Tuesday, March 19, 2013

State No. 11: Connecticut, Wednesday, March 13

Evidence: the crumpled notepaper with my hastily scrawled route notes.

Okay, so it was almost a week ago and I'm only writing this out now. But I surprised even myself last Wednesday when I put on the running shoes in the bathroom of a McDonald's restaurant in Windsor Locks, Conn. And I surprised myself even further by running 8.1 miles though some varied end-of-winter New England landscapes.

What brought me to Connecticut? A sales call on Namco, a potential customer of our business. The sales call didn't last long, and I wasn't due in Syracuse, N.Y. until 9 p.m. So I had time for a run in Connecticut, a state I needed—but where?

I looked at the map. A quick swing up Interstate 91 would put me at Bradley International Airport, which serves the Hartford/Springfield area. I have a thing for running near airports, so all right, let's see what might happen. Thanks to Google maps, I quickly created a nice 8.1-mile triangle on local roads through Windsor Locks and Suffield, two towns on the airport's eastern perimeter. There was even some railroad track action involved, so it seemed promising.

And then there was the weather. It was a sunny afternoon and in the low 50s, well above my 40-degree limit for shorts/t-shirt. But a brisk wind from the west/northwest was blowing, and clouds were building in, making that breeze feel mighty cold in the shade. Still, it was mid-afternoon, and we'd just set our clocks ahead one hour, so I thought the run was doable with minimal gear.

The next thing I knew, I was changing in the bathroom of the McDonalds in Windsor Locks, emerging just in time to see a Delta Airlines MD-88 come coasting in on Runway 15-33. Nice. Then, clutching a piece of notepaper on which I'd hastily scrawled my route, I set off to the east on Elm Street to conquer yet another state in the union.

To my surprise, Elm Street had sidewalks all the way into town—about two miles! But then that shouldn't be surprising because Windsor Locks was no airport suburb, but an old New England community with a long history of manufacturing and industry that preceded the airport's presence. I found myself running through neigborhoods of stately old homes, with many looking quite handsome in the late winter late.

Elm Street sloped gradually downhill, which wasn't surprising, as I was headed for the Connecticut River. Knowing that I would have to regain that altitude, and also that I hadn't been running consistently all winter, I took things extra slowly. So I still felt quite strong by the time I reached my first milestone: Route 159, a north-south byway that served as Main Street. A railroad line parallels it here, and as I approached, a southbound Amtrak "Springfield Shuttle" train bombed through at speed, making for downtown Hartford. Nice!

I passed this building, now a bombed-out shell, on Main Street.

Turning left, I made my way through the most congested part of the route: shopping plazas, busy streets, multiple curbcuts, etc. But still, things were pretty quiet and I had no trouble. And sidewalks continued, even as I left the business district and headed northwest for what would be a looooong stretch on Suffield Street. Residential neighborhoods continued for about a mile, as did the sidewalk, to the point where I was beginning to believe that the entire route would be blessed with sidewalks.

No sooner did I think that then the neighborhoods stopped, as did the sidewalk, and I was quite suddenly pointed into open country, the road continuing ramrod straight through an undulating brown landscape off to a distant horizon. Yes, it was sunny, but the wind was blowing, and clouds were increasing, so it was feeling cold. And with all due respect to the glories of the New England countryside, in mid-March it's at its most barren and foreboding: no critters, tired leafless trees, dead grass, and mud everywhere. But I plodded on, not completely sure that the route I had planned would work out or was even a good idea at that point.

Somewhere in there I crossed the border into Suffield, which seemed to be a town without people. Traffic was scarce. The distance seemed more than it should. I began to wonder. Off to the west, just barren country, with absolutely no sign of the airport or the industrial area that fringed it, or the highway that I would make my way back on. Where was everything? What time was it? Was it getting late? Where was the railroad line that I should have crossed by now? If I did see it, should I turn left on it and use it as a shortcut back to where I started?

After a period of increasing self-doubt and an increasingly sore Achilles tendon in my right leg, I was just about ready to stop at the next house and confirm where the heck I was going before Ichabod Crane started chasing me. Before that happened, however, there it was: the railroad crossing, up ahead. That gave me enough of a boost to discard the railroad return option as unworkable (the trackbed was too rough) and forge ahead with my original plan.

And soon came the big left turn on Austin Street, a short stretch that would take me back west to Highway 75. As I turned onto it, my heart dropped: the road went on forever, and seemingly to nowhere. With no other option, I plodded ahead, grateful at least for the good pavement, the sun, and the sparse traffic. However, as I progressed, I realized what I was seeing was in part an optical illusion. The road was straight, but it also began a steady upgrade to a fairly high point that seemed a lot farther off than it really was. And the high point was none other than a signaled intersection for what had to be the highway I was seeking!

As I approached the highway, the landscape began changing again, with large corporate office complexes nestled among the barren junk forest. Weirdly, many of these were identified as "marketing" companies, although it wasn't clear at all what they could be marketing. I recall one of them actually had a pirate flag out front!

Turning left on the highway, I became alarmed to see not only no sidewalk, but really no breakdown lane nor any other space to run safely. And traffic would come in high-speed bunches released by sets of lights somewhere uproad. So it became this game of using the road as much as possible, and then jumping onto the soggy embankment to let traffic pass.

I soon regained the airport, which was comforting. But the airport is not small, and it took awhile to work my way through the National Guard portion, which included that railroad line I had seen earlier. (It was fenced off and part of a military installation where crossed Route 75, so I'm glad I didn't try to follow it in.)

Alas, I misjudged the remaining distance, which seemed a lot longer than it should have. Plus, with the clouds getting heavier and the wind coming off the open airport grounds, it was now getting seriously cold, and I was also worried about having enough time to get to Syracuse. I was able to keep going, however, and finally came within sight of the McDonalds starting point just as that same Delta MD-88 was taxiing out for take-off, presumably back to Atlanta.

Time? I started at 2:47 p.m. and ended at 4:36 p.m., so that's 1 hour and 49 minutes to run 8.1 miles. Not any kind of a record, but then I didn't expect to set one. It was more than enough for me to say that I've bagged yet another state: Connecticut, No. 11.

Now just 39 to go!

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