It was time to break out the old mountain bike and brush up on my trail riding skills.
Before setting off on the Flagler Trail, I stopped and talked to the folks at the Ed Yarborough Nature Center at Geneva Wilderness Area, where this segment of trail begins. They told me about the trail and gave me directions to a trail that would lead me to it. Plus a little bit of warning: the soft sugar sand is pretty bad.
I thanked them for the help and warning, and returned to the trailhead parking lot right next to Geneva Road. At the kiosk, I took the Yellow Trail, which would lead me to the Flagler Trail. It was a narrow path with plenty of twists and turns, a fun little reintroduction to mountain biking.
Arriving at a T intersection after a couple of short pushes through some of that evil, soft sugar sand, I found the Red Trail, to the left, that would take me back through the preserve to the nature center. I turned right and headed for the Flagler Trail — right into the sugar sand. I continued through a lot of scrub forest with more sugar sand. I was starting to wonder if I would be able to recommend this ride to anyone! But with a little more pushing, and my sand riding skills improving, I finally made it to the nice hard-packed rail trail, which follows the route of Henry Flagler’s old railroad to Chuluota.
From the scrub I entered Little Big Econ State Forest as I drew closer to the Econlockhatchee River. Here, the trail is an elevated bed looking down into floodplain forests on both sides. I started noticing the orange blazes of the Florida Trail as I came up to the big bridge over the river. From this point the Florida Trail and Flagler Trail share the same high ground and bridges for a while.
Riding over the the Econ, I could see what was left of the old railroad bridge trestles. The tannic water and sandy beaches looked mighty tempting as the temperatures climbed over ninety degrees. Once the Florida Trail turns off, the blazes turn blue and the Flagler Trail continues. Approaching Snow Hill Road, you start to hear traffic and see the roof tops of near by homes. Ignore the gate to your right and take the trail to the left. It crosses a residental road and leads to the Snow Hill Road trailhead. This was my turn around point. Later I will start from this trailhead and continue southeast through Chuluota.
Crossing the road again, off I went. With my GPS points taken on the way out, I was free to pick up some speed and enjoy the trail riding. As my abilities improved I was skimming along the sugar sand, sliding a little left and then a little to the right. I had fun moving along, avoiding what roots I could, and hopping over the ones I couldn’t. Boy, was I glad that I was on a fully suspended mountain bike, even if is is nearly an antique!
It was my third mountain bike, bought used at the local bike shop over fifteen years ago. I’d bought my first one in 1984. Twenty-four gears and no suspension, wide knobby tires, cantilever brakes, and a flat handle bar. It’s almost a cross between a road bike and a beach cruiser.
Crossing over the last of the bridges, I noticed a bit of drag from the back of the bike. Closer examination revealed a flat tire. Flat tires are just a part of cycling. I must have patched or replaced nearly a hundred tubes while out on rides. Just a few days ago I had experienced my first flat while out on the trike. An odd thing about flat tires while riding. They almost always happen to the rear tire. That way you can get a little greasy while removing the wheel from the bike and the chain.
But unfortunately today wasn’t going to be one of those quick repair moments. With my spare tube in hand, I noticed a problem. My “square peg and round hole moment.” I had the wrong tire pump! And before you ask, no, it was not one of those that can switch from Presta to Shrader valves.
Oh well. According to the GPS I was “only” about a two mile walk back to the trail head. How hard could it be?
Issue number one: I only brought two water bottles. One for each direction. Why carry more?
Issue number two: The next two miles of the two-point- something mile “push” would be through sugar sand. You think walking or riding your bike through sugar sand is tough! Try pushing your bike through it!
Off I trudged in soft sand in the scrub, Florida’s equivalent of the desert, pushing a bike with almost no water and the temperatures in the mid-nineties. Did I mention it was almost noon? It took me much longer than expected to push my way back to the trailhead.
Leaving the bike and GPS at the kiosk, I walked across the parking lot to the car. I wasn’t smart enough to carry the right pump with me, but I was smart enough to have ice cold water and Gatorade waiting in the car.
Despite the mistake, it was a good ride. I re-established myself as a mountain biker, survived the walk, and had a good GPS track and story to tell.
It’s not the kind of trail that I’d recommend that a family head out for a Sunday ride on, or even a novice mountain bike rider. Between the soft sand and the numerous roots, the trail requires some skill to avoid the perils and obstacles.
Lessons learned. I will start riding with a hydration bladder in addition to water bottles. There really is no such thing as carrying too much water when you’re out in the heat of a Florida summer. And when you use a piece of equipment for the first time after a long hiatus, check it, and check the things that go with it!