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Cycling Through the Pines
Cycling on the Trails in Gainesville, FL

Cycling on the Trails

A couple revels in a mountain biking date at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park in Gainesville, FL

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San Felasco Hammock Preserve map
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“Rock, paper, scissors,” Marc and I chanted in unison.

Our activity for our first day in Gainesville was on the line—canoeing down the Santa Fe River or, as I wanted, a more rigorous morning workout on the scenic mountain biking trails in San Felasco Hammock State Park.

Ten minutes and two “paper covers rock” later, we were heading toward the trailhead with our bikes. His paddling dreams would have to wait just one more day.

Traversing the
Trails

Map in San Felasco Hammock Preserve, Gainesville, Fl

Marc and I debated whether we could handle the more advanced trails or if we should stick to something more moderate. Wanting to save our legs for that night’s tour downtown on a 16-seater pedal pub, we opted for the latter.

I glanced at the map and saw “Pine for You,” a three-mile circle with an irresistibly whimsical name. Marc agreed that we had to try it out. We would save the more advanced “Conquistador” for another time and stretch out our ride to the very edge of the park. We pedaled up to the trailhead and plunged our bikes into a world of greens and golds, as our tires bit into the rich brown earth that carpeted the floor beneath the pine and oak trees and dappled golden rays of light came through branches overhead. At first, we playfully jockeyed for the lead, but we were soon competing with the trail’s beauty. The trees on either side of the track made a natural obstacle course to weave in and out of, challenging our athletic skill while we inhaled the dewy mid-morning air. Birdsong and rustling leaves competed with the whir of our bike wheels for the most dominant sound as we headed farther along.

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Wildlife in San Felasco Hammock Preserve, Gainesville, Fl

Spotting
Wildlife

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“We paused, took a moment to admire the peaceful family, and then without speaking started down the trail again.”

It wasn’t long before the sound of soft splashing joined the chorus as we soared by the improbably named “Itchy Bottom Lake.” The “Bramble Ramble” kept us too busy to make the lake more than a picturesque backdrop, where waterfowl dipped their wings in glittering water, gently skimming the surface. A quick turn, followed by a log jump released us onto a well-worn straightaway. The trail offered exhilarating stretches of fun, small obstacles with ancient oaks towering above us. The maturity of the forest surrounding us reminded me that this haven of nature had been growing here for generations. Lacy snowflake-shaped flowers hung like a veil in front of a fringe tree. I silently appreciated the beauty around us as we pedaled.

Marc interrupted my reverie when he slowed his bike to a halt on the side of the trail. As quietly as I’d ever heard him, he whispered to look up ahead. There was a deer and her babies picking through the underbrush in a leisurely meal, and every so often, a chirping bird flew past. We paused, took a moment to admire the peaceful family, and then without speaking started down the trail again.

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Whilte tail deer and fawn in San Felasco Hammock Preserve, Gainesville, Fl

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“We paused, took a moment to admire the peaceful family, and then without speaking started down the trail again.”

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“It felt as if we had the long stretches of trail and tall expanses of pine and mossy live oaks to ourselves.”

“It felt as if we had the long stretches of trail and tall expanses of pine and mossy live oaks to ourselves.”

Up ahead, the sunlight filtered through the trees and lit up glossy green leaves in an explosion of lemon-colored light. As if it had been prearranged, we spotted the sign telling us that “Pine for You” was just ahead, on the other side of the golden-glowing trail. It had been a long ride to get to the tree-covered trail we had decided was our destination, but it was worth it. The trail itself was mostly flat, with a few climbs and their companion descents, but its distance from the trailhead made the trail feel secluded. It felt as if we had the long stretches of trail and tall expanses of pine and mossy live oaks to ourselves. Our bike tires spun in harmony and I knew Marc was right behind me, tracing the tracks of my bike tires with his. We had gotten our workout among Mother Nature’s stunning outdoor track, enveloped in sights we would never forget.

We rode the trail back with a sense of calm, connectedness and camaraderie. When we reached the car and started to head back toward our downtown bed & breakfast, we chatted about returning to try our hand at the famously challenging “Conquistador” and “Tung Nut Loop” trails. That would have to wait, though—as we both eagerly wondered about the sights that awaited us tomorrow on the Santa Fe River.

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