Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Guest Post: Stewart Dutfield's Q2 Somewhat Running-related Diary

Mohonk: Skytop Tower from Lost City
13 April. When the Albany Running Exchange announced a Half Marathon along the rail trail, they expected a few hundred runners to show up. The downhill course from the foothills of the Helderbergs to the banks of the Hudson River could yield some extremely fast times, but limits were generous enough to accommodate walkers and first-time runners. The makings of both a classic race and a community event attracted more than two thousand to the start line. Busy running a water station, I missed Jean pass through in the crowd on her way to a fast time and third in her age group (she then cycled 20 miles to meet me at Clayton's baseball game). I suspect that the event will accommodate several hundred more next year.

25 April. Back in DC for a baseball game and a visit to the Holocaust Museum, we found ourselves on an impromptu treasure hunt. Clayton had loaded his phone with apps to locate available electric scooters, so Jean and I rented city bikes and walked for miles all over the city with him: to a school where a faculty member had perhaps expected to find his scooter waiting for him at the end of the day, in the garbage-smelling bowels of L'Enfant Plaza, and the parking lot of a housing project west of the Navy Yards. We scooted and pedalled all over the city; I was tempted to set off from Georgetown along the C&O towpath, now the easternmost section of a new transcontinental rail trail.

26 April. Retreating to the hotel from a fierce downpour on the National Mall, I dried off and started "Beyond a Boundary" by C.L.R. James. He suggests that the insecurity of English Puritans amidst social breakdown after the dissolution of the monasteries led to feelings of fear and self-defence. James describes these traits in his own family in Trinidad, but I was struck by the connection to the US which has always struck me as a Puritan country. It is, after all, where Puritans went to escape religious oppression and to do some oppressing of their own instead. Could emotional and political life in the US derive partly from threats to society and the economy in parts of mid-16th century England? Right or not, it struck me as a lovely idea.

Skytop in the murk.
photo: Bill Winter

4 May. Mohonk Preserve grew around a mountain hotel, started by a Quaker family, which from the 1890s hosted several series of conferences. One series led to to today's Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, while others were less influential: in recommending the assimilation of Native Americans, and in failing to invite African Americans to gentlemanly discussions of what they most needed after the failure of Reconstruction. The Rock the Ridge challenge raises a large amount of money for the Preserve, and a generous time limit accommodates people who would not normally attempt to run or hike 50 miles along hilly carriage roads. Despite the cost of entry and sponsorship donations, several hundred entrants make this one of the country's largest races at this distance. My goal on this cool, misty day was to run every step of the course. Puffing my way up cardiac hill, the steepest part of the course, I had a mutually taciturn encounter with blogmeister Jason Friedman on his way back down; by the time I trotted over the finish line I had achieved my goal but Jason was doubtless long departed.

Kaaterskill Falls
photo: Dick Vincent
20 May. Possible outcomes of the Brexit mess once seemed clear, but after this week's collapse of government authority just before the EU elections, all bets are off. Whatever pretty pass the UK comes to will be by way of anxiety over perceived decline, complacency, and nostalgia for a mythical past (I owe these to Linda Colley's 2017 Guardian article). Pragmatic, evidence-based government—on which I and many of my generation hung our post-ideological hats—left some communities unable to adapt as the world changes fast around them. Perhaps we chose policies which neglected some needs, complacent that the "Third Way" was itself enough; in the wake of this failure comes something darker and for which there is yet to be a reckoning (and I hope Billy Bragg is right that there will be).

Unexpected snow in May on the Kaaterskill Rail Trail
31 May. To better understand the nationalism that's once more in vogue, I have been re-reading Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities" (the title of his memoir, "A Life Beyond Boundaries", echoes that of the C.L.R. James book I read last month). Anderson describes several attributes common to the emergence of independent countries in the last century, some of which are present today in both Scotland and Ireland. But surely a breakup of the UK will require the raw power of those imagining a united Ireland or an independent Scotland to overcome that of Unionists, many of whom are themselves merrily exerting raw power to pursue a split from Europe.

5 June. Watching an interview by Stephen Fry, part of his TV series on America, I stumbled across a lucid description of the US as a Puritan country. It also seems that Gore Vidal coined the quip about religious oppression, unattributably quoted on the Internet as "The Puritans left England for America not because they couldn't be Puritans in their mother country, but because they were not allowed to force others to become Puritans; in the New World, of course, they could and did."

9 June. A broad shoulder of Blackhead Mountain in the Catskills is named Arizona, perhaps because those who logged it in the 19th century found no water. Joe and I come here often to maintain the trail, and today we walked on a carpet of tips of Balsam fir an inch or two in length. Wind, perhaps, combined with late ice or snow? Experts at the Department of Environmental Conservation weren't sure what had caused this oddity.

16 June. On a day of repeated ascents, the summit area of Overlook Mountain above Woodstock was enveloped in pink blossoms of mountain laurel. Thinking of mountain laurel as mainly white, I had always called referred to anything pink as "mountain pink". But now I shall need to distinguish pink laurel from the pink azalea (pinxter) that also grows in the mountains.

30 June. Through a secret door into Syon Park with old friends Tom and Hanke: we had not met together for more than 30 years. Having convinced ourselves in the Orangery how to recognise Palladian architecture, we walked through wildflower meadows and together tentatively identified cranesbill—confirmed later in Tom's reference book. 

2 July. For Robert Barclay Allardice, who in 1809 walked a mile in each of a thousand consecutive hours, the Banchory-Stonehaven toll roadthe Slug Roadwas his way to or from home on walks over epic distances in the Highlands. I started beside the site of Captain Barclay's house at Cluny; with much of the road closed for bridge repairs, a few cyclists and I had it largely to ourselves. Descending into Deeside, a sharp right turn joins the line of the much older Cryne Corse. The roads are busier hereabouts than when Barclay walked them two centuries ago, and the Deeside Way follows an indirect route up the valley between Banchory and Aboyne. Instead, my sister Stella drove me from the bottom of the Slug Road to where I could resume running along the course of Queen Victoria's railway line to its terminus in Ballater.

18 July. I sit on the ground just before 4am, licking remains of molten chocolate from my fingers, as the Vermont 100 mile run is about to start on the hottest day of the year. Like the Tevis Cup ride over California's Sierra Nevada, this was for years a horse riding event before people joined in on foot. Horses and runners follow a tortuous loop of dirt roads and trails, passing with many hours still to travel within less than half a mile of the finish. By Camp 10 Bear, to which the course returns 22 miles later, I'm reduced to a walk. Chafing and overheating due to the conditions, I was surprised that my quads had struggled with the rolling terrain. Having seen bacon work miracles in the past, I tried smoked salmon with cream cheese and lots of capers that my crew Joe and Amy had been keeping cool for me. It tasted good, and I continued to plod as far as I could before time ran out. I had bought each us a tee shirt printed with "Camp 10 Bear: a place so nice you'll visit twice", which having made it there only once I don't yet feel qualified to wear. Perhaps, since I seem to handle hot conditions less well with age, next time I'll opt for the 100K run instead. 

Looking west from the Canadian Span
23 August. My wife and I have been exploring the Thousand Islands region by bicycle: without, alas, much interesting our son in joining us. We rode into Canada, along Howe Island between the ferries at either end, and nibbled at the course of the railway that once sped people overnight from Philadelphia and New York City (as I might have travelled, in an imaginary alternative life, between London and weekends in the Cairngorms), whence they could take ferries to breakfast at their island hotels.

1 September. During his visit to research the life of Frances Perkins in the New York State library, Tom and I made pilgrimage to FDR's home at Hyde Park. Here, in the vein of Ballater Station's royal loo, were priceless carpets over which Churchill had doubtless spilled invective and cigar ash. The FDR library proved the main attraction; there was much to learn, not least why the price of admission includes a second day for those who can't absorb it all. I left with the strong impression that the speed with which the New Deal was enacted owed much to what Perkins had already achieved in the New York administration of Al Smith several years earlier.

8 September. Friends in Connecticut celebrated their 60th birthdays with a sixty-mile bicycle ride for their peers. We set off through Collinsville's sunny Sunday streets before climbing away from the Farmington river and splitting into two groups: fast and faster. We passed barns huge enough to be sinister: part of the local tobacco industry that for two centuries has supplied outer leaves for cigars. On two occasions we encountered what one of us called a "Google car" travelling at speed; it wasn't gathering data for online maps, but a self-driving car under test. I wonder what it thought of us. 

6 October. Signs on the Massachusetts Turnpike announce the Quinebaug-Shetucket National Heritage Corridor: a region in which communities and businesses work to preserve the landscape and history of the "last green valley" between Boston and Washington DC. The Nipmuck trail marathon passes through these woods and for a while joins the course of the Old Connecticut Path, which predates European settlement.  When I first took part, this was one of just four trail races in all of New York and New England. I ran them all then, but had not returned to Nipmuck for 30 years. The trail was much drier than I remembered, since the race has moved from spring to fall and several bridges have been constructed. Otherwise, little has changed; everything remains low key, as it was everywhere in those early days, and home-baked pies are still the race prizes.

Fall from Mohonk
13 October. While reading Jonny Muir's excellent The Mountains are Calling on hill running in Scotland, I also encountered Virginia Woolf's essay "Street Haunting" about the delights of walking in London. I was taken back to my 20sfor most young people there are roads not taken, trains missedloving both the city and the mountains but neither committing to one nor finding a way to integrate both. While in Edinburgh I came close, perhaps, but did not live there long enough to take "the road to Swanston"as Muir refers to the calling of the hill runner. I moved on before R.L. Stevenson's Pentlands got under my skin the way that, at different times, the South Downs, Yorkshire Dales and Catskill Mountains have done.