Years ago, I visited my father after he moved to Louisiana, my first time down there. I decided to go for a quick jog one day to see what I could find in the bayou.
My father lived north of New Orleans, on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. You had to pass through a forest of trees to get to his neighborhood, where the houses gave each other plenty of space. One of their neighbors had a goat for a lawnmower.
The community didn’t see the need for enclosures except for the gated area a half-mile up the road. We never drove that way, so that was the direction I was going.
It’s important to note that there are no sidewalks here because of the water levels. So in between the road and the property is a ditch. This would prove to be challenging for a Midwest city-dweller.
I almost immediately regretted the decision to go for a run in mid-day since it was close to 100 degrees. But I could handle it. After I hit the gated area at the end of the street, I followed the winding road and left all familiarity behind.
All of a sudden the harsh wilderness closed in on me. The ditch was no longer my protection; it was a harbinger of savagery. The omnipresent insects were an afterthought when presented with the vile red teeth of nutria.
I rarely experience fear, but the combination of unrelenting heat, my lack of knowledge about the area and the reptiles turned this leisurely jog into one of the most intimidating I’ve ever had. I would have appreciated the scenery more had I not been dripping with sweat and thinking about the (nonexistent) threat of alligators hiding in wait.
By the time I battled my way back to the street where I started and safety was in sight, a dog off his leash chased me down, abruptly followed by another. I don’t blame the owners. They had probably never seen a runner here because you’d have to be insane to venture into the wild on foot.
I experienced a lot during my month-long trip, but this tale always sticks out. Even after the creole, the time in the French Quarter and the festivals, that run formed my unfiltered vision of Louisiana: bold, and relentless. There’s a purity to interacting with something for yourself without a metal or glass barrier.
In the spirit of National Running Day, I recommend a similar approach while visiting a new area. Grab your running shoes and explore the path untraveled. Appreciate the landscape for what it is before you see what it has become, and you might come away with something more valuable than any souvenir. Discovery never came with a tour guide.
But do take the precautionary steps I neglected. Have your phone handy for emergencies; make sure there aren’t any alligators in the area beforehand; and bring a running buddy. Also, make sure all dogs are on a leash.