Posted by Miles Arbour
Words by Miro Rakic, Photos by Domino Ireland
Registering for a 200+ mile bike race with a 36-hour cutoff, skill challenges, absolutely no route map, and some of the shadiest sections of abandoned roads Raleigh has to offer isn’t a sane endeavor. It’s Manduro.
It goes like this. Each rider in Manduro is given the location of a QR code just a few feet from the start line, which reveals coordinates for the next location. Riders are responsible for navigating however they wish to the next check stop, which could be another navigational QR code, a box containing a book from which a page has to be torn corresponding with the rider’s imaginary bib number (Barkley Marathon nod), or a brewery at which a simple “man” task has to be performed (tie a tie, tell a dirty joke, split wood). Each cache would provide coordinates to the next location, but not beyond that. Some locations are close together, and some are over an hour of riding time apart. Sounds simple enough – except for the fact that some of the QR codes and boxes are cleverly placed in hard-to-reach areas where Google maps offered very little insight and required a bit more creativity than your average GPS aficionado would be able to produce.
It turns out that most of the difficult-to-find boxes had to be found in the pitch black of night by navigating aerial view maps and finding faint service roads, bushwhack trails cut by locals, or in one particular case, an abandoned road that’s been overtaken and all but erased from its existence by mother nature reclaiming her own. The hidden boxes and cleverly placed QR codes could be in the swampy woods, hiding under a bridge, guarded by a pack of coyotes or a large snake, or tucked near a 6-foot chain-link fence that you got yourself stuck behind by taking the less-than-ideal route to get there.
My personal favorite was riding across a three-foot-wide boardwalk spanning a swamp at around 2AM to get to a small structure where a QR code was placed. Approaching from the opposite direction would have been easier, but it would have added about seven miles. The choice was easy most of the time. In some cases there was a serious temptation to try and find a direct shortcut through the woods and avoid tacking on additional miles.
Ultimately, it’s up to each rider to define their own course and use their own judgement in how to get from one point to another. If you happen to make the wrong decision, it will cost you, and it could be the reason you’re not able to finish the event. As a reasonable validation of your efforts, if you make it to the “last-call” brewery location within roughly 12 hours of starting, you might be able to complete the course (with the assumption that you are still able and willing to continue riding). A lot of riders chose to tap out at this point. It is, after all, an air conditioned brewery on a hot, humid day featuring great beer and real food, and is most certainly a departure from drinking electrolytes and gobbling down energy bars by yourself as night sets in and legs – or bikes, or phone batteries – give out.
The event was undoubtedly fun. The “man” tasks riders were requested to perform were simple enough but required you to find the place, interact with the locals, perhaps drink a cold beer, and in one specific case, pole-dance for at least 30 seconds and strike a pose as a grand finale. No task was difficult in its own right except for getting there in the first place.
The race organizer kept close tabs on everyone for the entirety of the race. Prior to the race start, each rider had configured their device to share their location, and those who wanted to spectate could see where the riders were on a projection screen set up at various check points along the way. There were even occasional status updates posted on Instagram, undoubtedly designed to distract the would-be finishers from their main mission: finishing the course.
Back home, in Western New York, I prepared for the event by going on several mind-numbingly long rides and playing a randomly drawn QR scavenger hunt game in my own city. It turned out that it may have been the right approach. After 27 hours and 45 minutes on a self-chosen course that totaled 232 miles, I arrived back at the finish line brewery carrying 13 book pages as proof of reaching all the required caches, and bloody legs hatch-marked by numerous ventures into thorny bushes and sawgrass. Only four riders were able to complete the full ride – which is infinitely better than last year’s zero completion rate.
Ultimately, if you like adventure, mud, riding, and not knowing when you might be able to stop, this event is right for you.
There were 16 registered for the 2019 Manduro event. Of 13 of those registered showed up to the start there were only four finishers. Dylan Selinger and Larz Robison finished the event first, working together to tackle the various challenges along the way. Miro Rakic (Buffalo, NY) and Eric Barker, a Manduro pioneer, finished the full route in around 28 hours. Congrats to the four finishers, and to rest of those who showed up for the grand depart.
Registration for the 2020 Manduro is already live, so head over to the event listing to grab your spot and participate in some good ol’ fashion bike shenanigans.