Thursday, November 10, 2011

Richland Creek Loop

Bridge across Richland Creek
I run the same five miles pretty much every morning.

The beginning of the loop takes me through my neighborhood in West Nashville. Our part of town is half-industrial, half residential. Colonial-style houses from the 1920s mix with warehouses and rebuilt ranches from the late 70s. I start south on the road just west of the busiest street, 52nd Ave. It is straight, and though there are a few stop signs the traffic is light enough for me to keep my rhythm through the intersections.

A half mile ahead, 52nd Ave is cross cut somewhat violently by the mad and throbbing whirl of concrete overpasses that is I-40. I duck left one block, then head under a pigeon shit encrusted overpass. Usually I can cross the next couple of streets without breaking stride, and a quarter mile later I am at the intersection with Charlotte Ave. Here, I stop and wait for the cross lights. By this point the creakiness of early morning has worn off, and I've adjusted to the early morning chill.

When the light changes, I dart across the road, past the Catholic Church on the right, down a slight incline and up a short steep hill. Another 3 or 4 minutes down the road, just past the mile mark, I make a quick right turn onto the bike path that winds around the edge of the public golf course. The first part of this path dives down steeply into a pocket of night air that settles coldly in the small valley carved out by Richland Creek.

It's somewhere in here, maybe 10 minutes into the run, when all of the movements settle into their rhythms and consciousness changes. Running thoughts are somewhat like dreams. They drift in and out of the mind without leaving a deep trace, perhaps something like the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. They are not the sorts of thoughts we argue about on the internet or in the classroom. They don't compose a narrative or story or argument. They certainly do not aspire to the category of truth. Rather, they are on the order of appearance. One feels the mind without using it, like a Gary Snider poem or one of those rambling Dylan songs. Appearance, but not mere appearance.

I cross the creek over a bridge and take care to look at its levels. Lately we haven't had much rain, so the creek is calm, more interested in reflecting fall leaves than moving water. There is a hill after the creek which wakes me back up to the effort of my legs, reminds me to control the pace. Once crested, we wind back down through the woods to cross the creek again on a wooden bridge, my legs, the path, and I.

The second half of the loop takes me up a grade along the train tracks, then up again, and around the front side of the golf course. I nod to the early morning golfers and consider their arcing swings. There are maple trees scattered through the small parking lot, and on fall mornings like this one their leaves burn red and orange. Once past them, I am suddenly into the last two miles of the run. There is a long and gentle section of path that weaves downwards. If I am feeling good, I often remember past races or imagine future ones, and the pace approaches six minutes a mile. Like a horse, I smell the barn.

At four miles, I complete the lollipop section of the loop and cross a section of grass back onto the road. From here, it is a straight shot back to the house, with Charlotte Ave marking a sort of halfway point. It is a net downhill, and on crisp mornings I hope to hit a green light so that I can keep the rhythm going. Usually it doesn't work out, and so I stand at the corner, watching the morning commuters in their steel and plastic, shaking out the electricity in my legs until whatever mechanical timer runs its course and releases me across the street. I dart back under the hum of I-40, make a quick left, and a quick right back onto 52nd Ave.

The last section is literally a home stretch. Home is half a mile straight ahead. The street rolls ever so gently. I play with effort on the uphills and relaxation on the downhills, enjoying these last few moments. When I reach the corner across from my house, I stop. In a few seconds, my breath falls away and my heart returns to its quiet and quotidian rhythm.

This is how my days begin. The same run, every morning.

5 comments:

  1. this is a great line -- "Running thoughts are somewhat like dreams. They drift in and out of the mind without leaving a deep trace..." and describes one of my favorite things about running and one of the things i miss most about really being able to run.

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  2. Makes me think about the 5 mile lollipop behind the house on Signal. I knew every inch, but it was always new. Thanks Jeff!

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  3. @ace,
    Thanks! After I wrote that, I thought--holy crap, did I just say that running is like an opium dream? Maybe I really am an addict. ;)

    @Anonymous,
    Indeed. It's funny how these loops become like old friends. The more you know them, the more complex and interesting they become. It makes me think that the contemporary emphasis on novelty may be in a weird way keeping us from having "new" experiences in the deep sense that you gesture towards. Thanks for the comment!

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