All photos by Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson, emberphoto.com.
Milan Kubala is a lucky man. He gets to call Vermont home. He’s got a loving wife, Heidi — who makes a killer berry pie — a 7-month-old daughter, Katherine, and a 6-year-old dog, Miles. And he’s able to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes: running to his job at the Topnotch Resort and Spa in Stowe with Miles at his side.
“Every day I run, the mountains look so different … the river looks different,” says Kubala, 37, a former professional tennis player from what is now the Czech Republic. “I discover things and smell flowers that I don’t even catch on my bike — never mind in the car.”
With summer now in full swing, and with his work only five miles from his home in Stowe village, Kubala runs there three times each week. His commute follows the Stowe Recreation Path and takes about 45 minutes each way. He alternates between running and biking to keep his body feeling balanced and strong, he says. It’s as much an opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise as it is a practical means of getting to work. For super-fit Kubala, a five-mile run is like a walk in the park.
“Running is such a great way to warm up in the morning,” he says. “It really energizes me for the day ahead.”
Since moving to Vermont in 2004 to direct the tennis programs at Topnotch, Kubala has fully embraced the outdoors year round. Running to work is another way for him to maximize his enjoyment of the Green Mountains, and it means consuming and driving less and interacting with his community more.
“It’s incredible how many people I have come to know, or simply get to see on a regular basis, by getting out there every day,” says Kubala.
In the winter, when running and biking to work are less practical, he drives just a couple of miles past Topnotch to the base of Stowe Mountain, climbs it, and then enjoys an early-morning ski run before heading to work. On his days off, Kubala goes backcountry skiing — a pursuit that lured him to Iceland for a ski trip a couple of years ago. When the ground is not covered with snow and ice, he rides his bike or runs to work, to pick up his weekly farm share or to grab a few items from the store — sometimes vodka for his homemade wild-berry liqueurs—which he tucks into a small, runner-friendly backpack.
Kubala finds his run home a great way to decompress after a busy day. “It’s amazing how I’ll be stuck on something at work and then figure it out along my run home,” he says. “And then there are the berries … and mushrooms.” Kubala likes to forage along his route throughout the summer.
He grew up harvesting wild foods in the countryside of his Czech homeland and has a sharp eye for wild porcinis, chanterelles and the many fruits and berries that color the forests and fields of Stowe. Apples hang right over the path, and he’s got his fair share of berry patches mapped out, too.
“As the summer progresses, I either have to run faster or leave more time to get to work … The berries are too good to pass up,” says Kubala, who adds that the first black raspberries are just a week or so away. “And if I bring enough home, Heidi will make a pie.”