Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Travel

Hiking the Versailles Forest with Power Hiking Paris

If you’ve traveled to Paris, it’s likely your agenda included the Chateau de Versailles and the Versailles Gardens. Was the Versailles Forest also on your agenda? No? Well, let me share my visit.

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The Chateau de Versailles and its perfectly groomed gardens in the far distance

I extended my stay after the Paris Marathon to absorb more of this wonderful city. Doing so, I needed to add a long hike to fit in some training for the upcoming Hike Across Maryland after my return home. I did a web search of hiking groups in Paris and found the a Meetup Group, Power Hiking Paris, just what I was looking for. They had a 35K hike scheduled for Sunday, my last day in France. I requested to join the group, and after exchanging a couple of emails with Victor (it turns out I was the 3,500th member to join the group), I was in.

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The trees were coming into bloom with a blanket of French bluebells across the forest floor.

Instructions were to meet at the Gare Montparnasse on the platform for the train departing to Saint-Cyr. I found the hiking group (not difficult to distinguish with backpacks and hiking poles) in the boarding area at this busy station and had the opportunity to chat with most of them enroute to our destination.

Departing the train at Saint-Cyr, we immediately began hiking out of town to the Versailles Forest. As promised, the pace was fast, a swift hike on the flats and ascents and running on the downhills.

We continued in and out of forest and between farms, orchards and through small towns.

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Because I packed light for my travels which had to include my marathon running equipment, trail shoes and poles remained at home. Thankfully, except for one descent that was a bit iffy, my marathon shoes held their grip and the poles weren’t needed.

We took a short break for lunch and conversation in a meadow, then off again. 

Thank you, Victor, Serge and Meet-up Power Hiking for giving me the opportunity to meet and hike with you. It was a pleasure to join you and the hiking group while getting in my training miles and enjoy a forest in France I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit.

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Do you attempt to meet the people who live in the city/country/region where you are visiting? Did you attempt to get a local point of view new to you? I have found several ways to do this, but it’s the first time I’ve done it through Meetup. If you’re interested in digging deeper in your travels than tour presentations or chats with your waiter, Meetup offers groups in a number of activities and interest areas. 

During your travels, do you have other means of getting to know people and explore your interests more in depth? If so, please share.

 

 

 

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Early Morning Runs Among the Homeless

B-B Mistletoe KissWe runners tend to have a rare view of the world. Most of us will have mornings where we are out the door and back while the household sleeps. Other times we are traveling, staying with friends and family or in a hotel. Again, and always with safety in mind, the most opportune time to get in a run is early morning before the day’s activities begin.

So it is that my view of the homeless on our streets and in our parks is through the sleepy eyes of an early morning runner.

Thinking back several decades to the 70’s, the homeless population seemed to be a smattering of men, usually along a skid row area viewed through a car window. By the ’80’s I was seeing more people on the very streets I walked and ran near my office. Because I moved from one city and state to another, I first thought the larger homeless population was a quirk of my new hometown. It didn’t take long to realize that the increase in homelessness was not just where I live, but was a national and international phenomenon.

Running offers time to think and question. Questions like, why do I see more of the homeless now, where do they come from, what occurred in their lives that brought them to this park, this riverfront this retail doorway this particular morning?

The news reports I occasionally hear identify certain percentages of homeless as military veterans, those suffering mental illness or plagued with addiction, LGBT youth estranged from parents, and young families suffering job loss. Whatever the percentages, I, and I’m guessing many runners, have witnessed those from every category above.

My travels abroad have affirmed we in the U.S. are not alone in a growing homeless population.

Several years ago on an early morning run along a river walk in Osaka, Japan, I was jolted, realizing I had come upon a homeless encampment, blue tarps spreading in the distance. I quietly turned and rerouted to avoid disturbing anyone’s sleep.

Versions of that experience have occurred during most of my travels. I used my softest running steps as I encountered the homeless sleeping in doorways along Avenue de Clichy in Paris. At dawn, I’ve side-stepped those “sleeping rough” under the display windows of Christie’s Auction House in London’s South Kensington.

If you’re expecting to find my recommendations or solutions, I have none. I’m just an early morning runner reporting my observations. I do, however, believe there are smarter and more creative people than me who have within them the potential to contribute to the resolution. Policymakers, counselors, non-profit agencies, maybe some from the homeless community; among you I believe there are answers. By example, Back on my Feet is a relatively (2007) new organization with an innovative approach.  In this wide world of creative, caring people somewhere there is someone, probably many someones, who have the beginnings of other solutions.

Personally, my meager contribution is to donate to organizations that are sincerely helping. When I travel, I make it my business to identify a local group with a proven track record. Since I have benefited a city by spending my tourism dollars in restaurants, hotel stays, and race registrations, it makes sense to also contribute to the population least likely to benefit from my stay.

Could 2017 be a breakthrough year? With hope and determination, who knows.

On this chilly December evening, I wish all of my readers the warmth of family, friends and most of all, a place to call home.

B-B Mistletoe Kiss

A 10-Point Strategy to kicking back Post-Marathon

Seldom do I give advice, but for post-marathon days there is a process I believe is essential: Be moderately active, but as lazy as possible. Take for instance, my Chicago Marathon post-race day plan and execution:

1. Book a flight late in the day to provide some lazy morning time. This allows a runner to wake hungry during the night, dig into their goodie bag of miscellaneous bars and fruit, then fall back asleep until the sun peeks through the curtain.

(Too early in the morning for a goodie bag photo.)

2. Walk out of the hotel with no particular destination other than water and sunshine.

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The Chicago River flowing into Lake Michigan

3. Learn something even though you didn’t intend to, such as Chicago’s use of solar compactors discovered on our stroll down the street.

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Chicago has used solar compactors in the downtown area since 2011, saving time and money. Several east coast cities are using these as well. 

4. Watch a fleet of sailboats patiently wait for one the drawbridges to open.

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5. Take a silly selfie.

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6. Observe Chicagoans outdoing us in the “kick-back” category as they spend their Columbus day kayaking the river, doing some toe-dipping in the fountains and napping in Centennial Park.

 

7. Find something you didn’t expect to see. For us it was a building that looked like it has always been in the South Loop, but  it wasn’t familiar to me.

We asked a couple of Chicago’s finest who happened to be waiting to direct traffic for the parade route (remember, it’s Columbus Day). We learned the building is the Harold Washington Library Center. After a peak inside (well, more than a peak, we stayed awhile and had to convince ourselves to finally leave), we learned it hasn’t always been here. A research librarian told us it was built in the 1980s and opened in 1991.

8. Enjoy the parade. Step back out in the sunshine, find a place to sit on the curb and watch as bands, politicians and vintage vehicles pass by. Yesterday, you and 40,000 other marathoners were the parade. Today, it’s their turn.

 

Although primarily Italian American, there was participation from every ethnic and cultural group and political organization I was aware of in this city.

9. Retrieve bags from the hotel, grab a cab for Union Station and wave your sister off on the commuter bus.

10. Depart like a real Chicagoan and take the El train to the airport. (Thank you strong young guy who offered to carry my bag up the two flights of stairs to the platform.)

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That’s my strategy for a kick-back post-marathon day. How does yours compare?

 

Ghosts of Gray Rocks and Britten’s Music

One of the many benefits for an aging runner is to return to locations you love and see them afresh on foot, explore the new path and revisit the old. There are times when revisiting the old escalates to a sad good-bye. So it was with the Gray Rocks Inn.

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Summer view of Gray Rocks Inn on Lac Quimet. credit: businesstravelnews.com

Located in the Laurentian region of Quebec, the inn closed in 2009 and the property deteriorated for several years. In its time, Gray Rocks was a forerunner of the active lifestyle – golf, tennis, swimming in beautiful Lac Quimet, horseback riding on mountain trails, paths that took a hiker away from any sounds but those of the forest, and of course, skiing, the first ski resort in the Laurentians. After a day outdoors, guests enjoyed a formal but leisurely dinner of regional and French cuisine.

A few days ago, the aging buildings of a shuttered inn burned to the ground. Everyone locally had memories of staying or working at Gray Rocks and my memories of several summer visits decades back came flooding in.

Of the many commentaries and memories posted online, I was most captivated by a CBC post. I learned that composer Benjamin Britten had stayed in one of the Gray Rocks cabins, preceding my family’s visit by some 40 or 50 years.

Included in the CBC post is some wonderful historical information on Britten’s Gray Rocks Stay. Reading through Britten’s letters, his description of this beautiful region remains true. Amid the additional traffic, newer resorts, Ironman events, and endless condos, the underlying beauty and atmosphere of this Laurentian hideaway is unchanged.images-1

I found the perfect antidote to sadness over the passing of a time and loss of a gem in listening to Britten’s composition, a Ceremony of Carols, appropriate for this time of year or anytime. Give a listen through the link at the bottom of the CBC article (Video: A Ceremony of Carols). Simply, it is uplifting. When I hear Britten compositions in the future, wherever I may be, my mind will be traveling to the wonderful Laurentians and the Gray Rocks Inn as he would have seen it.

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Theme: Arches

Let’s do a Travel Tuesday and join the folks over at Where’s my Backpack? as they explore the shape of the arch in all the forms it appears to us.

Photo Credit: Scott D. Welch/Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Scott D. Welch/Wikimedia Commons


On this Veterans Day in the U.S., I will begin with the Pacific Arch at the World War II Memorial.

 

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From the East Coast of the U.S., we move in time to the Middle Ages and across the Atlantic to a Baltic port city and this arch in Old Town Riga, Latvia.

 

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Then north on the Baltic and a bit inland to an arched walkway through a building near the Täby Kyrka in Svenskakyrkan, Sweden.

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Off to Northern Ireland and Belfast’s City Hall. In addition to the beautifully arched stained glass window, at least three other arch shapes appear in the photo.

 

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Continuing east across Asia and into the Pacific Ocean to one of our westernmost states, we found an arch of holiday lights surrounding one of many homes, vehicles and driveways located in this historic Oahu neighborhood at the foothills of the Waianae Mountains. Decorations are ready for the Makakilo Christmas Light Spectacular.

 

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Back to the U.S. mainland and in Niobrara State Park stand a lovely couple centered in an flowered arch overlooking the Missouri River.

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Across the Missouri on the Dakota side, the river forms its own gentle arch.

 

20130720-10kroadrace-tj-001jpg-7c79ed43a5447f89On to Cleveland Ohio during a downpour prior to the 2013 Senior Games 10K where a runner attempts to stay dry employing an arched plastic bag overhead.

 

IMG_0611Finally, we have circled the globe and made our way back home to one of the many bridges with arches spanning our beautiful Susquehanna River.

Thank you Where’s my Backpack for this great suggestion.

 

 

 

 

Tracking Amber on the Baltic

IMG_0187During a month of hiking, running, walking and sailing through Baltic ports, amber was a constant. These beautiful remnants of fossilized tree sap come in shades of yellow, brown, red and black and regardless of size have a depth of beauty.

Though most of amber is now mined commercially there are many amber collectors, people who live or work near the sea, who use a process that dates at least to the 1600’s, still collecting amber by wading into the water to visually locate and capture amber by net.

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Our Lithuanian amber guide Igor helps me suit up for the hunt. Will this count toward my upper-body cross-training? Photo Credit: Catherine Kerber

We left Klaipėda, Lithuania to ferry across the lagoon to the Curonian Spit, a 98-kilometer sand dune with territory belonging to both Lithuania and Russia. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. There, we had an opportunity to hike across the dunes and learn the Baltic netting method.

Amber floats in salt water and frequently can be found imbedded in seewed.

Amber floats in salt water and frequently can be found imbedded in seaweed.

There are some days in the Baltic Sea that are prime for harvesting amber. Alas, it was not my day and the net captured little. I did come away with my own unpolished chunk, gifted by Igor.

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unpolished Baltic amber

 

We visited amber museums in Poland, Lithuania, and Denmark and museums exist in virtually every port on the Baltic. There is even an amber room in Catherine’s Palace near Saint Petersburg. The Nazis were impressed enough that they left town with the amber panels from the room, never to return.  In the last few decades, Russian artists recreated the panels and restored the room to its former glory.

Of the many amber museums throughout the Baltic, my favorite is the Gdansk Museum in Poland. It is housed next door to the Torture Museum in a section of what was the walled area of the city and the former prison dating back to the 1400’s. My shipboard friend Autumn and I were held hostage ourselves as a group of school children ushered in front of us, pinning us in a small alcove.

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14th century Fore Gate, location of Gdansk Amber Museum

A note of warning: For this visit, it helps to have some mountain goat in your soul. Access to the museum will require negotiation of tight dark stairs, but all is worth it to see the beautiful amber creations. In addition to detailed information on the development of amber over millions of years, its reputation for healing powers and information about the amber trade over the last couple hundred years, add the works of local contemporary artisans and amber craftsmen on display.

I’m not convinced of its healing or health powers, but I do find myself wearing my unpolished amber nugget when I run. I’d love to here about your experience with amber. And, does anyone run with a stone or charm for luck, for its healing power, or as a talisman when you run, hike, bike?

 

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Restless on Independence Day

This July 4th post doesn’t have any fireworks, not even an explosive topic.IMG_1047 I’ve simply been musing about the need to move about, to travel, to explore. Is it just me, or do I share this with most Americans?

We seem to be restless people. Since many of us are descendents of folks who picked up their worldly belongings and headed across an ocean or a landmass, it’s no surprise that the travel bug can create that restless itch in us. It may have begun with a need for freedom, a route out of poverty or a place to belong, but the restlessness persists. It may continue with the simple need to keep moving, whether through travel vacations that temporarily satisfy the bug, or through permanent relocations.

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Hiking with my brother through South Dakota meadow.

Does our work life demand travel or do we invent other reasons? Currently, other than friends and family connections there is no need for me to travel. That said, I can always find a rationale to keep moving and poke my curious nose into the corners of this country and beyond. I may be traveling to visit relatives, but I can usually  find a way to explore something new along the way or at destination.

I may travel to run races, but will always bank in several days to explore a path, a city, a state, or country new to me. There are perfectly fine races of almost every distance within a 20-mile radius of my home.

Finishing a Canadian 10K

Finishing a Canadian 10K

Yet, I travel across the country and beyond to races from a 5K to a mara- thon. I’m placing the blame for this restlessness that drives the spirit squarely on my brave and adventurous ancestors. Along with blaming them, I thank them for it.

I expect many Americans8580479-u-s-american-flag-in-front-of-a-blue-sky are traveling this week to be with friends and family and to share with their children the many wonders of the road.

Safe travels to all and a Happy 4th.