Wednesday, October 15, 2014

the citrus loop

With my current work schedule, days off come mid-week, so this week's long run was scheduled for Wednesday in anticipation of a welcome cold front. Highs crept into the 80's, but it could have been worse. The destination: the highly acclaimed Citrus Loop within Withlacoochee State Forest outside of Inverness (about a 1 and 3/4 hour drive from home).

The Citrus Loop is a part of the Florida Trail system in the western corridor and is 35-40+ miles depending on whether a handful of 1+ mile side trails are incorporated to access recreation areas with water. Lack of water is the biggest challenge on this loop. I didn't want to add mileage to what would already be a long day for Uwharrie and me, so I opted for us to carry the water we needed for the entire 35 miles. This resulted in us carrying a bare minimum of 100 oz. for myself and 32 oz. for the dog.

We started at 10:20 am from the northernmost trail crossing of FR 13 and proceeded in a counter-clockwise direction. The trail was well-marked and in reasonable condition. Fresh legs and early cloud cover made the initial miles fly by. we really enjoyed the diversity of the scenery, which fluctuated from dry pine to enchanted gnarled oak forest. There were even rolling hills, which added to the flavor. All in all, I was really impressed with this loop, especially the western half.

As we rounded the bend and headed north on the eastern half, our pace suffered as the afternoon heat took its toll on an unrelenting stretch through shadeless pine. Still, the sight and fragrances of the wildflowers kept the mood light even as I resorted to periodic walking breaks. Uwharrie was doing surprisingly well in the heat, but I made sure to water her regularly (whether the silly raisin dog wanted to or not). We startled an owl who flew off with a green snake. We also saw coyote, squirrels, deer and turkey on the loop.

We were both happy to return to the car at 4:45 pm. This is a great loop and I certainly would love to return to it later in the winter- a great introduction to Florida trail ultra running!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

swamp solitaire

The lingering monsoon season has continued to keep old roads and trails above the Hawthorne formation submerged in black water and undesirable, if not impassable. So the week's long run was held in our big backyard along a lime rock forest road free and clear of water. The road forms a scenic loop about 3.2 miles in length through the forest where an annual 5K run is held. It's easily accessed via a 0.4 mile dirt road from our house.

The plan was hatched for a marathon: starting/finishing from the tiny house and running 8 laps. I successfully completed this run starting at 4:00 am Sunday morning. A cold front had passed through and the temperature was in the upper 40's... Hot it was not!

I carried one 20 oz. bottle out to the start of the loop and sipped at it periodically on the laps, but never felt inclined to refill it. I also started with a headlamp, but after a few loops, felt comfortable enough in the darkness to turn it off and let my eyes adjust. I marveled at the Milky Way and watched several shooting stars.

Having recently observed a coral snake and gopher tortoise in the forest, I kept a constant eye for more herpetological specimens, but didn't see any. The only animal encounters were the eyes of deer and the yipping of coyotes. For the most part, it was just a game of swamp solitaire. 

Lily loaned me her wristwatch, so I was able to keep track of my splits. Halfway in, I figured I'd go for sub 3:30. I'm happy to have hit that goal. The weather provided a huge advantage:

00.4 - 0:04:08 - 04:08
03.6 - 0:30:30 - 26:22
06.8 - 0:55:15 - 24:43
10.0 - 1:19:17 - 24:04
13.2 - 1:42:26 - 23:09
16.4 - 2:05:48 - 23:22
19.6 - 2:29:41 - 23:53
22.8 - 2:55:05 - 25:24
26.0 - 3:22:50 - 27:44
26.4 - 3:27:22 - 04:32

The forest only began to light up with bird song on the final lap, so there was no real need to bother with photography. Thankfully, I have some of Lily's photos to share, including pics of our Saturday night trip to the top of the forest canopy to watch sunset and the moon (atop a tower along the loop). Good times!

A typical scene along the forest loop (during the day)
Looking into the woods along the loop 
Lily watching the sunset atop 96' forest tower
Nearly full moon over tower
Looking up from the forest floor

Thursday, October 02, 2014

the monti podcast #113

Back in May, I gave a talk in Chapel Hill about the Appalachian Trail. Many thanks to Jeff and The Monti for inviting me to come talk. It's featured this week on The Monti podcast. Give it a listen:
Play podcast #113

Sunday, September 28, 2014

rhodo my heart

Beginning in October, I will be working for the Florida Trail Association. I look forward to exploring and helping to build this 1,000+ mile National Scenic Trail, but face the quandary of being away from Lily and Gainesville for extended chunks of time. At least one piece of the puzzle has been solved...

I flew up to North Carolina last Thursday to visit with my folks and borrow a car (so Lily and I won't have to juggle work and school schedules with one vehicle). Dad and I got in a good run at Salem Lake on Friday, but I couldn't resist the temptation to vector west on my return to FL to get in a good mountain run. 

I brought with me an altered perception of the Appalachians from over a month living in Florida. For perhaps the first time, I noticed rolling hills driving west through the flat Piedmont. I was absolutely blown away by the grandeur of the beautiful, but relatively minuscule South Mountains. As the Blue Ridge towered above me on the final approach, I smiled with a new-found appreciation and awe. Would my quads remember what to do?
Map of original route, modifications described in post
At noon on Saturday, I parked at the Kitsuma TH right off of I-40 to begin a Rattle my Heart remix. My plan was to get in a good 50K workout and explore a link-up of three summits (Pinnacle, Rocky Knob and Greybeard Mountain) via a route known as the Swannanoa Rim Trail (thanks to Brandon, for the inspiration). Starting in a counter-clockwise direction, the loop immediately climbs Kitsuma Peak, then descends an exciting roller-coaster ridge line to the Old Fort Picnic Area and a short section of pavement. 

After an hour of running, I began the climb up Heartbreak Ridge to 5,665' Pinnacle. Fall colors were beginning to appear and there was a hint of cool and crisp in the air. I still felt sweaty and out of shape on the climb (which I guess should be no surprise). I needed water, but found only the slightest trickle at Pinnacle spring. No matter, while waiting for my bottle to slowly fill, I slurped eagerly at the cool mountain water dripping from saturated moss.

With bottle filled, I ascended the yellow-blazed trail to the clouded summit of Pinnacle and was surprised to meet a couple of hikers on top. Now it was time to follow the Swannanoa Rim "trail" south, commando crawling through thick laurel in the clouds without map or compass. The challenge was short-lived as the forest soon opened up and produced pleasant terrain over the memorable outcrops of Rocky Knob all the way to the top of Greybeard Mountain.

View from Heartbreak Ridge
Fall colors are starting!
The forest opens up along the Swannanoa Rim
Descending Rocky Knob, looking towards Craggy Dome
The aptly named Rocky Knob with the Blacks above and beyond
Greybeard Mountain from Rocky Knob
Kitsuma Peak and Youngs Ridge from Royal Gorges overlook
I successfully navigated the Montreat and Ridgecrest trails (including a previously unexplored descent on Rhododendron trail) back to the car at Kitsuma TH before 6:00 pm. Next, it was time to meet up with Adam, Elliott, Jon and Genevieve for some grub, brew and free live music at the Pisgah Brewery. Thanks for the good times in WNC, now back to the swamp!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

first magnitude marathon

So far, I've enjoyed exploring in Florida. During the dog days of summer, this includes an internal exploration of a unique fatigue that can only be experienced in heinously high temperatures and humidity. It's proven painful, but necessary to test physical limits in these conditions, because my daydreaming has no limits...

I've already conjured up a nonstop self-supported 150-mile Coast to Coast traverse of the peninsula from Atlantic (St. Augustine) to Gulf (Withlacoochee Bay) utilizing the 110-mile Cross Florida Greenway, Florida Trail and St. John's River to Sea Loop. I think about it often on daily 5 to 10-mile trail runs while buzzing from the irrepressible heat. I naively fantasize the comfortable numbness miraculously enduring for the entire traverse while Jimi's waterfall plays in the background.

Back to reality, I can't remember the last time I ran such a daunting distance, especially in these conditions! 

It was time for a little reality check (just a teeny, tiny wafer-thin marathon) starting/finishing from the First Magnitude Brewery at 3:00 pm today and hopping onto the nearby Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail. One of the goals for this run was to reacquaint myself with some familiar (and not so familiar) pain in the 90+ degree heat. Lily joined me (on bike) and snapped some pics (below):

Heat of the day, ready to roll?!
The trail skirting Paynes Prarie
Getting swampy...
Cottonmouth crossing
Fried at the turnaround (markers start 1.75 miles from brewery)
Florida's mountains
Lucky to have Lily along for the ride!
Evening light (and shade) on the return
Deer crossing
Severe heat exhaustion symptoms set in after finish 
...Nothing a little beer (plus A/C, potato chips and water) can't fix, right?
It was all I could do to finish in under 4 hours (3:56). I'm happy with this effort. I also (successfully?) experienced some interesting pains, including severe heat exhaustion. Shortly after finishing, I felt a tingly sensation in my extremities, lips and even my tongue. It was hard to stand up without feeling faint. It seems that getting to A/C ASAP is part of the answer. The take-away is that I have a lot more to learn about myself and this crazy state before crossing the peninsula on foot...

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

small fish

Severed access to 6000 acres of conserved lands 
The other day I was trying to do some trail maintenance across Hatchet Creek, but was turned away by the fact that the water level had risen to 6 and a half feet from afternoon thunderstorms. I have been running just about everyday, sometimes during the heat of the day with my head throbbing from the humidity and heat.

Cypress forest near Newnan's Lake
I find myself becoming more efficient. But the landscape still has the upper hand. I came across my first water moccasin in the middle of an overgrown forest road, its cotton mouth signalling to keep away. I decided to turn back. It's exhilarating to be the small fish, but also frustrating. It's still trail running and I'm grateful for any opportunity to explore this wild land while most hide inside...

Pygmy rattlesnake crossing road

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

florida's mountains

People think that when the Spanish named Florida they meant that the soil was full of gardens. But people were wrong. The Spanish were talking about the sky. In Florida skies, clouds are great flowers that float like hyacinths on water, burgeon, and disappear. They are misty fields whose crops wisp into the distance, as if you were passing so quickly that you couldn't quite make out what was growing and knew no more than that it might have been something to wear soft and white and clinging to the the skin. There are skies that grow flowers black as the deepest earth and these flowers swirl over your head and open, and other flowers take their place until the whole sky is black and whirling, and nothing in the sky is still. Looked at another way, you could say that clouds are Florida's mountains.
   No, not Florida's mountains, because in our lifetimes mountains stay where they are, jutting up from the earth like shards or, if they are old mountains, like women's breasts. But Florida's clouds are always changing.
   Stop, you say, let me get this straight. But the clouds refuse, like a child spinning in her new party dress who, as she turns, is growing up, until suddenly the white lacy skies are gone and there is only rain...
-Lola Haskins, A Florida Marriage from The Wild Heart of Florida