Waking up at dawn to run a trail probably appeals to few people. That’s OK. I’m not here to tell you how to explore the dunes, or any natural area for that matter, but by describing how I reconnected with the Cowles Bog Trail, maybe, a splinter of my excitement will resonate with you.
A 4,000-year-old diverse wetland hemmed with unique savannahs near Chesterton, Cowles Bog holds a special place in my heart—and in the heart of many people, I suspect for a litany of reasons, but for runners, the trail, easily one of the most technically challenging in the region, in addition to being easy on the eyes, is an immeasurable source of joy—and surprises.
Shortly after venturing onto the soft trail at the Cowles Bog Trailhead, I hear a guttural growl from a point just off the path. It’s clear and vivid. My intuition tells me it’s from a relatively small animal like a fox, coyote or raccoon—still, it heightens my senses and in the dim morning light, my feet propel me forward a bit faster.
Soon, the static embrace of insects, singsong of birds and hum from nearby industry envelop me with pleasant calm. As a younger person that juxtaposition was unsettling—the infinite tango of industry and conservation, but now, I find great comfort that both coexist. I’m at peace—and, more importantly, there are no animals chasing me through the ferns.
I relax into a comfortable jog—unless, I find myself at an incline, and then I mostly walk. The Japanese have a concept called shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing” or absorbing the outdoors, for me, it’s not a choice, it’s an unconscious osmosis, and it’s freeing and energizing.
The breeze is cool and refreshing in these calm, quiet hours on this September day. It’s as if the woods have a breath and I’m edging my way closer to some secret. Even though, I know what’s ahead on this particular route: inclines—perfect for runners and hikers alike to raise the pulse and test the fiber of their morale and muscle.
Growing up—and now, moving back to this region some years ago, I am aware that there are many people—mostly local—that don’t regularly hike in the dunes. I recently had a conversation with a few regulars at a dusty roadhouse that I frequent about the fact people from here don’t know what they’re missing. A Harley-riding acquaintance surprised me by agreeing and saying that he’s talked to folks that have grown up at the dunes’ doorstep, and shockingly don’t make time to return.
If you decide to explore the dunes, be creative and show gratitude. That’s the spirit of the dunes and it can certainly be found at the Cowles Bog Trail through the zigs, the zags, the ascents and descents, it’s an experience that borders on the spiritual that will wake you up—no matter what time you decide to explore.