14 – Francis Marion to Charleston – 56.4 – 986.8

Francis Marion National Forest provided about thirty miles through the forest with little to no traffic, at first through dirt roads used by hunters to set out on their excursions, and then on a paved road that cut West-East through the entire forest almost to Charleston.

The dirt roads provide an oasis for hunters to set out in their pickup trucks, with a caged in flatbed, most of them with floors full of straw and hay, I imagine to keep the blood from their game from making a mess in the truck. The trucks would pull over, at first one, then a half mile up the road another one, and release hunting dogs into the forest. As I passed this situation a few times over the course of the twenty or so miles in the forest, I would hear the dogs barking and yelping in the distance, so I asked a hunter, full camoflauge outfit, rifle on a sling and held vertically over one shoulder butt side down, and orange cap, what the deal was. They told me they were “running the dogs”. This meant that the dogs were released, either in search of deer or hogs, and that based on the pitch of their bark, the owner would know what type of animal it was chasing. Once an animal was identified and made to move towards the hunters, the men and women would chase on foot into the forest. Some dogs had antenna sticking out of their collars with gps tracking devices. And unlike the farm dogs that chased me for territorial purposes, these dogs would see me, bark, and continue their hunt.

Once I hit the paved section of the park road, I instantly knew this was most definitely a popular route for cyclists looking to get some quiet miles in outside of Charleston, comparable to hitting River Road in NJ and just feeling that this is where cyclists put in their intervals.

It’s comforting to travel and feel connected to places based on similar interests. Someone told me once that as a runner, exploring destinations has never been about food nor museums, not about visiting observation decks nor the fashion districts, but instead it’s about finding the local routes and bumping into average runners, just like he was; that each city has its own “runner’s energy”.

I was fortunate enough to run my first marathon in NYC, my hometown. The training that was just as amazing as the run itself, opened up a side of the city that in the 25 years of living there I had never seen. Running early in the morning before the sunrise, or late at night, or to and from work, or especially on the long runs where by default you end up running through countless neighborhoods racking upwards of 15-20 miles, you explore places and cross paths with like minded individuals such as yourself with their own personal goals and universes.

When you travel you are not on vacation from training, if you catch a flight from Logan airport in Boston to Iceland, spend a few weeks in Iceland and a couple days in Boston, you best be sure you’ll find yourself in a whole new world of runners; Boston, to me, felt like a super fast city. Outside of Reykjavik, I crossed paths with cold weather runners, the dedicated few that brave the elements.

It was comforting to cross Francis Marion National Forest and in the distance see a head bobbing on the horizon, then some legs spinning. As the distance between us decreased, a couple more bobbing heads appeared, until a train of about 8 cyclists visiting the pain cave waved at me as we passed each other.

In most places, it’s comforting to know that wherever you are in the world you’ll always find like minded people.