10/20/20 Tally Tango 177mi On Your Own Edition ITT

Jenn asked a couple of weeks ago if I wanted to do this race with her. I had some vacation time saved up, and the race schedule this year had suffered, so I said yes. This would be the first of both of our bike packing adventures.

As it drew near, I ordered some Revelate bags and some camping supplies. The weather looked to be an amazing 85 high with a low of 70, and I was looking forward to shaking off the cool that had been coming on with fall. I made my list of all of the things I would think I would need, and started organizing it. Once the bags arrived, I started packing, over and over. The setup instructions were not great, but the bags are. It took the first day of the race to get good at sinching them up correctly, but now I love them.

On my list of items, after reviewing the route, was a can of bear spray. Black bears are commonly sighted in these WMAs, and while they don’t pose a threat from casual encounters, they are known to attack if you get between a mother and her cubs. I thought it might be a good idea. I used a Voile strap I got at Standard Deluxe to strap the bear spray to the front of my handlebar bag.

We drove to Tallahassee on Monday, had some great yaki udon with chicken and veggies for dinner and stayed in a hotel that night. The next morning, we were up early and ready to go. We grabbed breakfast on the way to Tom Brown Park and got our gear together. We started out at 8 am with some sweet single track. They were Florida trails, but on a 50lb bike, the single track was really fun. Carving with all that weight on flowy downhill is a totally different riding experience. There were some beautiful spots on the route, we rode over a land bridge between two marshy ponds with reeds and lillypads, it was right as the sun was starting to shine in the morning and it was beautiful.

At mile 27, we entered the Aucilla WMA, and got back onto some nice single track trails, the orange trail, that ran along the Aucilla River. It was so beautiful in there, it reminded me of waterfall hiking in Bankhead National Forest. It looked as if the place had not been touched in centuries. About 3 miles in I was riding behind Jenn and I heard a hiss. I thought it was a leak in my tire, until I started choking. That’s when I looked down and saw orange spray coming out of the side of the bear spray canister strapped to the front of my handlebar bag.

As my eyes started to burn, and I knew I was not going to be able to breathe next to my bike, I set it on it’s side and ran ahead on the trail and yelled to Jenn, “Go, Bear Spray!” so she stopped and said “what?” I guess the sight of me running without my bike and the choking feeling made her realize what I had said. We went a little further, and stopped when we could breathe. The leak was on the right side of my bike, so my right arm and right leg got soaked in the stuff. I felt like the Buddhist monk on the Rage against the machine album cover. If I closed my eyes, I could see the flames that were giving the sensation I was feeling coming off of me. We poured water over my eyes for a minute, and while they burned, I could see. I had read the warnings on the can, I knew that water wouldn’t do much for me. Once I was able to embrace the pain, I thought about the fact that I needed to get my bike and keep moving.

As I walked back on the trail to my bike, I realized that we were downwind of it as I re-entered the choking barrier. I held my breath, ran forward, saw my bike, and the can that was still discharging. I dropped back, took another breath, and then ran forward, already in intense pain, and pulled the can off my bag, grabbed my bike, and pushed it back out of the choking zone. It was doused in orange liquid. I wiped it down as best I could, and was so thankful about the time bonus checkpoint ahead, swimming at the base of the Aucilla rapids.

I was on fire as we rode on looking for the rapids. Once we found it, I was so happy to get off my bike and strip and run into that cold, cold water. It was breathtakingly cold, but that was not near as intense of a feeling as the fire it was cancelling out. I took a few minutes enjoying the freedom from the Cajun curse. Unfortunately, I would be on fire until I went to sleep that night. I have to admit though, aside from dealing with the pain, I think it caused my body to produce more adrenaline, and helped me to not even notice how my muscles might have felt. If someone had brought a swear jar though, I would have been broke.

We got moving back on the trail and I noticed that my handlebar bag wasn’t strapped well anymore, and was starting to cause enough sway to be dangerous. I told Jenn to ride ahead and I would catch up. I wish I had looked at the map before saying that. The orange trail through the Aucilla WMA is awesome, but there are a few intersections with sandy roads that were a little confusing. I got off track at mile 35 on a sandy road, and realized shortly that I wasn’t on the trail. I double backed, and looked for the orange trail at the intersection, but I could not see where it picked up. I kept going on the only path I could find going in the right direction, the sandy road, and saw an intersection ahead at Goose Pasture Road and the trail that I could not find. I stopped at that intersection, hoping that I had gotten ahead of Jenn, and waited. While I did, I did not like the thought that I missed some of the trail, so I decided to ride it back from there until I found her, and then keep riding forward. The first trail I tried to track back from the intersection was not the right one. The second trail was a little farther west, but I was worried that she might have already gone passed there, so I went back to the intersection. A couple minutes later, she comes out of the orange trail asking if I decided to take the sandy road instead. I told her I had, but inadvertently, I wanted to stay on the orange trail to complete the route. I cut out 1.5 miles of some great single track and I blame it on the bear spray.

We kept pedaling along, and rode through Big Bend WMA, and then into Flint Rock WMA, where we took our checkpoint photos at the wooden bridge. The WMAs on this route are amazing. They are like being on safari. We saw many different types of snakes, and heard many things we could not see as we were pedaling in the afternoon sun on sandy jeep tracks through swampy, palm tree covered wilderness. Around mile 60 in Saint Marks WMA, we rode across a narrow isthmus that was an 8’ wide sandy jeep trail with brush on either side for a few feet before marsh. I head an alligator that we woke from his afternoon slumber splash into the water. Shortly after, I heard a loud rustling and grunting coming from the underbrush between us and marsh. I yelled at it, like I was about to kill it, and thank God whatever it was didn’t give chase. It sounded like it might have been a boar.

We had been considering the campground after Saint Marks WMA for a stopping point, but it was only at mile 65, and we were making good time. This is the point that I realized that Jenn was a little more concerned with our finishing time that I had previously thought, she was driving a good pace, and I felt good to keep it. I had committed myself to getting to the campground with her in time to set up camp, next I committed to getting 100 miles in on the first day. This would be my first 100 mile mountain bike ride.

We kept rolling past the campground and were feeling good. We rolled on into the dark with lights for a good while. We picked up some more water for camping. She had two water bottles and a Nalgene bottle. I had two water bottles and a 100oz camelback bladder. We filled those up and kept rolling. We got into some pretty remote area in Saint Marks WMA about 90 miles in and started looking at good places to camp while riding. We were again on sandy jeep trail, and trying to find a spot to setup hammock camp is actually kind of difficult in the dark. There were plenty of trees, but most areas had about 3’ high dense undergrowth. We finally got to a spot with trees close enough together, and very little underbrush.

We setup the hammocks, laid out gear to dry, had dinner, hung the food up and slept under the stars. It was peaceful, but the wind made the bottom of the hammock cold. It was 70 degrees and I was almost sweating, and at the same time the bottom of the hammock was freezing. I had put off sleeping with the loud tin foil space blanket, but I finally decided sleep on top of it. It didn’t really make the bottom less cold, but it definitely warmed my backside. I drifted off to sleep listening to the owls and coyotes.

I slept pretty well, maybe too well, we didn’t get started until about 830 after some coffee and oatmeal. The burning from the bear spray appeared to be gone, but it would flare back up from time to time between my fingers when they got in the sunlight. We packed our bags, left no trace and headed to the next checkpoint in Slopchoppy.

Slopchoppy was 10 miles down the road. We took our checkpoint photos at the welcome to Slopchoppy sign. It was a tiny little town, and the last one for a while so we stopped to fill up on water. Jenn picked up a corndog from the store, and I was standing there looking at them when a nice lady put some eggrolls in the warmer. That made an excellent second breakfast.

After Slopchoppy, the next 33 miles were open WMA sandy jeep trails with a blazing sun. There were a lot of places where the sand was really the only surface to ride on, so we grinded it out for a few hours in sometimes 3-4” of loose, powdery sand. We did come across a tortoise at mile 30 that looked like he was taking a really long time to get to a can of white claw in the sand. It was kind of depressing to think that in about an hour he was going to find out that it was empty.

At mile 140, we got to Helen and the single track picked back up, 22 miles of it until we got back to Tallahassee. The single track was still Florida trails, but it went through all kinds of different ecological environments. Carving heavy bikes down flowy single track is so fun, and such a beautiful natural space to do it in. It was amazing.

In Tallahassee the route took greenways back through the city. And finally we hit some trail in Governor’s park, but it did not look like the trial in Tom Brown Park. It had shopping carts and trash. More of a homeless trail. This ended up working out perfectly, because as we entered this trail my stomach got loose in a quick way, like code red. I have no doubt the spot I picked had likely been used before. Jenn sped on, and I am glad she did, whoo.

Shortly after, we got back to the cars and took the final checkpoint photos. We actually did this a lot quicker than I thought we would. That Jenn I rode with is Jennifer Braddass on strava, and she sure is. The pace we kept was strong the entire way. I kind of feel like we kicked some ass out there in Tallahassee.