Friday, February 12, 2016

One Year In Ithaca

[The following post is something I wrote a year ago, in February 2015, as a guest writer for the Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co. Blog. I'd say that another year spent in Ithaca has only reinforced the opinions I've written about below. My wife and I continue to meet friendly, like-minded people in the area and we still hope to live here long-term.]

I think we can all agree, moving from one house or apartment to another can be exciting. It opens up a world of possibilities, from additional living space and some new decor, to an excuse for upgrading appliances and purging closets full of useless and forgotten stuff. On the other hand, it can be stressful in a variety of ways. Aside from the physical effort that goes into moving carloads of more things than you'd ever remembered owning, it brings a new daily routine and change of pace. In some cases, it results in a whole new city with changes in scenery and people, complete with all the lingering doubts about whether or not you made the right decision. "What if I hate this place? What if I stick out like a sore thumb?" Unfortunately, many of us have to deal with this at one time or another, and the end result isn't always desirable.

I happen to be writing this one year to the day that my wife and I moved to the City of Ithaca. Hayley landed a job here nearly two years ago, and for a year she had been commuting back and forth from Binghamton. We made somewhat
frequent trips to Ithaca on the weekends to hike, visit the farmers market, or for me to run in some of the local races. I was apprehensive at first when she suggested we move here, since I still work full-time in Binghamton. The idea of driving a 100 mile round trip five days a week was less than appealing, but ultimately I agreed with her that moving to Ithaca was for the best. The inconvenience of losing two hours a day to driving and budgeting for gas is minuscule compared to what Ithaca has offered us in return.

There were a few major selling points that brought us to the heart of Tompkins County. The first is the large array of restaurants, many of which offer top-notch vegetarian dishes with organic and locally grown ingredients. This is one aspect of Ithaca that has really helped to put the city on the map. We also frequent the Ithaca Farmers Market, belong to a CSA, and enjoy the convenience of living right down the road from the Green Star Co-op for our grocery shopping. Nothing beats walking to Steamboat Landing for some fresh farmers market produce on a blazing hot summer afternoon, or strolling downtown at dusk for an outdoor dinner at Viva.

Another appealing aspect of Ithaca, for me anyway, is the close proximity of so many trails. On any given day, I have the option of running past a number of waterfalls, through gorges with 100 foot walls, up and down the hills of snaking singletrack, along a number of flat rail trails, or along some scenic rural roads that offer great views of the valley and Cayuga Lake. Robert Treman State Park and Buttermilk Falls State Park, both within 15 minutes of our house, provide some amazing scenery and challenging hills that are great for ultramarathon training. There are several other state parks within a 30 minute drive of where I live; Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, and Filmore Glen State Parks all provide spectacular trails and scenery. The Finger Lakes National Forest is the only national forest in New York State and boasts many miles of well maintained singletrack. Plenty of secluded, hilly trails can be found close by as well; Danby State Forest, Hammond Hill State Forest, Connecticut Hill, and one of my personal favorites, the Finger Lake Land Trust's Sweedler Preserve at Lickbrook. The Finger Lakes Trail system passes through many of these parks and forests, and most of the local trail runs from Red Newt Racing and the Finger Lakes Runners Club are held in these areas.

The community of Ithaca in general, and the running community in particular, have been very welcoming over the past year. Together, Hayley and I have met some fellow beer drinkers through, and as an ambassador for Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Company, I've met and run with dozens of great people. As someone who is more introverted than not, making friends with these runners has been surprisingly easy, due to the fact that we share at least a few similar interests. Through group runs and pub runs from the store, competing at races, and volunteering at events, I've come to know many of these runners pretty well. Trail and ultra runners in general are a pretty outgoing breed, which makes it easy to start a conversation with a complete stranger. Roaming the town on foot has also helped me learn my way around much easier. 

While nothing can ever replace the memories I've made while growing up in my hometown of Johnson City, a move to Ithaca has certainly been for the best. After overcoming the initial doubts and fears that come with moving to a new place, Hayley and I now enjoy the Finger Lakes life here and are hoping to stay long-term. As a bonus, we still have the convenience of living only one to two hours away from many of our friends and family. Aside from leaving our respective nests for college, this was the largest and most significant move either of us have ever been through. Thank you to the community as a whole for making us feel right at home!

Has anyone else had a similar experience with the Ithaca community? What about a different experience? Do you feel running groups make it easier to connect with new people? Share you thoughts in the comment section below!

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