Warning: Dog lovers may find this post offensive!
Having spent the past winter running up paved paths up the river bluffs in St. Paul, I longed for a trail that went that way. I always knew there were some, but they were on private land or public land that was fenced off and dangerous. A few weeks ago, there was a message on the Dead Runners Listserv about the Brickyard hill being a good alternative to Afton and Hyland (both 20+ miles away from me); I didn't know the park had been opened - two years ago, it was just a good place to dump a body. So, wanting a good lactic acid building workout, I drove out to check out the Lilydale park hill.
There's a parking lot in the park that one can reach by driving past Harriet Island, but the best way to get to the hill (if that's all you care about) is through a gate at the top of the hill at the corner of Annapolis Street and Cherokee Heights Blvd. The hill is 300 feet high and the main section is still 288 feet, measured by Garmin, with sections of a reasonably tough grade and on crushed rock. Very wide (improved). Quite popular already; there were families rock hunting and couples canoodling and a few runners who appear to run from downtown, up roads to the top of the hill, then down through the park and back to downtown.
I managed to get my heart rate within a few beats of maximum for several minutes. I'll definitely be back; this may be my new home for hills. Soon, however, the lure of the side trails called. Most of the spurs from the main path are only 10-20 feet long and just lead to the bluff edge, but at least one led to a homeless shanty - so I'd recommend against running there late in the day.
There's a mile long "unimproved" trail that heads off to the fossil hunting sites (permit required). It's as rocky as anything I'd want to run: perfect for getting ready for Superior! One starts at the east clay pit, then works one's way to the ice climbing hill (permit required) and middle clay pit. The park signs said the trail continued through the bog, but after getting mud up to my ankles - and it hadn't rained in weeks - I went back to see if I'd gone the wrong way. There might be a better route, but I returned to the bog and a dangerous cliff crossing and eventually got there, muddy up to my knees, covered in burrs and swatting flies. Don't try to get to the west clay pit without first telling someone! It is unbelievably hazardous, unimaginably so for a city park. I found a hill that I'm calling Unrunnable Hill... I tried repeatedly, without success.
I returned and followed all the other unmarked trails until I ended up on the railroad tracks and had to return. As I sped down a hill and around a turn...
DOG! Snarling, ears back, hair on its neck raised and running full tilt straight for me! The following thoughts took place in a split second:
Dog attacks are almost always the person's fault. If you didn't step on their tail or take away their food, they're probably just defending their territory. This was no one's yard and the dog was too well fed to be feral, so I figured I'd act like he was on my turf.
Instinct says to run, but that's a bad choice, as a dog's instinct is to chase. Trying to defuse the situation is usually best, as dogs really would rather not fight. These were not options. Here I was in the woods without a tree to climb as well. Last alternative: scare the dog. I yelled as loud as I could. Fortunately, the area is nothing but sticks and stones, so I picked up one of each for protection.
Different breeds require different tactics. Most breeds aren't biters, but some are notorious. Terriers, for example, always bite; it's bred into them. Rat terriers bite and shake their heads, to rip off flesh - fortunately, they scare easily. Bulldogs bite and pull, trying to pull you to the ground so they can bite your neck - once they bite, you gouge their eyes with your thumbs. Pit bull terriers bite and hold - you go for the eyes (and testicles if male; pit bull owners who let their dogs loose never seem to neuter their dogs) and try to knock the wind out of them by falling on them - a tactic that works with no other dog breed, as others let go and bite again. German shepherds are the toughest, as they bite, retreat, bite, retreat... Chow Chows, Akitas and Dalmatians are also biters, but I have no idea what one does with them. This dog was a 60 pound mongrel; no knowing what it would do.
The plan was to use the stick as something for the dog to bite as I bashed in its head with the rock. [Dog owners, I'm really sorry about this.]
A human voice in the distance. The dog stopped, turned and went off. "Sorry!" I heard the woman call. It turned out to be a well-trained dog let off leash by an owner who thought no one was there. The dog was just startled by me.
She has no idea what almost happened.
I'll probably go back this weekend! Loose dog aside, it was a good time.
6 days ago