Tough trail at Torreya


By Dana Stetson,


We exited the woods looking much more like refugees than recreational runners. The people attending the wedding at the park couldn’t possibly have understood what had happened to us. What had happened is the toughest trail run I’ve ever experienced in Florida.

Kate McFall was going to race in Mongolia. The course included at least two big mountains and who knew what else? How do you train for this in North Florida? Well, you really can’t; but, one does what one can. So off to Torreya State Park we went. All we knew about Torreya was that it was supposed to be “killer hilly” and that it certainly was!

There are two main trail loops at the park, each about 7.5 miles long. Combined with the distance between these trails you end up with an approximately 19 mile run. They are by far the most technical trails around here and also among the most interesting in terms of misplaced fauna and flora.

We arrived early, received some information and a map from the park ranger. The time estimate he gave us for these trails was out of this world, but certainly expressed the difficulty of the distance. We ignored his advice on the order in which to attack these trails. Later on we came to regret this decision.

The day was hot and humid and the first loop was incredible. The hills were huge, the surface difficult for long distances but the scenery made it all worthwhile. We finished the first loop hours ahead of the rangers estimate which led to overconfidence and almost to disaster.

We started the second loop totally psyched and ready to blast this one also. We miscalculated our water consumption, as the heat and elevation change took their toll. Halfway through the loop we were out of water and seemingly out of luck. But luckily, we bumped into some hikers and they saved the day (at least for a while). With new supplies of water, we then strayed off the trail and reversed direction at some point, making our 7.5 mile second loop much longer and soon we were out of water again.

As temperatures rose and conditions worsened, it became apparent we were up the creek with no paddle. To increase our worries, I managed to trip and seemed to break a toe, if not a foot. Kate resorted to drinking the river water. I decided on a water diet.

We thought we were headed back but by then, who knew? The uncertainty was the worst aspect. On what turned out to be our final trail, I began to fall. Several times Kate turned around to find me flat on the ground singing my death chant. In this condition we exited the woods into the middle of the wedding party. I remember staggering over to the restrooms and gulping water in a truly undignified fashion in front of many horrified wedding guests.

Two weeks later we returned, with Gary Griffin as an additional team member. We were much smarter and armed with lots more water bottles. This time the trails were accomplished in a spectacular fashion. The double at Torreya is do-able, and with a little caution, need not be life threatening.