Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: Urban Adventure

My work now takes me around the nation in addition to around NH.  Two weeks ago I was in Washington D.C. giving a presentation on biogas digestion (sounds thrilling!) and just this week I finished up a trip to Dallas, TX for workshops and seminars related to National Ag in the Classroom (also thrilling sounding!)  Both of these trips had me either smack dab in the middle of the city, or on the outskirts of the airport surrounded by highways and access roads. Neither of which I’d consider prime running territory.

In Washington, less than a quarter mile from the White House, the landscape was that of fancy hotels and museums, high foot traffic and lots of traffic lights.  In Dallas, there was lots of high speed traffic, apartment complexes, hotels and strip malls, and a plethora of over and underpasses.  And for both, lots and lots of concrete.  I’ve been battling some chronic achilles issues of late, curtailing any amount of up paced running.  Up hills, on my toes running, and hard surfaces are the trigger.   Life is more pleasurable and less painful when I can avoid these.   So in my travel planning I’ve been doing a little research with the hope I can find some trails and softer surfaces to run.

Safe to say I didn’t have very good luck.  In Washington, with all the street lights, the stop and go, the interruption of momentum, really did a number on my legs.  I was able to knit together a couple solid runs but the interruption and stop and go nature had my achilles on attention, ready at any moment to hop in and really monkey up my stride.  On my first day I took a short circuit around the White House, down to the Washington monument, up past the Museum of Natural History, Ford Theatre and back to the hotel.  Fraught with cessations in running, I was happy to reach the ellipse in front of the White House for some uninterrupted running.

The second day I planned to run to the National Arboretum, three and a half miles outside of downtown proper.  Google maps showed a pretty straight shot to get there, steadily migrating away from the hustle and bustle.  The first mile had me thinking I was going to have to cut the run short.  My achilles wasn’t happy but the further I got away from the downtown area, the less stoplights and more continuous running I could do, the less aggravated my achilles was.  With my running smoothing out, so did the angry tendon.

I arrived at the arboretum three and a half miles from my starting point, happy to be in the park but quickly realizing that my hope for some softer terrain would be unanswered.  A quick survey and I recognized that everything was handicap accessible meaning even more of the grey hard stuff.  I elected to save up for the run home.

But the arboretum was awesome, especially when the weather was nice and the trees and other plants were in the blooming process.  While I missed the height of the cherry blossoms I was able to catch the early varieties in bloom along with copious magnolias spread across the city.  I made sure to take the opportunity to relax in the mini city park just outside my hotel and take in some vitamin D, something we’ve been missing here in the Northeast.

My latest trip has taken me to Dallas, TX.  Well more correctly, Irving, TX, just outside the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.  In researching running routes, my best shot was along Estelle Creek, an unban concrete enhanced channel that ran behind the hotel.  Google maps showed a paved trail/amphitheater which led to a faint footpath behind some apartments to an access road to under an overpass, following the creek I could link to Towne Lake park which circled the Towne Lake.  I guesstimated the distance to be 4 to 5 miles round trip, with the possibility of more by circling the lake.  Arriving a day in advance of the leadership summit, I would have plenty of time to investigate this option.

After waiting out an uncommon rain event in the morning, I slipped out of the hotel around 9:30am, following the creek’s path via the edge of various parking lots until I found a crossing via an access road.  The initial observation was that things looked good, the paved amphitheater route was intact and above waterline.  But as the pavement disappeared the faint path was real faint and I was dodging along a narrow hillside by the creek which could also be described as the backyard of the apartment people.  I slipped through this section as quickly and as quietly as I could.

This led me to the access road.  While in definition it was there, the image on google maps wasn’t recent.  The access road that was created for doing work along the canal had grown up (on purpose) in wild mustard and local grasses.  The chest high weeds and the recent rain meant getting soaked, which made me hesitate a second and contemplate retracing my steps back through people’s backyard.  In the end I opted for the wet passage, as it was the best way for me to access the route to Towne Lake.  While I initially tried to run delicately to stay dry, I recognized my folly within the first few steps.  I would be soaked on this run. 

The next in line of folly was the access road coming to an abrupt end.  The ever expanding DFW metropolis was under construction in front of me in the form of a new overpass, something Texas seems to pride themselves with right along with their steakhouses.  I considered running through, as the rain from before made things too muddy for them to work that day and the site was empty.  But as I made my way up to survey the scene I realized I was getting taller with every step.  The twenty five meters of forward movement had added 25 millimeters of limestone mud to the bottom of my shoes.  I wasn’t getting through that way without the hotel kicking me out.

So I retraced my steps, which would at least work to cleanse some of the mud as I rewashed myself through the half mile of chest high mustard.  I tiptoed back through the apartments, hopped onto the parking area and found my way out of the circuitous parking arrangement designed to squeeze in more apartment units.  Once finally free of the maze, I decided to give finding the park one more shot.  The road to the overpass I needed to get under ran right beside the apartments, and with only just over a mile on the watch I decided rather than simply turn back I’d forge ahead.

The next three quarters of a mile was right along the exit ramp that would take me under the overpass and connect me to Towne Lake.  With cars whipping by, I was able to run on grass which had seen it’s first mowing, but it was on an angle and swampy from rain.  Undeterred I continued on, already maximally wet from the mustard bath.  It doesn’t take long running along an offramp to realize the detritus from society gets collected in places like this, just out of sight to most.  The refuse tells us a lot about our society, reflected here in the unnecessary stimulus of energy drinks and big gulp sodas.  Not sure if they are the most readily consumed here in Texas or simply the most likely to be tossed aside while traveling the tarmac that seems to be consuming this portion of the state.

I finally turned off from the offramp, crossing under the overpass and onto the street which would take me to the lake.  Passing more apartments, I stepped over a pair of what I learned to be polarized safety glasses, likely set on the hood of a car getting ready for work and released from ownership at the first turn.  I vowed in my best Beau Miles to repurpose those if they were still there upon my return.

A short half mile later I was at Towne Lake park.  I’m not sure what constitutes a lake here, but apparently not everything is bigger in Texas.  This small respite appeared to be a combination of a dog walking park, a playground and simply a place to see some grass, rest a bit, and get away from the hustle and bustle of an otherwise concrete, urban landscape.  I was able to circumnavigate the park in 6 minutes, entirely on pavement.

I had three miles on the watch and decided I’d return the way I came, ending my urban adventure on a slightly more direct route, avoiding both mud and mustard.  While I had struck out on both trips finding anything close to running nirvana, both excursions were an adventure for this country boy, getting a glimpse into a lifestyle that is much more challenging and scary than my current one.  While maybe not great running, it was some pretty interesting adventuring, if you can get around the concept of adventure in these urban settings.  I mean, I ran around probably the most “wild and uncivilized” city in America, Washington D.C., dodging big black SUVs, city buses, and electric city bikes and scooters.  People rushing to and fro.  And in Texas, right out in the open, you can be lost and need to find your way even with roads everywhere.  Adventure is what you make of it, and if you try, you can find adventure in any major city, or even in your own backyard. 

And that’s my next adventure.  See you out there.

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