HuRaCaN 2018 Episode 8
Lake Apopka in the distance from the top of a climb on the Huracan
I rode my first Singletrack Samurai event in December just a couple of months ago. Chewy, Pickle, CMan, and I headed out across Florida on a ride that was one of the highlights of my relatively short bikepacking adventure in life so far. Being a part of the ride that saw perhaps the youngest finisher ever of a self-supported bike event was quite the experience. At only 14, Canaan "The Kid" Barrett left his mark on the history of our relatively young sport/adventure, and the small, loose-fit gang of bikepack adventurers that have been a part of the movement that is growing every year.
Next in line was the 2018 edition of the Huracan. It was only Chewy (Shawn Shepard) and me along for this one. CMan needed to stay in school after his time missed for CFITT, and Pickle is facing surgery on a bum leg that he smashed up in a motorcycle wreck a few years ago. But hey, Florida is flat, so in the world of off-road biking this should be a pretty straightforward event. Yep.
I will be the first to admit that my thoughts a few years ago, as I was getting into TNGA but hearing of the Huracan and other rides, that these Florida events could not be as challenging as the up and down world of the Appalachians. All of the climbing we do in God's Country of mountain biking had to be a bigger challenge than anything Florida can throw at you right? Right. Until I rode CFITT, and I began to understand. CFITT was some tough riding at times, but nothing extreme, and we were going at a pace that had a much different goal in mind. For Huracan, at least for me, I had a Personal Best frame of mind, and whether Chewy did or not I was going to find out.
Riding together Chewy and I have different strengths. He is overall a stronger rider. If he rode one of these events alone, he would probably finish much faster than he does. But that's not the most important thing for him. Being along for the ride is. I have more experience, and I would tell myself I am more stubborn, but I'm not sure that's the case. Chewy is tough, and I might just be the limit on how hard we push in terms of time in the saddle doing these things. Anyway, so on to the Huracan, and remember, Florida is flat.
Larry Bennett and Jason Murrell (Abe)
Karlos gives an awe-inspiring 10 second speech at 08:59:30am on Day 1, Saturday December 3rd. He asks us to roll out the first few road miles as a peleton for safety, and then says go at 09:00am. By 09:01am the peleton concept has been thrown out the window, and around 75 of us are rolling down the road in loose groups, in high spirits, anxious to get off the busy roads. The first miles click off easily. Everyone is fresh and in good spirits, the weather is cooperative and comfortable, and you get a chance to ride and talk with most of your friends and fellow adventurers at some point in the first few hours.
Then everyone begins to separate some. We roll past the naval bombing range in the Ocala National Forest, then hit some sweet singletrack that carries us a few more miles down the route to the first store and control point. Karlos likes pictures from his events which is a great idea, so a selfie at each control point is required. At that stop people were already grabbing food and drinks and ready to move on. Lots of familiar faces are there, and come and go as Chewy and I buy a couple of things. I get to catch up with Brad McLeod for a few minutes and the three of us roll out together, which is always an honor!
The next few hours to Apopka are kinda faded in my memory - not sure why - there wasn't much eventful going on I guess. Just turning pedals over. The lead into the Wekiva River crossing is rather rough singletrack - not a load of fun but not horrible either. All of a sudden Seth Jacoby is there - he is like a stealth rider that just pops up on us during Florida rides LOL. As we near the river crossing it is getting darker, but not dark yet. I see lights and music through the woods. This is a popular place to canoe and kayak, and I assume some folks have stopped to camp out for the night. As we approach through the bush, I began to hear yelling and screaming from one voice, and I think there were cowbells involved. I remember thinking it was some obnoxious drunks, and just as quickly that it was Ski and his Party on Wheels neutral support crew! He is all excited, and I am too to finally get to meet him in person. I am not sure Ski is actually a bikepacker LOL, but he supports us all and makes sure we have a good time at least for a minute or two. So he comes to the water with us and we begin to strip down for the crossing, and of course Ski is a crossing expert standing on dry ground. As we are dressing back on the other side, Ski is alternating between the POW camp back in the woods and the river crossing yelling encouragement across to us. I am guessing he put in a few miles of walking and jogging around in that 100 yard stretch that night.
So we roll on in to Apopka and take our pictures at CP2, a shut down Citgo - they had not paid their taxes, and probably a few other bills. We take a break for fine dining at Taco Bell, then roll on to Lake Apopka. Chewy, Larry, Seth, and I are riding out and the route goes through a bike path that has been fenced off and a corner pulled back. Typical Karlos, so we push the bikes through and keep going, and run up on the Little Grand Canyon of Florida. Nah, not going to HAB that. We detour and make our way on out of town.
The ride around Lake Apopka is pretty uneventful. I saw a pair of gator eyes at one point, but never laid eyes on one all the way around the lake. In fact, I never saw a gator the entire ride. Pretty disappointing given the hype. Guess I will have to stop by one of those gator farms sometime. Anyway we get up to the overlook, weigh our options, and Chewy and I decide to get some shuteye under the picnic pavilion. Larry decides to ride on so we wish each other well and ride on.
The next morning a few groups had decided to stay in one of the overlooks, under shelter like us, or in their hammocks. We were all packing up and in pretty good spirits but a little slow to get going. We made our way through the hills, seeing dozens of road bikers and talking to a few along the way. We roll on into the Minneola Lake area and into Epic Bikes, where several folks are hanging out and getting some things checked out. We hang out a bit, then move on south around Lakeshore Drive toward the Lake Louisa reroute. It's there that a light rain begins to fall, and it is light rain for a couple of hours.
We stopped at the Green Swamp Store for a few minutes and decide to move on. I am anxious to get in, and past, the infamous Water Road I had heard so much about. Finding it really not that bad except for a short section, I was pretty happy, oblivious to the peanut butter hell we were headed into.
Around 3pm the sky grew darker, and very quickly it started a steady downpour. The first few miles clicked on by with a few soft spots, then errrrrrrrrrrck. Yes, the turntable needle just ripped across and off the album. We hit a freshly graded road that was non-stop. It went on, and on. Sand and water was getting into everything good in the world. I could see pieces of my drivetrain being sandblasted off in pieces (not really, but sounded like it). My 1x11 was in about the 3rd largest cog, so it was slow, constant, monotonous, and a struggle. I was suffering for the first time in a long time. It was tiring and tedious, and the rain was like water torture on my helmet.
After a couple of hours of this, we finally end up near a paved road. I mean, Ridge Manor is just right down that paved road. Cars are going by and getting there in two minutes. But Karlos, in his infinite goodness, puts us down the Jeep sand/mud road from hell for over a mile. I say a lot of good things about Karlos down that road - his momma, his unborn, his pets, whatever. FINALLY, we pop out on pavement, cruise to the store, and fortunately there is a hose where we wash down everything. Everything. I am done for the day. Hungry, shaky, physically and mentally whipped. I need a hotel, so we go off route over to I-75 and get one. After a hot shower that included all my riding clothes, I fell into bed, exhausted.
The next morning I woke up with tired legs and not feeling very spry. I told Chewy it would be a long day. He agreed. We packed up, went downstairs, and I started packing in carbs and fluids. I was pretty bloated by the time we rolled out, and the first few miles up the Withlacoochee to Croom was just a shakedown. Fortunately I started feeling much better, got some life back, overall and in my legs. I really enjoyed Croom. Pretty quick and flowy, even though the overall moving speed was down compared to road. My outlook brightened a lot in Croom as the temps warmed and the riding was fun. We made our way onto Lake Lindsey Mall and Deli, where the ladies and sandwiches were wonderful to us! We sat and talked to Patrick and Ricky as they rolled in, and life was looking up for the final push to Inverness and on to Dunnellon. Patrick pushed on ahead of the three of us and we didn't see him again.
Lake Lindsey Mall and Deli
We pushed straight north through the Citrus WMA and into Inverness by about 4:30pm. My optimistic self was thinking we finish around 9-10pm, and I even texted that to my wife back in Ocala. I was so ready to finish. Chewy and Ricky were being more realistic, kinda bumming me out, but all we could do is pedal, right?
So we fly up the Withlacoochee paved path, and hit Dunnellon around dark. I push our ETA back to 10-11pm. Chewy is constantly asking me if I am OK, I think just to get under my skin a little. He has ridden up front and ahead most of the trip and gets to rest a bit every few miles. Yeah, I'm doing fine - are we there yet? That was kinda the theme for the final day.
We get out of Dunnellon and onto Tricycle about 7:30pm. I am convinced by now that 11:00-11:30pm is totally in reach. Even though the pigs had turned Tricycle into rumble strips for about half of it we roll through pretty fast. Then the reality of the tailing piles and Ross Prairie hits me in the gut. My tired legs, tired bike, loose right cleat that could not be fixed, made for more miserable riding. I'm pretty sure somebody designed that thing with a topo map and an Etch-a-Sketch. It took me forever to get through there, and then got to Nayls. But it's fun right? It was in my memory from CFITT. But no, more zig-zag up and down for a few more miles. So now I'm hoping for 12:30-1:00am.
I know Santos is a fun section, so when I pop out in the cutover before the land bridge, I get pretty excited. Ricky had long ago gotten tired of my speed. Chewy was now smelling the barn and he just checked out too. I did not see him again until Santos. Those last 8-10 miles were more enjoyable, and I tried to just relax and enjoy the singletrack at the end of a 17-hour day, but I was smelling the barn too. I had finish-itis bad. I knew when I went by the subdivision entrance I was really close, so I strolled it on in and finished up at 1:30am, 64 hours and 30 minutes and 333 miles from our start on Saturday.
Was that my Personal Best? Probably for now. I was pretty done at the end of each 16-hour day. Chewy and I both look back at the first night and know we could have pushed on deeper. Would that have changed the final outcome? I'm not sure it would have.
My Huracan 2018 Ride
Thanks to Karlos, sincerely, for the effort he puts into his events. I know for a fact it is not easy herding a group of cats this large. And he does a good job with it. Also, thanks to all you crazies out there that do this - it is a small group, but one of the best groups of great people. I saw lots of familiar faces, and made some new friends.
The Huracan pushed me hard. I am convinced that any route, out West, in the Appalachians, or in Florida, is what you make of it. It can be an adventuresome bikepack trip, a relaxed pace long event, or a butt-whipping Personal Best throwdown. So don't let anyone poo poo any event - they are all what you make of it.
Except Florida right? After all, Florida is flat.