14 May 2011

Watery Adventures

This week’s blather, which was supposed to arrive in your hot little hands early this week rather than at the tail end, was supposed to be of the back-to-back races bookending the previous week: a local 5K on Sunday to kick off the week, and a local 5 miler Saturday to close it. Sadly my prepaid registration to the latter went down the drain, somewhat literally, when circumstances removed me from Saturday’s expected Wicked Hills of Clinton and instead deposited me three hundred miles asunder in mom’s Wicked Flood of Basement for what can only be described as a sucky weekend. As in suck, suck, suck up that water… Hey, at least I got in some upper body work hauling furniture up the stairs…

And I did get in that week-opening 5K and laid down a start-of-the-season benchmark time to suck, suck, suck me to the track this summer to chisel it down. The Westborough Spring Fair 5K was the kind of event so casual that oddly, the starting line was perpendicular to the direction of the race. Not as in, start, run fifty feet and bang a left, but as in, here, line up right at the edge of this driveway, and trample the guy on your left when the gun goes off. Really. Yeah, I thought it weird, too, but whatever. Out the gate a local ringer ran away, never to be seen up close and personal again, so I focused on holding a reasonably strong but more importantly steady clip on the simply-themed course: halfway all uphill, halfway all downhill. Unlike the Tri-Valley a few weeks back, a persistent set of trailing footsteps kept my motivation turned on, and while I couldn’t hold back the youngster lady in the final stretch, I’ve no complaints over taking third at just a hair under 6-minute pace.

But as Arlo Guthrie famously noted, that’s not what I came here to talk about. I came with a tale of a watery adventure, or at least water-related, and a water-logged basement seemed a good lead-in.

You regulars of course know of my Run Marlborough 2011 quest – technically our quest since linking up with Chris (new visitors are encouraged to review chapters 5 through 8, there will be a quiz later, or just read this). You know that I’m getting very close to finishing up. And you know that along the way there have been those places that have been hard to judge between being a road or not, whether they are accessible or off limits.

Which brings us to the fine facilities of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, or MWRA in local lingo. These are the folks that supply a good chunk of the Bay State with tap water that, at least here in Marlborough where we tap them for about a third of our supply, is simply superb stuff. And why is it so good? One part of the puzzle lies at the southwest corner of Our Fair City, straddling the borders of two adjoining towns. To the casual observer, it’s the Taj Mahal, a uniquely attractive industrial facility. To the discerning eye, it’s the John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant. To me, it’s a location within Marlborough that has roads. A mile and a quarter of roads. But roads that I determined were off limits to the quest, based on the fact that there is a manned gatehouse at the main entrance. And water is pretty tense stuff in the post-9/11 age. So these roads which defined the southernmost limits of the city remained visible only on Internet satellite photos, and had acquired that sad brown color on my progress map indicating, “Not gonna’ happen.”

But one of those serendipitous moments arose a few weeks back at the Tri-Valley 15K. Chatting with a total stranger runner, somehow the topic came up, (how? I cannot say…) and said total stranger runner noted he’d previously worked in Marlborough and had hiked the area around the plant, including on the roads, and that nobody cared. Hmm… A little cross checking confirmed an old memory that the Sudbury Valley Trustees maintains the Crane Swamp property abutting the MWRA, and indeed one of their trails coincides with the MWRA access road, so apparently they really don’t care. And a little more cross-checking using methods that shall remain classified seemed to confirm this. Bingo. We’re in.

Since the front gate was indeed, as noted, manned, the back gate would be the target. I knew from running past it previously that it was a simple vehicle gate, clearly not built to prevent footed creatures’ passage; indeed, nicely landscaped and wide open to stroll around. OK, so they man the front gate to only allow in trucks that have been blessed, and beyond that, no worries. Made sense.

Still, best to be low key. The place operates twenty-four-seven, but you can guess that the weekend would carry only a skeleton staff. And not just any weekend. I chose Easter Sunday. After our church activities were completed, we had no plans, so what better day to penetrate the lair? There’d be nobody around. Heck, there was nobody even on the roads.

Having not hit the gym since before Boston, I had Darling Wife drop me there, only to find that they are bold enough to recognize a religious holiday and had closed early. Bad for my upper body, but good for them. So no lifting, but I set off on my mission to penetrate the lair of Fort MWRA.

Now it’s worth noting here that it was only six days after Boston. While I was over the immediate muscle burn, I most certainly was not recovered. After last year’s Parade of Injuries, I had no intention of overdoing it and restarting that cycle. And this route would require roughly a ten miler, pretty much the outer limits of what I’d subject my body to at that point. I hit the road with a fair dose of guilt about even planning ten, but the lure of the lair was too much to ignore.

It’s times like this when a fun story looms that I find myself unable to avoid slipping into the present tense…

I head for the south edge of town. I locate the back (west) driveway into the MWRA Lair, not as simple as you might think, since there are no identifying signs. There’s a simple vehicle gate that one can simply walk around on landscaped ground. Clearly not an intended impediment to pedestrian traffic. No worries. I swing around the gate and penetrate the outer limits. Level 1.

A short way in is a sign, “WARNING, DANGER, CONSTRUCTION ZONE, NO THIS, NO THAT, and… NO JOGGERS”. OK, so, first they didn’t say NO because it’s the MWRA, they said NO because of construction, and a quick glance confirms there is clearly no construction going on. Second, I’m a runner, not a jogger. They clearly weren’t talking about me. I penetrate deeper.

Scanning for Evil Eye Video Surveillance cameras and seeing none, I press on. I’m across the railroad tracks and past the first little building. To me, it’s like attaining Penetration Level 2. I won’t say the hairs on the back of my neck prickled, but it was mildly anxiety producing. Still, no klaxons, no copters, no SWAT team screaming, “Take OFF your running shoes and walk out slowly!”

But then, when Level 3, the Inner Sanctum, the Prime Directive – the loop around the filtration plant itself – is in reach, I am foiled! What I never noticed on the satellite photos was an item that looks like a shadow (see inside the red circle). Guess what? It’s a fence. A good old American eight-foot-high locked chain link fence. And a mighty fine one at that. None of the cheap zinc-coated steel, no sir, this is the MWRA, and this is the finest black enamel finish chain link that money can buy. A beautiful fence. But locked just the same.

So now I have a quandary. I really don’t want to backtrack all the way out the way I came. It’s a full half-mile in, so a backtrack will add a mile, and this run is as noted already planned as too long for only six days after Boston. So I decide I’ll skirt the outside of the fence, heading eastward along the north side of the plant, and make a hasty retreat out the main east entrance. Yes, the manned, gated one. I’d planned to brazenly run out there anyway. Hey, I’d be leaving, not going in, right? Just smile and wave…

And so I skirt, but it’s a struggle, as immediately outside the fence, the ground slopes steeply down to a canal. The footing is tough, and my feet are slipping nastily sideways in my shoes. I’m grabbing trees, clinging to the fence, wondering if this is setting off alarms someplace. But I make my way all the way along the north side of the plant…

…to the bridge over the canal to the east exit. Where I discover a bigger problem. You see, the fence is connected to the bridge. You can’t get on the bridge unless you climb the fence, which is clearly something I won’t do as that would pretty clearly constitute a level of active penetration (nice word for trespassing) that I won’t cross. Nor can you scurry up the bridge abutment and over the concrete rail, as (a) this is almost physically impossible, and (b) it would constitute hopping the fence….

So now I’ve got a bigger problem. Whereas I didn’t want to backtrack before when I was still on the west entrance road, now to backtrack would be even worse, as I’d have to navigate the steep slope scramble again, back along the fence, and add the road mileage. But I can’t escape, either, since I can’t get onto the bridge. So I scramble down the rock scree to the canal, duck under the bridge, and start running east along the canal. I’m feeling pretty tense about the whole fence-clinging thing, and I’d really like to get away from the property before I start hearing the baying of the hounds. But the canal is MWRA property as well, and I am, as you might guess, on the wrong side of it. It isn’t big, but it isn’t crossable either without getting very wet, and seeing as this is the MWRA and it’s their holy water, they’d probably frown upon anyone wading across. So I’m now running away from the plant as quick as reasonable on a trail along the south side of the canal, wondering how to get to the north side, back into Marlborough.

Around a bend, in about a third to a half mile, I come upon a sort of dam-like structure with a tiny zig-zag plank bridge on top and a rickety pipe rail to hold onto. It’s my only hope, so I tiptoe across it. Nervously.

But I’m still not out of the woods, as even though there are lovely jeep roads to run, there’s a rail grade and impassible brush between me and the road to the north. No way out, except to continue east, under the interstate, which turns out to be a real construction zone which I must navigate through, then find my way on a construction path to Northborough Road near the structure in the upper right of the photo below. At which point, it turns out, after all this, I am now completely fenced IN, and therefore despite my rule of never hopping a fence in this quest, I have to do so to escape. Fortunately, it’s a low fence. I am free!

To say this is not how I had planned the afternoon is an understatement. But I didn’t get chased, I didn’t get arrested, I saw no reports in the local paper of a suspected terrorist trying to penetrate Massachusetts’ water supply, and you can bet that I re-colored the half mile west access road from brown to blue on the Run Marlborough 2011 Official Quest Tracking Map.

And after all, what’s the quest all about other than to avoid the boredom of the same old runs?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Humor me. If you read it, if you liked it, even if you didn't, let me know!