With Marcos around Mile 160 as the light rain began and temps started dropping

The second Sea 2 Key Double Century started off very nicely on April 29, just over a week ago. This is the second time that I have done this ride, but have completed many rides beyond 200 miles in the last few years, so despite my lack of formal training for the ride, I felt as if I could complete it.

No rain was in the forecast for most of the ride, which began at 4:44am underneath the cloak of darkness of Ormond Beach. After about 12 warm up miles, the main group surged the pace to 22+mph, but my small group of four let them go, as we had all agreed to keep the pace at 19-20mph effort level on flats. We had a plan that ensured success for each of us. The air temp was a cool 65 degrees and it felt wonderful as we whizzed the miles away, taking half mile pulls and keeping the pace steady at 19-20 mph. We rode in the cover of darkness for approximately 90 minutes with only our head lights offering limited coverage, which was about a 3′ diameter. I was happy to see the eastern sky lighten up about 6:20am. However, we knew that heavy rain and storms were a real possibility for the last 50 miles or so of the ride. “It will feel good” is what I told the others. “It will be refreshing!” I felt them roll their eyes at me. Only time would tell. Ah, the joys of being bitten by the optimistic bug.

For 98% of the ride the clouds hung around, keeping the sun’s hot rays off us. But, at one point around mile 150, the sun peeked out for a few miles the temperature on my Garmin soared to 94 degrees. That was just before the clouds reclaimed the sky and droplets of rain began to fall. Light spatters, initially, but as we neared Florida’s west coast, the clouds turned angry, the winds picked up and the drops fell with more robustness.

Mid-afternoon, a weather statement came across my Garmin, warning of a severe thunderstorm threat in our area just after we pulled out of the second to last rest stop. I told our group, and none seemed concerned. I just wanted to give a heads up, not change our plans. I’ve ridden through some very rough storms in my 12+ years of cycling: you just put on your big girl pants, stay focused and pedal on.

The image below is from BillyD’s phone as we approached the final leg of the ride.

A second weather statement came across the Garmin in the next few miles: Coastal Flooding. It was hard for me to believe that such a horrible storm could be between us and the finish line at Cedar Key, less than 50 miles away because the rain was still light, refreshing. 

At mile 178 Marcos called out that he had a flat, but not to worry: he was riding tubeless tires.  It would reseal quickly. We told the others to go on, that we would see them at the last rest stop just a couple of miles up the road. Upon stopping to examine, we realized that the puncture was rather large, and his tube sealant kept blowing out. He tried a plug, which only worked long enough to get us to the last rest stop, where we hoped the Bearded Bike Doc (the official SAG support vehicle) would be. 

With over ten hours of pedaling in our legs, the rain was now pouring down pretty hard. We rode in the shoulder of a 4-lane divided highway with cars, trucks and semis zooming past at 60mph, bathing us with the wash from their tires. Thankfully, the sealant was holding in the front damaged tire and we only had a mile and a half to go before we turned left towards the final Rest Stop at Mile 180. Minutes later at the rest stop, where we stood underneath a tent whose canopy was holding gallons of water (and we pushed it up, releasing the deluge of water that was held) while Marcos’ tire was being replaced, we joked about the weather and contemplated whether or not to continue. BillyD showed me the radar forecast on his phone. It looked a bit formidable. We only had 20 miles to go; we would press on as we believed this cell of this heavy thunderstorm would surely pass quickly.

Joking around at the final rest stop under the crashes of thunder, flashes of lightning and very heavy rainfall. It’s more fun to keep things light-hearted.

Just then, a third weather statement came over the Garmin. This time is warned of gale force winds (between 31 and 63 mph) in our area. Always willing to tackle a challenge, I said aloud, “This is part of the adventure! We are 20 miles from being done. Let’s go!”

Just then I saw the blast of a lightning bolt that stretched across the clouds horizontally just over our heads in chorus with a crashing clap of thunder. It was so immediate and loud that we cowered from it. This should have been a sign, but I shrugged it off, stating that it was cloud to cloud, not cloud to ground lightning. It had spanned the sky in both directions as far as I could see. 

So silly of me to think that we would be safe riding in this type of weather.

One by one, we saw other riders pass the Rest Stop and disappear into the deepening storm as we waited on the tire repair.

The tire replacement took about 10 minutes as the deluge ensued with higher winds, then we were on almost on our way again. BillyD asked me again if this was a good idea. I said, “No, but I’ve ridden through much worse.” We agreed that he would leapfrog us and pull over every 2 miles and to be on call should we need to be picked up. 

The temperature was now in the upper 60s… a 20 degree drop in just an hour or so. Marcos (who has about 7% body fat) was shivering uncontrollably as we pedaled to the southwest directly into the storm. Out of nowhere, the bottom dropped even more from the clouds. The winds tripled and sheets of rain torrents were smacking us in the face, making it nearly impossible to see. The winds howled and we could see the next sheet of water that was coming towards us violently. We slowly trudged on with our heads down to keep the pregnant drops of rain out of our eyes, but had slowed to 12mph due to the gale force wind. It seemed as if we were in a hurricane band with rain being thrown horizontally, smashing right into our eyes. My sunglasses didn’t help as rain came from every direction, so I took them off and stuck them into the back neck of my jersey.

The tall, skinny pine treetops were dancing tempestuously in the ferocius winds. I then noticed the power lines close to the same trees and realized that we were riding just beneath them. If they broke in this storm we could surely be electrocuted. For the first time on this ride, I can say that I was afraid. These were now the absolute worst conditions I have ever ridden in in the 100,000+ miles I have glided across the asphalt. 

This is when things got uglier. What would you have done?

Marcos was shaking so badly that I thought he may crash if a wind gust hit him the wrong way. His bike was even jumpy. I’ve been that cold before and it is a terrible, uncontrollable feeling. Suddenly he pulled over and suggested we call Billy. We got off the road a bit on a driveway, and just as I pulled my phone out, there was another weather statement that confirmed our desire to call for support to the finish: Tornado Warning.  We pulled over to the edge of the woods, but the power lines followed us. I was concerned that if hail came down that we needed to take cover in a ditch, because a tornado could be imminent. I was pretty nervous but forced myself to stay calm. A hysterical woman is never good to be around. 

Within two minutes, BillyD arrived on the scene. We loaded the bikes into the rear of the car, removing the front wheels so that both could fit into the Honda CRV and we were thankful for the safety net of our own SAG. BillyD turned on the seat warmers and put the heat to 80 degrees. It felt so good! But, as we drove past other riders that we had met at each rest stop, I felt badly for them as they trudged on, heads down and going about 10 mph directly into the storm. I prayed that they would be safe. We did see Scott and Jose, our two other group mates on the side of the road, stopping to ask if they were OK and they said “Yes.” There was no room for others, but BillyD could have dropped us off at the finish line and returned for two more if they wanted it. There was also the SAG bus, just about 4 miles back. I tried not to feel guilt: it is a needless emotion that just wears on us. 

18 miles and a few minutes later, we were at the finish line on the waterfront. The large tent set up by CAAM Events was heaving underneath the weight of the wind and rain so much so that we wondered if it would come crashing down.  A very strong gust came through and almost blew Paul Ricci (my friend and owner of CAAM Events) off his feet as we saw him stumble then catch himself. Typical for Paul, he smiled and held his own. His wife was even seen staggering around in the blustery wind removing table covers, and putting finisher medals into bins so that they would not be carried away from the extremely fierce winds.

The weather was beyond boisterous. After sitting in the Honda for about a half hour, waiting for the winds / rain to calm down, we took cover in the restaurant to watch the storm behind big windows that overlooked the Gulf of Mexico. 

Despite being cold and socked, having two bikes and bags leaning on him, Marcos had a great attitude at the end of 180 miles in treacherous conditions. I’m not the least bit surprised.

Finally, we felt safe and warming up. The adventure was over and I felt no shame for calling the when we did. This was no failure; it was a learning experience. Huge kudos to those who completed the entire 200-mile ride and suffered through the worst of the storm. I hope that each of them will also chalk this up to a learning experience as well. It was fun to be in a warm, dry restaurant and share our stories with the others for the next hour or so.

It’s all a part of the adventure!

The Finish Line underneath the CAAM Events tent. Batten down the hatches!