Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Monday Quick Hits: A painful ride in Croom and other pointless exercises

Usually, when I'm on a long slog in the woods ...

and think about what I'm missing in town, it's beer and food.

On Saturday, all I wanted from civilization was some form of motorized transportation to get me out of the middle of the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest and a large, steel trash bin in which to throw what I'd come to think of as a completely pointless form of non-motorized transportation, the mountain bike.

My off-road bike was a Christmas present, and I hadn't used it much until a couple of weeks ago, when my road bike needed long-term repairs and I started hitting the trails in Croom fairly regularly.

I thought that was enough preparation for Saturday's annual 35- and 50-mile ride sponsored by the Southwest Association of Mountainbike Pedalers — swampclub.org.

It wasn't.

For the first 15 miles or so, my falls were at least infrequent enough that I could use them as milestones. Yeah, that's right — the big log with the ramp on it that everybody else hopped over but that dumped me into a palmetto thicket — that was about a half-hour into the ride.

But for some reason, the trail designers thought it would be fun to lead riders in and out of an old mining pit as many times as possible and to give this section a cutesy name, Drunken Monkey.

That's where I lost track of my falls, and that's because I fell almost every time I went down into the pit and every time I tried to ride out.

Nothing serious, but highly irritating, especially because I was being passed by hordes of riders who were obviously skilled, but even older than I am and not especially fit-looking. And not only did they pass me, but felt the need to offer sympathy and advice.

I didn't want to be told "you're doing great" or "just relax your arms." I wanted the ride's organizers to tell less-experienced mountain bike riders like me what they were in for and to give us a chance to opt out.

But if I don't and probably never will see the appeal of this kind of riding, I definitely did see the appeal of the last half of the 50--mile route:

Gentle sand hills covered with longleaf pines, twisty sections of trail through oak forests, views of the vast, recently abandoned pasture owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the blue sky above it.

It made you appreciate the variety and size of Croom. On the map, it's the perfect counterweight to Spring Hill, a green, unpopulated section in Hernando County's northeast corner almost exactly the size of the crowded section in the southwest.

And if there were crowds of riders there on Saturday — and several of them had driven in for the event from places such as the Villages and Palm Beach County — on most trips to Croom I don't see another soul.

I know I've made a similar point about similarly valuable natural assets before, but it seems as though hotel and restaurant owners, along with the county, could do more to promote the place. And we need to add mountain bikers to the list of potential renters of the cabins at Chinsegut Hill.

Croom has the longest uninterrupted network of mountain bike trails in the state and some of the best. You and I might not get it, but to a lot of people the chance to ride the Drunken Monkey is reason to drive across the state.

Another pursuit I have a hard time understanding ...

is social media.

I was struck by an essay in the Times Perspective section Sunday about how we'd all be more productive if we took more time to rest and fully disengage from our jobs.

It didn't mention Twitter and Facebook, but they seem like a prime example of this problem. And, of course, I didn't first see this story — originally published in the New York Times in our paper. I saw it because so many people took on the unnecessary burden of posting on their Twitter or Facebook pages a link to a piece about the importance of shedding unnecessary burdens.

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