Ahhhhh Gainesville. So many memories, so many stories. It's hard to believe that it's been a decade since I lived in this small, yet big, college town surrounded by what I like to call "real Florida," or otherwise known as the north central part of the state that tends to be more "southern" than the Hispanic dominated south Florida or the Yankee dominated coastlines. It's amazing that my college memories during my years at the University of Florida seem to be primarily limited to parties, football games, friends and a few bars, some of which no longer exists, but the parks, natural environment, recreation areas and outdoor activities are nothing but a void. I guess I had a few too many beers back in the day.
Nevertheless, I'm happy to say that last week I got to experience a small slice of this town that I'm actually a little ashamed of never taking advantage of while I was a resident party animal. The San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, located just north of Gainesville off C.R. 232, is absolutely beautiful. It's about 6,900 acres of trails accommodating hikers, bicyclist and equestrians. The Dietitian and I planned out a 4.5 mile run, turned 5-miler (we got temporarily confused), along the Cellon Creek Loop, which is described as "traversing both sides of Cellon Creek as it winds through rolling terrain and across small jog jumps. This is a 4-mile intermediate level trail."
It was a crisp morning as the air temperature was in the upper 40s. This would be my first trail run since before injuring my Achilles tendon in September. Not really knowing how to dress for running in cold weather (we're used to running in 90+ degrees down here in Florida) I opted for a long sleeve Under Armor Heat Gear top, running shorts and some wool snowboarding socks. The dietitian wore a long sleeve tech shirt, long running pants and gloves.
The trail was super fun right away. Unlike some of the trails I run around New Smyrna Beach, this area of Florida has very little palmetto plants and palm trees. There's less under growth in the hammock making for better visibility. Less palm trees mean more oak and pine trees and other hardwoods. The trail was heavy with gnarly roots protruding chaotically here and there on the trail requiring constant attention to every step. This dodging of the roots works the core muscles so much more than a regular run on pavement. I love it! The ground is laden with leaves. So much so that extra care must be taken not to slip. The leaves also have the tendency to cover up and hide one of the gnarly roots just waiting to twist an ankle, but this is what I define as trail running!
About halfway through the trail we realize that we're not on the trail. We've been chatting up a storm and totally not paying attention. It's a good thing the Dietitian knows the area because I'm completely lost and would otherwise have to pull out some Bear Grylls knowledge to get us back on track. We double back and find our way back on the trail. About a mile later we're chatting away again making a bunch of noise while I hear a loud shuffle ahead. At first I think some mountain bikers are headed our way and then appearing out of nowhere two deer jump right in front of us not but 20 feet away! They're both doe. Figures that the one time I leave the camera in the truck, this happens! They stop and watch us run by and I sense little fear from them, unlike the deer found in the woods around my home that are more accustomed to hunters shooting at them. Awesome.
Right around the 4-mile mark we emerge into a huge grassy field rolling with small Florida "hills" that reminds me somewhat to other areas of the south like Alabama. The last mile skirts the tree line just within the woods but keeping visibility of the field before we arrive back at the parking area. The run was great. My company was even better. My Achilles tendon spoke to me a little, but did not complain in the hours and days after the run so I'm giving myself a big SUCCESS on this trail run and look forward to visiting the preserve again on future trips to good old Gainesville!