The Stoke is an occasional opinion series highlighting the things that get us stoked about mountain biking. 🤘 👍 👏 🙏
Mountain bikers are somewhat unique in their recognition and embrace of type-2 fun. We willingly and repeatedly suffer through rides that are miserable, only to look back on them with fond memories. It’s a pretty amazing trait (or coping mechanism?) that has me stoked on mountain biking once again. But earlier this month I found myself in a very different place.
I signed up to ride the Huracan 300 in Central Florida with some friends for my first real bikepacking trip. The previous two months of cold and gray winter in Atlanta was beginning to wear on me — Sunbelt problems, for sure — and I was looking forward to three days of riding under warm, sunny skies and the sweet perfume of early Florida spring. What I got instead was cool, gray, pea soup.
On the first day we rode singletrack that seemed to get us nowhere, in the rain, in the dark. That night we pitched our tents, again in the rain, just off the side of a dead-end road, in a spot where local pickup truck drivers like to congregate on Saturday nights. We fell asleep to the sounds of rapid gunfire just feet from our hidden spot, and woke up in time to pack up camp before the rain hit again. The flat, scrub pine forest around us was literally smoldering from ongoing prescribed burns, the smell of acrid smoke hanging in the air with no place to escape.
Without the sun to guide us, it was hard to tell which direction we were heading at any moment during the ride. Morning light blended into evening, the gray skies refusing to hint at the true time of day. I found myself looking forward to the night just to see a change in the sky from gray to black. We passed through some of the most scenic parts of the course that I had been looking forward to experiencing, in complete darkness, with just the sounds of a few frogs and some unseen wildlife scurrying through the grass beside us.
Day two was a series of endless sand roads, each one seemingly looser than the one before it. I felt like I was pedaling up a hill that never crested, without a single view or moment to freewheel down the back side. A woman at a hunt camp scowled at us and told us we weren’t supposed to be there. Dogs bolted at us from yards decorated with no trespassing signs. Aside from a stop at a Publix supermarket and nearby brewery on the second day, everything I ate for three days came from a gas station. My gloves stayed wet the entire ride.
My riding partners Borja, Chase, and Chris were feeling the suck too, though they certainly appeared to be dealing with it better than me. At one point someone tried to cheer me up joking that we were experiencing some real type-2 fun at the moment. Bullshit. This was type-zero fun, the type I was certain would bring back terrible, painful memories for life. I even said so out loud; this would be my first and last time riding the Huracan.
It got so bad that on the third and final day, with 300 miles in and about 60 miles and 8+ hours left to go on the course, I decided I was done. I typed the campground address into Google Maps so I could ride the most direct path to the finish, which ended up being 45 miles of bad roads alone, and in the dark. Rather than rejoice and celebrate back at basecamp I crawled into my wet tent and went to sleep, too tired to even sit up and eat a pack of crackers.
Type-2 fun is a concept almost all of us are familiar with, yet in moments of true suffering, we become oblivious to it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gritted my teeth during a ride, only to break into a wide smile back at the car. Still, all of that experience didn’t prepare me for such an extended, long-delayed version of the feeling I’d come to expect after a tough ride.
I woke up in my tent on Tuesday morning to a steady rain, still feeling miserable, albeit thankful I didn’t have to ride my bike another 100+ miles that day. We packed up, drove the six hours back home, and for the first time in days I slipped on dry clothes, sat on a cushioned sofa, and ate real food from a kitchen. I recounted all of the shitty details to Leah, who surely thought I was foolish for even signing up, convinced I would never attempt such a terrible thing again. I was convinced too.
Eventually though, something surprising but not so surprising happened. On Friday, four days after the unceremonious end of my miserable trek, I started thinking about those quiet, sandy roads and that flowy singletrack. I thought about how I could change my cockpit around to get more comfortable. I thought about the items I would leave behind to lighten my load. More importantly, I thought about how I would convince myself to keep pedaling, to look around instead of focusing on my front wheel and the thin black line on my GPS screen. I thought about riding with friends. In that moment, I was anxious to hop back on the bike and do it all over again. Like, tomorrow!
An acquaintance who heard about the trip remarked on how I had completed three century rides back-to-back. The first day of riding was my longest bike ride ever; the second, 130-mile day, was my longest yet again. A sense of accomplishment goes a long way toward healing any wounds inflicted during a tough ride.
I didn’t sign up for the Huracan to experience type-2 fun; in fact if I knew how type 2 the fun would be, I would have stayed home. Like most people, I greatly prefer the more instant gratification of regular old, fun-fun. Bombing lift-served downhills. Riding flowy singletrack on a lightweight bike. Sipping an IPA on a sunny patio after a ride.
The amazing thing is how we, as mountain bikers, are able to find fun in the suffering too. At least eventually, once the suffering is over. We usually spend our fun right away, though sometimes we bank it for another day. In a way mountain biking is a win-win, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
Despite my latest experience, I’m certain I will find myself having type-zero fun on the bike again. And I’ll probably even think about this very column and tell myself it was all bullshit, and that this time the fun won’t possibly come.
And once again I’m pretty sure I’ll be stoked to (eventually) find that I’m wrong.