I run commute to work. I like it very, very much. To some extent, it even defines me. I cannot think of a better way to start my day. To me, each one of my run commuting legs is a small adventure. Admittedly, once in a while, I bike to work. I like it, but not as much as run commuting. And biking in winter in Ottawa, Canada can be treacherous, to say the least. Call me a wimp, but in the middle of a snowstorm, I would rather be running than biking.
The Ottawa area, which is also known as Canada’s National Capital Region, includes an amazing conservation area: Gatineau Park. For the past 10 years, our family has lived within walking distance of that park. This summer, we went a step further – we bought a house right in the middle of it.
There are very few houses in the park, and those that do exist are allowed to stand because they were mostly all there before the park was created. They don’t come up for sale very often, especially in a price range that we could afford. This spring, the stars lined up in our favour. My wife immediately fell in love with the house. I eventually came to the same conclusion as my wife: this was the opportunity of a lifetime, one that could not be passed up. It just took me a few more weeks longer than her to realize it (I must confess: I have always been a creature of habit.) One thing was bugging me about this new house: would I be able to run to work from there? The answer was not obvious at first. The distance between the new house and work is 17 km right now and soon will be 21 km after workplace relocation (due within the next few months.) A marathon a day… I even pronounced out loud the words “car” and “park and ride”… I was not sure any more about the new house. I lost sleep on it; I even started looking for “a car”.
Fast forward a few weeks, and we are now in our new house. I am happy to report that, with the collaboration and help of my better half, I did not have to purchase a new vehicle (well, at least not yet.) While chatting with the new neighbours, I also found out about a maze of unmarked trails that connects to the official trails network, which makes crossing the park much easier and faster than originally anticipated. All things considered, our new house is turning out to be the little paradise my wife had told me about. However, I had to adjust my run commute habits.
Since I have to cross a relatively large and unlit section of the park (5 km) very early in the morning, I had to purchase a powerful headlamp (Petzl Tika R+; USB rechargeable; can also accept AAA batteries for operations in remote areas.) Running in the dark also meant that, at least for this portion, I would not be running intervals. I easily adapted to this one.
Designated as a conservation area, Gatineau Park is full of wildlife, including black bears and, notably, cougars. I have encountered one of each in the recent years in the park, and suffice to say that I prefer to see them from afar, especially the cougar. My rule of thumb, particularly through the darkness: be noisy, either by clapping my hands, singing or huffing and puffing as if I was about to pass out. I will also start carrying a bear spray can in my backpack, just to feel safer. I have vaguely asked myself how fast I would be able to take this thing out in the advent of a violent bear encounter, but as mentioned previously, it is meant to make me FEEL safer.
Up until recently, I was amongst the few who were still resisting the smart phone temptation. Not anymore: in case of injury in the middle of the park, I’ll be able to phone for some help. Alternatively, it could also be used to fend off wild animal attacks if the bear spray fails.
Winter will be a challenge, as the park roads and trails will be groomed for cross-country skiing, and be out of bounds to everything else (otherwise, I would have gone for a Budnitz FTB.) I may have to start cross-country-ski commute to work, at least across the park, and then hop on a bus with my skis, or leave them somewhere safe, put my running shoes and run all the way to work. I am not sure yet. But one thing is sure: going to work will remain a small adventure, just as before.