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Over the river and through the woods: running the road less traveled in Savannah

Updated on December 1, 2013

Looking down off the Talmadge bridge on a Sunday morning run with the Savannah Striders

It's fall ya'll. First Day of December and the leaves are just starting to turn.
It's fall ya'll. First Day of December and the leaves are just starting to turn.
Cargo ship heads out to sea after unloading at Georgia Ports Authority.
Cargo ship heads out to sea after unloading at Georgia Ports Authority.

Off Road run more exciting than the bridge itself

Every year, Savannah Enmark gas station hosts a bridge run starting on Hutchinson Island early in the morning to run, walk and crawl across the Talmadge Bridge, the highest elevation point in the city of Savannah.

If you have never run the bridge or are not a hill runner, it can be daunting, making beginner runners feel as if they are having a heart attack or are falling over backward as they strain to move one foot in front of the other up hill, but to the Savannah Striders, who run the bridge every Sunday morning, the jaunt is easy peasy to most and while it does lose a bit of its magic after the twentieth or so crossing, there is still the feeling of literally being on top of the world as the sun rises and huge cargo ships pass underneath as one looks down upon what appears to be rows and rows of matchbox cars and trucks parked at the ports below.


Early morning run in downtown Savannah

Too early o'clock at Broughton and Bull waiting on everyone to arrive.
Too early o'clock at Broughton and Bull waiting on everyone to arrive.

An early arrival before the run sets the mood for the start.

This particular Sunday attracted dozens of guest runners who were hoping to get in a last minute training run for the big bridge run next Saturday.

It was a chilly morning but pretty mild compared to earlier in the week and the forecasted rain had yet to appear in the gray blue skies which hid the bright white sun in a hazy pale gray blending as if some artist had created the sky to his liking.

There was no fantastic orange ball of fire or pink skies as on some summer mornings when the Striders hit the pavement, leaving at 7 a.m. from in front of Starbucks on Bull and Broughton.

I had arrived a half hour early, for some reason thinking it was nearly 6:30 when I left the house instead of 5:58, which shows where my state of mind was. It was not until I was a mile down the road that I looked at the truck clock and saw the green 6:09 glowing back at me that I realized I was way too early!!

I decided to keep going rather than turn around and ate a granola bar in route. Once there, I was all alone with only a few street walkers and the garbage trucks for company.

Luckily the spot on Broughton was brightly lighted, so I decided I would read for a bit only to discover that in my over zealousness to clean out the truck, I had removed everything but a box of crackers, two towels, three jackets and my gym clothes, so decided to delete old pictures off my camera, only to discover the battery was low.

Sighing, I turned the camera off and fished for my Starbucks gift card my boss had given me almost a year ago at Christmas. I had only used it twice for green tea, having no liking for coffee and being allergic to almost everything else Starbucks had to offer.

In fishing for the card I found a spare camera battery that had been sitting in the truck for over a year. I was sure it was dead, but popped it in the camera and lo and behold, it was fully functional...hooray!!! I had my camera back!!! But, the day was so drab and I was so araid to speak up in the group that I didn't even get a group photo of everyone.

I got out the truck when I saw a few runners and stood in front of Starbucks while everyone walked past me to greet friends and talk excitedly and I leaned against a post feeling outcast once again.

As I smiled at their vacant faces, they seemed to look right through me, like when you wave to someone waving back at you, but it is actually someone else they are waving at. It is more than embarrassing.

I often wondered why I showed up for group runs when mostly I ended up running by myself with no company and no one to talk to. It was so awkward and I rarely felt like I fit in with anyone, but I wanted to get in another long run before the race and so decided I would grin and bare it and see where the road led me and my trusty camera.

The road less traveled, but where did it lead?

Which way should I go... maybe the opposite way as the arrows
Which way should I go... maybe the opposite way as the arrows
Why not follow this one
Why not follow this one
Down the yellow dirt road looking back at the bridge behind me.
Down the yellow dirt road looking back at the bridge behind me.

A split heel and sore calf leave runner less than humble on what would be an interesting run

A quick stop to the restroom to relieve an upset stomach was a welcome relief as a few familiar faces made eye contact and spoke briefly before ignoring me and moving on to closer friends..

Once again, I leaned against a post and observed the clusters of people chatting excitedly and noted that I was the only one who was not part of a cluster.

I made an attempt to join in, but just felt like an outcast and stopped trying. I wanted to take a picture of the group, but the president of the Striders sent the group out quickly, so I joined in, hoping to find someone running at my pace, which happened to be the president himself, though our conversation was brief and uninspiring as I went one direction and he went another.

I had developed a split heel after running the Rails to Trails Thanksgiving morning in freezing temperatures and had run on Saturday on my toe so now both heel and calf were sore.

My usual slow pace was made even slower by my limping stride. Of course no one was sympathetic or asked if I was okay, which just sent me deeper into a gloomy mood as people I would normally outpace passed me by without even a good morning. I have a tendency of blending in rather than standing out... maybe the black and gray outfit I was wearing made me blend in too much with the environment.

I was used to this so let it go. Instead of feeling humbled or hurt, I just felt like a failure. As a normally slower runner breezed by me as if I were not just standing still, but running backward. It was something you can only praise God for giving, knowing that you should feel blessed to be able to move at all.

I felt like I was running with a rubber band strapped around my middle and someone pulling hard to keep me back, but otherwise I felt good and wasn't even breathing hard so figured I would keep going and see where it went.

Soon I was all alone, but I pushed up the bridge and felt strong despite the short stride and having to run on the toe of one foot as I scuff slapped my feet across the rough pavement and stared down at the river below.

As I was coming down the top of the bridge, I heard a familiar voice yell, "hey, stop sight seeing!"

It was my friend Pam, who was running alone on the other side of the bridge and it made me smile and brought me out of my funk, but made me think of Dan Hernandez and his jaunt to the ghost trail rail line further down the river.

I wondered if maybe I could find the road to the tracks and go there myself as I spied a long dirt trail headed in that general direction.

Did I have the stamina to go that far by myself in the dawning light?

As I reached the bottom of the bridge and turned to run the loop under it and back up the top I decided I might as well be adventurous and took off toward the road I had seen from above.

Interesting finds along the road less traveled, but no ghost train tracks.. maybe later.

Jehovah's Witnesses pile of books, dishes and clothes
Jehovah's Witnesses pile of books, dishes and clothes
Your guide to surviving in the new world...hmmm...
Your guide to surviving in the new world...hmmm...
dead rabbit with two big holes in his side
dead rabbit with two big holes in his side
The next road to run down. Maybe it will lead to something different
The next road to run down. Maybe it will lead to something different
The deer moved too fast for the shutter to catch them, but they left a print behind.
The deer moved too fast for the shutter to catch them, but they left a print behind.
End of the line... afraid I might be arrested for industrial espionage!
End of the line... afraid I might be arrested for industrial espionage!

The road less traveled got a bit spooky, but revealed some interesting things!

As soon as my feet hit the gravel and sand I felt at home. I had no idea where I was going, but it looked interesting.

The sign leading into the place said Economic Authority. On one side were power lines and a swamp marsh and on the other a bluff of scrub trees with the sounds of the port filtering over.

There were no signs of humans or cars and only a few song birds here and there.

About a half mile down the road, a lot of trash started to appear: old food containers, potato chip bags and drink cups and napkins littered the place.

To the left there were periodic signs stating No Trespassing, but these were all on the port side, not on the road, so I kept going.

My heel did not hurt as bad on the softer dirt and I was really enjoying the view, even though it wasn't much to look at. It was different and uncrowded and that was what mattered.

Up ahead on the left was a stick in the ground with orange and white tape and a huge pile of plastic bags full of books: physics books that appeared to be for home schooling and an old boot, a metal butter knife, a broken ceramic bowl, jackets and boxes full of the Watchtower publications and a book on how to monitor a fetus sitting next to a BBQ cookbook which seemed a bit eerie and reminded me of that Science fiction book, "How to serve man".

I half expected to stumble upon an apocalyptic cult in the woods. One of the books caught my attention over the others. It was a little green book entitled, "Survival in the New Earth".

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that when the end of the world comes, they will be the only ones to survive and will build a new earth that is peaceful where everyone gets along, no one is greedy and no one pollutes the planet for profit, but it still seemed futuristic and my mind started to wander.

I made a mental note to stop there on the way back and look closer at the books, though most of them were all wet and I had no way to carry them back with me back over the bridge.

I was still feeling pretty good, so kept on going, but heard a crash further up in the woods and knew it was deer. Nothing else was that big or that fast, but I could not see them and figured they had already taken off further away.

There was a road that turned off to the left, still dirt, but with two car tracks with grass in the center on a one lane road. I decided to turn down there since there were no signs saying I couldn't and the two deer jumped out across the road too fast for me to get their picture.

They were big, about four feet high at the shoulder and five feet at the head. I was almost glad they were afraid of me! I would not have been a match for them if they decided otherwise.

As I went further up the road I saw large cylinder tanks in the distance and the noise of industry increased. I was too chicken to keep going closer so took a picture and turned back to head further down the wide road instead.

There was a gate not too far away that had a sign that said Stop, keep this gate locked at all times, but the gate was unlocked and there were no signs stating I could not enter, so I did, but not without caution.

I kept wondering what would happen if I got a mile down the road and someone came along and locked the gate back. How would I get out then? Was I nimble enough to scale an eight foot high fence with spikes at the top... maybe I should turn around...

I decided to keep going. I was having too much fun exploring, but the further I got down the road, the more it turned toward the port and the more the sounds of machines and again I chickened out and turned back toward home, taking a picture of the locks on the gate, which numbered so many that it seemed odd none of them were in use!

I was a bit bummed that I had not found the trails to the old train tracks and vowed to ask Dan for directions next time and try again, but now on to the JW pile and back over the bridge to home.

I wistfully wondered if anyone had missed me or wondered where I was, but I doubted it, then chided myself for being so accusative and reminded myself that I was not so easy to love and that my shyness could easily be misread for snobbery and that I really didn't share that much in common with most of those people anyway and besides, a few had been nice and stopped to say hello to me, so I should be happy with that.

I picked up a copy of the survival book and jogged back to the bridge where two couples running side by side on the wrong side running with traffic, forced me to move around them and nearly get hit by an oncoming car.

I fought the urge to scowl at them and instead nodded hello as I secretly wondered why they had not moved over and gone single file to let me pass safely, again feeling like a marginal being with no value.

The next set of couples appeared to do the same thing, so I ran on the inside, forcing them to run around me. They actually ran out into the road, still side by side, rather than go single file and play it safely. I just shook my head and kept going feeling even more alienated from the human race.

On the return I saw a cargo ship heading back toward the ocean and the pale, yet blinding sun, which had no real shape, just a big white glowing borderless blob that merged into an equally blurry sky.

There was construction going on at the old site next to the T shaped concrete pillars of the former Talmadge bridge where the carriage barn I used to work at stood and the old Economy Feed and Seed was located for what seems like 50 or more years. It was sad to see the old site gone as there were many memories made there, including meeting Diane Brandt for the first time and thinking she would surely not hire me to be a tour guide as reserved and withdrawn as I was, but she hired me anyway and I learned to speak in public and be personable even when I wanted to be left alone. It was sort of a coming of age story, but it would remain with me, even though the building was gone.

The sadness turned to curiosity as I looked down at the homeless camp with three tents and a variety of unique objects such as a raised piece of wood covered in old carpet, a camouflage jacket wrapped around a post, resembling a coat tree in part and a Christmas tree as well.

One of the camp's inhabitants had picked up a restricted area sign from a construction site and placed it in front of the tent and another had an American Flag hung outside the tent flap. I almost envied them not having to be part of society, though know that must be a tough life and more humbling than me having to be the last person across the bridge with no running companion to encourage me to keep moving other than Pam laughing at me from the other side of the bridge... which was actually kind of amusing as well as inspiring, and Robin did introduce herself for real after we friended each other on Facebook, but never met formally, so what was my problem anyway.

If you are a loner type, or feel left out or don't have the money or the talent to be part of the in crowd, running can be appealing, whether with a group or on your own.

There are a lot of trails out there that have yet to be discovered, a lot of out of the way running places you will never find if you play it safe and stay on the main track.

While I do not encourage anyone to go running in unsafe areas without being prepared with water and a cell phone and letting someone know where you are going, I will say that in discovering new places to run, you often discover a lot about yourself as well and the people who run with you.

As I returned to Starbucks to see the Strider's president just leaving and a gaggle of police officers congregating around the building (for coffee or to apprehend a suspect I do not know, though they seemed to be looking for someone and no one had coffee in hand), I still felt a bit like a failure.

Come to think of it, maybe they reported me as a missing person and the police were searching for me... but I doubt it!

The tourists were starting to wake and search for breakfast as early morning church goers flooded into town trying to secure a parking space within walking distance before the late comers arrived and a hike of two miles would be required.

I felt funny running down Broughton with no other runners in site. I guess that is the one good thing about being in a running group. You are encouraged to go places you would not otherwise go to and you do not feel so out of place with other people dressed like you and bolting through traffic over the bridge.

I know that a lot of the alienation I feel comes from my own doing, not that of others and I am not the best at making other people fit in and feel comfortable, but sometimes I think this can be a good thing if it makes you seek new adventures with new people who are more like you and glad to see your face rather than hoping you do not make eye contact so they do not have to acknowledge you and feel just as awkward as you do.

In any event, if you live in Savannah and have seen those trails into the woods and wondered where they went, why not get a group together and explore them?

There are a lot of interesting roads and runs that yield some pretty exciting adventures if you are willing to step outside the standard areas and explore.

Next time I take that grassy road before the main one or maybe I will keep going over the bridge and run into South Carolina just for a lark to say I did it. Who knows, the possibilities are endless!


Photos of the road less traveled over the bridge and through the woods in Savannah

Maybe I am not as fast as a rabbit, but all things considered...
Maybe I am not as fast as a rabbit, but all things considered...
This was kind of funny, all those locks and an open gate!
This was kind of funny, all those locks and an open gate!
A smaller road leading to towering cylinders.
A smaller road leading to towering cylinders.
This was sitting by a tree in the woods
This was sitting by a tree in the woods
Lost dog poster, probably hunting for deer or rabbit
Lost dog poster, probably hunting for deer or rabbit
Bug boxes look like little girl scout tents, but not so nice inside
Bug boxes look like little girl scout tents, but not so nice inside
Beware bugs, there is no exit... go camp  elsewhere!
Beware bugs, there is no exit... go camp elsewhere!
This did not bode well for their survival....
This did not bode well for their survival....
En Espanol tambien!
En Espanol tambien!
BBQing and fetal monitoring... hmmm....
BBQing and fetal monitoring... hmmm....
I survived the road less traveled into the new world.
I survived the road less traveled into the new world.
It seemed appropriate...
It seemed appropriate...
Homeless Vet encampment under the bridge
Homeless Vet encampment under the bridge
It has it's own patio and warning system
It has it's own patio and warning system
Coat rack or Christmas tree...maybe someone oculd donate a real tree for them?
Coat rack or Christmas tree...maybe someone oculd donate a real tree for them?
Site of the old Savannah Carriage Tour and Economy Feed and Seed buildings... sad.
Site of the old Savannah Carriage Tour and Economy Feed and Seed buildings... sad.
The next road... want to come with me?
The next road... want to come with me?
sailing off into the sun...rise...well, close...
sailing off into the sun...rise...well, close...
I will survive!!!
I will survive!!!

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