Introduction to Balm-Boyette Nature Preserve

I love exploring. It might be the one part of Mountain Biking that I crave more than competition. It provides the opportunity to discover new parks, see beautiful landscapes and feel the exhilaration of well crafted trails. Mountain Biking brings us away from the everyday world of work and responsibilities, placing us briefly in the hands of nature and fate.

I pulled up to the entrance of the Balm-Boyette Nature Preserve only to see a huge crowd on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. I immediately recognized a rider. His name is Walt. He rides an extra large Redline 29er MTB with only nine gears. Walt is a regular at the Tuesday Night ride at the Carlton Reserve, he even has a young daughter named Cadence who rides as well. I was happy he recognized me and when his friends learned that this was my first time at Balm-Boyette, they asked me to join them. This was going to be fun.

We spotted two deer not far into the ride

Our weekly rides at the Carlton usually break up into smaller groups based on skill and speed. The A group is the fastest and most skilled. The B group, where I usually ride, is moderately paced and keeps the rides shorter. On this day, I would be riding with some real rippers who wore the gear of AJ's Bikes and Boards. A couple of these guys race the Expert class in the Florida series and if the rumors are true, they not only race but win.

We started on the SST trail which is a tight singletrack of sand and roots. Normally this kind of trail would be a peace of cake but this A group started at a break neck pace and they would never really slow down. Only Walt, with his limited gears, occasionally hung back or even rode in the rear giving me a chance to stay engaged. It was a good thing too, on this day I would be challenged like never before.

SST returned to the fire road where Walt informed me that, "We haven't hit the real trails yet." Another mile further up was where the "Real Trails" started. Here we dived into a series of Intermediate (Blue) trails starting with Loch Ness built on sudden drops with short climbs clinging to the sides of the old Phosphorous mine. Loch Ness was a microcosm of the trails to come - West Meadow, Spider Berm, Gator Pit. All of them were shallow but flowing, smooth with the occasional switchback and each poured out back onto the fire roads.

The blue trails were a good warm up. The lead guys rode like the wind but I had to be a little more cautious because I never knew what could be on the other side of each turn or dip. We re-grouped at the end of each trail and then continued on to the next.

We collected at the opening to the first black diamond trail - North Abyss. I asked what kind of trail it was? The lead ripper defined it as, "Steeper but with non-stop rollers plus rocks and roots." I followed behind the others, slowly at first until I understood the nature of the beast. The Abyss both North and South was an angry trail replete with downward chutes that forced my body off the back of the bike. No brakes were used except to keep the front wheel straight as you soared down one hill and were thrown up the next. It was a roller coaster meant to toss a rider with tricks on every lip.

With my heart beating wildly, my entire body forcing countless minute adjustments for balance and angle, I managed both sides of the Abyss and Pandemonium to follow. On a frame barely worthy of being called a Mountain Bike, I survived these rugged lengths while keeping the rubber in the dirt. I was proud of this accomplishment but also exhausted by the effort.

We reached a rest point on Sidewinder where I waited as the others took a lap around a more severe section of trails. This is where I had my first moment to reflect. The mellow weather combined with the easy green of these woods gave Balm-Boyette the feel of northern riding. Rest areas like this one on the back fence with complete with benches and a trail map. Several riders hung out comparing notes and expressing their appreciation for this excellent location.

This was one of the rare places where I got to see MTB racing teams practicing their fitness. That was a good indicator of the level of skill it took to ride here.

The way back was a completely different animal. After a long climb on sidewinder my legs were dead. I rode around the ridge of the ledge to reach the re-group. The lead ripper assured me that the worst was over, "It's all flat from here on."

We took to the easy (Green) trails known as Woods, Red Shirt, Northeast and Northwest. The pacing was still fast but twisting through scattered palms and skinny close knit trees. It was easier to sit and spin while being mindful of roots and bar ends. I caught my second wind and was actually able to catch up a little. These trails went on for about six miles before returning to the fire roads from whence we started.

Even after exiting the Green trails we still had a two mile stretch on the fire road to return to the parking area. In all the journey totaled 18 miles, exactly what they had planned. I thanked them for the exciting guided tour and told Walt that I'd see him at the next Tuesday Night ride.

Balm-Boyette is a unique location, far from any major city it has a deep woods setting. The entrance is parked on a road surrounded by horse stables and a strawberry farm. The scent of strawberries wafts through the air from the moment you arrive. On a busy day like this you often see and talk to other riders, it has a friendly community feeling. This was one of the most spirited rides I have been on since moving back to Florida and these spectacular trails made it so. I have to give props to the SWAMP club for maintaining this preserve and giving riders a great place to enjoy. Balm-Boyette gets my highest recommendation.


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