I’m a morning person. My favorite days start when the sun forces me awake. Quickly it’s curls in a ponytail, contact lenses instead of glasses. Throw on various layers of neon clothing depending on the season, digital watch, Brooks running shoes. Leave the house thinking of the coffee I’ll make when I get back.
The town where I grew up is the kind of place where everyone says hello, waves, or smiles as you pass by. It’s a town where cars stop to let pedestrians through and drivers don’t wait long before being waved into a lane. There’s a sense of community that I don’t realize I’ve missed until I come home.
My run this morning was a warmup loop in my parents’ neighborhood and then down the road about a half-mile to to the village section of town. I flew through the downhill on the way out; it hurt going the other way to get home.
Once in the village, I turned right to follow the Erie Canal just under two miles up to the closest lock. There’s a hotel at the corner; it used to be an old train depot but I’m not sure if I remember that. I could see a group of men of all ages at breakfast. I wondered who they were and where they came from.
It was already hot when I got to the canal and I knew fewer people than usual would be out on foot. There were more bikes and boats instead. The sun dazzled off the water and I squinted, shading my eyes towards the ground to avoid stepping in duck droppings.
Boats, docks, and buoys acted as landmarks. I used to work as a deckhand on Erie Canal and Genesee River tour boats, teaching passengers from around the world about the importance of waterways to the Genesee Valley’s industrial development. I heard the tour narrative running through my head: “If you look to starboard, or the right side of the boat, you will see my favorite spot on our tour. . . . ”
I gave a family of geese a wide berth. I’ve hated geese ever since a gaggle of them chased me while I was pushing my little brother along in his stroller. That was probably about 17 years ago.
I’ve never run with music, preferring my thoughts and the sounds around me. Running by the canal on a sticky morning like today had the added benefit of rowers who were out even earlier than I was. I’ve always loved watching their sculls glide, listening to the oars slice into the water and pull backwards.
Keeping the rhythm of the oars in my head, I slowed to keep my breathing stable as the elevation rose. The trees grew thicker for a moment, offering a respite from the heat that made the hill almost pleasant. “It’s a lot more fun on the way down!” someone had called to me once. I laughed at the memory.
When I reached the lock and prepared to turn around, there was a splash in the water to my left. The carp were biting. It’s catch-and-release here and we claim that the fish swim around the hooks all day until there’s an audience. Some days, I’m sure that’s the case, and I’ve spent enough time down here to know.
I turned and immediately looked down to avoid the glare of the sun. My watch told me I was running too fast and my lungs agreed.
I passed a woman with two large Golden Retrievers; we’ve seen each other before. It has become a joke between us that one of the dogs behaves until I show up, watches me until I pass, and only then nonchalantly picks up the walk again.
“Good morning, two bikes on your left,” came the warning. I managed to raise my hand and nod. The biker added, “Beautiful morning for a run.” I felt a smile crack through parched lips.