Do you ever miss a place before you’ve even left it? My husband says that I get weirdly attached to things. I’ve been to random places, especially on road trips (gas stations, etc.) and felt melancholy, because I’ll probably never stop there or see those people again. Where are they going? I also feel it sometimes when I’m out running or hiking. Will anyone else ever notice this tree? (Why am I so weird?) I’ve had plenty of time to acknowledge this quirk, as someone who, since leaving home for college, has not lived in the same spot for more than 3-4 years at a time. Here in Florida will be my longest stretch, as we’ve owned our first little house for almost 4 years now. As military transfer season approaches, bear with me as I become more reflective. I’d also like to describe my current happy place, so please read on.
I’ve already written about the OG trails in my life, in Mississippi where I grew up. While I can always go home, it looks very different now than when it was mostly just ponds and pasture, but the early memories of childhood exploration live on.
The hiking trails we frequented in Cordova, Alaska were too wild for me to run on, so I stuck to the (slightly less wild) road, but I did stumble upon a few nice running trails in the larger cities. The 4 mile long Chester Creek Trail in Anchorage happens to run by the church that hosted our youth group on a mission trip in June of 2014. Part of the “greenbelt,” it makes you feel like you’re not in the city (though the appeal of an Anchorage trip WAS being in the city).
The Kaxdigoowu Héen Dei, also known as the Brotherhood Bridge Trail or Mendenhall River Trail, is one that I got particularly attached to in Juneau. The Tlingit name means “going back clearwater trail.” In both August and December of 2015, I visited distant cousins whom I’d only ever written to or heard stories about before, so the trips hold extra special memories. There, I tweeted, “Sad that this could be my last run in Juneau ever. We leave Cordova this summer & idk if we’ll make it back to AK. 😭” So, this trail is definitely associated with the feeling of missing a place before I’d even left it.
One of my oldest and dearest friends got married in Fairhope, Alabama in December of 2017. I had a half marathon two weeks later, so the morning of the wedding, I ran 11 miles on the Eastern Shore Trail (which I’d found online). The EST runs along the east side of Mobile Bay for 32 miles. Looking back, I can’t believe the bride didn’t mind that I spent the morning out on a long run instead of checking in on her- love you, Lizzy! It was a beautiful wedding and a fun weekend. (And I accomplished my goal of a sub-two hour half.)
In March of 2019, I visited Sevierville, Tennessee with part of my family. We went to the Smoky Mountains a lot when I was a child, so returning with my daughter was a fun experience. One day, she played at a playground with my parents while I ran on the Sevierville Greenway. The city website defines a greenway as “a corridor of undeveloped land, along a river or between urban centers that is reserved for recreational use or environmental preservation. Greenways connect people to the places they live, work and play!” Connection! That’s it! Later that year, we visited the other side of the Smokies in North Carolina, where I also found a greenway. I wrote about that trip here.
Finally, this brings me to my current obsession: the East Coast Greenway, which boasts the slogan, “Connecting People to Place.” Jacksonville will actually be hosting the Southeast Greenways and Trails Summit 2020 in April. The goal of this event and the nonprofit East Coast Greenway Alliance is to “transform the Southeast into a model of healthy, sustainable living.” The entire ECG is 3,000 miles long, connecting Maine to Florida, but my section- Amelia Island and Timicuan Trail (5 and 6 miles)- is listed as one of 15 favorite segments. (How lucky are we?)
I’ve run the entire local segment, but the 4 mile stretch of Timicuan Pathway on Big Talbot Island is my favorite. With multiple access points and parking areas, it’s convenient, but once you’re out there, you feel like it’s just you and the trail.
It is paved, but there are side dirt trails that lead down to the beach. I like veering off on Blackrock Trail to Boneyard Beach, where I always stop for a few moments to rest, think, and pray among the huge pieces of driftwood. (This is often my only alone time for the week, so I take full advantage.) My favorite time to run there is late afternoon, so I can enjoy the sunset on the drive home.
I’ve seen deer, turtles, tortoises, birds, snakes, and a bobcat, and I often stop to inspect scat along the trail to figure out what animal has passed by (Biology teacher problems). In late summer/early fall, webs of huge golden silk spiders stretch across the trail between trees overhead. I tried to count them once, but I stopped at fifty. (I know that they’d never just jump down on me, but despite the fact that I took Arachnid Biology in grad school, their presence does improve my speed work.) There is an open area where the National Park Service applied a prescribed burn in 2018, and habitat restoration is underway. Over the past year, I’ve been able to watch the barren, ashy land turn green again, and the acrid, smoky scent has faded.
Saying goodbye to this trail, and the “connection to place” that it has fostered, will be hard, but I look forward to connecting to our new home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin through the new paths that I’ll find there.