Cracker Swamp 1200 October 13-16, 2016

Ride Report from Dave Thompson:

This turned out to be the very definition of a slow, rocky start, for me.  We raced back to Florida from Ontario, arriving mid-day Tuesday and surveyed the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.  Ugh, with missing shingles, soffits blown out, insulation all over the yard like cotton, it was a matter of getting the house in order, quickly, so that I could head off.  The mess wouldn’t go away; I might as well go for my bike ride.

Besides, I had a part to play in this ride.  I’d handled all the swag — engraved glasses, embroidered hoodies and medals; played behind-the-scenes reviewer for Paul Rozelle and now I had to manage Trackleaders.

Matthew Lee at Trackleaders was swamped himself, figuratively with lots of rides and physically as he was also in the hurricane’s path.  He got the 80 SPOTs out to FedEx by 8:30pm. on that Tuesday, which were delivered to me before noon on Wednesday, just in time for me to head to Tavares, 1:15 away, for rider registration.

Dick Felton gave me a hand setting out all the SPOTs on a picnic table, getting them all turned on and registered and then installed on riders’ bikes.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, there were 16 that didn’t register, failed in their satellite connection.  I found that out from an email from Matthew at 1:30am prior to the ride.

Yikes.  We raced around trying to find the riders at 3:30am before the 4:00 start.  I also had a flat, a hotel room flat, didn’t end up having anything to eat and rolled out myself a little after the last rider.  The lanterne rouge rides again!

It got worse.  Not too long afterwards I had another flat.  What the heck?  It was right on the inside, by the valve stem, but everything looked ok.  Perhaps it was a bad tube?  Never so lucky …  I had another flat; same place.  Ok, this is getting tiresome.  The lanterne rouge was falling even further behind.  Everything looked ok with the rim tape and the valve hole, but I laid down some electrical tape at that point, installed another tube, now getting worried about running out, and rolled on.  It didn’t last…

OK, drastic measures are now called for.  I didn’t have a roll of rim tape with me and I’m not sure why the valve stem hole is piercing the tubes — actually it’s a couple of cm from the hole — but I came up with a solution — I used one of those Park Tool stick-on tire boots, poking a hole in it and actually booting the new tube.  That got me a long way down the road…

I called Sandy.  The first Control after the start is actually only a few miles from our house.  Can you bring some tubes?  Bring six.  OK.  She met me at the Control, a gas station / convenience store and handed me three boxes, asking how many tubes were in a box … uh … one.  Oh well, that should do me.

I rolled off ahead of one rider, not quite the lanterne rouge any more.  That did change; I had more flats, installed my spare tire, moving that boot from tube to tube.  I did have more flats over the course of the ride but they were puncture flats, not inside the rim flats.  I guess that’s a good thing.

All told, I think that I had 8 flats that first day, including the hotel room flat.  It was slow going at times, as I rode along checking on the progress of the SPOTS, texting.  The roads were clear, untrafficky.

That first day, we rode basically to the coast, before that first Control.  Riding along Maytown Road, there were miles of utility poles snapped, huge oak trees down, wires buried in the brush.  New poles had been installed — less than a week after the hurricane and people had power.  We’d see more hurricane devastation over the next few days but that was the worst.

The first day was long, especially for me.  Once out of the “flat zone”, I did start overtaking riders, eventually coming in with Geof Simons, Vinny and a few others.  From a 4am start, I had a 3am finish, 437 km behind me.

I had a quick meal, into bed, got 1.5 hours of deep sleep, left at 6am.  It did get better.  I had a 5+ hour stop the next night and a 7+ hour stop the last night, finishing just under 80 hours.  I always consider a 5 hour stop pure luxury, so 7 was amazing.  I didn’t really need 7 at the time but was concerned that I might hit the first real fuelling stop before it opened.  I need not have worried, but it all worked out.

I finished up the ride with Hamid, he, Mark Thomas and Victor S catching up to me at a Control that last day.  I’d lingered for 20 minutes, figuring quite rightly that they were probably a little behind me starting.  I spent another 20+ minutes waiting for them and we rolled on.  Mark rolled off from us at one point and finished first, from our little group.

Jerry C ran into knee problems and had to throw in the towel.  Marion Kusters also had a knee problem; still has.  I’ve got a lingering issue that developed with the inner tendon on my left leg.  I guess that’s what comes of such a flat course — about 14,000 feet of climbing in 1200+ km.

The first day was a big loop to the coast, south and back to the starting hotel in Tavares, north of Orlando.  The next two days were about equal in length, 300 km or so, and loops back to Tavares.  The last day was a 200 km loop back to Tavares.  The logistics of having one hotel, no drop bags, rooms before, during and after included in the price — it really made things easy for riders and organizers.  There are lessons to be learned.  Just as we run a brevet week out of one locations, we could do a 1200.

Paul did an amazing job with the food.  He and his neighbours did all the prep and then the neighbours cooked at one of those trailered grills for the three nights.  Chicken the first night, pulled pork the next and steak at the end of the ride — I’m missing something, as there’s another night in there?  Oh well.

He also brewed the beer and had bottles of single malt, the latter mostly imbibed at the end-of-ride party.  The DNF rate was low, as you might expect.  After that first day, some riders didn’t really need lights; doing most of their riding in daylight.

All in all, it was a great ride, a great experience — it was very interesting being a part of the organizing and then also riding the “main event”.  There are things that could have been done differently, but that’s always the case.  The rider experience was great; that’s the important thing.

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