When I ran yesterday, I left the dog at home and opted to take a trash bag instead. I’ve noticed trash wedged in the weeds along the country road where my new route lies. I guess when you run someplace regularly, you tend to take ownership of the space, because I’ve been compelled to clean it up. Beer bottles, cigarette packages, and fast food containers are not my idea of landscape art. (Figures it would be beer bottles. Wine drinkers wouldn’t be so classless as to litter.) These discards drag my attention away from the green rolling hills and soft-eyed cows, so they simply have to go.
I jogged the first ¼ mile passing up the small wrappers and rare Mountain Dew bottle on the side of the road. I figured anything I picked up early would have to be dragged with me the entire run, so it would make sense to just get it on the way back. But the second ¼ mile happens to be the stretch where most of the litter has landed, as if there is one culprit who drives home from work everyday, and at exactly this point in his journey, rolls down his window and tosses out the remains of whatever he was consuming.
I started picking up Budweiser cans and Taco Bell boxes. Pissed me off. For one thing, you can’t run while stooped over, so this pretty much wrecks my workout, and for another, it’s gross. I filled the entire bag with rotting debris on that next ¼ mile. Now, I was only ½ of a mile into a three-mile run, lugging a heavy bag of garbage. I propped it against a tree and decided to pick it up on the way back. No reason to carry it the entire way, beside which it was full, so its not like I could pick up more trash. The remainder of the run was relatively trash free (supporting my “one man with no environmental ethics and a pattern of behavior” theory). I figured I’d run with another trash bag tomorrow and nab the leftovers then.
By the time I had turned around and made it back to my trash bag, I was getting tired. These are not easy runs for me anymore (and I fear they never will be). I’ve never been a good runner, only a determined one. I spend all my time looking up at the sky, enjoying the breeze on my sweaty skin and stopping whenever something interesting catches my eye. I spend zero time concentrating on pace or form or doing speed drills to improve. I don’t push to go farther or faster. I just enjoy the lumbering plodding that gets my heart racing. If my natural lack of talent isn’t enough, the hills around here catapult my “below average” rank into a “you’re an embarrassment” status in the pecking order of those that run.
Because I was tired, I contemplated leaving the trash and driving to pick it up later. I was not looking forward to that ½-mile walk straight up the mountain with this loot. But I also imagined a dog coming around and scattering it all over again, and that was unacceptable too. So I just ran (slowly) with it tossed over my shoulder like I was Santa Claus. I passed a house where a couple was outside having a cigarette and lounging on their freshly cut grass before a burning trash pile.
The man said, “Picking up trash? Good for you.”
I said, “Yep. But it’s heavy. Can I throw it on your fire?”
He thought I was kidding, and made a joke, but I pointed out that I was serious.
He said “Sure, why not.”
So I took advantage of the opportunity and tossed my bag onto their fire.
I complimented their freshly cut grass and his wife took credit for cutting it that day. We exchanged a few jokes about him being a mowing-slacker while we watched the flames swallow my bag. He was a good sport, convincing us he should be excused from razzing because he was hard at work all day. I agreed that was a fair excuse.
Mostly, I think I talked to them just to watch the fire. I was delighted to see that road trash become smoke.
Afterwards, I plodded home, growling as I passed the litter left behind when I first started this project. I will just have to get it tomorrow. The question is, will my refreshed running path stay that way? Or will I have to pick up again and again after that certain someone who thinks the great outdoors is his private car receptacle.
And will I? Or will I step over the beer cans out of principal, the way I leave my son’s socks on the floor to teach him that he has to be “responsible”. Picking up once after a lazy someone is a gift. Doing so everyday alleviates the proof that one’s actions have consequences.
The thing is, what’s acceptable to one person is not always acceptable to another. So while I’d love to imagine that the suddenly clean roadside will inspire reverence and appreciation for the view, it’s more likely my efforts won’t even be noticed.
Except by me. And if I’m the only one who cares whether or not this route is clean, I’ll have to be the one to bend over once in a while to keep it that way. Fair or not.
So, the real question is, how can I repeatedly pick up trash and not get a chip on my sweaty running shoulder over it? Hummmm………….
How many calories does a bending-over-break in the middle of a sluggish run actually burn?
. . . . . . Enough, I guess.