Taylor’s experience riding the 2019 Dirty Pecan:
TLDR; it rained
We knew it was going to be bad.
Stew and I had both committed to doing the 150 mile edition, and the forecast was for rain. We had all driven up to Tallahassee the day before, and we were sitting in the AirBnB discussing what length ride we would be doing (they offer a 60, 80, 100, 150, and 200 mile option), searching the weather apps, hoping for a glimmer of good news.
There was none.
The joke I heard regarding the Dirty Pecan, is to prepare for the ride as such:
Step one: if it’s raining, turn around and go home.
The house starts waking up around five as we all begin our morning chores; prepping bottles, eating our pre-ride breakfasts, setting tire pressures. We all hear the rain outside, and the occasional thunder. Megan, Stew’s wife and TBS Winter Haven co-owner, has already named a few friends that aren’t even going to try to start. I have been doing the math in my head a few times, and I know the 150 is near impossible for me in these conditions and ask Stew if he’s ok doing the 100 instead. Thankfully he is. I know Stew is strong- he rode me off his wheel in the Green Swamp race last year- and am very happy to have him to ride alongside today. Misery loves company, so they say. The others are riding the 60 miler, and we all begin the drive to the start.
The drive is not encouraging. Visibility is poor on the interstate- it’s raining hard enough that the snowbirds are driving with their hazards on, as is their custom. Eventually we get to the soggy field where we park, and I park next to Josh, and Stew parks next to me. They’re all out of their cars, getting ready in the rain. I opt to sit in my car and contemplate things. Better to delay the inevitable, if you can. I manage to finish getting dressed and prep the bike without getting out of the car, so I can yank it out and hop on.
At 2 minutes to Eight that’s what I do, and just as I get on the bike I can hear the start to the ride. Our group hurries over and joins the tail end of a very diminished field of participants; lots of people have called it quits. And I can’t blame them, though I feel a little proud that I’m not one of them. It’s fairly unpleasant – it’s not too cold, maybe 60 degrees or so- but the rain and the breeze make the first few miles forgettable. Another rider near me lets out a Tarzan yell, and I know what he means- I’m shaking from the cold, we have 98 miles to go – i’d like to yell too. The first little climb and I stand up on the pedals and am surprised by how unwieldy the bike is; the handlebar bag and the two bottles i’ve mounted behind the seat have made the bike very topheavy, and it really shows. But the whole point of this ride is testing the bike setup for Dirty Kanza, i’ll need those bottles later, and If i’m lucky and the rains stops, I’ve got a complete dry kit in the handlebar bag.
The lead truck pulls off, and the group begins to coalesce and the front picks up the pace a little. Stew has moved way up, and if I intend to ride his slipstream for the rest of the day I’d better get up there too. I work up near the front, and get to see a big range of bikes: A converted 29r with a rigid fork, Gravel Bikes, Cross Bikes, even a lady on what appears to be a city bike, and shes pedaling along in her sneakers. I wonder how she did. I’m watching my garmin, and we’re coming to the first right turn, but no one in the lead group of about 20 is signalling. Is my garmin wrong? I decide to trust my garmin, shout, “RIGHT TURN”, signal the turn, and the whole front group blasts past the turn and I am one of the first to turn on to the muddy road. I thankfully don’t hear any disasters behind me, and am happy not to be behind twenty guys sliding all over the road, spraying mud in my face. The mud is mostly slippery, not too sticky, and am able to choose my lines as I search for the hardpack in hopes of some speed. As we crest the slow climb I am beginning to finally feel warm and unzip my rainjacket. Stew is here, and a few guys other guys, along with a chatty gentleman on a Specialized. By the end of the first serious mud section I’m surprised how few people are nearby- maybe the mud is worse than I thought. I’m tapping along at a moderate pace, knowing I just want to survive the day, and two guys go up the road. Specialized guy notes that we’ll be catching those guys later. ‘You might’, I think to myself. I’m hoping Stew is content to just survive the day too. I find it rather concerning that two miles of mud and Stew is saying his brakes already don’t work. I imagine lots of people will have that issue- it sounds like we are all constantly sandpapering our brake pads with this mud.
As we continue down the probably pretty roads (I say probably, as right now the rain and the effort to keep any speed on the roads is requiring most of my attention) Specialized guy goes off in pursuit of the lead guys, and right as we are crossing the Georgia state line Stew and I catch up to a posse of guys from Gravel Cyclist- including Jayson himself, and Todd, who I know from cyclocross. They’re also doing the 100. Stew pushes on past them, and I pass along a hello and stay with Stew. Eventually at the top of a bigger hill, Stew and I pull off our rain jackets as the rain is fairly light now, and I stuff mine up the back of my jersey and Stew’s goes between his back and his Camelbak. We’re an hour in already and i’m making a mess of trying to ride a muddy road and eat Skratch chews with gloves on. Eventually I give up and focus on trying to stay with Stew.
Five miles later and that is already a lost cause. Alone now, I’m in between groups when BOOM. The rain has made the trees heavy and a six foot branch falls two feet to my left. I dont think my foam hat was designed to protect me from 200 pound deciduous missiles. As we pass through the town of Metcalf, I pass a lady out on her own. I nod, and press on, over an exceptionally rough couple hundred feet. At the end, I check behind me to make certain my pair of rear bottles are still in there, and they’re definitely not. And theyre not in the road, either. I’ve lost them some unknown miles ago. That sucks. I think I’ll be ok for hydration, but I liked those pink Moots Bottles. Through a small town I see a black lump in the road, and as I pass I realize it was Stew’s Jacket. I pick it up and stuff it in the front of my jersey. Courtesy of our rainjackets, I now have a hunchback and a big gut. A few more turns and I’m back on the mud. I’m passing a little white shack of a home, and an older lady sticks her head out of the screen door and flaps her arms at me as she shouts something. Between the rain, the wind, and my drivetrain murdering itself, I can’t hear her. I imagine it was something like “what are you doing in the rain you dumb fat hunchback”.
I’m back in the Gravel Cyclist group, Stew off in pursuit of Specialized guy or glory or both. I enjoy a little time with them, and we break out onto a paved road (thank god) and I keep a steady pace as the GC guys wait up for Jayson. Off the mud, I have the time to enjoy the scenery and get some calories. It really is a beautiful country. The GC guys have caught back up and I’m happy to have a group to ride with. It’s the first time I’ve had a chance to really speak with Jayson, and we share our love of steel bikes for a few miles. He has got quite a few amazing Colnagos; even a Carbon bitubo, which i’ve never even seen IRL. I notice he has a strange habit of letting his glasses ride all the way down his nose, looking over the top of the lenses as he rides – like a librarian, about to scold you for being too loud. My sunglasses are stuck in my helmet, as the rain is still hard enough that it is impossible to wear them and see anything. It is another 30 miles before i reailze, after the umpteenth time I get smacked in the eye by my mud splatter- He’s using his sunglasses as a shield. Frickin genius. I immediately do the same.
The GC guys decide to stop and eat while they wait for one of their buddies to catch up. Jayson kindly says I dont have to wait for them, too. He doesnt realize I’m already well on my way to cracking and am very happy to have a group to keep up with. My bike is a cyclocross bike; designed for 33mm tires, maybe 38mm max. The exceptionally muddy roads necessitated tire clearance, so I opted for 32mm Panaracer Gravelkings, and the skinnier tires are slicing through the muck and not riding on top of it like a larger tire might. The extra effort is taking it’s toll on my legs. We’re three hours in, and I dont think I have another six in me to complete the 100. The GC group is nice enough to let me tag onto the end of their group as we wind our way through Thomasville. We pedal through huge forested areas with signs nailed to trees noting ‘This Plantation’ and ‘That Plantation’. All I see are trees. A couple of times near homes we would have encounters with Eddie. If you remember the movie American Flyers, you might remember the scene where Kevin Costner’s character talks about going to “train with Eddie”. Eddie, of course, ends up being a big scary dog that they have to sprint to get away from. Thankfully, someone in our group has the ability to whistle loud enough to startle the dogs, and they generally turn away except for one especially insistent dog that gets close enough for me to open up my sprint a little, enough to at least not be the last guy in the paceline. That old joke about running from a bear and just having to be faster than your friend, not the bear. . . .
Jayson and The GC guys pass the church with the water hose, and I choose companionship over water. I hope it isnt a poor choice, as they’re going to press on to Boston (not Massachusetts) which isnt until mile 65 or so. Now I really miss my pink bottles. We pass a family powerwashing their house, and we all contemplate asking them to give our bikes a spray, but wuss out. We should have. Eventually the mucky grind slows me down too much and I’m off the back of the GC group, and I don’t think they notice, which is fine. I’m in a fairly sour mood by now; I’ve already chickened out of the 150, and now I’m halfway through the 100 and am destroyed. I’ve lost my bottles, my legs, and my morale.
52 miles in and it’s raining pretty good again. I’m having to stand and grind my way through the muck, at about 3 mph, when I’ve had enough. I stop, dismount, and eat a rice cake. I’m going to have to try for the 80 mile course, and right now i’m not feeling confident I can even finish that. So I ask my garmin to bring up the 80, and it promptly turns itself off. Two riders crest the hill behind me, and I watch as one takes a header into the mud. His buddy keeps truckin along, and I say ‘Rider Down’ as he passes me but he probably heard ‘why are you riding in the rain you dumb fat hunchback’ because he keeps going, leaving his pal behind. But his pal is fine; mud is apparently a nice soft thing to wreck on, and he fights off through the mud in pursuit of his Helen Keller buddy.
I restart my Garmin and it’s frozen on the startup screen, and the rain has been making the touchscreen, well, touchy. And now i’m feeling touchy and this thing is about 5 seconds from being launched into the wilderness, when it decides to behave, and I finally get the 80 to load up. I look up at the next road sign and it’s Old Quitman Road.
As I continue, I know I just need to make it Boston and I can refuel and get some caffiene. So I continue on, and am happy to find the course is now pavement again. As I near the quickie mart, MudMan and Helen Keller catch up to me. I wonder how they got so lost as to have gotten behind me, but don’t ask. MudMan says they’re completely bailing and taking the pavement all the way back to the start, and invites me. I wish them luck, but i’ve done enough quitting today and want to try to at least finish the 80. At the Quickie mart is a big group of cyclists, including the GC crew, and I stop and park near them. I check in with Jayson, and am slightly heartened by the fact that they, too, are changing to the 80 mile route. I share some rice cakes, and pack Stew’s jacket into the handlebar bag; mine, i find has completely blown open at the seams and goes in the trash. There’s a hose on the side of the building and we’re all using it to try to give our poor bikes some relief at least until the next mud section. I go in to buy some water and a red bull and when I come out everyone has gone. I eat quickly, pack up, and get back on the road, hoping I can find a group to latch on to. I didnt have time to change into that dry kit, and though it isn’t raining any more, I’m cold after stopping and work harder than I should just so I can get warm again. It’s a little bit before the road changes back to mud, but I never catch a group. Once in the dirt, I do eventually catch up to that same lady I passed earlier- and I learn her name is Dina. We share a few miles but eventually I worry that maybe I am overstaying my welcome and I press on.
I wish I had taken photos. This was some of the nicest section, i think; or, maybe, I just finally sat up and looked around. A few more twists and turns I was back on pavement (yay) and soon I could see I was catching up to a rider. And they were waving their arms for some reason. Maybe they were stretching? As I get closer, I realize that that is not a cyclist’s silhouette, that is a horse, and the waving arms was his swishing tail. Closer yet, and I can see he is out for a walk with a mini horse. Obviously I make a video of this. I guess maybe the big horse was just out taking his little buddy for their daily walk? I dunno. They’re not dogs, they didnt have leashes or collars, and I’m no cowboy and dont want to end up in the local newspaper (‘skinny man in colorful underpants found stomped to death by horse’) so i left them to their walk and continued.
By now I’m really looking forward to being done. I change the garmin screen away from the map and- oh. I didnt restart it after Mudman’s dismount. Well that sucks. Now I have no idea how far until the finish. Oh well. I sure hope the course is at least directing me correctly. I try to zoom out on the map but between the light rain, the wet gloves, and a garmin that apparently hates me, it’s just a lesson in futility. On and off of a few more mud sections, and there was one that was particularly peanut buttery, and there was quite a few footprints. I took solace that I was still able to slog my way through, and apologized to my poor bike, as it protested every pedal stroke. I saw a few broken and abandoned trailer homes, and wondered if the owners had run from last year’s hurricance. I also noticed abandoned schools- one elementary school, in particular- like it had been locked up in a rush a year ago and not touched since. A high school, too, though it looked to be maybe getting rebuilt. I know Tally was without power for nearly a week, but I thought most of the damage had been much further west.
But I saw some really nice homes too; one’s like you see on HGTV on some remodeling show, lots in the process of being remodeled. And as I got closer to town, everything got more busy. I had seen maybe three cars all day, but now as I entered town one truck had already buzzed me, and another yelled out their window at me (‘dumb fat hunchback’).
But I didnt care. I knew I was nearing the finish. I had picked up a tail- a guy’s cellphone had died and needed someone to follow to find the finish. Finally, finally there was the finish. There was no fanfare, or finish line, or actually, anything at the finish, so i pedaled back to my car and found two muddy pink Moots bottles on top of my car.
I later found out that Megan and Jason saw them on the course and knew they were mine, and we kind enough to schlep them all the way back for me! Pretty great.
Takeaways: Rear mount bottles are called bottle launchers for a reason. 32mm tires aren’t gonna cut it for kanza; it rains in Kansas, too. And a handlebar bag will press your front brake housing against the frame and the mud will saw nearly completely through it (I found that washing the bike later; I’m certain if I had done the 100 I would have lost my front brake).