After a stressful day at the IMS conference on Sunday, I figured I earned a little reset time before heading back to the conference on Monday. SWAMP maintains a robust network of trails around the greater Tampa area. One such place are the Croom Trails in Withlacoochee State Forest. Croom sports upwards of 60 miles of MTB trails. Equestrians have their own independent network there. An organized MTB event, called the Croom 35, follows at 35 mile loop around the perimeter of the trail system. That sounded good to me, maybe even easy to navigate, since the rainy ride last weekend killed my Garmin 705.
It is so humid down here that even 7:30 in the morning, you sweat without doing any work. I filled my 100oz Camelbak. It had rained a lot overnight. Croom is a place you want to ride right after rain, as it is very sandy. Rain helps control the looseness.
Heading out, I was concerned whether I was going to work anywhere near hard enough to burn off the massive eating marathon the day before. Flat, just sandy enough to not trust speed into turns, and pretty much all tight turny type riding doesn't work like a long, stiff climb does in pushing heartrate up. Having sub-2" slick tires on my crappy rental didn't help matters. But there was just enough perceptible elevation undulation to get the heartrate up into tempo zone, high enough for a three hour ride.
Trail alternated between open oak and pine and more closed in with more of a rain forest feel
Being the first one out on the trail in a somewhat remote area, I got to clean out all the spider webs made overnight. Florida must have serious spiders. I wouldn't see the webs, They would wrap around my face and torso, and pulls taut. Some webs were strong enough to even bend my head back. The web would then remain stuck across my face and I would spaz out. Like, where's the gargantuan spider that came along with the web and is now crawling on me somewhere!
In the old lime rock mine area, the trail became more interesting. There was some real elevation change there, although still only 20 feet or so, and all man-made. Some pucker-factor drops and rises. There's also areas that become greasy when wet. Not muddy. Greasy, like thin film of motor oil on hardpack. Signs would warn of Gorilla Snot. Tricky to keep rubber side down there.
Benchcut trail with bits of exposure and pucker-factor drops in the mining area
Then at a kiosk, I saw a photo captioned "Dead Deer Walking," taken by a game cam at night. It was a lion ready to pounce on a deer. I didn't know what to make of it, as no way does Florida have mountain lions. I Googled it later in between talks at the conference. Sure enough, the only remaining natural population of lions east of the Rockies is in southern Florida. Males have been found to roam as far north as Georgia. So not only do you have to worry about poisonous snakes, gators, black bear, spiders, but also lions? There's speculation that the photo is fake. But lions in Florida, primarily very southern Florida, lions are real.
One of the trails along the route is call Sugar Mountain Loop. Hmm, what could than mean? Well, there was a noticeable bump the trail went over with some unique trees up top. Just enough to get heartrate up if you sprinted up it.
Much of this vast area appeared to have burned many years ago. The lower areas were still lush, the higher areas were sparsely covered with trees. It was kind of nice alternating between very different forms of vegetation and sounds of insects and birds. I saw deer and many different kinds of colorful birds. I could have done without the biting flies. Don't know what they were, but they had a bite about 5x more potent than deer flies in the northeast. They'd be on you the second you stopped, and you wouldn't hear or see them, like pesky deer flies.
I finished the 35 mile loop in just over 3hrs. Definitely a unique riding experience. Most New Englanders would hate riding here, as there is no granite and near zero elevation change. I'm more than happy to just get out while here. I can now color in Florida. Only two states remain on my list to mountain bike, Mississippi and Louisiana.