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The Penguin Chronicles: The Trails Less Traveled

I’m a city kid. I believe in the grandeur of the manmade concrete and steel canyons. Yes, mountains are beautiful, but the gleam of the morning sun off thousands of windows has a beauty all its own.

Many of you are city kids like me, used to running on sidewalks crowded with people, cars and buildings. If your running experience is dodging potholes and cracked sidewalks it may be time for you to find some dirt to put beneath your feet, because you’re missing out on some great and beautiful moments out on the trails.

Three years ago I moved away from the city to a place where my front door is a quarter mile from 50 miles of groomed multi-use trails. Gone were honking horns and police sirens. They were replaced with scuffling squirrels and frogs splashing in a small pond.

During my first spring on the trails I began to notice how trees that were barren all winter suddenly showed signs of life. Fields that were bleak and covered with snow were awash with color. There were birds in the air and chipmunks on the ground as if some magical alarm had gone off.

When summer came I was amazed by the shade created by the trees. There were places where it was cool and nearly dark in the middle of a very hot day. Running in the summer months was no longer a pilgrimage to the land of sunscreen and sweat.

When fall came, I expected the colors and the falling leaves, which also happens in the city. What I didn’t expect was sensing the forest’s preparation for the season to come. The woods were getting ready for winter. The leaves didn’t just change colors; they began to blanket the ground to protect it from the harsh cold that was coming. And the wildlife began to migrate and hibernate.

In the city, parking restrictions marked the changing seasons. On the trails you don’t need a metal sign to tell you that winter was on its way.

In the three years since moving from the city I have come to know and appreciate both the beauty and the character of the trails more and more. I have come to understand the rhythm of nature. I have come to sense the nuances of the creatures that call those woods home. I know when rain is coming by the behavior of the birds. I have looked into the eyes of a deer less than six feet from my face and felt like we both belonged. I have walked quietly passed a coyote that was more frightened of me than I was of him.

Running can take you places you’ve never been. That may be across a street or across a stream. What’s new for you may be centuries old to the forest, but the discovery is just as remarkable.

I’m not ready to call myself a trail runner. I still like to run in the city; I still enjoy the sights and sounds. But with summer around the corner, I’m eager to get back to the woods. I’m pretty sure the animals miss me.

This column first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Competitor magazine. 


About The Author:

John Bingham, aka The Penguin, will share his running tales and experiences every month. Have a story of your own to share or a topic you’d like The Penguin to consider? E-mail him at