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Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00

This must be the place

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art theplaceAll I wanted to do was play soccer.

In the summer of 1997, I was 12 years old and ready to enter seventh grade in upstate New York. Until that point, I had attended a small Catholic elementary school. Now, I was finally entering public school, middle school no less, where a whole new world awaited me.

 

And when sports signups came around late in the summer, I had my eyes on the modified soccer team. But, that all changed — everything changed. My father had already signed me up for the cross-country team. A hardcore runner in his own right, my father has run thousands of races, including two dozen Boston Marathon appearances and innumerable other 26.2-mile jaunts. To this day, at age 71, he still jogs around six miles each morning.

With that said, I’d only run a handful of races, most being the local “Turkey Trot” each Thanksgiving alongside other members of my family. Before I could even protest about my desire to play soccer instead, my father handed me a brand new pair of running shoes and told me to put them on.

“There’s a summer fun run tonight at the high school,” he said. “Put on your shoes and we’ll head over.”

I begrudgingly got into the minivan and headed for the school. At the starting line, I had no clue about what to do, whether it be pace, timing or even how difficult the course could be. All I knew was to just run, and run as fast as possible. Before I realized it, I crossed the finish line victorious — first place for the modified course. The school’s cross-country coach, a family friend, immediately came over and asked if I was interested in joining the team. The whole experience was a blur and now I was a member of the NCCS Cougar cross-country team.

As middle school turned into high school, my running became more prominent. I won races, set school records and ended up meeting my eventual high school sweetheart at a weekend track and field invitational. But, throughout it all, what mattered most to me was my evolving passion for running. 

When I wasn’t at the starting line or on the bus to and from a race, I was out on the back roads of my rural town. Some days I’d be jogging into the sunset, others I’d be completely alone, heading down old dirt farm roads into endless cornfields. In winter, I’d bundle up and run under a silent moon, my feet crunching across fresh snow as a stiff northern wind greeted me. Those moments of solitude and tranquility truly brought about a sense of peace in my haphazard teenage years.

Running competitively in college, I began to grow weary of the sport. I was tired of practicing, taking things so seriously and always trying to outrun a ticking clock. All I wanted to do was hit the trail or back roads, by myself. So, after three years, I walked away from the team before what I loved became anymore of a chore.

Since then, I still seek out those moments of serenity quickly found once my shoes are laced up. I yearn to run and wander, soaking in the essence of my surroundings. In a rapidly changing world, running remains an outlet to slow down, listen and absorb the beauty of nature, humanity and your inner thoughts. When life gets a little too hectic, I throw on the shoes and peel away the layers of the day with each passing mile.

In my time here, I’ve been meandering the streets and back roads of Haywood County. Between the hills and winding stretches of pavement, the possibilities are endless. My go-to route these days has become a three or so mile trek starting from my apartment in downtown Waynesville. The route takes me out of town and into the open fields along Sunnyside Road, ultimately wrapping around to Raccoon Road, onward to Ratcliff Cove Road and back up U.S. 23 into Waynesville.

What I love about the route is how I can escape downtown after only a mile. I tend to take to it around sunset, where everything out there in the fields and farmland is quiet. All I can hear is my breathing, and the occasional cattle moan in the distance. As I come around to Ratcliff Cove Road, my vision aims towards to immaculate Appalachian sunset to the west. It’s when I feel the most alive, in a place that always lends itself to such moments.

Some of my favorite WNC routes:

• Big Creek (Haywood County)

• Lake Junaluska loop 

• Sunnyside Road to Ratcliff Cove Road (Waynesville)

• Tsali Recreation Area (Graham County)

• Western Carolina University Multi-Use Trail (Cullowhee)

 

Hot picks

1: Southern rockabilly/bluegrass group Humps & The Blackouts hit the stage Nov. 1 at the Water’n Hole Bar and Grill in Waynesville.

2: Friday in the Gardens featuring live music, food and drink will be on Nov. 1 in Sylva.

3: Porch 40 plays No Name Sports Pub in Sylva on Oct. 31.

4: Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Charles McNair will discuss his latest work on Oct. 26 at City Light Bookstore in Sylva.

5: The Packway Handle Band performs on Oct. 25 at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City. 

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