Friday, September 17, 2010
My Kind of Vacation
As I packed for my 10-day vacation a couple of weeks ago, I went through my checklist: bike shorts and shoes, gloves, water bottles, helmet.
I neatly folded and stacked everything I’d need for my cycling adventure in Napa and Lake Tahoe into my suitcase.
Eyeing a little extra room in my bag, I grabbed my sneakers and my running clothes. “I’m gonna bring some running stuff,” I told my TC. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” he replied.
Our vacation was planned around the Tour de Tahoe, a 72-mile organized bike ride around Lake Tahoe. But I secretly hoped to squeeze in a few running miles, too.
I’ve done plenty of exploring while running and riding, but if you’re like me, you probably tend to stick to routes you know. I know my go-to running routes by heart – the 3-miler, the 6-miler and the ambitious double-digit ones around my neighborhood.
Somehow this year, I’ve found myself evolving into a duathlete. Riding my bike started as a way to cross-train and prevent running injuries. But it’s become yet another athletic pastime that I enjoy.
Cycling is also a way to expand my comfort zone a little further. After all, a three-mile bike ride wouldn’t get me very far. Thanks to my pedal-power, I’ve been able to explore many nearby towns on two wheels.
That’s why the idea of creating a vacation around riding (with a bit of running) was particularly interesting.
My running adventures have taken me to Portland (Maine), Cape Cod, Lake Placid (N.Y.) and even Orlando to participate in half-marathons. Each time, I get a thrill out of exploring a new place on foot – even if it is a designated race route.
There’s just something about seeing something for the first time that makes the miles pass quickly. And, taking the time to step out of a car – to actually smell the air and hear the sounds – is particularly appealing.
After the series of hoops I had to jump through to get my bike to California – having a bike shop box it up, shipping it on the plane, reassembling it in a hotel room – I was set to explore. (I’ll note my running gear, which was tucked safely in my luggage on the bags-fly-free airline was much easier, and less expensive, to travel with.)
The first bit of exploring I did, however, wasn’t by bike at all. I woke up early the next morning, thanks to the fact that my body’s clock was still clearly in the Eastern time zone, and I was itching to get outside. TC sat at his laptop planning a cycling route. I, on the other hand, opted for my running shoes.
We headed off in the same direction, north along Route 29, the main highway that runs through the Napa Valley. Soon, he was out of sight and pedaling hard up a mountain. I stayed on the flat road, turning off the busier highway in favor of a quieter local road that was lined with vineyards on each side.
I took the time to breathe deeply, taking in the new scents of my new surroundings. I saw birds I’d never seen, towering mountains in the distance and, a bit to my dismay, heard a nagging rustling in the tall grass along the road. (I never looked to see whether it was a snake or a lizard or a rodent – none of which I wanted to see.)
My route took me by workers tending to vineyards and past houses (estates, really) with architecture and landscaping that we just don’t see at home. I wish I had my camera with me, but since I prefer to run light, I’d left it back in the hotel room. I’d have to settle for the pictures in my mind.
Before I knew it, I’d gone almost five miles. The out-and-back plan, since it was the safest in unfamiliar territory, would mean I’d put in 10 miles.
It’s been a while since I’ve run double-digit miles (not a good thing when I have a half-marathon on my calendar in less than a month, by the way). But at that moment, I didn’t feel any sense of fatigue or aches. In fact, I wished that I could keep going and exploring.
Luckily, my practical side – the one that knew I would pay the price for trying to crank out 14 or 16 miles – prevailed, and I turned around at the five-mile mark. My enthusiasm for the new place would have let me run forever. At least it felt that way.
I repeated the same routine the next morning with a slightly shorter route on some new roads. I followed the run with an after-breakfast bike ride of 35 or so miles.
My bike enabled me to get off the main road and see a part of the country that most tourists don’t get to experience.
A lot of people think vacation should be simply a time for rest – maybe sitting on a beach somewhere with someone bringing you colorful drinks decorated with tiny umbrellas. To me, vacation is about spending your time the way you want to.
In those moments when I was running or riding along the vineyards of Napa or the mountains of Tahoe - more than 200 in all - there’s nothing I would have rather been doing.
These runs and bike rides weren’t just training miles. They were a very important part of my vacation memories - great, great vacation memories.