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Back from vacation in (more or less) one piece!

Monday, October 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Blog

October
31
2011

Hey everyone, I’m back from my vacation. I can sum up the past ten days in two words: FUN and EXCITING!

Over the past 10 days I went mountain biking almost every day, and I was finally able to travel to some of the more distant trails that I’ve been wanting to ride for quite some time. While I was off I also hit up most of the local trails that I love to ride, but this blog is going to focus on two of the new trails: Chuck Lennon Park in De Leon Springs, Florida, and Santos Mountain Bike Park in Ocala, Florida.

NOTE: I didn’t take my DSLR on any of these trails, so all the photos were taken with my cell phone camera.

Chuck Lennon Park in De Leon Spring, Florida.

Chuck Lennon Park in De Leon Spring, Florida.

The first new trail I took on was Chuck Lennon Park. I’d heard good things about this trail, and was anxious to check it out for myself. The Chuck Lennon trail system currently consists of of about 5.5 miles of single track divided into four distinct trails of various difficulty levels. The first section is called “Hoot Owl”, and it’s a Blue (Intermediate) trail; the second section is called “Red Panther” and it’s a Red (Advanced) trail; the third section is called “Screaming Hawk” and it’s a Yellow (Easy) trail; the fourth section is called “Raccoon Run” and it’s a Blue (Intermediate) trail. I enjoyed “Red Panther” and “Raccoon Run” the most. Check out the trail map below for the layout.

Chuck Lennon Park Trail Map.

Chuck Lennon Park Trail Map.

When I arrived at the Chuck Lennon trailhead I was fortunate enough to run into a rider named John, who also happened to be one of the trail maintainers! We started talking, and he asked me if I wanted to ride with him. I’m really glad that I met John, because he not only showed me the proper way to run the entire trail but he gave me lots of helpful information (example: “There is poison ivy all over the place, so don’t crash.”) and some interesting background on the trail.

As for the trail itself, I was blown away. In fact, of all the trails I rode over the past ten days, I’d have to put Chuck Lennon at the top of the list. This trail system has just the right amount of tech to make things challenging, and it flows like a roller coaster. John and I rode the entire 5.5 miles, and I found even the Red trails well within my abilities. I only fell one time and, somewhat hilariously, this fall was on the Yellow (easy) section of trail. 😮

Until this week I’d never been on a trail like this: loads of fast descents down steep downhills followed by quick accents, fast turns on bermed corners… pretty much just non-stop fast, flowy, super fun, adrenaline-packed action. This trail is only about an hour drive, so I’ll be riding this one a lot.

I have a pretty cool GoPro HD video of my Chuck Lennon ride. You’ll see why “Raccoon Run” was one of my favorite sections, we really got some speed going there!

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On Wednesday I made the drive up to Ocala to finally ride at Santos, which is widely considered to be the best mountain biking in all of Florida. More than 70 miles of singletrack (everything from bunny trails to super technical advanced trails), a freeride area, dirt jumps, hucks of all sizes, two pump tracks, a skills areas and much more – all spread over more than 80,000 acres.

My 25+ mile route at Santos Mountain Bike Park (October 26, 2011).

My 25+ mile route at Santos Mountain Bike Park (October 26, 2011).

I rode all the Blue (Intermediate) trails (“Twister”, “Cow Bone”, “Dr. Ruth”, “Bunny”, “Marshmallow”, “Speedway” and “Canopy”) and all the Red (Advanced) trails (“Vortex”, “Sinkhole”, “Rattlensake Ridge”, “Anthill”, “John Brown” and “Magic Mountain”). Some twice. I also rode some of the Yellow trails (mostly to get to the Blue and Red trails), rode both pump tracks, did a couple of drops and some tabletop dirt jumps. All told I rode more than 25 miles and really tested my skills.

I enjoyed the Blue trails at Santos the most: fast and flowy with lots of nice bermed corners, switchbacks and tech in the form of rock gardens and roots. I handled all the blues without problem, including the two most difficult blues, “Dr. Ruth” and “Cowbone”. Thanks to the hundreds of hours I’ve put in at Wekiwa (which is loaded with large roots), all of the root sections were very easy for me. My favorite trail was “Twister”–long, fast and lots of banked corners.

The red trails at Santos were nothing like the trails at Chuck Lennon. These Red trails were extremely technical in nature, and not particularly fast in most areas. Some of the climbs were very steep, rock-covered slopes–and many of them were right after sharp corners (read: you hit them going slow). The downhills were even more tricky: almost all of them were rocky, steep and twisting. While I’m very experienced with roots, I’ve got practically zero experience with rocks: there just aren’t any rocky trails in my immediate area. My introduction to rocky mountain biking came quickly, and painfully…

The Red (Advanced) "Ant Hill" trail chewed me up and spit me out.

The Red (Advanced) "Ant Hill" trail chewed me up and spit me out.

The first Red (Advanced) trail I rode is called “Anthill”. Not long into the trail I came across a very steep downhill, which was solid rock. There were lots of large rocks and gravel on the slope, and I had very little time to pick a good line (since this was my first time on the trail, I found myself in this position quite a lot, actually). Well, I picked a bad line, and I realized it after I’d already started on the descent. I knew I was going to crash, but there was a large branch just over my head. I instinctively reached up and grabbed the branch as my bike went crashing down the rocks. Of course the branch snapped in half and I landed hard on the rocks below. After I made it out of the “Anthill” trail I took the picture you see to your left (not shown: the large blood bruise just under my rib cage and my shredded shoulder).

Crazy 25+ foot rollers in the Vortex.

Crazy 25+ foot rollers in the Vortex.

That picture was just the start of the carnage. The only red trail I completed without crashing at least once was “Sinkhole”. By the time I limped out of the forest I was pretty banged up with cuts, scrapes and bruises over most of my body. Thankfully nothing major.

I didn’t back down from any of the trails, and I’m glad that I didn’t. I was definitely in over my head on many of the Red trails. Some of that was my lack of experience with that type of highly technical riding, but some of it was simply my lack of familiarity with the trails. I know the next time I ride the Advanced trails at Santos I’ll still crash, but I’ll bet not quite as much.

I should also mention that some of the Red trails are intimidating just because in some areas the consequences for failure are severe. There are a few places where if you fall you’re going to fall down a cliff (the Red trails above the Vortex freeride area comes to mind).

Speaking of the Vortex, that area was a blast! There is so much to do there. There are dirt jumps of all sizes, giant boulders to practice riding over, a fun and well-designed pump track, drops (hucks) ranging from mild (1-2 feet) to absolutely insane (more than 20 feet!), skinnies, log rides–you name it, it’s there.

See that wooden drop at the top? Insane.

See that wooden drop at the top? Insane.

After I’d completed about 22 miles, I came across another solo rider. This experience was a humbling end to my day. This dude was on fresh legs, but he was also an amazing rider. He asked me if I wanted to hit a couple of Red trails with him, and I said sure. I was very tired at this point, and I probably should have passed, but I’m stupid. As we rode down one of the Blue trails he was just cruising along and I could barely keep up with him. I was so gassed at that point and my legs were so tired that riding at any pace was difficult.

So we got to the red trail “John Brown”, which is one of the more difficult reds. This guy completely shredded the trail. He was clearly an expert rider, and I felt like an idiot. I fell way behind, crashed several times and walked my bike up a couple of steep, twisting, rocky uphills that I probably couldn’t have made even on fresh legs. 🙁

Later he informed me that he lives 10 minutes from the trails, and had been riding here 3-4 times per week for many years. That made me feel a little better.

Honestly, I really shouldn’t have attempted such a difficult trail as tired as I was. Hell, I was so tired that driving home in my truck was difficult.

Despite the slightly demoralizing end to the day, Santos was an absolute blast. I learned so much, and I know that riding those highly technical trails is going to make me into a much better rider (if it doesn’t kill me first!)

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