“Hey watch out for that snake,” Joe Bonness said.
“Hey, Joe here are some panther tracks in the sand,” Maureen Bonness added.
“Where are they?” Joe Bonness asked.
“Right next to the whoop-dee-doos,” she responded.
On a crisp New Year’s Eve night, sister and brother Maureen and Joe Bonness and a handful of friends spent the evening riding virtually blind around a mountain bike course, weaving in and out of the trees, over obstacles and on man-made bridges 10 feet off the ground in an area called Willow Run in eastern Collier County, illuminated only by a full moon and lights on their handlebars. The clanking of bikes, smacking of chains and a crash followed by nervous laughter was audible before their lights were seen.
The group meets once a week to enjoy the cooler temperatures and the bug-free riding that usually plagues the Florida wilderness.
Fifteen years ago, Joe Bonness and some friends decided to make the bike trail on the property.
“I started out riding on my wife’s $50 Murray. I really abused the heck out of it,” Joe Bonness said. “I would ride it through water up to the seat. It didn’t have a chance after that.”
Now the bikes have become high-tech, comprised of carbon and titanium, powered by piston legs of a human engine and fueled by energy bars instead of gas.
“Just last week we had the Druid triathlon on the winter solstice,” Joe Bonness said. “We also have a series called ‘Sand and Stone,’ the winner of which gets a chunk of the quarry with a plaque on it.”
“It is really nice to get away from the sound of road and get back there in the woods,” Joe Bonness continued. “We make a minimal impact and ride through some of the best parts of some preserves, and when you are on the trail at night you get to see things that you wouldn’t normally — insects and animals with eyes that glow at night from the lights on the bicycles. It is very settling to ride at night. It surrounds you more.”
After winter, spring will come which gives way to the summer rains, engulfing the trail with new growth. But that following fall, the friends will return to clear the course and begin their yearly ritual of riding bicycles, cooking steak sandwiches, drinking beer and enjoying life with friends.
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Connect with Erik Kellar at www.naplesnews.com/staff/erik-kellar/