Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Woman Who Walks at Dawn

No, it's not me. I'm the woman who runs or spins at dawn, and today was no exception. I found myself back on the treadmill for my tempo run (last one before the half-marathon!). Only three of the miles this time were at tempo pace (started at 8:06 miles, finished at 7:53 miles), with three others run easy. But the return of the inky morning darkness, which today would have been with me the whole time had I gone outside, sent me indoors again. I sometimes get creeped out running in the dark.

Which brings me to the Walking Woman.

My route to the East Boulder Rec Center, where I do all my early a.m. spin classes and runs on the treadmill, travels southeast from my home and partly along a road called Baseline. The road is named after the 40th Parallel, which it traces through the soil of Boulder County and, eventually, up a substantial hill beloved and feared by local runners and cyclists (including me; it's about 3/4 of a mile long, that sucker, and its steepness is always reflected in my pace). The portion of Baseline I drive before the stars have set is flat, and it's here that I see her about one of three mornings, sidling along on the sidewalk, covered head to toe.....the Walking Woman.

Picture one of those gigantic ankle-length down coats that make people look like legless Michelin men. Picture it with a hood drawn up over the head and a mask pulled up over the chin. We're talking a serious deep-freeze winter weather item. Odd thing is (actually there are many odd things here) it's never completely closed at the bottom, though the top is totally sealed off.

Then picture a pair of yoga pants or capris underneath a tunic of some sort (remember you can see this because the coat's not fastened around the legs--maybe to help her walking stride?). On her feet: snow boots. It's usually so dark that I can't ascertain the colors of any of these items but the coat. It seems to be tan, but maybe that's just the effect of the orange street lights.

She's always headed west, toward the Flatirons, as I'm headed away from them toward the east, and she's always on my side of the street.

I've seen her in all kinds of weather. On the profoundly cold mornings, I understood about the coat and admired her for getting out in those temperatures. On two occasions this winter, when the sidewalks were treacherous with ice that had melted and refrozen overnight into jagged stalagmites, I saw her walking in the bike lane on the road, and I felt guilty about shining my headlights on her obvious desire for privacy.

Because the coat isn't about the cold, really (though I'm sure it comes in handy for that). The reason I know this, having never seen this woman's face or spoken to her, is that when I saw her yesterday, when the morning was chilly but held much of the promise of the 70-degree temperatures we saw later in the day--in other words, not down coat weather any more--she was still wearing the coat, the hood, the tunic, the big boots, all of it.

I wonder where she's going. Probably she's just exercising, walking pre-dawn because she likes privacy and quiet. But I like to build other stories about her in my head. Like maybe she's walking to Safeway, which is just down the road and has a little Starbucks inside, and when she gets there she'll shed the coat and actually chat with the barista, who maybe knows her story, where these walks originate, what kind of coffee she likes. Maybe she has lots of kids and this the only time of day she can get a break. Or maybe it's the opposite, she's older, maybe a divorced empty nester and a little bit lonely. Or maybe not divorced but married to a late sleeper like I am, and she leaves the house for fresh air and so it will be quieter longer for him.

My favorite theory is that she's a shut-in for twenty-three hours of the day, frightened of people and traffic. This hour, 5:30 a.m., is her time in the world, which for her is stars, dark mountains to the west, chilly air and, eventually, when she turns around and heads back to wherever she came from, sunrises of various colors before whose majesty streetlights wink out one by one.

Don't forget to enter my nut butter giveaway! Deadline is March 26!


  1. Weird!

    This reminds me of my frequent run-ins with Cherry Creek Whole Foods people, who are always dressed inappropriately for a grocery store run. They are in floor length furs (or gigantic parkas), full makeup, and thousand dollar sunglasses and they come with tiny dogs that they continually try and hide from store personnel (and always feign surprise when caught). It's a tiny version of the NYT style page, where people go to see and been seen. Which is so desperate and tragic, that this spot is a high-end grocery store in the middle of of Cow Town, CO.

  2. oh - nice blog re-do by the way. Like the format.

  3. Thanks, Penny! I've got my brother working on something to give it some color, too. Makes me wish I was more artistic or crafty, but I am (alas for my poor children too) neither.