Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 3 Dec 1999 09:35:37 -0500

Miles from Somewhere

(from RC 280)

The mileposts reported higher and higher numbers as I ran north: 351, 352, 353. This is one long trail, I thought blissfully. I know where it leads, to Omaha, but where did it start -- St. Louis, maybe?

It's known as the Wabash Trace, a former rail line recently converted by the Rails to Trails Conservancy into a hiking/biking path. We runners should all be lucky enough have a trail like this pass through our hometown. The trouble is, I now live 2000 miles from my old home.

I grew up in the tiny, miles-from-nowhere town of Coin, Iowa. As a child I flattened pennies on the Wabash tracks. I knew bedtime had come when the 9:30 Wabash freight train's whistle blew.

My earliest endurance activity was walking the tracks down to the fishing and swimming holes along the river. I helped save a friend from falling off a railroad bridge but lost a dog in another mishap.

I've waited a long time to connect then with now. The railroad abandoned this path shortly after our family moved from here in the early 1960s. For 30-some years this roadbed lay idle and grew weed-choked.

Then came a proposal to establish the Wabash Trace. Townspeople and nearby farmers worried at first about the cost and about undesirables who might pass through.

They needn't have worried on either score. Most of the money came from outside, along with a good part of the labor.

The work went ahead, slowly. The Trace was more than a decade in the making, and still wasn't finished when I last came home a few summers ago. On that trip I joined the path farther north.

Now came my first Trace run through Coin. I'd heard that the locals were pleasantly surprised by the people the trail attracted, the health conscious and environmentally friendly -- plus these upscale folks bring cash to an area needing it. Coin now welcomes the visitors with a shower room and a covered picnic area at the Community Center.

Immediately I liked everything about the Trace:

* The surface -- finely crushed rock over a dirt base.

* The bridges -- much like the old river crossings I'd walked shaky-legged as a kid, but now with a solid base and safety railings.

* The signs -- including "No Hunting" and mile marks, starting from who-knows-where.

* The grade -- trains required that hills be gentle.

* The quiet -- wind sung in the bare trees this late-fall day.

I ran out and back for an hour total. In that time I saw one bicyclist on the Trace. This path deserves much more of our kind of traffic.

By the end of my hour here I'd already planned a future multi-day run or one-day bike ride to Omaha at Milepost 400 or so. And, who knows, maybe someday I'll even head south to find the location of Mile 0.

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