February 24th, 2023
We left the first transition station around 2 in the morning and felt refreshed. We had real food in our system, new clothes on, and it was time to head out for the 10-20 mile trek. We were hopeful for a comeback in this section since we were all runners.
We headed back out on a paved path that we had biked on and eventually turned off onto trails. We followed the trail for a while, counting the intersecting side trails to make sure we were where we thought we were. Then once we hit the 6th or so intersecting trail, we took out our compass and followed an azimuth bushwhacking through the forest until we spotted the reflecting checkpoint hanging in a tree.
YES! This checkpoint was a huge lift for all of us. We did know what we were doing and it was time to compete. Most of the night and early morning continued liked this. Following a trail for a few miles then turning off to bushwhack through the forest and finding the checkpoint. Each time we were all thrilled, hollering out “There it is!” and feeling a jolt of energy. There were advantages and disadvantages to searching for checkpoints in the night. The advantage was that the checkpoints are reflective when you shine a flashlight on them, but a disadvantage because it was easy to get lost when you can’t see the surrounding area.
We continued around finding almost all the checkpoints and were headed back to the transition area right as dawn was approaching. Our spirits had been lifted, we were back in this!
We ate another egg sandwich and spent about an hour switching out clothes again and prepping our bags and bikes for the next longest bike leg which was around 60-70 miles. When we were ready, we had to put our totes back on the U-Haul since we would be biking from this transition area to transition area number 2.
Right before we hopped on our bikes, I noticed my front tire was flat. Dang it. We had just packed everything away and now we had to go back on the U-Haul and pull our totes out so that we could fix the flat tire and put another spare in my bag.
Thankfully David and Mike stayed calm about this as I threw a fit. I felt like it was one thing after another for me and I just so badly wanted things to go right. We fixed the tire and were on our way, bracing ourselves for a long ride.
We were happy to be biking in the daylight as we felt like this go around was going to be better than biking in the night. We reached the Santos mountain biking area and started to have some fun. The trail was flat, curvy, and didn’t have too many rocks or roots to go over. We were on a flow, one behind the other zipping along. There was many moments when I thought to myself just how much I loved this, how I loved adventuring like this and exploring a whole new area. This was special, this was such a privilege to be a part of something like this.
We were having luck again getting checkpoints and getting our confidence back. There were a few moments where we felt like maybe we had missed a turn, but found out we had stopped just a bit short. This turned out to be a common theme for majority of the race. We always thought we were further along than we actually were.
Most of the time we would bike to a certain area then leave our bikes to bushwhack through the forest to find the checkpoints. Each checkpoint had a clue associated with it and one was deemed “Palm Tree” in a forest with multiple palm trees… but we found that the checkpoint actually resided inside the palm tree, which took a little bit further looking.
Our route also led us to some quiet back gravel roads.
And occasionally, rarely, on paved roads. The race director made an effort to keep us off the main roads as much as possible. There were even some roads on our maps that were marked with red X’s that meant we were not allowed to ride on them.
The map also had “waypoints” where it was mandatory that we cross through that area. One of these waypoints had us taking our bikes off the road and riding on a flat stretch of grass alongside a river for many miles. It was a beautiful open area but since it was flat, it required constant pedaling which brought us all to our pain cave. After riding for so many hours your bum starts to hurt…quite bad and if we didn’t want to stop, we had to stay seated and pedal. We all kept quiet and pushed on until we finally got to some pavement.
The pavement took us back to gravel roads where we were getting closer to the second transition area. We were starting to get excited since we were going to reach the area faster than we expected and before it got dark which was exactly what we wanted.
However, rarely do things go as planned.
We turned off a gravel road and hit sugar sand. Thick, hard to bike or walk through sand. All of us had the same thought, “CRAP”. We popped off our bikes and started walking them over the rolling hills of sugar sand trying to figure out how to get off of it. We ended up taking a left down a small road, not sure where it led, in hopes that it would connect us to another gravel road. Nope, no luck, more sugar sand.
We turned to head north and decided that we were going to have to walk our bikes the rest of the way to the transition station, there was no other way to go. Frustration filled all of us as we watched the sky get darker and darker. No longer would we be getting to the transition area before dark, we were now going to have to embrace it. We couldn’t help but think where we went wrong and how we could of avoided this mess, we were losing so much time.
After a couple hours of sugar sand, we reached a paved road and saw a few other racers heading west and turning into the campground where we needed to go. I have never been so thrilled to see pavement before in my life.
We reached the transition station and quickly found out that most everyone was complaining about the sugar sand mess and that the race directors had picked this location on purpose. The only way to reach that transition station was through sugar sand.
This made us feel relieved as it wasn’t just us. However, we all needed a moment to mentally recalibrate and get our head on right for the next leg. We spent about an hour and half repacking our bags, changing clothes, and eating as much food as we could.
Then it was time to head out for our longest trek leg, 40 miles on the Florida Trail. We weren’t too nervous about this but knew we would probably need to find a place to nap as we would be nearing 2 days of no sleep.
The start of the trek portion threw us off a bit as we couldn’t find any marker to indicate that we were on the Florida Trail. Earlier in the race we had seen markers when we crossed over the trail and figured we would see them here as well. We spent around an hour going on the correct trail and off the trail not sure if we were ever in the right direction. Eventually after talking with a couple other teams, we all got situated in the right direction and headed out.
We once again found ourselves thinking we were further along our our map than we really were but luckily didn’t pass any checkpoints, we were snagging them all up again. Midnight was nearing and I found myself being lulled to sleep by the repetitive view of trees and trail. Step by step my eyelids became heavier and heavier and I started to see the trail form into things I knew it was not. One pile of leaves was a sloth until I got close enough, another cluster of branches was dishes. I found myself laughing internally and becoming curious with what my mind would make the trail become. I was letting myself fall into sleep without meaning to. Multiple times when I started to slip away, I would be startled awake by hearing footsteps behind me. I would whip around to check who was coming after me only to remember that I was in a race and David and Mike were walking right behind me. It was a funny, drowsy period of the race for me and I could not wait to lay my head down.
Eventually we made it to a checkpoint at a local campground and decided we were going to find a spot to sleep. We all agreed on a 25 minute nap. We saw a flat spot with wood poles and David pointed to Mike and me and said, “You go there, Izzy you go there.”
I pulled out my emergency blanket, wrapped it around me, laid my head on my backpack and was instantly out. How I wish every night of sleep could be like that!
David ended up waking us up an hour later instead around 2:30 am and I felt completely out of place, taking a couple minutes to remember what was going on and what I was doing. I looked around and saw multiple other teams had joined us in our sleeping location. None of them disturbed me in my deep deep sleep, how bizarre. We headed back out on the trail to continue on to Day 3 and finish out the long hike.