TR - Riding in Florida

Discussion in 'Ride Reports' started by evdog, Jan 3, 2018.

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  1. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    So yeah, this is an old TR I finally got around to, but one I thought worth posting since most people will never 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. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    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. Faust29

    Faust29 iMTB Hooligan

    B. Bunny
    Current Bike:
    2 SC and a STDM
    That's awesome... Lived there 15 years, but wasn't into biking at the time! Those trails look like a lot of fun.

    As far as the water in Florida- Don't ever linger too long. Those freaking gators are everywhere. I had them on my campus, under my driveway, just about everywhere that was wet.
    evdog, Cyclotourist and pperrelle like this.
  4. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    Still Day 2. Ride 2 - Balm Boyette

    Balm Boyette was a trail system I had seen videos of in the past. It looked really fun and was definitely on the hit list for the trip. After Alafia I had maybe 3-4 hours to ride in the afternoon so I booked it over to BB after a quick sandwich. The trail systems are close together, maybe a 10 min drive apart.

    The parking lot was quite nondescript but the signage was promising


    The ride started with a mile and a half doubletrack pedal in. At least it was scenic and partly shaded


    Some more open forest with short palms on the ride in


    Mid to late afternoon was a good time to ride and I started seeing plenty of local inhabitants


    More riding along narrow ridgelines as I started picking trails off, west to east


    Some trails were really fun and roller coaster-like, others were boring. Some at the back end were really cool with narrow trail, steep side slopes cloaked in ferns.



    Ridgeline was the main trail to hit, and I did the quick Gary's Loop first which had some steep climbs up hills paved with breeze blocks


    Then onto Ridgeline. Pics don't do it justice, wish I had a go pro back then, it was a true roller coaster with steep ups and downs and you could generally carry momentum up each one.



    Even the fire road along the back 40 was scenic with spanish moss hanging from all the trees


    I looped back along the water on South Abyss and hit a few other trails focusing mostly on the blue/black (more interesting) trails


    This won looked really cool in the afternoon light, white sand contrasting against green grass.


    I was running out of light and decided to hit the East Meadow Trail and then some combo of green trails on the way out. Plenty of wildlife out at this point including deer, peccaries, armadillos, gators and all sorts of birds.


    The green trails on the way out were a mess of spaghetti but were flat and fast so I planned to hit as many as I could on the way out. Lots of bailout options. Lots of suicidal armadillos too, sort of like the bunnies we get in Socal that run across the trail in front of you at the last second. I had a couple near misses before an encounter with one that was a bit slow that ran head first into my front wheel and took me down. I was only told later that these things carry leprosy and I probably should have washed my front wheel (and hands after removing from wheel). Oh well. Nothing has fallen off yet...


    Balm Boyette definitely delivered. That Ridgeline trail is insanely fun...
    tortoise, Maddog, Derkderkall and 9 others like this.
  5. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    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.

    herzalot, tortoise, Maddog and 7 others like this.
  6. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    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.
    herzalot, tortoise, Maddog and 8 others like this.
  7. SnakeCharmer

    SnakeCharmer iMTB Hooligan

    Crescenta Valley
    Mike, aka "Ssnake"
    Current Bike:
    Trek FEX
    And all this time I thought Florida was flatter than a pancake.

    Thanks for sharing. I've got a bud who recently moved to Florida. He will be interested to know about these places you've shared here.
    evdog and DangerDirtyD like this.
  8. doublewide

    doublewide iMTB Rockstah

    Current Bike:
    Ride Life Ride Giant
    Nice Ride Report Evan! That Ridgeline trail looks like a HOOT!

    herzalot, evdog, Luis and 2 others like this.
  9. Sidewalk

    Sidewalk Well-Known Member

    The road is where I call home
    Current Bike:
    We had an Air Force guy from FLorida come out to March and rent an MTB from our LBS. We showed him around Sycamore ad he was definitely working harder than normal. Then we went to Big Bear...He was hurting.

    Trails look like fun though.
    evdog likes this.
  10. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    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...
    herzalot, tortoise, Maddog and 2 others like this.
  11. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    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.
    herzalot, tortoise, Maddog and 4 others like this.
  12. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    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.
    herzalot, tortoise, Maddog and 3 others like this.
  13. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    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
  14. OTHRider

    OTHRider Well-Known Member

    Current Bike:
    '18 Salsa Cutthroat
    Thanks for the report. I've seen rocks, pavers, cinder blocks, gravel, & wood all used for transitions and ramps. What looks like roofing strips in this pic is a first, but makes sense for traction.

  15. evdog

    evdog iMTB Rockstah

    San diego
    Evan S
    Yeah, those are just shingles nailed to a wooden ramp. They work pretty well, though they don't last that long because the shingles tear easily wear the nails go through. Back in the day builders used to nail them to downed trees and bridges in North Van for traction. In FL, they would also lay carpet down in places with sand - sort of like how dirt jumpers sometimes put them on the jumps and landings.
    OTHRider likes this.
  16. Derkderkall

    Derkderkall Well-Known Member

    Derek Allison
    Current Bike:
    2020 Specialized Fuse 29
    Nice report, my sister lives in Florida, so maybe I'll get a chance too try some of these next time I go visit.

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