Florida. The Sunshine State. Rest and relaxation at the beach, right? Wrong.
Screaming with mountain bike culture, Santos Trailhead and Campground is exactly where you start. Endless flow trails, purpose-built features, pumptracks, kids, adults, rippers, beginners, this place has something for everyone. Santos, I promise, I will be back soon.
As I would find out, “soon” would be defined by 320 diverse miles and 30hours of ride time.
Previous route beta goes a long way to ease logistical issues on trips like this. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I was fortunate to share this trip with a former co-worker, Jeff Wise, who had completed a previous version of the route in 2018. In addition to his foggy and dwindling memory, he downloaded a few different GPX files to his Garmin to hopefully keep us on route.
We opted to pack light, go for speed, and “live off the land”. This loosely meant we resupplied at convenient stores along the route and crashed in hotels each night (vs bringing camping gear)
*NOTE: The following recap of our trip in no way, shape, or form provides even a remote sense of amazement and wonder that we captured throughout our multitude of countless pedal strokes. I've tried to hit the highlights but will likely underrepresent the experience.
Day #1 – We left our cockroach infested hotel (another story for another time) before sunrise to begin our 4-day venture. We knew this was going to be a big day on the bike. 100+ miles of trail, road, deep sand, remote wilderness, and limited resupply options.
What we didn’t know is that we’d encounter the abrupt sound of bombs exploding as we circled the perimeter of Pinecastle Bombing Range, we’d navigate directly through active forest fires literal inches from the road, and we’d woefully fail in achieving our unrealistic goal of fording a waist deep alligator infested river crossing before sunset.
We reached another (no joke) cockroach infested, hotel in Apopka at 8:30pm, ordered pizza, ravaged a much-appreciated care package sent to the hotel by another former co-worker, draped our soaking clothes and shoes around the room and immediately crashed out.
Day #2 – Shockingly, we were a bit groggy waking up but the urge and anticipation of another 100+ mile day ahead of us easily plucked us out of bed and plopped us back on our bikes.
At mile 35, we stopped for lunch on the banks of Lake Mineola, did some recon and realized that we still had 75-80 miles to go. A mental sucker punch indeed. We needed to pick up the pace. The other half of my eggplant parmesan sub from Corelli’s Pantry was stuffed into my bike jersey pocket and off we went. This calorie jolt would become a lifesaver as we entered the Green Swamp Wilderness Area a few hours later. This marked the beginning of a 40 mile stretch of wilderness area with no resupply options.
The beauty of this backwoods vastness was quickly apparent as we enjoy a stunning sunset along the “Main Grade”. It was again time to pull out the bike lights, put our heads down, and pedal. After another 10 hours in the saddle and 115 more miles, we finally reach Ridge Manor and turned many heads as we inappropriately devoured food at a dive "restaurant". Then, a quick pedal to our hotel to replay our gear explosion and pass out routine.
Day #3 – After our gourmet breakfast at McDonalds, we began our day on the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail heading north. We would ultimately end our day along this trail with a few thrills in between.
Thrill #1 popped up when we hit Croom Mtn Bike Trails. First class singletrack trails with seemingly options for days. A much-appreciated change of pace during the trip. We were grinning from ear to ear throughout.
Thrill #2 joined us when Jeff’s chain jumped his big ring and sheered multiple spokes. As if a wobbly and compromised wheel wasn’t enough, one spoke completely pierced the side wall of his tire. Not ideal, but also not the worst thing that could happen on a trip like this. Trailside surgery was a surprising success. Another adjustment would be needed. We would modify the route again and limp straight to a bike shop 20 miles to our north to get a second opinion.
Speaking of limping … this is when thrill #3 presented itself. I had felt a little twinge in my left quad after the first two 100+ mile days. With little option outside of continuing, I just kept going. The mileage had finally caught up to me. Searing pain was shooting through my left quad with each pedal stroke. My makeshift strategy involved, Ibuprofen, keeping my head down, spirits up and riding on. This is what happens on these trips. Deal with it.
Thrill #4 didn’t fix Jeff’s bike, but it somehow fixed my quad. We rode by a front yard BBQ benefiting the Saint James AME Church in Inverness, FL (held the 2nd Saturday of every month for the past 40 years!. The smell of the smokers, sounds of laughter and smiles of fellowship immediately drew us in. Good heavens, this is what we needed. Racks upon racks of ribs, piles of chicken and plates of pork. Green beans, potato salad and authentic interactions. Everything about this experience hit the spot. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and encouragement.
We had another 25-30 miles until our stopping point in Dunnellon, so we rejoined the Withlacoochee State Trail for the second time that day and continued north. This was the perfect distance to work up another round of hunger which we quickly quelled at the Front Porch Restaurant & Pie Shop before arriving at our hotel after dark yet again.
Day #4 – Bittersweet day for sure. Bitter due to the 35-degree weather when we left the hotel. Remember, we opted for the pack light and go for speed option which meant that we had limited to no warm weather gear. Bitter also since it was the last and shortest ride day of the trip (we still had an 8 hr drive home that night). But this day was also amazingly sweet. We followed a green band of conserved natural land that slices East/West through Florida. This land was once going to be a Panama Canal style waterway until as recent as 1990. Fortunately for us, and clearly many other users, this stretch is now the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.
This is some of the most beautiful land and diverse, flowing trail offerings that I’ve ever experienced. We joyfully carved big swooping turns, and dodged massive Spanish moss draped trees for the last 30 miles. We had finally completed the Huracan 300 route where we started, Santos. I knew we would be back soon. What an amazing experience.
If you’ve been on a trip like this, you understand what it’s like to be in the saddle for hours on end day after day. If you haven’t, it’s nearly impossible to put into words. These days are long, grinding, and challenging but overly rewarding. It’s the classic “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” scenario.
Good news, we are very much alive and much better for it.
Journal - Bikepacking the Huracan 300 Route
Human Powered Journal
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Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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