For This Traveler, the Best Way to See the Sights Is on the Move
It was your ultimate runner’s high. But far from that sense of euphoria joggers acquire during a long run, as body and mind unite in harmony with nature, all my senses were on high alert instead. I could ill afford to lose myself in thought, as is my wont on hourlong runs.
I was in Jaipur, the “pink city” on the edge of India’s Thar Desert known for its fanciful, salmon-hued architecture. The early-morning sun bathed a starkly beautiful landscape in pastel colors as I trotted out of the walled compound of the Rajputana Palace Sheraton, blithely unaware that I was embarking on the most memorable run of my life.
By the time I reached the edge of town, I had navigated around an array of animals: goats, sheep, donkeys, cows, monkeys, a cobra rising hypnotically from a charmer’s basket and two elephants decked out in exquisite embroidery, lumbering alongside their turbaned handler. Engulfed as well by a sea of humanity, roaring by in a bewildering swirl of vehicles of every type, I happily pressed on, convinced anew that nothing beats a good, long run for soaking up local flavor. Even now, nearly four years later, I vividly recall the sights and sounds -- even the smells -- of that springtime run in Jaipur.
Step by step, mile after mile, my running addiction has enabled me to explore countless cities and towns throughout the United States and around the world for more than 30 years, as a tourist as well as a reporter on assignment, often traveling with the president. Yet the thrill of running never diminishes, especially in fresh settings.
In Auckland, New Zealand, I looped through the America’s Cup village. In Prague, Czech Republic, I meandered along the Vltava River and then crossed the centuries-old Charles Bridge, a stone Gothic span lined by Baroque statues. In Santa Fe, N.M., elevation 6,950 feet, I gasped my way up and down chic Canyon Road but barely worked up a sweat in the dry, high-desert air. Along the Bund waterfront in Shanghai, I dodged throngs of tai chi enthusiasts, including some wielding swords.
The key to a fun run in an unfamiliar city is doing your homework. Before leaving on a trip, I research my destinations, seeking promising routes. The Internet is a good source, as is the old-fashioned atlas. I also consult travel guides.
Such legwork paid off in Bucharest. Having read about the proliferation of stray dogs in the Romanian capital, I settled for a run on my hotel treadmill. A subsequent stroll around downtown confirmed the wisdom of my choice. (Walking is a great way to see a city, of course. But you don’t cover as much real estate.)
Most hotel staffers can point you in the right direction. (Seek out those who look especially fit.) So can cab drivers, if language is no barrier. But they can err drastically in estimating distances. For that reason, I wear a watch. Because I know my pace, I can gauge my distance down to a quarter-mile.
When it comes to scenic routes, a reliable rule of thumb is to head for water. Even in landlocked cities, a river or lake usually is a good bet. From downtown Milwaukee, I know to head for Lake Michigan; for a shorter run, the Menomonee River, which cuts through town, is a fine alternative. In Buffalo, N.Y., I found my way to the Erie Canal and ran to its terminus by Lake Erie. In Austin, Texas, Town Lake is encircled by a 10-mile loop, a favorite of a former Texas governor, George W. Bush. In St. Louis, the Arch is a great starting point for a run in either direction along the Mississippi River.
Absent a body of water, a park is a reliable substitute. In Beaverton, Ore., the campus of Nike’s world headquarters has a lovely running trail; so does Rice University in Houston.
A risk of running in unfamiliar surroundings is getting lost, as I discovered in Tokyo. I became so enchanted with the Imperial Palace and its massive moat that I circled it several times -- and promptly lost my way back to the hotel. Unless you’re content running in a straight line, it’s useful to look back occasionally and pick out landmarks.
When traveling from one city to another in quick succession, running presents another challenge: sweaty clothes. As a morning runner, I have found a solution, although it may not be environmentally correct. As soon as I return to my hotel room, I hand-wash my running clothes and immediately apply a hair dryer to them.
Since Christmas, when my wife gave me a portable CD player, I have begun running to music -- although only on a trail, not on streets. I’m still experimenting, but already I’m discovering that -- OK, I’ll let my age show -- the likes of Carlos Santana, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Doors are inspiring me to new performance heights. Would jazz or classical music work just as well? Stay tuned.
Edwin Chen, a White House reporter, runs 30 to 40 miles a week.