Why I went (and go) to the woods

THOREAU WITH WENT TO THE WOODS QUOTEYesterday I completed my longest mountain bike ride since my race in North Carolina at the end of July–just over 29 miles. I was happy with that–though the mileage or the dull, but enjoyable ache in my quads were not the largest factor contributing to my joy. That award goes to my thoughts.

I started my ride intent on taking my normal pre-sunrise start route at Starkey Wilderness Park–paved trail to power line road north to State Road 52 and then back south to the single track mountain bike trails–starting with Deliverance. I was excited as I hit the power line road–someone had done some work to one of the softer and wonkier sections. The new road bed of crushed/packed shell made for some quick riding on what had been a less-enjoyable road. But my excitement soon faded as the nice road bed turned into a super-soft, rutted mess–the result of the heavy equipment used to move and grade the shell. I toughed it out and in the process decided to explore the extensive network of old forest roads to the east instead of sticking with the original plan. Whim.

IMG_5434It was a cold (by Florida standards) morning, so I had dressed in layers. About six miles in I had started to warm up enough to stop and remove a layer. I consciously tried to pick a scenic spot as I had also noticed it was almost sunrise and (romantic that I am) I just had to take it in. It was during this brief break that I really started thinking about why I loved being out in the woods for my workouts and why I kept going back to the woods (or the water) time after time. The reasons weren’t quite Thoreauvian (though I do often feel a kinship for his primal thoughts) but they are important to me.

I thought back to my youth and the time I spent exploring the beaches and wetlands of Leonardo and Atlantic Highlands, NJ, with my old friend Jack Hueston–just enjoying the isolation, the water and observing nature. As a young shell collector I was particularly interested in watching live snails slowly do their thing in the shallow water mud flats. Jack was more interested in the fish. Those weren’t explorations that were physically demanding (typically) but rather “excursions” of observation.

I also recalled our family camping trips to Roger’s Rock Campground on Lake George in New York. It was a different kind of nature–mountains and rocks and cliffs around a huge fresh water lake. Still, I recall enjoying snorkeling around the “Flat Rocks” observing the perch, bass and small killifish more than I did patiently trying to catch them with my pole. It was also here that I started hiking–initially just to get to places like the Flat Rocks or Elephant Rock. Eventually, we made tougher hikes to Roger’s Rock or Tongue Mountain. As I got older, I would go off on my own or with friends. One summer Pat Kirk and I set off and made our own route up Roger’s Rock–from the lakeshore to the top–with some unprotected rock climbing and tree climbing that added to the adventure. I think it was here (and on later backpacking trips) that I really started to embrace the physical challenges that could complement being immersed in the natural environment.

I continued thinking as I remounted my bike and explored a portion of the land that I hadn’t been through previously. And though my main goal had originally been a workout, I took a couple of breaks every now and then to notice (and in a few cases photograph) some of the beauty along the way–the sunrise and rays reflecting on a pond, a flock of white ibis leaving their overnight roost, the color and texture of the shrubs near a cypress swamp and the running water of a small stream.

IMG_5454Eventually, I made my way to the single track mountain bike trails–and my mind focused a little more on the physical workout and my riding technique. Yet even while pushing my body a little harder I couldn’t help but smile–happy to have access to such an amazing natural environment and the life experiences that allow me to connect with it on so many levels.

~ by kipwkoelsch on January 16, 2018.

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