A first-person chronicle of the off-road version (62 miles) of the Spaghetti 100 – a clay road ride through north Florida and South Georgia.
I woke up normal – which is to say I turned off the phone alarm. Then, with a fluid motion I swung my legs off the bed, scanned my phone notifications, smacked my mouth of the beer and General Tso’s aftermath from the night before – and exhaled heavily, just like normal. Ride or race mornings are all strategy. Bathroom, food, shower, dress, load – not always in that order. I had carefully packed the night before and realized I had everything but air, which I figured I’d handle in the am. After the exhale, I went bathroom, load, shower, dress, bagel shop, wal mart, publix (for a Lara bar and bathroom, again). I needed the bar to add to the two GUs I snagged from Bird Legs Bicycles at packet pick up the afternoon before.
I white knuckled the steering wheel, tailgating the cars in front of me as we raced down the canopy road. Nearing the Miccosukee Community Center, the road and my speed were choked by bike geeks getting a proper warm up. Parked and popped out of the car – and was quickly met with a muttering “sup man?” from Don Davis – who looked locked-in on the ride. Running out of time, I hurriedly dressed, final prepped the bike a OCD’d a systems check. Phone in left pocket, bar and electronics in the middle pocket, new pump in the right pocket, a GU under each shorts leg… check. I was good to go so I rolled down the hill and saw Terry, who coughed a “I can’t believe you’re here, but I’m happy and proud that you’re here” laugh. Terry “looked me in the bike” (understandable cause I was on the Rat Cross) and quickly ushered me away from the starting line.
I think he just wanted to be free of the noise clutter but also sensed I needed a pep talk. We did a fake warm up, in which he bailed on me after a few words – so I rode a little more and then returned to mid-pack at the starting line. I spotted many familiar faces but nuzzled up between Matt Wilson, Randy, Mark Alexander and Tom. Terry returned, and all too soon Paul McManus alerted riders he was about to sound the horn. Shortly thereafter he simply said go, and the ride started to the right and up the hill. The group of about 50 riders moseyed down the road as we picked up a few stragglers.
THE REAL START
I purposely slotted myself top third as we made our way down the pavement. A mixture of curiosity and fear (for many reasons), I just wanted to know how fast we would be going. It was surprisingly civil. Faster than I would ride by myself, but easy enough when drafting with a big group. One of the other fears I had was I’d never done the loop, so I really didn’t know what to expect – beyond what I’d seen from ApeBike’s Instagram photos. So after a few turns, the group starts to stretch out and we hang a hard left onto the lead-in to the real start. Pretty much a false flat decline into the first big patch of sand, with a good climb to follow. My group of four (Terry, David Norman and I think Chris Berg) had the leaders in sight, but as we powered through the sand I realized this ride was about to implode – at least for me. I held on longer than I thought I would. And surprisingly was able to force myself into a pace that I thought I could keep.
THE FIRST HALF
Having let go of Terry’s group, I played Frogger, jumping back to pick up wheels to ride and jumping forward to overtake riders who bit off a little too much, a little too early. This went on for many miles and many hills. My goal was to maintain a good pace by working down from the big ring as much as possible, only dropping from the big ring when absolutely necessary. After about an hour in my brain, I downed the Lemon Sublime GU and reminded myself to keep drinking water. The clay turned to pavement and I tried to focus on keeping the bike moving. As I was making good progress on catching some folks just ahead, a rider caught me and approached me from my left. We looked at each other in the face at the same time and I realized it was Gary Robertson. After double “hey-ing”, I asked If I could jump on. He was riding faster than me but acceptable if I could tuck in, which I did. Later, as we rolled through the lumber mill area in Metcalf, we could see a group of road riders on the parallel road just to our left, with fields of flowers in the background – which was reminiscent of a TV shot from the Tour. We hollered at some dirt riders taking the wrong turn just in front of us and sat up so we could group up and work together. As the two caught us so did Randy. We worked together well until I let them slowly stretch it out. I was hesitant to stay on and again, backed it down. Then, a short while later I caught back up with this mini group at the beer stop manned by Matthew Bull and Wickman – where I may or may not have chugged and a Founder’s All Day IPA hand up. And then we were off again, and then I was quickly left alone. After a while, I turned left onto pavement and surprisingly saw the Boston sign. I was close to half way done. Slowly rolling into town I hopped off the bike with intention. I saw Kelly there as well, and Chad razzed me a little. I filled one of my bottles and grabbed a meat sandwich from the table and returned to the bike. As more people were arriving, I was leaving. My plan was to eat on the bike and latch on to a group when they caught me.
THE SECOND HALF, ALL BY MYSELF
The weather and landscapes were awesome when leaving town. The air was cool and sun was out – and I could see in all directions across all kinds of farms, like I was riding through a vibrant painting. I was riding with a purpose and at a reasonable pace. I did not know I would only see one other rider for the next hour and a half. It was awesome but horrible at the same time. I was left with my thoughts and subsequent fears and was forced to just keep riding.
I really thought I was going to die past Highway 19 on the big gravel section, or at least really hurt myself. After not crashing, I settled in on a ride and shot the Lemon GU, again forcing myself to drink.
HOW MUCH FARTHER?
About this time, I really just wanted to know how much farther, but I really didn’t want to know. Kind of like smashing your toe in a shoe – you want to look, but you should never, ever take the shoe off. I finally was passed by a guy on a MTB and as we hit a left together, we were met with an immediate uphill. I was finally met with my first real set of doubts. The legs didn’t seem to want to work and I knew I was entering into the grind. As I started to suffer, I could hear a number of females off in the distance behind me. They were saying my name in amazement (how could Kent be in front of us?), so I knew they knew me. They passed me with a dude in tow. It was the dude, Deb, Mariska, Brook and some other obviously fit ladies. They were rolling so I seized the opportunity and latched on. They were riding too fast for me but this was my one shot to quickly tick off some miles and minimize the grind. They said we had about 15 miles to go, after which myself and a younger Red Velo rider let go on what I would soon find out was the last hill before TS Green Road (I wish I would have held on). We sort of grouped back together and sort of rode together up to the Coke stop. I found that part of the ride horrible. I was basically by myself out in the wind, and it was a slow, just painful enough uphill. Once at the stop, I drank about five dentist office cup-sized cokes and slowly ate some Oreos. I filled one bottle (but should have filled both) and surreally observed different riders and eavesdropped.
“I hate these next two hills”
“The next two hills are the worst on the ride”
“The only thing worse is the horse flies”
WTF? I thought to myself. But then it got worse…
“You have 13 miles to the finish”
I sombered back to the bike. Picked up the bike out of the roadside bahia grass, rattle checked it and shoved off.
Between the sweat chill, the cokes and the downhill right when we jumped back onto dirt, I was refreshed. The problems started when the downhill ran out, and pedaling the big ring began to hurt. My left knee hurt, my back and neck hurt, my feet hurt – well, everything hurt. And then I saw it – the first hill. It looked bad, but not that bad, but it WAS bad. Halfway up I saw this guy dismount. The only thing I could think was it would be worse off the bike. Besides, I’m a Navy Seal (not really) and no way am I ringing the bell. I made it up the hill but dug way too deep to get it. I’m apt to write the next several miles were a blur but realistically I remember all of it, every excruciating detail. Most of all I remember the conversations with myself, which I won’t share. Turning back onto the first clay road which leads you out, I knew I was close to done but not close enough. I “took the shoe off to look at the toe” and was mortified, I’d only ridden five miles, leaving eight to go. Fear crept back in because I knew, for the most part, you are climbing all the way back in to Miccosukee. Then, for the first time on the ride, I rung the bell, having to dismount and walk the bike though the first (and now last) sand pit. Only when you ring the bell on the clay, you don’t get to go home, you still have to ride it out. Later on, I made it to the last bit of pavement and knew I was close. Wind had picked up, along with the heat – which would crest 90 degrees on this day, and I wanted to be off the bike. I knew I was close but didn’t know how close. Then, after a series of paved rollers, I read in weathered spray paint lettering on the pavement – 500 meters to go. I slowly made it into town. Grimaced at Mark Alexander and Don Davis, and then found the finish. I was met by lots of friends including Terry with a similar laugh from many hours before. All I wanted was water, but the closest thing to me was another All Day IPA.
For a recreational rider, I did better than I thought I would on a 62-mile clay road ride. I rode smart and exceeded expectations. As for next time, I know I left a little on the table. I now know the loop, I can ride smarter and I’m sure I would do better with some training and some bike upgrades. I’m satisfied with the ride in so many ways. However, I’m most proud of the effort. It was a big deal for me to finish in an overachieving total time (for me) of 4:47 (I think my roll time was under 4:30, my goal). It was a great confidence booster and has me believing I can ride again. Maybe this is the start of a real comeback, we’ll see…