It’s the classic “Florida Man” story.
You know what I’m talking about; those wild news headlines that invariably involve, well, a Florida man.
“Florida Man Attacked During Selfie with Squirrel.”
“Florida Man Arrested for Eating Pancakes in Middle of Crosswalk.”
“Florida Man in Tutu Breaks into Farmer’s Market to Consume Fruit and Soda.”
You get the drift. Floridians have newsworthy panache.
Well, Austin Sullivan isn’t “Florida Man” per se. He’s happily from Chattanooga, Tenn. He was just playing one for a weekend.
Sullivan is one of Litespeed’s builders; when your bike arrives to your door, he’s likely one of the technicians that built it frame up, torqued the bolts, bled the brakes and tested before it was sent to your door.
When he’s not doing that, he’s riding. A lot.
Sullivan is a sucker for big miles and exploration. Recalling an event called Huracan, a three-day in Central Florida event he’d done in 2017, he felt like it would be his perfect re-introduction to events, at a moment in the pandemic that was beginning to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
He’d gird up and sign up for an event. He wasn’t in tip-top race shape, but that was besides the point. For this rugged three-day bikepacking circumnavigation of Central Florida, it was, instead, an opportunity to rejoin with his friends, pedal, have fun. No Strava KOMs this time (as if such a thing exists in pancake-flat Florida). “This was a different approach to what I did before. We decided to go a three-day pace, riding 12 to 14 hours a day,” Sullivan said. “We weren’t really racing it, I’d hurt my arm and was off the bike for 10 days before the ride, but I had 1000 miles on my road bike, so I felt fit enough.”
The event was fertile testing grounds for the all-new Pinhoti III trail bike. With Litespeed’s new big-day ready full-titanium sled laden with his tent, bedroll, plenty of food and water and other overnight accoutrements for a weekend bikepacking event, he was off.
With good weather and good vibes, the opening salve was a morning send-off on Shangri-La Trails, sending riders east toward Apopka. Then came the obstacles… like swamps. And alligators. Welcome to Florida, man.
“Most of the route the first day was a tradeoff of singletrack, gravel and sand, and a little pavement,” Sullivan said. “There was a river crossing that was a little swampy. And we definitely saw gators—I think we counted 13 gators the entire ride.”
Wending toward Clermont “near the highest point in Florida at around 280 feet above sea level,” Sullivan says, the crew managed 15 miles before the weather changed, and the rains came down. Just Sullivan’s luck: he’d dropped a key piece of gear along the trail.
“I thought I had my rainjacket looped through my saddle pack, but I dropped it at some point, so I had to get a trash bag from a gas station,” he said. “It was getting wetter, the temperature dropped by 15 degrees.” They were targeted 120 miles for that first day, but at mile 80, they decided discretion was the better part of valor. With that, Sullivan and his friends ducked into a local post office to seek shelter. Knowing they were in for a bit of a wait, they unrolled their bedrolls and got some rest.
“It was weird; it was like 2 a.m. but you still had people coming in for their mail,” Sullivan said with a laugh. “But they were all cool with us, which was great.” With the rain abating at 2 a.m., they hit the trail again to make up lost time, rolling into their 120 mile target several hours later.
With the rain behind them and a few hours sleep, Sullivan was greeted with the thing he enjoys most about bikepacking: sunrise. “It was so beautiful—just golden, bursting through pine forest and down the singletrack.”
Then he got a piece of great luck: a friend, riding behind him on the trail, texted him: he’d found Sullivan’s jacket. “I see this note: I’ve got your jacket!” I found him later that day and got it back from him.”
The group packed up and rolled out and took on another 140 miles of the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve. Bedding down for the night, Sullivan hopped into his tent to the sound of a hooting owl in the trees.
The final day saw Sullivan’s now group of five roll out onto the trails in the pre-dawn hours, to the sound of engines. In the distance, a bonfire; a group of kids were on trail, driving 4x4 trucks and ATV’s around a burning fire. Rolling onto the scene, each group looked upon the other with wonder.
“I looked ahead at all these cars blocking the road, and was like ‘what the heck is this?’ with all these old country trucks!” Sullivan says. “ We rode by and a girl said 'why would you ride a bike in here?' It was pretty funny."
A crew of friends drinking in the forest would set the tone for the day’s challenge: The Drunken Monkey Trail, a snaking path that doubles back on itself so many times, “it seemed like we were going in circles,” Sullivan said. “it’s so cool what they’ve done down there with jump parks and wooden features.
With 100 miles left, the group hit a small market to enjoy sandwiches on a porch. With just 15 miles to go on paved path, the crew could smell the barn; the Huracan 300 bikepacking adventure was coming to a close.
The crew rolled across the line at 1 a.m., happy for an unforgettable experience. For Sullivan, the new Pinhoti III was the right tool for the job.
“The new Pinhoti was awesome— it was super playful when it needs to be, and I could put down some power on the doubletrack. I really enjoy loading bikes down, putting weight on the front end. There was room for large tire clearance, so it just floated over sand sections.”
“It was just really good to take our time and enjoy the experience” he added. “Next year I’ll be back, this time to race it.”
Gators, and midnight 4X4 marauders, watch out.