Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fall Colors on Foot

After doing all of the laundry and changing my closet over from warm-weather to cold-weather clothing, I looked out the window yesterday and decided I would rather be outside. It is FALL here now with clear skies, brisk temperatures, and beautiful sunlight enhancing the golds and reds on the trees. Fall weather is my favorite, but it can be difficult to get out and do anything anymore. I was already dressed to work out, using that as a mental signal on Saturdays that I really should get to the gym. However, I've said this before, I can't subscribe to good weather, so I try to never feel guilty about being active outside instead.

So I would go for a walk. I called Karen, she was busy, and Jessie had just gotten home from her graduate school class. So I would go for a walk alone. The Navy said that civil twilight would end at 6:22 pm, so since it was 3:22 I drove to the nearby Forest Preserve to do the Poplar Creek Trail (paved). Jessie and I do the 9 mile loop (counting from the car to the path as well) in 3 hours when we walk together. I figured I could shave time off by concentrating on my pace and definitely get back to the car before it got dark and they closed the park.

I start from the parking lot on 59 because that is where the trail numbers start counting off the miles. I've got my car keys held to my water bottle with an elastic hair-holder. I'm wearing running shoes, fancy running socks, my best sports bra, my favorite workout pants, a tank top layered under a long-sleeve t-shirt, a free hat, and my sunglasses. All of the other stuff that I usually have with me gets left in the car, so there is a symbolic shedding of burdens right at the start. Feeling good, with the perfect sunlight warming me enough to counter the chill air, I set out southbound.

Why not run a bit? I'm alone so there really isn't a reason not to. Running on that path feels fun - hey, I'll get to that bend quicker - hey, it's downhill here. I decide not to track how often I'm running vs walking, and just mark my overall pace. (So I'm sure some of the running spurts lasted around 30 seconds but I took them when I felt like it rather than at prescribed, timed intervals. This let me walk on the sections with slippery leaves for safety and save my quads by running on the downhills.)

For the first five miles, each marker comes up a bit sooner that I was expecting. My pushing-it-hard walking pace is 4 mph, so I plan on getting to each marker 15 minutes after the last one. With the running spurts added in there, I tag the 5 mile point at 1 hour and 11 minutes. But the sixth mile goes slower, and after I pick it up to jog the last 50 feet to the number 6 for a 16 minute interval, the next time I try to run lasts about 2 seconds. So much for the running.

Three miles to go, with plenty of time before sundown, so I concentrate more on the scenery and remembering to walk quickly. I see dozens of birds at a time: robins on the ground, finches in the grasses, gulls and geese in the air. The lowering sun becomes more golden and highlights each prairie grass and evergreen brush. The hat helps, but now that I'm moving west I can't look straight ahead because of the sun. There are still almost no clouds and the sky is that blue color that you can't remember anymore in January's gray. The trees are past their prime, having faded a bit and dropped lots of leaves already, but color is still there. Warm reds, oranges, and yellows blend with golden sun glints on the distant trees. I am in the middle of Fall, feeling very lucky.

The last mile, I even see deer up close. Two full grown does were running circles in a field near the pathway. Then I see a smaller deer standing in the path ahead, watching me. I'm not entirely sure if this was proper, but when I get about 20 feet away and it hadn't moved, I raise my arms wide. That clues it to run back into the tall grass, but it continues to watch me (and I him/her) as I walk by.

The final stretch before getting back to the parking lot goes through a large field on gently rolling ground. The sun has gone below the tree line and leaves an orange swath of sky. All the landscape looks like it is calming down and ready to rest for the night and for the winter. I take a mental picture to help get me through the season, or at least through the week.

I get back to the car and stop my watch at 2 hours and 16 minutes. (This does not include time waiting at intersections - I stop the watch for those.) Physically, I'm cold and hungry. My legs will hurt the next day. I feel better than I have in a long time.

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