Have you ever had one of those moments on a road trip when you drive by a trail entrance or a linear park and the urge to run overtakes you? It happens to me. My mental inventory begins with: 1) do I have – or am I wearing – running shoes? 2) when do I need to arrive at my destination? and 3) does the location feel safe?
None of those situations was an impulse stopper on a recent drive along the Thousand Islands Parkway, a 20-some mile stretch along the St Lawrence River. This time, I had no urgent need to arrive at destination at a particular time, I was wearing running clothes disguised as travel gear, and the location was probably as safe as anything gets in this life.
The Parkway can be accessed immediately after clearing Canadian Customs and leaving the Thousands Islands Bridge.
In addition to the scenic drive overlooking the river out one window, a linear bike path out the other extends the full length of the parkway. I’ve driven this stretch many times and for various reasons stifled the urge to pull the vehicle over and place my feet on the path. The sometimes beautiful, sometimes quirky cottages built on the small islands dotting the river are an other-worldly view for a mid-day run.
I pulled into a nearly empty parking lot. With a sudden vision of returning fresh from a run to find an empty space where the truck was parked (I’ve been there), I made a brief stop in the Saint Lawrence Islands park office to alert the rangers on duty that I would be leaving my vehicle. They appreciated the heads-up, since the park was not officially open. Having thwarted the possibility of a towed vehicle, I took 30 seconds to text family with an update, then off I went.
The reality wasn’t as sweet as the daydream. Once on the trail, I realized the bike path is a good three feet below the grade of the road bed. The view of the island-dotted river when looking out the windshield of a truck, is significantly more expansive than the view of this below-grade path runner. Oh, well. I did find the view on the road side of the path had other merits. There are homes on the bluff overlooking the river, a few local shops tucked into side roads off the path, as well as the occasional properly dressed hiker, walking stick in hand, emerging from one of the hiking trail access points. The occasional bicyclist and locals out for a walk give me a nod or a wave. The wind off that wide, frigid river is a bellowing wake up call as it keeps my senses as sharp as the cool breeze sneaking in under my ear warmer.
Planned training runs are necessary and confidence-building. Races are challenging and inspiring. Neither can match the spontaneity of bolting from my vehicle to follow a trail calling to me at a given moment. It is a treasured experience and one of the reasons this senior runner is still running.
Are you still running?