Well, technically, my home trails are still the packed cinder paths rising and falling in sequence along the Little Lehigh Creek: forming a loop just over 6 miles long, tucked into the green and hidden for the most part, from the rest of a small post-industrial East Coast city. Past the fish hatchery and across the covered bridge, these are the trails that taught me that no one will understand you like teammates do, about the sting of cross-country spikes grazing your ankles as the pack leaps from the line at the gun, about plyos in the wet grass of summer mornings. These trails taught me about “states dirt” — that lucky mud that makes it home in your spikes after the biggest race of your 16-year-old life. You keep that dirt because that dirt is magic.
For a while, they were the five foot wide concrete swaths that march in an orderly grid down to the lakefront. From there, opening into a gilded ribbon winding along Lake Ontario. Those paths scattered with the occasional hearty soul also braving the winter winds whipping off the water for a few minutes of Sunday sunshine on faces, for heartbeat in ears, for lactic acid piling up in legs that are patiently waiting out nearly six months of winter. It doesn’t matter how frostbitten, iced over, or polar-vortexed this city gets. The sidewalks are where you’ll find understanding strangers, nodding as they pass. It is understood that we will all share the narrow paths packed and plotted through un-shoveled snow by those who woke up just a little bit earlier. These weren’t trails in the strictest sense, but snow and ice make for some pretty technical terrain, even in a metropolis of over 2.5 million. Blustery but lovable — Toronto’s urban trails.
And now? Home trails in the Heart of Dixie. New, lush species in every shade of green seem to grow taller overnight, they grow right across the trail I just visited last week. These trails that are a shady haven for the booming local running community feel different every time I make it out — no thanks to this crazy southern climate. Training in 85% humidity is not for the faint of heart, but the temperature and the technical routes don’t seem to be stopping anyone.There is Company Mill Trail with its no-jokes descent to the creek bed below, across outcroppings of exposed quartz. There are the felled timber bridges hopping back and forth over muddy flats and there are the switchbacks — up, up, always up — eventually rewarded by the soft silent tunnels through stands of Longleaf Pine.
My trails have looked very different and felt worlds apart. But there’s that same feeling whenever a new route slowly becomes the home route.
Here I am.
There are my lungs…(straining). My legs…(burning). My quieted mind.
Another point on the map, same old me. Never stop moving, never give up.