Permission to Stop Running

Essay

I was not anticipating the wave of loneliness and sadness that consumed me as I finished my first run in months. I should have been exhilarated and happy from the exertion, but I was not. I’d felt this sadness after a run before, but never this powerfully. Never before had I questioned my reasons for running as I did in that moment. Maybe, I thought, it was ok to not run anymore.

It was the 70-degree weather on November 11, 2020–the wanting a quick fix for the softness around my middle and my inner voice telling me I should be running–that propelled me out the door. I told myself that it would be another form of mediation. I would not keep time, I would not worry about my pace or the distance covered, I would not listen to music, I would just move in the moment. As I took my first steps, I was already looking away from the moment and into the future, scheming that if I could do a simple run a few times a week then I could certainly continue to run through the winter (something I’ve never done), solving the soft middle dilemma (maybe I should stop sneaking M&Ms).and securing what my inner voice was telling me was my lynchpin to happiness. 

It was in 2012 that I started running to cope with my depression, and the death of my father. Then it was needed and it was wonderful, but now, perhaps it was time to find a new “medicine”? In 2014 I did Running Down Cancer. In the summer of 2018, I ran nearly every day because the previous winter I had gone off my antidepressants and after returning from a trip from Utah realized I desperately need to get myself out of the hole I was in and never go off my medication again. By the summer of 2019 while walking on the beach in Michigan I realized that I did not need to run to cope. But I didn’t give myself permission to stop and thus kept “shoulding” (I should be doing this, I should be doing that) myself about how I needed to run to stay on an even keel.

In the early spring of 2020, I ran regularly to deal with being cooped up due to the pandemic. But by June running just seemed like too much–another thing that needed to get done so that I didn’t slip into the darkness. Over the past eight years, I had convinced myself that I needed to run to survive, ignoring the fact that since I’d changed medications and I’d changed my therapist, there was no reason why I could not change my physical activity. The reality was that I had never run just for fun. I’d done it to cope, to put on a mask of who I thought I wanted to be so that I could be happy. But relying on outside forces for joy is simply not sustainable. 

Two days after my less than invigorating run on November 11th, as I walked briskly up the Summit Trail of Mount Philo State Park with our dog Jedi, I realized that walking this mountain was just as exhilarating as running it. I was seeing far more than I had all those hundreds of times I’d run the trail in the past. I was putting my mindfulness practice to work and approaching other people with compassion rather than thinking about myself and wondering if the “mask” of who I thought I should be was showing forth as I imagined it was. This compassion flooded me with joy and at that moment I gave myself permission to stop running to cope.

You Miss the Salad

Poetry
 Perched on an old ball cap 
 That hangs on a fence post 
 By the horse barn
 A blue winged orange breasted swallow
 Watches the nuances of farm life
 
 When you’re late
 Held up by the sperm salesman
 You miss the salad 
 
 If a calf lives 
 for ten minutes
 It will probably live for ten years 
Inspired by the photographs and words of Quite a Sightly Place: A Family Dairy Farm in Vermont

Rouge Rodeo Clowns

Chronicles of a Wandering Marshmellow, Essay

Site 17 Burke Cottages and Campground, West Burke, Vermont

The blue dot on my phone says the trail is right here, but we can’t find it. I turn in a slow circle, stymied. 

The Kingdom Trails Association (KTA) would not be possible without the hundred or so landowners who allow for the nearly one hundred miles of trails to be built on their land–the trails are used not only for biking, but also for hiking, trail running and horseback riding. Last fall KTA lost some large sections of these trails when some land owners revoked access to mountain bikers. I heard it was because while out horseback riding the owners were berated by some mountain bikers. Our society needs to get its act together, and relearn how to be kind and stop thinking that we are so entitled to everything and that we have the right to accost perfect strangers with our points of view, shouting them down and placing the blame on their shoulders. 

Societal rudeness and the loss of kindness is not the point of this essay though, and I told you that story only to say that though we had lost some of our favorite trails there were some that had recently been reopened and thus I found myself turning in circles in the middle of the woods trying to figure out where we were. Because they were recently opened the trails were not on the paper map I was carrying so I was forced to use the app Ondago to navigate.

It’s a good app, I just hate navigating with my phone when we ride, and clearly it is a bit off as we do not see the trail that is on the screen. We continue in the direction we were going, but decide that the family should turn around and wait at the bottom while I climb up to the top of this trail that is clearly made for going down rather than up and try to get my bearings. At the top I speak with a couple resulting only in more confusion. The only option it seems is to backtrack to the last intersection. 

When we get there Erin and Noah disappear down one trail while Luke and I debate which of the three trails to take. We take a different trail, wrongly assuming that the trail Erin took will link up with the one we take. When we reach another intersection Erin and Noah are not there and I realize the trail they took is not on any map. Leaving Luke munching on cashews and M&Ms I ride back to where we split up and ride down the trail they took, eventually coming to another intersection of three trails. Technology got us into this mess but it also gets us out when I call Erin and figure out where they are. Once we are reunited, the boys take us to their bike camp snack spot along the river. While we’re reclining on the smooth warm rocks listening to the river tumble past munching on our snacks, Luke nonchalantly says. “Sasquatch is just a rodeo clown gone rouge.” Then he goes back to eating his snack. 

By the middle of the week the heat comes back with a vengeance but ever the troupers and now astride new bikes that we luckily found at the Village Sports Shop, the boys are ready to ride. We start in town and ride along trails named Ware’s Davis, White School and Upper Pond Loop. As we ride through a field along the road a honey wagon passes us. These are trucks fitted with tanks that are filled with five hundred gallons of liquid manure that the farmers spread on the fields. The smell is noxious and it drifts through the woods as we ride. Noah and I want to try a trail called Nose Dive and another one called Farm Junk, but the heat has gotten to Luke and Erin so they decide to head back to town via a new trail called New School. A trail that is, I mistakenly tell them, all downhill. Nose Dive is ho-hum but Farm Junk is great and aptly named, given the variety of detritus that litters the sides of the trail. Somehow we miss New School but when I pull out my phone to check the map, I learn this is not such a bad thing. A text from Erin reads: New School Sucks! Flat and in the sun the whole way. The manure scent is growing stronger as the trail leads us into a field where at the far end we see the honey wagon rumbling toward us, spaying its dreadful payload in a several-meter-long arch over the field. I fell in a manure pile as a kid, after making the poor choice of believing I could walk across its crusted top to save time. I ended up sinking up to my waist and my mom made me strip and hose off on the back porch. I have no desire to repeat this especially with the extra potent liquid manure. 

“Pedal hard” I yell over the noise of the truck 

Noah puts the hammer down and we race around the edge of the field keeping one eye peeled for the trail back into the woods and the other on the honey wagon. We stop just inside the tree line breathless and manure free as the honey wagon rumbles past on its way to get another load. 

Reunited with Erin and Luke it is time to go swimming, though we can swim in the river right here in town we decide to drive thirty minutes north to Lake Willoughby. Flanked by two sheer cliffs that reach down to the water’s edge near the center, this five-mile-long lake resembles an Alaskan fjord more than the deepest lake within the borders of Vermont. The northern beach is by far the best, at a half mile long it provides plenty of space to spread out and play in the shallow swimming area. The southern beach, which we go to later in the week because I forgot to get gas for the car, is much smaller with pine trees close to the shore that cause the water to be darker and the lake bottom to be soft and mucky from the decaying pine cones and needles. A path at the far end of this beach leads into the trees and we learn later that it eventually takes you to the nude beach. 

“I am sure glad we did not follow the path all the way there.” Noah says. 

It is not illegal to be nude in public in Vermont; however, it is illegal to undress in public. Talking with Gail, the owner of Burke Cottages and Campground, later that evening, she tells us that she had gotten a call that day from someone asking if clothing was optional at the campground. 

“I’ve never gotten that question before, and I had to tell him no. Can you imagine,” she says with a laugh. 

By Thursday the boys tell us they are done camping. Erin and I are worn out too and ready to move on so we decide to pull up stakes a day early and drive halfway to our next destination. We will stop the Palmyra Golf Course and Campground in Palmyra, Maine for a day so that we can restock our provisions, the boys can swim in the pool and we can do a week’s worth of laundry. With both water and electric hook-ups, it will be pure luxury.

Planning your Microadventure

Essay, The Charlotte News

 

The best way to have a microadventure is to plan one, not just in your mind—you need to write it down on the calendar.  This is imperative because if you are anything like our family, if you don’t plan it, then it usually doesn’t happen. Here are a few ideas to help you get your planning started.

1-3 Hour Adventures:

The Co-Housing section of the Town Link Trail: A crushed gravel path that winds its way through forest and fields. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed. This is a great path for riding your bike or even pushing a jogging stroller. Keep your eyes out for the otter and the nesting Canadian geese that call the pond along the trail their home.

Williams Woods Natural Area: A one-mile loop through what may be the best remaining mature clay-plain forest in the Champlain Valley. The trail starts out on a boardwalk and then transitions to an uneven surfaced trail with large clusters of tree roots that twist together over the damp ground. Stop for a snack at the far end of the loop where you can look out over the open area of Throp Brook. Dogs are not allowed and bug spray is a must.

Plouffe Lane: Don’t let the red gate deter you; it is simply a formality. Open it up and drive into the small parking area. Just below the parking area at the bottom of the hill there is a picnic table, a great place for families to have a picnic and let the children run around. The meadow trails fork here, one going up the hill and passing a bench that is a good resting spot and affords a nice view of the Green Mountains. The trail continues into a back field and loops back onto itself. As the trail starts to curve back around, you have the opportunity to slip into the woods and follow a nice path down to the lower field trail.

More information about these trails and others, including directions to the trailheads, can be found at Trailfinder.info.

 

Day Adventures:

Split Rock Mountain: A ferry ride across the lake and short drive brings you to the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest and it’s approximately 11.5 miles of trails that provide access to many locations including the shores of Lake Champlain. The trails travel through a variety of terrain and forest types and offer a unique opportunity to experience the “wild side” of the Lake Champlain Valley. Views of Vermont, Lake Champlain, and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks are available from several overlooks along the trail system.

More information at http://tinyurl.com/7xuy6o2

Moosalamoo National Recreation Area: With more than 70 miles of trials, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, it is a magical place to explore. Visit moosalamoo.org for more information.

Swimming Holes: I grew up swimming in crystal clear rivers that tumbled out of the mountains of my home town of Danby. There were rock slides and large boulders to warm yourself on a lazy summer afternoon. To this day, a river is my favorite place to swim. A Google search will point you in the general direction of a hot summer day adventure.

Overnight Adventures: There is no shortage of campgrounds in Vermont or New York. Nor is there a shortage of cabins if the thought of sleeping in a tent with your two-year-old makes you want to curl up in the corner and cry. If you would like to step out of your comfort zone or don’t want to pay for a camp site, then you can venture into the Green Mountain National Forest where visitors can camp anywhere (unless the area is posted as closed to camping,) while staying the recommended 200 feet from roads, trails, and bodies of water to disperse impact.

With a little research there is a microadventure that can fit your schedule, budget and comfort level (though it is good to step outside of your comfort zone.). The following tips may help in your planning.

  1. Perfect isn’t fun. The point is that you get outside, unplug and spend time together as a family.
  2. Be flexible. You may want to get to the top of the mountain, but the kids may want to throw leaves into the stream.
  3. Let the kids lead.
  4. A packed backpack that weighs equal to or less than a quarter of the hiker’s body weight is ideal.
  5. Travel distance rule of thumb: a half mile per day multiplied by the youngest child’s age.
  6. Make sure you have something to spark curiosity (a bug net, field guide, magnifying glass, or binoculars).
  7. I always carry a first aid kit, bug spray, a space blanket, headlamp, matches, warm clothes & wind rain protection and duct tape.
  8. Carry snacks and water for every adventure no matter how short.