FKT: Keilynn Alicea - Aire Libre: Laguna Tortuguero to Hacienda La Esperanza route - 2023-04-19

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
9h 24m 2s

Aire Libre is a traverse connecting trails to encourage pedestrianism in Puerto Rico. A course developed to avoid the beaten path, encourage you to buy local, and avoid the overcrowded tourist areas. This route is a dedication to friendship. Less than 24 hours before I stepped foot on these trails I unexpectedly lost a dear friend. A good life is too short and eventually death stops for no one. I’m very aware of my selfish desires to run far and often. But on this day I needed the rhythmic motion of running to ease my sorrow.

In the humid morning of Wednesday, April 19th I parked across from the Pista Atlética Tortuguero in Vega Baja. After slathering my body with sunblock, I put on my Solomon running vest. It was filled with three liters of salted water, several packets of Spring Awesome Sauce, four thin meat sticks, a couple of packets of mustard, a battery pack, and an emergency blanket. I put on my sunglasses and hat and used the makeshift bathroom. I walked to the nearby trails and at approximately 8:55AM began to run at a conservative pace on the dirt trails. Within a mile my sneakers started sinking into the loose sugar sand. I followed the trails surrounding the freshwater lagoon which were chosen based on heat maps and a cycling route. The trails continued onto a mixed terrain of slight hills covered in dirt and limestone. I paused briefly by the Manantial de Guaraney in awe of the crystal clear and cool subterranean water surrounded by boulderous limestones.

I traced the trails of the lagoon out onto traverse the industrial and rural portions of Manatí. Up to this point, I don’t think I had ever seen so many sweet loose dogs and free-range roosters hanging out throughout the island. The temperatures were holding steady in the 80-degree heat with zero cloud coverage. I stopped by a local store on the route to purchase 3 12-ounce yellow Gatorades and stuffed them in my vest. As I returned to running I felt the back of my thighs and calf’s burning from the sun rays. “Hey Annie, remember right after high school when we would spend days tanning on the beach and nights out in NYC clubs?” The biting sunburn felt good. It was just enough to snap me out of emotional numbness.

On the road to Hacienda La Esperanza the wind picked up and kept blowing wisps of my hair across my face. The whole stretch of road felt like there was a blow-dryer set to low spurts just long enough to dry the sweat as it tried escaping my pores. It was so damn hot, and my heart rate started to spike after a few minutes. My pace slowed just enough to calm the beating into manageable comfort. I meditated and reflected on the vast openness of the area. I wished Annie would’ve had more opportunities to feel this freedom.

Once I reached a “T” in the road I entered the trails of the nature reserve. I took the route counterclockwise around the plantation. I continually saw large iguanas darting across the trails into the trees. They ranged from two to three feet long, so I kept a cautious distance from the edges of the trail. The hot wind changed to tepid wind as it blew across the shoreline to the right. I took off my sunglasses and gazed at the bright, tan colored sand and shades of deep blue ocean water. It was around this point that I realized I fell behind on my nutrition. In fact, I hadn’t had any fuel so I attempted to stuff as many calories as my stomach would allow since my energy was stripped raw.

My focus shifted to leaving the reserve and finding the nearest food stand. The trails gently weave around the waterways of the Tierras Nuevas Poniente, a rural barrio of Manatí. I reached a little store and purchased two Coke’s. I remember noticing that my shoulders had joined the other parts of my body in getting sunburned. I sat down briefly and noticed my fingers swelling. An f bomb dropped, as I realized that my electrolytes were off. I thought to myself, “Well Annie, it is what it is”. I got up and started the return to my car by the coastal route.

Avenida Sol is unforgettable. I briefly attempted to avoid the asphalt in favor of the beaches to my left but found that my pace came to a standstill as my sneakers sunk into the foot deep soft sand. The views from the road would have to suffice. By this point over two thirds of the route was finished and I was starting to imagine what a complete loop would feel like. I smiled, “Yes, Annie. We’ve got this. I hope you’re happy wherever you are at.” My body shook me away from my mind to the area of my right hamstring as it began to cramp. I slowed my pace to ease the cramp. Every chance I attempted to pick up the pace, my hamstring tightened. I began to hike as fast as possible without triggering my leg. An elderly man saw me from across the street and offered me a Miller Light. I smiled, tried to do trail math and wondered how much salt a can of beer might have in it. The sun was making me slightly silly. I stopped for a moment to tell him where I was going. In Spanish he gently yelled, “You’re going to the athletic track? That’s not bad! You’ll be fine! At this rate you’re going to live to 105, keep going!” I laughed and pushed through the cramps. “You see Annie? It’s going to be fine. We’re just about there.”

I turned right off Avenida Sol to return to the lagoon trails. There was a constant humming of car engines and clacking of horse hooves along this stretch as I closed in on my final miles. I suddenly felt synchronicity and felt wrapped with a calming feeling over my sun-burnt skin. The rough texture of my heavy vest no longer felt like it was digging into my shoulders. I arrived at the picturesque pier on the lagoon. It was everything I imagined. The entire area was serene. The bright sun and steam no longer bothered me. I snapped the only picture of myself at this point. I felt like the essence of my journey was beaming internally. I continued the final two plus miles to return to my starting point on the trail. I completed the route at 6:23 pm.

The final steps were bittersweet.

Farewell, friend.

RIP Annie 8.5.76 – 4.18.23.