TR - Riding in Florida Feb 2017 (SE/Midsouth X-post)-
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  1. #1
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    TR - Riding in Florida Feb 2017 (SE/Midsouth X-post)

    So yeah, this is an old TR I finally got around to, but one I thought worth posting since most people will never get to ride in FL.

    My company got acquired in 2016 and our new head office is in Redneckville, FL. I made an unfortunate trip out there for a week that August which was absolutely miserable due to heat and humidity. In February I got the chance to go back under more favorable conditions. I took Thurs/Fri off and turned it into a MTB road trip. I rode each of 4 days on the weekend plus 3 mornings before work the following week. This was well worth burning a couple vacation days for as it was so different from anything we have in Socal. All of these trail systems are on Trailforks.

    Day 1 - Carter Road Park aka Loyce Harpe Park

    I got a tip to check this place out and being out of the way and not that big a system, may not have checked it out otherwise. But it is indeed fun and did turn out to be my favorite ride of the trip.

    Florida really has no sustained elevation gain anywhere. But they do have some really fun riding. Turns out the best areas at Carter Rd are on old phosphate mines where areas were excavated and tailings piled in long fingers upon which trails have since been built. The amazing thing about many of the trail systems is they are MTB only and directional, with hiking and other uses not allowed. Coming from California this is inconceivable, and you have to feel a bit sorry at least for the trail runners who are really a compatible use. Plenty of room for the hikers too IMO, but FL isn't my area nor my say...

    I headed out from Orlando airport after red eye flight and fast food breakfast for an hours drive to Carter Rd. Not hard to find and after a quick build of the bike I was off to the races.

    The trail system seemed boring at first but soon got interesting with a wall ride

    And not long after that I was riding along a narrow finger of trail surrounded by water on both sides

    Coming from socal this was like being on another planet...

    So much water...everywhere!

    I made my way around the trail system and soon found myself on the first finger

    The trail was quite varied - up/down narrow ledgy on the fingers to flat, wide in between

    Didn't take me long to spot the most expected wildlife

    Best to concentrate on the exposure, not the threat below...

    Between fingers there was plenty more wildlife

    I was so entranced by the bird I didn't notice the trash until looking at the photos later

    More roller coaster. The wooden ramps are a good way to keep steep sections sustainable

    Dropping into the chute

    Scenic corner

    Scenic view off the side

    Friendly neighbor

    Making my way around the system to the Beast. Apparently that is the name of a gator living nearby. Did not spot him, apparently

    So this bird will have to do. It was plenty big itself...

    I came across this bridge on the way back, had to give it a go

    Some fast fun singletrack to finish off the ride

    My campsite for the night was at another spot, Alafia State Park. But I found out before the trip my team would be playing in Tampa Bay that night, so I got a ticket to the game. Pretty nice arena, and the Flames beat the lightning in OT which made for a great end to the day.

  2. #2
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    Day 2- Alafia State Park

    My itinerary on this trip was somewhat dictated by where I could secure camping sites. Alafia State Park had an opening for Thursday night so after riding Carter Rd that is where I set up for the night. Nice enough spot mostly filled with RVs. In the morning I parked over at the day use area and started my ride.

    It only took a moment and I was into the heart of the trail system

    And meeting the area's inhabitants

    Riding some more fingers

    And some well-placed bridges

    The system flowed well and contoured around some stagnent waterways that made for an interesting backdrop

    In places the trail turned back on itself numerous times to the point you didn't know where it was really going.

    But eventually you did move on to new areas

    Not a turn you want to blow

    Nice boardwalk through the palms

    And some singletrack on solid ground

    Cuz you know, those hikers and equestrians will ruin my wilderness experience and sense of solitude and isolation...

    Cool ramp down somewhere in the back 40

    Some fun whoops and narrow singletrack on Rollercoaster (I think)

    Take those share the road with tortoise signs seriously...

    Alafia was a really fun park. Lots of variety and even a respectable jump trail Gravitron. I rode most of it by not long after lunchtime, then headed out for some more miles elsewhere....

  3. #3
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    Day 3 - Hillsborough Wilderness State Park

    The ride for Day 3 was somewhat dictated by available camping night before. The only spot I could find an open campsite for Friday night at was Hillsborough. There isn't much dispersed camping in FL as National Forest or BLM land is scarce, so I was mostly limited to what I could reserve in advance at developed campgrounds - and that wasn't much since I booked the trip quite late. Developed campgrounds are not my preference, but for this trip it was the way to go. I was able to sneak in and nab a single night at three different campgrounds, each of which was adjacent to a trail network.

    Hillsborough is a fairly large area and has trails both south and north of the main road, with a campground just south of the river. For my ride I parked over at a day use area and checked out the river first.

    Plenty of warning signs. I guess off leash dogs would be a bad idea, especially water dogs.

    More signs. I also saw one for the Florida Trail which goes the length of the state but is mostly not open to bikes. Humbug...

    So, who dug that hole? And that one, and that one...

    I hit up various trails on the south side of the road first, going back and forth across the trail system a couple times. Trails were pretty short so it didn't take long to cover most of them...

    I probably shouldn't have been surprised that Sinkhole trail took me past a sinkhole...

    Heading back eastwards the trail went around a swampy area and then onto Heart Break Ridge (never did see a ridge) before crossing the road at Morris Bridge Park.

    The park is mostly for river access and there were some great views.

    In the end I had to cross the bridge and head north a short distance on the road before getting back onto trails.

    Can't lie, trails on the north side were flat, featureless and boring. I was ready for the ride to be over long before I got back to the car.

    Much of the gravel on the shoulder was made up of crushed shells. And a few full ones.

    Panther trail was one of the highlights of the ride, twisty-turny singletrack in heavy brush. But like most other trails, it was not very long. It was a few miles more back to the car.

    The riding at Hillsborough was ok, but I'd probably plan ahead better so I could camp and ride somewhere else.

    I hit up a local Mexican place for dinner and then headed north. I was planning to camp up in Ocala National Forest, partly because I couldn't find an open campsite anywhere for Saturday night. It was also close to another small trail network I figured I could hit, called Mt Dora. So I headed up into Ocala National Forest to find a spot to camp and enjoy a couple brews. I was tucked into a little clearing off a forest road, and got to watch rednecks tearing up the forest roads late into the night with their full light bars on big lifted trucks, which was completely comical because of how flat and smooth the roads were.

  4. #4
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    Day 4 - Santos Trail System, Ocala

    In the morning I made the drive a bit south to Mt Dora. No pics, but it was a really fun MTB-only trail network. Small area, jam packed with trails full of berms, rollers and small jumps. I rode everything twice in about 90 mins. Definitely not a destination but very fun and worth hitting if you're nearby.

    I grabbed some lunch and then made the drive up to Santos. The campsite I had booked for that night was empty so I pulled in and set up. The trailhead is next to the campground so I'd be riding right from camp.

    Santos perhaps gets the most hype of all the trail systems in Florida so I was looking forward to checking it out. It also forms one end of the Cross Florida Greenway trail system that goes something like 50 miles west. No time for that on this trip, maybe some day....

    Campsite was nice enough, plenty of space and pretty quiet. Most campers were bikers.

    I made my way south and then west around the trail system trying to knock off black and blue rated trails.

    There was pretty good variety and some actual elevation change. And rocks!

    I ran into a guy who rides the same Voodoo as Schillingsworth, which was cool. Had to get a pic

    There was a bike park with some fairly big jumps in the middle of the Vortex trail system. Not really my thing, but Vortex was fun.

    Some roller coaster-ish wood features have been built.

    And some wall rides that were fun for a couple laps

    Spiral ramp down into steep spiral dirt climb back up

    More rock as I continued on Vortex

    The local club - thanks for all the work!

    One of a couple small skills parks

    I rode some fast / twisty trails back to camp and got there just in time to have a beverage before dark. Went into Ocala to a Cuban place for dinner.

    Another great day on the bike. Santos definitely had the most difficult trails, the most elevation gain/loss, the most people (also being the weekend) and the least wildlife. Trails were fun too.

  5. #5
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    Apr 2007
    Thanks for the "warm" post. Much of the country is in a deep freeze (myself included) so this gives me some ride stoke. Interesting that folks there have taken "waste land" and turned it into good trail systems. Nicely done. I would love to ride that sometime (in the winter).

  6. #6
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    Wow, that's really cool. Way more interesting than my pre-conceived notion of what Florida riding is like. Last time I went to Florida I took golf clubs. Thanks for sharing!

  7. #7
    I didn't do it
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    Feb 2008
    Nice report! I have some family near Ocala and I've always dreaded going to FL, well, because its FL. This just might give me something to look forward to next time.
    Let's eat Ted
    Let's eat, Ted
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  8. #8
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    As a Floridian, and frequent rider of all of those trails, thanks for the review, you did a good job of experiencing what MTB is all about down here. We owe an odd debt to the formally unrestricted mining industry, by current regulations we wouldn't have nearly as fun trails since they are required to restore the land to its former flat and tame glory once they have completed their work. Those horse and hiker exclusion signs are just for certain trails, there are also dedicated equestrian and hiking trails in most areas. And most of what you rode was developed from nothing by cyclists, for cyclists, and takes a fair bit of work to maintain due to the relatively soft soil. Horses would decimate most of the good MTB trails in short order. Although the local trail builders have learned how to design really fun trails that hold up the the use and the rains. And they are always building something new, currently there is a lot of promising looking work going on a Loyce Harpe and Alafia, and probably plenty of other stuff I haven't heard about.

  9. #9
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    As someone else that lives in Florida, I too ride those trails and appreciate the write up. For those that might go further south, Markham Park, (with a day trip or two to Virgina Key) down by Miami also makes a nice destination.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by VonFalkenhausen View Post
    And they are always building something new, currently there is a lot of promising looking work going on a Loyce Harpe and Alafia, and probably plenty of other stuff I haven't heard about.
    Good to hear, and thanks for the info!

    Mookie definitely bring the bike next time. There are trail networks scattered all over the place and they are worth checking out.

  11. #11
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    The end of Sunday fun day marked the end of my vacation but I was able to squeeze in a few before-work rides that were a reasonable drive from Daytona. They are all smaller systems perfect for before or after work rides. Mostly a spaghetti mess of trails squeezed into a small area.

    Day 5

    First one up was on Tuesday at Graham Swamp near Palm Beach

    There were a few small jumps, a whole 50 feet of elevation relief and some fun twisty trails. Oh, and riding at sunrise there were plenty of spiderwebs

    I even found a few rocks and wooden ramps to play on

    I was able to set up for some self timer shots but for some reason had a helluva time getting the timer and burst mode to work correctly. So I have a whole lotta shots with no rider. I finally got a few to work, fortunately.

    Self timer jump was interesting to set up.

    Nicely rocked in climb to keep the steep section from getting rutted up

    Fun little system. Would definitely ride it again before/after work...

  12. #12
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    Day 6 - Chuck Lennon Park

    Wednesday. This one was a bit further away but a couple riders recommended it. It took a major sacrifice of getting up in the dark and maybe 45 min drive. But was worth it for a cool environment and good trails.

    Pump track near the trailhead

    No one around, not even the "locals". I know there are bears in FL, but it was surprising to see a sign in this area given there are just islands of public land. Guess there is enough land that is undeveloped they can move around though.

    There was a more advanced trail and jump line that I had to check out first. Wild Turkey was fun with some ladder ramps. I had to do two laps.

    Vegetation was pretty lush and green, but open enough you could see around a little bit.

    Self timer fail on this log ride. Well, rider failure, to be honest.

    Second attempt went smoother

    After the fun stuff I did a lap around the green trail on the north side

    Then hit Red Panther, the black trail, last.

    Another good ride. I really liked this one. There was no real elevation gain but lots of short steep rises and drops that added challenge. And some interesting features, drops and jumps here and there.

  13. #13
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    Day 7

    I hadn't planned on doing any more rides as I had plenty work left to do, but got a lot done Thurs night including packing so I said screw it and got one more ride in Friday morning. Another early morning had me at the trailhead for Spruce Creek Preserve right at first light.

    There was actually a hiker just starting out as I got there as this system is multi-use.

    I headed north on the loop first up towards a view of the water.

    Trails were mostly smooth with a gentle elevation gain

    Sun just poking over the trees

    Yes, that is a step for equestrians to mount or dismount

    Something for us bikers too!

    This was a pretty short ride as the trails went by pretty fast. Not much here that was very interesting. I'd do Graham Swamp or Chuck Lennon over a second time rather than come back here next trip.

    Overall I had a great time on most of the trails. They are pretty flat but the builders have made great use of any terrain features and materials available, as well as the space available. There are still a few trail systems in central FL to check out and I'll hopefully get that chance at some point. Though I may try to swing a couple extra days and go to Pisgah next time instead.

    Overall my favorite ride was probably Day 1 at Carter Rd as it had the most interesting trails and wildlife. Alafia, Balm Boyette and Santos were all pretty close and I would ride any of them again. I'd explore something else over Hillsborough. Chuck Lennon and Mt Dora were both great shorter rides that I would do again if I was nearby.

  14. #14
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    Here are stats for those interested. I was mainly interested to see how anemic the gain/loss was, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of these numbers are overstated.

    Carter Rd - 12mi, +/-880ft
    Alafia - 13mi, +/- 930ft
    Balm Boyette - 21mi, +/- 870ft
    Hillsborough - 22mi, +/-570ft
    Mt Dora (2 laps of all trails) - 4.5mi, +/- 540ft
    Santos - 15mi, +/- 1,100ft
    Graham Swamp - 6.5mi, +/- 610ft
    Chuck Lennon - 6.6mi, +/- 320ft
    Spruce Creek - 6.7mi, +/- 330ft

  15. #15
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    Beautiful landscapes and animal encounters. Mountain biking can be awesome anywhere. All you have to be is creative.
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    Eat your veggies

  16. #16
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    Great TR Evan. Since I have family in both the Jacksonville & Tallahassee areas I'll be looking to do some of this stuff on any visit over there. Tom Brown park in Tallahassee is fun. The Voodoo pic is fantastic!! Although I haven't been riding that much at all lately.
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