Sometimes you have to overreach in order to find out what you are capable of. Three years ago when I decided to try Downhill racing people told me that I was crazy. It was one thing to race Mountain Bikes but doing it at high speed down a mountain was suicidal. While DH was a bit too expensive to continue on a regular basis, I knew that the skills would be invaluable.
It's 2012 I'm back on a Mountain Bike looking forward to a Florida Cross Country race. The first step was get myself into XC shape but the second step was to hit some of the trails I will be facing in October. That's why I made a visit to the Alafia River State Park.
Alafia is beautiful, well run and the SWAMP club does great job tending to the trails. There is an easy to read map at the trail head, plenty of parking, bathrooms and most importantly - shade. I started my short journey in the place where I knew I would have the most trouble - the double black diamond trail known as moonscape.
Moonscape: The other worldly feel of moonscape was made even more mystifying by its loneliness. Exploring the trails under a cloudy sky made it dark, twisted and foreign. While I wasn't intimidated by any of the sharp climbs or drops, my bike was not up to the challenge. I repeatedly bottomed out the fork, dropped the chain and got frustrated with the tall, forward leaning geometry. It was an awkward refresher course but it was exactly what I needed.
Rollercoaster: Moonscape bleeds out onto the Intermediate trail known as Rollercoaster. After half a mile I learned that Rollercoaster is directional so I had to turn around to fully appreciate the flow of its curvy hips. This is where the muscle memory of 80+ bike races started kicking in. BMX has taught me the ebb and flow of short hills while my MTB training provides the necessary pedal power to overcome the rooty transitions. Rollarcoaster turns out to be a blast, a joyful ride full of fun surprises.
Sand Pines: Why take an easy trail? I figure that large sections of the upcoming race must take place on the green trails because otherwise it would be a short contest. Sand Pines is 2+ miles of swerving flatland that forces you to dodge small trees, the occasional root and other riders. It is not a boring ride, in fact, I was hauling butt down this trail. After riding Moonscape and Rollercoaster, Sand Pines makes you feel like a pro. You can pick up the speed and fly to your heart's delight.
A short ride is better than none at all. I only had time to get in about 5 miles worth but now that I know where the park is and how great the trails are, I will be back. Alafia exceeded my expectations on all levels but also due in part to the people who ride there. It is easy to strike up a conversation in the parking lot or on the trail.
In fact, I had dropped my wallet in the bathroom when I got changed and another rider returned it to me an hour later when I came back to my car. It speaks of the character of the people who frequent the park, the common bond among riders is strong there. I look forward to returning for more training before the big race.