There’s something exhilarating about setting out to run to a specific destination rather than just “going for a run.”
It takes the focus off the workout and turns it into an adventure.
As kids, one of our favorite bike destinations was Ouabache State Park. On Friday, Traci and I decided that rather than meeting at the park to run our favorite trail, we’d run there from our parents’ house instead.
The trail itself is around 5.5 miles. The distance to the park — if we sneak in the back way — is about 2.75 miles. So we’d get in at least 8 and possibly more than 11 miles, depending on whether we ran all the way back or had someone pick us up afterward.
It was 29 degrees when we started out Friday morning, but there wasn’t much wind. We heated up in a hurry, shedding our gloves before we even got to the bridge crossing over the Wabash into Vera Cruz, a tiny town that’s even smaller since several houses were removed from the flood plain a few years ago.
At the intersection we veered left out of town, running past cows and the house where Rowan’s old 4H dog club leaders raise a bunch of schnauzers. This road cut right through the park when I was a kid, but now it’s a dead end — for cars, anyway. We cut behind the gate and onto a rough grass trail coated with ice crystals.
“Do you suppose this is an animal trail or one the DNR uses?” Traci asks.
It’s hard to know, but it serves our purpose, delivering us to the service road. We don’t feel bad about sneaking in because the DNR doesn’t charge admission this time of year. Besides, Traci has a park pass, though she didn’t bring it with her.
Soon we’re at the trail and off the pavement. It’s always great to head out onto the trail, to let your feet shift from automation to exploration. But it’s even better this time because lately we’d been running two laps around the trail to get our desired workout. Thanks to the built-in mileage from running here instead of driving, we’ll only need to go once — which means that instead of focusing on how far we’ve got to go, we can just enjoy the scenery.
The trail looks different every time we run it: a fresh coat of yellow leaves, a tree that’s fallen across the path, occasional flooding. Today we especially notice the sun glinting on the ice, the proliferation of osage oranges, and frantic hoof prints of deer trying to escape a recent “harvest hunt.”
By the time we get toward the end of the trail, the ice is gone and instead of crunching along we’re sploshing. At one point I skid in the mud and take a tumble. But it doesn’t hurt, thanks to extra layers of clothing and extra layers of mud and leaves on the ground. We laugh it off. It seems like one of us trips over a tree root nearly every time we run here. It’s usually not that a big deal.
While I get to my feet Traci checks our mileage on her phone app and discovers we’ve already covered more than 7 miles with another couple of sections of the trail left to go. We still feel pretty good, but we can hear the wind picking up outside the woods. We decide to call Mom to meet us in Vera Cruz.
By the time we leave the service road for the unmarked trail that will take us out of the park, we’re splashing through puddles. As we come out of the trees, the wind hits us full in the face. I pull my scarf up around my face and put my gloves back on.
We pass the schnauzers and the cows, and up ahead we see the van. Grandma Linda and Colleen have driven toward the park to see how we’re coming along. We’re content to wrap up our run and escape the wind, though it turns out we’ve gone 9.7 miles — a decent run.