A Good Case of Summer Loving: Getting Cozy with the Trails of Shelby Forest

By late May 2020 we were going stir crazy on our little base in Millington, Tennessee after another month of the COVID-19 pandemic. We needed out. On a Sunday morning in mid-May we decided to check out Meeman-Shelby State Park (better known as Shelby Forest), a mere 20 min drive from our house. I looked it up online and reviewed maps of the park. It had several trails running through it. The question became: how good were they?

With a stop for fuel along the way at a Krispie Kreme (I didn’t say what kind of fuel, did I?) we arrived early that Sunday morning before the oppressive heat and humidity arrived. It was a gorgeous early summer day: temps in the 70s, sunny, with a slight breeze. We parked at one of the trailheads near the information center and identified a 1-mile loop that we as a family could manage. I took mental notes of the park map and the terrain: lots of overhead canopy, open trails with heavy roots, and streams running throughout. Just what I needed; I would be back. Thus I began a series of trail runs over the next few weeks at what I affectionately dubbed “my new playground.”

On Memorial Day weekend I took off for my first run: 8 miles heading south from the same parking lot. I had the whole place to myself. I don’t think I saw another human for the first 3 miles. I took my time. I explored. I opened my eyes to the terrain and scenery around me: A mix of hills, flats, and foliage, I found just the right amount of mud following storms of the previous night. The only downside, the mosquitoes were out in full force. Despite applying a very liberal amount of Off, anytime I stopped the swarms descended. I loved every minute of it. For me, nothing beats that dirty, sweaty feeling following a good trail run, when sitting on the rear bumper of the car you soak in the sense of accomplishment. I was truly happy.

A week later, I ventured out again. This time I opted to take a more northerly route through the park first on the Woodland Trail, but then joining with the Chicksaw Bluffs trail. Temps in the low 70s, humidity low, and a gentle breeze out of the north made this run in the forest just about perfect. I didn’t even mind leaping over the snake on my return leg. Slightly different terrain on this run as hills ran down to the Mississippi River flood plain giving way to flat ground and swamps. I smiled the entire way as I put another 8 miles in the bank. I couldn’t help but chill with my lukewarm coffee once I got back to the car and again soak in that feeling of satisfaction once again.

Two weeks later with my first half marathon in five years in between, I was back to Shelby Forest for another round of my adult fun, this time running 9 miles heading south on the Woodland Trail to the Pioneer Springs Trail, turning around at Poplar Tree Lake. I took my time, unconcerned with times or pace; this was about pure summer trail running, feeling the forest alive all around you. As I summarized in an Instagram post, “I needed some trails so I went back to Shelby Forest for 9 miles (14.5km) of mud, hills, roots, swarms of mosquitoes, and a smile on my face. I’ll gladly take it any time.”  I was all smiles and sweat finishing up that day.

This run followed with one more on Father’s Day in a light rain coming down. I took a different option parking on the north side of Shelby Forest and running down along the Chicksaw Bluffs trail to the Pioneer Springs trail, trying to avoid the roots and hills of the Woodland trail. The light drizzle picked up during my nine miles. Fortunately, however, the canopy above shielded me from the worst of the rain, but I got soaked nonetheless. Even running in the rain, I was perfectly comfortable with my new playground of Shelby Forest.

Meanwhile between runs and continued lockdown, I supported local breweries’ policies of curbside service. While there are several breweries in the Memphis area, I supported two: Wiseacre and Crosstown Brewing Companies. In my earlier post, “Tales of Self Isolation” I talked about a previous Wiseacre beer, Tarahumara, which won me over. How could I say no to more? Crosstown was unknown to me, however, looking at their selection, I saw more than a few beers that peaked my interest. Nothing to do but order some beers, and make a quick trip to town to pick some up. Here’s a rundown of the some of the beers from each:

From Crosstown Brewing:

20200614_181114Terraplane pilsner style lager: light & a bit crisp, not overly heavy or hoppy, coming in at 5.5% abv. It’s the perfect pils when the mercury crosses that 90° threshold and you’re sitting on the backporch grilling up steaks with friends.

 

20200525_180302

Siren blonde ale: more serious than the pilsner, but still light, golden, not bitter and very refreshing. While pilsner may be your warm up beer, the Siren is what you’re drinking over dinner, playing a card game with buddies, or watching a summer ball game.

 

20200712_150214From Wiseacre Brewing:

Sun Bump Belgian Wit: a nearly perfect summer beer. This beer is flavorful and tasty like most Belgian wits, but yet holds its own to things like pilsners and other blondes. Needless to say it’s a big hit in our house at 5.1% abv. It’s become a go to beer on the many hot days we’ve had, and always a few Sun Bumps in my beer fridge these days. If I took fruit in my beer, this one would be a prime candidate for a slide of orange to top it off.

Thus the pandemic continued and June became July. My running miles held steady at about 25 miles per week and things were good. On July 11th, I headed back out to Shelby Forest for another 9 miles on these now familiar trails. I planned a simple out and back early before it became a steam room in the woods. On the return leg, just after 5 miles, I managed to catch a root with my foot. Before I knew what happened, I slammed into the ground like an accordion from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I found myself trying to catch my breath. I knocked all the wind out of me. Everything hurt. I was still just shy of 4 miles from the car. I calmed down. I drank water. Could I still run? Yes, but it hurt. Maybe not run, trot seemed better. Ok, time to trot for a few miles. One foot in front of the other…and try not to think about it so much.

So I did, one painful step at a time for the last 3.75 miles. Covered in mud across my chest, ribs and lungs aching, I finished my run, got in the car, and drove home. I had done a number on myself: probably bruised or cracked some ribs at the very least, not to mention some scrapes and cuts. I needed a break from running. It was healing time.

 

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