For the last year or so I’ve been interested in bikepacking and ever since I watched “Ride the Divide” it immediately went on my bucket list. Not that I love gravel grinders, but I have a big sense of adventure and that seems to be the most adventurous thing that I could actually accomplish in my life. Last year I researched, purchased all the gear, and attempted to ride the TNGA (Trans North Georgia) route. It’s a brutal 350 mile route with over 50,000 feet of climbing across the N GA mountains. It started out well and good, but a seatpost that slid down without me really noticing, led to some knee pain and put me out after only 120 miles. I’ll be back to try it again later this year, but for now I figured a flat(ish) adventure across warm and sunny Florida during the winter was the way to go. It was also perfect timing for a mid-winter mountain bike “training camp”.
I heard about the Huracan 300 route from a friend, read some great write ups around the web, and after talking through Facebook to Karlos (who created the route and runs the race in March) I downloaded the GPX file on my Garmin 800 and started to get excited. The Revelate Designs bags (Pika seat bag, Jerry Can, and Sling) went onto the bike, I got all my gear together (http://goo.gl/LsLgo for a gear spreadsheet) and I took a couple of days off work (the best part!)
I spent some time in Google Maps checking out the route itself, as well as lining up plenty of places to stop along the way (http://goo.gl/maps/VBqcU). I planned on doing 3 100 mile days and staying in hotels overnight. It was a beautiful 70 degrees during the day, but with 40 degree overnight temperatures, I didn’t feel like camping this time around. Technology is very cool, as I was not only able to look up places to stop, I was able to check out Street View and verify that they even existed.
I took off on the route on a beautiful Friday morning and got a cold start as it was in the high 30s. It warmed up fast as the sun started to come up all the way. I got treated to some very cool swampy paths and some fun twisty single track through the palm trees as I headed for Ocala National Forest. The forest itself is a network of sandy gravel roads and has a Naval bombing range right in the middle. I got my timing right, as I rolled up just as some fighters were performing a bombing run. Too cool!
After 50 miles, I stopped by a very lonely convenience store to refuel, and kept on riding. I heard/read about the crazy deep sand and wanted to hit it while I had plenty of energy. It ended up being pretty brutal, but not as bad as I was fearing. Between keeping a very smooth pedaling stroke (Thanks Eddie!) and spending some time riding on the side of the road, I was able to get through the deep sand pretty quickly and headed to some fun single track in Wekiwa Springs.
There is a small “river crossing” in Wekiwa Springs, and considering it’s Florida and that the water was “chest high in some spots”, I was pretty worried about getting eaten by a gator. The nice “yup, there’s gators in those waters” from the Park Ranger didn’t make me feel any better. I got to the crossing, did some yelling to scare the gators away (ha!), picked up the bike, and waded through quickly. No big deal! I made my first 100 miles, was back to civilization, was feeling great, but decided to go ahead and call it a night vs continuing on. I wanted to save any energy that I had for the next couple of days.
After some good Italian food and some easy sleep I headed out for Day 2. I didn’t realize that the route today has a good bit of pavement so the first 50 miles flew right by. I saw an unexpected grocery store (Public) right off the route and treated myself to an awesome deli sandwich (and a ton of peanut M&Ms, I was craving those the whole time) The next 40 was a mixture of forest service roads, more sand, even more sand, some more sand, and finally some pavement (never thought I’d be GLAD to ride pavement on my mountain bike). There is a super long “rails to trail” section and I got to ride quite a few miles through it. When I got to where I planned on spending the night, Ridge Manor, it was 4:30, I still had 1.5 hours of daylight left, and I knew I’d hate myself if I stopped now. The longest mountain bike ride I’ve done in my life was the day before at 100 miles, so why not try for 140 to get to the next town. After all, I had lights, and it was still nice outside.
I hit a gas station for some dinner, pushed through and hit the Croom singletrack north of town. There is about 10 miles of pretty technically challenging singletrack, especially with a 40lb loaded bike, and I had to walk a few sections but it was still really fun. It shot me out on some country back roads, and I just spun along and enjoyed the stars. Spent some time with my lights off riding to the moonlight. I was a bit worried about some back country rednecks, but didn’t encounter anyone at all. I was feeling really good considering the mileage, and I knew I hit what I read about earlier: Diesel Mode. It’s basically when your legs and heart are too tired to go hard, but they feel just fine going a certain speed, and for some reason you feel like you can just go forever at that pace. At around 10pm I rolled into Inverness after 142 miles and 13 hours on the bike. Long day and I was ready for a burger! I ate, turned on the TV in the hotel room and instantly fell asleep.
With such a long Day 2, Day 3 turned into a super fun “short jaunt” through the Santos Mountain Biking trail. Combined with the Ross Praire forest, it’s nearly 40 miles of great dirt and singletrack. Santos is very fast, flowy, and a blast to ride. It was awesome to finish with this trail as it gave me a “singletrack high” and I finished up the route feeling really good and in great spirits.
Riding this route renewed my appetite for bikepacking, and I’m really looking forward to attempting TNGA again this summer. I also got to see some great sights, as Florida is full of nature. (My full gallery of pics here: http://smu.gs/15tRFHA) From the National Forests, to the Wildlife Management Areas, to the all the back country roads, it was all awesome! And let’s not forget about the unlimited “all the peanut M&Ms you can eat” diet you can have during one of these adventures. Heading into a gas station and needing 1000 calories of junk food is so great. I can go through my full gear setup if there is any interest and I’ll also post my ride report from the TNGA in July. Also, here are the Strava links for each of the days: Day 1 - http://app.strava.com/activities/39705204 Day 2 - http://app.strava.com/activities/39705219 and Day 3 - http://app.strava.com/activities/39705186