16 May, 2008

I tend to judge the middle of nowhere-ed-ness of a place by its gas stations. If this gas station features really old style pumps, in a dusty parking lot, next to a power distribution center, and the interior of said station serves as both cashier, lunch counter, day care provider and town hall. This is where you land after a one hour drive into the interior of central Florida. A lot of the land is stripped out, probably for calcium, limestone, or phosphate from all the dead little sea creatures from millions of years ago. What isn't stripped is growing fruit commonly referred to as citrus. With these two land uses, many of the signs and churches, the only structures in site, are in Spanish. I saw village like collections of worker's cottages, churches and stages still strung with Cinco De Mayo decorations. Quite possibly a vibrant scene once, but not so much at 4 in the afternoon with a heavy sun shining through a smokey sky.

With a little help with both directions and pronunciation, I found Alafia {Al-a-fye-a} River State Park and tried to hide the Subaru in the shade. When I left the beach it was 83, and kind of pleasant. The thermometer now read 92, and the stagnant limestone filled air wasn't offering any breezy relief. I suited up, pulled the Dieringer out of travel weary car, and soft pedaled around the parking lot to see if anyone would bite for a ride. No luck, but I did get pointed in the right direction.

This year has been a geographic tour de force, but as a result, I've ridden the upper echelon trails of each destination. I asked around here in florida, and Alafia came up multiple times. I have to say I wasn't expecting much. It was dead flat around here, and what most trail builders do with flat land is to paint upon it the most frustratingly tight and twisty course where the only challenge is to put 4 pedal strokes together before hitting the brakes and leaning around a tight sappling. And so it is, with that as the benchmark, I can say the Alafia exceeded my expectations.

My uneducated as to the nature of phosphate mining guess is that a hundred years ago, when these folks found phosphate, they dug out a big pit until they found some, and then went searching 50 feet away. The result, now that the jungle like climate has quickly reclaimed the land, is a flat landscape with a series of bowls carved out. A smattering of lily covered water features and rivers adds to the landscape in which single track carves through the most foreign landscape I've ever ridden in. I'm from the North. We don't have palm trees. And I say "palm tree" in that northern kind of way where every tree must be a palm tree because we are in Florida. I really don't know what any of these plants are, but they produced dry sheaths that often covered the ground while curtains of spanish moss hung from their low branches. And there was sand. Actually it was all sand. I can just imagine the crew of trail volunteers stepping out of their trucks and grabbing all variety of brooms to go rework the trails. It wasn't as slow as would be thought given the nature of sand riding, and a mix of well benched off camber turns, half pipe runs through the bowls, near constant roots and the ever present threat of heat exhaustion made the whole place challenging enough to be fun. Each little section of the trail had a different feel. North Creek was the fastest section, mostly open turns and some offcamber stuff along the creek. Rock Garden was a tunnel of palm trees that ran over a mix of sand and dirt that rolled a little better, but was very rooty and technical. I made a late sun setting loop through Sand Pine, which had recently been burned to manage the forest. After riding through an already strange landscape all day, this place took it to another level. Charred earth and dry leaves giving way to bright green baby palms sprouting from the ashes. The black diamond areas of Gatorback, Rabbit Ears, Moonscape and Roller Coaster all offered one or two key features or short steep descents that gave them their status. I saw some florida boys in there working 8" bikes on this stuff. A big bike seems a bit of an overzealous purchase for these parts, but I was told there are/were a couple big jump and drop parks in the area.

My second lap through Rock Garden was getting a little dark, and the forest was coming to life with lots of rustling through the leaves. After seeing some anemic squirrels jumping from tree to tree, I came to assume all rustling was squirrel related. A few turns later this little guy offered me the opportunity to once again fail miserably at nature photography. I had him all squared up in the view finder, with his muppet rat like head looking right at me, but the camera wouldn't focus to its own satisfaction, and I had to chase him into the woods to get this ass shot. But I did see an armadillo, which apparently are a dime a dozen, but not to Ohio Robb.

I've reached the relaxation part of my week. I have 3 days at the beach, literally at the beach thanks to Jen's grandma and the use of her beach front condo on Siesta Key. Gonna chill here a while, get slow, and then maybe head to the Santos trail system northwest of Orlando on my way to that humid city for a week of work.

1 comment:

greg said...

Hey Buddy-

Nice armadillo! Just thought I'd drop a quick line to say hello and let you know that we're thinking of you here in beautiful Cleveland. It's actually been pretty swell weather-wise and not too shabby in general. I've been trying to keep up with reading your blog, but admit to getting bogged down in all of the bikecentricism from time to time. Anyway, look me up when you roll back into town.