The roadtrip to christen the GSA had to include some time off pavement. However, there were not going to be a lot of opportunities given the time constraints and the desire to do some riding in the smokies and sample the Dragon. Being in central Florida, the natural thing to do was to head north through the Ocala National Forest (ONF). The ONF is 607 square miles and contains a large number of lakes. It is also home to wildlife such as alligator, wild boar, black bear, fox, deer and others. However, I only encountered opossum , skunk, and a few tortoises.
Although it covers a sizeable area, much of the forest and its trails are off limits to motorized vehicles. I was told my one of the locals as I fueled up in Umatilla that you can ride anywhere and no one will bother you, but I decided to stick to the pavement for a good bit of the forest in order to get to some legal dirt. I rode the Wiregrass trail, and part of the Ocala North trail to get in some more dirt. And by dirt I mean sand. As in nothing but sand. Hardpacked in some areas, but soft and silty for a lot of the trail. The big GS with a full set of luggage and Bridgestone tires was not happy in spots, and neither was its' rider. Of course, all this porous sand helps feed the aquifer, but such consolation is lost about the 4th time you pick up a loaded GS.
The beauty of the scrub palms and southern pines was mixed with large areas rebounding from forest fires. I could not tell what were controlled burns vs not. In places it was a hard slog through sandy depressions made ever wider by riders trying to skirt them. "Use the momentum Luke", I heard Obe Wan Kenobe saying in his echoing voice. And I did, but it was a workout. The good thing about soft sand (as compared to rocks) is that a tipover (and there were a few) does zero damage. You just get to practice power-lifting the bike, balancing it, getting on, starting, and getting going again !! On the North trail, the mix was better and I was handling the sand better so things improved. A couple of riders on lighter trail bikes seemed shocked that anyone would bring a big bike into some of the areas without knobbies. I have to admit that at that point, it would have been nice to switch for a while. I tried a few side trails that looked better, but they just looped back onto the main trail, or they ended in a closed gate. There is an active munitions range within the park boundaries, so best not to press your luck.
Exiting the northwest section of the ONF, I was of mixed emotions about seeing asphalt again. It was a relief not to muscle the bike around to keep it upright, but as usual I immediately missed the rugged and largely untamed wilderness. The GS earned more stripes this day.