The best trail in all of PA? Yes.

Shelli Gimelstein
Favorite Spot: The Schuylkill River Trail

I Am: A graduating Penn senior who is moving back to New York but has fallen in love with Philly
Years in Philly: 4
Current Home: University City

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My Love Note

Dear Philadelphia,

There’s a quiet spot at the top of a gentle hill on the Schuylkill River Trail, just before the staircase leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with a few benches shaded by blossoming trees and a fountain that invites babies, puppies, and weary joggers alike to cool down by its sparkling spray. From this small, peaceful oasis, you can hear the rumble of trucks on the Schuylkill Expressway above and the churn of the river below.

When I pass this spot, I try to run for at least 10 minutes more before turning around — but last week, I got a phone call that forced me to stop there. After months of job applications, interviews, and growing anxiety, this was the place I found out I finally had a job offer that would be taking me back to New York for the next two years. After pacing frantically around this spot on the phone, I hung up and began my euphoric journey back to Penn, my face a beaming, salty mess of sweat and tears.

There are other places along the trail tied to not so happy memories. There’s the path beside the boathouses where I got mugged sophomore year and had to jump into a police car for an hour-long chase through North Philadelphia for the youths that had tried to steal my cellphone and only made off with my headphones. There’s also a stretch of sidewalk just before the trail where I stumbled over a cast-off metal bar and hobbled away in blood-soaked pain after a foolishly-timed run the day after Spring Fling. These incidents would probably have convinced a more reasonable person to cut her losses and stick to the treadmill in the future. But the trail is irresistible — especially in the springtime. The shimmer of the river on sun-soaked afternoon runs is enough to restore my faith in the trail as my sanctuary, time and time again. 

Perched between bustling Center City and the Penn bubble as the gateway to West Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River is only a 10 minute run away from campus — but I didn’t venture off to explore it until the first warm day of spring, many months after I’d first heard of it. A seemingly simple thing, going on a run, but after a sluggish semester of avoiding the gym, moping over my petty freshman woes and watching The O.C. reruns in my room, this was my first time attempting life as a real Philadelphian and getting to know the city on my own. Since then, I’ve gone on plenty of more exciting solo adventures around the city, but none will be quite as important to me as the thrills and moments of peace I’ve discovered on the trail.

That’s because Penn can be a rat race and it’s absolutely crucial to find time to get away. Just as my runs along the river taught me to love this city, they also gave me the clarity I needed to navigate and find my love for Penn. Around the same time I began to push past fatigue, knee pain and memories of my mugging to run farther than I ever had before, I also learned to manage my disappointment and frustration with Penn. The former rewarded me with a runner’s high and gorgeous views of the river by the entrance to Fairmount Park. The latter allowed me to move past the confusion and loneliness of freshman year and begin to find my confidence and my purpose — a work in progress.

Three years later, the Schuylkill River trail has become a large part of why Philadelphia now feels like home, so it’s bittersweet that it’s also where I got the job offer that will take me away to New York City — a place I grew up visiting but never got to intimately know. It’s a far bigger, more chaotic city, and the challenges of adjusting to Penn will pale in comparison to those of acclimating to grown-up, real-job life. So I’ll have to begin the search anew for special places that feel mine and mine alone — and I know that this search will start with a good, long run.



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