The silver linings of failure

There are silver linings in those clouds.

One of the challenges of living in the middle of the country is that my opportunities to go to the places I love – namely, the mountains – are far fewer than I’d like. I envy my friends in western states where mountain adventures can be had in the span of a day trip, or maybe a few hours by car for multi-day outings.

For me, it’s planned weeks and months in advance, saving up money, getting time off from work approved, and all the logistical challenges that come with it. Being from a lower elevation doesn’t help my cause when I get there. In any case, I have to make the most of things when I finally get away.

And I guess that’s what irks me about my last trip, that it ended a mere 800 vertical feet from a lone summit on what was otherwise a perfect day in the mountains. The weather, the route conditions, pretty much objective variable out there, was in my favor. And yet I got stopped short because the one thing I didn’t do – prepare well enough physically – bit me in the ass.

A return trip this year was out. Too many car repair bills, not enough cash flow. Middle class ain’t what it used to be. So this failure gets to stick in my craw for a while, maybe as much as a year.

I suppose there are plenty of adventures to be had close to home. But summer in the Southern Plains is not that inviting. Blazing hot temps, high humidity and plenty of bugs. There’s no cool of the alpine air to which I can escape, no splashing in an ocean nearby. Just hundreds of miles of baking earth in the Sun Belt.

I got home a little ticked off. It was great to see friends and family, and really, any time in the mountains is worthwhile, even if it’s hard, uncomfortable, or ultimately leads to less than what was planned. I spent four hours driving from my campsite to civilization, and another 10 hours from Denver to home. Plenty of time to think about the whole mess.

And therein lies the silver lining. I knew my conditioning wasn’t up to snuff. I could do something about that. So as soon as I got back, I got to work. And worked harder. More miles on the road. Bigger effort in the gym. Getting outside in the heat and tackling it head-on. I sucked on the trail, so I was going to make myself pay for it now so I wouldn’t suck later.

In about two weeks, I’ll be starting a training cycle for fall races. Looking back on the last few weeks, and the improvements I’ve already seen, I may just enter that 12-week cycle better prepared than I have in years. Which means come November, I might not suck at all.

So there it is. Failing to plan begets failure in execution. But failure in execution can be a great motivator for the tasks to come.

Bob Doucette

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Happy first birthday, ‘Outsider’

I was hiking with my friend Bill on a hot July morning when we got to talking about the book I wrote. He’d already read it – he was actually in it – and gave me the kind of cool feedback you really dig as a writer. It was a fun way to keep the conversation going that morning as we put in a few miles on some of my favorite local trails.

Altitude wasn’t the issue, obviously. Bill was used to hiking at 12,000 feet and up, and nothing goes much higher than 800 feet in Tulsa. But he’d been kind enough to surprise me by showing up for an informal launch party the night before, so I figured I owed him a hike before he flew back to Denver.

“Hot,” was his main observation. Colorado gets heat. But not Southern Plains heat.

As far as the book? He noted how its title, “Outsider,” was appropriate to me. I’d orbited Colorado’s 14er hiking community for years but wasn’t really quite part of it. At least not in the way that Coloradoans are. The same could also be said for the local trail running community, one I don’t get to interact with nearly as much as I’d like because I work nights and they all have normal gigs that allow for plenty of night time, early morning and weekend get-togethers. So I orbit that group, too.

Not that I realized it. It took someone looking at that book, and at me, to point it out. As it turns out, there was a layer to “Outsider” that even I wasn’t aware of.

That’s the kind of thing writers live for, to see how something we create affects others, to see how readers interpret it, relate to it, and maybe even get moved by it. As of this week, I’m one year removed from when “Outsider” was published. You dream in your head it was like a countdown to a rocket launch, or some other big deal, but it was just a click of a button on my computer and presto! People could order it without the slightest bit of ceremony.

When a book comes out, I imagine a lot of writers fantasize about hitting that New York Times best-sellers list. Maybe getting interviewed on the Today show, or get chosen by Oprah’s book club. You dream about launching this new, big thing that will finally give you the freedom to do what you love for the rest of your life, and live out the rags-to-riches tale of J.K. Rowling. I know I did. But it usually doesn’t work out that way. It didn’t for me.

I told people I had three goals. First, break even. Even self-publishing has costs, and if you really care about your work, you’re going to invest in it. My hope in this regard was to at least recoup my costs. Second was to make enough money to fix my car. Years of deferred maintenance had piled up, and the price tag to cover this multitude of sins wasn’t small.

So far, check and check.

Third, I really wanted to make enough to get an adventure-worthy rig that could take me to the backcountry places I love. It would be nice to not always be the guy bumming rides from people with high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. I haven’t made that goal yet.

But those weren’t really my aims. And I knew better than to pin my hopes on becoming the next big name in the publishing world. What I really wanted to do was write something honest, something I could be proud of, and something that would affect people in a positive way. I hoped to communicate the way the outdoors has blessed me and describe how wonderful the people I’ve met and traveled with really are.

“Outsider” is about all those things, and more. It’s about family. About grief. And God. It’s about being lost, but finding yourself in the midst of wilderness, both physical and metaphorical. It’s about finding healing in those wild, difficult and beautiful places. That’s what I hoped to communicate, anyway.

On that note, feedback was more valuable than the money. My friend Matt brought a bunch of his California friends to town late last summer, and one of his buds had read it. She wanted to talk to me about it, particularly about the chapter on my oldest brother Mike. Reviews posted online were gratifying. And just this week, a friend of mine texted this: “Your book struck a deep chord in me.” These conversations, reviews and other messages help me believe that maybe I don’t suck after all.

That might sound a little sappy, but here’s the reality of writing a book: It’s a lot like anything else someone builds from scratch. You write a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter. You string those chapters together. You edit. Revise. Tweak. Edit again. And again. And again. Eventually, you check the last box, call it good, and send it to market, the same way a carpenter might take simple boards and end up with a fantastic piece of furniture, or a custom bike builder would take sheet metal, a frame, a motor and scores of parts and fashion a road-worthy machine. A lot of time, effort and love goes into that kind of work, and that’s what makes it meaningful. The hope is that the effort and meaning you place in that comes through with satisfied buyers.

And this is the point where I have to offer some gratitude. A good number of you all plunked down a few bucks to buy a copy of “Outsider,” and for that I’m hugely grateful. You invested in the thing that took me a few years to build. My sister and parents became a pro bono marketing machine, so there are a bunch of copies of the book floating around in Texas right now. And more of you helped the cause by word-of-mouth via social media and in person with your friends and family. It really does take a village.

So what now? Well, there’s always something on the fire. A few interviews done here, a few more to get there. A chapter written. I guess I need a little more time in the shop.

If you haven’t read ‘Outsider’ and would like a copy, you can order it here.

Bob Doucette

A break in the storms and some time on the trail

Look how green that is.

The weird weather cycles have kept me away from the trails of late. We get big storms, huge rain dumps, maybe a day of no action, and then it starts all over again. It’s been like this for a couple of months now.

It’s not that I’m shy about getting dirty. I’ve gone through plenty of mud. But a big part of me believes in giving the trails a chance to dry out before I beat them up with my boots. It’s been too long, though — too many rained-out weekends, too many tornado warnings, and too much flooding. I’ve put in enough road miles. My feet need more dirt and less pavement.

I finally caught a break this week. The rain backed off long enough for me to get out on the trails and at least hike a few miles. Man, I needed that.

All this went down around the same time another series of articles came out extolling the benefits of spending at least a couple of hours every week in nature. Not in a park, or in your yard, but in true natural settings like a forest. You don’t get the same sounds, smells and sights in man-made “natural” settings as you do in the woods.

What I noticed was the change of seasons. It’s summer now, and the forest has, indeed, moved on from spring.

Seen on the trail: things that grow.

First of all, the foliage has gone from that bright “new growth” green of spring to a more mature, deeper shade. It’s still dense — the heavy spring rains have guaranteed that. But the greens are darker, maybe even flatter, as trees, bushes and grasses maximize their ability to turn bright sunlight into sustenance.

The sounds are different, too. In the spring it was all birds, all the time. The birds are still there, but they’re quieter. Instead, you hear the bugs. The heat of summer seems to liven up the chirping, buzzing, screeching insects of the forest to the point of being loud. Summer songs of the woods are distinctly invertebrate.

Then there’s the heat and humidity. If you’re living anywhere in the Sunbelt, your attitude toward summer hiking has to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to get very sweaty, kinda smelly, and feeling a bit gross when it’s done. Maybe well before that. If you’re cool with that, you can enjoy yourself as long as you’re hydrated. If not, well, you’re going to end up waiting a good four months for the temperatures to come down.

I don’t plan on waiting. I’ll take the sweat and get my miles as long as the seemingly ceaseless train of storms doesn’t wash me out.

Summer in the woods.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: A city and a state suffer from historic floods

The Arkansas River, well above flood stage.

Over the years, I’ve written about what I see when I go run. If you’ve followed along, you’ll have read about wooded hills and rugged singletrack, urban skylines and gritty streets, and sometimes the more mundane parks and neighborhoods where I log a lot of miles. Eagles and armadillos have crossed my paths, as have hipsters and drug dealers. You get the drift.

Today’s entry is going to be a little different, mostly because the places I run have collided with the relentless forces of nature.

I haven’t run or hiked my local dirt trails in over a month. In May alone, we’ve received 18 inches of rain. I know trail runners pride themselves on not shying away from mud, but this is different. When the trails are this waterlogged, foot and bike traffic do damage. I’m trying to give those paths a break. So that’s left me pounding the pavement or riding my road bike.

The river is seen more than 23 feet above its normal levels, and right under the beams of this bridge.

Sadly, a lot of the running and biking paths I like are under water. Floods of historic proportions have plagued northeastern Oklahoma for more than a week, and eventually, those floodwaters from the Arkansas River topped their banks and swamped miles of paths that I use for many of my runs and almost all of my rides. Riverbank erosion guarantees that they will be out of commission for some time, as sinkholes and shoreline collapses have occurred. It will take many months, of not years, to repair the damage.

Over the past week, I’ve ridden my bike and run to the water’s edge to see how high the river was rising. Short answer: It looks bad. Real bad. Bad to the point where on one Saturday, I saw a guy in a lawn chair on the curb outside his home, fishing. Not in the river. But in the street.

And that was before the flooding really got going.

A RIVER’S WRATH

I don’t want you to think I’m crying about my loss of running and riding routes. Far from it. I can run and ride in a lot of places that are on higher ground, so I’m good. For that matter, where I live is also untouched by the flooding. Compared to many, I’m fortunate.

But the areas that are underwater are familiar to me, and seeing them slowly consumed by the murky, brown floodwaters of the Arkansas over the past week has given me perspective on this unfolding disaster.

From the top of Cry Baby Hill, looking down on a flooded Riverside Drive. To the right, paved park trails are covered by water.

Saturday was the day I went on my bike and saw the dude fishing in the street. By then, the water had blocked off about a block or so of Riverside Drive while also flooding the adjacent park trails. Nearby, a homeless man who had a camp under a bridge up the road was standing on a rock, filling a water bottle at a drinking fountain. I know where his camp is, and it was safe for the time being. Other camps across the river are washed out.

That was when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was releasing 256,000 cubic feet of water per second from the upstream Keystone Dam, the structure that basically keeps Tulsa and many downstream communities from flooding on a regular basis. But even Keystone can only do so much, and those big releases (it normally flows at a small fraction of what we’re seeing now) are the only way to keep upstream drainage from overtopping the dam, an event that would magnify the catastrophe.

On the west bank, the flooding’s severity seemed more plain. In some spots, I could see park benches and water fountains that were nearly covered, indicating a floodwater rise of nearly two feet from just a few days prior. Ordinarily, these fixtures were at least ten feet above the water’s edge. In the middle of the river, an island is completely covered, with only a dozen or so green treetops poking out of the water letting you know it’s still there. The “new” shoreline of the river has slowly encroached on a riverside apartment complex, creeping up the banks. I’ve run and ridden by these apartments scores of times. Never in my life would I thought it possible that they’d be close to being flooded.

Another look at Riverside Drive.

By Monday, the problem had only worsened. Heavy rains upstream from the dam forced the Corps to increase Keystone’s outflow to 275,000 cfs, not far from the record set in 1986. That day, I went for a run in my neighborhood, but also to the bridges that span the river west of downtown.

As expected, the waters had risen. What was once a hundred yards of Riverside Drive under water had grown to several city blocks. The floating remains of uprooted trees zipped down the river close to its banks. Elsewhere in the city, evacuations were underway, streets and neighborhoods were inundated, and sewer drains were backing up.

But what grabbed my attention was the river itself.

When it reaches Oklahoma, the Arkansas River is a prairie waterway. In other words, it’s broad, slow and features plenty of sand bars. It’s wide enough southeast of Tulsa that it can be navigated by cargo barges (there’s a port north of Tulsa from a tributary river that empties into the Arkansas), but for much of the year it’s a sleepy, ponderous thing that meanders toward its final destination at the Mississippi.

Looking south from Tulsa’s 11th Street bridge. The current in the river is incredibly strong.

This week, its demeanor is far less benign. The current is fast. If you were to sprint along its banks, it’s doubtful you could outrun it. Where the river meets bridge supports, the roar is loud. The entire channel is full, churning and racing downstream at an urgent pace.

Observing it this week, the imagery looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then it hit me Sunday. The river doesn’t look like a river at all. It looks like a tsunami. A muddy, quarter-mile wide tsunami that never recedes, but keeps barreling southeast, and I wouldn’t want to be in its way.

THE WIDER PROBLEM

My own observations are fine, but I’ve escaped this flood unscathed. That’s not true for a lot of people. They lost more than a place to run or ride.

Several neighborhoods in low-lying neighborhoods in the city and its suburbs have been flooded. Towns like Blackwell, close to the Kansas border, all the way to Muskogee, Fort Gibson and Webbers Falls near Arkansas are partially or completely swamped. The town of Braggs is basically an island, accessible this week only by boat or rail. Farther east, in Arkansas, cities like Fort Smith and Little Rock are in full-on crisis.

It’s part of a trend this year. In the central and southern Rockies, massive snow dumps have left the mountains with snowpack so deep that it will take at least a month longer than normal to melt out. Earlier in the spring, communities in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas have suffered massive, sustained flooding. The Mississippi River valley is facing the same fate.

These Canada geese would ordinarily be puttering around in a nearby lagoon, but that lagoon has been swallowed by the river. So the birds are hanging out on higher ground, hunting for bugs and worms.

And let’s not forget the tornadoes. It seemed like we went several days straight where there were nightly tornado warnings. One tornado killed two people in the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno. Others ripped through numerous towns across the state, including here in Tulsa. Across the country, more than 200 tornadoes from the Great Plains to the Great Lakes touched down in the past 12 days. They even had a tornado warning in Staten Island, N.Y.

Earlier this week, someone on Twitter called out the local media for not reporting on this as an example of climate change. I’m not climate change denier. Far from it. But I know that weather is not the same as climate, so I’m slower to make the link.

However, scientists have told us that as climate change deepens, weather extremes will proliferate. Periods of severe drought will be followed by seasons of extreme flooding. Roasting hot temperatures can be followed by record cold. More intense hurricanes and thunderstorms will be more common. Longer and more severe fire seasons will come. You get the drift. Look at last year’s western fire season, or hurricanes named Harvey and Maria, and you could make an argument that the patterns are already emerging.

And if so, a lot more will be lost than a few running routes or bicycle paths.

In the meantime, I’m hoping the waters recede soon, and for the suffering to end. It’s been said that it will take years to come back from this, and I believe it. We’ll all have some adjusting to do for quite some time.

Tulsa’s River Parks have miles and miles of paved trails for runners, walkers and cyclists on both banks of the Arkansas River. But most of those paths are covered in water, and many are heavily damaged. It’ll be awhile before they’re repaired.

Bob Doucette

Why I hike: Three reasons that are off the beaten path

Whether it’s a dramatic scene like this or something more ordinary close to home, the real reasons I hike run deep. As seen on Mount Sneffels, Colo. (Noel Finta photo)

There have likely been tens of thousands of articles, blog posts and other testimonials describing why people hike. I wrote one a few years back. All of them have similar reasons, from gaining peace and quiet, to exercise, to getting close to nature, and so on.

Less frequently reasons include achievement (some hikes are hard, and even risky) and promotion – you know, doin’ it for the ‘Gram.

Being transparent, I’ve gone on hikes to take photos. Any 14er or 13er hike I do comes with the goal of achieving a summit, so sure, accomplishing something difficult is sometimes implied. You could say these, and any number of reasons mentioned above apply to me as well.

But I got to thinking about it recently and I realized that some of the best outcomes for any hike – even those aimed at photography, summits or training for something bigger – come with benefits far more valuable. Often those are what keep me coming back.

One big reason I go: to think. It’s been said that time, slowed down to the pace of nature, gives people a chance to step away from our distractions and let our minds wander. I do some of my best thinking on a hike, particularly when I’m alone. It doesn’t matter if that day calls for double-digit miles or is something far shorter. Unloading my mental bucket on the trail allows me to ponder what needs to be pondered. Rumination does the body good, I believe.

Another reason: to intentionally notice the details. My life, just like many of yours, is a rushed and regimented thing pinned down by routines and schedules forged by family, employment and a sizable miscellany that requires my attention. When I’m on a hike and I’m not crashing down the trail for training purposes, I try my best to look around and see the terrain. Maybe it’s an emerald shade from the birth of spring. Or a splash of floral color bursting from a sea of green. Going over a creek crossing a couple weeks ago, I peered into the shallows and saw movement: tadpoles, darting between rocks, feeding, swimming and hopefully growing into the full-grown frogs they’re designed to become. Looking around has helped me spot lizards in the brush, armadillos rooting around in fallen leaves and a massive owl swooping through the trees toward some target unseen by me.

And it’s not just the sights, but the smells. And the sounds. The woods have a sweetness to them in the spring, and a different but no less pleasant aroma deep into the fall. On the auditory side, the chirps of marmots echoing across a huge, stony Rocky Mountain amphitheater on a crisp fall day remains one of the most indelible memories of what was already a remarkable day in the alpine for me. Had I been enveloped in some digital playlist or the din of conversation, I might have missed that haunting  cry.

One last reason I’ll mention: to heal. And I mean that in a comprehensive way. During the week, I exercise hard. A casual hike helps work out the soreness and hasten recovery. But also, healing comes from the non-physical wounds of life. We’ve all suffered loss – the death of a loved one, the ending of a friendship, a past trauma – that leaves us emotionally battered. A single hike is no cure-all, but as a habit, it can be medicinal. I speak from my own experience, and I know many, many others can do the same.

Looking over this list I notice one more thing. These three reasons, absent of the more popular motivations, are sufficient. If all I gained or experienced were an opportunity to think, to notice the details, and to heal, that would be enough to keep me going back. I’ve learned I don’t need a summit or some super-rad mileage count, or even an epic view. I don’t need a pic to blow up with likes on Instagram, and I don’t need some electronic doodad to congratulate me on the number of steps I took, calories I burned or vert I gained. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But without the deeper experiences of a hike, it would feel more like long walk absent a soul.

Bob Doucette

Eighty years, and still showing me the way: My dad is pretty rad

One rad dad.

My dad turned 80 today. I joked with him that some countries don’t last that long. Eight decades of life for a guy who has seen more and done more than probably most people you and I know.

Some of my earlier memories of my dad were times where he was doing the things he loved outside. We played a lot of pickup basketball in the driveway or at the park in suburban Denver. My folks bought a cabin in the mountains that served as our family retreat, an investment that stuck with me and instilled a love of the mountains that stubbornly clings to me to this day.

And I remember him on his bike. He had this lime green tank of a ten-speed Schwinn that he’d take out on sunny weekends, complete with a small leather pouch attached to the saddle. He’d keep his smokes in there, and I imagined he’d take a break, light up a stogie and take a look at the view from wherever he was at the time. I was too small to ride with him back then, so I guess I have to go with my imagined memory of how all that went down.

And then there was the music. Dad has broad tastes, much of it guided by his years as a professional musician. He loves classical, loves jazz, loves rock ‘n’ roll. His record stacks include Aaron Copland, Chuck Mangione, Al Jarreau, Pink Floyd, and the Eagles, among others.

Another favorite was Chicago, and one particular song sticks out: “Saturday in the Park.” The imagery of the lyrics in that song make me think of people enjoying sunny summer days in some fantastic green space, the world at peace, at least for an afternoon.

It all resonates with me, some days more than others. It did did so deeply today, as I was on my own bike, enjoying the sun and a cool breeze on a spectacular spring afternoon. Saturday in the park was real for me.

I saw tons of people on the parks, playing disc golf, riding scooters and listening to live music on an outdoor stage. Birds flocked on a sandbar in the river and frogs sang from pools of standing water left behind from the previous week’s deluge. The smell of the woods on another leg of my ride was sweet in a way that only a forest can exude.

I don’t have a leather pouch on my bike, no smokes to burn on a mid-ride break. But all these years later, I get it. I understand how the words of that song, the faces in the park, the green of the trees and the breeze in my face as I crank away on my ride are woven together for me today just as they were for my dad back then. It made an impression on me, and I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Happy 80th, Dad.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: I’ve run my city’s streets for eight years, and the change has been dramatic

I run here.

When I first moved to Tulsa, I used running not only as a way to get in shape, but to get to know the part of the city I lived in. Since I live downtown, that had me running in urban environments, and the mix of residential and industrial areas that exist on the fringes of the city’s core.

At this point, we’re talking nearly eight years ago. Back then, the downtown was what you’d expect: high-rise offices towers, stony buildings built for government business, and a mix of people that included buttoned-down professionals, trendy hipsters and transients.

Change was underway elsewhere. On the north side of downtown was an old warehouse district. It was in the midst of what would be a major transformation. You could see its beginnings – a baseball park, some restaurants, a few clubs and some coffee shops. Mixed in were plenty of those old warehouses, industrial sites and, on the west side, the county jail, the sheriff’s office, a bunch of bail bondsmen’s offices and social service organizations aimed at helping the down-and-out crowd that seem to flock in most cities’ urban centers.

I liked the mix. The new and the old coexisting, sometimes awkwardly, but moving ahead just the same. I’d see signs of new money flowing in, and in the shadows of their enterprises, the lonely desperation of those being left behind. Why did I like this? Because it was unsanitized, a daily reminder that the optimism so many of privilege enjoy is not shared, and that’s something to which we need to pay attention. In the cleaned-up boundaries of the suburb, all you see is the edifice of prosperity. No one really know what’s going on in all those cookie-cutter homes. But on the streets where I run, everything was laid out plainly: People dressed to the nines for a night on the town, stepping around some homeless dude who drank too much, sleeping it off on a corner next to a puddle of puke.

I’ve never felt uncomfortable running in these areas, never felt unsafe. But always engaged. This was raw, unvarnished reality.

Home of what used to be the Downtown Lounge, next door to a tattoo parlor. They’re both gone now, replaced by a craft brewery.

Of course, not all of the contrasts were so drastic or dire. There was this one block I particularly enjoyed, wedged between those tony restaurants on one side and the jail on another. An old two-story brick building housed a dive bar, a tattoo shop, some garage slips and what I assumed to be an apartment. It was a stubborn place, resisting gentrification on one side while trying to make a buck in its own gritty way. I’d zip by this block before turning south and going up and over a bridge back to my gym and a locker room shower.

Well, things have changed. An empty lot is now a small park that is home to food trucks and free concerts. New museums and art centers have sprung up. Apartment buildings were built. More restaurants, more bars, more places to spend your money and have a good time. It’s flourishing.

And that gritty old block? All the old businesses there are gone, the building gutted and transformed into brewery and taproom with an outdoor deck on the roof. As you can imagine, the clientele at the taproom is different than that of the dive bar and the tattoo parlor. It looks nice, and at some point I’ll probably pop in for a beer. But I wish I’d have bought a drink at that dive bar, and maybe even gotten some ink at the neighboring shop.

This is how part of my mid-week route used to look. A lot has changed over the years, as many apartment blocks and homes have been fixed up.

The neighborhoods surrounding downtown have changed, too. It’s part gentrification, part urban renewal, and part inevitable evolution of the city. One of my go-to runs goes east of downtown toward the University of Tulsa. Years ago, this meant going through some neighborhoods that were, generously put, dodgy. Many of the houses and apartments of the Pearl District and the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood were abodes of last resort, often bordered by abandoned properties and more neatly kept homes of people who were stubbornly hanging on. Throw in some manufacturing sites and you have some real grit.

But both the Pearl and Kendall-Whittier are undergoing an upswing similar to what’s happening downtown. Condemned houses are being torn down and replaced with newer homes. Shitty apartment blocks are being renovated, and to be frank, they look pretty good. Derelict factories and warehouses are being reclaimed, many of them turning into, you guessed it, craft breweries and taprooms. At the rate it’s going in Tulsa, the love of the suds might be what saves much of urban America from the wrecking ball.

But every now and then, I get reminders that despite the change, there will always be something shady going on.

A few weeks back, I was running that route east of downtown, maybe half a mile from my turnaround point. A beat-up old import car was stopped in the middle of the street for no real reason, and some random dude walked up to the passenger side. An exchange through the driver’s side window occurred. Random dude then jogged out of the street and into an alley by some apartments and disappeared inside. The car drove off.

And here I am, chugging away at my mid-pack pace, thinking, “I just saw a drug deal go down.”

I’m not gonna applaud this transaction or the maladies that come with it. Having a drug house in any neighborhood makes it a more dangerous place (we had a black tar heroin dealer get busted in my neighborhood awhile back, and once that racket was broken up, the character of my streets changed for the better). But there is a trend among cities that hopes to wipe out the bad (the drug dealers and the crime that comes with them) and replace it with something cleaner and more palatable for the masses. And if you can make a buck or two in the process, so much the better. The result is often a drop in those crimes and the loss of the historic identity of distressed neighborhoods where those crimes used to occur. In a lot of ways, it’s a zero-sum game where few win and a bunch lose.

Downtown as seen from the Tulsa Arts District. The area used to be a rundown warehouse district, but is now home to a number of galleries, restaurants, pubs, music venues and a sweet little park that is home to live music and food trucks. I run here a lot, and there is usually something pretty cool to see.

So in eight years of running Tulsa’s streets, I’ve seen this transformation go down in real-time. A semi-sketchy tract of warehouses is now a vibrant arts district. A decaying section of the inner city is cleaning up, turning around and showing signs of prosperity. Less obvious but just as real is a loss of a former community identity that had seen its high and lows.

Who knows how different it will all be eight years from now. Hopefully I’ll still be running those same streets. And maybe, in some corners, not all of the grit will have been washed away. The shiny and the new get your attention. But the grit is what makes is interesting. The grit is where the history lies.

Bob Doucette