It was only my second trip to the Alafia River State Park and I had already fallen in love with a trail. North Creek is a miniature version of the great heights we all strive to reach when bouncing along on knobby tires. Narrow singletrack winds its way through a hilly terrain alongside fern lined brooks and algae covered swamps.
The elegance of North Creek is matched only by it's ability to challenge the rider. As an intermediate trail it has the perfect combination of small sharp climbs, quick racing downhills, multiple bridges and sudden technical elements.
The amount of care put into North Creek is evident around every twist and turn. Concrete blocks solidify the earth from sliding away under heavy rains, wooden slats protect dirt turns from eroding into the swamp and there is even a newly built descent bridge that is not for the faint of heart.
North Creek is only two miles long and it goes by fast. Your attention is held by each obstacle and the beauty that surrounds them. By the time you get a chance to look up, you're already at the end of the trail.
With Hurricane Issac missing Florida the park was saved any real damage but there had been off shoot storms that muddied up some of the other paths. After North Creek I went into the easy trails. This started with part of River Loop which led to Rock Garden and finally Sand Pines.
The section of River Loop that I tried was also tight singletrack but with low lying palm branches. The trail itself was hardpack dirt with enough roots to make you pay attention but not too many that it slows you down. The only obstacle was a recent fallen tree which will no doubt be moved by the next trail party.
The trail Rock Garden is something of a curiosity because it has no rock gardens anywhere on it. It appears to be the bed of a brook covered in pebbles. This makes for an unusual riding surface but it is useful when the rain causes this trail to muddy up. A skinny bridge made up of a handful of 2" by 10" planks is your only respite from the muck.
The big upside to Rock Garden is the length. It is a very easy to follow three and a half miles that connects directly into Sand Pine making your off road riding last a little longer.
During my first visit I wrote about the easy trail known as Sand Pine,
you can read that story here.
As for my second impression of the park - I love it even more. I mapped out a 6 mile route including all of the trails mentioned above and then completed two laps at a medium-fast speed. Thanks to the rain my bike and myself were covered in mud by the end of the ride so the cleaning station became very handy.
This was likely my last chance to ride Alafia before the big race on October 7th. I was hoping to bolster my confidence before then with some knowledge of the possible XC route but I admit to being a little squeamish. I'll still be at a major disadvantage for many reasons but at least now I have a good idea of what kind of terrain I will be facing.