i’m thinking of getting some snowshoes, if only so i can go for an easy-ish walk through the woods at st. john’s. mid-winter treadmill blahs are never easy, especially when a person knows that running through the woods is only 5 mere months away.
a run in the woods starts with a forecast. if it hasn’t been rainy lately, it’s a good day for a run in the woods. a lot of rain means a lot of the low spots on the trails are filled with muddy water. even on not-so-rainy weeks, the low spots can still be muddy and hard to navigate with the muck.
st. john’s is about 5 miles from my house, so i hop in my car and take the short drive to park outside the prep school. take the fob off my keychain and stick it in my pocket. grab the can of OFF i keep in my car and spray down my exposed limbs, clothes, and top of my head. lock the car, then walk out on the asphalt road that runs through a cavern of trees to the freeway’s walking bridge. on my right is the stone gate.
i take a moment at the edge of the woods to stretch out my hips by swinging my legs back and forth, side to side. in the springtime, the trail is covered with old leaves that survived the winter; in summer, the trail is mostly dirt, the leaves having been desiccated; and in fall, sometimes the yellow leaves are so thick on the ground, it’s hard to know where the trail is.
my headphones go in and i take off into the woods, down the hill that greets me first thing. it’s a pleasant way to start the run. it gets harder.
the first half mile of my run, the lake peeps at me through the trees – teasing me with thoughts of paddleboarding. but i carry on and the trail gets a little harder.
hills go up and down, some a little rougher than others. sometimes there are divots hidden under brush. there is a series of hills i call the goldilocks – the first starts off ok, the second is a little harder, and the third is a bear (so to speak). toward the end of my 3-mile loop, there are two sections that are similar in grade and look, and i sometimes get confused as to how much i have left. on my 5-mile loop, there is a beast of a hill. going up or down is a challenge.
the mosquitoes are a challenge. if i forget to spray down with deet, i have a swarm of bugs following me and clinging to my skin. if the deet’s been sprayed, there is still a cloud, but they tend to stay off. however, if i stop for a moment at mile two (right before goldilocks), the mosquitoes take their chance and congregate. at this point, a lot of the bug spray has sweated off, and they strike while the iron’s hot. i have a lot of bug bites in the summertime.
it’s always wonderful thing, though, to be out in the trees running through them. the critters are out there, as are other people. summer is quiet, which is nice. once school starts in the fall, there are plenty of people out on the trails. one time i was out while the ROTC was doing some sort of training, and a creepy dude wasn’t moving except for his eyes were watching me like i was a russian operative. i said hi and he barely said hi back.
on the back part of my loop past the logging clearing, you can hear the traffic on the freeway, which cuts its way through the campus’ woods. then you loop a little bit away on a causeway next to a small lake with a swamp on the other side. in the spring, the view is breathtaking, and the call of the frogs overwhelm the hum of I-94.
my most common loop is the almost-4-mile. it ends with a rough patch, where i have to work to make it up the hill that greeted me on the run so pleasantly. and it ends back at the stone gate.
sometimes i stop at the gate; sometimes i hoof it across the road to finish up 4 miles on the other side; sometimes i take it easy and run back to my car on the asphalt.
i stretch out on the grass next to my car. i always stretch, but trail running uses different leg muscles than treadmill or road running, so i make sure to spend some extra time. then i grab my beach towel that stays permanently in my car, spread it on my front seat, and get in to drive home. i always have a bottle of water with me for the drive home, and at this point, the sun is generally close to setting.
it’s always a good day for a run in the woods.
now, running in the woods at night?
that’s a different story.