Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ode to Pocahontas, A Trail-Running Gem

I LOVE Pocahontas State Park. The more places I explore, the more grateful I am for this amazing park, practically in my backyard. Today I pumped out a gorgeous (and challenging) 10-miler through the trails @ Pocahontas.

 Top 10 reasons that Pocahontas ROCKS
(There are many more, but I've got Christmas gifts to wrap, so let's scoot!)

1.) Miles & Miles & Miles. Over 80 miles of trails covering almost 8,000 acres of beautiful Virginia Forests. I've been running there for a while and haven't come close to being bored yet. For someone who bores more easily than most, that's saying something.

2.) Lessons on Gravity. Lately, I've been trying to "let go" more when trail-running downhill. It feels more natural (and FUN) to move with gravity by running quickly downhill, than to go against gravity by going slowly. However, my instincts (controlling little buggers) want to slow down and take the more cautious approach. Unfortunately, the "safe" option is too lame & boring... that's where the practice comes in. Pocahontas has some great short hills and plenty of longer climbs, giving me lots of opportunity to hone those down-hill skills (and, of course the inevitable uphills that follow). The result: I'm feeling more and more like The Man from Snowy River in that kick-ass downhill scene.


3.) Maintenance. The Friends of Pocahontas State Park organization, along with park staff, does an incredible job of maintaining and clearing the many miles of trails at the park. Pretty enormous job, considering how much mileage we're talking about. KUDOS! The bridges at the park are top-notch, strong enough to support horses, bikes and my thighs after a big holiday meal. I keep meaning to volunteer with them, but being a semi-horrible person, haven't done it yet. I'm thinking "New Year's Resolution"?

4.) Single Track + Fire Roads = Happily Married.  When searching for a great trail run, its fairly easy to find either single track trails (Buttermilk/North-bank) or fire roads (Dutch Gap). Its harder to find a place that offers so much of both. During one outing @ PSP, I'll travel along challenging twisty single track trails, flat, open fire roads and lots trails that fall somewhere in the middle. I know that a lot of trail-runners prefer mostly single-track action, but when I've got the dogs with me, we need a little ( or A LOT) more room. Its so nice to have so many options, with all routes departing from the same parking space. 

 Beaver Lake Trail

5.) PSP is for Lovers. Along Beaver Lake trail, you'll find lots of trees (not sure what kind they are...whoops!) with initials and names of local lovebirds, professing their undying love & affection. I dig it. 

6.) WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE! Not for me; that would be silly...water fountains along the trail= not rugged enough (Duh?!).  Water for the mutts, of course! Numerous streams, creeks, waterfalls and of course, the area around the Swift Creek Dam provide plenty of water stops for my 4-legged running buddies. This means I don't have to carry their water on my back. Loyal park visitor = you betcha. 

 Porter hanging @ the Swift Creek Dam, Fendley Station Trail

 Beaver Lake

7.) Beer & Music. Oh wait, that's unrelated to trail-running, but still pretty dang awesome. PSP is not only a great place to run, its a great place to hear some music, get some fresh air and enjoy a few brewskis. We went last summer to see one of our favorite bands, JJ Grey & MOFRO. It was our first concert-outing to Pocahontas, but definitely not our last. We had a ball and were totally impressed with the whole event. Check out their concert info here; its rockin'!

8.) Lack of Audience. While I love the thousands (ok, maybe hundreds) of cheering (adoring) fans at the finish line of a race, I appreciate the total lack of spectators while on a regular run. Its not pretty, folks. I told my husband, Maybe I should be running with some kind of protection, you know, in case someone tries to kidnap me. He laughs...Honey, you look like a crazed-karate-sweaty-ninja-runner, No one is gonna mess with You. Should I be offended or flattered? Anyway, pepper spray is still on my Christmas list. 

In addition to the karate-kid look I've got going on, sometimes, I even have to take a tinkle along the route. That third cup of coffee before heading out the door is rarely the right idea. Potty-break @ Pocahontas? No PROBLEM. The squirrels and rabbits don't give a hoot about your hoo-ha. But, try dropping your drawers in your neighborhood and the Po-lice will arrest your sweaty ass for exposing yourself to the poor little old lady who was innocently watering her plants. I'll see you on the ten-o-clock news, bro.

Long story short... Solitude = Yes.

9.)  Two words: Fendley Station. Its pretty hard to find a nice, long loop trail like this one. Its well-marked, easily accessible from all parking areas, hilly and beautiful. I still remember the first time I made it all the way around the 13.5 (ish) mile loop. That was an awesome day.  
10.) Location, Location, Location. When we bought our house in 2009, I loved that it was close to Rockwood Park. So, I love Rockwood, but can't believe that it didn't even cross my mind to venture out to Pocahontas until a few years ago. We're within 10 minutes of more than 6 different parking areas for PSP. The convenience and features of this park cannot be matched on the Southside. I'm always amazed at how few people I see out on the trail on any given day. I guess they're at work (sorry, soft subject?) or are just at home doing weird things like cleaning their houses while the kiddos are in school. I guess I should be cleaning more, eh?

Martha Stewart I'm not (surprisingly I've never been arrested, so that settles that), but trail- runner I am. I may never teach my daughter to be a great chef, or how to sew (that's what Google is for, yes?), but I hope to pass along to my gal a love for the outdoors, a responsibility to take care of our Universe and just maybe a love for trail-running. Her floors will likely be very sticky one day, and that'll be my bad.