Running through the Withlacoochee

Area runners and those visitors who like to run or walk may want to try the Withlacoochee State Forest as a challenge. The problem with the streets and highways of Citrus County, Florida are near-sighted drivers and far-sighted dogs. The Withlacoochee has tracts in four counties; Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and Sumter, each a little different. I picked Citrus because at that time it was across the street from my home and a mile away from chert quarries and caves. At one site I found thousands of chert pieces, an ancient mine where prehistoric Indians used the rock to make tools and spear points.

Photographs of artifacts were sent to Dr. Barbara Purdy, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida who also has expertise in lithic (stone) technology. Her report gave a general description of each item, pending a closer examination. She indicated, however, that one tool appears to be a Clearfork Gouge, an early stone tool that may have been used for purposes other than a gouge (perhaps a scraper). Examples have been found in Texas and a few recovered in Florida. The report states that “Clearfork Gouges are typical of the late Paleo-Indian period-around 9000 B.C.” (Click on to enlarge)

One caveat. Stay away from the woods during the summertime when the deer flies (or horse flies) want to tag along and inflict pain, mainly around your head. The best time for running is in the Fall and cooler weather. Late Spring and early Summer are not so good.

But being alone was the reason I chose the forest. It was a place I could think with few distractions. And when something worth considering entered my mind, it gave me a fresh jolt of energy and got my thought processes charged up. Each time I found ideas and dreams that sent me on other paths, sometimes to strange places. And since jobs on the nature coast were as rare as a Florida panther, I found myself thinking of strange places, places I would like to see.

So I did a little research, wrote an excellent resume and thirty days later, I was a member of the Republic of the Marshall Islands police force and the emergency response team. And when I returned home to Florida, I returned to the Withlacoochee. But wherever I traveled, a mountain top or a deserted island, I sought solitude. If you want to know why mountains are considered holy places, climb one, a mountain without vegetation, and watch as night envelopes the world. Just observe the world and the universe together, from the peak, as night  moves in and experience the Eureka moment.

And the Withlacoochee  gave me miles of hills, trails, and dirt roads to choose from and the thoughts flowed. The air is clean, the scenery invigorating and the noise level is almost nonexistent (other than the rustle of leaves). You will encounter a variety of wildlife, including squirrels, possums, raccoons and deer. A few years back some of the deer became so accustomed to my plodding along the roads that they no longer ran away when I passed by. I did meet a panther once, a few miles to the west in Sugarmill Woods. He was ten feet away and I was two feet away from my open car door. But it was an August day (1984) and it looked tired. It gazed at me, walked to a nearby gulley, looked back , and meandered into the woods. Click image.

The best time of year for running is in the Fall. The weather is perfect and most of the troublesome creatures aren’t  a problem. I did use a lightweight headpiece sold at army surplus stores, which will keep the deer flies off. Designed for use in jungles, it consists of a flexible plastic top and a screen which drops down to the shoulders. The screen works well but it causes perspiration to flow at times.

Avoid the forest on days when authorized hunts are in progress (November and December are the busiest months). There is nothing that quite compares to the thrill of coming over a hill in full stride and passing through a gauntlet of hunters on both sides of the sandy road, shotguns at the ready.

While the main roads are a safe place for a runner to increase his speed and endurance, the secondary trails and paths present a more formidable challenge to those who still seek some excitement in their workouts. Running these more primitive trails helps the athlete develop his peripheral vision and test his reflexes, such as foot speed. The summer months provide the perfect environment for runners who want to improve in these areas.

At this time on many of the secondary trails sandspur growth has reached fruition. Completing a run successfully involves repeated and rapid changes of direction. If you are a klutz, stay on the main roads. Excellent vision is essential, not only to spot sandspurs, but also the other hazards that may appear.

Spiders, and I don’t know why, like to construct their webs across paths and trails. Often these don’t become visible until a second before impact and require some remarkable body contortions in order to avoid them. Webs have an unpleasant feel to them and sometimes it takes a few minutes to remove them from your body. This should not concern the runner, though.

Of course, the questions that do cross your mind are: Was the web empty? And if not, What kind was it?

One more thing you need to be aware of is the snake. Although not seen as frequently as the spider’s webs and sandspurs, a runner must always keep it in mind. This awareness means a great deal of eyeball rotation as you glide through the woods. Every few seconds, as you scan the ground for sandspurs and snakes, glance up to check for spider webs also. Since a snake usually blends in with its surroundings, this discovery is often made as one foot is passing over the serpent or coming down on it.

It is important that you avoid contact, of course. I can’t give instructions as to how this is done but so far in three encounters, I have managed to do just that. It may have something to do with the sudden surge of adrenalin at that instant of recognition. Anyway, I am sure that temporary suspension of some law of physics was involved.

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