HOMER - For many people, a trip to Kachemak Bay State Park is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relax and enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife in the hidden hills across the bay.
Campers may spend at least one night to take in the appropriate amount of wilderness beauty. However, some hardcore members of Homer's community running group are able to appreciate nature as it quickly blurs by in less than an hour.
What started as a few people gathering around town to run trails such as Baycrest Hill and Lookout Mountain eventually evolved into runners hopping a boat across Kachemak Bay for an evening run every other Thursday night.
"There are a lot of people in Homer who are out running the streets and trails. They do it for fun or exercise, or even competition," said runner/organizer Rachel Lord. "The goal of the community runs is to get those folks together and encourage new people to come out."
Rather than taking to the treadmill or circling the track at the high school, the community run gives participants an opportunity to see more of what the area has to offer, and get in shape, as well.
"I love to be active, but I hate to work out," said runner Catriona Lowe. "I like to get my exercise in fun, playful ways, and the Thursday group is an outlet for that."
Lowe, who is an active participant in the weekly runs, said she enjoys the variety of running in different environments and on differentsurfaces.
"Until this group, most of my running had been on pavement," she noted. "This is a good introduction to trail running for me."
On a recent Thursday, athletes got together for their fourth trip across the bay to run the China Poot Lake Trail. And, while the rugged route is described as an "overgrown trail with potential for falling," it seemed ideal for the diehards of Homer.
Lowe even brought along a couple of youngsters to join the fun.
"I enjoy exercising with them," Lowe explained. "It's a way to model and practice a healthy habit, and I think it's important for them to see that exercise isn't always about a game or winning, but can be enjoyed in and of itself."
After taking pleasure in the boat ride across the bay and stretching their various muscles, runners hit the trail for about an hour.
They then rendezvoused back at the dock, drenched in sweat and relatively overheated. And what better way to cool off then taking a plunge in the chilly water? If you can endure the rite of passage through the "double dunk," you'll be inducted as one of the team.
Still, trail running and bay dunking isn't for everyone.
Lowe recalled one of their past runs across the bay where the group ran to Grewingk Glacier and found a group of campers from the Lower 48.
"Here we were, all sweaty, wearing tank tops and shorts," Lowe said, "and they were all sitting around a campfire in jackets and wooly hats."