welcome to New England??

27 08 2011

The past summer has been a crazy, hectic period…sometimes life interrupts training and barely keeping one’s base going becomes a challenge.  Last spring saw major calamities at my job due to massive statewide budget cuts.  Our beloved cat of thirteen years died in June after a two year battle with lymphoma.  Then, we traveled abroad for a month in eastern Europe; I wrote a musical several years ago that received a workshop performance at the Hungarian National Theatre in Romania, so the weeks leading up to the trip were filled with frantic revisions and preparation.  Unfortunately, I caught the worst case of bronchitis I have EVER had in my life while in Budapest (a long story related to a smoke-filled club in a meat-packing district), resulting in a solid four weeks of coughing, during which I couldn’t run a step.  Not that I would have had time.

Ten days after our month-long European adventure, we left in a 26 foot moving van to relocate to the other side of the country.  It took seven days – and seven nights of disgusting motel rooms (don’t even ask me about Amarillo…that city must have redeeming qualities, but we certainly didn’t experience any of them!) – before we were to arrive at our new home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where my husband found a job as a professor of music at the local college.  I have been absolutely swamped with unpacking the house and getting settled in, not to mention with my job duties back in San Diego…I’m still telecommuting and teaching online courses for a community college downtown.

However, despite the insanity of not being able to find half of my worldly possessions due to the ridiculous number of boxes strewn throughout the house, I’m very happy to be in one place, instead of hopping another yet another flight to go to who-knows-where.  And one great thing about being in one place is that I’ve been able to explore the area on foot, as I get back into my training mentality.  My next race is the Javelina Jundred – a 100 miler in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

I loved running in San Diego.  My friends there were amazing!

"the girls" and I on our last run together

It took years of training on my own before I was able to meet a group of like-minded ultrarunners; I miss these folks SO much.  And the local races…seeing people I knew…the beautiful mountains…Cuyamaca Rancho State Park…mountain lion sightings…sunrises over Anza-Borrego Desert…I miss all of these things.  However, the big drawback to running in San Diego was that I really had to drive a long way to get to any decent trails.  I found myself waking up at 3 am or even earlier at times to meet my running buddies out in the mountains for early start times.  I experimented many times with long runs from my front door, in order to avoid a long drive in these times of inflated gas prices.  However, it was at least a seven mile run to get to the closest beach access.  And those seven miles were frankly ugly…I would have to run through my neighborhood (which was a bit sketchy) down through Mission Valley, past endless strip malls and car dealerships, down very busy streets, and playing chicken with oncoming traffic at freeway entrances that inevitably had to be crossed.  Southern California is hardly pedestrian friendly.

The immediate benefit I noticed about living in Amherst is that miles and miles of beautiful conservation lands are just steps away from my front door.  Gone are the days of driving for an hour or more to get to the trails!  During my first few runs here, I started making mental comparisons of running here versus in San Diego:

Running out my door in San Diego = pavement pavement pavement, seeing people shoot up on street corners, watching hookers (who don’t wear pants) walk up and down El Cajon Blvd., and dodging cars on freeway ramps.

Running out my door in Amherst = trail trail and more trail (single-track and dirt roads), literally running into a flock (?) of chickens, and dodging large cows hanging out on the bike path.

(Hmmm…I think I like this.  Of course, I say this now…in August.  How about in February?  We shall see.  But I think I’ll take chickens over pants-less hookers any day.  Call me crazy.)

This week’s runs included:

1. Exploring the KC Trail, which is located on Amherst conservation lands.  Beautiful single track, none of which stays flat for even a quarter of a mile, complete with rocks, roots and “bog bridges” – which are essentially flat boards laid down in swampy muck.  This trail is tough to navigate, as are many of the long, local trails.  What happens is that you’ll be seemingly deep in the woods, but then suddenly you’ll appear on a busy state route and have no idea where the trail picks up again, or how far you are from the trailhead.  And one I actually found the trail again, it was impassable due to “beaver flooding.”  (Insert any bad joke you want right there!)  That definitely was one of those “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments for me.

2. 18 miles at Quabbin Reservoir before the oncoming hurricane (yes, you read that right).  Hurricane Irene is on its way as I write this, so I figured I should get a long-ish run in before hunkering down in this old house…and before internet and the power cut out on us all!  But back to Quabbin…the whole area is really, really weird.  Miles and miles of dirt roads/double-track (again none of which are flat) through a beautiful wooded “wilderness.”  Quabbin itself is the main water supply for the Boston area, and was created by literally flooding out a number of towns in the 1930s.  Yes, there are towns at the bottom of the reservoir.  The result is that you run through a seeming wilderness, but there’s something just eerie about the place.  Occasionally, you’ll see stone walls that were obviously part of a home or town border, for example.  I’m someone who enjoys a good ghost story, so I’m fascinated by Quabbin.  But I have to say…I spent the first hour of the run a bit sketched out by the place.  Between the idea of towns being completely submerged in the area, there are bears here, apparently.  One climbed a tree just doors down from our house and went to sleep in the tree branches just a week ago.  As I don’t know any other runners in the area yet, if I want to run trails, I have to go it alone, which is a little bit freaky.  I can’t help but be scared of bears.  And lyme-disease spreading deer ticks (I pulled a few ticks off of my leg mid-run today).  All the same, it was a great run…and I’m sore now, so it was worth the risk!  Post-run soreness, after all, is alleviated best by a massive bacon cheeseburger, which I inhaled for lunch.

dirt roads at Quabbin

beautiful streams...just watch out for ticks!

remnants of a stone wall

At the moment, I’m looking forward to more exploring in the next week.  I have a feeling that training year-round in New England is going to turn me into one heck of a tough runner.  Nothing about this area is “easy” – the terrain is rugged, as is the weather!  I can’t wait for the next adventure…although I’m not a fan of hurricanes or earthquakes, both of which have happened here in the past week…

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