Words and photos by Alex Warren
To understand the difficulty of Manduro, one first must understand North Carolina’s climate during the first week of August. With humidity at full send, temperatures of 105+ in the shade, and let me tell you that this bike race does not consider shade, 30 oblivious souls distantly “gathered” at a starting area at noon on Friday. Starting anything during COVID times is crazy enough, but starting a race like this was something else entirely. The few things you are told were: there are 13 checkpoints, 200ish miles, whatever bike you choose you will at some point wish you had a different one, and sign the waiver that this shit may be life changing. It was just what the 30 of us participants were looking for. Oh, and bring a mask to wear it if you’re ever near other humans.
The race starts in and takes place around Raleigh, North Carolina. Many of us are from the area and know the piedmont terrain. The challenge of Manduro is not one aspect in particular. Not the elevation nor navigation or fatigue. The challenge of Manduro is the unknown.
Knowing the area isn’t going to get you further than the next rider. We went to the most random of places that we had no real business being at. The elevation gain of 12,000 feet over 30+ hours wasn’t painful. We’ve all got Garmins for navigation, we’ve got battery packs, packed burritos, and anti-chafe salves. In the normal world, we have our routes mapped out, know where we’ll be able to get some water or fuel (thanks to BIKEPACKING.com) and generally are ready for whatever mountain we are going to climb. We train by going on night rides, doing century rides on our days off, or picking a town miles away and figuring out how to get there.
That’s all good stuff, but in Manduro the biggest challenge is enduring the chase to the checkpoints while pushing the pace for 260+ miles and getting through the things we cannot train for.
There are briars for miles, you may get lost in a kudzu field looking for a square piece of metal (QR code for the next location), or you could be walking in some body of water for a bit. You are required to have the mental ability to keep pushing despite it being 3:00 AM in the dark with chafed places you didn’t even know existed on your body, cuts from said briars, and only 15 hours after you started this godforsaken adventure.
One of the most difficult points in the race for me was around that 3:00 AM mark. We were about five miles away from the point we had started and where my car was parked, about one mile from my house, and since we were at about 150 miles, thinking that maybe it was possible that the end was near. I was so wrong. Our next checkpoint was a few towns over, and in hindsight the end was another 110 miles away.
As morning came and we started heading back into town from riding on country roads for the previous two hours, with our hopes high that we’d be finishing within the next three hours or so and completing 200 miles. As we entered downtown Raleigh for the third time, we started to realize we likely had more miles ahead of us. We were correct. The last 60 miles of the race were all on country roads with very little shade, freshly paved asphalt that burned you from below as the sun beat down on your back from above. The heat index reached 110 that day and we felt every single degree of it. As we limped back into town, we realized we had to cut through Umstead State Park, known for its screened gravel and aggressive hills that are not welcoming after riding 250 miles. If there was a time for a second, third, or tenth wind, it was then.
Arriving at the last checkpoint, slightly delusional, dehydrated, and hungry, we tried to use what energy we had left for one last push to the finish. Larz Robison and I finished in 29 hours and 25 minutes, riding 262 miles and walking our bikes through fields, forests, briars, sand, and every other thing the Piedmont of North Carolina has to offer. It was the longest ride ever for both of us. I think we both grew a little from it, but at the cost of cuts, bruises, burns, and a bit of damage to our ego. If you ask me if I would do it again, I would say hell yes, but might bring a flask of the good stuff next time.
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