Sunday, September 29, 2013


So do you all remember Will Smith’s Dog from the movie “I am Legend?” Remember how it gets bit and then turns into a mean zombie dog that Will Smith then has to strangle and it brings a tear to everyone’s eyes? If you didn’t see I am Legend, just think Cujo. And if you didn’t see Cujo, just imagine a shaggy, rabid wolf. Today on my run I saw that dog. Let me explain.

First of all, running (or as some like to call it, jogging…) is not exactly “a thing” in Russia. Some people run/jog, but they are looked upon with a mixed sense of mockery and admiration. Why do they wear such funny clothing and do something so miserable (but it is kind of impressive that they have the wherewithal to do such a thing)? You don’t get heckled for being a runner in Russia, unlike in the US, but people will blankly stare at you until you feel like you’re either the ugliest or the most interesting person they’ve ever seen.

A quick aside: my dorm is guarded by a sentry, to whom I always have to give my key when I leave and who returns me my key when I come back. The men who do this job work silently, grudgingly taking and giving keys; the old(ish) women who do this job like to chat or comment on the appropriateness of your dress. The women look at me questioningly and ask me if I will be warm enough when I leave for my run. Their skepticism reads plainly, “Silly American, he doesn’t know what he’s doing in Siberia.” When I return from the run they are surprised, and when I tell them that I was, indeed, running the whole time I was gone, their skepticism turns to admiration, as if I had done something truly impressive. A smile and a “молодец!” are my reward for 40 minutes of decidedly un-fancy footwork. Such is the average Russian’s attitude towards “jogging”.

So where I live in Novosibirsk is in a dormitory surrounded by apartments, the university, and shops, at the top of a hill that is separated from the greater part of the city by a ravine. But this ravine is not empty. Oh no, it’s not a river gorge. It is a “non-commercial rural” area that is actually quite well populated; just the roads haven’t been repaired in… well, ever? I ran here because I saw on the satellite images what looked like dirt roads, and I figured they’d go somewhere or maybe lead to a trail in the woods or… anything besides crowded roads and apartment buildings. This wasn’t too far off, except satellite images are limited in showing relatively minor changes in elevation and don’t show much detail. You know, details like every house has an angry dog, or the roads are treacherous to walk on, let alone drive on, and you just might drown in the mud.

Which reminds me: a Russian once told me that, “Russia is a country of a lot of very bad roads and a whole lot of mud.” In some cases, that is not very far from the truth, this being one of those cases.
So here I was, running past small houses between hills covered in towering, Sovietesque apartment buildings, trudging through the mud, being looked at like I was a space alien, and all of a sudden I see Will Smith’s zombie dog feverishly trying to escape his leash. There were other dogs, but this was the only dog for which I stopped to check that it was securely trapped by its leash. I took this moment to evaluate that, yes, it looks exactly like Will Smith’s zombie dog. Run!

Unfortunately the dogs and the mud led me to the next hill, covered by an apartment complex, so I had to turn around and possibly pass Cujo again. Instead of risk a swift death, I went left to cross the ravine in a different place. Hey, I’d rather take the mystery path towards the power lines than run by the man eating ravenous beast! The power lines almost swallowed me but I managed to return back to civilization on the south side of the Ravine, where I emerged as a mud covered monster of my own.

Basically, running here is going to be a challenge, especially once the snow falls. Time to learn how to cross country ski!


  1. Sounds like broken man trail. Been there.

  2. I was also just warned by the faculty at the University that it is dangerous to run in the rural neighborhoods or in the forest. They suggested running around the "stadium," which more or less used to have a track.

  3. What... exactly... makes running in rural areas dangerous? Not that it will matter soon. You'll need a treadmill and Netflix if you can stream it!

  4. Alex, be careful. I can tell you what is dangerous about jogging in rural areas. First of all, the whole exercise screams: “I am a foreigner.” With that said, number one perception of most Russians, especially in rural areas – foreigners got money. Young adults, males usually, but girls can be just as ruthless, that grow up in these areas are usually not very bright and can be pretty rough. They have to be to make it in those neighborhoods. Rationalization goes something like this. “Look at this crazy foreigner, running in my neighborhood. I don’t care, he should know better than to be here. He is asking for it (whatever that “it” might be).” And that is how you get jumped. You think using someone else’s phone number to reserve a taxi is “a really, really, really bad idea?” Getting jumped in a neighborhood you are describing is deadly. If things go horribly wrong, you won’t be able to get out of there unharmed. The chances of someone finding you are very slim, if you are laying somewhere in a ditch with a concussion. I don’t want to exaggerate things and make it look worse than what it really is, but when ‘vahter/vahtersha’ – a sentinel, tells you it is a bad idea to run in those areas, they really mean it. And a scenario above is what they are trying to warn you about.
    I promise not to say another word of negativity. I want you to enjoy your stay there as much as possible!
    I absolutely love reading your blog! Your writing is great! It makes me feel like I am right there with you. :) I am glad you made it to Novosibirsk, and settling in well. :) All the best to you, Alex.