One of the best things about running is how it acts as an escape. At home, running on Mont Royal, there are moments when disbelief can be suspended, and at certain twists and turns of the trail, no matter how familiar they are, you can imagine yourself in some kind of wilderness, using your special skills, that capacity to run long distances, to survive.
I think every runner imagines the moment when our skills will be counted on to save the day: the power is out, the roads are closed, and only someone with the unique ability to transport themselves quickly over land will be able to get help. Or maybe you’re out for a run (or not–because we can access our powers anytime) and you see something, a little old lady had her purse swiped, a kid gets his baseball cap stolen, and you explode down the sidewalk and catch the perpetrator. This never happens.
There has only been one time in my life when running has actually served a heroic or practical purpose. I was actually in the wilderness, in Algonquin Park, Ontario, on a 10 day canoe trip with summer camp. We had just finished what was the longest and toughest portage of the journey: 2.5k on winding, hilly single track. We were nine, three per canoe. We had set our boats back in the water and begun to load our packs, when one of the crew cried out in despair. She had forgotten to carry her bag along the trail and had left it at the start of the portage.
This was my chance! Wearing only my wetshoes ($5 at Canadian Tire and basically the same design as your fancy minimalist models–this story predates the trend by two decades. Wow, that hurt to type…), I bounded back along the trail, fully in tune with nature, an animal in the wild, feeling the rocks and roots under my feet, planting and turning with ease, swinging around tree trunks, just because. I got to the end, found the pack (this was a simpler time, when the sight of unattended baggage engendered not suspiscion, but sympathy) and booted it back to the boats. I was exhilerated. I hadn’t had the chance to run since we’d left, so I was probably pretty well tapered. I had a purpose, a real mission!
It was a good run. If I recall, it took me less than 20min to get back, probably only a couple minutes off my 5k pb at the time. The crew was astounded. It was like that scene in Superman where Supe races the train and gets there and they ask him: “How did you get here so fast?” He answers: “I ran.”
A run in a new place always holds the air of exploration. Today I set out to find some of these trails everyone keeps talking about. If I understand correctly, you have to drive a bit out of town to get to some good ones, but there was a park nearby that Shona (Mrs. Davison) assured me would be muddy. That sounded good. I cut through Bowker Creek and up to Uplands Park. I entered through a wooden arch, and followed a grassy, wet path into the centre of the park.
Soon I was away from the sounds of the street. Not that there were many, other than the grumbling of landscaping and city utility trucks. But again, within a few steps, I was away, in a fantasy land where anything could happen. The tall grass recalled a kind of African plain, but the damp ground and spitting rain ruined that image. It was perhaps more of a Scottish Moor, with some forest nearby that implied English countryside, with some New Zealand thrown in for good measure. I expected to turn a corner and come across a stag, or some other horned beauty.
All at once, the English tradition of literary children’s fantasy exploded in front of me. I heard a rustle in the bushes. I assumed it was a rabbit (Victoria has plenty of rabbits), but as I rounded a hedge, I saw a white tail bounding off into the foliage: a deer. As I turned back toward the trail, over the horizon I could see the rounded stone arch of a house that, if not for its size (very big), could have been mistaken for a hobbit hole. I was approaching civilization. At the end of the path, a lampost, unlit (it was, after all, only mid-morning) marked the edge of the park. I turned back and endeavoured to get lost again. All that was missing was a promontory from which to launch nautical adventures in the Lake District (points for whoever gets that reference). That vision was achieved as I left the park via a WWII monument and flag pole, placed a top a cliff overlooking the Pacific.
I think I could write an equally bursting description of a run in Montreal, to be honest. It’s just that when you are travelling, you tend to have more time to reflect. A run can be an endulgence that spills over to the moments and hours after. In the regular schedule, a run gets slotted in, and usually, we spend it thinking about the last thing we did or the next thing we had to do. But wouldn’t it be more fun if we let it turn into a chase on Wild Cat Island with John Walker (not that John Walker…more on him later), or a search for Mr. Tumnus?
And speaking of magical worlds…tomorrow…Eugene!