I stared out the skylight that served as my window in the attic of the apartment of a friend of a friend of a friend.
I had bummed a place to live for the summer just north of Gasworks Park and about 3 miles from the University of Washington, where my path to grad school began. A long, winding, gravel-covered path beset with weeds and dead animals and ticks and mosquitoes and a few dozen creek crossings, but a path nonetheless. I wasn’t going to school at UW, just spending the summer working for my advisor, who was soon to move out to Cornell University.
For three months, though, Seattle -- that fabled and only barely accessible city when I was growing up -- would be my home.
The sun was blazing over Lake Washington, and I couldn’t have been happier. Perfect weather, perfect circumstances, perfect joy.
That summer, I picked up where I’d left off at the tail end of my senior year, now running daily along the Burke-Gilman Trail, looping through Gasworks, exploring the area on foot 4 or 5 or 8 miles at a time. And in between, I explored on two wheels, riding to my office, spending 4 or 5 or 8 hours learning new material, then taking to the streets and trails to find available breweries, bike shops, and destinations.
I built my first bike wheel -- a wheel that never came apart, thank you very much, and now resides at the bottom of a lake (may its perfect form rest in peace) -- and took up lacrosse again. It turned out I was a pretty good goalie, able to hold my own against all manner of former players.
Games were in Redmond, on the other side of the lake, and I took a series of trails either north around the top end of the lake or south across the I-90 bridge. Across the bridge was a mysterious tangle of woods with several paved and dirt paths that seemed as improbable as they were brilliant. The woods occupied a space below the road grade that would be otherwise unusable, which made them the perfect site for bashing around on a bike.
It took me a couple games to figure out the possible ways to the field, and I never did decide on a preferred route. I would load my lacrosse equipment -- including the head of my stick -- into my backpack (the same old backpack I used for my flying material). The shaft stayed on my handlebars, and I used it as protection against vehicles: when I wanted to turn, the shaft came out, and that 4 feet of titanium made any aggressive driver think twice about whether their car was going to be dented on the way by.
All-in-all, the rides were safe, with a few hairy situations when I got lost close to gametime and had to resort to major roads. Nothing like a little cruise on a major highway to warm you up for facing the prospect of balls to, as previously noted, the legs.
And I frequently begged a ride home, because what crazy player wants his goalie killed riding back in the dark? Plus we stopped for beers after these games, often at not-vegetarian-friendly joints, and by then I’d learned an important equation:
Hard ride + Lacrosse + Beer = Immediate insobriety
The days went by quickly, and before I knew it, the owners of my borrowed digs above Gasworks had moved to California, leaving me the sole proprietor of the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. It seems strange that anyone would trust a person that far, but since I paid for my room and had been generally pretty easygoing, I guess they figured it was ok. I was even taking care of their cat, who most assuredly thought she was a dog: you could leash her safely and she played fetch. I don’t remember her name, just her canine manner.
I went back to Port Angeles for a few days near the end of the summer, then returned to Seattle just long enough to pack my things for the trip east. My officemate had a car, and since he was going East with my advisor, he would need someone to help him get him and his stuff and his car to upstate New York.
I had done most of that distance before, so I volunteered. It was sort of like thumbing a ride, without the thumbs. (But I still had my thumbs. They’re in use right now. Watch them type spaces! )
Regardless of my digital situation, every once in a great while you come across a situation you’ve encountered before and the outcome is vastly different. This was one of those times.
Growing up, my family had frequently driven across the country to visit my relatives. The trip was always long and slow, taking anywhere from 4 to 6 days to go 2,500 miles. I’d never thought about the numbers, but that’s a paltry 500 miles per day for 5 days, or about 10 hours of driving a day.
The rest of the time my parents filled with stops, detours to parks and museums and wacky sights, and detours down roads that were off even the unbeaten path, through towns that time had forgotten and across boulevards that very well may not have known what time was.
On the trip to Cornell, my officemate and I were in Minneapolis 26 hours after leaving Seattle, and we were cruising into New York (State, not City -- otherwise it would have meant a severe wrong turn) after just 2 full days. We burned through those miles like they were steeped in kerosene, rolled into town like we owned the place, and moved into our respective abodes 3 days after departing UW.
I took my first run as an Ithaca resident that day. I had bought a local map (which stayed with me throughout my tenure at Cornell) and traced out an appropriate route beforehand: 3.5 miles on relatively flat terrain that included a trip around a park, across a quaint bridge, down a dirt road, and back into the neighborhood. To my great surprise, it stood the test of time, and I still ran it in my last days in Ithaca.
But my years in upstate New York were just beginning, and that place would change everything about running life.
Next up: Talk dirty.
Mash out. Spin on.
Some runner person. Also perhaps a cyclist & brewing type. But for your purposes, a runner person.