course as fast as possible.(me) Drew recently dubbed me Steven McBad Idea 2) The party pedaler or casual adventurer who is looking to have fun with friends and bike community at a steady pace but take time to enjoy the experience and perhaps a few brews. 3) Bucket list rider, this is the rider who has dreamed of this epic adventure but might not be the most seasoned cyclist. They have went over all of the details with meticulous research and logistical preparation. These riders are often carrying 20lbs of gear that they would only use post nuclear fall out.
Though my current status is “hardcore nut job” I have been in the other two roles in some of my previous Ultra riding experiences. In 2015 I road west to east on the Trans America Trail as a bucket list/spiritual journey. Last year(2017) for the Huracan 300 I had a 6in knife strapped to my frame along with a massive canister of grizzly spray. I was there to race but I was also ready for war with the swamp. Since then I have dialed into racer mode carrying only the essentials to keep me alive and to the next town or checkpoint.
Huracan 300 (2017)
Huracan 300 (2018)
If your interested in hearing about my 2017 Huracan 300 experience check out http://stevenmchone.com/blog/2017/2/8/huracan-300-recap
For 2018 I had decided to go light. I swapped out the suspension for a carbon fork and the 27.5x2.8s for 29x700x50 for a faster roll on the road sections. I only packed a few essential tools, 3 water bottles, some snacks and back up battery. I brought my back pack for my warm layers and rain jacket, next time I think I will try and pack these items on the bike and lose the pack.
This years start was a bit warmer at 50°F and blue skys. The days high will be around 70°F with clouds rolling in over the night switching to rain around 11am the next morning.
Dale and I had left Asheville, NC around 1pm headed south to pick up Drew on our way to Santos. This is a 9ish hour drive plus a 30min wait in the drive through of Zaxby's during rush hour. We finally made it to Gainesville Florida to pick up Drew around 9:30pm. We caught up on our most recent adventures, this is when Drew dubbed me "Steven McBad Idea" due to a recent trip I took to Mt. Pisgah for an overnight trip in sub freezing temps. I guess the name fits. A quick stop at a gas station to buy snacks and breakfast then we were headed to Santos. Its starting to become a tradition that I arrive super late for races. Everyone was passing out when we arrived so we hung out a little bit before calling it a night.
It didn't take long to pass out in the back on my min van. 7am was here and I had to finish up a few last min details before the race started. I replaced my batteries in both my Spot Tracker and my Garmin 300x GPS. Pro tip: always use the lithium batteries, yes they are expensive but they will last 5x as long. I will have these devices on for 24-72hrs non stop and not need to swap out batteries. Batteries, check! Now its off to check in and get any race info. Karlos, the race director keeps the scene upbeat while I sign off on the rules of the race. This years patch is super sweet!
Two races that will be taking on the route on a tandem have brought coffee and doughnuts for the other races. I snagged two before heading back to the mini for one more run down of my set up. I saw a few familiar faces from other races and even a few AVL riders. The pre race nerves are almost non existent for this race. Im enjoying taking in the scene and catching up with friends before go time. Drew, Dale and I headed over to the start for the pre race talk given by Karlos. You know the one: have fun, be safe, watch out for one another. We all lined up and even though Karlos had instructed us to take a chill mass rolling start for the first 10mile stretch of road I knew that would change quickly. Scoping out the set ups on the front of the pack it looked like there were several people there that would be shooting to go the distance without sleeping. Everyone has a plan till they find themselves exhausted in a swamp in the dark.
The roll out broke the group out into a few clusters of rides which would continue to reduce down to a group of 6 of us after the first section of single track where I lost one of my three water bottles. Cranking along and trading pulls until we reached Ocala National Forest where we would remain on sand forest service roads for around 60 miles. The route takes the riders to the entrance of a Navy bomb testing site. This is the last time I would see a few of the top riders as they turned right I looked down and my GPS route showed to go left. I decided to stick to my route so I turned off, this is when I started to realize that there were going to be times where the route and my arrow wouldn't be perfectly lined up but that didn't mean I was off track. After assessing the route I took back off with two other riders who had caught up while I was pulled over. There was another group of about 6-8 riders that also caught up with us. This group was a lively crew listening to music and cracking jokes. I was enjoying being with a crew of fellow crazies but if I was going to race the way I wanted I needed to break pack. I shot ahead and got into my rhythm. That was the last time I saw most of them for the rest of the race.
U.S. Navy Bombing Range
I was carrying just enough water to get me to the first control stop on the route. Since I had lost a bottle earlier I was already having to ration out my supply. I was trucking along solo then it hit me, I think I passed up the first resupply spot. Go back 4mi and snag more water or keep rationing out my remaining water until the next town 60 miles away. Steven McBad Idea here, I decided to keep going and hope for a water source along the route. First pump I found was great. Not so lucky the next time I made it to a water source. The water reeked of sulphur. I dropped a few electrolye tabs in, in hopes of killing the rotten egg taste. This being the only water I now had I held out as long as I could before taking a swig. I instantly spit it out. I needed to get to a town. This put me in a depleted state way too early in the race. By the time I made it past the water crossing and into Apopka I was fading fast. Dashing off route to find supplies after finding out the Circle K gas station(check point 2) was closed down. Something about not paying taxes I think. By the time I made it to Walgreens Im sure I was visibly shaking due to my dehydration and low blood sugar. With my arms full of snacks and drinks I stood in line while two employees continued to carry on their conversation while occasionally looking my direction. I kept myself composed for several minutes as the mindless conversation droned on and I continued to try not and drop everything I was hold. I imagined smashing everything in the floor and losing my shit but I needed to just get my supplies. Finally another associate came up front to ring me up while the other two continued to occupy space. Then cashier asked me what I was up to. Not in the mood for chit chat due to my furious hanger rage that had built up. Must FEED!!! I took my goodies out side and sat on the side walk tearing through calories and replenishing my fluids. Then sun was fading fast as I headed out of town towards Apopka Lake.
There was a reroute on this section that I butchered but riding it in reverse. I was cranking away through the darkness when I looked up to see three other racers headlights headed my direction. "Your going back wards!" They shouted as they roll past. No way! I double and triple checked...they were right. Damn. I turned around and hit the gas. There went the gap between me and the front of the pack and knew it. I quickly caught up the the pack and road with them for a few miles but I decided I needed to race on at my own pace so I kicked it up and that was the last I saw them. I don't they any of them were riding through the night. Ugh the short climbs over the mini mountain range were getting to me. I needed more fuel and caffeine. Up a steep climb then down the other side all the way into Clermont. I stopped by check point 3 for a quick pic at Epic Cycles before riding through town. There were a few gas stations just off route but I went with my gut and just kept cranking until I found a Circle K that was on route. I got several warning of how dangerous it was to be doing what I was doing as I sat outside destroying a foot long Italian sub.
Back on the grind and feeling relatively good considering I had now been cranking on the bike for just over 13 hours. I would remain in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve for the next 80miles. This section was remote and soggy. Several roads had knee to thigh high water for 30ft sections. most of these I was able to navigate by traversing the banks of the swamp but other offered no other option that going through. Keep in mind this is gator country and a few hours earlier when I was riding on levies through Lake Apopka constantly hearing gators splashing into the water as I rode by. I turned on my light to high beam hoping to see through the water. It an eerie feeling but you get use to it. The last sketch water section was a tunnel under an over pass with low ceilings and the ground under a foot or more of water. After the water hazards the sand got mushy and unrideable for some long slogging. I started coming in and out of dreams while riding. At one point I thought I saw a row of school buses in the forest of the swamp so I decided it was time for a nap. There was a big tree and soft sand just off the road where I set my alarm for 30min and laid down and took a quick recharge session. Its amazing how refreshing 30min can be after pedaling for 20 hours. I continued to crank on to Ridge Manor where I made an agreement with myself that I would take one more 30min nap before sunrise. I scoped out the Circle K truck stop/gas station and decided to just lean my bike up against a phone pole and lay down in the grass. I woke up as the sun was rising. It was breakfast time and Circle K didn't disappoint with their sausage and egg biscuits. Its amazing how nice a warm meal can be during one of these races. A Starbucks double shot expresso in a can and I was feeling freshish. With the sun now up it was much easier to stay awake.
After a few miles of road and paved greenway I found myself entering Croom Wildlife Management Area. This 50mile stretch had a 30mile chunk of single track twisting and turning that seemed to be getting me nowhere. I enjoyed the single track but due to my fatigue I was ready to get back on something that required less skill. By the time I came out of Croom I felt another drop in my power out put. I needed more fuel. Its funny how long miles can seem when you start to bonk. After each turn I kept imagining the glorious Lake Lyndsey Mall just up ahead. By the time I reached check point 4 I was ready for one of their famous sandwiches. I ordered a half cuban sandwich, in retrospect I would have ordered a whole sandwich and taken the second half to go. Ah such an amazing treat! The folks at the market are super caring for the racers and seem to understand where we are mentally when we arrive.
Check Point 4, Lake Lyndsey Mall 26th hour face. The Cuban was the food highlight of my trip!
Just about 70miles to go to be back at Santos. After putting down some calories I got water bottles filled up and snacks loaded just as the rain started. Being on the road in the rain was my least favorite part of the race. There was no shoulder and visibility was terrible due to the heavy rain fall. I still don't regret not bringing rain paints. Then there came the hike a bike (HAB) section just before the Citrus Wildlife Area where I stopped to check the weather ahead. The rain had been coming down hard and it was had to tell if there would be thunder and lightening in the mix. Either way I didn't have much other option than to keep cranking through the next forest. The single track miles seemed to slow time to a crawl as darkness set in and now I was navigating through fog as well. For a set of fresh legs this would have been a blast but after 300miles I was ready to get to Santos and lay down. The rain had caused to chaffing to occur which made it almost unbearable to sit down for the last 30 miles of single track. It seemed like every time I check my GPS I was still in the same loop. This wasn't the first time I had cursed Karlos during a race but this was the first time I took a short break to yell into the darkness. Damnit Karlos! I would start down a trail then realize I was off route then have to back track. This happened several times due to how close multiple trails were to each other in the Santos trail system. Emerging from the darkness I saw the shelter and picnic tables where this had all started 38hrs prior. I flopped out on one of the tables and shot Dale a text of where to find me. Huracan 300 fin!