I recently purchased a used mountain bike, an upgrade from my old one, so I had a good excuse to test it out on the Munson Hills Off-Road Bicycle Trail just south of Tallahassee. The trail is a 7.5 mile loop with an option for a shorter loop by taking the Tall Pine Shortcut. It traverses rolling hills of pristine longleaf pine flatwoods, and if the hills aren't enough, the Forest Service and volunteers have scalloped out hundreds of shorter dips and rises after laying down a bed of hard clay on most of the single-track surface. The jumps, twists and turns and sometimes narrow openings through the pines make for a fun and challenging ride. Make sure your brakes are working properly!
Before I embarked, I stopped by a bike shop and purchased some preparatory items-a spare inner tube, patch kit, tire levers, compact multi-tool, and a couple of CO2 cartridges with a small inflator that can inflate a completely flat tire in about five seconds (versus five minutes or more with a small hand pump). There's nothing worse than a flat tire several miles down a trail and no way to fix or replace it.
On a recent Sunday evening, I waited for a thunderstorm to pass before embarking on the trail. Since I only had a couple of hours left of daylight, I also brought a small flashlight just in case I had problems and had to walk my bike back to the trailhead. A headlamp would have sufficed even better. And, of course, I wore a helmet and brought plenty of water and a cell phone.
About two miles down the trail, I heard the sickening noise of air whistling out of my rear tire. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't had to deal with a complete blowout in years. So, I took a deep breath, pulled out my multi-tool and accessories, and went to work. I decided that replacing the tube was easier than fixing it. I could put on a patch at home and test it on my unpaved roads. It helped that my bike was equipped with quick release wheels. I was back on the trail in ten minutes with new found confidence!
If you are new to biking and need to learn how to change or inflate a tire, numerous online videos can prove helpful and the folks at local bike shops are usually happy to assist. And don't forget the non-profit Bicycle House on Jackson Bluff Road where you can learn to repair a bike yourself.
My rewards for being able to continue my ride came about at the far end of the trail where I stopped and listened to barking tree frogs. They do emit a type of barking sound and since it had been a rainy day, they were active. I also watched an endangered red-cockaded woodpecker return to its cavity in a living pine. That was a rare treat. And soon after starting out again, I scared up a doe. Since the forest understory was relatively open, I watched her as she leaped away and bounded down to a small pond. The earlier thunderstorm had obviously frightened away other riders, so it was just me and the wild critters. I was grateful I had properly prepared for my ride beforehand.
Next on my list: some good padded bike shorts!