Saturday, January 28, 2012

Alumni Weekend Running

Last weekend was a cross country alumni weekend of sorts.  Many runners, past and present, competed in a local 5k, racing on either the current runners team or the alumni team.  Our scoring was cross country style, naturally.  The remainder of the weekend was spent eating, eating, reminiscing, and running, since, well, we are cross country runners.

On Sunday, the team visited the Mala Compra Trails (I've also heard it called HOBOS Trails) which was designed as a mountain bike trail.  I am not much of a biker, and I really have no idea how many trails like this exist in Florida, but I can say that I have never seen anything like it.  The trails twist and turn, rise and fall suddenly and constantly for the five and a half mile wooded loop. 

A few miles in, I got separated from the others since it was mostly the men's team.  I ended up exploring most of the trails alone.  Somehow I ran my first loop in about thirty minutes, so I clearly took a wrong turn somewhere.  It was difficult to get my bearings because of all of the little twists and turns, but on my second loop I eventually ended up on the other side of the park by a road and another entrance where a large map was posted.  Once I took a look at the image, it all made sense.  I hopped on the large and generally straight hiking trail and made my way back to the start. 

The run ended up being around 10. 5 miles, which was a little short, but my legs and hips certainly felt it.  It was a unique, fun, and challenging run.  I recommend going with a few people who are around your speed so that you can stick together and enjoy the crazy course.  It's great for distances from 5-8 miles, but a bit repetitive for much more than that.  Even though it was relatively hot outside, the trail stayed cool because it is completely shaded by oaks.  I can imagine that it would be very nice in the summer, as well.

Here is a video of someone biking the trail.  You can get an idea of how crazy parts of it are.

At the end of the weekend, it was sad to see everyone go.  Even though I had just met these people,  I felt like I knew them well.  We have many, many shared experiences, from running the same old routes, to trying Celebrex for hip pain, and ultimately knowing what it is like to be part of something so unique.  Only these few people know what it is like to wake up every day and be a member of this cross country team.  I am very excited to be racing with them next year and keeping in touch until then.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Winter Part II

Winter in Florida?  People may laugh and mock the typically mild southern weather.  Many move to Florida in order to skip the season all together.  The good news, in that case, is that where I live the temperature will likely rise to the upper seventies tomorrow.  Many others know, however, that despite the sunny skies and January beach weather, Florida most certainly has a winter. 

All one has to do is open his eyes.

When the crisp yellow-greens fade to deep ochre and lovely terre verte, I know the season has changed.  The early morning fog acts as a grey backdrop, making the oranges and deep greens even more vivid.  The greens still hold their familiar yellow undertones, but they have changed over the months that I have been away. 


As the temperatures drop to freezing at nights, I notice the pure whiteness of sandy trails.  Like snow, the sand crunches underfoot, instead of sucking my feet downward, making my stride more laborious.  With the new lightness of my feet, my eyes focus ahead.  Somehow, the sunrises seem even more brilliant against the cooler colors of the bald cypress and live oaks.  The changes in color may not be as noticeable as the dramatic fall foliage of the north, but, to me, it is equally as beautiful.

I have missed winter in the woods.  I missed the colors most of all.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winter Part I

While home for a few days in December, I dealt with camera problems and then computer problems and all of the things that come with technology.  I didn't add new posts, even though I was out on the trails literally every day.  This is part one of two (likely) summarizing my winter adventures. 

When I return home, I find myself only revisiting the places where I have spent the most time in the past.  Even though I know the land, and I could easily drive a bit further to another park, there is comfort in returning to these woods.  In the end, I always manage to find something new to experience, so in a way, even the familiar can lead to adventure.

One Sunday morning, I set out to find a trail that I knew ran north to south, and then take it until it turned back west and hit the powerlines.  It was one of those foggy mornings when your eye lashes feel heavy because of the weight of the air.  Everything was the softest blue in color and even the sand was damp underfoot.  I took the path, but never found the bend, likely because it was overgrown.  What I did find, however, was much more exciting.

Just past where the main marked trail turns, a muddier path runs straight.  About one hundred meters ahead rests an abandoned bridge.  This bridge crosses the Anclote river.  The ramp on my side of the bridge was missing, long removed, to deter those on foot and vehicle from crossing.  Naturally, I climbed it.  If anything, I thought, I would rest for a moment and take in the view.  After admiring the slow moving river and the creatures in it, I pushed my way through the overgrowth on the opposite side to see what it was like.  The area had clearly been traveled, although the path of pressed grasses was not a maintained park trail.

I knew that crossing the bridge meant abandoning the planned route, but how could I  find a bridge and not see what was on the other side?  Well, it took me deep into the Anclote Tract of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve.  Once I was about a mile in, I knew generally where I was, but was convinced that it would meet a path I had explored a few years back.  It did.  But I turned around because I already hit nine miles or so and had only planned on running eight.  The path ahead, which would meander around  the park boundary following the fence line, was tilled by a tractor and I had no idea of the length back to the powelines.  It could have been a mile or five, if at all.  I decided to turn back.  There was no point in stressing my hips when the path back was generally compact with only a few miles of sand.  Watching the cars whiz by on SR 54 made me want to retreat back to the isolation of the woods anyway.

When I crossed the bridge and returned to the paths I know well, I literally crossed paths with an old friend.   My former coach and my brother's teacher was hiking alone on a trail not often traveled by those on foot.  I was so surprised  to see someone there, let alone someone I knew.  We said hello with pleasantly shocked expressions and went on our ways.  I would see him a week later on another path.  I guess we have similar ideas on how to spend our weekends.  There is no better way to spend a Sunday morning than deep in seemingly familiar woods. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lora Lane

I had heard that there were more extensive trails in the Brooker Creek Preserve at the end of Lora Lane, a few Streets away from the Brooker Creek Preserve main entrance and education center. 
The trail head was very easy to find, as it was literally at the end of the dead end road.  One side led to hiking trails, the other horse trails. 

I started with the hiking trails, which were off limits to horses and dogs.  They were primarily single track trails covered with pine needles.  They meandered around quite a bit and it was hard to get into a rhythm, but generally were easy to follow.  The loop ended up being just under two miles.  I still had quite a bit to go to get to five, so I took to the horse trails.  They were like Starkey's horse trails in that they were sandy, wider, and more open.  I preferred these, as I did a short out and back route and make it back to my car parked at the dead end street. 

The end of the road wasn't busy at all, so I was able to do a few strides to finish up the workout.

Typical to Brooker Creek, the trails are almost over marked.  It's not the place to get lost and wander, but if you are afraid of getting lost, then it is perfect since the loops are small and contained.  I'm not sure if they really allow runners on the horse trails, since they seem to only be for horses.  I felt fine running them on a week day in the early morning because no one was there.  I would not run there on the weekend when I'm sure it is busy.  It is some beautiful land and worth checking out.

I wrote this a while back, but my camera died and I didn't have photos, so here it is now with images (not the best since they are from a phone, but it gives you an idea of what it's like).