Friday, August 6, 2010

Where It All Began

Little? Big? Which is it?

Many moons ago, I rode my first mountain bike trail. Of course, I’m not counting the place where we rode BMX bikes when we were kids (The Dakota Woods for all you “locals” down there.) Mr. Shepherd told me a few years ago about this invention called the mountain bike, and with this invention they ride trails. He had recently purchased one and, along with Senor Oeste, found The Little Big Econlockhatchee State Forest (Econ for short) and it’s miles of trails.

I kept hearing about these trails, with an overabundance roots, climbing, and jumps, and I wanted in. At the time, I only had a BMX bike that I used to ride around town with Lunchbox when he was a wee little tyke. He actually took his first trip to Econ with Mr. Shepherd, but I didn’t go for some reason. I finally joined in the fray one weekend, along with Lunchbox, Mr. Shepherd, and Senor Oeste.

The first time I pulled into the parking lot, I was overwhelmed. There were spandex-clad guys everywhere, and they looked strange to me. The place looked like any other forest in Central Florida, but there was a parking lot full of vehicles with bicycle racks. We all got ready (which didn’t consist of much back then other than grabbing your bike), and hit the trail. I was immediately hooked. It was at that moment I found another hobby with wheels to love (other than skateboarding and riding motorcycles), and I knew I had to have more. I went out the next day and bought my first “real” mountain bike, a heavy piece of shit, but it was a mountain bike nonetheless.

I rode the shit outta that trail every chance I had, but it was a haul to get there. I had heard of other trails in Florida, but I stuck to the one I knew. When I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina a few years ago, I had all but forgotten that sweet little slice of nearly flat singletrack, especially since I discovered the hills and mountains of NC. When I visited Florida last week, I knew we had to hit it for old time’s sake.

On the way to this very rural place just east of Orlando last Sunday, I was reminded about why I didn’t go mountain biking as often as I would have liked. It was far from my residence on the south side of Orlando, but it was country just the same. It was a far drive indeed, but the locals usually provided us with some quality entertainment. When we stopped to grab some ice and refreshments, I saw some of these locals engaged in a smoke break next to a not-so desirable place to do so.

And you thought mountain biking was dangerous, huh?

So here we are. Lunchbox, Mr. Shepherd, and I met up with Senor Oeste and our old pal Pete in the parking lot early in the morning so we could beat the brutal Florida heat. I looked around in amazement at how little things had changed. The first thing you notice is the trail kiosk, which has a nice little map.

You are supposed to sign in and pay the daily use fee, so I flipped up the cover to check it out:

How the hell did that sticker get there?

After shooting the shit for a few minutes, it was time to hit the trail. Guess what? There was a shitload of sand. I know you’re surprised, but take a look:

It wasn’t all sand though, but it was still kind of flat in the beginning:

We stopped at the first intersection, where we found Senor Oeste fighting with his bicycle chain. It seems that it didn’t like being on all of those gears, and it just wanted to be free. He took a small break for repairs:

Pete, with his shiny new bike, couldn’t believe that someone would have to repair their bike during a ride.

We continued on, and the really fun stuff was fast approaching. We rode through a section that we always called “The Forest Moon of Endor”, which was full of trees and tight switchbacks. We eventually came to a clearing, which had a conveniently placed bench for our enjoyment. Lunchbox decided to sit a spell and contemplate his choice of beverage:

While we were waiting, I searched for some wildlife. We spotted a turtle doing it’s best to get out of the heat:

We rode along, heading towards the river. While traveling through more sand, we did our best to stay upright. While I was fighting the beach-like conditions, I fell off of The Big O and almost kissed a nice steamy pile of horseshit. Only my cat-like reflexes saved me from getting a closer look:

It’s a good thing I was the only one with a camera, or else this picture would have been a lot funnier.

Just after the horse hazard, we came up to the bridge across the river. Back in the old days, we would hop into the river for a swim just to cool off. We’re serious mountain bikers now, so there was none of that. Instead, we just hung out on the bridge and took in the views:

We got back out on the trail, this time for the tough stuff. By tough I mean more sand, plus a couple of drops and jumps. The trail ran alongside the river, so there was a little bit of elevation change to keep things interesting. There would be no walking the steep declines this time though. Lunchbox shows us how it’s done:

Pete got in on the action too, although in this photo it doesn’t look like much of a drop. It was though.

When all of the good stuff was over, we followed the trail through some true Florida terrain: a palmetto thicket. This was a nice change of pace though, so we didn’t mind. Mr. Shepherd led the way:

When I turned the camera around to capture the rest of our group, Senor Oeste showed me his disdain for the media:

We came up to what we used to think was the pinnacle of the Econ Trail, The Ditch of Doom. It’s a clever name I guess, but it was just that: a ditch. There was no doom to speak of at all. Mr. Shepherd once said that if he saw that name up here in NC he would be worried, but in Florida it’s cute. Check it:

Before we splashed down through the Ditch of Doom, Lunchbox heard a noise. Could it be the ever elusive Swamp Cabbage Man? He quickly grabbed the camera and took a photo, but it turned out to be an imposter:

Damn it, I thought I could trick him.

We finished out the rest of the trail through the palmetto bushes, and we were met with more sand. Lunchbox and Pete did their best to pretend it was easy:

When we were done, it was time for another after-riding tradition, Tijuana Flats. It’s my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, so it was nice to get back there. They did have a few locations here in the Charlotte area a while back, but they didn’t make it. It was nice to go the the very first one though, even if I’ve been to others since then.

We got inside, ordered our food, and Mr. Shepherd ran right over to the “Hot Bar” for some burn your face off action.

On the way out, Lunchbox noticed yet another B-43 sticker.

Man, these things are everywhere.

We headed back to the B-43 South Headquarters, and decided to polish off the rest of the brew we’d been acquiring the last few days. Senor Oeste once again diplayed his hatred for us media types:

That was it. The B-43 Florida Mountain Biking tour was complete. The next morning, Lunchbox and I would head back here to Charlotte, but the plan was to make a small stop along the way. If you come back Monday, I’ll tell you all about it. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the Swamp Cabbage Man. I hear he’s using mass transit to get around these days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've seen the Skunk Ape. He was in the orange groves near Lake Ockeechobee. Creepy dude, and smelled like a skunk that got in a fight with a dumpster.