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Bikers hit the trails for work and play

The wind blows through your hair, wildlife is seen in the distance while you cruise through a Florida forest. Oh, by the way, your hamstrings, quads and gluteus maximus are burning like crazy, and if that's not bad enough, blood trickles down your knee from its last meeting with the ground.

You feel like you may never walk again.

Sound like an adventure you might enjoy? Then try mountain bike riding.

There will be plenty of action this weekend as riders from all over the Southeast converge on Alafia River State Park for an event sponsored by the SouthWest Association of Mountain Bike Pedalers (SWAMP).

The International Mountain Bicycling Association holds about four of these events in the United States each year, says SWAMP founder Wes Eubank. "This event really features the club and the trail."

IMBA created "Epic" events such as this to inspire mountain bikers to volunteer for trail work and improve the sport. Only 24 riding trails have received the IMBA Epic designation since 1999.

So SWAMP, a local trail bike advocacy group, is proud of the designation. The club helps maintain Morris Bridge, Croom near Brooksville, and Boyette trails along with the Alafia River trail.

The growing Alafia network features 17 miles of trails winding through a forest. The terrain includes rolling hills, routes along the river, and several miles of technical quarry riding.

"Alafia is more for the intermediate and experienced rider," Eubank says. "The area was formerly a phosphorus mine so there is some challenging terrain. That's why riders come from all over the state to ride here. The trails are more easily handled by beginners in Boyette Park where there are about 15 miles of connected trails."

On Saturday, 100 off-road enthusiasts will break into small work groups and construct a bridge, forge new trails, and do maintenance on existing trails.

It's not all work though. There'll be good eats for a nominal fee. "We'll have food from local restaurants as well as throw some stuff on the grill," Eubank says. "There'll be a bon fire Saturday evening also."

Although the real business starts Saturday morning, riders will begin arriving today. This event is held in conjunction with the Alafia River State Park and free camping is available for the participants.

Although the park and SWAMP work together to build and maintain the trails, Eubank says, "all the trails are open to the general public."

Saturday may be work, but Sunday bikers will enjoy the fruits of their labor.

"Sunday will be spent riding," Eubank says.

_ Correspondent Mary Collister can be reached at 661-2426 or brandonsptimes.com.

To learn more about mountain bike riding, visit www.imba.com and www.swampclub.org.

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