Update: I’ve decided to add links to a longer article as well as the gofund.me page that was created to aid the families.
It’s now just two days from the end of the 2021 Florida Sea 2 Sea expedition length (72 hour) adventure race, and it’s still difficult to describe what happened. I’m writing this now while it’s still a little emotionally raw, to hopefully help me process everything.
This race was my 1st expedition length AR in about 15 years, and my first AR in maybe 10. I have done lots of ultra running in that time, and some other adventures like the MR 340 mile paddling race, the World Rogaine championships, etc. But this was AR — back to “my roots” in endurance sports — paddling, trekking, biking, and lots and lots of navigation.
I’ll bullet point some memories from the AR aspect of the race below, or more likely a separate post, but the reason for the emotions is as follows. My team was coming in from our last trekking section, about to transition to the final 40 mile bike ride to the finish, around 4 a.m. Sunday morning. This was after 66 hours of racing in which we had done ~200+ mies of mountain biking, +40 paddling, and 20+ on foot . As we came in to the TA to check in, we were told the “course was closed.” We immediately guessed what had happened, and it’s a blur but I think Ryan asked if there was an accident and if someone had died. The race crew said yes, and then he broke down crying. I think we were the first people he had to tell.
It wasn’t clear to us what would happen, other than we would wait to find out. We made it back to our gear in a state of shock. At 66 hours with limited sleep, I think we all dozed, but it was not restful. In my mind I didn’t know if the course was re-opened if I would want to continue. I didn’t think so. After an hour, the race crew called all of the racers that were in the TA together and told us the race was over. They would shuttle us back to the finish, and even go out and pull everyone still on the course off using the big rental trucks.
I think this was the right call given the situation. Over the last two days as details have emerged, we found the accident occurred just a little north of the last TA, about 90 minutes before we had come in and were about to head that way. All teams had ridden the same road (US 1) to get to the TA, and then would have taken that same road north to head towards the finish. The accident occurred about 2:30 a.m., as a car veered into the bike lane and hit all three riders of a three man team. One died on the scene, and the other two were air lifted to local hospitals. I understand that those two are now in stable condition. Also from the news reports, we found that the man who died was engaged to one of his female teammates.
My own team had our own close calls with cars… One pick up veered close to us — seemingly on purpose, though who knows? We also had an 18 wheeler get close enough that we all were muttering under our breath (or out loud!) and had an extreme adrenaline rush… While the race keeps us off major roads as much as possible, it’s impossible to get across the state without utilizing some roads. Typically the roads are used to connect various wilderness areas, where the bulk of the racing occurs. But you can’t get from wilderness area to wilderness area without using some roads. We tried as much as possible to chose routes that avoided major roads, and all of the big roads are off-limits according to the race directors’ rules and clearly marked as such on the maps. But there’s only so much you can do to make it across the state. All riders have flashing red rear lights, as well as bright handle bar and/or head lights on.
So what was an amazing “return to my roots” of AR was marred by this tragedy. That is what is hard to process. I had an amazing time, even though we struggled with some aspects of the race (navigation). Other than that, we raced well together, felt strong, and were doing well. And it was beautiful to be in areas of FL that many people never see. I love the remote areas of FL rivers and swamps – so beautiful and pristine – there’s nothing quite like them that I have seen.
As we were racing I kept thinking about coming back and entering as a soloist next year, rather than a team. I am impressed by those that have taken on this event on by themselves! We’ll see how I feel in a week, or a month, or when sign up comes around for next year’s event. I’m sure even more precautions will be taken than ever before. But at the end of the day, we all take risks each time we step out the door, whether it’s to drive to town to the grocery store, or whether it is to run, bike, and paddle across a state. We have to understand and mitigate those risks as best we can. There is a “living” part of life that has to be fed, and each one of us feeds that differently. For me, one important part of that is to get outside, to move under my own power, and cover epic distances, and to see and experience the beauty of God’s creation up close.
My heart is broken for the lost life and broken lives for those close to the racer who was killed and those who were injured. I’ve left out details of names and locations, though they are easy to find online. I may modify this write-up to include those details, but wanted to write something while my emotions are still quite raw.