The Family That Motors Together
About 30 minutes north of Tampa on I-75, the Withlacoochee State Forest sprawls east of Brooksville. You know the drill. Canopied campgrounds. Lazily flowing river water. Abundant wildlife, most of which is tiny, six-legged and intent upon eating you alive.And, of course, the roar of hundreds of small internal-combustion engines endlessly zipping in and out of earshot.
The Withlacoochee is home to Croom Motorcycle Area, a 2,600-acre playground dedicated to off-road dirt bike and ATV enthusiasts. First established in 1973, the CMA offers miles of trails of wildly varying degrees of difficulty, along with camping amenities and access to other, quieter outdoor recreation. As the only state property in Florida set aside for dirt bikes and quads, the CMA has become a favorite weekend destination for gearheads of all ages, from all over the state.
Once inside the entrance gate - where yearly passes must be purchased for all riders, and renewed each July - it's just a short, bumpy ride up to the Sand Hill area, where most patrons unload their vehicles and start their adventure. Sand Hill is exactly what it sounds like, a vast, banked expanse of dry dirt with a tendency to turn into a muddy ocean of wet dirt during the rainy season. Hilly trails surround the central basin, offering enough different terrain for some. There's plenty more, however, and another short, bumpy trip north to the other parking lots reveals another interesting labyrinth of trails; adventurers can camp for an entire weekend and still fail to ride every combination of the various off-road tracks. And contrary to the popular conception of off-road culture, CMA is perfectly family-friendly. It's not uncommon to see parents instructing their children on the finer points of four-wheeling, or to glimpse two or even three generations careening by through the trees.
The entrance to Croom Motorcyle Area is located at 6420 La Rose Road, just off the intersection of State Road 50 and I-75. It is open to non-camping traffic from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., and 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekends. Annual passes cost $50 starting July 1; the price drops $5 every three months during the year, but all passes must be renewed after June 30. For more information, call 352-754-6896, or check out www.fl-dof.com.
Hey, Batter Batter... Swing!
I played baseball, badly, as a kid. I could field alright and throw pretty well, but I was an absolutely atrocious hitter. I don't know if I was scared of the ball, or whether I just couldn't see it, but I was bad. Hitting-ninth bad. What if I'd had some real coaching, instead of a friend's dad who wanted to get out of work early twice a week? What if I'd been pushed, been forced to work on my game day and night until I was a veritable hitting machine? What if I'd gone to IMG?
The IMG Academies in Bradenton are world-renowned for turning young athletes into great ones. With programs in tennis, golf, soccer, basketball and baseball, IMG allows kids to focus on their sport with an intensity they just can't find on the sixth grade intramural gym team.
IMG has its own school, Pendleton, which players attend for three to four hours a day. But it's the state-of-the-art facilities, where the athletes train five days a week for as much as six hours a day, that draw the kids - and their parents' checkbooks.
In addition to the full-time students, and the pros routinely found working out at the complex, regular folks - not just the super-athletes and the super-rich - can get the IMG experience firsthand during the summer.
The baseball camps run from June until August, and periodically throughout the rest of the year. There was no camp on the day I showed up at IMG, but the coaches let me go through a practice with Pendleton's JV team. Me and 20 high-schoolers, most under 16, took the field at 1:30 p.m. The kids clearly had a passion for the game, and each one of them played with the rarefied ease of a big leaguer.
I did OK in the outfield, snagging the lazy fly balls an assistant coach popped my way. It was calm out there, shagging flies in the afternoon sun. If I blocked out the idle male teenage chatter - "You're gay!" "No, you're gay!" - it was almost Zen-like.
But then I moved to the batting cage, where baseball academy director Ken Bolek pitched to me. Even though he was taking it easy, I could barely make contact, and hit the same weak dribblers I did as a kid.
Dink. Whiff. Dink.
In the cage next to me, a pudgy kid no older than 12 was hitting the shit out of the ball. And here I was, a pudgy 24-year-old man, barely getting it back to Bolek.