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April 2, 2007

Road Weary

I’m typing this post in a hotel room, while spending yet another night away from home on yet another business trip, which is my third trip out of town in the last four weeks. You could say I’m a bit cranky.

Sure, I could just tell you where I am, but that would be too easy. And it would make this post extremely short. So I’ll give you some clues, and we’ll play a little game – let’s call it “Where in the World is Donald?” (This will be easy for a couple of you.) Ready? Here we go …

I’ve never been here before. So two nights ago, I went running to explore this city on foot. I figured it would be easy to find my way around, as the streets are a grid of perpendicular lines traveling for miles in each direction, with north-south streets numbered upwards from Central Avenue. Plus, the city is perfectly flat, without a hill to be found for miles. No rolling hills, no bridges or overpasses – just flat, flat, flat. I mean, if you were sitting down to design the most boring urban layout imaginable, you couldn’t do much better than this town did.

The downtown hotel I’m staying in is fairly plush, but the surroundings are overwhelmingly dreary. During the course of my 10-mile run, here is a partial list of what I encountered: heavily congested streets, construction projects, strip malls, abandoned buildings, trailer parks, liquor stores, pawn shops, vacant lots covered with piles of trash and broken glass, scores of homeless people, and one (suspected – I’m pretty certain) prostitute sighting.

In other words, it was very depressing. It’s not often that I finish a run in a worse mood than when I started, but that’s exactly what happened. The prospect of two more days here was appearing rather bleak.

So I did what any desperate runner (whoops – I mean triathlete. I still do that sometimes) would do: I sat down at the computer and Googled “trail running in (name of city)”. Most of the links directed me here:

It’s pretty much the only hill within the city limits, and the description of the trail sounded enticing. There was only one problem: the trailhead was almost eleven miles from my hotel.

I thought of getting transportation there, but decided against it for two reasons: 1) Riding a cab or bus somewhere in order to go running just seemed antithetical, and, more importantly, 2) I’m very cheap. There wasn’t any question in my mind that if I traveled to the hill, it should be on foot.

As much as I hate business travel, its sole redeeming trait is that it provides me several commitment-free hours per night to slog through long, crazy workouts. I figured that running to the hill would take me at least 80 minutes, and the trip back (slightly longer, from the trailhead on the opposite side of the peak) would be something like 12 miles, mostly in the dark. That would be more than 21 miles of running on pavement, in addition to the time and mileage I spent on the trail.

On the other hand, I’m here in a city where I don’t know anyone, where I’ve got nothing but time to kill. I mean … what else was I going to do? There’s only so many hours a guy can spend working on his blog template.

The next day, I blew off the “networking cocktail reception” after the conference, headed straight to my hotel, and laced up my shoes. With a Gu in my pocket and a Gatorade bottle from the lobby shop, I headed out into the desert evening. (Yes, I’m in the desert. You’ve guessed the city by now, right?).

The first 10 miles to the hill weren’t much better than the previous night’s run. But once I was in the shadow of the “mountain” (that’s what it’s named, although it only stands 2700 feet above sea level. Even Californians laugh at that kind of mountain.) and my feet transitioned to red dirt instead of pavement, a familiar peace came upon me. I was about to go exploring an unknown trail – and at that moment, there wasn’t anything else I would have rather been doing.

The run soon turned into little more than a power hike, as the trail is precipitously steep and rocky, so much that handrails are installed in several places, and forward motion became little more than climbing up rock faces in a crabwalk posture on my hands and feet. The 30-minute climb was worth it, though, as this was the sight that awaited me:

The Valley of the Sun lay before me like a city in miniature, with the downtown high rises reaching up to the setting sun in the distance. It was the first idyllic moment I had found since touching down in the city two days earlier.

I soaked in the scene for several minutes before heading down the back side of Camelback Mountain toward civilization. I’d like to say that while running back to the hotel, I had a new appreciation for the city around me. I’d like to … but I can’t.

The 12-mile return through the darkness - dodging traffic on the flat, colorless streets, breathing exhaust fumes for 30 seconds at every major intersection, with my energy slowly wilting in the desert heat - pretty much sucked. When I finally returned to the hotel, I had been running for more than three hours, but the satisfactory afterglow I usually feel after such an effort was noticeably lacking.

So the run wasn’t exactly one for the ages. But the mountain hike was rewarding. And I guess when I look at the Camelback from my airplane widow tomorrow, that’s probably how I’ll remember it: as a brief respite from an otherwise unremarkable sojourn; the one memorable moment from a pair of workouts I’d rather forget. And if it weren’t for running, I wouldn’t have thought to look for a place like that.

I guess the trip isn’t a total loss. But it’s time for this California boy to get back home.

(Admin note: the last two photos above were taken from this guy's website.)


Backofpack 4/2/07, 8:48 PM  

Wow, you are making me glad I don't travel for business. I can see how you'd run to the mountain - you'd be able to keep it in sight in all that flatness, but I'd be worried about the run back in the dark - I'd probably get lost even though the city is laid out in a grid. Sounds to me like you made the best of it - I didn't even hear you mention hotel-treadmill. I'd have to guess that the sucky run was better than that!

Mike 4/2/07, 9:58 PM  

Donald- I can relate. I ran the R&R marathon there several years ago and was not impressed with the course at all. For some reason a bunch of roadkill on the course that year..not good. Bummer too because I'm sure there are some nice areas to run out there...just not in town based on my sample size of one run!

IM Able 4/3/07, 6:56 AM  

Look at you with your fancy new banner! Love it!

Fancy, fancy.

Deene 4/3/07, 8:49 AM  

did you spot any rattlesnakes or diamond backs on your trek? phil at arizonaphil.blogspot.com runs there daily.

Jeremy 4/3/07, 10:29 AM  

Thanks for your comment on my blog. Rarely are "bike and run" ever used in the same sentence as "speed" when referring to my training!

I hear you on being road weary. Travelling for work can get old fast if you do it all the time!

olga 4/3/07, 1:36 PM  

Well, ok, I am glad I guessed it correct (according to the link it was correct). That climb looks great! I'd be so all over it too!!
The rest of the city sounds boring indeed:)

Annette 4/3/07, 4:43 PM  

I was hoping for a picture of you in a red and white striped shirt in your mystery city - you know, a Where's Waldo kind of thing. ;) I'm glad to get the heads up on where NOT to run. Sounds like a place I'd rather not visit. (You better hope the tourism board doesn't get wind of your review of their city!) :)

Dori 4/3/07, 7:18 PM  

Well, I guess you're not in Sedona. Those "cocktail receptions" are the worst, aren't they. My thought would have been to rent a bike and ride to the mountain, then you would have gotten through the yucky city faster. I hope you're back with your family soon.

Darrell 4/3/07, 11:10 PM  

Don't they have a pretty decent trail/pathway along the river in this particular city. Flat as a pancake sure, but at least that would have gotten you off the congested streets and strip malls. Loving the new banner, BSIM for me in 2008 or 2009, maybe.

Bruce 4/4/07, 3:35 AM  

I know what you mean about business trips. I'll have to take a leaf out of your book next time though and take my running shoes, as you say what else are you going to do? I'm liking your posts, always a good read, keep it up.

momo 4/4/07, 8:46 AM  

WAIT! you were in my city and you didn't let me know so i could play tour guide??? i live in scottsdale and there are some really pretty places - noncongested, no traffic, dirt pathy kind of places to run, you'd have loved it. next time let me know!

Anne 4/4/07, 7:01 PM  

I too have been on business trips saved only by a memorable run. I'm sure you're glad you Googled the area. I'm going to do that next time I'm in a strange city.

And I love the new banner.

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