Alafia Mountain Bike Trails is the hidden gem of Florida.   For many we ride to forget about our jobs, our worries, the outside world.  For myself it's like a time machine that takes me back to the age when I discovered my first true love; when I got my very first bike.  Four decades later that joy still exists every time I ride.   If you spend any amount of time at Alafia you'll likely run into "Geo".  He loves his bike too, but it could be argued that he loves a shovel and a pile of dirt even more.  Trail upkeep is a full time, hot, sweaty, mosquito ridden, thankless job.  Geo's our goto guy, the getter done, the A#1 trail builder.  You could call him the Trail Boss, but that's not a title he'd place on himself.  He cares not for fame or titles.  He just wants some peace and quite so he can find his vision, see the path, and build it for all of us to enjoy.

This past March, Geo gathered a group of riders to build something never before seen at Alafia, a huge gap jump over water.  It's the type of jump only a capable few should ever attempt, or even consider for that matter.   In fact it's something better left to a professional mountain biker.  As it turns out we were about to meet just such a person.  Dustin Mason, an up and coming professional downhill rider, was coming to Alafia.   Like many of us who love to push our riding to the limit, he was looking to create and conquer something big at our trails.  Once the plans were drawn it took the better part of a week to build.  And by that Friday the part I would play had finally been called into action. The jump was ready to be tested, and so I was ready to capture it all.   I grabbed my bike and gear, jumped in my car and sped off.  By the time I got there Dustin had already tried it once, and failed.  He was sitting next to the landing, hunched over and looking dazed.  The gap was over 40 feet.  He cased it hard, slamming his chest on the bars and coming to a dead stop.  It was decided the landing needed to be a bit closer, and Dustin gladly took that time to collect himself.  That is when I began filming, and when the time came for another test, Dustin showed us what it takes to be a pro.  You block everything out, trust in your skills, and just send it!  And so he did. After the celebration I rushed home to edit the footage, and quickly posted the video to the Alafia Mountain Bike Trails Facebook page.  Needless to say the video blew up.   No one had ever seen anything like that at Alafia, or at all, and many were jealous of the few of us who took part.  But we had a surprise in store; Dustin was going to jump the gap again the next morning and everyone was invited.

When I arrived Saturday morning a crowd had already formed. There was about 30 riders but with all the excitement if felt like 100, everyone clambered about the landing area like gators in a chicken coop.  Things got crazy after a drone fell into the swamp and someone accepted $100 to jump in to get it.  By then the crowd had grown even larger, and with it the energy and anticipation grew too.  Dustin was making his rounds, scoping out the line.  "How do you feel" I asked.   "Sore" he said, but good to go.  Everyone had seen the video. But that wasn't enough.  This crowd wanted more, and it was time to jump the gap again.  Dustin made his way to the top of hill, bike in tow, to survey his line into the jump.  I don't remember how many test passes he made.  To be honest it felt like too few.  Regardless, he was ready.  The spotters up the hill shouted his arrival to the anxious crowd below.  He was charging down the line, moments from the jump.  As both wheels left the earth all that energy turned to silence, everyone sucking in their breath like the quiet vacuum of space.   Halfway through the air I knew he wasn't going to make it.  He knew it too.  Then suddenly a unified gasp from the crowd bellowed out as the front tire hit the face of the landing.  Dustin flew over the bars; his helmet mounted GoPro now embedded 6 inches underground, his bike then flying over him.   He popped up, raised his arms and acknowledged everyone's concerns.   A tacoed front wheel, and perhaps a few bruised brain cells, but he was ok.   Inspection of his frame revealed a hairline crack at the bottom bracket.  There's no telling when that began. Like his body he places high demands on his equipment.   For sure it was the end of the line for that frame, but it needed to make just one more jump.  Dustin watched as everyone scrambled to find and fit a borrowed front wheel onto his bike.  He sat calmly; waiting; focused. I leaned in, concerned.

"Are you ok"...

"I'll be ok when I land it".

His bike repaired, he made his way back up.   This time making several passes down the hill.  One after another, tension growing with each pause at the crest of the jump.  Pass after pass; pause after pause; repeat...  Eventually, he disappeared to the top of the hill, leaving us all wondering.  Then suddenly, the familiar whir of an oncoming sprocket going mach speed.   Here he comes.  He's not stopping this time.  Fully committed.  I don't remember hearing anything after that.  Through my lens I watched him float through the air.   This time both tires hit the ground, the weight of the world crashing down on that cracked frame, and he rolls away.  The crowd erupts.


He's ok.



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