Small Package waves and pulls his UPS truck into a side street. I pedal up to the drivers side of the open panel truck so he doesn't have to get out.
"Still going to the Death Loop?" he asks.
"Yup, we're planning on it," I say. "Even though my legs are still shot from the BINDeR."
"Mine too!" He says with a grin. "I don't know why I'm doing this!"
"So, guess I'll see ya Sunday, then."
"Yup, see you there!"
I pedal away, shaking my head. Why do we do this stuff?
I pedal home at a sedate pace. My legs really don't have any snap today. I had started out for Wickham Park but called it good enough by the time I got to the back alleys through Eau Gallie. It's surprising because I rarely get sore and almost always recover from being tired with a single night's sleep. Feeling that slightly whipped feeling four days after a ride is highly unusual.
By Friday, I get it. It's a good old fashioned cold coming on. Sneezes to start and then that thickheaded feeling on Saturday. I had a cold last year, the first one in ten or fifteen years. I guess I was expecting another ten or fifteen before the next one. I'm a little dismayed at further ruin of my record, but not surprised. Popeye came home from work with sneezes a week ago. I only hope I can fight it off in 3 days like he did.
And I probably could, if I were to stay home. But the Death Loop is coming. And who among us can resist a good Death Loop? Not me.
So, all week, I've been stubbornly trying to shake off what I assumed was the after effects of the BINDeR. Turns out the BINDeR wasn't really to blame.
But it was a completely reasonable mistake.
The BINDeR 100k - a brand new ride with all the alluring ingredients for an off-road suffer-fest.
Weenie's been working on this one for awhile. 64 miles of cross country riding. A series of trails through southern Brevard, into INDdian River county (BINDeR, get it?), and back again to Malabar in a wide loop. 100k. Singletrack, doubletrack, some gravel is advertised. No pavement.
Weenie gives us the lowdown at the start.
We pretty much knew from the start it would be mostly god-awful, lumpy, bumpy, palmetto-root ridin'. With a mix of sand, fences to climb, and maybe a shoe-sucking, goopy canal crossing or two for variety. And we weren't wrong.
Weenie's route began in Malabar. Twists, turns, singletrack, then double. Ever southward down toward the Grant landowners land grant. Or some title like that. Just try looking up landowners grant - in Grant. Google seems confused. And so am I. There's sure a lot of information about land grants - for everywhere but Grant, Florida.
Whatever. There's a vast tract of scrub in southern Brevard County, down toward the C54 canal and the Sebastian River. And you need to pass through a mind boggling maze of gates, trails, fire roads, and roller-chopped-to-prevent-fire roads, to get through it.
Some fence hopping.
Some of the more defined track.
Sign of civilization!
We wind our way southward through the scrub. I am not watching the mileage. But somehow, someway, after enduring a long, jaw rattling stretch of roller chopped trail, we pop out at, of all things, a welcome station, complete with restrooms and a screened in porch, on the gravel road along the north side of the C54 canal.
It's half way, and an excellent place for a lunch stop. We spread out, sprawling across the porch chairs in the shade. Peanut butter and jelly is the order of the day, with one notable exception. Mark has a bona fide sub sandwich. It's been in full view the entire time, riding enticingly in the pocket on his Camelbak. It is the envy of nearly everyone. Everyone but me. I can barely choke down one PB and J, a nibble at a time. I save my second one. Maybe once we're done, I can eat it. Not now, for sure. That turns out to be a good thing. There's about to be a change in plan.
Originally the 2nd half of the route was planned for trails to the west, through some place called the Stick Marsh, and then back north to Malabar. But the stick marsh is on fire. Weenie decides the eastern route is more prudent. There will be pavement after all. And I am with some of the strongest fat-tire-on-pavement guys around. Then again, if I get dropped, at least I know the road home.
So our tour of the stick marsh will have to wait for next year. We head east on the gravel road along the C-54 canal. The dike is so high no water can be seen until we get to the spillway crossover. We wait in the shade for the last few guys to catch up, and I stop in the middle to look at the canal. It's big! Yes, I've been here before, on a mid-summer hash last year. But the only sight I cared to see on that 90 degree day was the cooler at the half way.
We cross to the south side, where there's more gravel to grind before reaching the road. Alongside one small canal, a man holds up an enormous bass while his wife takes a picture. It's at least three feet long, with a mouth big enough to hold a cantaloupe. I have never seen such a fish in my life. Why I didn't stop and take a picture, I can only attribute to herd mentality. I have no wish to be left behind - at least not until we are back in the land of pavement, street signs, and Google maps.
And soon we are. The final obstacle is a sissy looking, grassy-sided ditch to cross in the back of a residential neighborhood. But the ditch is just a little too wide to jump. The first two guys splash in over their ankles and I know we'll all be riding the last thirty miles with wet feet. What I wasn't counting on was being the only one to step in a hole. My left foot strikes on fairly firm bottom and is merely wet to the calf. The right plunges down past my knee, into gluey muck.
Gak! The Keens - yes, with socks (hey, it was a chilly start) - are both coated in black, slimy goo by the time I crawl up the other side. While the remaining few guys take their turn, I make an executive decision to remove my socks. Inside out, they are size ten pockets of thick goo. Now what? I push them up under a nearby bush. They were my favorite old XTerra socks, but they've done their duty now. Although they probably deserved a better retirement. I ease my bare feet back into the slimy Keens, and prepare for some fat tire pacelining.
It's been a while since ditching the road bike, but paceline etiquette comes back quickly. Popeye leads out with a massive pull, then Pete takes over for another. I take on the role of self appointed gatekeeper, letting in the lead guys as they drift back from a pull, and never taking a pull myself. I have no illusion of hanging on to this group any other way. Mentally, pacelining is a high-alert game of sucking wheel. Physically, it's amazing how easy it is to hang at 20+ on a mountain bike, when you're mid-line with a dozen strong riders.
But easy or not, it's still a paceline. If you aren't the lead dog, the view never changes. There is a side-blur of mail boxes and horse pastures, and frequent peeks at the long stretch ahead. But the crucial focus is on holding the perfect gap. The rear wheel ahead spins relentlessly upward, just inches ahead of my downward spinning front wheel. Falling off the pace may be undesirable, but touching wheels is far worse. There is no time for sightseeing now.
The final miles take forever. Yet, they end too soon. The lead guys sprint off the front for the last quarter mile. I sit up and look back over my shoulder. There are a couple riders way back there, but more than half the group is long gone.
The rest is an easy glide to the parking lot. Two bikes lay flat on the ground, riders alongside. Popeye has the car doors flung open, all business, already scrubbing off. Riders trickle in, in various stages of exuberance. I might have heard someone throwing up.
More riders arrive. The coolers come out. We toast to sand and roller-chopping. To the worst god-awful trail through the scrub. It is by far, the best 64 miles any of us have done all week.
Most of our friends have brought real beer, but Popeye and I will have to wait for Malabar Mo's for that. Meanwhile we make do with our cans of Coors Light. It goes just fine with camelback-smashed PB and J.
Next week, the Death Loop.
Next year, the Stick Marsh.
And hopefully, a couple hundred god-awful, totally awesome rides in between.