It’s that magical day, 1-11-11, and at 11:11:11 AM this morning I was…running. And at that very moment…nothing happened. Maybe I have to wait for 11-11-11.
Time is a funny thing, even if you’re not enthralled by Stephan Hawking and some of the more twisted cosmology articles in Scientific American. To paraphrase one of my favorite movie lines from A Fish Called Wanda, yes, I do read it, but no, I don’t always understand it. Apart from cosmic oddities and time zone confusions, the time that really matters to a runner is the time of daylight (other than on Reach the Beach weekend, of course). Once daylight is gone, the complexity of getting in a run rises steeply, so we tend to squeeze every moment of daylight we can find.
Last week found me in one of the nicer sections of New Jersey, so I’ll spare the Jersey jokes except to note that when I was there last summer, I found it quite annoying how local planners decided that in an upscale area, straight sidewalks were just so passé and had instead installed artistic yet inefficient zigzag versions. Aside from the hammering that a concrete sidewalk already imparts on your legs, add to that some lateral hammering on your knees as you try to stay in-bounds on their pedestrian mini-golf course. I’ll take my chances and run in the roads, thank you very much.
But this time of year, those sidewalks are irrelevant under the snow, and the challenge is daylight. With an eight-to-five training session, there’s sorry little sol-time left for a run. On Day One I tried the early morning approach, but even equipped with Day-Glo and a blinky light, I had to delay my start until racing commuters had an even shot of noticing me hugging the sidelines of their tracks. That made time tight enough that I decided Day Two would have to be a rest day, sans run.
Or would it? To my delight, they released us from our bonds of learning earlier than planned with the generous intent of letting us beat the traffic. Not expecting this, I wasn’t equipped for a run on the run, but as I made my way north toward the New York line, it occurred to me that I just might be able to squeeze one in. But where? Seriously, I may be addicted, but not to the level of wanting to make a rave run through some non-descript Jersey suburb.
A little mental cogitation brought the Hudson Valley into the realm of possibility, and Bear Mountain State Park popped into my head. Beautiful mountain setting high above the Hudson, far enough from New York City to be free of crowds and pollution, vast vistas, perfect, if I could make it in time, with that daylight clock ticking. But that is, after all, why God invented Google, Droids, and GPS, right? Voice command to Google: Sunset Poughkeepsie New York Today. Like magic: 4:30 PM. GPS: Take me to Bear Mountain, how long? You’ll get there about twenty after four. Hmm, no time to spare, no restroom stops, need to dig the clothes and blinky light out of the back lickity-split, should have 30 minutes of dusk before blackness, most certainly do-able, the challenge was on.
I must confess that while strategizing and fighting traffic, not realizing the sound was turned off on the Droid and not noticing the reminder that popped up, I completely spaced and missed a conference call I was supposed to be on at four. Well, it wasn’t critical. Carpe Diem.
Now I am on a mission. Every minute counts, especially since I haven’t been in the park since, well, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in the park. Near the park, yes, but in it? So I know not where I’m going, save what the Gods of Google Maps can serve up, nor where to run. But I imagine parking near the summit and running the roads up top, soaking up the views as the daylight fades. And all is going to plan. Traffic is with me. I’m picking up a few minutes, pulling into the park with daylight to spare. No gate, no fees, good thing, I’d hate to have to pay for forty minutes. I’m following the park road up the side of the mountain, beautiful woodland and, frankly, nothing else. No place to pull off and park. No visible trail markers (even if the trails weren’t snow-covered, running unfamiliar trails at dusk would be a really bad idea, it wasn’t the plan, but it would have been nice to know they were there). And worst: the roads I’d seen on the map leading to the summit and other interesting spots? All gated, unplowed, inaccessible. Excitement turns to dismay. All I can do is drive.
I’m down the other side toward the river valley, hopes of grand views crushed. I find the “recreational center” portion of the park, eerily abandoned in the cold months. Darkened buildings, maintenance vehicles scattered in a big otherwise empty parking lot. And – what’s this? – a runner next to his car in the far lonely stretches of that lot. I wish I could say he too was heading out, and that I had a serendipitous run with a native guide, but he’d just finished up and was leaving. He did offer up a few tips, and the comfort of knowing I wasn’t the only whacko running the park on a cold winter day.
On his advice, I headed north to run the paved path around Hessian Lake, civilized to be sure but still a lovely spot with cliffs rising from its west edge and crazy patterns in its frozen surface. I figured it was about a mile around and envisioned taking one lap easy then turning some near-mile repeats to put in some speed I’ve been so sadly lacking. But the west side wasn’t plowed and presented treacherous icy footing as it rose over those cliffs. Certainly no speed was in order here; indeed no second lap was in order when it became obvious that a slip while perched above the thirty-foot drop to the ice could have dire consequences.
I left the lake after one lap and traversed a half-snowed field, surprised to note that among the seemingly dead park was a brightly lit ice rink emanating the sounds of a lively puck match, then reached the main road which I’d earlier eschewed in the waning light but now saw as my only chance to log a few miles. Considering the place was effectively abandoned, I judged the traffic risk minimal and headed up the hill far enough to indeed get that Hudson Valley vista I’d imagined an hour plus earlier. It wasn’t the top of the mountain as I’d hoped, but it was a sweet reward nonetheless. A view, a workout, a day to feel good, snatched out of the hands of the expectation of a sedentary runless office and windshield day.
The rest was anticlimactic, but it didn’t matter. An easy cruise back down the hill, an added loop to gain some extra distance which sent me through the maintenance garage area – from heaven to hell in one mile flat – another run out and back on the plowed edge of the lake, and darkness was complete. The ride home, long, of course, but it wasn’t a day without sunshine, it just didn’t matter.
On Another Topic Department: Already an irony has popped into the not-yet-two-week-old Run Marlborough 2011 challenge. Through a long story that needn’t be recounted, I had a need to drop a small item at a stranger’s house – not that she was strange, just that I didn’t know her or where she lived. But I knew she was in Marlborough, and this was an obvious opportunity to direct my run into some new streets to darken another chunk on the RM11 map. With only four local runs in the books for 2011, surely this quest would take me to uncharted territory. And sure enough, the recipient reported that she lived on a small obscure back street, rarely traveled and largely unknown outside of a two block radius. But, wouldn’t you know, it was just the neighborhood I’d already woven through on my second run of the year. Go figure.