22 November 2017

Expanding Horizons

There are a couple of basic rules in the running world. First, when life takes you places, take your running shoes. Second, the myth of the lonely distance runner is in fact just that, a myth. We’re generally highly social creatures, and you’re a fool if you don’t take advantage of that fundamental truth. Link up with someone and not only will the miles melt away in amusing discourse, but you’re a lot more likely to cook up adventures and expand your horizons.

This week, those adages won me an utterly gorgeous morning running the iconic bridges of New York accompanied by a new friend who made for an effective, willing, and most enjoyable Native Guide. Lonely distance runners my behind…

This is not to say I haven’t embarked on plenty of adventures solo; my running tour of London a couple years ago comes instantly to mind. But you can only do that when you have reasonable leeway and margins for error; when the downsides of something going askew rise, I often take the conservative option and stick with the known, expanding my horizons only slowly.

Thus when Corporate Employer, who has me crisscrossing the northeast and parts random on a regular basis, drops me in Manhattan, I tend to stick to the familiar. From my usual camping spot in Midtown, I pick my way uptown to Central Park, loop the reservoir, then head back south, dodging commuters pouring out of the Port Authority and Penn Station, to get back in the nick of time. Since I don’t go to Gotham just to hang in the office – it’s always for meetings, usually with clients – screwing up the plan would result in a rather embarrassing and dramatic late entrance.

But last week opened a window of opportunity, and that window unfolded in a surprising – or perhaps not so surprising, given the basic truths I held evident earlier – way. The day’s meetings were slated to start a bit later than usual. Ah, an opening to try something different.

Before about two weeks ago, few non-New Yorkers knew about the Hudson River Greenway, but yet another deranged soul with a rented truck slapped it into the national consciousness. I, on the other hand, had been eying it for an ambulatory excursion for some time, with the intent of finally – sixteen years later – visiting the Trade Center memorial. How I’ve missed getting down there for so long was mysterious. How I finally had a chance to get there so close after another attack was ironic.

Still, getting there and back – and hopefully having a few minutes to locate a childhood friend’s name and have a few minutes of reflection, wasn’t a given, even though I plan these things within an inch of their lives. Call it OCD.

Decoding Google Maps along Manhattan’s west side, where docks and piers and parks and highways intertwine like loosely wound DNA, isn’t a certain science. Most uncertain, I couldn’t quite tell if the sinuous strand, clearly labelled at some points, but not so clearly labelled at others, did in fact extend all the way south. So it was that on attaining the trail at 26th Street, I took the stereotypically un-male action of asking the first guy who passed by if indeed this was the Greenway (to which I expected his reaction to be, “Duh, there’s a river if you go thirty feet further west,”) and if indeed the path continued all the way to the end of the island. I’m not sure I communicated that last bit, the important bit, all that well, but I took his lack of warnings of death, doom, and destruction to imply that I wasn’t really off base in my quest. And, feeling a bit like a moron, but mostly wanting to respect his privacy, I took off.

Funny thing about running in New York City. Unlike back home, where it’s an event to see another runner, a rarity to see one heading your way, and a lottery-ticket day to find one heading your way at your pace, in New York there are thousands out on any given morning. There’s always someone going your way. It’s not even that hard to find someone reasonably close to your pace. But faced with this plenty, most of these masses don’t strike up conversations with folks they don’t know. I suspect it’s a matter of practicality. We’re social, but we do like some me time, and with these multitudes, if you chatted up every passing compatible pacer, you’d never have a moment to daydream – or think up blog topics. Folks need some space. Which is why I took off.

A half mile later, he caught up. A few miles later we were buds. It happens. Serendipity.

Introducing myself as being from Boston piqued interest since he was looking forward to his first Boston in the spring. From there, stories spewed forth (one quite notable: he’s got an amazing hundred mile week – which he did in five days! – under his belt – check that out here). He soaked up my chatter without complaint while regaling me with his. Runner chat. Miles melting. Faster pace than I’d do on my own. I needed that. But by the time we reached his office in Lower Manhattan (he’d run-commuted that day), pretty much all I knew was that he was an attorney from Brooklyn, and we’d had a good run. That alone was enough and had made for a great morning.

Ah, the consequence of decisions. Nearly a decade ago I picked the name for this literary serial, with one criteria being that it would be simple to pass on verbally, key since few can spell my name right on the first try. When we parted outside his office I shouted the name of the blog. His email showed up shortly thereafter; connection made, simplicity worked. Good decision.

Oh, and yes, after a wrong turn (how can you miss a hundred-story office tower? I did it…) I got my ten minutes of reflection at the memorial, and found my old friend’s name. Powerful.

The story would typically end there, but this one is just gathering steam. My New York trips aren’t usually all that frequent, but oddly, this week brought me back for a couple mornings – read, a couple potential Big Apple runs. I let my new acquaintance know, but didn’t want to push his schedule. Hey, we just met. Let’s not take this too fast, now…

But he was all in on this, which found me rising earlier than I prefer to meet him in the dawning light along the Hudson. The early awakening was well worth it; now teamed with a Native Guide, here was a chance to expand my horizons without the risk of getting hopelessly lost in the spaghetti of Lower Manhattan (I can handle the Midtown grid, but Downtown is worse than Boston!). Remember, I had to have my butt in a seat for a meeting.

The Brooklyn Barrister picked up on my eye for the iconic, and planned a classic New York river-spanning route. I’ve walked the Brooklyn Bridge a couple times, and it’s long been one of my favorite urban walks, period. Running it added another notch of delight. Running back across the Manhattan Bridge, a structure with all the charm of unplanned steam punk inbred with organic graffiti, with trains roaring by ten feet to our right, but with a stunning view of Roebling’s masterpiece and the morning sun setting the Financial District afire, was simply sublime. And it’s worth noting, that sucker is a pretty serious hill, too. You don’t really get that till you’re coming down the other side and see that you’re above the roofs of the fifteen-story buildings on shore. Nice workout, indeed.

Did I mention that this guy also burned a wicked pace that left me not only with the most miles I’ve ever dared sneak in pre-New York meeting, but quality miles at that. My watch told me we’d been moving, even before trying to guess our actual moving pace considering traffic and my insistent photo stops. Thanks indeed, this was Just. Plain. Awesome. One of those signature runs that you’ll remember and relish for a long time.

As for those photos, hey, you might as well milk it, right? Hours later, when the conference room of colleagues was zoned from a full day of endless blather and slideware, I ended my brief speaking bit by announcing, “And now, your moment of Zen,” flipping that bridge shot onto the screen. Few in the room got the Daily Show reference, but it had the desired effect – both a satisfying break to the day and a reconfirmation of my status as the slightly crazy one in the room – since they knew how I’d harvested the image.

Horizons suitably expanded, I returned to my usual park loop the next morning, finally remembering – as I’ve meant to do for a long time – to pack the phone for some snaps of the sun rising against Central Park West. More bliss. But now I’m dangerous. Now I know that Brooklyn is in range. I might never make another New York meeting on time.

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