Sunday, June 28, 2020

Running in Ohio: short run and hike in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

We mapped our cross-country road trip with two criteria: visit new states and new National Parks, ideally one a day. Of course, that's way too rushed to really appreciate the different people and landscapes across the US, yet, well enough in a time of a major pandemic. What have we seen in terms of safety measures after driving through parts of DC, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin in 3 days? I'd say, mostly an acknowledgement that mask is required, but that's it's an awful constraints. Most employees in service areas and restaurants wear a mask, but not all, and few pay attention of what people touch or pass to them, like items at a cash register. As for the patrons, it's a tale of two countries, like on social media. For instance, at gas stations, some would wear a mask when getting to the service area, but not when they exit, go figure! And I could fill a long post with so many anecdotes, would be so chilling. Overall, we often look like pariahs when we go out of our way to maintain #PhysicalDistance or stop when someone is going to cut us off. We are clearly on the right track to remain the worst country in the world with regard to containing this pandemic!

Back to the subject, after the National Mall and Memorial Parks administered by the National Park Service, our second park was the Cuyahoga Valley one. This is an urban one stretching between Cleveland and Akron, within the Ohio & Erie canal way and along the Cuyahoga River. And, with a canal typically goes a towpath with gradual slope, perfect for running. In April, I had offered Mark Godale a guided tour of Silicon Valley during his 5,000-mile loop of the West of the US from Cleveland. I pinged him as we were on our way to Richfield, OH, and he offered to return the favor for the 2 hours we could spend in the park. Mark is a star in our ultra running sport, having run several world championships with Team USA in the 90s and 2000s. I first met him at my first Western States in 2007, then the next two in 2009 and 2010, plus a few other races.

Our rendezvous was set for 10 am this Saturday, at Lock 29 that is in the small village of Peninsula. We drove there with Agnès at 9 am only to find the parking lot full, and several dozens of runners! And, no, it wasn't a race, just several groups of runners of all ages gathering to train together. I have to say that it has been a long time since I've seen so many runners at once. Needless to say, all looking super fit but not exercising any physical distance whatsoever.

I had just enough time for a 10K, or 3 miles each way. I decided to go South first, toward Akron, that is against the river flow and slightly uphill. With my ongoing lung warm-up issue, the first mile was slow at 7:30 but I was able to pick up the pace nicely and especially on the way back, getting below 6:30. I also stopped my watch several times to take pictures.

As I was passing a few runners, I actually didn't notice when my GPS buzzed at 3 miles and went 3.5 mile out instead, oops! With that, I was a few minutes late for our appointment and found Agnès and Mark waiting for me at the parking lot.
We promptly left for our first stop at the Oak Hill parking lot, near the Environmental Education Center. That was a flat easy hike to see a the Pine Lane on the Buckeye Trail, famous area for its local cross-country races.

We drove back to and through Peninsula to go on the other side of the valley, to the Octagon. This hike was more arduous for Mark's injured knees, we are super grateful to him for showing us this other gem of this park, the super cool (as in low temperature!) Ice Box Cave and Richie Ledges. I have to say that the experience of this chilly mist can't be rendered in pictures, you have to visit yourself to fill it (the closest to describe it would be to walk in a fridge or, more easily, spray your face and arms with a thermal water aerosol). We explored a maze of narrow paths between huge blocks of rocks.

Frugal tree leaving off a rock!
 The Ice Box Cave, closed to protect resident bats.
 The rocky maze...


 Carvings in the rock maze.

 With that, we didn't have time to see one of the famous falls, a bit of a bummer as it had rain heavily in the night, but the price to pay for being so rushed. Still a wonderful experience to get a feel of this area, and how green it is in particular. So different from our yellow hills in California!

In the afternoon, I found out on Facebook that Emily Collins spotted me on the towpath but I was gone before she realized. And I was myself too absorbed in my pace to see her. This is so crazy, what were the odds, we are living in such a connected world! (No wonder the pandemic has it easy...). I also met Emily at several Nationals, that creates some links and connections! :-) (Emily also ran on Team USA, and you can read her short bio here.)

Here is a 3D flyover of my 7-mile run in which you can see a couple of locks and how green and dense the forest is!

Overall, a super nice discovery of one of the most visited National Parks in the country (there is actually no entrance, so it's not listed in these official rankings, but according to Mark and it makes sense in this urban setting). And already time to move to the next one, Indiana Dunes National Park this Sunday!

PS: Short of hugging friends and running buddies, we can still hug trees! :-)

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