Two decades of living and running on an island, rarely leaving the rock, means that my running routes are well worn tracks. I know every twist, turn, and pothole. I know the distance and duration of the route, when sunset will occur, and when the road will go dark after dusk – year round. I know the houses and inhabitants I pass. I know the dogs that may give chase. There are very few unknowns after twenty years.
A rare chance to travel to somewhere I have not been is a chance to run with all the variables unknown. That first evening on which I arrived I immediately donned running shoes and headed out on a running trail I had identified only from Google Maps. The trail headed up into the Pisgah national forest along the Davidson river.
Dusk was settling on Brevard, North Carolina, the temperature was dropping below sixty Fahrenheit, and I had only tropical running gear. I did not know the trail, I did not know the time of sunset nor the duration of twilight after sunset. Every variable was unknown, including how my body would respond to the cold and elevated altitude.
As I headed into the forest a crash in the woods off to my left suddenly reminded me that these forests had animals in them. The forests of Pohnpei might contain a few escaped pigs, some miniature deer from the Philippines, and a few large lizards, but not much more. The forests of Appalachia undoubtedly include a broader variety of larger animals.
Three nights later I had become accustomed to the longer twilight. On a visit to a home three thousand feet up on a ridge line I bolted out the door after sunset to push the my mental limits. The air was cold, frosty cold, the night falling fast on the ridge. My camera could capture only blurry images in the fading light. I was again on new terrain, this time not even a pre-designated trail. I started off on a wide trail littered with leaves that eventually dropped down onto a white gravel road.
The white gravel road first struck my brain as being coral, but running on the road I felt no round, cylindrical, rolling rocks. The gravel was some other white gravel. In the dark and the cold I did not stop to examine the road more closely. After a short trot along the road I came to a cross-country high tension power line and was rewarded with a vista view.
Runners get to see places others never do get to see. Running in a new place rewards the runner and reminds the runner that self-imposed limitations are just that – limitations of the mind and not the body. At three thousand feet up in a forest I was still running in tropical running gear as the temperatures slid towards 50 degrees and darkness fell in the forest around me. My host was more than gracious and I enjoyed a quick hot shower prior to rejoining the rest of the group.That is a run I will long remember and treasure.
Returning home I also had the opportunity to run a new route when the Australian embassy sponsored the Aussie Wombat Walkabout five kilometer fun run starting from Mangrove Bay. This meant an immediate opening climb from sea level up a hundred meters – 300 feet – by the time one reached weather station hill. The open few hundred meters was the steepest portion of the climb – slowing the runners from the get go.
I ran the run in something over 30 minutes, forgetting to close the GPS track at the finish line. When I did close it, back at the car, I had covered 5.25 kilometers in 36 minutes.
Although the start and finish were new, much of the route was my daily route. Still, the new start added a challenge and made the run that much more fun.
Traveling long distances tends to leave one feeling less in control. The places one will sleep, eat, and work may be unknown, the foods may be different. Even one’s schedule and activities are often structured by others. While on the road running is sometimes the only activity where one can feel some sense of control over the activity. Running always helps bring a sense of balance, and a sense of connecting with a place more intimately. The result is a far more enjoyable road experience.
Each new place presents the challenge of unknown routes, durations, distances, and environmental elements. In the newness is a vitality that keeps one feeling young.
If I had any advice to give to the youth it would be to start running when you are young and to keep running. Run for your life, for the good life that running can bring.