It’s early morning and since we are on vacation everyone else is still asleep. I quietly get up and throw on a pair of shorts, a top, and tennis shoes (I grew up in the Mid West, we don’t wear sneakers there!) and slip out the door. I head down into the hotel lobby and smile good morning at a few sleepy looking people clutching their coffee cups and head outside. The morning is already warm and the sun, having just risen above the horizon, is doing it’s best to pierce through the fog still clinging to the valleys. The road, which later will be packed bumper to bumper with tourists exploring the area, is relatively quiet now. I put on my headphones, start my watch, and head out onto the road and start to run.
As quickly as possible I leave the main road and turn onto a country road. I pass a few houses and soon am surrounded by corn on either side. It’s getting close to harvest so I am in a corn tunnel, broken only by a farm house or two. One foot in front of another, onward I go, climbing a small hill. At the crest I am treated to a view of the surrounding countryside. Farm after farm, their fields golden in the early morning light. I see cows on a nearby hillside and a farmer out getting a start on the day’s chores. Onward I run, the road makes a sharp 90 degree turn as it passes another farm. Geese fly overhead and in the distance I see two hot air balloons out on a sunrise flight. I wave at the few people I pass: another runner, a group of bikers, a couple walking some dogs. We all smile, happy to be out on this beautiful morning. Another 90 degree turn and I am again climbing a long gradual hill to more views of fields and houses and a small stream. A dogs charges me from a house porch, running straight at me. I pick up my pace but at the last second he comes to a barking halt; the electric fence is my friend! A few more twists and turns and suddenly the main road appears. I turn and run onto the road, now much more busy than it was when I had first left. Trucks wiz by and mini vans filled with families turn into the diner where smells of pancakes and bacon waft onto the road. I run on, now hungry. My iPod plays favorite songs, fast songs, that cause me to pick up my pace. The day is warming and the world is now awake. It is time to get back to my family. I am sweaty and tired but feel alive and ready to face whatever the day now brings!
This is how I explore new places. One foot in front of another, I run and run. When I travel for work or when we are on vacation, I run. It’s usually in the morning, but anytime of day will do. I do it for the exercise, to burn energy, to clear my mind, and to explore a new location. There is no better way to learn about a new place than to be out there on the road taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the location. I run in the country, in the mountains, along the ocean, in the suburbs, and in big cities. I run in places that I return to season after season and in those that I will never come to again. I run in places that I have later found out might not have been the safest to run in and in areas where it is just me and the cows…or deer…or seagulls. Some runs are short, quick, between meetings runs while others are longer, meant to blow of steam or explore a beautiful area on a beautiful day.
When I have finished I have gained a better understanding of the area. I have felt the earth under my feet and the wind in my hair. No longer am I just a tourist traveling through because I have gone where the locals go and I have been chased by their dogs. I am now part of the community.
Do you explore an area when you travel? Run, bike, or walk the streets around you?