Alafia … Another Florida Amusement Park
Alafia … that was the place recommended by both my buddy (Nate) and the kid in the bike rental shop . Nate said he would pick me up at 3:00 and to be prepared for a 1 to 1 1/2 hour drive depending on traffic. He rolled into the driveway (of the house where Cindy and I were staying) at 2:55. We hugged each other, asked how each was doing, loaded my bike onto his rack, and were still on the road by 3:00.
I had first met Nate when we ended up doing a Colorado Hut-to-Hut trip 6 years previous. We had stayed in contact and now I was in central Florida to meet his family and to ride with him once again.
During our 1 hour drive Nate told me some of the history of the Alafia River State Park. He said the area was strip mined for phosphate, a chemical used mainly as an ingredient in fertilizer. But when the mining had ceased there remained an uneven mixture of pond depressions and abrupt hills jutting from the surface. He said some local cyclists called the S.W.A.M.P. Club (South West Association of Mountain bike Pedalers) had designed the trails to take advantage of the irregular terrain. He said the SWAMP Club also assumed the responsibility of maintaining Alafia River’s (close to 20 miles of) trails.
Traffic was not an issue and we arrived at 4:00, pulled the bikes off the rack, got ourselves prepared, and started the ride by 4:16. Since it was early on a Tuesday afternoon I noticed only 3 other cars in the parking lot.
I was riding a bike very similar to the one I rode at home … a 2015 Specialized Camber 29’er. The differences were, my bike is an Expert Carbon Evo and the rental was just the Comp. Nate had advised me to go to Ringling Bicycles so I reserved one for a week (they only rented mountain bikes by the week saying they couldn’t keep with all the cleaning and prep up if they were rented daily).
Length: 10.12 miles
Nate was going to ride the same bike he had on our Colorado trip … a 26 inch titanium hardtail he had had specially designed and manufactured that could be easily disassembled and placed into a normal size suitcase. Nate had brought plenty of Gatorade and some of his delicious, homemade, gluten free energy bars (made from his own secret recipe). Click here for the secret recipe.
At 4:16 the central Florida air was 81 degrees and a little muggy, but not too bad. Our hosts (from whom we had rented our room) had remarked earlier we would be enjoying uncharacteristically cool and dry air during our stay, and at 1st glance, it looked as if most our riding at Alafia would be in the shade under a tall canopy of trees.
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Have you done this ride? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
Nate said he would take me on the trails he most preferred so we started with North Creek and rode the 10.12 miles of trails in this order:
- North Creek
- Magic Island
- Upper River Loop
- North Bridges
- Roller Coaster
- North Creek
- Magic Island
- Twisted Sister
- Multiuse Trail
I love riding trails that were designed to be used by mountain bikers. Even though none of the Alafia trails were over 4 miles long each had straight-aways where I could get over 10 mph that led into banked turns which either led to a new straight-away or another banked turn. Throw in some skinny bridges and boggy green swamps to catch riders making mistakes, and you have created a habitat that nurtures thrill seekers.
Calculated Roller Coaster
In addition, the elevation gains and losses had also been calculated. Gained elevation was not immediately given up with a straight, steep downhill necessitating hard braking and loss of momentum. Instead, drops in elevation were … followed with ups nearly the same size … followed by another drop with plenty of banked turns fitted in.
I use the term Roller Coaster for these types of runs. How much fun would a roller coaster be if it climbed to the top only to brake all the way back down … in fear of losing control because of an impossible turn just as it reached the bottom?
Riding Alafia was like riding a roller coaster, where I supplied the power for the “clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap” climbs … and I got to guide the car for all the other maneuvers.
As long as we are talking about amusement park rides … many parts of this trail pass under an extremely thick canopy alongside a still body of water … green water without a ripple. The setting reminded me of my all-time favorite Disney ride … Pirates of the Caribbean.
As our ride progressed I noticed a definite increase in the number of other riders. When we returned to the car to begin packing up the entire parking lot was full … maybe 20 to 30 cars, with at least a dozen riders getting their bikes trail ready. One fellow rode a Wheelie (a Manual for all you semi-pros) all the way around the entire parking lot without dropping the front tire once.
Although I prefer rides that cover more territory and offer more vistas, Alafia was a lot of fun and I certainly enjoyed being back on a trail with Nate. His nutritional energy bars were great tasting, his Gatorade refreshing, and his guidance impeccable. He truly is one very considerate person and a solid rider.
The hour ride back to the house seemed to take but a minute as we discussed our ride in Alafia River State Park, as well as how much fun we had had in Colorado 6 years previous. Nate told me about his family and many other things and I told him about our plans for the upcoming week.
One Almost Fatal Note
Later that week, when Cindy and I were visiting Myakka State Park (south of Sarasota) our tour guide told us that people in Florida have to put fences around any bodies of water they do not want alligators to invade (he said this while showing us some gators sitting in a small drainage ditch). After we were notified Cindy and I started to notice how many ponds we saw (including all the ones in the Disney World area) had fences around them. So … I am wondering if there might have been some alligators lurking in the swamps surrounding the trails in Alafia River State Park. If I had drifted off the trail might I have lost a leg to a hungry alligator?