Sunday, March 4, 2012

Good Mornings

All of them were good mornings.  How could they not?  The Guana River Wildlife Management Area is one of my favorite parks to run in on the east coast of the state.  Vast natural spaces are difficult to find in the populated area where I live most of the year.  The land in the WMA is diverse, open, and breathtaking, and I treasure my mornings there. 


Alone on the trails in bitter temperatures and seemingly endless land to explore is an ideal situation.  I live for these mornings.  It was twenty seven degrees and a brutal wind raced atop the scrub, leaving my cheeks pink and chaffed.   The sky was a brilliant clear blue as only a January Florida sky can be.  Dressed in full length tights, for the very first time in my state, a long sleeve top, and warm black gloves, I set forth.  Despite the many times that I have traveled parts of this park, this was the first time that I took to the paths alone.  I did not have a time limit to return to the college van waiting in the parking lot or a group of runners by my side, fearful of getting lost.  I had freedom on the trails, and I took full advantage of it.  It was a good morning. 


As the steady rain fell, I made my way to the open paths, following the trails of shallow water.  Winter means my chance to explore closer to these low waters, designated as 'Seasonably Wet' trails on the park map.  I meandered the open plain.  The path and the water were almost indistinguishable, and I could only plan a few steps ahead.  The earth still wet, despite the season, but that  has never bothered me.  I'm not one to try and run trails and stay clean.  The gritty mud splashed up to my thighs and stained my new white trainers.  It was a good morning. 


I arrived for my ritual weekend run of thirteen miles in Guana River WMA.  Today, I wanted to travel north as far as I could with my prescribed mileage.  My real goal was to find the Lake Ponte Vedra observation tower, which required a good eight miles of new trails.  I was optimistic.  I've never gotten lost, yet.  Not only did I discover the observation tower, I also found perhaps my favorite stretch of trails in the park located near Graveyard path.  Along the way, I stumbled upon numerous lakes and a beautiful flock of fifteen to twenty roseate spoonbills huddled in the center.  Even though I planned the majority of my route, it was the little surprises made it most memorable.  I could never anticipate anything that wonderful.  I was a good morning.


I arrived at Guana River WMA for my fourth weekend in a row, this time with the college van full of members of the men's team.  I assumed I would be running by myself, again, but I didn't mind.  There is always plenty to explore.  When we began, the men's pace was slow and I kept up with the group of guys fairly easily.  They weren't going to make it a hard run, so I stuck with them.

We made our way out to the Capo observation tower like usual, and then one of the guys announced he wanted to "get lost in that direction."  Pointing northeast, he invited us to join.  I am all for getting lost and proposed sharing a few of my new discoveries in that area.  Naturally, they were up for the adventure, so we made our way down the narrow meandering paths along the pines and down to the prairie.  Even though the other seniors had been exploring the WMA for nearly four years, they were shocked by this new world of partially submerged paths.
We had fun splashing through the sticky dark mud.  The sun was shining in the clear sky after a long night of hard wind and rain.  It was beautiful, and we constantly reminded each other as the phrase slipped out of our mouths again and again.  As we ran on the soft footing, we told stories, made inappropriate references, and had a good time like teammates do.  Wading birds looked on, clearly puzzled at this group of energetic twenty-somethings frolicking though their usually quiet home. 

After reaching higher ground, the group divided a bit, others wanting to take different paths at different paces.  I understood.  The land often pulls me places, too.  The core group remained, however, as we took lesser known paths and discovered new loops together.

We made our way back to the park entrance as the last few minutes of our run time were ticking away.  Taking more of the low paths discovered on my last run, and making one of our own near the Big Savannah Pond, much dryer in the winter months but still good for a bit of splashing, we returned to the parking lot. Sharing my own discoveries with my adventuresome team and making ones of our own will always be a memory of mine.  It was a morning that affirmed my love for this sport, the land, and these people.  Covered in dirt and sweat, little streams of dried mud still stuck to our legs, we all understood that this was a great morning.