It's not what you look at that matters, it's what
you see. - Henry David Thoreau
It's been raining in Palo Alto for the last ten days; and I am not exaggerating. Most days I ducked out for a quick three or four mile run during a brief lull, and I actually took two days off, but I finally got fed up. Not only was I not sticking to my running schedule – which makes me not like myself very much - but I also had cabin fever because I am currently staying with my son for a few weeks. His condo is nice, but it is just a one bedroom, and I just needed to get out, rain or no rain.
So, today, I bundled up – it was 45 degrees, put on a weather resistant hooded parka – because I had nothing waterproof - a stocking cap, and gloves. I put a $20 bill and my I.D. in a Joey Pouch around my waist, and I was out the door.
It was ugly. I mean ugly, very overcast, drizzling, and cold. I ran up Page Mill to Junipero Serra, the street that forms the back border of the Stanford campus. I took a circuitous route to add some mileage, and after only a mile or so I was loving being outside, even in the rain. Sometimes I even forgot it was raining until I tipped my head and rain water flowed off the top of my hood.
As I approached the campus the Dish Trail came into view on the left, and I was tempted to tackle that again, but instead decided to hang a right onto a lovely little trail that runs along Stanford Avenue, next to a stream. With all the rain, the stream was rushing along, almost spilling onto the trail.
At one point I came upon three orange caution cones stretched across the path. I stopped, wondering what lay ahead. A runner passed me, and ran around the cones. I thought about turning around, but then another runner went by, also ignoring the cones.
I figured they were probably locals, students, and they would know whether it was safe to go on, so I followed their lead. I never did see any reason for the cones.
When I got to the Stanford campus, I took a left and ran towards the center of campus, taking any path that looked inviting. And there were many. Ugly as it had been when I embarked on this little adventure, by the time I reached the campus, it was looking much better. Not really, but by then, although I was looking through the same eyes, at the same weather, my brain, thoroughly affected by endorphins, only perceived beauty in the same scene.
At one point a magnificent rainbow appeared. Spectacular. I like the people here. Lots of people were stopping to look at it, and that pleased me. Such things should be appreciated, and these people, hurrying along under umbrellas, stopped to look and comment.
Six miles into my run, I dropped in at the bookstore to warm up, enjoyed an excellent latte and even indulged in a tiramisu. Yum!
It was an impressive bookstore: two stories with the center area spanning the full height. The coffeeshop was on the second floor, looking down over the center area.
It took me several minutes to squirm out of all those layers – many more than I really needed, which I had realized when I left. But I know me. You see, I find that if I make myself comfy when I leave to run in cold weather, I'm more likely to get out in it. And if I have to peel off some layers and wear them hanging from my waist or around my neck, that's still better than being cold for the first mile or so until I warm up.
Alas, I am a baby, a Florida born wimp when it comes to cold weather. If it's colder than 60, my instinct is to stay inside.
I blame this on my mother. Sorry, Mom. Her magic number was 62 degrees when I was a kid. I remember one day when I wanted to go out to play tetherball, and she said I couldn't go out until the temperature got up to 62 degrees. I remember watching that thermometer all day. I don't know why that was the magic number.
My parents believed that the 'night air' was bad, too, and that we were likely to get sick if we got cold and wet. I don't know what made them think that, but I think that was the prevailing belief in their time. Even I knew it didn't make sense. How much did they miss, and how much did we children miss, because of those commonly illogical beliefs?
Anyway, I relaxed there for a while, appreciating the fact that I am at a time in my life when I could just sit there for a while if I wanted. I pulled out my iPhone and took my turn in the five ongoing Words With Friends games I was playing with Scubajo, KThomas, LilBrit, Tattles, and my husband, Davyvee. Words With Friends is really Scrabble, but I guess the people that made that app couldn't legally use the Scrabble name.
By this time I'd finished my latte, I was itching to get outside to explore some more. In my mind I kept thinking I was 'sploring.' Yes, that's what I said, "sploring," not exploring.
Sounds silly, I know, but when my son was about 12, he was on a swim team, and on the weekends we often found ourselves out of town for swim meets and staying at a motel. Ben and his best friend would always spend the first hour after our arrival 'sploring' the hotel. That word stuck, and it seemed a perfect description for that afternoon's adventure.
Anyway, I set out across the Stanford Quad; it was raining harder now, and I was really cold for a bit, until I had run a half a mile or so. I was just dazzled by the Craftsman architecture all around me. Lots of students whizzed by on bikes, some wearing shorts and t-shirts; I guess they get used to the cold, or maybe they grew up in colder climates.
It was dusk by then, and everything had a wet, intense, surreal look. Puddles everywhere reflected everything, amplifying every view as I logged the last couple of miles.
I stopped along the trail, in the rain, to take some time exposed photos, carefully holding one hand over the camera to try to keep it dry.
Then I hunted for the path that my GPS map had shown would deposit me at the intersection of University Drive and El Camino Real. There I took a picturesque little tunnel under the street to the downtown area and made my way to a nearby Starbucks.
I had looked forward to another cup of hot coffee, but, oddly, it was uncomfortably warm inside, so I opted for a table outside in the weather, and called Ben to arrange a pickup on his way home from work. It was 6:30. I settled down, played another round of Words With Friends, and checked my GPS. 9 miles.
Ben pulled up just as I finished my coffee. I reported my 9 miles.
"How was it?" he asked.
"Well, this will sound silly," I said, "but I've never felt more alive."
He smiled. I'm lucky. Both my kids share my love of adventure, exercise, and Mother Nature. He understood.
I will always remember that afternoon. Of running 9 miles in the cold rain around a town that was not my town, on unfamiliar trails.
No matter how long I run – and it's been over 30 years now - it continues to provide me with memorable experiences. Think about it. I was only out there today because I was desperate for a long run. I would not have been so driven to go out for a walk, although, I could have been. No, it was the desire to run that got me out the door. It was the difference between sitting inside all day, allowing the gloomy weather to control me, and running 9 lovely miles, the sensations of each one enhanced by the weather.
No matter how much effort I put into running, it always gives back more.