In nearly all my years of distance running, I could tie a house key in my shoelaces and start running straight to a forest. This fortunate proximity to trails no doubt nurtured my motivation to run. and run. and run.
The flat, hard pavement of Beaufort, although accompanied by beautiful sunsets, has taken its toll on my legs since I moved to the coast a year and a half ago. Each footstep became a hammer beating back up on my legs, appendages reduced to brittle glass. On the soft, pine needle-laden trails, however, my legs are bouncy, light, strong.
Running more often on hard surfaces was a contributing factor to my running ailments. In addition to a higher impact force, these surfaces also influence running form. Attempting to counteract the concrete, I’d often run to the Beaufort public schools in the evening to do barefoot laps in the large grass fields.
Then I ventured to the start of the Neusiok trail in the Croatan National Forest, about a 30 minute drive from Beaufort. It revived my hope of trail running in eastern North Carolina. A 1-hour round trip car ride isn’t always feasible though, which is why the new trail at Fort Macon piqued my interest.
The new Elliott Coues Nature Trail connects the two parking lots of Fort Macon State Park, one at the fort and one at the swimming beach. The completed portion of the trail, about 1.8 miles long, passes through the marsh and maritime forest on the northern side of Fort Macon Road. There are plans to finish the loop by making a 1.5 mile trail through the dunes on the beach side of the road.
The new trail wakes up my mind and feet, which typically go on autopilot on the roads. Rocks, roots, hills, and sharp turns that characterize most trails require constant focus and deliberate footsteps. The Fort Macon trail satisfies these criteria, and has a variety of surfaces including dirt, gravel, and sand.
Wooden boardwalks and foot bridges are also scattered along the trail. Perhaps ironically, boardwalks are one of my favorite parts of all trails. Maybe because they offer a brief change of footing and scenery, like the chocolate crunchy bits in an ice cream cake provide a change in texture. My other favorite part is the Live Oak trees bending over the trail with their crooked branches, like a path to a secret garden.
The trail is short so a decently long run requires multiple loops. What it lacks in distance it makes up for in community richness- in the dog walkers, the weekend morning hikers, and the visibly hard effort that went into building benches and bridges for the public to enjoy.
Other trails I’ve run in the area besides the Neusiok are the Patsy Pond trails, Flanners Beach, and the Emerald Isle Woods trail. The Wheetock trail has also been on my list for some time. If you have other suggestions please leave a comment, and happy trails.