A View From the Top
The Lines Tract: North Florida Trail Running at its Best
By Gordon Cherr,
When I left the car at 2 PM, the thermometer registered 96 degrees. Now, 90 minutes later, the axons and neurons inside my brain are frying. I can feel them. They are sizzling, I imagine if I could hear the sound it would be like the hot splatter and pop of bacon grease, thrown into a super heated frying pan. The sweat in my eyes is blinding me, the next to last mile has been run through a clear cut area, on a poorly marked trail of mostly sand and wire grass which is shredding my lower legs and ankles, and small cacti are tearing up my trail shoes and my feet. My legs from the calf down are a bloody, itchy mess. I have been stung twice so far, once on my back (probably a banana spider bite) and once on the left side of my chest by a wasp. I ran out of water 30 minutes ago. I got lost twice but was able to find the trail again by dumb luck. I cannot stop smiling.
I am running the Lake Talquin Trail on the Lines Tract, in Gadsden County. Take I-10 west to SR 267, go south for 7 miles, make a left onto Cooks Landing Road, and there is a dirt parking lot 0.7 miles further down Cooks Landing Road, on your right. A nice bathroom, no water, incredible trails. Run, hike or bike definitely at your own risk. I guess if you can’t stand to have it stolen, carry it with you or don’t bring it at all.
The Lake Talquin Trail is about 6.5 miles long, there is another 4 mile long trail, and if you can negotiate the two together, your trek is a bit longer than 9 miles. That was my aim, but after 22 minutes of steady running, I came out at the 5 mile sign, so I know I have missed something, somewhere. When you leave the parking lot, go left (not straight), and a short, shadeless connector will take you downhill to the main trail. Then simply go left or right and good luck on finding your way. Actually, the trails are well marked if you are an experienced trail runner, follow the blue blazes. Except not between the 1-3 mile markers, because some of the pine forest there is slated to be clear cut and all of the trees to be felled have blue blazes painted on their trunks. Instead, someone has tied pink ribbons along the trail there, but these have rotted and faded and many have fallen away, and I lost my way at least twice that I know of. And, of course, the area between mile 1 and 2 has already been clear cut and mostly resembles a moonscape of sorts. Why this has not been replanted escapes me.
But the first 3-4 miles of this run are fabulous indeed, and I have no reason to suspect that the other 4 mile trail is any different. The footing is like any trail, with some holes, streams and drainage sloughs to leap over, there are some roots of course, but mainly the trail is flat or barely rolling with no steep drops or climbs (much to my disappointment). The shade is heavy to dappled with few areas of direct sun. The trade off for the shade is the lack of any breeze whatsoever. The trail is always soft sand, usually covered with a lot of pine straw or leaf litter. Very easy on the legs.
The hardwood forest is dominated by enormous water oak, loblolly pine, tyty, and magnolia. After about 17 minutes the trail dropped me alongside the shore of Lake Talquin. The scene was gorgeous, so very peaceful and quite tranquil to say the least. I even stopped and bushwhacked down to the lake after about 25 minutes to take a swim. But when I got down to the lake, there was an alligator roughly the size of a Ranger Bass boat just eyeing me and it was back to the trails for me. There were lush emerald green grassy swamps near the lake, but most of this run was through the upland woods and hardwood hammock.
Wildlife abounds here and I saw no shortage of raccoons and white tail deer. Colorful purple and blue pipe vine swallow tail butterflies flitted about in the shade, pileated woodpeckers, flickers, red bellied and downy woodpeckers were obvious too. And other birds were everywhere. I assumed the biggest problem might be snakes but saw none. And I thought about bears (of course!)and you know this is prime black bear territory.
You have to pay close attention to the trail or you will lose it despite the blue blazes. And there were the biggest banana spiders that I have ever seen with webs everywhere across the trail, so you need to run with one eye out for your footing, another eye out for the blue blazes, and a third eye out for those awful sticky spider webs. I took many across the face and shoulders.
And this time of the year, bring all the fluids that you can carry. This is at least a two bottle or hydration pack endeavor. I drank a lot of Gatorade and water on the way over and hydrated as best I could, but one bottle was foolhardy and could have proven disastrous. If you go down here no one will find your bones for a long time. I didn’t see one other footprint or tire tread anywhere on the trails, so if it is solitude you are craving, these trails are for you. In fact, it might be wise to not do this trail run alone or at least tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be done, and then call them when you get out, if you do get out. If you can get cell phone service. I couldn’t at the parking lot.
The thermometer was registering 98 when I finally found the connector trail and ran back up to the parking lot. I was dizzy and fried and ready to pack it in. And since I got home I have been picking off ticks, so bug spray might be another useful commodity. But when you do this run, do it with patience and to experience fully the sounds, aromas and various moods of this beautiful forest. If you can’t find your god out here, then God does not yet exist for you.
I am going back soon to explore the shorter trail and to find how to tie it in to the Lake Talquin Trail. Your good company would be greatly appreciated.