Once a year we all reach that date where we mark that we have been graced with yet another year on this earth. I am generally not a big celebrator of holidays or birthdays. I like low key things not big celebrations or doing something fancy. This year I had no real plans as to how I was going to spend my birthday. The only thing I knew was that the day after I was going to run a race with my friends. However, for the actual day of my birthday I really had nothing special planned. I basically just wanted to relax and enjoy the day with the simple parts of life.
I had thought that my wife and I could spend part of the day walking our dogs. So we took our foster pup, Comet for a walk. When we got back home however, he decided he was not going to be coming back in the house until he was good and ready. Eventually I was able to coax him back into the house with some sliced ham. He knows how to get what he wants. But the delay it took to get him back in the house made it harder to have time to walk the other dogs and do anything else in the day.
I had thought that I would like to go hike at one of my favorite state parks, Watkins Glen State Park, but when I visited the website it stated that the gorge trail was still closed due to snowy and icy conditions and that was what I really wanted to do. So I was not sure what I was going to do for the rest of my birthday. Luckily I have an amazing wife who knows me really well and knows that I love nature and I love buying plants to spruce up our yard to attract wildlife and other critters to our yard, so she suggested we head out to one of our favorite gardening places, Horning’s Greenhouse & Garden Centers. She also suggested that we could stop and get something to eat at another place I really enjoy Seneca Farms in Penn Yan. We toured around Horning’s checking out their already impressive for so early in the season selection of plants. When you love nature and you are also a photographer you do things like pick out plants specifically for their potential use in photography. I wanted plants that were already in bloom so that I had some photography subjects to work with on some potential photography projects I had been thinking about. I also picked out plants with blooms that looked particularly interesting to me. I picked out some that were new to me and some that were plants I was not familiar with. Then once we were done picking plants/photography subjects we went and ate.
I thought that since we were already up that way we could stop by a state park I enjoy that I thought would be a nice place for some photography. So we ventured on over to Seneca Lake State Park in Geneva, NY. This park is nice because it has a nice long path along the northern border of Seneca Lake perfect for a walk or a run. We strolled along the path and I watched the birds, hoping that some of them would get close enough for some decent photography. The birds did not cooperate. My wife petted dogs. We took some photographs of the scenery. I even modeled a little in some photos for my wife, not something I normally volunteer to do but it was just such a nice day I figured why not.
After we were done at Seneca Lake State Park I realized it was just a short drive further to one of the best birding spots in our area, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, where eagles and osprey nest and you can see many different species of migratory birds this time of year. This was an unusual visit for me because normally when I go to Montezuma I am driving, which means I am driving a car, looking for birds, and balancing camera equipment all at once. This time my wife was driving and I actually sat behind her on the driver side, because most of the viewing opportunities would be on the driver side not the passenger side. It was a really nice change. It was like having my own private guided tour through the refuge with a chauffeur. We saw lots of different birds, most of which were too far away for good photographs. The lighting was also pretty terrible for photographs, but it was still a very enjoyable time watching the birds and enjoying nature. We did get to see one eagle perched in a tree and then take off. Seeing eagles is pretty much the highlight for my on any bird watching trip, so I was happy.
My birthday was a very enjoyable and fun day and I owe it all to my wife who knew I was getting disappointed when I thought we wouldn’t be able to walk all our dogs like I had wanted and still have time to do something else and then found out the trails I wanted to hike were closed. She suggested making a trip I hadn’t thought of and she was willing to roll with all my other ideas for things to do. She is always supportive of my adventures and ideas even when it is not my birthday. I could not have thought of a better way to spend my birthday this year then out exploring and enjoying nature with her.
Today I got in the run that I really needed. I love running and I really do enjoy it most of the time, but sometimes when I am training for a race the monotony just bums me out. This is especially the case here in upstate, NY during the winter when the weather can really limit the running options.
Today my training plan called for seven miles which is fine. That usually means that I will be running the seven mile loop I have worked out in my neighborhood and run countless times. Also, today it snowed all day long. So that means running the same old route, which most days I like, but is just boring upon continuous repetition on the snowy slushy roads trying to keep my footing and also being extra wary of cars driving in the snow. Not really the recipe for a fun and enjoyable run. I realize that every run won’t be fun and enjoyable, but I really felt like I needed on today.
I started to think about running somewhere on the trails. I thought it would be run to run through the fresh snow before it gets packed down and becomes too slick to really run on at all. It was the perfect amount of snowfall to run in just a few inches. It would add a little extra challenge but still be manageable. I started to think of places I could go where no one else would have gone yet and I thought Steege Hill Nature Preserve would be the perfect place.
I was a little nervous going into this run. I haven’t had much experience running on trails in the winter in the snow. I also hadn’t had much experience running on trails at night which it likely would be by the time I was done. I had all the proper gear including ahead lamp for when it got dark. I knew I could handle it and get it done. But it was that nervous excitement of doing something a little bit new and different.
And that is exactly what I needed to do. I needed to remember what it is that made me fall in love with running. It’s the challenge and the adventure that I love, especially as it applies to trail running. I like to be out there doing something new and connecting with nature. I like to challenge myself and do things that I enjoy just because I enjoy them, it’s not all about the training plan. Doing something a little bit different that isn’t exactly what the training plan called for is not just ok sometimes it is necessary. It is not going to ruin my training and it might just save it by keeping me from burning out. I have a long way to go with this training so I will feel free to mix it up from time to time and go off plan to get a little extra joy and you should too.
I love this series of photos of this American Staffordshire Terrier moving through the weave poles during agility competition at the Wine Country Circuit Dog Shows at Sampson State Park in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate, New York.
I was recently in the Ithaca area getting some trail running in. Post run I went to Buttermilk falls to relax and do some writing. Then I decided what better way to cap off the days trip than to hike down into the gorge and photograph one of my favorite natural places. My knees did not enjoy this post run decision, but I took my time and enjoyed myself and captured some nice images. Enjoy.
I have been writing a lot about my trail running experiences. I hope you aren’t getting sick of it because it seems to be a growing trend, especially as I explore new trails. I’ve written about how trail running has allowed me to and encouraged me to explore so much more of the natural world that I love so much. Today was no different.
Without running, but hiking instead the amount of distance one can cover on a trail in a reasonable amount of time is limited. If I was going to go for a hike would I choose to drive an hour to hike a few miles on some random trails in the woods or would I go to a well known state park where I knew that at least in those few miles I will be able to enjoy nice scenic views. I think I would probably choose a park. Nothing against state parks, I love them and go there frequently but that’s the point. I don’t see something new by doing that. There is less exploration.
Thanks to running I can cover 8 miles in a couple hours. So that is 8 miles of state forest land I can explore and discover for myself for the first time. Being able to explore that much nature in a relatively short amount of time is worth it to me even if there aren’t any majestic views. That all lead me to choose to go explore the Finger Lakes Trail through Danby State Forest.
I am not going to try to oversell Danby State Forest. I really enjoyed my time there, but I am sure it’s not for everyone. It is beautiful without being scenic, if that makes any sense. There are no grand waterfalls, or even small waterfalls that I saw along the FLT. There are no lookouts with wide open scenic vistas. You are in a forest just about all the time. There are trees of all sorts. There are roots. There are streams. There are flowers. And there are countless little spotted newts that I did not stop to take photos of but had I been out on a hike I surely would have. Being in Danby State Forest means enjoying the simple little things about nature. I didn’t even see any people until I had gone about 12 miles of my 16 mile run.
The run itself was very fun and interesting. I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t look at the map other than to confirm I could get a total of 16 miles in and stay in Danby State Forest. I didn’t look at contour lines or anything like that. Maybe I should have, but I am glad I did not. If I had maybe I would not have done it. My first thought when I began running on the trail was “oh nice this is rather runnable, not very rocky, no big climbs looming.” Then I started to go down and down and down. This was in the moment fine by me because I love downhill running and the trails were very runnable and I really enjoyed it. But it was one downhill after another without much climbing back up in between. I was loving all the runnable downhills but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “This is going to be a lot of climbing on the way back.” And it was. The first climb I came to I felt like it wasn’t so bad, but then climb after climb just wore me down. By the end I felt like I was barely able to move. I ended up with over 3,000 ft of vertical gain which wasn’t shocking but I was really thinking it would be more in the 2,000 ft range. I really loved the first half of the run with all the open downhill running. I just need someone to pick me up after eight so I don’t have to go back up next time.
I am looking forward to continuing to explore the Finger Lakes Trail, but as I explore it more and more I will need to drive farther and farther from home to reach new trail sections so that might make further exploration a continually growing challenge, but I will find ways to get out there and keep exploring. Maybe at Twisted Branch 100k next year.