A Mountain Runner Visits the Big City

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s trail (and city!) adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This past weekend, I traveled from France to London, United Kingdom for a medical visit with a sports doctor at the London Independent Hospital. Following my medical appointment Saturday morning, I explored London for the first time. As a lover of mountains, I most often choose to travel to mountainous places such as the French Pyrénées, Himalayas, or Colorado Rockies, but this express visit to London gave me a greater appreciation for big city life and reminded me why I love to travel (even when there are no mountains in sight!).

Getting the lay of the land

Despite being in a big city, I noticed myself curious about the lay of the land. Similar to the way I approach new mountainous terrain, I asked myself some of the same questions: Where am I going? How do I navigate? Are there trails? What do I see and what is it made of? I found my way to the iconic Tower Bridge and followed a large cobbled and concrete path along the Thames River on which I encountered many of London’s famous buildings and cultural attractions. I was immediately intrigued by the contrasting styles of architecture, ranging from the medieval Tower of London, the renaissance-built Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the neo-gothic Tower bridge, to modern buildings such as The Shard and London City Hall. Perhaps it’s my mountain instinct to be intrigued by tall structures rising above me.

Connecting with history

I can better connect to a place when I know some of its history. I recall one of my first purchases in the Himalayas this past October was Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, a firsthand account of one of the deadliest climbing seasons in Everest’s history, known as the 1996 Everest Disaster. I gained a greater appreciation for Nepalese village life and cultural customs described in the book, which I also encountered in my own Himalayan travels. The book also helped me approach the Himalayas cautiously, and recognize the dangers of the world’s highest mountains.

Similarly in London, I found myself immediately gravitating towards historical sites, such as the H.M.S. Belfast and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. I boarded the Belfast and gained a greater appreciation for the lives of World War 2 soldiers at sea. I imagined myself sleeping in a hammock while the ship passed through rough waters, or climbing through the ship’s maze of narrow ladders to get from the engine room, to the kitchen, armory or turret guns. At Shakespeare’s Globe, I recalled many memories of Shakespeare’s plays I read in my literature classes from high school and college. It was amazing to stand at the location in which these plays, read by students across the globe, were first performed.

Understanding the people

Whether it’s mountains or city, the people who inhabit the area play a large role in my experience of the place. The people of the Pyrénées — the kind cheese makers, goat herders, bakers and trekkers — are one of the reasons I consider this mountain range to be one of my favorite places. In London, I felt lucky to have met many kind people at the hospital, hostel and elsewhere throughout the city. I was impressed by the city’s inclusion of a wide variety of ethnic groups. I wandered through an entire street lined with Indian shops and restaurants. Another street included an Islamic Center, Middle Eastern markets and a Turkish restaurant. I encountered many other Europeans as well, such as French, German, Polish, Turkish, Italian and Dutch, and there was a strong Asian and African presence as well. London gave me the feeling of being inside a vast cultural melting-pot, which is something new for me as a mountain-dweller. More so than sightseeing, learning and sharing with other cultures was my favorite part of this travel.

The medical diagnosis

From my visit with the doctor, I learned I will have to undergo surgery. I’ll be back in London in two weeks to have my ruptured Achilles’ tendon repaired. Over the past year, I’ve performed many conservative treatments for my Achilles, but it has continued to degenerate and cause other problems in my foot and ankle. I am optimistic that this surgery will finally help me rebuild my tendon and that I’ll return to running stronger than ever.

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