Sneaking out for runs while traveling is always a great way to shake out the lethargy of long airplane trips and too much junk food on the run. City running, on the other hand, can be almost as frustratingly “stop and go” as urban driving, with stoplights at every corner. As a result, I always look for a nearby city park to run in, to duplicate as well as I can my preferred trail running experience. This posting brings me to one of the great city parks of the world, the Tiergarten in Berlin, Germany. I guess this would also be my first international trail run in this blog!
I left my hotel on a quiet cul-de-sac in a residential section of old West Berlin, pulled out my map, and made my best attempt at following this old city’s meandering streets in the general direction of the Tiergarten, a little over a mile from my hotel. Many Berliners, as is the case in many European cities, bicycle to work in the early morning hours, and one of my first lessons running in this city was how to share sidewalks with these ecologically-minded commuters! If I had been watching my feet more carefully, I would have noticed that I was running in a sidewalk bike lane, and the frequent reminder of bicycle bells behind me was the result of courteous riders requesting that I step aside out of their designated path. I also discovered that jaywalking was not at all common – the orderly German pedestrians would almost always stop and wait for the light to indicate that it was their time to cross the street, even if there were no cars to be seen in any direction. After about a mile and a half of sidewalk running/cultural awareness lessons, I came to the wide boulevard which bisected the Tiergarten along its north-south axis. Heading north into the park, I had a great view of the golden monolith standing at the park’s center, celebrating 19th century Prussian military victories over the Danes, Austrians, and French.
Reaching the center of the park, it was time to leave the sidewalk and finally do a little true trail running. If I had turned right here, to the east, I would get to the famous Brandenberg Gate, site of John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, but realizing I had appointments to keep, chose the more direct return trip, heading back west in the general direction of my hotel. The meandering paths of this beautiful urban oasis provided a great escape from the nearby city streets. At one point, I even saw a fox cross my path – when I mentioned this to my German colleagues, they mentioned that there were even wild boar in this park! After a far too short section of these broad wooded trails, I crossed over a downtown canal, along the outskirts of the Berlin Zoo, and back onto the streets for my return to my hotel.
This ended up being about a 4.5 mile run, but lets face it, this one was more about the journey than it was the destination. It also made it so that I could indulge in Berliners’ favorite junk food – the ubiquitous “currywurst” without guilt for the rest of the day. The currywurst is basically a hot dog covered in a sauce made up of curry powder and ketchup, which is one of my guilty pleasures when traveling in Germany.
I have been looking forward to my next post for some time now – Since March, the inevitable aches, pains, and nuisance injuries of middle age have kept me off the trails and out of my running shoes. While I am not back to 100% (or what delusionally passes for 100% at this point in my life), I was at the point where continued rest and inactivity seemed to hurt more than help. Contemplating a relatively short, easy run I remembered learning of a much less traveled trail up Snake Mountain, ascending from the gentler east side of the mountain. Since this side of the mountain appeared much less imposing than the west facing cliff side where most hikers and runners begin, I assumed I was in for a relatively easy run. Sometimes visual impressions can be deceiving!
The east face trailhead is much less known than the far heavier traveled east side trail on Snake Mt. The easiest way to get to this trailhead is to head out of town to the west on Rt. 125 until you get to Lemon Fair Road. Turn right onto Lemon Fair Road at the yellow house at the top of the hill about a mile and a half out of town, and stay on this road until you get to Snake Mountain Rd, where you take a right turn. Head north on Snake Mt. Rd. for 2.5 miles, until you come to a small barely marked parking lot slightly up to your left.
The trail begins gently enough following a broad, well maintained path through a few hillside meadows before reaching at gate about a third of a mile up the trail. After this point, the trail soon becomes a narrow, single track trail, unlike the broad former coach road which makes up the west side trail. Nonetheless, the trail was obvious to follow, and went by several pretty, boggy areas where the trail got a little bit muddy. Along the muddiest section, the source of the flooding was soon obvious – a beaver pond had started raise the water level in one of the boggy sections to the point where the trail was beginning to get slightly flooded. There were also several clearly recently felled trees (one with green leaves still on it!) indicating that the beaver in residence had been characteristically busy in the previous day or two.
Continuing past this muddy section, the trail got significantly steeper before leveling off for a traverse to the south. I was beginning think that I must be getting nearer to the summit, but was puzzled where the trail would end up, as I had never noticed where this particular trail joined the main trail, let alone the summit. My questions were soon answered as the east side trail joined the west side trail – only about half way up the mountain – I had plenty of running yet to do! Upon reaching the summit view point, I was far more tired than usual – was this solely due to the expected loss of conditioning after 3 months off the trails? Or was the east side trail deceptively longer? I would have to wait until I got home and synced up my Garmin GPS watch to get most of the hard data.
I was pretty tired at the summit, and the circling vultures did little to comfort me! Another far more ornithologically informed hiker at the summit commented that since I was so sweaty, the vultures were probably smelling me as if I was carrion. Funny – Mrs. Trailrunner seems to think the same thing when I return from a good long trail run. The return to my car was relatively uneventful, with the caveat that less traveled trails are sometimes more difficult to find on the way down than they are on the way up – I unwittingly ended up following a dry stream bed rather than the trail for a few hundred yards, but fortunately rejoined the true trail at about the point when I was beginning to realize I had taken a wrong turn.
After checking the mileage on this run, which was harder than I hoped it would be, I found that my observations were verified – the east side trail is about a half mile longer (4.6 miles), about 100 vertical feet more to climb (1000 ft total), and significantly rougher than the west side. It was also a more interesting and prettier path in my opinion – in other words, a true trail run! I am looking forward to some new and more adventurous runs as my body continues to heal.