Exploring on foot can
bring joy, but also fear
Tuesday, April 09, 2013 7:55 AM
As several Rushford-Peterson High School runners streamed by the window of our Rushford office a couple weeks ago when snow prevented use of the track facilities, my mind drifted to thoughts of me being out there. As I exited Rushford later that evening, I noticed that the trail going from Rushford to Peterson was cleared, so I made a mental note to throw in running clothes next time I spent time in the office in Rushford.
In the past couple weeks, I've run the trail a few times, first in Rushford and then starting from Peterson last week after photographing artistic students at the middle school.
People in the Rushford area are now discovering that running is a big part of my life and I am also getting the inevitable questions, such as "you actually enjoy this?" or "you do this for what reason?"
It's not an easy question to answer. I don't do it for weight control as many casual runners do. I'm not that fast, so I don't win medals, unless it is a smaller race and things break just right, meaning it's not for the glory. I'm a bit obsessive, but not to the extent where I have daily running streaks extending into years or decades and I don't have a desire to challenge myself in the Sahara Desert or some other exotic, but brutal, location.
The answer is more boring. I have always enjoyed activity and at my age it is harder to find enough people to play pickup basketball or even one person to bat a tennis ball around. Also, as my world has become more connected, so much so that I am always with an electronic device during my waking moments, I enjoy a break from the noise.
Another reason is that even though running can seem like a chore at times, mostly it is a form of play, or exploration. Even usual routes have something new to offer each time I run it, but I enjoy exploring new territory the most.
The trail near Rushford and Peterson fit the bill. Although I had been on the trail by Rushford - or at least near there - on a bicycle several years ago, it felt like discovering a whole new area on my first runs there.
I had a general idea of the trail system, so wasn't worried, but I have found that sometimes pure exploration without a general knowledge of the area can have consequences.
For example, one time my wife and I were visiting Cleveland during a baseball series of the Twins, another love of mine. I was scheduled for a long run that weekend and found a trail online that looked nice on the map solely because it ran along Lake Erie and was close to our hotel.
However, right from the start, the reality didn't measure up as I was running along a private airport with a large barbed wire fence along the side of the trail and a busy freeway on the other side. No wonder, I never met any people enjoying this trail.
Eventually, it wandered into a nicer area and eventually it hit a park where I found out what it was like to be a minority of one as I was the only white person there. I soon figured out that the only people I met close up on my entire journey were there for early morning fishing.
The park was an oasis for me, though, as there was a water fountain - the only aid I found on my journey as my money stashed in my pocket did no good without a store. I made sure to return, not only to find my way back, always a concern in a strange place, but also because of the water.
I made it out of Cleveland just fine, but had a more jarring experience closer to home in Minneapolis. A few years ago, my wife and I were staying overnight near Mall of America for, again, the Twins, which were in a key series late in the season.
Saturday morning, I took off on a beautiful trail near the hotel that took me down along the Minnesota River, again absent of people, although this time I guessed that would be the case. It felt like I could run forever, and it seemed like I did before the realization came to me that there seemed to be no exit. I never guessed that beforehand as I was in the middle of a large metropolitan area.
However, I was so far out that I worried about getting lost if I kept going and dehydration if I turned back the way I came. Finally, I came across a person walking his dog. He told me how he got on the trail and a mile down the trail I finally found an exit. I came up to civilization and asked the nearest person where I was. He said Mendota Heights. The nearest convenience store was a mile down the road, but I spotted a familiar landmark - the Mendota bridge - the other direction so I took my chances crossing the bridge, hoping I could find water at Fort Snelling.
I had been out way too long without water and the absence of outdoor water fountains at the park brought a bit of panic - until I found a chapel on the grounds that had an open door. I inquired if there was water inside and when I heard the good word, quickly headed for it. I replenished and thanked the people who helped me. They told me I should stay for the service, but I replied that I would probably empty out the chapel as I hadn't showered. Besides, I wasn't done yet.
I made my way across the highway near the airport to finish my run. I caught up to a guy jogging and tried to strike up a conversation with him, asking how to get across Interstate 494 on foot to my hotel. I couldn't understand why he wasn't talkative until we got to a group of military officers with stopwatches who were timing him. I realized then that his time was important to his future and backed off.
Anyway, since none of the military people could figure out how to safely cross 494 on foot, I went to the light rail station to ride across, which felt like cheating, but also a necessity. My sweat-soaked bill wouldn't go in their machine, but I took the ride anyway with plans to pay later. There were few riders to question what I was doing.
I made it back in time for breakfast at the hotel with my wife with a long story to tell and another lesson learned on the hazards of exploring strange places without backup plans.