Thursday, January 29, 2009


Back in the twentieth century when I was doing time at August Raa Middle School, I went through the card catalog in the school library looking for books about running. What good, after all, is a library if it doesn't have any books about running? As it turns out, the Augusta Raa library wasn't much good, but it did have a copy of Patch by C. H. Frick.

Patch is a charming novel about high school track and field (I found this particularly attractive because middle school athletics didn't exist, so as a runner I was just marking time till high school). The book is set in Crescent City, a thinly-disguised Evansville, Indiana. Sherrill Jones, quickly nicknamed Patch, transfers to West High from a rural school. Accidentally, he discovers the track team. Like Glenn Cunningham or Kip Keino, Patch has already spent his childhood running everywhere--to school and back, after the local freight train, around the family farm. Based on this background and his love of running, he becomes a miler. However, there's a lot that Patch has to learn about training, pacing, competition, and being a member of a team. Coach Anderson, a pipe-smoking veteran track coach, struggles to help him through those lessons. Patch has an additional mentor in fellow West High miler Benny Chapnik, a Latvian refugee. Unfortunately, Patch also had adversaries on the team, Grover Godwin and Sax Warner, middle-distance runners who feel threatened by the outsider.

Although not flawless, the book gets most of the track and field right. Frick was either an avid track fan or did a lot of research. This also shows in all the historical references--characters often mention athletes such as John Landy, Arne Anderson, Gunder Hägg, Roger Bannister, Wes Santee, Paavo Nurmi, and others when making a point about racing or training. This is especially true of Benny, who is a scholar of the sport. For example, in his discussion with team manager Dirk Ingersoll:
"You can do it in formal practice too," Benny said as if reading Dirk's thoughts. "Zatopek, the Czech who set three new Olympic records at Helsinki in '52, once ran sixty quarters in a single workout--and ran each quarter in sixty seconds. Roger Bannister of England, first man to break the four-minute mile, prepared for it by training several times a week, each time running ten consecutive quarter-miles at the same speed. He started in December, running the quarters in sixty-six seconds. By April he had brought the time down to fifty-nine."
A similar discussion about the shot put even rates a footnote, referring the reader to the 21 March 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Frick also got the local athletic background right. Perhaps you haven't heard of the great Indiana schoolboy miler of the 1930s, Tommy Deckard, but Frick had, and every word she wrote about him was true. She could have just gotten it from a program from a track meet, but she also could have entirely forsaken research and made up a name and a time.

Frick, as it turns out, was Dr. Constance Henrietta Frick Irwin (1913-1995). She grew up and lived most of her life in Evansville and southern Indiana, but 1957, the year she wrote Patch, was her third year of living in Iowa City, Iowa with her husband, Dr. William R. Irwin. The "Crescent City" setting of Patch may have been Frick's way of re-visiting Evansville during her Iowa exile, or it may have just been following the adage "write what you know." Frick also knew high school students, having taught and run the school libary in Indianapolis and Evansville. She also wrote books for adult readers, but Patch was one of four sports novels Frick authored for young readers, the others being Tourney Team (1954), Five Against the Odds (1955), and The Comeback Guy (1961). Of these, only The Comeback Guy also dealt with track and field, being about the senior year of Jeff Stanley, a high-school pole vaulter.

As one might suspect of a book published over half a century ago, Patch is out of print. There are a few copies floating around, though. My copy is one that was retired from the Edgewater High School library in Orlando, Florida, hopefully after a generation or two of high school athletes had a chance to read it. It certainly looks like it has been through that many hands. You could do worse than hunt down a copy for a future read. How can anyone dislike a book with a shot-putter named Moose?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Red Clay Relics

At some point in Tallahassee's history, the citizen's got tired of muddy streets and laid the first paving blocks downtown. In the 1920s a new concrete highway was built between Tallahassee and neighboring Thomasville, Georgia. As the twentieth century progressed paved roads became the norm. Then in the 1980s, Leon County announced that it intended to pave every road in the county.

This meant, of course, the death of the clay roads.

At the time there were still scores of miles of red clay roads north of Tallahassee. Among them were Raymond Diehl Road, Miller Landing Road, Miccosukee Road, and too many others to list. Most were blacktopped before the end of century. Drivers gained a few more miles of all-weather surface for their cars. If you're wondering what was lost, you can visit one of the surviving clay roads in north Leon County. These include:

Old Centerville Road and Sunny Hill Road
At one time, Old Centerville Road was over six miles of red clay road stretching from Moccasin Gap Road near Bradley's Country Store at its south end to the Georgia state line at its north end. (Over the line, Georgia had put down blacktop and named their portion "Springhill Road.") The clay didn't necessarily end there, though, because just south of the line Old Centerville intersected with the clay-surfaced Sunny Hill Road, which paralleled the state line west to Thomasville Road (US 319). This gave you another five-and-a-half miles on the clay, for a total of almost twelve miles of red clay on which to run, ride a horse, or simply drive slowly while admiring the land and seeing what a well-kept country road looked like a hundred years ago. Leon County managed to blacktop about three miles of the west end of Sunny Hill Road and close to two-and-a-half miles of the south end of Old Centerville Road, which leaves about six miles of the two still in red clay. These six miles are likely to remain unpaved for some time, because Kate Ireland--the owner of Foshalee Plantation--has put the land along them in a conservation easement. The hills on these roads give a runner or bicyclist a good workout while the patriarch live oaks provide shelter from the sun. Most of the land on either side of the roads is managed for quail hunting, so you're likely to see many kinds of wildlife, including deer, turkeys, alligators, foxes, and a variety of birds and reptiles.

Old Magnolia Road
Located east of Miccosukee, only four miles of Old Magnolia Road has escaped paving. Starting from the northern end of the road at T. S. Green Road, the first mile is still clay surfaced, the next half-mile is blacktop, and then three miles of red clay follows, ending at the intersection with Ro Co Co Road. There are some good hills on this stretch, as the road descends into and climbs out of the Lake Miccosukee basin. Once again, the road is canopied by live oaks, and is an excellent place to run, walk, bicycle, or ride a horse. The 100 km off-pavement bike ride of the Capital City Cyclists' Spaghetti 100 uses the north mile of Old Magnolia Road as the course leaves and returns to the start and finish in the village of Miccosukee. At one time the Pie Run 5K course also included this part of the road.

Orchard Pond Road
If you wanted to drive completely around Lake Jackson, the north end of the circuit would be Orchard Pond Road. Orchard Pond Road runs east-west, from North Meridian Road just north of Bannerman Road, to Old Bainbridge Road just south of the Ochlockonee River bridge. The west end is more sand than clay, perhaps because of proximity to the river. The east end, however, is definitely in the clay hills. The canopy of trees is less dramatic than on Leon County's other surviving clay roads. Over the years, I've been reluctant to do much running on Orchard Pond Road because of the many blind hills and turns. The one time that I bicycled the length of the road, the sandy stretches were boggy and the clay parts were dry, but washboard-rough. Between 1927 and 1947 the local Boy Scout camp was located off of Orchard Pond Road; now the Scouts are exiled to the Wallwood Reservation across the Ochlockonee River in Gadsden County.

In the southwest sector of Leon County, there are still hundreds of miles of unpaved roads in the Apalachicola National Forest. But these are in the coastal plain rather than the red hills and are mostly flat and sandy rather than rolling and red clay.

No one (or at least no one who is sane) wants a return to the days before widespread pavement and an excellent highway system. Still, it would be nice if we could save some of what's left of our red clay roads. Historic preservation often applies to old buildings; why not old roads as well?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Another Visit to the GF&A Trail, Tallahassee, Florida

Part of the Georgia, Florida, and Alabama Railway's holdings was fifty miles of track from Carrabelle on the Gulf of Mexico to Tallahassee, Florida. Now the United States Forestry Service has incorporated just over a mile of the old GF&A railbed in the GF&A Trail in the Apalachicola National Forest. I had visited the trail in July, 2008 when construction was going on; I returned on 23 January 2009 to see what the completed trail looked like. There was still some work in progress, but the trail was complete enough to be used.

The south end of the GF&A Trail is on Helen Guard Station Road, just west of the intersection with Springhill Road. There is no formal trail head here, but there is plenty of room to park along the road near the trail. South of Helen Guard Station Road you can see the old GF&A railbed through the trees, paralleling Springhill Road. The trail, though is to the north. It's a paved trail, surfaced with asphalt. Where the edge of the trail is perched above a steep ditch, metal rails have been added for safety. Stay alert, because it's not much fun to run into a railing, either.

A quarter mile north of Helen Guard Station Road, on the west side of the trail there is a trail head parking area where the trail crosses unpaved Forest Road 354. The parking lot was surfaced with crushed lime rock the day of my visit; it looks like it may be paved in the future. From the parking area you can see some concrete pilings that once supported a building. Strolling through the woods in this area, you can find quite a number of these pilings. An old Civilian Conservation Corps camp? A military base? The Great Pyramids of Wakulla?

North of FR 354 the trail continues in a straight line until you near Fisher Creek. The railroad bridge over Fisher Creek has been gone for decades, so the trail makes a jog to the east to share Springhill Road's bridge at .63 miles. A sturdy barrier separates trail users from automobile traffic. Once across the creek, the trail jogs back to the west to rejoin the old railbed. Because the railbed is higher than Springhill Road, there is a small downhill to the bridge followed by a small uphill.

Just past a mile, the trail leaves the railbed for good, swerving to the east to cross Springhill Road at 1.05 miles. For trail users, this is the only stop sign on the trail. There are all sorts of warning signs and caution lights on Springhill Road warning vehicles about the trail, but this is a new trail that drivers haven't had much time to get used to, so use extra caution crossing the road.

Across Springhill Road the trail turns again to the north. The trail here is not built atop the old railbed, so it's more rolling and winding. The shoulders are wide and level--not only are metal railings unnecessary on this stretch, but it's possible to run or walk off the pavement. The forest here is mostly young longleaf pines (some planted in rows), seasoned with a few oaks and sweet gums. Looking down, the trail is littered with pine needles, pine cones, acorns from at least two species of oak, sweet gum seed balls, and the sandy hoofprints of deer.

Three dirt roads cross the trail on this stretch, all marked with signs warning "NO MOTOR VEHICLES." The first, at 1.57 miles, is a double-track road that looks more inviting for a run or a walk than the trail itself. The second, at 1.84 miles, is barely there at all, perhaps an unused ATV trail. The third, at 2.11 miles, is another double track. After you cross it, look through the trees to the right where you should be able to see Trout Pond.

The Trout Pond Recreation Area, at 2.40 miles, is the north end of the trail. The Recreation Area has been closed for several years, but it has been getting a facelift preparatory to re-opening as a trail head for the GF&A Trail. There is a new building with restrooms and water fountains next to the end of the trail, and the parking lot has a new layer of pavement and new paint. Nothing was open yet when I visited; there was nothing to do but take a lap around the parking lot and then turn around.

To visit the GF&A Trail, drive south from Tallahassee, Florida on Springhill Road (SR 373). Go 7.8 miles south of Capital Circle SW and look for FR 354 on the right. Trail head parking is off of FR 354. You'll see the warning signs for the trail crossing about 0.8 miles before you get to FR 354, and the Fisher Creek bridge will be about 0.3 miles before FR 354. If you want to go to the south end of the trail, drive another quarter mile past FR 354 and look for Helen Guard Station Road on the right. The Trout Pond trail head was not open yet, but it will be 6.0 miles south of Capital Circle SW on the left side of Springhill Road.


Monday, January 26, 2009

The Scranton High Chums on the Cinder Path

In the event that you're looking for something to read while waiting for the re-release of Once A Runner, there's always Donald Ferguson's The Chums of Scranton High On The Cinder Path (or The Mystery Of The Haunted Quarry). This was one of Ferguson's series of four sports-related books for boys:

The Chums of Scranton High (or Hugh Morgan's Uphill Fight)
The Chums of Scranton High Out For The Pennant (or In The Three Town League)
The Chums of Scranton High On The Cinder Path (or The Mystery Of The Haunted Quarry)
The Chums of Scranton High At Ice Hockey

Apparently by the fourth book Ferguson had run out of sub-titles, and after that he had run out of sports. These were all published in a flurry around 1919, or about the same time as the Spanish Influenza and the start of Prohibition.

The athletic aspect of Cinder Path involves the "chums" getting ready for a "fifteen-mile Marathon race." Ferguson notes that this is "an unusually long distance for boys to run, by the way, and hardly advisable under ordinary conditions." For fictional characters, though, there is no danger of injury or over-training, so it's okay. Apparently the race has an open course with checkpoints, and the "chums" are out looking for shortcuts between the checkpoints when they stumble into The Mystery Of The Haunted Quarry. Think Scooby Doo in running spikes. Once the mystery is cleared up, though, it's time for the climactic race in which the "chums" triumph for dear old Scranton High.

Track & field fiction is seldom of high literary quality, and Cinder Path is no exception. To be generous, the language is, um, quaint--which is about what you'd expect for a boys' book from the early twentieth century. The trouble is, you want track & field fiction to at least get the track & field right, and Cinder Path doesn't. I'll forgive calling a mere fifteen miles a Marathon, because that did happen back then (and still does). But "cinder path" usually means a track, not a cross-country course. And having an interscholastic race over that distance just isn't credible, especially for a group of "chums" who spend more time chasing ghosts than training. Ferguson obviously created the race not because it was something that high school runners would typically compete in, but just so that he could get the "chums" into the countryside where they would run into the Haunted Quarry.

Aside from the perverse pleasure of discovering one of the rotten tomatoes of running literature, Cinder Path has one other redeeming quality--it is absolutely free. All of the Scranton High chums' adventures are in the public domain now, and Project Gutenberg has digitized each volume. Copies are all over the web, like this one here:
Internet Archive's copy of The Chums of Scranton High On The Cinder Path
There are also a variety of paperback reprint editions available, no doubt churned out by folks who used the Project Gutenberg files for their typesetting. But stick with the electronic version. Enough trees have already died for the Scranton High chums.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dreaming of a Turnpike Trail

Driving on an Interstate highway, or strolling around a rest area on an Interstate highway, you may have noticed the maintenance paths along the right-of-way fence. These fence-line paths would make great walking trails; with a layer of pavement they could be incredible bike trails. Now, this isn't going to happen. You can't have pedestrians or cyclists on the right-of-way of a superhighway. If the path is fenced off then you'll reduce the size of the right-of-way below that required by the Scripture handed down by the federal government. It's just possible that in some places you could acquire additional right-of-way adjacent to the Interstate for a trail, but I can see problems around bridges and interchanges. This would be difficult retrofit.

Fortunately, when the Suncoast Parkway was built north of Tampa, someone thought of including the Suncoast Trail in the construction. As the Florida Turnpike describes it:
"The Suncoast Parkway is the Turnpike’s only facility incorporating a multiuse recreation trail into the design and construction of a limited-access roadway. The 42-mile trail corridor is contained within and along the west side of the Suncoast Parkway. It provides an alternative route for safe bicycle and pedestrian commuting for local residents and also serves as a regional recreational facility for residents of the region and visitors from throughout Florida."
So now Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando counties have a paved bike trail that's a lot like a rail-trail, but with more turns and hills.

What if the state of Florida did the same thing with the Florida Turnpike mainline? I don't know how practical such a retrofit would be, but you'd end up with a bike trail from Wildwood down to homestead. Except for the stretch about Yeehaw Junction, bike tourists could travel the length of the trail in short hops from town to town. It would link to other trails, like the West Orange Trail. The trail could be done a little piece at a time--as sections of the Turnpike require maintenance, trail would be built on that section (much the same way that bike lanes are being added to existing roads in this area).

I'll let you know if I find out who to lobby. In the meantime, stay off the Interstate right-of-way.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

500-Year Plan

I did my first walk on the Appalachian Trail in July, 2005. It wasn't a week-long plunge into the wilderness or an amazing athletic feat of mileage covered in an afternoon. We just parked at the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial off of US 19, walked the approach trail to Flat Rock Gap, the on up to the summit of Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. Oh, and then back to the car. Possibly everyone who lives within 500 miles of Neels Gap and owns a pair of hiking shoes has done this walk.

Studying books about the Appalachian Trail, I decided I probably was never going to be a through hiker. I enjoy sleeping indoors in a bed too much to backpack from Georgia to Maine (or the other direction). I idly considered a scheme of doing section hikes over the years till I had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. To some extent, it's not so idle. Whenever we're in north Georgia, I try to work in a hike that includes part of the Appalachian Trail. So now I tell people that I'm on the "Five-Hundred-Year Plan"--that in 500 years I'll have hiked the entire trail.

So am I on pace?

According to mileages in the Appalachian Trail Guide to North Carolina-Georgia, that first walk was 1.4 miles. On 8 August 2006, our walk included the stretch from Springer Mountain to Three Forks, 4.1 miles. On 9 August 2006 we covered the trail from Blood Mountain to Jarrard Gap, 2.6 miles. 2 September 2007, a leisurely stroll from Three Forks to Long Creek Falls, .8
miles. On 18 November 2007 a walk over Wildcat Mountain from Hog Pen Gap to Tesnatee Gap, 0.9 miles. On 2 May 2008 I finally got the bit from Flat Rock Gap to Neels Gap, 1 mile. And on 23 August 2008 we went from Unicoi Gap to Indian Grave Gap, 2.7 miles. So, in all, that totals to 13.5 miles in the last three-and-a-half years or so, or less than four miles a year. The Guide lists the length of the Appalachian Trail at 2,173.9 miles. At this rate I'll finish the trail in just under 564 years. The "Five-Hundred-Year Plan" is in jeopardy.

Which, aside from being a cheap excuse to play games with numbers, is my way of admitting that I'm never going to do all of the Appalachian Trail. Wherever the Appalachian Trail goes there are just too many other trails calling out to be walked. And closer to home I haven't even done all of the Florida Trail in the Big Bend, let alone all the more attractive trails in the area.

And I've still got that thing about wanting to sleep in a bed at night.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monticello Bike Trail (Monticello, Florida)

Unless you live in Monticello, Florida, you probably don't know about the Monticello Bike Trail. You may have noticed it if you've run in the Melon Run 5K, or if you've driven through Monticello on US Highway 90 and were particularly alert to the scenery. The Florida Office of Greenways and Trails doesn't list the Monticello Bike Trail on their website, nor does the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

And the Monticello Bike Trail is a rail-trail, but the railroad has been gone for a good long time--over seventy years. After being passed over by the east-west Jacksonville-to-Pensacola line in the 1850s, Monticello beat out Tallahassee for a north-south connection to Georgia around 1900. For a time, Monticello was directly on a rail line that ran from Chicago, Illinois to Tampa, Florida. Later, the Atlantic Coast line straightened the route, taking it west of town. Monticello citizens consoled themselves by noting that the old tracks still ran through town and connected with the main line. But during the 1930s, railroad workers crept into town one night and removed the tracks under cover of darkness. The next morning the people of Monticello woke up without a railroad. Legal action was threatened and may have even been taken, but the rails never came back. Only the name of Railroad Street hinted that trains had ever come through town. Somehow, though, over seven decades the right-of-way stayed open enough that in 2006 Monticello was able to dedicate a bike trail on part of the old railbed.

The Monticello Bike Trail runs north-south, with its north end on Cypress Street at the intersection with Mamie Scott Drive. This is just across Cypress from Jefferson County Elementary School, which must certainly contribute traffic to the trail on school days. Catty-corner from this end of the trail is an old, wooden schoolhouse--the Howard Academy High School building, which was being restored for use by the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Big Bend when I visited. Just off the trail at this end are some attractive benches, useful for anyone who needs to take a breather after reaching the end of the trail. From here the trail heads south, going past the kind of warehouses and factory sites that you'd expect to find along a rail corridor. The trail crosses some small streets on this stretch starting with York Street and Pearl Street. At Dogwood Street some arrows appear on the trail's pavement; this is where the course of the annual Melon Run 5K joins the trail. Just after Dogwood is the first stop sign on the trail, just over 0.4 miles from the north end. This is the intersection with Washington Street, aka US Highway 90. Crossing the highway, you find another set of benches and a bronze plaque. The plaque reads: "DEDICATED IN HONOR OF ISHAM L. 'IKE' ANDERSON 'MAYOR EMERITUS' OF MONTICELLO AND AVID BIKE ENTHUSIAST. DEDICATED 2006." Included is a drawing of a heavy man wearing a cowboy hat on a cruiser bike, the same picture that appears on all the trail signs.

South of US 90, the trail continues south into residential areas, with houses and the more-than-occasional church to each side. For half a mile, the trail resembles a sidewalk for South Railroad Street on your left. Around 0.7 miles, the houses on the right give way to an old pecan orchard. Just past a mile Railroad Street ends, the course of the Melon Run leaves the trail, and the trail crosses Chase Drive. Beyond Chase Drive the left of the trail is a woods of planted pines, while to the right is Clifford Brown Memorial Park. Past the park, the right of the trail is another old pecan orchard, which is becoming the Pecan Hills subdivision. Where houses have already been built some ornamental trees have been planted along the trail.

The stretch south of Chase Drive is unbroken by street crossings for over half a mile, all the way to the south end of the trail at Martin Road. There are plans to extend the trail another half a mile to Nacoosa Road. In fact, beyond the current end of the trail you can see an unpaved road (blocked by a chain) that continues along the old rail route. Perhaps this is the future south end of the trail. For now the total length of the trail is about 8100 feet, or just over 1-1/2 miles.

At a mile-and-a-half (or a future two miles), not a lot of fitness buffs or eco-tourists are going to be traveling to Monticello to take in this trail. Even though it's not an engine for generating tourist dollars, local use more than justifies its existence. On my one visit, I saw plenty of walkers and a few cyclists and runners out on the trail. No one was walking their dog on the trail, but there was plenty of evidence that dogs had been there. As Pecan Hill expands, even more people are going to be living near the trail and find it a convenient place to exercise or to stroll to downtown Monticello. The Monticello Bike Trail isn't one of the long trails on which you can stage a bike tour or a backpacking trip, but it's a community asset, valuable and useful to the folks who paid for it, the people of Monticello.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2009 Gulf Winds Track Club 30K / 15K

Sub-freezing temperatures at race-time did not prevent 87 runners from finishing the Gulf Winds Track Club 30K early on Saturday morning, 17 January 2008. Vince Molosky won his second straight GWTC 30K title with a course-record 1:54:06, comfortable ahead of runner-up John Robida. Third overall was top master runner Jay Wallace at 1:58:11. These are the only three runners to crack two hours on the Old Centerville Road - Sunny Hill Road course.

In the women's race, Sheryl Rosen was victorious for the third year in a row, running 2:11:41. Running 2:12:59, Jane Johnson won the women's master title, her seventh straight. In nine starts at this race since becoming a master, Johnson has come away with nine wins in the master division.

In the 15K fun run, defending champion Matt Mizereck fell to the 2008 runner-up, Will Stanford, 51:05 to 51:47. Both Stanford and Mizereck run for the Leon High School cross-country team. The Leon team puts in many miles training on this course, and each of the first five places went to Leon cross-country runners. Lisa Johnson successfully defended her women's title, racing to a 61:49 finish. Edged out by Johnson was top male master Tim Unger, running 61:50. The women's master titleist was Mary Anne Grayson of Thomasville at 73:05.

The course for the Gulf Winds Track Club 30K is mostly off pavement. It's an out-and-back course the first few yards of which are on Bradley Road before a turn onto Old Centerville Road. After about two miles on blacktop, the pavement ends and the runners are on the same red clay that the hills around them are made of. Patriarch live oaks hung with spanish moss loom over the road. This used to be cotton country; now it is managed for quail hunting and for timber. Around six miles (just short of the Georgia state line), the runners make a left turn to head west on Sunny Hill Road, named for Sunny Hill Plantation. The clay hills on this road are no smaller than those on Old Centerville Road. The runners stay on Sunny Hill Road till the turn-around at 15 km.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Walking to Port Leon

Almost two years ago on 28 January 2007 Judi and I made a hike to Port Leon and back. I hadn't visited the site for around twenty years, while Judi had never been there.

Port Leon had been a boom town on the Saint Marks River back around 1840. In the late 1830s, the terminus of the Tallahassee - St Marks Railroad was on the Saint Marks River in the town of Saint Marks. The cotton output of the Red Hills region was hauled by mules down the tracks from Tallahassee to Saint Marks, where it was loaded on seagoing ships in Apalachee Bay. Railroad officials asked the town of Saint Marks for more land for warehouses. Quite reasonably, the people of Saint Marks wanted to be paid for the land, which was not part of the railroad's expansion plans. Undaunted, the railroad put a bridge across the Saint Marks River and extended the track two miles downriver where they founded Port Leon. Sited on deeper water than Saint Marks, the new port was soon handling most of the cotton exports of the area, was incorporated, acquired a post office, a hotel, a newspaper, and a reputation as a refuge of the wicked. By 1843 Port Leon was slated to become the county seat of newly-formed Wakulla County, but then the town was destroyed by a hurricane.

The town was never rebuilt, but Port Leon never quite dropped out of history. During the Civil War Confederate pickets stationed at Port Leon fought off United States military personnel heading up the river to raid Saint Marks. The Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1931, and in 1936 the first headquarters of the Refuge was established at Port Leon. The "Federal Dock" pilings in the Saint Marks River probably date from this period. One of the Refuge's three forest ranger towers was built at Port Leon in the 1930s. Later, though, the headquarters was moved and the watch towers were abandoned, and Port Leon fell back into slumber.

Judi and I parked at the current refuge headquarters and started our hike. We followed a blue-blazed trail just north of the parking lot. This trail follows an old unpaved road in a southwesterly direct. It's an absolutely flat, wide, and straight, wide road--extremely straight. There are no turns on this road for 3.1 miles. Judi did not find this enchanting.

At 0.8 miles we came to an intersection with the Florida National Scenic Trail. One branch joined the road we were walking on while another branch headed south to the Refuge dikes. We kept going straight, now following the orange blazes of the Florida Trail. This took us through a refuge gate. By now, the vegetation had changed from a pleasant mix of pines, palms, and hardwoods to a pine-and-palmetto forest. The first turn was still over two miles ahead and you could see the whole way there.

At 3.1 miles, we finally came to the turn. There was a primitive campsite there for Florida Trail though-hikers. To the right, the orange blazes turned north to head for the town of Saint Marks. I had been to that point on the trail once; it's on the opposite side of the Saint Marks River from the town. There is no bridge; a sign instructs you to "hail boat to cross." Today, however, we wouldn't be trying to hail any boats. We followed the blue-blazed trail to the left that led to Port Leon.

Shortly after leaving the Florida Trail we came to where our trail turned in a more westerly direction into some older pines. A sign warned "NO VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT." We crossed through this gateway into Port Leon.

The first thing I noticed was that the old fire tower was gone. This had been just south of the terminus of the old rail grade and although the foundation elements were still there the tower itself was missing. Sometime since my last visit in the 1980s it had been removed. We made our way out to the river front. The wharf pilings in the water had aged quite a bit in the last two decades. Elsewhere, the old rail grade and other earthworks were visible, as were wooden culverts and wooden pilings for buildings. Some of these certainly go back to the nineteenth-century origins of Port Leon, but other features clearly date to later periods like the early years of the Wildlife Refuge. The beer cans were even more recent. There is no Port Leon cemetery.

Having seen Port Leon, we returned the way we had come. The road hadn't become any less straight during our stay.

The trail to Port Leon start just north of the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, 1255 Lighthouse Road, St Marks, FL (this point appears on maps as Plum Orchard, FL). Lighthouse Road runs south from US 98 outside of Newport, just east of the bridge over the Saint Marks River. The visitor center is a 3.7-miles drive on Lighthouse from US 98 (drive another six miles to visit the Saint Marks Lighthouse). There is a $5.00 per vehicle fee to enter the refuge.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Visit to the Bradwell Unit of the Apalachicola National Forest

Tallahassee area residents in the late twentieth century were bound to be familiar with this sight along state road 20. Just across the Ochlockonee River in Liberty County there was a long, sheet metal fence on the south side of the highway. You couldn't help but notice the fence because not a single square inch of it had escaped decoration by a vandal's paintbrush. This was the fence for the Bradwell Game Farm.

In 1996 the United States Forest Service acquired the land, and now it's the Bradwell Unit of the Apalachicola National Forest. The entrance road has been designated National Forest Road 190 and is open to vehicles, but the rest of the old hunting roads are restricted to foot traffic. Even in season hunting is only allowed on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. So a Tuesday in January seemed like a good time for a visit.

I drove 1-1/2 miles to the end of the entrance road, FR 190. FR 190 is a dirt road that's in excellent shape close to SR 20, but is more challenging to drive on by the time you get to the south end next to the Ochlockonee River. If you're in a truck you probably don't need to worry about it unless the weather has been wet. In which case most of the Bradwell Unit will probably be under water, and the condition of the entrance road will have ceased to be an issue.

Anyway, I was able to weave my way around the pot-holes and make it to the river. On my previous visit to the area there had been an old car near the end of the road. I found out later that previous visitors had dubbed this the "Bonnie and Clyde car." On this visit, it was gone. It wasn't exactly a natural wonder, but it had given the area character. I was sorry to see it go. Why couldn't the omnipresent beer containers been taken instead?

I had a wildlife management area map of the unit. This seemed to show that I could walk about a mile and a half in an upstream direction along the river, make a left turn onto another path, make the first left after that just before Pittman Creek, and then follow that path back to the entrance road a short distance from where I was parked. It looked like a loop of more than three but not quite four miles. This was the plan.

Stepping over a barrier took me onto the path up the river. Wide and smooth, this was clearly an old road. There were occasional fallen branches to go over or around, but nothing more difficult to negotiate. The Ochlockonee river was on the right on the other side of an old fence. Some pieces of sheet metal still clung to this fence, but the graffiti artists had never made it this far back into the woods.

Only 0.3 miles up the path brought me to Pittman Creek. It was a small, quiet body of water that didn't even seem to be flowing. Apparently the culverts through which the creek flowed under the path had been replaced at some time in the past; the old culverts were still lying in the woods on the near side of the creek. The crossing itself looked like a good candidate for a washout during a good storm, but it was passable that day. Beyond Pittman Creek the river turned away from the road, and there was woods on both sides.

0.4 miles brought me to a side road to the left that wasn't on the map. This was more evidence that you should never trust your life to a map--and much less to a free, wildlife management area map. Approaching 0.5 miles there was a side road to the right that was on the map. This led a few hundred feet down to the river, where you could see the Rock Bluff Scenic Area on the opposite bank.

Returning to the main road, another 0.1 miles brought me to a sharp corner in the fenceline. The road was now going more of less north. Along this stretch the river had deposited sand and bent over the fenceposts when it was at flood stage; it was remarkable that the fence was standing at all. Approaching 0.8 miles the road crossed a small creek that didn't appear on the map, and past 0.9 miles there was another unmapped side road to the left. On the second mile the road and the river began to come together again. In fact, around 1.4 miles the river was starting to undercut the road. The fence had already fallen into the river on this stretch. The road here will be entirely gone in a few years, but for now you have a great view of the river at this point. Houses are visible on the east bank, and looking upstream you can see the SR 20 bridge.

The road and the river angled apart again, and at 1.6 miles I found the left turn I was looking for. This old road took me almost directly away from the river and into the woods. At about 1.9 miles there was an old road to the left, and you could see a largish body of water straight ahead. This had to be Pittman Creek, although it was hard to reconcile this with the small stream nearer the river. I made the left turn and found myself walking more or less south, with what was apparently Pittman Creek on my right and the woods on my left. I passed an old wooden pen, possibly left over from the game farm days. The going was rougher here, with more brush and fallen trees to wrestle with.

Just past two miles the old road became almost entirely overgrown. Beyond the brush, you could see water over the trail. Bushwhacking and wading in failing light, or turn around? I knew for sure that I could get back to the car before dark by retracing my steps, so that's what I did.

I'll have to go back and finish the loop sometime, possibly during a drier period. Other than the loop there are miles of path in the Unit, and that doesn't even count the paths that didn't make it onto the Wildlife Management Area map. It's a good place to walk, but fallen limbs and stretches of poor footing might make it less enjoyable for runners. If there are any hills on the Unit then I haven't found them yet.

The entrance to the Bradwell Unit is on the south side of SR 20, approximately 0.2 miles east of the intersection of SR 267 and SR 20. There are parking areas nearer to the highway if the entrance road makes you nervous.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tralee Drive Loop

This is a loop of slightly more than two miles that incorporates a part of the Killearn Estates Bridle Trail and a part of the Centerville Road Trail. Because it's a loop, you can start anywhere and go in any direction, but for the purposes of this description I'm starting from the corner of the Bridle Trail near Celebration Baptist Church and heading north to go clockwise around the loop. This is just on the opposite side of a wooden privacy fence from the Church at a right angle in the power lines that mark the route of the bridle trail. There is also a collection of ominous-looking metal boxes here that must have something to do with electricity, communications, or something else that is none of my business.

At any rate, follow the power lines north from this corner and in about 200 feet you'll cross the southern end of Tralee Road. This is very close to the finish of the annual Shamrock Scurry 5K, which has been run in this area since 2004. Follow the power lines across Tralee and back onto the grass of the Bridle Trail, which parallels Shamrock Drive East. Suburban backyards are on either side of you here, sometimes on the other side of a hedge or a fence. Behind some of the fences dogs bark at you, resenting that you're free to roam while they're trapped in their yards. Speaking of dogs, watch your step; the Bridle Trail is often used for walking dogs.

Shortly after crossing Tralee or .16 miles into the route, some power lines branch off to the left, marking another part of the Bridle Trail. Ignore this branch and continue straight ahead. At about .32 miles you'll cross another road, Ardara Drive. Beyond this you'll come to an open area around .43 miles, Delvin Park. To the right you'll see the park's outstanding feature, twin holding ponds separated by a dike, the dike being topped by a trail. You can explore it, but it's a very short side trip.

At .52 miles you'll cross Dungarvin Drive. Past Dungarvin the downhills become more serious as you drop into the basin where Lake Kanturk lays. Around .74 miles another branch of the Bridle Trail goes to the left. You won't follow this branch, but get ready; you'll be taking a turn to the right at .76 miles. If you follow the power lines you can't go wrong here; power lines follow the right branch of the trail but there are none straight ahead.

After making the right turn you'll cross Chelmsford Road at .80 miles. After a while the route begins paralleling McLaughlin Drive. Their isn't much uphill or downhill on this stretch; you're already about as low into the Lake Kanturk basin as you're going to descend. After a good stretch with no road crossings, at 1.21 miles you'll cross Tralee Road near its north end. This is very close to the end of this branch of the Bridle Trail, which dead ends into the Centerville Road Trail around 1.26 miles. Say goodbye to the grass for now and turn right onto the asphalt pavement of the Centerville Road Trail.

Immediately you're climbing uphill out of the Lake Kanturk basin. This is a long uphill and lasts almost to the next road crossing, Killala Way (1.67 miles). Centerville Road will be on your left along this stretch and the backyards of homes in Killearn Estates will be on your right. Where a stand of bamboo blocks your view of Centerville Road you'll be able to look ahead and see the sign for Woodland Hall, which is where you'll turn left to rejoin the Bridle Trail. The Bridle Trail is on the near side of Woodland Hall at 1.96 miles--follow the power lines! Once back on the grass of the Bridle Trail you're almost back where you started from. Complete the loop at 2.11 miles.

The surface of the loop is suitable for walking, running, or riding a fat-tire bicycle. It's a short loop and there aren't many places to park along the way, so you may not want to visit it if you don't live in the neighborhood. I've used it as part of a longer course, though, and also used it to do a cool-down jog after the 1990 Echo 8K, which finished at Celebration Baptist Church. Similarly, athletes running in the Shamrock Scurry 5K may want to use the loop for warming up before the race or cooling down afterwards.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Killearn Estates Bridle Trail

When Killearn Properties laid out the Killearn Estates sub-division (or "planned community" as they called it) back in the 1960s, they decided to designate the utility easements as "bridle trails." It made for higher property values. See how this sounds: "Over there is the bridle trail, part of a network of miles of trails set aside for horseback riding." Now compare: "Those power lines over there are on a utility easement; trucks from city electric and the phone company will be driving up and down there day and night, and in a few years the cable television company will dig a big trench down the middle of it." Okay, which one do you want next to your four-bedroom house? It's all about marketing.

Through the 1970s, though, you could actually occasionally see a horse on the trails, or at least spot a pile of horse apples. Then the stables on Shamrock West closed down. I won't say that there hasn't been a horse on the bridle trails for twenty years, but I haven't seen one on the bridle trails for twenty years.

Which leaves miles and miles of horse-free grass trails for running.

The Killearn Estates Bridle Trails are absurdly easy to follow. As I mentioned earlier, they're really utility easements, so you just need to follow the power lines. At each road crossing the trail is also marked with wooden rails. The original 1960s version of these rails were unfinished log fences, but these have long since rotted away and have recently been replaced with stained wood railings supported by copper-crowned fenceposts. Speaking of road crossings, they average about one every quarter mile, so although you still have to worry about traffic, you don't have to worry about it much. Using the bridle trails, it's possible to run a nearly pavement-free route from Centerville Road to Thomasville Road. To help plan your run, the Killearn Home Owners Association has a map of the Bridle Trail.

The light-green lines are the Bridle Trails. KHA has a PDF of the map online at Like all maps, it is not completely accurate, so don't be too surprised when, for instance, on the east side of Foley Drive you find that the power lines are in someone's yard and the trail is missing. There are also no trailheads where you can leave your car and begin running, but there is parking at Killarney Way Park, Shannon Lakes Park, and Shamrock Park, so these could serve as trailheads. However, the parks are the property of the Killearn Homeowners Association and, as such, "are for Killearn residents and their guests only" as indicated by the "No Trespassing" signs. Similar signs are on the trail itself. Your options are to find a friend who lives in Killearn Estates so you can be his "guest", or buy a house in Killearn Estates. There are some good realtors in the local Gulf Winds Track Club.

I've been running on various parts of the Bridle Trails since around 1970. Strangely enough, many runners and walkers pass up the Trail to run on the concrete sidewalks. To each their own. Trail bicycles also occasionally zip by on the Trail. Other than that, you might run into a utility truck, or, very rarely, a city lawnmower. The grass on the trail can get quite shaggy between mowings in the summer. Think of it as a bonus if you're training for cross-country in the fall.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Where Are The Trails?

On my first hiking trip up to north Georgia, I stopped at the United States Forest Service offices in Gainesville, Georgia where I bought a copy of the brochure "Trails of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests." Unless you're just going to log miles on the Appalachian Trail, you really need at least one guide like this one, and "Trails of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests" carries an embarrassingly low price of $4.00. Now, the brochure lists 96 trails in the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests. I'm mostly interested in hiking trails, but the total also includes horseback riding trails, mountain biking trails, off-road vehicle trails, and a canoe trail. The Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests have a combined area of almost 900,000 acres. Closer to home, the Apalachicola National Forest has an area of not quite 600,000 acres. So how many trails does the Apalachicola National Forest boast? Proportionally by area, we'd have to guess 64. Is this close?

Not really. Try 17.

You could probably debate this total, because unlike the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests, there is no published list of all the trails in the Apalachicola National Forests, no "Trails of the Apalachicola National Forest" at $4.00 or any other price. So here is how I've broken it down:
  • Seven hiking trails (Camel Lake Trail, Silver Lake Trail, Leon Sinks Trail, Fort Gadsden Trail, a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Trail of Lakes, and the Wright Lake Trail.
  • Six canoe trails (Apalachicola River, Sopchoppy River, Ochlockonee River, Kennedy Creek, Owl Creek, and River Styx).
  • Two bicycle trails (the Munson Hills Trail and the Georgia, Florida, & Alabama Trail)
  • An OHV trail system.
  • A motorcycle trail system.
I could probably inflate this total a bit by including the Langston House Trail (a short, blue-blazed side trail of the Florida Trail in Wakulla County) and the foot-trails on the old Bradwell Game Farm in Liberty County. Even so, the Apalachicola's trail-per-acre ratio falls way below that of the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests.

Why is this? Is north Florida just a worse place for outdoor recreation than north Georgia? Is it because the metropolis of Greater Atlanta is closer to the Chattahoochee and Oconee Forests? Is there a lower number of volunteers available in north Florida willing to paint blazes and move fallen trees off of trails? Is it because of some budgetary policy of the Federal bureaucracy that no sane citizen can ever hope to understand?

Rather than worry over the mystery of what we don't have in north Florida, perhaps I'd be better off to enjoy what we do have. If you are interested in what we do have in the Apalachicola National Forest, then the forest's website might be a good place to start:

Apalachicola National Forest

And if a pair of hands is needed to help blaze a footpath along Bradford Brook, please send me a message!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Books: Cinder-Path Tales & From Start to Finish

I've been running for a few decades now and I've always been a voracious reader, so it's natural that I would have sought out books about running. I prefer reading fiction, so I've spent quite a bit of time over the years looking for running novels. Don't bother to tell me about Once a Runner (Parker, 1978); I've already found it as well as other much more obscure works like Staying the Distance (Loader, 1958) and Duel on the Cinders (Porter, 1960).

Ages ago, using Florida State University's research library, I was able to turn up two books of track-and-field short stories by William Lindsey, Cinder-Path Tales (1896) and At Start and Finish (1899). Florida State doesn't actually own a "real" copy of either of these volumes; the university's copies are on microfilm. I suspect that very few copies were ever printed, but I did see one in the Boston Public Library back in 1989.

As it turns out these aren't really two different books. At Start and Finish is mostly an expanded edition of Cinder-Path Tales. The story "Paddy the Leaper's Probation" has been left out of Cinder-Path Tales while three other stories have been added: "Old England and New England," "His Name is Mud," and "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade." As a reader, your best strategy would be to read all of At Start and Finish, and then go back and read "Paddy the Leaper's Probation" if you're hungry for more Lindsey.

The stories are episodes in the life of the character Walter Brown, a British emigrant to the United States of the 1860s who found himself with no salable skills in the New World other than his speed as a sprinter. His "descent" into the sordid world of professional athletics is the subject of the story "My First, For Money." This is a puzzling story to the modern reader and historically interesting for the light it sheds on attitudes regarding amateurism versus professionalism in athletics. Brown had apparently run as an amateur in Britain with no harm to his character or reputation. Once need forced him to run for money in the United States, though, he felt loss of status and shame so deep that you'd think he had been selling his body to sailors in back alleys instead of footracing. Depressed after winning his first professional race, he reflects that "for the 'red pottage of Esau' I had sold my birthright." Recalling that same day later in life he states that "...well did I remember my sorrow when I dropped the 'Mr.' from my name." From the 21st century, this seems like an obsessive concern over class distinctions that no longer exist.

Brown eventually becomes too successful competitively to be successful financially as a professional runner, and turns to training for his bread-and-butter, first of other professionals and then of collegians. The stories from this period in Brown's career tend to be upbeat or even whimsical--an attempt to fix a highland games hammer throw with a lightened implement, a drugstore girl takes the favorite out of a one-mile race with an ice-cream soda, and roller-derby tactics used to win a handicap race, for example. Lindsey occasionally tries for pathos, as in his story of a middle-distance runner rendered invalid by the race of his life.

Having read his athletics stories, I wondered how Lindsey had come to write them. This took me to Lindsey's unusual biography. Lindsey had been born in Massachusetts in 1858. Unlike his character Brown, he was unable to attend college. Instead, he made his living in sales until he designed an ammunition belt that he was able to sell to the British army. It was hard to do better than selling arms to the British Empire during the Victorian Era. The outbreak of the Boer War assured Lindsey's fortunes, and he was able to retire at a relatively young age and devote himself to arts, mostly the written word. His writing included some plays that received kind reviews that than good ones, some poetry I'd rather not be called on to judge, and his track-and-field stories. I'm still not sure what part of his background prompted him to write about athletics. His daughter, Leslie Lindsey Mason, died with her husband during their honeymoon voyage in 1915 when their ship, the Lusitania, was torpedoed and sunk. William Lindsey and his wife donated the land and money for the Leslie Lindsey Chapel of the Emmanuel Church in Boston in her memory (the chapel is a short walk from the finish line of the Boston Marathon if you're interested in visiting). In a more secular gesture, the Lindseys willed their home to Boston University, where it is now known as The Castle, and a pub serves beer in the basement.

Both Cinder-Path Tales and At Start and Finish have been out of print for over a century, but they've turned up on the internet, having been scanned into Google's online library. You can find them in all their Mauve Age glory at these links:

Cinder-Path Tales

At Start and Finish

The Cinder Path at Start and Finish

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Centerville Road "'Creteway"

Miccosukee Road has the Greenway, but Centerville Road has the 'Creteway! I'm talking about a 1-1/2 mile trail on the right-of-way along the west side of the Centerville Road in the Killearn Estates area. It's not a sidewalk; it's more a trail than a sidewalk.

The trail runs from Woodland Hall (5746 Centerville Road) north to Pimlico Drive. For the purposes of this article, I'm considering the south end of the trail to be where the concrete pavement of the sidewalk in front of Woodland Hall ends and the asphalt pavement of the trail begins. This is at the north edge of the Woodland Hall property, under some power lines. The power line easement stretching off to the west, by the way, is part of the Killearn Estates Bridle Trail, which deserves its own description (but not today).

As soon as you start north on the trail you're shaded by a canopy of hardwoods. At many times of the year this means that the trail is covered with leaves--a bonus for pedestrians, unless you really like feeling the pavement in your knee and hip joints. Centerville Road is to your right on the other side of a stand of trees and a drainage ditch. To your left are the backyards of houses along Tralee Road, often on the other side of wooden privacy fences. Behind many of these dogs bark at you, feeling safe behind their wall of wood.

The trail goes up a gentle incline for a short way (0.29 miles) till it crosses Killala Way. North of Killala you're first on a slight down slope, which gradually becomes steeper until its a downhill. The descent has started to level out by the time you pass under some power lines (0.70 miles), another intersection with the Killearn Estates Bridle Trail. The slope doesn't completely end, however, until you cross McLaughlin Drive (0.75 miles).

North of McLaughlin Drive, the trail surface changes from asphalt to concrete. You might overlook this change while instead noticing that the trail crosses over a body of water. This is the overflow from Lake Kanturk; during wet periods water from the lake flows under Centerville Road here. This is as low as the trail gets; north of here are just gentle ups and downs, very close to level.

The next road crossing is at Killimore Lane (0.97 miles). Beyond here the trail winds a bit erratically because it was laid around trees rather than having the trees removed. In some places the trees died later anyway, leaving an inexplicable bend in the trail. Other places the tree roots have tilted and cracked the concrete slabs making up the pavement. This is also the case north of Donnybrook Place (1.23 miles).

Not far from Donnybrook Place, the trees end, the trail turns to run next to Centerville Road, and you're on just another sidewalk. You run into other sidewalks at Pimlico Drive (1.48 miles), but I'm not going to write about sidewalks. The trail has ended.

Most of the time there isn't much traffic on the trail--the occasional walker or fitness cyclist from the surrounding neighborhoods. Students from Roberts Elementary School show up in large numbers on the trail at the beginning and end of the school day, at which time crossing guards staff the McLaughlin Drive intersection.

If you want to check out the "'Creteway," parking is a problem. There are no trailheads. Outside of normal school hours, you might be able to borrow parking at Woodland Hall at the south end of the trail. Another option would be to park at Celebration Baptist Church, then stroll about 300 yards east on the Killearn Estates Bridle Trail to the south end of the "'Creteway." There is also a two-to-three mile loop that you can do that incorporates the Bridle Trail and the "'Creteway" south of Mclaughlin Drive.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Trails On Google Maps: The Future Is Not Quite Now

Google maps turns out to be an excellent tool for measuring road courses. So if you have a running route that exclusively follows roads, or a road race that does the same, or a bicycling route, then Google maps can give you a very good idea as to total length of the route as well as distances along the way.

Off road you're back on your own. However, some trails are making their way into the Google maps database. The first one I noticed was portions of the Appalachian Trail near Fontana Dam in North Carolina. Now, if the entire trail were available online then this would be useful indeed, and not just for through hikers blogging their way from the south end of the trail on Springer Mountain, Georgia to the north end of the trail on Mount Katahdin, Maine (or vice versa). Unfortunately, parts of the trail are missing from the database, and the portions of the Appalachian Trail that made it into the database are not always accurate. For instance, here's part of a walk I did in north Georgia during August, 2008, from Unicoi Gap to Indian Grave Gap over Rocky Mountain:

View Larger Map

It was easy enough to "tell" Google the locations of the gaps, and by specifying a "walking" route rather than a "driving" route, Google sent me along the Appalachian trail rather than along the highway. However, Google told me that the length of the walk is 1.8 miles, and every source I've consulted puts the actual distance at 2.7 miles. If I'm hiking from Georgia to Maine (or Maine to Georgia), that's a large percentage of error.

Closer to my home in Tallahassee, Florida, the St Marks Trail has also made it onto Google maps. You'd think this would be an easy bit of cartography, seeing as the St Marks Trail is a rail trail. Once again, though, portions of the trail are missing from Google maps. At other places, the map differs significantly from the route of the actual trail. At one place in Woodville, Google maps shows the St Marks Trail veering from its actual course to go through a building.

Other rail trails within a short drive from Tallahassee are missing entirely from Google maps--the Four Freedoms Trail in Madison, for instance, altho' it does show the defunct railroad that the trail replaced.

So Google maps will still find a way for you to drive from Pahokee to Pascagoula and will find a "Dairy Queen" for you along the way, but it's still not terribly useful if your bicycle or your feet take you off the roads and onto the trails.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Harry Potter and the Trial of Miles

[ Originally written for publication in the January 2009 issue of the Fleet Foot, the newsletter of the Gulf Winds Track Club. ]

Last year J. K. Rowling released her seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It set all sorts of publishing records; according to Fortune magazine, Rowling is now wealthier than even Michael Jordan, and without the benefit of a shoe contract. So this year Rowling’s publication of The Tales of Beedle the Bard is accompanied by a great deal of excitement. I’m afraid I’m not going to join in, though. Rowling lost me when she stopped writing about running.

I was never a big fan of Harry Potter, and only read the first book to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t that impressed, so I’m not sure why I picked up a copy of the second book. While I was reading, though, I ran across Rowling’s first reference to distance running:

"...someone was patting him on the back as though he'd just won a marathon..." (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p.84)

Not as if he had scored a winning soccer goal, or as if he'd caught the snitch in the Quidditch World Cup, nor even as if he had won a general sort of race, but as though he had won a very specific sort of distance run. Was Rowling a distance runner? Was she an athletics fan? Did she happen to be writing when the London Marathon figured prominently in the sports news? I would have forgotten this one simile, but as I read further into the series, there were more.

"...he sank into a chair, feeling as exhausted as if he'd just run a mile, and felt his legs shaking." (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 242)
(Thirteen-year-old Harry Potter is apparently not in good enough shape to handle long distances yet.)

"Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running." (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p. 16)
(At fourteen, Harry has yet to learn the merits of doing a proper jog-down.)

"'Nothing, Arthur,' said Sirius, who was breathing heavily as though he had just run a long distance." (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p. 521)
(Apparently the run was not at a conversational pace. Perhaps it was a tempo run?)

"Professor Umbridge was still breathing as though she had just run a race when she strode into their Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson that afternoon." (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p. 666)
(Dolores Umbridge isn’t in this just for the fitness; she’s also a competitor!)

There are other running references. In Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s uncle describes a noise as “a racket like a starting pistol” rather than like a more generic firearm. In the same book Lucius Malfoy tells Harry, “Potter, your race is run.” Okay, that one is a cliché, but it’s a running cliché. And by the end of the book we’re reading that Harry “wanted to run, he wanted to keep running....”

With so much metaphor devoted to running in four of the first five books, I was certain that in the sixth book Harry Potter would be forming a cross-country team at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the seventh novel would feature a climactic showdown where Harry and Lord Voldemort enter the London-to-Brighton Road Race. Therefore, soon after the seventh novel was released I ordered copies of both the sixth and seventh books, hoping to finish reading before someone told me who won the final race.

There was nothing. In all 1,411 pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling fails to mention competitive distance running even once. After four volumes of using distance running as a metaphor for fatigue and glory, she seems to have moved on to other images.

So I’m not that enthused about The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I still wonder, though, why so much running crept into Rowling’s work from 1998 to 2003.

Herb Wills

Postscript: Some time after I wrote this, I discovered this passage on page 304 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

"He strode up and down the tent, feeling that he could have run a mile..."

So there are running references in five of the seven Harry Potter books. It's still not enough to make me to rush out and get a copy of Beedle the Bard, but I'm still wondering if there's any real connection between J. K. Rowling and running.