Just like days in high school, we met at 6:30am at the crushed shell parking lot of the corral, predictably wet from the heavy summer air and smelling like a mixture of salt and horse. After stretching, applying bug spray (horse flies are unrelenting in the summer and I am known to keep a bottle or two in my car), and many hugs, we made our way down the horse trail that connects to the paved bike path.
Meandering a few strides over 6.5 miles through the vast landscapes the park is known for, the bike path at J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park is a popular spot for runners, cyclists, walkers, and friends. Although it extends to the 42 mile Suncoast Parkway, my friend and I were just going to put in a few miles.
We discussed old running and new running, stories from high school and college. She is about to leave our little town for another with a four year college located in Tennessee. I am about to graduate and leave the world I have called home for the past few years. I laughed after hearing tales about former teammates. She laughed about my giddy, obvious love for the park and the trails.
I pointed to the right of the path, "There's a great trail back there, along the tree line. I ran it all of the time last summer."
"By yourself?" she asked, clearly worried about me running alone in God-knows where.
I assured her that I was safe and that "I've never gotten lost." But that doesn't mean I always knew exactly where I was going, either.
Two miles. The pristine painted white line stretched across a newly repaved section of the trail. The mile marker had moved; it used to be worn and hardly visible just beyond the section of trees. We turned around anyway and made our way back to the start of the trail. Nothing stays the same when you are away. The paved path now extends to the front of the park, forever altering the home cross country course I was told I inspired. Young longleaf pines have grown nearly a foot since March.
I guess what does remain are the people. In the early morning hours, I see the same people out on the trail: the middle aged man and his doberman, those speedy cyclists, and running club members who have seen me running at Starkey since I was thirteen. Friendships. That's what I love about running. Even though we may not always know where we are going, we know where to return and we know we have our friends to return to.
My friend was feeling the heat of the quickly rising sun and decided to take the wooded trail back to the corral. We said goodbye, unsure for how long it will be this time. A week? A year? I turned around and ran back down the path for a mile or two more, greeting each person I met along the way with "Good morning." What better way is there to spend a morning than running with longtime friends and new ones.
|A few pictures of the bike path from last summer|