As I dash through the trails above campus, my senses are finely attuned to my surroundings. I hear my teammates breathing heavily in unison with me, I see each puddle or root that could throw off my stride, and then I smell the distinctive aroma of marijuana.
Nearly every Monday for the past four years the men’s cross-country team and I have used the trail system of the South Hill Natural area for our weekly interval session. Our most common company in the woods is a small group of pot smokers. Our interactions are brief — the stoners tend to stare absentmindedly at us on the side of the trail as we run by. There is an unspoken code of mutual respect: As long as they stay out of our way and we don’t bother them everything is cool, man.
I will not pretend there aren’t runners who smoke, and that there aren’t any potheads who also run, but when our paths briefly cross on Mondays we can be quite the odd couple. Runners in short shorts run for specific distances, in specific times, with specific rest in between intervals. The smokers with their baggy jeans don’t seem encumbered by any such restrictions. Their workout seems to be: walk around, smoke a joint, walk around, smoke another joint. Repeat until the weed is gone.
Though our activities in the forest are quite different, the woods serve the needs of both the runners and the stoners. For the stoners, the woods provide a peaceful place to toke up and give cover from probing eyes of buzzkilling RA’s and Public Safety. As runners, the soft surface of the woods is easier on our legs than running on the roads or a track. The rolling hills, sharp turns and uneven footing make even the gnarliest cross-country courses seem tame.
The South Hill Recreation Area is a great resource for the entire campus community, and the long-distance runners and pot heads should not be the only ones to take advantage of it. There are 365 acres of interconnected trails that traverse the forest. There may not be a scenic natural wonder like Buttermilk Falls, but the close proximity to campus means you can take a short hike after lunch and make it to a 2 p.m. class with no worries. As students we spend much of our lives sitting in temperature-controlled indoor rooms staring at the luminous glow of laptop screens. Trust me, actually walking through the forest is more rewarding than changing your Facebook cover photo to a pretty picture of trees. So go for a walk — or a run — while the weather is still warm. The woods are for everyone.