A bit over a month ago, my wife and kids were out of town, and since I’m still injured, I’ve been trying to figure out things I can do to keep somewhat fit. I decided that I would take a cruisy, long walk in the woods, and I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been. I conducted the normal web search for trails in the surrounding area and decided Ocala was going to work best. The drive is less than an hour to several trailheads, and I could create a walk of many different distances. My choice was a ten-mile loop on the Clearwater Lake bike trail. It is the southern portion of the Paisley bike loop, which connects to another ten-mile portion accessed from Alexander Springs. At both parks, there are campgrounds and recreation areas, but you don’t have to go into the parks. At Clearwater, there is a separate parking area for the bike loop and an access point to the Florida National Scenic Trial, and you can park on the side of the road at Alexander Springs. The Florida Trail Association keeps the many sections of the hiking (mainly walking) trail in great shape, and they have a great interactive map explorer.
Anyway, back to my hike. It was a wonderful leisure walk in the woods. The only people I saw were those in the parking lot as I set off. The conditions were great, and I ended up walking the entire ten-mile loop. The trail is not necessarily easy, but it doesn’t present any obstacles or tough terrain. The only thing that makes it remotely a hike is the stretches of soft sand and the sandspurs and other debris that kept getting caught in my socks and shoelaces.
Here is a map:
The map can be a bit misleading, so you have to pay attention to the directional marker in the top left corner. Clearwater is the southern section, and you can see where the Florida Scenic Trail is not a loop and takes a different route. For my walk, I started at the trailhead and followed the loop counterclockwise. I stopped where it connects with the northern portion for a snack and then finished the second half. There is a good trail marker at the junction, so it is easy to navigate. The whole loop is about twenty miles. For the southern portion, I consider it a mellow half day; I think it took me in the neighborhood of three hours, but I didn’t time it. Unfortunately, all the time on my feet and the uneven terrain wreaked some havoc on my hips. I was sore for several days.
A couple weeks later, we camped at Alexander Springs, and I rode the northern portion on my, now-old 26er hard tail. Riding this bike makes me truly appreciate my 29er full suspension. You can see the arrows I drew on the map. Again (not sure why) I chose the counter clockwise direction, and I’m glad I did. You will see an X on the map – just after I passed the junction. This is not an accurate mark at all, but it is about where I think I hit a long slopey downhill that was in some fairly deep sugar sand. It was the only really soft section, and I bet for those who choose clockwise, it is a time on the trail when the cursing and/or complaining begins.
The ride did not take all that long, but I was really taking my time and enjoying the beautiful day. I was, again, solo, but this time, I was certainly not alone. Standard firearm deer hunting season opened this particularly weekend, and the hunters and dogs were thick. Luckily, I remembered to bring my bright orange t-shirt, so they couldn’t bitch about my use of the trail. Though they can’t hunt on or from the trails, this system crosses over tons of backwood roads that hunters and others use to access the forest, and they certainly can’t keep their dogs off the trails. About two-thirds through the loop, I did see a small doe; she was running scared (I assume from the barking), but she stayed somewhat calm – stopping, perking her ears, and then changing direction. She crossed my path twice before springing off into some deeper scrub – hopefully to a safe hiding place, though I’m not sure she was big enough to take.
My thoughts on the Paisley loop are mixed. Though designated a mountain bike trail, the conditions seem more conducive to walking than riding. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure I will ride the whole loop at some point, but for most mountain bikers I know, they would get bored with the lack of change in the terrain. It is mostly an in-the-saddle kind of trail. What I think I will do is return during rainy season and when it is not sandspur season. Though I didn’t flat, I think it’s likely out there when the spurs are dropping, which is in the fall / winter, depending on how long it takes them to break down.