Tag: Hugh S Branyon Backcountry Trail

Soul Cycling

Soul Cycling

IMG_5022At 5.15am it was still dark outside but it was also cooler with lower humidity than we’ve had lately so the little LED light on the handlebar would have to do. My tactical, super-charged headlamp I usually wear on my helmet was missing in action.

It’s not that I was afraid of the dark. I just didn’t want to run over any snakes that might be warming their beautiful, slithery bodies on the paved trail.

I hadn’t been pedaling for more than a few minutes when a large shape swooped over my head…then another. Large birds but not owls. Perhaps a pair of nighthawks but there was no eerie vocalization. Just two large shapes disturbed by my passing. Sorry to wake you.

IMG_5029During the past couple of weeks after returning from the dolphin adventure I had not cycled. First, a nasty blister on my foot from a fin rubbing…even while wearing my super-cool scuba socks…kept me out of shoes. So no cleats. Then it was hot and so humid in the mornings I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I missed the woods, the trails…the wildlife.

IMG_5031Terry Tempest Williams said, “My spiritual life is found in the heart of the wild.” In The Hour of Land she writes of her personal journey with some of our national parks. Her writing resonates with my own journey in nature and especially the state park in which I ride.

During summer breaks from high school and college I worked at Gulf State Park. After earning a degree in Outdoor Recreation and Resource Management, I returned to work there as a state park naturalist.

IMG_5039The 6000 acres of nature are especially important in our area as they contain some of the last undeveloped coastal forests and beaches in the area. But politicians continue to chip away at what’s left of its wildness.

When I cycle there my soul is given opportunity to relax and connect with friends there…bobcats, pine trees, water snakes, alligators, live oak trees, gopher tortoises, egrets, eagles, hawks, osprey, cottontail rabbits, wild hibiscus, morning glories….a seemingly endless gathering of friends.

IMG_5037As I was riding through a pine forest there this morning I thought about how the trees take root, deep into the sandy soil and remain there throughout their lives. I found myself uncomfortable with the idea of being that grounded, that rooted into one place. But then I had an image of the trees being connected to each other and communicating with other pine trees all over the planet.

Not long ago I read an article about how trees not only communicate but send extra nutrients to those in their area that are not well. This was a scientific study, not a new age article. Trees cooperate with each other and send information back and forth, at least in their own forest. I got the impression this morning they ‘chat’ more long distance than we can imagine.

IMG_5025Each time I ride there some aspect of nature teaches me, gives me ideas to ponder. The physical exercise is great; however, it’s the spiritual expansion that keeps me returning even with summer weather that brings humidity, warmer temperatures and potential thunderstorms. Soul cycling is a necessary part of my spiritual practice. I find my truest self in the wilds of this amazing planet.


Cottontails, Cardinals and a Cottonmouth

Cottontails, Cardinals and a Cottonmouth

IMG_4299The air was heavy with thick fog hovering over the marsh. Spider webs glowed silver in the pre-dawn light, shining with water droplets. Cottontails were foraging for breakfast and would hop away as I passed. Cycling at dawn is the best.

IMG_4286Through live oak forests, sandy pine forests and marshlands I pedaled into the day. The orange orb of fire hung momentarily over the marsh before gaining altitude in its daily climb……..actually it’s the earth moving isn’t it? (Pause to contemplate). If I think too much about the fact that the earth is spinning on its “axis” the idea of my spinning wheels and feet spinning on the pedals makes too much spinning in my brain. So…the earth seemed to pause before continuing in its rotation giving the impression that the sun had paused. (I think the sun rising is more fun).

Anyway….it was pretty awesome being there and not thinking about what was rotating where.

IMG_4302Cardinals were in abundance peeping from the shelter of small trees along the trail and darting in front of me. Their brilliant flashes of red added sparks of color to the mostly gray light of the foggy morning.

IMG_4294A juvenile cottontail hopped straight up as I pedaled past. A loud, unrestrained laugh echoed from my depths. Several small cottontails breakfasted along the trail and each one received a greeting though not a belly laugh.

The iPod was on shuffle so each change of song was a surprise. As I began the steady climb back to the main road, Prince’s song, Let’s Go Crazy, began to play. It was a great song to help me dig in and push myself as the coastal hill tried to halt my momentum. “Let’s go crazy, let’s go nuts.” Of course I was singing along and pushed replay. On the second time through, as the hill got steeper and my voice got louder….I saw a snake.

IMG_4303Feet clipped in, couldn’t tell what kind due to lack of light, going too fast to stop anyway….”LET’S GO CRAZY….LET’S GO NUTS!!” shouting as I sped by a nice-sized cottonmouth. “WOO HOO! Good MORNING!!” She stayed on her side of the trail, I stayed on mine.

As I rode with the multitudes of cottontails and cardinals, I thought of writing about the ride and wanted a third “C” to use in a blog title. No cougar, no Cat Man,* no cormorant…no “C” anything until Ms. Cottonmouth appeared. Perhaps I shall be a little more discerning in my wishes next time. The moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for….or be specific in your dreams.


IMG_4296*The legend of the Cat Man goes back to when my mother grew up on the island of Gulf Shores. A road (now part of the trail) was called Cat Man Road because of its isolation, wildness and a guy that used to sneak up on couples parking on the roadway at night to enjoy stargazing….um…well, you know.


Stealth Cycling

Stealth Cycling

SimoneLipscomb (10)The orange orb of dawn had just peeped over the horizon when I turned from the roadside trail into the woods. Light under the canopy of pines and live oaks was gray. The paved trail was littered with pine straw and oak leaves. The snake didn’t see me. My wheels were over the small garter snake when I saw it. Dang it! I love these little guys and gals and hurting one…or worse…brought sadness.

Image of bobcat taken at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park
Image of bobcat taken at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

The bike wheels whirred over sand scattered on the hard surface. A few minutes later a bobcat was leisurely strolling down the road and didn’t see me. I slowed and quietly coasted, observing this magnificent creature. After a few minutes she glanced back, saw me and leaped across the pavement into the open sandy area. A gaze as I passed saw her sitting, licking her paw with one eye watching as I pedaled past.

Image of Sampson, a rescued bobcat that somebody had illegally and had all four paws declawed. He lives at Emerald Coast Wildlife Rescue Center
Image of Sampson, a rescued bobcat that somebody had illegally and had all four paws declawed. He lives at a wildlife rescue center

More sunrise splendor of Little Lake, brightening sky, glorious green plant life, coastal forest trees…marshes, gopher tortoise burrows. A typical morning on the trail.

Doe taken in Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountain National Park...can't get photographs while I am cycling.
Doe taken in Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountain National Park…can’t get photographs while I am cycling.

Then several miles later a doe walked out into a patch of sunlight and gazed ahead, the light illuminating her large size. I slowed, she waited. Then she saw me and trotted off into the forest. Right behind her a spotted fawn tiptoed and balked at the pavement, acting as if it were slippery ice. The smile that enveloped my face was tremendous. Then with a flash both disappeared into the piney forest.

Doe and fawn taken in Smoky Mountain National Park....one of my favorite images
Doe and fawn taken in Smoky Mountain National Park….one of my favorite images

Observing wild creatures without them knowing, even if for a moment, brings such joy. To view them in their natural state of calm learn how they interact with their realm is a true gift.

For some reason the wildlife witnessed today wasn’t aware of my presence….at least at first. Stealth-mode. Quiet mind? Peaceful emotions? Lately nature has been teaching me to be present and mindful as I ride. Perhaps the result is becoming more wild…part of the world of wildlife, marshes, forests…maybe I’m becoming more myself. More integrated with nature. More whole. More joy-full.

Chasing Sunrise…Backcountry Communion

Chasing Sunrise…Backcountry Communion

Today I attended Hugh’s celebration of life service and wanted to share this post from last autumn. Thank you Hugh for giving me an opportunity to learn about being a caretaker from one of the best I’ve ever known! Happy trails my friend.SimoneLipscomb (1) Soft, puffy, pale pink clouds hung in the eastern sky as I drove towards the Gulf. Each county road took me closer to the beach and as dawn approached, the clouds evolved from bashful beauties to loud expressions of color painting the sky with creative exuberance.

SimoneLipscombIt was still a bit dark to ride and the lake was close by so I crossed my fingers and drove to a spillway at the lake. I arrived for the most intense sunrise these fifty-something eyes have ever seen. Having only my iPhone, I clicked away hoping that it would do justice to the beauty. I could feel my Nikon weeping from the confines of its soft case at home.

SimoneLipscomb (10)I spent the first ten miles of the ride in the afterglow of profound color that ignited my heart with gratitude. Every live oak tree seemed to reach out with gnarly, twisted branches to greet me. Blazing stars with their arched, purple fronds exploded in joyful dance in the soft breeze. Brilliant red cardinal flowers seemed to emit sounds of color through their tiny trumpet-shaped blossoms.

SimoneLipscomb (7)As I pedaled and stayed present with the beauty enfolding me, I realized the only thing that separates us from nature–from all life–is our distracted minds. If we pay attention, are mindful and aware of life around us, it pays attention.

A group of four folks and I passed four times in my twenty miles and on the last pass one of the guys waved and said, “Hey, Simone!” Helmets, sunglasses…I don’t know who it was but his greeting created bubbles of gratitude for this beautiful park and trail where so many people enjoy nature–Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.

SimoneLipscomb (6)When I was in high school I worked for Hugh at the park. After college I was hired as the naturalist in the state park. I witnessed Hugh stand guard over the park while politics and development seemed to want to tear it to shreds. He was a mentor to me and his ability to work well with people kept many of the takers from taking too much from this special land.

He’s not well these days and I know that at some point he will take the journey across the abyss to that other place….like all of us will some day. I hope the sky is as beautiful when he makes his journey as it was this morning. And whenever he goes, I hope he goes knowing that he is loved and appreciated for all he has done in his decades of dedication to Gulf State Park. Anyone who rides the trails there knows his name. I only hope they know what a very special person he is.

SimoneLipscomb (4)Chase a sunrise soon. Greet the flowers with your full attention. Let the Universe know you are aware of It and It will commune with you.

Slithering, Scampering….Cycling

Slithering, Scampering….Cycling

SimoneLipscomb (1)The no-shouldered friends have been more active recently on the backcountry trail where I ride but today they were hogging the paved trails. Seriously snakes! My feet are clipped onto my pedals and I don’t want to squish you. I have seen several water snakes that have a very similar pattern to the Cottonmouth but they have a small head and are longer and leaner..and non-poisonous. But if I’m moving at 12 mph through dappled, shaded pavement there is a distinct possibility that my first reaction is…OH, SNAP!

I don’t mind them taking up one lane of the trail but today one got really greedy and took up two lanes of the paved trail so I had to brake and hit the grass and get back on the trail without unclipping my feet. Thankfully it was a successful maneuver for both of us.

SimoneLipscomb (6)Later, a black racer lounged on the right lane so I veered left to avoid him or her and there was serious slithering as the beautiful snake raced back into the marsh grass. But I’m afraid I might have run over the tip of a garter snake’s tail.

SimoneLipscomb (3)Traveling in the live oak forest on a high (that’s a relative term in coastal Alabama…33 feet elevation is high for the beach) ridge, a small garter snake was nearly invisible in the shade. I tried to avoid this sweet snake but I think perhaps the end of the tail was nipped by my back tire. Should be okay though as no vital organs were crushed.

SimoneLipscomb (8)Squirrels were in psycho mode today as they played chicken with my bicycle. What the heck fuzzy goobers? Numerous squirrels were definitely risking a nasty encounter with a bicycle…or perhaps they were entertaining themselves by seeing if they could make me run off the road. Regardless, it was insane!

SimoneLipscomb (5)Cycling in the state park is like an 18 mile meditation with wildlife and beautiful marshes, forests and swamps. Today I listened to whale songs as I pedaled…and sang along. At one point I stopped mimicking the whale’s beautiful song and laughed. If anyone heard me belting out whale song or saw me dodging snakes or squirrels they would wonder what I had for breakfast. After that brief laughter-filled pause, I continued my singing and pedaling…my meditation. Not a bad way to begin the day.