Mtn Biking in the Vortex at Santos State Park

vortex trail labelOne of the biggest lessons that we have learned through our 5 1/2 months on the road is how to be flexible. Our original plan for the first 2 weeks of January had us surfing and exploring historical monuments along the coast from St. Augustine to Charleston. 2 weeks of abnormally cold weather resulted in us skipping the surfing and powering through the history stuff (while well bundled).

With extra time on our hands and another cold front rolling in, we made the disappointing decision to skip the Columbus Whitewater Park (likelihood of paddling at 0-+5c being slim & none) and started looking for better weather and an adventure to fill the slot.

Mountain Biking – we can do that when it’s cooler and we haven’t been on any trails in over a month! Thanks to the North Florida Mountain Biking Facebook page, we discovered Santos State Park and the amazing work that the Ocala Mountain Bike Association have done. All they need is a mountain and they would be a destination trail system… The cherry on top is that you can camp right next to the trails in the State Park Campground, which is a small, clean park with basic services. There is a fat tire festival in March that would be great for anyone that is heading down to Florida on vacation anyways!

There are 2 looped trail sections,  an 18 mile (out & back) cross country trail that received IMBA recognition as an Epic trail in 2006 and a total of 80+ miles of trails under the care of OMBA. The trail section closest to the campground has it’s own pump track & skills park. It also has a series of mostly blue and green (yellow & green in their colour coding) trails that intertwine with a handful or black (red in their colour coding) smack in the middle. Yellow is rideable by anyone, Blue is a green trail that has either a lot of roots or some tight turns and Red has some steepness (up & down) to it as it is in the middle of a gully. The majority of blues and yellows that we rode had fabulous flow to them, which just made them fun to ride and chase the rider in front of you

bike washing standOur first morning was spent on this main section of trail, getting our bearings and sorting out how they rate trails. We rode 12km and then headed back to the camper for lunch (an amazing feature of camping at the trails!). After a 2 hour break, we went in search of the man-made structures and headed over to the Vortex trail system.

There is a “limiter” feature at the entrance gate that they state, if you can make it over the access ramp, then you can ride the trails…

hunter jumps play parkHunter was in heaven as they had a jump park with 3 sets of jumps tracks (small, medium, large) – he’s working on getting air and sooo excited when he does! They were really well made with wooden take-off ramps and sand landing ramps to help minimize the degradation the sand.

lee hunter walking wooden bermsThere is a double black diamond trail that goes around the edge of an old quarry. The opening image above is the sign that is at the entrance to the trail system and they have another wooden “limiter” feature at the entrance to give you a sense of who should be riding it. On our first time through it (first afternoon), there was a decent amount of stopping and checking out the features (drops, climbs, wooden berms & skinnies).

About 3/4 of the way around there is a section with a big downhill & wooden berm, long narrowing skinny and then a jumps area that just opened last week. We happened to come upon this section of trail just as 3 of the OMBA executive were riding the drop/wooden berm and getting filmed for a promo video for the area. They cheered us on as Tim and I tried the drop & berm feature for the first time and we then followed them over to the new jump area.

The filming was really cool (for those into camera work). The photographer had built his own gyro remote control helicopter with 2 go pro’s mounted on it that allowed him to film in 2 directions at once. He was able to follow the riders down the roller coaster feature (more on that below) and really get a sense of the feature by travelling the ups and downs with them. Check out the link for the video (that’s hunter riding the little dirt berm!)

We were pretty pleased with ourselves that afternoon – we tackled the wooden berms (small, medium & large), various downhill drops, some skinnies and the small drop jump. 27km of riding in total and everyone excited to ride again – NICE…

We took a day off and headed down to Brooksville to visit with Grandma Liz since we were only an hour away. We did some errands and enjoyed the internet access.

Friday we were back at it (after the dew had all evaporated off – about a 10:30 start), with the goal of doing a morning and afternoon ride that day. Hunter wanted to head straight to the Vortex trails. Luckily you have to ride about 4km of the green/blue trail system to get there so at least we get some endurance work in. More fun in the jumps park (it’s amazing how many times he can go around and around in that) and then we headed back onto the double black diamond trail. It was a faster ride this time since we had some sense of the trail.

tim medium dropWe all graduated to the medium drop, which feels like a 90 degree roll-over (ACK). I boldly looked at the roller coaster feature and determined that it was the same degree of difficulty so let’s do it!!! Rarely am I the first one to do anything – we reserve that for Tim. We send him into public bathrooms first and we send him down, up and over features first and then rate ourselves against how difficult it was for him. I caught his camera work totally off guard when I launched myself off of it vs the medium drop.

So – the roller coaster… It’s a series of 4 features that starts with a really scary steep drop, rolls down and up to another drop (not quite as steep), then another up and down (a little less steeps) and then ends on a small up that is tilted to the right and slight down to bring you to the ground. The crosscopter video does it much more justice than my still photos (we are in the background standing around the wooden fences and Hunter is featured riding the dirt berm!!!).

Another lunch break and we were straight back to the vortex area again. This time Hunter decided he was ready to tackle the wooden berms and I think he did the first one 5 times (“again, again… that’s so much fun!”). We were all much stronger on the trail and everyone successfully did the skinnies. Tim and I both did the Roller Coaster drop a few times while Hunter went back and forth between the small and medium drops.


It was 4:30 and last run of the day… I rode up the hill to the top of the drops (in my granny gear) and launched myself happily and confidently down the roller coaster, even getting a little air off drop #3. I hit the uphill on #4, went to pedal and discovered that my chain had come off in the last landing and I spun and spun, which when tilted sideways left to right is not so great. I got my right foot down but gravity was well underway and I fell sideways 4 feet off the feature to the ground, with my bike landing on top of me. UGH UGH UGH – grateful for my camelback which broke the fall (everyone should consider these a piece of safety equipment) and for the fact that I bring 911 with me on all decent adventures (aka TIM). He did the 20 point inspection, determined no major damage and I hobbled to my feet and we slowly rode home. The end result is 2 jammed fingers (they get puffy and nice & purple so easily!), and an entire right side that is bruised, from knee to shoulder and hurts when I breathe or do anything useful. I’m still really proud that I did it (and acknowledge total user error in not changing gears before doing the drop).

We topped off our trip to Ocala with Friday night at the Ocala Drive In – another check off Hunter’s bucket list and a fabulous time. Even better that it was a kids double feature of Nut Job & Frozen.

3 responses to “Mtn Biking in the Vortex at Santos State Park”

  1. I hurt just reading about your unplanned landing. Hope Tim gave you a full body massage when you got back. LOL Lynne

  2. After living in Ocala the last 23 years I started riding the Ocala trails last November and was immediately impressed. I have been telling all my out of state friends (more advanced riders than me) what a jewel we have. This story will convince them more than I could. Great coverage!!!!

    • Thanks for your comment Hap – we were certainly impressed and it is a great facility for riders of all levels. It is exciting to see all the features that are to come. It is definitely on our list of places to get back to!

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