I can’t tell you how many times I ran past the Van Dyke Preserve. It’s along my training route and I pass it every time I struggled up the hill to Meads Lane. On my way home, I pass it again. I’d think about maybe doing a walk there, perhaps with the dog, and always some other time.
But one hot day, after cutting short a bad run, I impulsively turned into the small gravel parking lot and hit the trail. I had neither the stamina or the motivation to run the 12 or so miles I set out to do and turned back prematurely, disappointed. I don’t know what drove me to the Van Dyke trail that day, but I was immediately grateful that I did. The trail snakes around the Phillipin Kill and dips down into one of those ravines that we have so many of in our town. They help save us from overdevelopment, I believe, because they’re simply undevelopable, and once you start noticing them, you spot them everywhere. Entering the wooded trail was comforting; it was thick and dark and cool, and I stopped beating myself up about the lousy run. In fact, I bounced along, enjoying being off the hot pavement. My impulse to run that trail created a new habit. Now each time, I need a lift or the run isn’t going well, I run the Van Dyke Preserve or the Swift Preserve.
Recently, I dropped my daughter off at the high school and headed over again, this time on purpose. I parked and ran the trail. Recent residual rains from Hurricane Florence had created a slick surface. Trail running is more mental I think than running on any other kind of surface. You have to watch out for the slick spots, roots and rocks that may have rolled onto the trail. So all I think about is the trail. Besides being in the woods, which to me is an instant stress reducer, the act of thinking so purely about not trying to fall blocks out any issues from work or the kids or home. Watch that rock, heed that limb. But I always make sure I stop. Just for a minute or two, usually toward the end of a run. Sometimes I sit on the bench near the trailhead. I look up at the trees, feel the breeze, listen to the birds and just be in the woods.
Donna Liquori is a freelance writer and editor. You may have met Donna at an MHLC event: she is a long-time, dedicated volunteer with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.
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