Winter is just about to start, I know. I had big plans for 2004. In a few months, I move into a new age group – yes, it is a 10-year age group graduation. This past year has not been a great one for me. It has not been a bad one either. About a month ago, I developed pain in the left knee. The first time that has ever happened. After an MRI, it looks like there may be a meniscus tear. However, the doc wants to wait a couple of months longer to be certain.
You may think that being injured would cause me to be depressed. A year or so ago I would have agreed with you. However, things change as I continue on my journey. This journey called life. Moreover, I appreciate each step, no matter how fast or how slow.
The other night as I looked up at a moon that was almost full, I thought back on runs I've done and I dreamed of runs yet to come. One route in particular came to mind. I remember the first time I ran along the Palisades and under the George Washington Bridge. I was alone and exploring new routes shortly after moving from NYC to New Jersey. I no longer remember much of that run. I also remember the last time I ran along the Palisades. It was the Saturday before the NYCM a few years ago and I was running with Jane Colman. We ran, talked and took in the view. I remember that run well; it was one of the most enjoyable runs along the Palisades. In between there were dozens of runs, many with my good friend Ralph Balsamo.
Moreover, there were some extremely painful runs along the Palisades. If you have never run there, it might be hard to understand how one route could be both the most enjoyable place to run as well as a painful and lonely place to run. It just depends on where I was on my journey.
Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud...
The road is closed to cars from November until May. There are usually bikers training there. It's a two-lane blacktop road that hugs the Palisades, cliffs that over look the Hudson River. There is a trail along the river and another trail on the top of the Palisades. The road meanders from the river to the top of the cliffs. It rolls up and down as it makes its way north from just south of the bridge. During the summer, you can see the city on the other side of the river between the trees. In the winter, you catch thermal drafts where the temperature is 20 degrees warmer.
Whenever I run there, I find peace. Sometimes it is a welcome peace and at other times, it has come at a tremendous price.
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
I have so many memories of running along there. I can remember heading north on a cold winter morning. The wind was howling and the temperature surely was not out of the single digits. Nevertheless, once I got moving the sun reflecting off the cliffs and the shelter the Palisades offer warmed me quickly. The usual tightness that accompanies running in a cold wind melted away and my stride relaxed. Almost without warning, a smile would creep across my face.
Even the hills, which seem to just keep coming, became easy. There was one run in particular that I remember. Ralph and I headed out from his building on what was to be a 10 mile run. We were relaxed and moving well. Talking and recounting stories. Both our strides and our words flowed easily. Before we realized it, we had covered 10 miles. We stopped, stretched a bit, turned around and headed back home. We both smiled at the 10 miles that were ahead of us. Time spent running on the Palisades with Ralph was always enjoyable.
Remember what we said and done and felt about each other
Babe have mercy,
Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now ...
Even though I am running fewer miles at a slower pace, my running has not changed much. The feelings are still the same. When Sweet Julie and I head out on a run, there are only two possibilities. Some times, we run in almost total silence. At other times, we will talk. There is no predicting which it will be. But, what is constant are the connection and the comfort.
There are some people you can run with and everything just sort of falls into place. The pace, the course and the distance are mutually decided on, but never spoken about. We just start and everything falls into place. Our strides become synchronized. It is nearly impossible to hear two sets of footfalls. We rarely need to say anything about picking up or slowing down the pace. It just happens. Rarely do we have a difference in course or distance to be run.
There have only been two people that I have been able to run with and feel totally connected to in this way. The first one was Ralph. The second one is Sweet Julie. From that first 10 mile run six years ago, we just fell into stride with each other.
This is my same old coat
These are my same old shoes
It was the same old me
With the same old blues
Then you touched my life
Just by holding my hand...
I have run along the Palisades and relished the solitude. There is a feeling of being very alone along that road. For long stretches, you can only see the cliffs, the trees and the river. It is as if nothing else exists. Just that road and me.
All my runs there are out and back runs. Strangely, I have never felt like I am running away from my starting point there. It always feels like a journey. Many of my runs there start with no clear idea of where or when I will turn around. Just the journey. It is a road that is easy to get lost on. Not lost in the sense of not knowing where you are, but lost as in absorbed. Totally absorbed in the act of running.
Just because of you, just because of you
I got the same old friends
They got the same old scene
I tell them the same old jokes...
I remember running one early spring morning, lost in thought and the run. Suddenly a crow circling overhead calls out to me. Startled, I stop and look up. The crow has landed on a bare tree limb just in front of me. It calls again to me. I start up running. The crow begins circling and following me. As I crest the next hill and the road turns into the cliffs, the crow calls out again to me. I look up and continue. This goes on for a couple of miles, until the crows calls change. It lands again, but this time on a boulder at the side of the road. I stop and look at it, it's staring back at me, flapping its wings. It starts again to call to me. Now I understand.
I stretch for a minute, smile at the crow and turn around to head back. The crow flies up ahead of me, circles high and heads down to the river. I say "Thanks” and "I'll see you again." My pace increases and I begin to fly home by myself.
But, the joke is on you
It happened some how with you
Everyday of my life...
I think it is the total solitude that I can find there that attracts me. There is no other place that I have run that offers the solitude and comfort. Running along the side of a cliff, with the river down below, over rolling hills totally alone, even when I am running with someone, is what I consider a perfect run.
I so look forward to sharing this again with Sweet Julie. That first run along the Palisades with her was like the first time she stole my heart. That feeling of shortness of breath and total joy.
Come out here on the floor
Lets rock some more,
Come out here on the floor
Honey, lets rock some more ...
I look forward to running again. To running with Sweet Julie and to running along the Palisades. This injury is temporary. I know shortly I'll be back on that road. Moving easily over the rolling hills, Sweet Julie at my side, moving stride for stride, soaking in the warmth of the sun and marveling at the views.
I'd like to jump, but I'm afraid I'll fall
I'd holler but the joint's too small
Hey, young man rhythm got a hold on me too
Rockin' Pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu ...
I'm running but my feet's too slow
As you head north and pass under the bridge, the city fades from view and it can be shocking how far from the hustle of the city you actually are. As you head north, even the view of the east bank of the Hudson River changes. The apartment buildings give way to more trees and green, the buildings get further apart and smaller.
Then you get opposite the city of Yonkers and briefly, you can see signs of civilization on the other side of the river. However, that fades quickly enough and once again, you realize you are alone, very much alone.
All the while, the area that bounds the road remains woods. Very quickly all signs of civilization disappear.
Doctor said, Neil you're living too fast ...
What I would give to be able to run there everyday. What I would give to be able to just run every day. To not have to work, to be able just to run. To test my faith daily and to learn what my body has to say. Slow down and run fast.
I drew a map of Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet...
If I could do that, I would only need one other thing. Sweet Julie at my side and life would be perfect.
I remember that time you told me, you said,
"Love is touching souls"
Well surely, you touched mine
'Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine ...
The road can be challenging. Push your pace as you move north and the hills will make you work increasingly hard. If you ease into your run. Take the first couple of miles at a comfortable pace and then increase your pace, you will learn what the Palisades truly have to offer. Just short of 2.5 miles, there is a monster hill. It has reduced me to tears on occasion.
But, as you crest it there's a good downhill section. An opportunity to stretch out my stride and build up speed. At the bottom of that hill is at river level. From there the road climbs steadily, but certainly, until it reaches the top of the cliffs. It rolls as you gain elevation. So, you aren't certain that you are continually climbing. Eventually your legs will realize and the message will be loud and clear.
Don't the moon look good, mamma shine through the trees
Don't the freight man look good now, mamma working down the double E
And don't the sun look good when it sets down in the sea ...
Just as I begin to fade, loose concentration I am greeted by a downhill and a view of the river. The road will wrap around an outcropping of the cliffs and I will come upon a clearing in the trees that reveals a magnificent view of the river. Then there is a downhill to help me regain some energy.
Or, just as the next hill seems to be more than I can handle, a waterfall appears. After a rain, it can be a torrential rush of water cascading down from the top of the Palisades. A hidden, unknown, treasure of nature. A mere 5 miles from NYC. A smile will always spread across my face, the cool air will refresh me and I am ready for the next section.
Don't say I never warned you when your train gets lost ...
There is always a price to be paid for things that are to be treasured. This road exacts a price, do not cross the river looking for an idyllic and easy run. Idyllic it may be, easy never.
If you smile at me I will understand
Because that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language
I can see by your coat my friend you are from the other side
Just one thing I've got to know can you tell me please who won? ...
And the road always wins. Even on my best runs here, I have only come away with a tentative peace. I have always left a part of myself behind. And it’s a toll I'll gladly pay, over and over again.
Wooden ships on the water very free ...
One winter morning, Ralph and I head out on the road. It had snowed over night, but it was now raining. The snow was melting quickly and the rain was coming down hard. There was no way to avoid the puddles. We slogged our way through the slush. Usually, this is my least favorite weather. The water is as cold as it can be without freezing and everything was wet.
However, the Palisades worked their magic. The cliffs cast their spell over me. Our pace quickened and all thoughts of shortening the run were abandoned. We were working hard, but the conversation flowed as freely as the rain fell. About 5 miles out we hit the first thermal. A warm updraft of air that lasted for about 50 yards. The temperature was a good 25 degrees warmer. As quickly as we came upon it, we moved out of its warmth. The first time I experienced this phenomenon with Ralph we looked at each other with disbelief on our face. "Did you feel that?" "What was that?" A grin quickly crossed our faces. I felt blessed.
It's been a long time coming
It's going to be a long time gone
And it appears to be a love poem
Appears to be a love poem ...
This winter I want to stop in the middle of one of those warm up drafts with Sweet Julie, stop in mid-run.
Holding you close undisturbed before the fire
The pressure in my chest when you breath in my ear
We both knew this would happen when you first appeared
My lady of the Island
The brownness of your body in the fire glow
Except the places where the sun refused to go
Our bodies were a perfect fit in after glow ...
A few years ago I held the NJ Palisades Breakfast Run. A few friends met at the Palisades road. We had an enjoyable run, then proceed to my place for bagels and coffee. The year after, Sweet Julie and I hosted the second NJ Palisades Breakfast Run.
You, you who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so, become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye
Teach your children well,
Their father's health, it slowly goes by
And feed them on your dreams ...
We all have our favorite running routes. Places where running is special. Special for different reasons to each of us. This is my special running route. And like everything I love, I have to share it with others. If I keep it to myself I diminish it.
I am on a lonely road
And I am traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling
Looking for something what can it be
Oh, I hate you sun, I hate you summer love
Oh, I love you when I forget about me
I want to be strong, I want to laugh along
I want to belong to the living
Alive, alive, I want to get up and jive ...
At about the three mile mark there's an old cemetery. It is small and off the road, surrounded by a stonewall. If you do not know it is there, you'd never find it. The tombstones date back to the 1700s. There are entire families, multiple generations buried there. When I am blue, when I need to be centered again, this place helps. I have stopped in the middle of runs and just stood there, reading the tombstones and wondering about them. A peacefulness fills me there. Surrounded by the cliffs, the trees and the river those tombstones occupy a peaceful place.
We were rolling, rolling, rock n' rolling ...
After stopping there, the run becomes easier. The big hill that follows is some how easier. The return trip is always too short.
Every picture has it shadows
And it has some source of light
Blindness, blindness and sight
The perils of benefactors
The blessings of parasites ...
To get to the Palisades road, cross the George Washington Bridge on the south walkway. When you get into New Jersey, turn left on the first road (Hudson Terrace) and head south about a half mile. You will go down a steep hill. In the middle of the hill on the left side is a parking area. There us a Hot Dog van always parked there. There are two roads that fork off to the left. Take the left most road (the other has a sign for the Edgewater Colony). The road curves around the Palisades to the left and then heads north along the cliff. You will see the George Washington Bridge up ahead of you.
You only need to remember to keep the cliff on your left. At the first traffic circle, stay to the left; don't go down the hill (that leads to the river trail). At the second traffic circle (at river level), again stay to the left and head up the hill (about 2.5 miles). Midway up the hill there is a road that continues north (you need to turn right, instead of left – which continues up the hill and out of the Palisades). From that point on just stay on the road, there are no other turns until you reach about 9 miles. At that point, again stay to the left. At the top of that hill is the Palisades Parkway Police office - bathrooms and water fountains.
To return, just follow the breadcrumbs that you have been leaving behind to mark you trail.
Enjoy the run and be sure to tell us about it!
np - CS&N - Suite Judy Blue Eyes
Phoebe Snow - Brand New Me
Phoebe Snow - Baby, Work Out
Phoebe Snow - Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu
Joni Mitchell - A Case Of You
Phoebe Snow & Michael McDonald - It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
CS&N - Wooden Ships
CS&N - Long Time Gone
CS&N - Lady of The Island
CSN&Y - Teach Your Children
Joni Mitchell - All I Want
Joni Mitchell - In France They Kiss On Main Street