The early-morning workout bribe.

My drinkbelt hasn’t seen the light of day for quite some time – not since Monday, March, 21st to be exact. That day, I went for a short ski with Jennie Brentrup at Oak Hill in Hanover. The snow was, well, not good. But we had fun. After that, I packed my trusty training partner in a small Dynastar duffle bag patched with duct tape. The bag traveled down the east coast in my 4-Runner and ultimately was shoved under my bed, where it has stayed, mostly unopened, since I arrived in Florida.

Last night, I dug out the duffle bag and filled my drink belt up with water in preparation for an early morning.

It was our first day off in 25 days, and it seemed masochistic to wake up early in the morning yet again. But that’s what I wanted to do. I have been running after work most days, waiting until 6 or 6:30 in the evening when it is cool enough to work out comfortably. Instead, I wanted to run in the early morning, and do my first “very long” run of the season.

To accomplish this, I resorted to an old trick. I call it the early-morning workout bribe. It’s a system I began using in Crested Butte, Colorado the summer before my senior year of college. I would start fieldwork for my thesis at 8 a.m., but because of the thunderstorms that rolled in almost every evening, it was best to train before work. When I was running, this was no problem- I could get up a little early, run from the cabin, have breakfast, and head off into the field. But when I needed to rollerski, things were more complicated. It was a 20 minute drive to get to a place with pavement appropriate for rollerskiing, and I had to take all of my work gear with me and go straight to the field afterwards. It required an earlier start and a lot more planning.

So on the mornings when I rollerskied, I would buy myself breakfast and a coffee at Camp 4. Not only was their coffee delicious, but their breakfast burritos were to die for. If you are ever in Crested Butte, check it out. Camp 4 was pretty much the sole reason that I rollerskied that summer, and it was extremely effective.

This morning, I tried the bribery method again, and set my alarm for 6:40, 20 minutes later than usual.

I started running on the mainland side of the Navarre bridge. The foot path on the side of the main bridge felt a little sketchy – rather than being an integrated part of the bridge’s concrete structure, it was a metal outcropping. Luckily I’m not afraid of heights, because it felt a bit like I was dangling out over the Sound.

One I reached Santa Rosa Island, I turned right and ran out the bike path until I reached the start of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. I can’t say that I was running particularly quickly or efficiently, but it felt good to be out in the early morning. I assessed the beach houses as I ran by and passed innumerable walkers out in pairs or with their small dogs. I passed a place called “Sandy Bottoms” which advertised Baja Fish Tacos and might have started salivating.

But I didn’t stop. I ran out to the seashore and then turned around and stopped at a small entrance to the beach, where I took in the views and had some water (thanks, drinkbelt!).

The beach looks pretty much the same anywhere, but I was interested to see the difference that four miles can make. Whereas the beach where we park and walk to work is wide and dominated by dunes, this beach was narrow. It made me remember that our usual walking route sports signs advertising that is was selected as one of America’s best restored beaches. My grandparents always talk about how the hurricanes hammer the beach and destroy the dunes, literally washing them into the ocean. At Navarre Beach State Park, the dunes had been rebuilt, whereas a few miles away, they were left to fend for themselves. In time, they will accumulate more sand, but for now, the beach is much smaller.

It was still just as beautiful. And so quiet! There weren’t even any early-morning fishermen out setting up.

After running back to my car – I ran 9 or 10 miles, something I haven’t done since, hmm, October? – I stretched, put on a dry shirt, and headed out for breakfast. That was, after all, my reward for getting up early on my day off.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one permanent coffeeshop in Navarre. I have passed it a few times. It’s called Higher Ground, and it resides in a cute, tiny building with a fresh fruit stand behind it. When I walked in, I was greeted by sunny, bright colors on the walls, vintage prints and advertisements, and some cheery yet calm Flamenco guitar music in the background. I took a booth and was soon sipping a capuccino and perusing a menu.

Was I tempted by the gourmet veggie quiche? Yes. What about the buttered croissant with fresh fruit? Why, yes.

But I could not order those things. When I imagine a perfect southern breakfast, I think of one thing: biscuits and sausage gravy. Not the crappy kind, but the good kind. This idealistic breakfast vision was born in Wakulla Springs, Florida, some years ago, when I stayed at the lodge of the State Park (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) with my parents and had amazing biscuits and gravy for breakfast in the beautiful dining room.

And Higher Ground specifically advertised biscuits and gravy. I had to try them. I ordered “The Eye Opener”: one biscuit topped with an egg and another with sausage, all covered in gravy.

It was amazing.

I loved the food, the atmosphere, and the nice women who ran the place. I was tempted to order another coffee to go, but since I haven’t been drinking coffee in the morning, that seemed like it could lead to an overcaffeinated disaster. I also wanted to buy some more baked goods from the counter, but reined myself in. Overall, I was so happy to find a place like this in Navarre; before now I wasn’t entirely convinced that it was just a giant strip mall of a town with no local, independent character.

Could I eat breakfast here every day?

Ah. But then it wouldn’t be a bribe.

Touring the Coast.

I always mean to blog more than I do, and now is no exception. While we haven’t had a full day off of work yet – this will take some creative accounting since our boss can’t afford to pay us overtime – we do get off at 3:30 p.m. every day since we start so early in the morning. I like our early mornings because they beat the heat, and as anyone who has ever seen me rollerski on a hot summer day can tell you, heat is not something I adapt to easily.

One thing that has taken up some extra time is the fact that I decided to work on a long article about the mess the Russian women’s biathlon team is in. It took a few days and you can read it here.

Another reason I haven’t written was that on Saturday, I was having too much fun.

We haven’t had a day off, but Saturday was close. Instead of doing fieldwork, we spent the morning taking a class on riding ATV’s. All-terrain vehicles are available for us to use to haul our gear from site to site, but we had to get certified to ride them first. Hence, the class. We spend several hours zipping around cones and over obstacles. The point was to learn how to ride safely, but it was a lot of fun, too. Not to mention the easiest hours of work we will ever have.

And after that, we were free for the afternoon. Jamie and I took full advantage of our brief window of freedom, and began by hitting up a tourist-trap shark museum and shell shop.

Did I catch this guy with my own two hands? Yes, absolutely, like every other tourist. And I’m about to make him into shark soup. It will be especially delicious because he’s made out of plastic.

Inside, there was a museum which actually was pretty cool. I had never seen an armadillo, which are supposedly vermin around here, but luckily there was one for me to examine so I’ll know what to look for.

Jamie’s favorite was the pufferfish. She tried to mimic the little guy, but it was kind of tough, not being full of spikes and all.

We ended up spending much too much time in the tourist trap shop, looking at shells and cheap plastic crap. I bought some postcards because I felt bad making the lady stay open when it turned out that she was waiting for a bathroom break, and Jamie bought a couple of shells for her hermit crab and some saltwater taffy which turned out to be not very good.

Our next stop was the fishing pier. The pier sticks 900 feet out into the Gulf of Mexico and on Saturday, it was packed with fishermen casting bait fish far out into the Gulf. We watched one lucky fisher land what seemed to me like a quite large fish, but most of the men and women seemed to be relaxing with their friends while they waited for a tug on the line. Two cute girls drove a golf cart up and down the pier selling concessions and cold beer from a cooler strapped on the back.

It was cool to be able to enjoy the beach just for the beach’s sake instead of worrying about getting to work on time or already being exhausted and sweaty. Plus, out on the pier the wind was gusting and gave us a respite from the sun. I hate doing touristy things, but this was just what the doctor ordered.

After touring Navarre Beach, driving through the picturesque nearby section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and checking out Gulf Breeze (boring), we finally finished up the trip with some snow cones. Snow cones are becoming our weekend tradition. After picking mango last weekend, this time I went with “hula girl”, a combination of polar punch (whatever that is, it’s blue) and kiwi. We were served by the aging proprietor of the stand, who was on hand, unusually, to help out his younger, entirely female crew. He had an impressively dry wit. We sat at a picnic table and savored our treats.

We ended the day with a glass of wine and a dip in the pool. All in all, pretty nice.

And now it’s back to the fieldwork grindstone – something our RV park neighbors never cease to comment on. “You girls are working all the time,” they say. True – but not all the time!