Last Friday, the day before we left Reed Bingham State Park, Shawn walked into the bedroom after spending the afternoon writing at a coffee shop and found me lying on the couch looking crazy-eyed. He tenderly suggested, “Why don’t you go have some time to yourself…”
This has become our new, and necessary, habit. Spending the day hanging out in a bus with 4 lively children can bring a mother to the edge. So I threw on some shoes and rushed out the door before anyone could ask for a drink or need a diaper change.
I knew exactly where I wanted to go. The first day we arrived there, one of the park employees had given me a map of the area, with a detailed drawing of some trails about a ½ mile north of where we were camping. I needed some space and nature to clear my mind; those trails would do the trick.
As I ran down the road leading to the trails, I felt the slightest sense of apprehension. These trails were secluded, nothing else around but forest and prairie. I hadn’t told Shawn where I was going; I hadn’t brought a cell phone. Truth is, I did both those things intentionally. I just wanted time to myself, unattached, unwatched. But as I turned off the main road and started down one of the root sprayed trails, I decided this probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done. But I had noticed that the parking lot at the trail entrance was empty; I’d probably be the only one out there.
So I ran on. A light rain started falling as I pounded down the boardwalk that stretched along part of the trail. Beside the low fronds of palmettos, deer perked their ears at the strumming of my feet, and darted for deeper cover. Pine green waters rose on either side of the boardwalk, dispersing into shallow swamp, then wet forest floor.
A mile into the trail, I started to worry that I’d lost my way. I wasn’t seeing any signs for the additional paths and the rain was getting heavier so I turned around. As I headed back towards the entrance to the trail and just began thinking about the hot shower I’d take at the bathhouse nestled close to the bus, I saw two young men walking towards me.
“Oh, shit.” I mumbled to myself.
I am well aware of the fact that those two boys could have been the sweetest, most delightful kids ever born in the great state of Georgia, but I’ve unfortunately watched too many “Made for TV” movies, too much 11 o’clock news, and to me, this scenario looked bad: a woman running all by herself in the deep woods of a state park, two men with no fishing poles, no running gear, no visible reason to be walking the trails on a rainy afternoon.
As they approached, I sped up my running. I’m a notoriously slow runner, but as I neared them, I got up to a pretty fast clip. They looked like they were in their early twenties, hefty, wearing gym shorts and baggy t-shirts, hats turned cock-eyed; not the nature-loving sort.
I didn’t look directly at them as I passed them, just spurted a quick “Hi” and kept my eyes ahead of me, chanting prayers of protection in my head.
“How you doing?” A slow, baritone voice replied as cigarette smoke wafted behind them.
That’s when I hit a sprint.
“Oh, God, protect me…” I whispered, tearing up the trail as fast as I could, glancing over my shoulder every hundred feet or so to be sure they didn’t turn around. “They’re tubby guys,” I told myself. “You could outrun them if you needed to.” But when I hit the entrance of the trail, I saw their car, the only car, sitting in the parking lot. I couldn’t outrun a car.
Constantly looking behind me, I thundered along the ½ mile lonely, forest-lined road, leading back to civilization, a hot flurry of breath and fear and anger. I was blazing mad at myself for being in such a stupid scenario: alone, without a phone, no one knowing my whereabouts. Then I felt embarrassment that I had stirred a seemingly innocent situation into a full-blown nightmare, a cynic with a dramatic flair. But this highway of emotion finally ended with simple sadness that I live in a world where I had to think about horrific things like abduction, rape, and murder on a peaceful trail run.
Obviously, I made it home unharmed. Half-depressed, I staggered up the bus steps to find the cheerful faces of my husband and two youngest children sitting on the sofa having just finished a rousing reading of Dig, Dig, Digging. And instantly all the anger, embarrassment, and sadness evaporated, with gratefulness springing up in their stead: thankful that those boys were better citizens than I gave them credit for, thankful for grace filling in for my stupidity, thankful that giggling children still cuddle up in the arms of their father for an afternoon of reading…
Thankful that the world still has some goodness left in it.
A question for all you female runners out there: what makes you feel protected while out on a run?