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Bare Country

One year ago I started documenting my life. To find ‘my narrative,’ to see ‘what I was all about,’ to find something—anything… I’m not quite sure why. But nonetheless I started looking, and that’s all that mattered.

I drove up in the mountains today and hiked down to Hermit Falls. It was going to be a pleasant easy hike, but the catch is that I parked my car and started marching down at 6pm when the sun had cast half the canyon in a shadow already. Everyone was climbing back up the steep path and I was the only one walking down. I stopped here and there to look at the view. Someone was talking a quarter mile away down in the canyon, and I could hear them like they were right around the corner. You can hear people long before you notice them. By the time I reached the falls it was very dark. I didn’t stop and stare too long because quite honestly I kept imagining that a bear would come for a drink and notice I would make for some nice evening hors d’oeuvres. I figured the sun would set in about fifteen minutes, so I’d have to move quick if I wanted to make it back in time.

I ran back up using as much night vision as I could muster and ended up getting lost on an unfamiliar trail. I thought about the bulletin board I glanced at near the trailhead that read “bear country” and other stuff about wilderness. Every ounce of bear survival knowledge I knew rushed through my head. The hills were steep and there were little rocks jutting out of the trail every now and then, and were very hard to see once the sun had set completely. There was a constant buzzing and chirping of bugs, but I didn’t get any bites. I kept thinking about how bears might go down to the creek for a drink at this hour because they know no humans would be on the trail. I just kept my eyes glued to the trail, focusing on where to place my feet as I jogged uphill one step at a time. I crossed the creek four times on the way back, and that’s when it felt suspicious. I thought I’d only crossed it three times on the way down. I felt the unfamiliar crunching of leaves beneath my feet that I hadn’t felt before, and I knew I was off track – but didn’t admit it because I didn’t want it to be true.

I came to a clearing with a sign that told me I was .75 miles off course. So much for that. I could either continue on a new 4 mile trail back to the parking lot, or backtrack through the unfamiliarity. There are a handful of secluded, and now abandoned cabins along the trail and creek, which might be why it’s called Hermit Falls. I thought if I couldn’t find my way back I could smash a window and stay the night next to a lonely skeleton in a house full of bats. I thought about how relieved I’ll feel when I finally find my way back… I always do. Soon after I found the correct trail after being forced to slow down due to the dark and rocky nature of the, well… nature. I crossed back across the river and ran uphill into recognizable territory. I had run too fast before with blinders on and thus I had wandered onto the wrong path, forgetting to stop and look up every once in a while to check where I was. You lose your depth perception in the dark. For a while I thought if I looked up I would see a bear. A part of me wanted the blinders on.

The moon was a little more than half full on a clear night, which after being in the shadows of shadows under the trees, made it delightfully easy to see. I stared at the moon and had to squint, which in a roundabout way brought a smile to my face as I ran the rest of the path out of the canyon. The shadows cast by the moon through the trees made it near impossible to tell where any rocks were jutting out of the ground from. But I just kept running with the expectation of tripping and falling, which somehow made it easy to keep on, because every second that I didn’t fall I was very grateful. Occasionally there was a rustling in the bushes above me or a bat that silently whizzed by my head, but I just kept to the trail, grinding up the steep gradient; right, left, right, breathe, left, right, left, breathe…

I finally reached my car with a full appreciation for moonlight, and just stood there for a while, catching my breath and looking over the canyon. A few things crossed my mind:

That was fun. It reminded me of when I would forge trails through the woods at the house I grew up in whenever I wanted to get away and de-stress. That brings me back.

Does that mean I’m stressed or want to get away? Maybe I just needed a thrill. It’s been a while. Why would I need a thrill? Am I bored of normal life?

So much could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. I can only think God for that. Who else would pull me out of a dark canyon without a scratch on my body?

Why did I do this? I didn’t need to go run through a minefield of ankle sprains, but I did. I knew full well it would get dangerous and could hinder my career as an athlete, but I didn’t even consider the possible dangers.

I did this alone. No one saw what just happened, or needs to know, or probably will know; but I know. Does that matter? To who?

I started at my car and finished at my car, back where I started like nothing ever happened. This trek was just a side trip. It won’t change the overall course of who I am or where I’m going, but at least now I have a better understanding. I start and finish every day asleep in my bed, but I have different dreams every night.

I think this run was an allegory… I think I get it now.

…At least I think I do. I just can’t tell if that’s good or bad—I need help.

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