Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Running Free

by Matt Gray

There's nothing better than a sunrise start.  The air is crisp and cool, the roads and trails are quiet, and nature comes to peaceful life. This morning, I'm using running as a way to explore during a New England vacation.  While Lindsay and I have a long list of sites to see and friends to visit, those adventures won't start until after 8 am.  By joining the dawn patrol, I get the opportunity to run in a new place, cut through new territory, and soak-in unfamiliar landscapes.

We're staying north of Boston near some college friends, so I choose Walden Pond as my destination.  And why not? Thoreau went for a walk through these woods, I might as well lace-up my running shoes and follow his footsteps with a steady jog. But as I take the first strides on the trail, I discover that I'm not alone.  A large splash down at the lake brings me to attention.  Beaver?

Not quite.  It seems that some locals find the tranquil woods and lake a great place to train as well.  Three triathletes glide across the pond . . . an early morning swim. That looks like fun, I think to myself, though I stick to the meandering footpath.

On the far side of the lake I get a glimpse at the site of Thoreau's cabin. The woods are quiet, for now, (a railroad track sits just fifty yards away), filled with the quintessential sounds of birds singing and squirrels racing across dry leaves. It's actually not an overly-spectacular place.  I think such simplicity though is exactly what makes Walden Pond special; nuanced beauty invokes transcendental philosophies and deep nature connection.

I return to the car and immediately want more. I felt liberated running through these woods, free of a training schedule, a race goal, or a need for any sense of difficulty.  Fortunately, just around the corner are the Revolutionary War sites of Concord, Lexington, and Battle Road. In school I was never a great student of history, but this period of time in America had a profound impact on me.  The opportunity to literally run on historic paths is too great to ignore and head back to the hotel.

I start at North Bridge, then the Concord Green, then the spot where Paul Revere was captured.  I don't run far at any location, maybe a half mile to two miles at each, but once again, that lovely feeling of running free now takes on even more historical and present-day meaning.  This approach to running is going to define the early morning hours during the remaining days of our trip.

In the week to come, I run the Beehive in Acadia National Park, I run along the Maine coast with Atlantic waves almost reaching my toes, I run through a bird sanctuary in the Berkshires, and I run across local organic farms near the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. For each run, I pick out my route the night before using online recommendations from local runners, and I start at dawn, creeping quietly from the dark hotel into the light of sunrise.  With each mini-expedition, I have little expectation about the miles I will cover or the sites I will see.  I free myself from anticipation and destination.

In the simplest terms, I am running free through the beautiful country.

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