So we’ve been in our new apartment for exactly two weeks, and we’ve been going a bit nuts. In fact, we may have each lost our minds completely at one point or another. But we’re slowly reclaiming them, and along the way, claiming this space—and this life—as our own. We’ve unpacked, organized, purchased, assembled, recycled, and figured out exactly where everything will live here. Our new apartment is less than half of the size of the house we sold in May, and it’s the perfect size…perhaps even a little too big, if I dare say that. But it’s home. It’s also a bit loud (an adjustment to communal living in an old building) and quite scenic (the river and myriad sea birds are right outside our windows). We walk out our front door and cross the street to our favorite coffee shop and breakfast café. We’ve returned to our favorite New Hampshire farmstands at peak season for zucchini and cabbage and peppers. And although we last lived in this town just a few months ago (and for years before that), our time on the road has given us new perspective on things. Our standard running routes, which we tirelessly and willingly logged hundreds of miles on from the old house, now seem like new roads we’ve never run before since we’re approaching them from a different direction. We are having trouble finding a groove. Last weekend, we ran in a 5K race here in town and both posted PR times (personal records, or the best time we’ve each run in a race of that distance). And then today, I went out for a routine 4-miler, while M set out on his longest run to date, a (crazy hilly lousy) 17-miler. But there were no PR’s today; we both came up a bit short on both speed and distance. I think part of it was the weather—hot and humid and stormy–but part of it was also our mental state. Neither of us is centered. We’re off. We are unpacked, but we are not settled. We’re antsy. We miss the road. We’re not cut out for settling down. Or so I think. And then things happen to make me wonder if I should take a deep breath and (ugh!) settle down for a while. After we returned home from our runs and rehydrated and showered, it started to downpour, and my first mill rainbow appeared across the river. And then we walked upstairs and across the bridge to a fantastic new restaurant in our complex where we ate local brie cheese and beet salad and a smoked cheddar and butternut squash panini that were perfectly paired with a few local beers on tap. When we arrived back at our apartment, there was a package waiting by the front door: a new reflective running vest (so we each have one for the Reach The Beach NH relay event we just signed up for…) and a textbook we ordered online yesterday: Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd Edition. We both recently started studying to become personal trainers, part of a career switch and grander plan still in the early stages of formation. But even with that direction, we’re not settled. We leave next week for another stint on the road, two weeks across Michigan and the Midwest, visiting friends and checking out graduate schools. At this point, we are exploring our options. We have no idea what we’ll be doing in a year, and we’re not in a rush to figure it out. But we are on a mission, because if we don’t keep moving, we just might go insane. –J
We arrived in Prague Thursday afternoon on a regional train from Leipzig via Dresden. C and S are traveling with us on this leg of the trip, and we are happy to have the company. (As an added bonus, we’ve been able to join them as guests in the Deutsche Bahn lounges at every train station…) After a steamy 45-minute walk to the hotel, we happily dropped off our packs and roamed the neighborhood. We stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant (Stará Doba) where we sat in a sunken beer garden and feasted on Czech beer, fried cheese, fresh bread, and roasted vegetables…all for around $12 per person. After dinner, we picked up ‘to go’ beers at a corner store and continued to wander around, getting a feel for the city and stopping only for cover under a bus stop shelter while a thunderstorm rolled through. (While we waited, M and C chatted up a Canadian couple on a bicycling trip who have already logged more than 600 miles across Europe…) We made our way back to the hotel just as it was getting dark (after 10:00 PM local time) and quickly fell asleep, exhausted from our travels and excited about the next day of adventure ahead of us.
We started our day today just outside of Charlottesville, VA (C’Ville) at Thomas Jefferson’s famous home, Monticello. The rain held off as we walked through the gardens and took in the view. As we toured the home itself, the place that Jefferson loved more than any other, a quote from Jefferson about his home struck me. “I am as happy nowhere else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.” This is how I want to feel about the place that I live, at least most of the time. It should be enriching and inspiring, while providing a venue for both the social and recreational activities I enjoy. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
In addition to exploring ourselves, the United States and the National Parks, one goal of our road trips has been to seek out places that we someday may want to live. Each new city or town we enter goes through a review process either openly or in our minds. All locations are ultimately compared to the New Hampshire Seacoast. Why the Seacoast? Aside from it being our current home and a familiar place, it has several characteristics that we look for in a home base: Not too crowded and not too rural (our ideal is somewhere between 8,000 and 100,000 people), great places too run (long roads with low traffic, low risk of crime, beaches and/or bike trails), an arts/music/literary scene, and a downtown with quality independent restaurants and coffee shops. Our current hometown has most of these characteristics, but given our recent freedom, we enjoy entertaining the idea of moving to new places.
One mistake we’ve made during our travels is to build up new places in our minds before actually visiting them. No town is perfect, and unrealistic expectations can ruin a place before even getting there. The first example of this for us was Portland, Oregon. We had built Portland up to be the ideal place to live: progressive, artsy, West Coast (sort of)…it sounded perfect. When we arrived in Portland, it was raining, gray, cold, filled with homeless people and nothing like the place we wanted it to be. Although we eventually grew to like Portland, we were disappointed by its inability to live up to our escapist/utopian expectations. It’s easy to overlook the flaws in one’s hometown. They are familiar, which by nature makes them less threatening. The flaws in a new place stand out, especially when you haven’t imagined there would be any.
Before we came to Virginia, a friend recommended that we check out Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia. “You’ll like it,” she assured us. We asked our host, B, about it, and he concurred, mentioning the pedestrian mall, Friday night live music, yummy pizza, etc. as highlights. Despite the threat of severe storms, we left Monticello and continued to downtown C’ville, anxious to give it a look before we headed out of Virginia for a few more stops on this leg of our journey.
We started our visit with a walk hand-in-hand down the pedestrian mall, taking in the mix of independent and chain stores, shops and restaurants. So far, so good. We stopped at the most highly recommended pizza joint in town, Christian’s, for a slice and a local beer. Lots of veggie options and definitely delicious! We sat by the window and enjoyed our late lunch while watching the eclectic mix of passers-by: business people, students, children, grandparents and homeless folks, and they all seemed right at home in this downtown center. It’s a welcoming place.
After lunch, we waited out a downpour in a used bookstore called Blue Whale Books. We chatted with the cashier, a UVA poet, and picked up two used books for $2 (a biography of Rilke for J and an analysis comparing Jungian philosophy to Tibetan Buddhism for me). We left the pedestrian mall and headed for a drive around the UVA campus where the academic buildings were right across the street from the coffee shops and pubs…my kind of town.
The final test for C’Ville, and any town, was the grocery store. As vegetarians who do our best to cook and eat healthy, local, organic food whenever possible, the quality of the grocery store is a key factor in determining the livability of a city or town. When it comes to grocery stores, a town with a Whole Foods is pretty much a sure thing. With the exception of higher prices, Whole Foods is like a candy store for vegetarians. It’s a place to buy the specialty items that most grocery stores don’t carry. Tack on a weekly supplemental trip to a regular grocery store for staples and a farmer’s market for seasonal items, and you’ve got everything you need. The C’Ville Whole Foods was clean, bustling and close to downtown, rounding out the Words Per Gallon livability checklist.
So how did C’Ville stack up? We could definitely see ourselves living there. For now though, there are so many other towns to explore, more roads to run on and more National Parks to visit. Plus, our new place on the Seacoast beckons; it will be ready later this summer. Maybe we’ll move next year… -M
During these early days of our journey, I’ve spent more time being active and less time relaxing than I thought I would. Although I love reading, it’s hard to curl up with a good book when there is a mountain to climb or a town to explore or a recipe to invent. This week I finally managed to spend a few evenings reconnecting with the likes of Thoreau and Emerson. I laughed out loud rereading the introduction of Walden two nights ago, pleasantly surprised (again) by the relevance of some of his statements 150+ years after he wrote them.
Thoreau’s contemporary, Emerson, had a few relevant passages of his own in the 1841 sleeper Self-Reliance, which I’ve also flipped through recently. To Emerson, self-reliance meant things like individualism and non-conformity and authentic inconsistency. To me, this week anyway, self-reliance means problem-solving even when we don’t have complete information. It means knowing how to read a map (and further, actually possessing one) when we’re off the grid and GPS can’t help us. It means getting creative with where and how we workout when our usual running routes are hundreds of miles away. And last night, it meant summoning all of my introverted courage to make a cold call to a person I’d never met asking them to help me.
Why did I need a stranger’s help? First, let’s back up to last week, before our friend left town. Just before heading to the airport, B filled us in on some need-to-know info about the house, practical stuff like where to find dry firewood and where to drop off the recycling. He also mentioned the closest neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. H, saying he wished he had time to introduce us to them before he left, but alas, that hadn’t worked out. So instead, we just got a passing reference to their existence, at which point for whatever reason, I catalogued their names in my brain.
There are only five houses on this gravel road, all set back into the woods and separated from each other by 1/3-mile sections of forest. We pass three driveways on the way to B’s house, but we can barely see the houses, and we’ve never seen another car on the one-lane road. Mr. and Mrs. H live just past B’s house, but we can’t see their house either. Occasionally we hear car wheels crunching over the gravel. Most folks in the area keep to themselves, and it was unlikely we’d run into any of the neighbors during our stay.
Then last night, after two days of self-imposed exile on the mountain, M and I headed into town for dinner. We knew a line of thunderstorms was pushing through the area, but we weren’t too worried. Rain’s rain. We made it to dinner and almost back to the house before the first drops hit the car. We assumed the storm was just arriving. Then we noticed several branches and clusters of leaves on the road ahead of us. “Looks like the storm already blew through here,” M commented.
We continued toward the house, through the series of dips and turns, before stopping to remove a large branch from the road in front of us. Only after getting out of the car did we notice a giant tree down, blocking the entire road, about fifty feet ahead of where we stopped. We walked closer to inspect things. There was no way around the tree, no lights visible at the nearest neighbor’s house, and the rain was picking up. The storm was just getting started.
We decided to back track to the main road where the tree cover was less dense, thinking that if one giant tree could fall, so could another. We drove the five miles or so back into town and waited out the storm in a pharmacy parking lot (where there was cell service). As rain pelted the car, we contemplated our options. We could drive back to the tree, park the car, and walk (in flip-flops, of course) the remaining half-mile to the house to pick up B’s chainsaw, which (a) he warned us wasn’t top notch and (b) neither of us had used before. We could find a map and see if we could locate an alternate route to the house, perhaps on a connecting back road. Or we could try to flag down one of the neighbors for help.
For context, at my core, I am slightly awkward introvert who can go weeks happily without interacting with another human. So the idea of blindly ringing someone’s doorbell is a paralyzing thought. Making a cold telephone call is a close second, but it beats the in-person interaction. So from the depths of my brain, I recalled Mr. and Mrs. H’s name and used the internet connection on my phone to look up their telephone number. There were eight H’s in town, but only one on the right road. With that find, I summoned all of my introverted courage and dialed the number.
After a mildly strange introduction to the tune of “we’ve never met, but I’m staying at the house next door and is there any chance you know of another way into the neighborhood because there is a giant tree blocking the road and we can’t get home.” Mrs. H, who answered the phone, wasted no time in understanding my rapid Yankee speech and said, why, yes, there was a back road, but she wasn’t sure what condition it was in and the car might get all scratched up if we attempted to use it. After a minute more of conversation and a brief chat with her husband, Mrs. H said that Mr. H would grab his chainsaw and meet us by the tree in a few minutes. Sweet relief!
By the time we arrived back at the tree, Mr. H was busy at work. We left the headlights of our car on to shed some light on the situation. Mr. H quieted the chainsaw when we got out of our car and approached him. “You said it was a tree, but I had no idea it was going to be this big of a tree!” he said with a laugh. We exchanged handshakes and greetings and then looked up and up, to about 30 feet off the ground where it looked like lightning struck. Half the tree was still standing, splintered at its wounded top, and the other half—an additional thirty feet or so of it—was on the ground, blocking the road from side to side.
After another minute of talk about the weather and how we knew B, Mr. H got back to work, cutting off branches and limbs before tackling the thin upper part of the tree. While he figured out the best way to fillet the thick main trunk of the tree, M and I got down to work, moving the parts and pieces and stumps and logs to either side of the gravel road.
The whole task took about 15 minutes, a feat only possible because of Mr. H’s chainsaw. As it turned out, Mr. H was grateful he found out about the tree on a Tuesday evening and not on Wednesday morning as he was leaving for work or his kids were trying to get to school. He would have had to do the work either way, and better to know about it in advance and have a little help. We were grateful for his help and his power tools. Sometimes self-reliance means wielding the chainsaw yourself, and other times it means calling someone with a bigger chainsaw to help you. -J
After our week-long stay in Maine and a weekend stop in Portsmouth for our friends’ wedding, we’ve made our way to a friend’s house in the mountains of central Virginia. In a happy scheduling coincidence, our friend (who travels frequently) happens to be at the house for the first week of our planned three-week stay. It’s been nice catching up with him over shared meals and late night card games, and it will be nice to find a rhythm of our own once he’s on the road again. We arrived late Sunday night and have spent the week becoming familiar with the area and our new temporary home. The house is set back about a mile down a gravel road, with few neighbors to encounter and many acres of woods to explore. Each morning, I’ve taken my coffee outside and listened to the land come alive from my perch on the wooden swing. We’ve napped in hammocks and walked along winding paths. We’ve witnessed deer grazing in the front yard, turkey vultures and coyotes scavenging along the main road, and countless birds and butterflies and bats and other things with wings. We’ve also managed to keep our fitness routine somewhat intact, with some creative adjustments. When the weather’s been nice, we’ve brought our workouts to the back yard, and when it was raining, I set up my yoga mat on the covered front porch. We’ve explored sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiked to a remote waterfall swimming hole. Today, we ventured to the next county in search of a safe running route and ended up finding a converted rail trail that was perfect for today’s training run. (We’re running a 10K here in Virginia on Saturday, and it’s been a little tough keeping up our mileage on the road.) We’re now back at the house, enjoying a quiet afternoon and watching storm clouds roll in from the west. I think it’s going to be a good night to hunker down on the mountain. -J
As I wrote a few weeks ago, I am in the final weeks of training for my first half-marathon. I reworked my training plan before hitting the road to ensure I would be able to fit in both short and long runs in between our road travels. This week’s plan called for 15 miles, and I planned to pick up 2 in VA and 3 in TN before a long 10-miler when we reached my aunt’s house in Tampa. I researched running trails in her neighborhood and found a nature park with a 7-mile paved loop. The entrance appeared to be right around the corner from the house, perhaps a mile away, so if we ran there and back, we’d get 9 miles. Good enough for a safe, scenic route.
As it turns out, I grabbed just 1 mile in VA, 2 in TN, and zero in the Smokies…although we did hike 11 miles on Wednesday, which definitely counts as cross-training and a short-mileage substitute. So I arrived in Tampa on Thursday night with plans to go for a long run on Friday morning early enough to beat the heat. I thought we could do 10 miles in just over 1 ½ hours.
We set out early, entering the park via the North Tampa Nature Trail, just a half-mile from where we were staying. We wove our way through a bug jungle before we connected to a spur of the main Flatwoods Loop trail that I had read about. At the time, we didn’t realize we were on a spur and thought the 7-mile loop had begun. We stuck together for the first three miles and then broke off to run at our own paces…specifically, for me to slow down. I was feeling the effects of the heat and humidity, and I contemplated cutting my run short, to 6 or 8 miles instead. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep pace for 10.
We agreed to finish the loop separately and meet back at a water station we had passed earlier. It was a loop after all; as long as we kept running in the same direction, we’d get back to where we started. Or so we thought. I watched M run out of sight around a bend in the trail. There were plenty of people around—several bicyclists and a few other runners—so I didn’t feel unsafe. Plus, I had my cell phone with me, and the park was patrolled by rangers who could be also be contacted by phone (every water station listed the emergency number). I kept running, hydrating and enjoying the scenery of the first few miles.
After five miles, I needed a break. I walked a bit of Mile 6 and refilled my water bottles. I jogged a bit more, and then walked again. Somewhere around Mile 7, there was one fork in the road, where two separate loops appeared to join. It wasn’t clear which direction to go, but after some debate with myself, I decided to stay to the right. I was running clockwise in a circle; best to stick to the inside track.
Friday turned out to be an unseasonably warm day in Tampa—86 degrees before noon—and I quickly finished the water I had brought with me. Fortunately, the park had basic water stations every mile or two around the loop. And that loop…well it turned out to be further than I estimated. Not the loop itself, but the fact that we had started on a spur instead of the main trail. I was expecting to meet back up at around the 8-mile mark on my watch. I kept running. The sun shined brightly in a cloudless sky. It was hot, and there was very little shade on the trail. I ate a Goo (an energy product) and ran a bit more.
The GPS distance tracker on my watch kept increasing— 7 miles, 8 miles, 9 miles—and the trail kept twisting and turning with no end in sight. What happened to a 7-mile loop? There were fewer and fewer people on the trail. I ran long stretches without seeing another person while lizards and armadillos darted into the brush beside me. I kept running, drinking, running, walking. 10 miles, 11 miles. I kept thinking back to that fork in the road. What if he went left when I went right? What direction were we supposed to go? Why did we split up? Why didn’t he have his phone with him?
To say I was panicked would be an overstatement, but my level of anxiety was rising with every mile. Finally, around Mile 11, I flagged down a bicyclist and asked if she had passed a water station at a four-way intersection. “Oh, sure,” she replied. “About half a mile back.” I don’t know where the speed came from, but I practically sprinted the next half-mile. As I rounded the last corner, I caught a glimpse of the water shelter: empty. M wasn’t there. I lost steam and started trudging, thinking about my next move.
And just then, he emerged from around a bend, walking in my direction. I waved my arms to catch his attention. I was sweaty, sunburned, exhausted, and safe…but I wasn’t done running. We still had another mile to go before we got home. Final distance: more than 12 miles. What should have been an easy training run turned into a test of conditioning, endurance, and mental toughness…and I think I passed. I also think running 13.1 hilly miles in New Hampshire will be easier than yesterday’s run in the park. -J