Dirt Road Running and River Tubing

red dirt road
The T described by the shuttle driver was an intersection of wide dirt roads. Perfect for running.

I planned to run eight miles on forest roads yesterday morning and meet friends for a day on the river afterward. Despite careful planning, I realized my chosen route wouldn’t work when I found out from the kayak shuttle driver that my friends’ drop-off point was going to be more southerly than I thought. If I ran the route I chose, I’d come to the river north of them, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t catch their kayaks with my 99-cent tube. The shuttle driver saved the day by giving me fantastic directions for a pig-trail route to catch up with them further south. The new plan made me a little uneasy but sparked my curiosity. As my friends boarded the shuttle, I repacked my bag, ditching my iPod in favor of a compass and adding extra Gin Gins in case I got lost and hungry.

The shuttle driver’s directions were spot-on, even though he failed to mention a few turnoffs that made me more than a little nervous. Every time I passed another trail, I wondered if he’d forgotten to mention a turn. I decided to run out for an hour, and if I didn’t find the river by then, I’d turn around and follow my footsteps (and compass) back to my truck. I love adventures, but I hate going off road without a map. None of the forest maps I own—not even the official Forest Service map—shows the route I was on yesterday.

jurek endure bottle
Rationing my water from one of two 10oz bottles on my Jurek Endure waistpack.

At the eighteen-minute mark, I found the T the driver told me about. “You’ll come to a place where you’ll either have to go left or right,” he said. “Turn left.” I’d written his words down on a tiny piece of paper and stuffed it in my waistpack so I wouldn’t risk my memory playing tricks. I turned left like he said, and within ten minutes I was at the river.

Unfortunately, my friends were way upstream, so I had time to kill. I turned around and ran a bit more, than came back to the river and talked with a family who’d arrived via shuttle for tubing. What I witnessed—and the conversations I had with that family—is too powerful and emotional for me to talk about yet, but suffice it to say I felt the convergence of tragedy, unfairness, hope, and resilience. Rather than wait for my friends, I decided to hike further upriver and process my encounter with the family of strangers.

I found another unmarked trail, this one narrow and crisscrossed by spider webs, but it was a decent hike. I followed the route upstream for a mile until I hit an impasse. A huge patch of wetlands suddenly appeared, and I don’t think I could’ve even made it through with snake waders and boots, let alone in running shorts and sneakers. I dipped down off the trail onto a sandy beach and sat under a cypress tree in the river. My back and neck were really bothering me and I hadn’t slept more than three hours the night before, but the cold water felt great. I wished I could figure out a way to float on my back and completely relax without being carried by the current.

blackwater river
My riverfront view as I waited for my kayaking friends to paddle downstream.

My friends arrived eventually, better late than never, and their kayaks were loaded with food and supplies. It was great to see them paddling their kayaks toward me, and I sat with them on the beach and pigged out for a while before we headed downstream. I’d run with a deflated tube bungeed to my waistpack, and once I got it blown up, we took off down the river. Note for future adventures: tubing on a 99-cent piece of crap is a lot slower than going down the river on a kayak. I ended up getting towed a good portion of the way by three generous friends who switched off paddling duties as I clung to the tails of their kayaks. I told them I’d be fine and would catch up eventually, but they stayed with me anyway. Five slow miles later, we floated under the last bridge before the river becomes non-navigable, and I walked up the bank to my truck. Changing into dry, cotton clothes felt great after being wet literally all day.

It was a very successful trip in terms of nothing going wrong, but I was so ready for something crazy to happen that when it didn’t I was almost a little let down. I’m excited about the future, though—after seeing all those pig trails, I’m ready to go back and explore more uncharted territory. I’m going to take my GPS and make my own map of the trails. Who knows? Maybe I can sell copies of the map (to that one other person besides me in the whole world who would want to hike there?). Better keep my day jobs.

Less Pain, More Life

I had the awesome experience of living like a normal, fibromyalgia-free person over the weekend. Two friends and I went overnight backpacking on The Florida Trail, and I’d been a nervous wreck before the trip. In my younger, healthier days, I’d have packed my old backpack full of necessities and luxuries without a lot of thought to total pack weight. Sure, the lighter the better, but there wouldn’t have been scales involved. For this trip, because of the toll fibromyalgia has taken on my body over the years, I used both a luggage scale and a kitchen scale to drop every last unnecessary ounce from my pack weight.

Less pain means more time outdoors.
Less pain means more time outdoors.

While it seems ludicrous to weigh shirts and record their ounces in a notebook, I persisted. I popped off every removable item on my backpack until it was pared down to little more than a giant stuff sack with a hipbelt and shoulder straps. I chose calorically dense, lightweight foods like dried coconut and Chomps grassfed beef jerky. (Yes, I’m still adhering to Whole30 and getting great results.)

The payoff was an overnight trip that exceeded my expectations. The section of the Florida Trail that we hiked was flooded by the recent massive storm that hit this area, and some of the trail was underwater up to my thighs. The hiking was at times hot, hard, and challenging, and despite carrying 16 pounds in my backpack, I had an almost otherworldly awesome time.

Maybe it was the diet—Whole30 is powerful medicine. Maybe it was my determination—I haven’t given up from pain when many times it seemed like the best option. Maybe it was the friendship— support is a great thing. Realistically, it was probably all three. Without clean eating habits, strong willpower, and love, I’d probably have been home in bed or dead.

When I think about my incredible weekend hike, it’s hard to imagine that at times I’m in misery, homebound and unable to stand my own body. We walked roughly 16 miles, maybe a few more—a feat that would be challenging to somebody who doesn’t have fibromyalgia. Before the trip, I was terrified that I’d end up in so much pain that I couldn’t complete the hike, and worst of all, become a burden on my friends. The confidence I got from an almost pain-free experience in the wilderness is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Fibromyalgia so often tells us we can’t, but this weekend, I told my body yes, we can.

Going vegan was a great decision that began to improve my painful fibromyalgia symptoms, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. A clean diet isn’t a cure-all. But for me, changing my eating habits to follow Whole30 principals and paying closer attention to how food effects my body has been better than any prescription drug.