Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let's just call it tapering, shall we?

It's Thursday night and I haven't actually run since Monday. I did work out at the Y on Tuesday, it's not like I'm a total sloth. But I didn't run on Wednesday morning (due to being up till all hours packing Tuesday night) and then of course I spent all day Wednesday traveling.

This morning I had originally intended to check out the workout room at the Highlander Inn before we left here, but when morning rolled around I chose sleep instead. I “slept in” until 9:00—which would still be 6 a.m. in the time zone I'm accustomed to, and by that time it was too late to go run on a treadmill. So I decided.

It's amazing (and scary) how easy it is to slip into the lifestyle of a non-running person. At a little past 9 my dad came and said there was breakfast in the dining room. What? I hadn't realized breakfast came with the room.* I was out of bed like a shot, dressed in a minute, and sitting at a table with a cup of coffee and a muffin before you could say “high-glycemic carbs.”

Our departure from Manchester was glacial. After checking out of the hotel and going back to the airport to pick up my bag (which was there waiting for me, thank God), I wanted to make a stop at Starbucks before heading north. I wasn't sure how many Starbucks I would find up in Maine. (Although I realize, it retrospect, that at least the outlet towns have Starbucks.)

I had obtained directions to a nearby Starbucks at a Barnes & Noble,** which was luckily on our route anyway. So, apparently I had traveled across the country to go to Starbucks and Barnes & Noble. (I got no problem with that, actually.)

Walking into a Barnes & Noble is, however, like walking into a drug den for me. All those brightly covered books, so shiny, so tempting. How can I leave without buying one? Or two? To my addled brain, even the most unlikely of books looked appealing. I stopped at the restroom and came out into the religion section and found myself thinking, “Bibles? How interesting. History of Judaism? Fascinating!”***

I lured myself away from the enticing tomes of theology and back to the cafe to grab my latte. On the way out of the store I only picked up two books, one fiction (“Ooh, I read her last book”) and one memoir (“this looks rather entertaining”). But then my dad had to have a chance to go in and look around, and after he came out I just zipped back in to get a book my mother had wanted (and ended up with two coffee mugs I had resisted the first time). (I am just sick, I know.)

But finally we were on the road, heading eastward on 101 toward the Hamptons. These are the New Hampshire Hamptons, not to be confused with the New York Hamptons.

The little town of Hampton Beach is a classic summer beach resort town, with a boardwalk equivalent (made of cement in this case), a long sandy beach, and a street lined with food stalls and arcades. Most of which, on this sunny Thursday in mid-September, were closed.

Still, this is the kind of beach resort town I like best. Semi-deserted. The introvert in me (and let's face it, that's pretty much all of me), recoils from crowds and mobs, and I have no real liking for beaches covered with masses of bodies. But wide open stretches of sandy beach, speckled with the occasional intrepid beachgoer, deserted shops and empty arcades, the nostalgic aura of days gone by—that sparks my solitary soul.

I don't demand grey skies and foul weather, however (though I've been there too), and today's bright sunshine was perfect. I walked down to the sand and, when I took my sandals off, was stunned by its silkiness. I am used to beach sand that is much coarser, and often damp from an outgoing tide. I walked a stretch down the beach, mildly regretting that there would not be enough time (in all eternity) to walk off the callouses on my feet.

Although the scene was much different, the beach made me think of St. Ives in Cornwall. Maybe next spring after the Bath Half Marathon I should finish with a few days in Cornwall. I could walk on the cliff paths and potter around for a few days before going home to the U.S. The last time I was in St. Ives, about four years ago, I brought back some sand for my friend Jennifer who has vials of sand from all over the world. Remembering that, I scooped some Hampton sand into a ziploc bag to bring home to her.

North of the tourist town area, the oceanview roadway is lined with grand old mansions (as well as grand new mansions). I noticed (to my dismay but not surprise) a few McCain signs in front of some of the opulent homes. I had my mother drop me off at the beginning of the houses, so I could walk north along the roadside path, taking pictures of my favorite houses (and some that were just intriguing), as well as enjoy the rocky scenery.

As I walked northward I had a sense of how Dean Karnazes likes to hop out of a car and just run endlessly. I wasn't running, of course, and in my sandals I had no real desire to break into a jog or anything, but I did want to just keep walking. I knew I had to be picked up at some point, but as long as the path continued, I wanted to as well. At one point, when it turned to gravel, I thought perhaps I would be done, but after an ankle-testing stretch, I was back on pavement.

Luckily for our timeline, the path and sidewalk did seem to end when I reached a beach club south of Rye. Instead of exploring onward, I prudently called my mother and told her to come pick me up so we could move forward at a more speedy pace. It was mid-afternoon already, and we still had some distance to go. In fact, we were still in New Hampshire, though moving toward the northern border.

It was also a long time since breakfast, or even the late morning latte. We weren't sure if we would find anything open, if the deserted restaurants of Hampton Beach were any sign, but in Rye we soon came across a place called Ray's. It's like many a seafood restaurant in New England, cheap (relatively) lobsters and a menu-full of lobster dishes, fried seafood, takeaway menus, lobster buoy décor, and souvenirs and t-shirts for sale.

Exactly what we were looking for.

It took me only a moment to make my selection—a lobster roll, of course. (With a salad on the side to satisfy my green tooth.) My parents ventured into the exotic with a lobster quesadilla for my mother and a small lobster pie for my dad. The quesadilla was surprisingly tasty, lobster meat and mozzarella cheese sandwiched between two tortillas, and the lobster pie was laced with a sherry-scented sauce and a pastry top. My lobster roll was exactly what it was supposed to be, a toasted split roll stuffed with about four ounces of lobster salad. (I've never met a lobster roll I didn't like.)

Then, finally, we headed with purpose toward Ogunquit. Virtually every time I've come to Ogunquit it has been dark by the time we arrived. Today we were early enough in the afternoon—and it was early enough in the fall, in fact it is still late summer—that we did arrive during daylight hours. We even managed to get through Portsmouth without incident (that is getting lost).

We're staying at The Dunes, in a two bedroom cottage with a small kitchen, a screened porch, and a homey décor. Our cottage is a little toward the back, but a view of the water is only a few steps away. And, despite its old-timey ambience, The Dunes now has wireless internet, a big step forward from the days (like two years ago) when I could barely get a cell phone signal here!

I decided to use the remaining afternoon light and extra time to take a walk into town. I also wanted to work up an appetite for dinner later on in the evening. Plus, I'm planning to go running tomorrow morning, and I thought it would be helpful to scout out the route and measure some distances with the Garmin.

I set out towards Ogunquit and had just reached the turn into town when I was distracted by a store window. A sign in the window, to be precise, advertising summer clothes 40% off (and shoes 50% off). A quick look wouldn't hurt, would it? I stopped the Garmin and strolled in.

I almost escaped unscathed as the racks of shorts and sleeveless tops held little appeal for me. But then I turned to another rack that was loaded with Nomadic Traders, Habitat, Tribal, and other lines that I frequently wear. Long story short (and it's long thanks to the layers of clothes I had to remove to try on things), I walked away with two shirts, a skirt, a pair of pants, a jacket, and (ahem) two pairs of shoes (which, it should be noted, cost together the same as one pair would have pre-sale).

By that time it had grown dark, so I only walked a little ways into town before turning around and heading back to The Dunes. In the main street I saw a placard advertising Les Miserables at the Ogunquit Playhouse (which must explain all the cars I saw there as we drove into town early—matinee). As I walked along in the still balmy evening, remembered fondly the first time I saw Les Miz (and wished I had it on my iPod). Back in the fall of 1985 I was preparing to head to London in January, first with a PLU group for three weeks and then staying on to study for the rest of the semester. I read an article in Time magazine about a new show in the West End, a musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel (which I had loved reading). I told our leaders (Dennis and Gloria Martin, delightful English professors who we all adored) about it, and although they were a little doubtful about the idea of a musical (okay, English profs can be a little snobby), they did get us tickets and they were wonderful seats in the center of the stalls. (They found them somehow even though it was selling out regularly.)

This was Les Miz at its prime, with the original London cast—Colm Wilkinson, Patti LuPone, Frances Ruffelle. And it was a glorious experience for me (and everyone else as well). As usual with performances that move me greatly, I sobbed throughout. (Beginning with Fantine's death and continuing on... well, you know the story. And if you don't, where have you been? But by the time all the characters who had died came back onstage near the end as Valjean is dying—well, I feel myself choking up even now. Good times.)

As I made my way back toward The Dunes, I popped into the Lobster Pound to check when they closed . It was about 7:30 at that time, and they told me to be there by 8:30. I took that to mean they closed at 8:30.

So we got ready for dinner, not rushing too much because 8:00 doesn't seem late when it still feels a little like 5:00 at home, and arrived at the Lobster Pound at 8:20. Which is when the smug, supercilious, obnoxious tank boys told me they were closed. What? I argued. They told me 8:30! But it was to no avail. The tanks were shut. No lobster for you!

I was in quite a snit, wanting just to go back to the cottage in a huff, but also knowing that I would only be more miserable if I skipped dinner entirely. We drove up and down the highway a bit, not seeing a restaurant that appealed (to me). Finally I suggested that we go to the fancy deli in town where I had bought diet Coke earlier and noted their vast menu of takeaway foods, including lobster rolls. I had planned on boiled lobster, but... you make do.

So we ordered up the lobster rolls and puttered around the store loading up on other things. Bananas for breakfast. Salad to go with the lobster rolls. And finally... a blueberry pie for dessert.

In the end, a takeaway dinner at the cottage was not such a bad plan. I hadn't planned on eating bread for a second time today, but you do what you gotta do. (When a sandwich costs $12.95, you eat every bite.) And my dad, who usually monopolizes the TV, offered me When Harry Met Sally (instead of finding something more to his preference, like Cops).

And now, once again, it is very late in Maine. Time to get some sleep.

And tomorrow I will be a runner again.

*For the first night I was sharing a hotel room with my parents since this was only a stopover. Still, even those few hours reminded me why I never like to share a room! There's the trying to be quiet when I got in late. There's the not being able to turn on a light to read for a while. There's the snoring (and it wasn't me!). Yes, I'm definitely a solo room kind of person.

**Actually it was the Barnes & Noble Cafe. But they assured me it's all the same as a regular Starbucks store. But they do use different cups, and that was a little troubling too me. Still, no time to go anywhere else.

***Not that those topics aren't in fact interesting and fascinating.

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