Archive for November, 2009

Mountain Biking in Florida: Not Racing at San Felasco

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Chris Charmical wrote: “just because someone holds a race doesn’t mean you have to show up.”

I finally decided not to show up one time. The pressure of starting a new business in October, Thanksgiving weekend with family, etc., just didn’t leave a whole lot of time to mentally prepare.

So I ran the race course on Saturday, had lots of fun, and while most of my ilk were busy warming up to race on Sunday I was sacked out on the lazy boy watching the NFL pregame shows.

I love San Felasco but it’s a bit my anti-course. Not being the fastest rabbit in the bunch doesn’t help either.

The start/finish area is what gets me. A mile or so of gradual incline over bumpy, hillocky pasture. It’s like what speed I do have is sucked right out of my wheels.

The rest of the course is awesome, flowing single track: rocky in some places and rooty in lots more. Faster drops and harder cllimbs than you would expect to find in Florida. There are even switchbacks(!)

The course in 2008 was approximately 10 miles, the 2009 course seemed to be shorter at around 6 miles, but I couldn’t really figure out where it got lopped off at.

Anyway, it was fun not to run for once and I’ll see you in two weeks at Santos. On Sunday. Just look for the squirrel on the back of my jersey!

Mountain Biking in Florida: Thanksgiving at Hanna Park

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Hanna Park is a fun run.

Short, sweet and sinewy, it was the perfect dessert and a way to ward off the usual Thanksgiving turkey coma.

If you’ve never been to Hanna it sits right on the ocean at one of the best surf spots in Florida, the Mayport Poles. Normally it’s too sandy at tides edge to build good singletrack, but somehow it works here with a minimum of sand pits.

The singletrack is made up of a lot of small, named trails that essentially form a north and south loop. The north loop is called the E-Line Trail and takes about a half hour, and the south loop is the “race loop” and also takes about a half hour.

There’s not a straight piece of trail in the whole place, and the trails is heavy on roots. That being said, the Hanna Park trails have incredible flow, and you achieve some pretty high speeds as you snake through the oaks and palmettos. The roots can be technically challenging at speed and will endo you into the bushes if you pick the wrong line. It forces you to choose quickly and rightly, and in time it becomes natural.

As a place to train, Hanna was a big help for my first ever national race at Sugar Mountain (North Carolina) back in the day. Hanna doesn’t have any elevation, but Sugar Mountain was like Hanna set up on end. So while I wasn’t used to the gravity there was a comfort level with the twists and side-to-side of the ski resort’s trail.

Hanna Park is located at the intersection of A1A and Wonderwood drive in Jacksonville, Florida, just south of Mayport Naval Station. Admission is $3 and it’s open every day of the year. Check out a map of the trails.

New at this week: a new design called “Imperfect Vision (53/11).”

Mountain Biking in Florida: Trail Building with OMBA

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Trail Building at Santos

I spent last weekend building good karma by trail building at Santos, near Ocala, Florida. If you’ve never heard of Santos it’s I wrote about it earlier on the Trails We Love: Santos page at Santos is also my home course so it was especially important to give back. This is the first time I’ve ever helped build a trail.

It was a bit of an eye opener.

In this cut-and-dried, pre-packaged world there is an expectation for things to be so precise. But there’s not a whole lot of that in trail building.

While there is a lot of care in choosing the route based on topography and drainage, once you get on the ground it’s done by touch and feel.

First the course is flagged by walking…which can be difficult because of all the palmettos and understory we have here in Florida. Then come the chainsaws clearing out the major obstacles, but leaving the trees. You want the trees to wind in and out of.

When they were clearing with the chainsaws the day before I came in they encountered a massive beehive in an old oak tree along the route. The guy running the saw said the bees were “like a dark cloud” there were so many.

Instead of clearing the hive they rerouted the trail giving enough clearance to the old oak. That’s the “touch and feel” approach, and an ecologically sensitive one as well. Good for the bees, good for the trees, good for the riders.

They pointed out the tree to us as we came along…when there are enough bees to see a clear traffic pattern in and out, you know it’s a big hive.

After the chainsaws, two bush hogs came through to knock out some of the understory. Then I and a bunch of others came along with loppers to clear what the bush hogs missed, and to clear all the small and straggly branches at rider level. Then came rakes to move the pine needles but leave the duff, so the trail would break in gradually without the sand bleeding up and through.

There have been times I’ve been on a trail and got–shall I say, “discomforted”–when I’ve hit a small, hard knot of tree stump that I didn’t see in the middle of the trail. I’ve always assumed that the trail builders were sadistic bastards that left those things there on purpose. The truth is that things are just too damn hard to remove in the course of clearing two miles of trail (as we did that day). We get them down as low as possible, but then it’s time to move on. And that’s how a trail gets its character.

This trail has been in the planning stage for months with the goal of having it completed by March for the Ocala Mountain Bike Association’s (OMBA’s) Spring Break Fat Tire Festival. It extends the western-most trails in the Santos system by three miles. This was a beginner level trail, but there are plans to add some intermediate level trails in the same area as money becomes available: there are ravines on the tailings of the ancient Florida Barge Canal project that will need bridges.

Mountain Biking in Florida: Graham Swamp MTB trail in Palm Coast

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I was so looking forward to riding this trail.

Just 25 minutes from Strackacobra HQ in St. Augustine, a place to get a quick MTB fix on a short 6.5 mile trail, it looked ideal.

Someday it will be.

No problem with the layout, which was actually pretty cool. Typical coastal Florida: hairpin upon hairpin and lots of roots. What surprised me was the plentitude of fast, quick drops…something we usually have to go inland for.

The problem was the surface: sand. Deep beach-style sand on the inclines made me wonder if I came to ride or came to hike. About halfway through the trail I learned to anticipate them and punch up the RPMs, but even then I was only successful getting to the top about half the time. Those big tires would be in up to the rim, bog down, and shut down.

It’s also at least partially swamp, and there were clearly places that are under water during heavy rains.

Will I ride it again?

The sand was no fun at all, but the whoop-dees and the drops were fun enough to go back, in a pinch. And kudos to whoever carved the trail out of that unforgiving terrain!

To get to Graham Swamp take I-95 to Palm Coast and exit at the Palm Coast Parkway exit. Head east towards the ocean, then take a left (south) on Colbert Road. Graham Swamp is a on the right hand side about 4-5 miles down, and is marked by a gray St. Johns River Water Management District Sign. The trailhead is at the parking lot…you will not miss it. There is also a short 2.2 mile hiking trail.

Mountain Bike Training: Lots to be Thankful for Here in Florida

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

So I’m grousing about another 1 hour endurance ride on the same old roads. It’s boring.

And even though it’s late fall, it’s a lunch break ride so it’s 93 degrees.

I finish up. I hop in the car. I head back to work. The air conditioning is blasting sweet, cold air.

I turn on the radio. Denver and the rest of the Rocky Mountain west are immobilized under three feet of snow. I was just racing the mountain bike there 90 days ago…it was the middle of summer!

I will never, ever bitch about Florida again.

The same roads, yes. I’ve seen them before, yes. But I will see them again everyday, bathed in glorious sunlight untouched by snow.

And the mountain bike trails will continue to wind up, down and through the old limestone and phosphate quarries of central Florida in all four seasons, completely ridable except during a torrential downpour.

What a wonderful place to be!