A couple of weeks ago we headed down to Florida to catch some R&R. We had two goals, 1) visit family and 2) go mountain biking. We recently learned that one of our friends, Ray (yes, THE Ray from Ray’s MTB) had a little snow bird spot down there with some pretty awesome trails nearby. While we didn’t know what to expect since one might think Florida is all flat, we had a hunch it had to be good based on the fact that Ray had a place down there. And when Ray told us there were 60+ miles of mountain bike trails we were even more excited.
While we were only able to get in 1 day of riding, it was def worth the 2 hour trip from where we were in Florida. We arrived late evening but were welcomed to the cute cottage with open arms. Preston took an immediate liking to Ray as seen in the photo below. We didn’t feel so guilty bringing the baby after all! Then we all headed to the infamous Gator Joe’s to grab some dinner. Kudos to them for accommodating us although they were closing soon. They even put up with Preston getting all his energy out from the car ride. We did ask if gators were ever lurking around for fear that Preston may run into one. Rest assured, there were no gator incidents. We chatted about the next day’s plans and were pretty excited to hit the trails.
We opted to rent one bike for the both of us from Santos Bike Shop because $50 a day rental fee wasn’t too shabby for a pretty decent mountain bike (although they did require a $1k security deposit). Rob and Ray hit the trails late morning while I watched the baby and prepared a mean pasta lunch (as I knew they would be hungry upon their return). Once they got back, Ray and I headed out while Rob watched Preston.
The Santos trailhead was only about 15 minutes from Rays in the outskirts of Ocala (located in central Florida). Upon arrival there was a cool beginner area with small hills, short skinnies, and a berm for people to practice right near the parking lot (pics below). Fun stuff for people to warm up on. When I asked Ray who made it he replied, “Me!” I should have known! The park approached Ray to build it amongst other things on the trail. While Ray has only been down there a few months out of the year for the past few years, his impact on the trails does not go unnoticed with all the cool new features. As we headed out on the trail it was pretty flat. I thought, “Good, I should be able to hang with Ray who is deceivingly fast for his stature.” And although we’ve known Ray for a while, I had only mountain biked with him once before. And there is a story that I may or may not have lost to him during a local mountain bike race a few years back which he may or may not be entitled to some homemade cookies according to the bet
Ray asked if I wanted to hit the expert section not knowing my skill level. “Of course, I love technical riding!” The technical wasn’t too bad at all. Short, punchy climbs with some rocks and roots. Reminded me of our local mtb trail – Vulture’s Knob. I think I surprised Ray with my technical skills although I did struggle to keep up with him once we hit that technical. I even had a feeling that he was taking it easy on me. The first technical section was short and then we hit flat again until coming to the lllloooooonnng skinnies (see pics below). Although I was disappointed I was only able to make 70% of the skinnies, Ray did say that Rob didn’t disappoint and made them all.
As we continued to ride, Ray divulged his reasoning for choosing Florida. First, the cost of living is fairly cheap compared to places like Colorado and California. Second, it stays green all year-long, unlike out west where there is a lot of dessert. Lastly, and probably most important, he can ride the trails until the day he can no longer ride. While the mountains are beautiful, do you want to climb them when you are 70 years old? Another thing about Florida is that when it rains you don’t have to worry about the trails closing for days. With the soil and humidity, the trails dry out really fast.
We continued onto the dirt jump section that naturally I didn’t want to leave. They were designed much like the Ray’s MTB jump lines; beginner, intermediate, and expert. Wish I had my jump bike for that section rather than the full suspension rental. We also passed the bmx jump section where I was surprised to see how big the jumps and drops were. Crazy stuff for the fearless riders. One drop was even chained off because the landing was being fixed.
We pushed on hitting the Vortex (see video below of Rob!), more wood skinnies and technical sections before heading back. Naturally everyone we passed on the trail knew Ray and we chatted with a few. Local celebrity that Ray is
While we only scratched the surface of the 60+ miles of mountain bike trails Santos and surroundings areas have to offer, we will no doubt we back. We also hear the mountain bike race scene is rockin’ (check out OMBA) and the camping is pretty good too. Santos has also received IMBA’s bronze level ride center recognition. So put this on your bucket list of places to visit!
Thank you again Ray for the hospitality and we look forward to the next trip down!
Vortex video! Endless skinnies video!