March 4 marked the inaugural voyage of the Tour de Flagler Ultra, a leisurely (at least in the beginning) 40 mile mountain bike ride through two of the best trail systems Central Florida has to offer. The ride began at Bing’s Landing, a beautiful park within walking distance to the beach. Situated just north of the Flagler pier in a gorgeous oak hammock, it has a wonderful barbecue restaurant, a bike shop, boat ramps, full facilities, ample parking and, oddly enough, a pre-colonial architectural dig site.
Also, one our Flagler Area Mountain Bike Association trails, Mala Compra, is directly across the street. Featuring smooth,fast flowing, blue rated trails winding through dense oak hammock and bits of standard issue Florida scrub to a challenging black diamond section with rocky descents, rooty climbs, jumps, wooden bridges and elevated balance features (skinnies), Mala Compra is one of the best trails in the area.
As a bonus, because it is mostly composed of coquina rock and gravel, it handles the rainy season quite well. Remember that when your local trails are underwater you can always head to Mala Compra for some excellent Florida riding that’s a stone’s throw from the beach…and the local ice cream stand.
Surrounding the mtb trail is a smooth dirt jogging trail and further surrounding that is a paved jogging/bike trail that snakes through the entire community.
The Tour de Flagler Ultra (TDFU) began by riding through the first half of Mala Compra mtb trail and exiting onto the paved bicycle path. With a sound reminiscent of a substantial swarm of angry bees, the large group’s knobbly tires buzzed along the concrete trail. The event coordinator and Florida legend, Pete Rose, marked the pre-planned route to ensure that everyone stayed on course. With a large group of 38 people of all abilities and skill levels, periodic stops would be made to ensure that the group stays together during the beginning.
Meandering through the local connector trails to minimize traffic exposure, the group did cross a very high, very steep overpass which thankfully had a wide, clean shoulder. This is where one of the riders (insert name here) chose to take off like a shot and jump ahead of the group with a brilliant burst of pedaling fury. Three chasers took the bait and let loose their own powerful pedaling prowess only to be thoroughly spent and chagrined at the top. This display of machismo foolishness was an indicator of things to come.
After a well planned water/ facilities stop, the group entered another one of the area highlights, the legendary Graham Swamp mountain bike trail. Long regarded as one of the best trails in the entire Southeast, this trail offers all the needed components for an awesome, challenging ride. Fast, twisty turns linked with tough climbs, steep drops, rock gardens and rad jump lines are just the beginning. Carefully planned bypasses ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, can have an incredible experience. Truly a masterwork of trail design, Graham Swamp is a required stop if you’re in the area
Ducking out halfway through Graham Swamp using a clandestine path, the group arrived at “The Swamp Shed”, a small secret structure containing trail tools surrounded by a large seating area made from logs, shaded underneath an immense canopy of oaks. It also conveniently and mysteriously housed a cache of brownies, cookies, a large cooler of beer, and a bottle of whiskey…. complete with a dozen shot glasses. No one really knows how these items came to be here, but, doing our part as good citizens, we partook in the bounty and some brave souls downed the hi-octane fuel simply and entirely to ensure that it did not go to waste.
Reassembled, rehydrated and resupplied, the group once again took to the paved bike path for a quick jump over to the Lehigh Trail, a boardwalk that spans the actual swamp of Graham Swamp. This boardwalk cut sharply to the right onto an arrow straight, dead flat , two mile paved walking/ biking trail that connects to Old Kings Hwy. This is where the hi-octane fuel kicked in and the once calm, cohesive group was now shattered to bits by some unnamed chest puffers who thought this would be a good place to double the pace and turn the calm and peaceful trail into a dragstrip.
With looming time constraints, the large original ride group was now split with six riders charging off into the steady headwind of Colbert Lane. *Your humble reporter, was only in this group for the sake of recording the actual events and had no part in any acceleration instigation*. At this point I can only narrate the happenings of this small band of miscreants as they finish out the last hour of the event. The large group remaining reportedly had a very nice afternoon with leisurely riding, soaking in the beautiful sunshine and generally having a darn good time.
The same cannot be said for the seriously sweaty six way off the front. Rounding the corner into the main trailhead of Graham swamp, this group of six continue to crank up the pace as they dived into the twisty singletrack to finish out the remaining half of the trail. Log jumps, sand traps, coquina climbs and root strewn singletrack were taken with respect and, simultaneously reckless abandon, as the riders tried to stretch the distance between themselves for no other reason than sheer, self-destructive spite and competitive nature.
Upon exiting the trail, the last leg entailed a brutal slog into the ripping headwind that had initiated the small craft advisory warning that afternoon. Our merry band futilely tried to minimize nonaerodynamic exposure by lying chest down on the handlebars and riding singlefile into the wind. If it’s not obvious, a full-size mountain bike with a full-size rider, with an oversized ego is not very slippery in the wind. With a few riders already dangling off the back, the front four riders rotated an echelon in an effort to conserve what few matches they had left.
Match conservation was completely disregarded as they neared the alternate side of the aforementioned bridge. As if being incredibly steep, completely exposed and plowing directly into the gusty gale wasn’t enough, two riders put their heads down and rocketed toward the top leaving your humble reporter in their windy wake. Knowing that this reckless expenditure of effort would not go unreconciled, your humble reporter chose a sustainable, conservative pace and eventually made it to the top of the arduous arch. This was rewarded by a thrilling 35+ mph descent, speeding back down towards the flats of the island. The dastardly display completely separated the three danglers, the two leaders and the reporter somewhere in the vague vastness in between.
Your weary reporter took stock of the two riders ahead, carefully computing their cardiovascular condition after such a self destructive bridge burst. The evaluation summation revealed that one of two may be beginning to list slightly to starboard in the cyclonic circumstances. The reporter filed this info away and began the chase in earnest. Once in the flats, the tree lined promenade provided partial protection from the whipping winds. With his chin on the stem, your humble reporter churned onward, slowly closing the gap with the two ahead.
Through exhaustion or compassion, the two leaders slightly slowed their pace and the reporter was able to reconnect. This hiatus lasted for a few moments as everyone involved wondered why anyone, with any sense of normality, would do this to themselves. Suddenly, the once-listing rider broke the zen-like trance of hypoxia, found a hidden energy fragment and immediately raised the pace to ludicrous speed. Sadly, this noble and respectful tactic proved to be his undoing as he was dispatched upon his rotation and the seemingly tireless leader and the ruined reporter sped onward.
Nearing completion, the route now approached the final portion of the Mala Compra mtb trail. Only a 20 minute singletrack assault remained between our egomaniac leaders and the special kind of glory that can only be achieved by racing during a non-competitive, leisurely event.
While basking in the thoughts of this astounding accomplishment, the know-it-all reporter erroneously turns down the jogging path instead of the mountain bike trail! (the crowd panics at this riveting wrong turn of events) After a few precious moments of pedal pounding on this unfamiliarly wide wide trail, the reporter realizes his directional deviation, make some random excuse, then doubles back towards the proper turn with the previous leader in tow.
This catastrophic cluster has considerable consequences as the once thought dispatched, listing rider has now rejoined the group…..the three spandex heroes speed into the woods. Now leading the tremendously tired trio, the reporter now can only comment on his own warped sense of reality as he throttles down the trail. Forty miles on a fat tired bike by a fat, tired reporter is definitely showing its cost. Many trees are refusing to move, choosing instead to slam into the shoulders, handlebars and head of the run-down reporter.
The trail ends as the deeply delusional reporter imagines raising his hands in inglorious achievement upon completion of the Tour de Flagler Ultra. Strutting his bare, poultry reminiscent chest in the parking area, he anxiously awaits the arrival of the other riders to reaffirm his illusory conquest and barrage them with boastful braggery. Credits roll.
The Tour de Flagler Ultra is a super fun gathering that suits riders of all abilities and mental states. With such an impressive outpouring of support from the bicycle community, it is sure to be repeated. Please watch this space for updates, thanks for watching.