(04/12/2006) The rains are returning
When I set out to ride Old Fort King Trail, I knew that it was a linear trail. I knew that there was an trailhead just south of Hillsborough River State Park on U.S. 301, so I pulled in there first. There was a smallish parking lot, a nice pavilion with four tables, a water fountain, and a sign with a map of the trail. No restrooms. After reviewing the sign, I decided to start at the southern end of the trail, at John B. Sargeant Sr. Memorial Park. It was only a few miles down US 301.
The park has nice facilities, complete with water fountains, restrooms, picnic tables and a separate parking area next to the trail. There was another copy of the map, with a different “You are here” notation.
The first 2 miles and change of the trail is paved. This is nice. What isn’t nice is that you immediately have to cross US 301. This is a busy highway, with a 60 mph speed limit. So this means that the majority of the vehicles are moving at 70 mph. There are no lights, just a striped crosswalk. After negotiating the crossing, the trail curves behind a screen of trees for a short distance, about a quarter-mile. Then the trees give way to a barbed wire fence and 75’ of right of way.
The trail crosses several tributaries of the Hillsborough River. The bridges are wooden arch construction, and look well maintained. The paved trail also crosses quite a few driveways. This means stop and go, as you have to be sure there isn’t a vehicle bearing down on you. The trail also shares a road for a short distance, linking US 301 to some more driveways. After the 2 miles, the trail crosses US 301 again and the pavement ends.
I think this portion of the trail could have been done better. For starters, why did the trail have to cross US 301 to begin with? The property on the west side is all government owned, at one level or another. To make bicycle riders cross US 301 twice, and then dodge vehicles pulling out of driveways is simply bad design.
The first part of the dirt trail left me with more misgivings. Sand. Sugar sand. My bike is shod with 2.125 tires. These are relatively wide tires, and I don’t have any problem most of the time. I struggled on the beginning of the dirt portion of this trail. I passed a rest station that informed me that this portion of the trail was on the Hillsborough River flood plain. More bad planning/thinking. This means that the trail will be impassable for the majority of the rainy season, which runs from May thru October.
Once I got passed that, the trail did get better. The sand changed to hard packed dirt with gravel. Not much if any changes in elevation, and it wasn’t difficult to negotiate. There were a few small doglegs in the path, mostly around large trees. There was also evidence of repairs to the trail. Sections of the trail where patched with what looks like limestone, with gravel. This left many large rocks to work around. The weather had started to turn threatening, and I had neglected to bring a poncho, so I had to wick up the pace, and try to dodge the larger chunks of rocks.
The trail did a hard left and entered on Hillsborough River State Park lands, and became a dirt road. After a few wrong turns, I ended up at the trailhead just south of the State Park. I took a quick water break, and then, not eager to return by the trail, I took advantage of the bike lane on US 301, and raced the rain back to the paved portion, and eventually, my truck. Rain was spattering my windshield when I left, but I, and more importantly, my electronics, were dry. Lesson learned: if your electronics can’t take the water, bring a dollar poncho.
I don’t think I will be riding this trail again any time soon. At least the paved portion. There are just too many things that don’t seem like they were thought out or done correctly. And there are other trails have been done correctly. Flatwoods is just to the north, in the same river basin. In fact, John B. Sargeants Sr. Park is part of the Wilderness Park system. My advice to other riders: Keep your eyes open, and treat the paved portion like a regular street. As for the dirt, it wasn’t bad, just not what I expected. My dirt experience is very limited, and it will be interesting to see how this trail will compare once I have ridden more “natural” trails.