With an appreciative nod to my old favorite James Taylor, running down a country road is a favorite way to escape the mental overload and visual onslaught of city life. Living in Southern California, it can be difficult to find a refreshing place of solitude.
With houses set back off the road and few, if any, intersections to cross, a run on a country road is as relaxing and soothing as a run can be. Sure, running on a beach is a grand and glorious option but even then, one must consider the slope of the shoreline or keeping dry while finding some hard-packed sand. A rustic setting is a respite, an almost uncluttered feel.
While in a rural area outside Milwaukee recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of early morning runs on a two-lane road with ample dirt shoulders for safe running. I was visiting a friend who’d moved to a newly built home surrounded by open fields and small farms, and the roads surrounding her neighborhood were lined with large oaks, elms and evergreens.
Cars were few and far between as I ran early on Friday and Sunday mornings. The houses I passed still looked sleepy and quiet, with no dogs loose yet for their morning business; unleashed dogs can be a common (and unnerving) sight in the country. It was late enough in the morning that the nocturnal animals had turned in for the day, but early enough for the mosquitoes not to have an appetite for me yet.
I saw the largest “weeping” willow tree I could imagine, along with three wild turkeys taking flight to cross the road (proving smarter than chickens) and porch lights still burning, giving the hint that those inside were still snug in their beds. I wished for my camera when I came upon scenes of tractors left quiet in the middle of a field, of small streams running along below me in a ditch with twigs racing me to the end, of funny shapes forged by the shade and sun through the leaves and that same sunshine on morning dew clinging to tips of grass.
Unlike home, where the breeze off the ocean has a stiff and salty feel on my face, the air here moved more gently, less dry, but so clean and clear. No exhaust smells assaulted me and no cooking smells made their way to the road. Instead, I smelled green grass and corn tassels and the occasional faraway livestock “aroma.” I usually welcome a turnaround point to bring a breeze to my face, though here it seemed not to matter, so slight was the air movement. Absence of that cross-breeze left me feeling some fatigue, but my choice of a morning run with its cool temperatures helped alleviate that.
When I did turn back, the view was slightly different of course, seeing the other side of the trees, being on the other side of the road. I ran by one tree that was almost loud, its leaves creating music as they danced on the slight wind. It is amazing how subtle changes of view can keep the return trip of an out-and-back run from becoming a tedious exercise. The change in light and shadows, the opportunity to run down the slope I just trudged up are all rewards of the return.
I am sure my memories of these morning runs are colored by romantic notions that parts of our country are still as untouched and as innocent as they were when I was a kid growing up in the Midwest. I like to think everything is as it was when I moved away 35 years ago.
The reality of a bustling city and the airport frenzy lay only a few miles away in Milwaukee, but my return bag was packed with memories of the best parts of those mornings. And when I run the busy street near my current home, I’ll remember the chirps and the rustling leaves and those three turkeys taking flight only 20 feet from my face, and hold on to the promise of my next country road.
Don’t live in or near a rural area but seek some open skies? A quiet road may not be that far away. For example, urban oases like Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or Central Park in New York City offer a welcome escape from the everyday chaos of the city.
In addition, I’ve found areas north of Chicago near Evanston that fit the bill. Alternatively, a one-hour drive south of Chicago will take you to Indiana Dunes State Park where the surrounding area is very rural but accessible. In New York City, there’s Brooklyn Bridge Park. In the Pacific Northwest, try the Edmonds area north of Seattle as well as communities south of Portland such as Wilsonville. Just north of Houston on I-45 lies The Woodlands, which lives up to its name. Or get out there, breathe in the fresh air and smell the trees at Pocahontas State Park near Richmond, Virginia.
If you’re yearning for less-traveled peace and quiet, websites/apps such as Map My Run and RunGo can help you discover running routes off the beaten path. Or refer to your city’s official Parks and Recreation Department website for local parks, activities and opportunities.
What are YOUR suggestions for run getaways that are accessible to large urban areas and within an hour’s drive? Do you have a favorite “hidden gem” that might be someone’s country road?
About our columnist:
Bette Hagerty decided to run a 5K in 1992 after a few months of running around her neighborhood, using her car’s odometer to measure distances. When she found herself among a few hundred people talking about running, she knew she had found her community. Since then she has run several hundred races, from 5K to marathon distance and helped form two running groups.
Bette is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and posts weekly Tuesday workouts on instagram as @BetteRunning. Her passions for running and writing have finally run into each other, and she looks forward to sharing her experiences and knowledge. She welcomes your glowing compliments at [email protected].
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