Updated: Feb 6, 2019
More stories from the newfound trail sanctuary February 05, 2019
If you want to learn about yourself, start by exploring the world around you. -Paulo Coelho
We like to hit the bum trail in the waning hours of daylight. It’s a total treat to veer off the main roads and be tucked away in our little newfound area of secret seclusion. You can hear the slow creep of traffic from the side roads and then the roaring hum of cars flowing down the highway opposite to that. It begins to fades into the background as ambient noises and the sounds of nature come to the forefront.
I’ve pushed myself to a new level physically and discovered I like running along the canal, which goes for about 2000 feet or about six football fields in length. It’s got loose sand paths intended for service vehicles to drive down when they need to access the water pumps. It is flanked by hammocks and a lily filled waterway that poochie is just dying to launch himself into. I’ve managed to successfully keep him from going into it thus far. The bank is about thirty feet high, lined by squares of crumbly cement that has become completely overgrown by grasses. I know he is mistaking the green surface of lilies to be solid ground. It's pretty tragic when he has launched off a bank expecting to hit the ground running and is suddenly submerged in water and fighting to get back to the side. He's a tough animal, but I'm wiser.
As I struggle to clear out this bronchial infection, coughing every three or four breathes for two weeks now, I figure pushing myself endurance-wise and filling my lungs with as much clean air as possible is the only way through it. Today I ran the full canal length down and back one time and the day before I had done it four, which totaled to about 2.2 miles. When I’m done with the canal I’ll either do burpees or pushups before heading off onto the trail head which is at the far end, just before the fence separating my oasis and the highway.
The trail twists inward through a patch of woods that has other trails running through the hammocks, but I’ve yet to find a way to connect this outer loop trail to the inner ones. It encircles a very dense part of the scrub that I'd have to push through 200 feet of saw palmeto which I'm not inclined to do. Even poochie stops short when we reach this "wall." The trail does lead back to a service road which has the other trail heads entrances should I want to venture back in. I reckon the outer loop tacks on another mile or so distance and then its another mile and a half that we meander on our way back to the house stopping at various ponds and cutting behind industrial parks where most the dumpsters are and tempting trash pandas are to be found.
As the daylight recedes, my eyes strain to gain focus on the fading forest floor. The sweat drips from my hair and I go from memory on how the soft sand lays in the winding, twisting tracks of this particular trail. The uneven ground keeps me guessing and the sounds of my shoes punching the dirt match the chanting pants of Coco’s rhythmic breathing as he runs alongside. He darts past me and I listen to the jingle of his collar as he crashes into the bushes up ahead. I continue on up the trail and he’ll return launch from the foliage sprinting past me rehashing the process all over again. Whenever he stops to explore, I make it a mission to sprint until he has caught back up, which thankfully doesn't take him very long.
The other day he shot over the brush so vigorously that his legs nearly went vertical and he did a handstand, but was able to catch himself without even losing momentum in his stride. These images of him bursting from the bushes are some of my favorite moments. He is not by any means an ill-footed animal and can effortlessly gallop over obstacles like he were crossed with a gazelle (among everything else thats in this strange mixture of Ecuadorian street specie).
The shadows begin to play tricks on my already heightened nervous system. Occasionally, when I think I’m looking at what appears to be his tan form stopped along the trail up ahead, I am met with a rush of chills and my stomach drops as I discover he is somewhere else by the sounds of his sudden crashing about. Sometimes I hear a noise that I think is him and then find out he’s on the other side of the trail. All of which plays into the excitement of going through it at night.
He returns smiling and even more emboldened by the triumph he has within his forested kingdom
After my initial story along these trails I thought that a vagabond had been camped out in a car here, but I later pushed past my fears and found out it was only a discarded construction vehicle. No traces of human encampment were anywhere to be found, as the thing had its windows smashed and was completely littered by construction refuse. About a month later the vehicle disappeared, so there are some outside human elements within these woods, but very little besides ourselves.
I enjoy getting to make up the stories to what we find as we wander about. What may have caused this depression in the tall grasses. I stop and run my fingers along the scorched bark of a fallen tree smelling it and wondering when the fires had claimed this totem of the woods. What classes were those high schoolers skipping to sneak off and drink these beers. What were these lands like when the mound builders were here with their fabled chikee huts. And these ferns.. The richness to their own history! Providing subtle details as to what the primary forests may have looked like before it all became the Florida scrub we're accustomed to seeing today. What were those first settlers feeling as they made their way down from the Bering straight all those thousands of years ago and found this abundance of wildlife and warmth. What would life be like in their migrant gathering community.
When we run at night, there’s so much more activity in the woods as well. I’ll hear bizarre cackles or sometimes a murmured gargling from the brush. Coco will wheel around when he sees me stop to listen and he scouts for an entry point to charge in after whatever felt like making such an odd disturbance. He is truly fearless as an animal in this regard. Whenever I pause, allowing my jolted and racing heart some time to recover, he brazenly goes in without any hesitation. He returns smiling and even more emboldened by the triumph he has within his forested kingdom.
It’s not always noises and scampering thats going on here either. Sometimes, if you happen to have your head cocked to the night sky, which mine often is, you’ll catch the glimpse of a silent and dangerous owl streaking through the air. Maybe its a family of bats attacking flying insects around a telephone pole or perhaps the flashlight will illuminate a set of eyes peering back at you from within the dense foliage. The reason most these night critters’ eyes do that is because of a special membrane called the tepetum lucidum which rests behind the retina. It acts like a reflective surface that further enhances the visible light back into the retina and gives them what we would consider to be night vision. You can even specie identify by the color of these reflections! It should be noted that not only land animals have this, but sharks are also in possession of this feature, since they too are nocturnal hunters.
Every time I think about turning back, a little spark ignites and we venture on a little further, discovering more about the environment and ourselves.
It amazes me how thrilling and rewarding it can be to do my workout outdoors and within nature. Much more than serving my own bodily needs, I am also providing my companion with the life he so enjoys and needs as well. As soon as I come from the closet with socks in hand, he has a grinning, toothy panting grin and knows we are about to set foot on yet another adventure.
I have a genuine knack for finding wilderness no matter the setting. It doesn’t matter where I am, I will figure out a way for how to find myself encamped in the greenest of spaces. It seems the animals themselves must fight for this level of discovery too and we are all here congregated. Coco is always right there with me to help weave the fabric of our tangled jungly stories. The payoff from our exercise is beyond anything I can imagine happening in a gym. Two days ago I had spotted an otter amusing himself by circling a heron and making it flap its wings, and yesterday while running those 500 yard laps, Coco would celebrate each leg with a fantastic sprint through the pools of collected rain water. He can never resist doing his favorite poochie activities and there’s only the thought of getting a bath later to stop him.
I honestly can’t understand why people would choose to exercise indoors and miss all of this excitement. It simply cannot compare. Why would you want to drive through traffic, enter into a stuffy building illuminated by fluorescent lights, wait around for people to finish using machines only to be in contact with surfaces where warm, sweaty body parts were just there grinding against.
I weigh somewhere between 150 and 160 pounds and I’m quite certain thats all the weight I’ll ever need to be lifting so I need not carry any extra weight. I do squats behind dumpsters while Coco scurries about after raccoons in the dead of night. I pull that weight up onto a tree limb repeatedly and then work my core balancing across precarious crossings. We love to do box jumps on piles of sod. I run with the wind in my hair and the sky beckons me every step of the way. The setting sun graces my skin and the herons, anhingas and coots provide all the “pump” music I’ll ever need.
The coolness of the dirt beneath the canopy of trees provides a freshness that only nature can deliver. Far more potent than any workout juice is the air I breathe that has been meticulously scrubbed by thousands of epiphytes working to cleanse the atmosphere of our discharged pollutants. Instead of guzzling at a community water fountain, we stop along fresh rain puddles and splash ourselves off. The smell of the rich, nutrient-dense soil enlivens my spirits.
I laugh when I trip and fall and pooch runs over to heckle me with his drooly, slobbery tongue hanging out. I lounge in the tall grasses with him against my legs and we pant heavily from our wild adventures. There’s always lizards to lure him into the bush and excitement hangs behind every corner. We can always choose to go further, stay longer, push harder. Every time I think about turning back, a little spark ignites and we venture on a little further, discovering more about the environment and ourselves.
Nature speaks to me while out there. It makes me calm, no matter what thoughts I left the house with. It blankets me with a LoVe that destroys any chance of negative thoughts existing. There are no crowds. There are no glancing stares. There’s just us and it. I suppose we’re all nestled within it, in one meaningless way or another, but I choose to take this route above all else.
It allows me to become stronger. Fuels me to run further and more often. Do more pushups, more dips along the edge of a log I found within the woods. And all the while, I’m conditioning myself to the local environment that I call home. I become familiar with what trees the squirrels like to hang out in. I know the paths the possums take. I know the corners the armadillos chance their exposure at. I know where the birds sing and where you can find the wings of soaring giants above.
When the rains freshen the earth I can see the different sets of animal tracks and how busy the night creatures really are. Where the deer crosses and perhaps if there's a hog here. Where bobcats chose to lay their scat. I know what parts of the canal boasts the best bird activity. The thickets where the thrushes like to sing. It’s always a treat when an otter has temporarily moved in to enjoy the fish or perhaps when the elusive peeking eyes and nostrils of a alligator are able to be spotted. I learn to notice what the trail runs for the rabbits look like and can make up stories for what traces of human impact we find like relics of lost civilizations.
I try to put all the pieces back together and my mind has become so completely alive and in tune with the universe that my body has now entered into what Thoreau describes as being truly lost to it all. I left the comforts of home to find the unyielding comforts of an unbreakable, unshakable universal happiness that only exists out here. I venture out to discover whats within.