Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Huracan 300 Race Report

I have never given much thought to mountain biking in FL because well… it’s Florida. When I think of Florida, I think of the ocean, beaches and Disney World.. not mountains. When I first heard of the Huracan 300, I figured that it could be a good opportunity for me to get my feet wet in this thing called bikepacking. The Huracan 300 is a self-supported race consisting of a single loop beginning and ending in Santos, FL.

Previous to the Huracan I had spent a total of four full days out on my loaded bike and around 220 miles. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive about the idea of such a long race with minimal experience using the gear that I would rely on to get me thru. I was relieved when my buddy Mike decided that he would come down for the race and the plan would be to ride together. I went into this race with no expectations however I did have one goal… to finish. I knew in order to give myself a chance at finishing this race I could not look at it as a race; I had to see it as an adventure.

Photo Cred: Mike Shultz (Highland Training)

The race started with a neutral rollout at 9:00am Friday morning. Mike and I rode in the back of the pack getting to know some of the other racers and checking out the different setups. Not long into the rollout I noticed a group of riders way off the front. At first I thought it was a group of roadies but soon realized that they were the lead group. I was content watching the lead group pull further and further away and eventually out of sight. I had to remind myself that for me, this was not a race but a very long ride. It wasn’t long before Mike, Jason, Shey, and I found ourselves working together with no one else in sight. The pace continued to elevate until Mike and I popped off the back to ride our own pace. It was already getting quite warm out and I could tell that the heat was not playing nice with Mike.

As the temperature crept up, the sand got deeper. I have never ridden in sand before so at first I was intrigued but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this route was going to be a real treat. As I motored along trying out different pedaling techniques in the sand, I could tell that Mike was not feeling well. The thing about riding in sand is that you have to turn the pedals over with a smooth quick cadence while keeping the front tire floating and straight. It sounds easy but it works you hard and the pace is slow. I would compare it to riding on two flat tires. The one thing that you do not want to do is stop. If you find yourself stopped, it could be almost impossible to get started again and you may end up walking.

I found myself moving along fairly well in the sand however Mike was not fairing so well. It wouldn’t take long before he had fallen off and out of sight. I would stop and wait and sure enough Mike would come rolling up. The heat reflecting up off the sand was pretty intense and it was working on Mike in a bad way. I was hopeful that he would eventually recover and start feeling better but after a few hours I began to worry. I wasn’t worried about Mike as I knew that he was going to continue. I was worried that I would eventually have to go out on my own to give myself the best opportunity to finish the route. I felt horrible even asking but the time came when I asked Mike if he would mind if I continued on at my own pace. Mike had no hesitation in his voice when he told me to keep rolling which made me feel a little better about the situation. We wished each other luck and parted ways.

Not long after Mike and I parted, I realized that I had made potentially a huge mistake. Since Mike and I had planned on riding the entire route together, I took a backseat approach when it came to studying the course prior to the race. I had the track to follow on my GPS but other than that, I was pretty clueless. Mike had known where potential water and food sources were, how far between towns etc.. I knew absolutely nothing. The trouble that this could apparently bring was brought to my attention 4-5 hours in as I started sipping air bubbles out of my bladder. The sun was beating down and the heat continued to rise up off of the sand. I didn’t really know where I was or what was coming up and I was out of water. As the miles added up with no signs of water, I had times where I would see floating spots and such which I knew were not a good thing. I was in the process of putting myself deep into a hole so early in the race which could jeopardize finishing the route. It was a relief to finally roll upon some houses as I knew that I could just grab some water out of a hose. I’m not sure if I was just not thinking straight or what but I ended up passing hose after hose all while being too afraid to walk up and grab some water. The no trespassing signs coupled with the stories I have heard about the crazy locals kept me running dry. The plan I came up with was simple. Once I saw someone outside at their house, I would simply ask if I could fill up with water. The miles passed by and so did my chance for water as there was no one outside. The next section of the route would take me into a wilderness preserve and with no other option I turned around and rode back to the last house prior to entering the preserve. Knowing that I was dehydrated and not knowing when I would find water again, I drank as much water as I could prior to filling up my Platypus.

For some reason the next section of the ride is lumped together in my mind and is difficult for me to remember. Here are a few things that stick out in my mind.

I ended up doing some bushwhacking to find the river crossing. Once I found the crossing I scanned it for gators, snakes etc. and was still unsure what was out there or how deep it was due to the thick vegetation. I had trouble navigating the banks on either side of the river as it was difficult to lift my 45 lb bike shoulder high with the frame bag being in the way. While in the river there were spots where I would sink in the sand bringing thoughts of quicksand into my head. I could tell that I was just off route at this point so with a little more bushwhacking I linked back up with the route. I discovered a much cleaner crossing 100 yards downstream of where I crossed that I think was the intended crossing point.

I saw a lot of wildlife, some of which included alligators, water snakes, an armadillo, and lots of interesting wetland birds. I was happy to not come across any wild pigs or bears.

A little tobacco shop appeared along the route and ended up being a great place to stock up on provisions. Upon entering the shop, I was greeted with a “you are number 5” in a heavy Indian accent. I purchased three armfuls of food and drink. At this point I had seen how dangerous going light on water and food could be so I was taking full advantage of what this place had to offer. It wasn’t until I started loading up my bike that I remembered the limited space that I had available to carry all of this stuff. Needless to say, I had to give some food away in the parking lot.

I remember the sand being relentless. There was so much sand on this course and it didn’t help that the area had not seen rain in quite some time. There was one ~3 mile section that appeared to have been tilled where there was no option but to hike. It appeared that the others who passed thru the section prior to me were walking also. For some reason this made me smile.

Initially, I had planned on riding my singlespeed for this race. Because I was going to be riding with someone else I chose the geared bike at the last minute. During the race I kept thinking of my singlespeed wondering how I would have fared with the amount of sand that was encountered. This is the only race where I ended up being thankful that I was not on the singlespeed.

I started noticing a painful rear end around 10 hours into the race. It may have come on from riding in wet shorts but I have a feeling that the sand and gears were the culprit. I am primarily a singlespeed rider so I am used to standing as much or more than sitting. Finding myself in so much sand required me to spend lots of time seated spinning at a high cadence. The saddle sores continued to get worse throughout the rest of the ride and were so painful that I spent as much time as I could resting my leg just below my rear on the saddle while coasting. I’m sure that I don’t really need to explain but I ended up getting half of my ass rubbed off on this ride.

Sometime after dark, I was riding some pavement in a not so nice boondockish area and would continue to see people sitting outside their house, trailer, shack in their cars. I had a weird feeling that I was being watched and was a bit on edge. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to ride thru any more sketchy areas at night. I was thinking that once the route returned to the wilderness, I would find place in the woods to bivy for the night. As the pavement continued, I noticed a single light somewhere behind me. I slowed up and watched as fellow racer Chris Tompkins came into view. Apparently he had missed a turn and while he was off route I had snuck by. He couldn’t have showed up at a better time. I was beginning to bonk and had decided that I would bivy once the right location came about. Chris started talking about a town coming up on route which would have some food options. We rolled upon a Chik-Fil-A 15 minutes before closing time (9:45pm). I devoured a chicken sandwich, fries and a couple sweet teas. It took 20 minutes or so after eating for me to start feeling better but when I started feeling better I really felt good.

Chris and I stuck together thru the night. This was a good thing as we rode some of the most dangerous areas together. There were locals all over these backwood sandy roads all night long. Lucky for us, they left us alone. Around 4:00am we entered a 16 mile section of singletrack. The singletrack seemed fairly smooth and flowy with only the occasional sandy pit. There were plenty of short steep ups which required some power or at least quick shifting. Chris had seen this section of singletrack while on his way to a second place finish at CFITT last November so I was more than happy to follow his lead. Sometime in the 5:00am timeframe Chris appeared to be losing some of his pep. He wasn’t riding as smoothly as he had been and I could tell that he was struggling on some sections. I on the other hand was baffled at how well I felt this far into the race. The only thing that was bothering me was my rear which was getting very difficult to block out of my mind. My legs, knees, back, neck, hands all felt great and I didn’t seem fatigued at all.

At this point in the race, we had been following a single set of tire tracks. This meant that we were sitting in second and third place. Knowing that I only had ~90 miles left and with some encouragement from Chris, I decided that my ride was no longer just a ride but it was in fact a race (~6:00am). My goal instantly changed from finishing the race to winning the race. I had no idea who was in the lead or how far out front they were but I was determined to put everything I had into catching the lead rider. I increased my pace with an effort that I would typically put out in a 100 miler. As it became light out I found myself in a populated area. There were all kinds of people out biking, running, walking etc. It was great to see and a real pick me up. At one point I passed a group of roadies out for a morning ride and wouldn’t you know they latched on to my rear wheel. This motivated me even more and encouraged me to work so hard that I eventually dropped them. I came upon a convenience store and decided that I had better stock up one last time for the final push.

I continued to ride at what seemed like a blazing pace. I kept my eyes peeled for the leader and tried to look for any signs of weakness in the tracks he left behind. I just knew that I was going to find him around the next corner. Corner after corner, went by with no leader in sight. This only motivated me to keep the pace high. As I entered the last section of singletrack which ended up being a heck of a lot longer than I thought it would be, I let my singlespeed instinct take over and just hammered in the big ring. I was pushing such a hard gear that I ended up standing for most of the last ~20-30 miles. I got turned around within the last 10 miles and ended up making a mess out of my GPS track. I ended up riding out and back on four different sections of trail before finally discovering the correct one. In doing this, I lost around 20 minutes and was unsure if Chris had been close enough to pass me. I assumed that he had passed me which gave me even more motivation to finish out strong.

~27 hours and 30 minutes after starting this adventure, my race came to an end. I found out that the tire tracks that I had been following all night were those of Shey Lindner who finished up with a remarkable time of ~24 hours. I ended up taking second with Chris rolling in third place with a time of ~ 31 hours. Was I disappointed that I didn’t catch Shey? Heck no! I came out here for the adventure. I came out here with no expectations. I came out here with one goal in mind. I found adventure. I still carry around no expectations. I achieved my goal. I did all of this while learning things about myself that could have only been discovered somewhere out there in the Florida sand.
Photo Cred: Donald Harries (Greenway Bicycles)

Photo Cred: Donald Harries (Greenway Bicycles)


I would like to thank Karlos Bernart (Singletrack Samuri Productions) for putting in the time and effort to provide us with an opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime.

Side note: One thing that really impressed me during this race was my Squirt Lube. I have been using this lube for three years and continue to be amazed at how well this stuff works. I re-lubed once during this race and it was only because it felt wrong not to. My bike shifted flawlessly and did not make a sound during the entire race. I was so impressed at how clean my drivetrain was after the race that I took some photos.



5 comments:

  1. AWESOME! Great job and an inspiring read! ~Matt (Bmateo)

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  2. Kelly, it was a lot of fun following your 'race' on-line. I stayed up late, and thanks to a phone call, got up early. From our end it was not always easy to know if the gps trackers were working properly, but one thing was sure about half-way through, barring catastrophe, you were going to podium. Definitely an amazing, inspiring experience. Looking forward to reading about more of your experiences in the future.

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  3. Great write up and great riding with you through the night... GREAT JOB on your FIRST ULTRA !!!

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  4. Nice reading your tale. Good job. Now why aren't you at 6WC? ;)

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