RUNNING – Tales from the Trail: The Sign Shifter

RUNNING – Tales from the Trail: The Sign Shifter

By Joe Nuss

I usually don’t recover from a run with a glass of wine but, after tonight’s run, a trail run no less, believe me, a glass of wine is warranted. In fact, it wasn’t until I started on this second glass of Pinot Noir that my nerves were in such a state that I could actually write this and share my incredible run— a run that started around 7:15 pm and only concluded just a few minutes ago. Before I get to the run, however, let me first preface it by sharing with you a peculiarity of my personality, a peculiarity only because I have no reason now, nor ever in the course of my life, for acting in such way but, nonetheless, I always do.

Even as a small child I possessed this habit— this habit to ruthlessly blame myself for all the bad things that happened to me. If, by chance, there was no immediate cause and effect leading up to the unfortunate incident, I would backtrack through my actions leading up to the occurrence until I found a moment where I did something I wouldn’t normally have done. In doing so, I would then believe that that was where I went wrong, whether the moment had any direct correlation at all to the bad thing that happened. Which brings me to tonight and the moment on the trail where I simultaneously ran through a late night thunder and hail storm and recounted the day’s events that lead me to a ravine near the Mountains to Sea Trail by Falls Lake.

Now, being blessed with the opportunity to work from home as I need, I do my best to put in a solid day of work. Today was no different. I had all intentions of taking Harper, my dog, on a trail run by Falls Lake well before work but, at the last moment decided to change direction and drive to the coffee shop where I might run into some friends who run a race registration site who could set things in motion to deliver a check to my son’s elementary school for the 5K fundraising event I produce. Little did I know that hours later I would backtrack to this very moment as the point where the course of my day was diverted to something terrible.

I did, in fact, run into my friends and wound up staying at the coffee shop longer than expected. I returned home for lunch with a plan to eat the amazing tabbouleh I made from Brandon McDearis’ recipe along with some grilled chicken, pita bread, and tzaziki sauce only to find that my wife took it all to work. So, instead, I had a tomato and avocado sandwich, which was not nearly as filling as the tabbouleh and chicken. After picking up my son from school, I was absolutely starving and ate a peanut butter sandwich under the notion that the family and I would all eat dinner together around 8pm after my daughter got home from soccer practice. But, because of yesterday’s rain, the soccer fields were closed. That meant my daughter would be home at 5 pm and Sandi at 5:30, which meant dinner at 6. At 6, however, I would still be full from the peanut butter sandwich. So, I worked through dinner and finally, at 7pm, changed over and drove to the trail to do the run I should have done earlier in the day with Harper.

Silhouette of branches on the sky background.

The first half mile or so from the trail head is particularly well-shaded, even in winter, because of the pines. After that, the trail skirts a cove on the lake that lets in more sunlight, tricking the mind into believing that the first half mile is just as light as where you are on the trail at the moment. It is not and certainly would not be so on the “back” portion of my “out-and-back” run. I didn’t consider this as the evening was cooler than I expected and I was having a particularly good run: good pace, low heart rate. When I reached the junction leading to Anne Wilkerson Park, I did something I wouldn’t normally do, I turned towards the park, which lead to another junction and a low-to-the-ground sign post indicating directions to the Mountains to Sea Trail (where I just came from) or the Forest Loop in the park. Or, I could just go left, into the park. I went left and was soon in an open field. I realized then, that because it was hard to see in the open meadow it would be harder on the trail, especially the last half mile, which was particularly well-shaded. I turned around and began running for the trailhead with a bit of urgency.

I entered the woods again and, as things tend to do in changing light, the trail looked different. The temperature suddenly dropped. The wind picked up and as such, made it hard to tell whether the sound of rustling leaves was caused by the wind or squirrels; probably not deer as deer tend to step slowly and not rustle the leaves until scared. The wind swirled wildly and a dark cloud of rain blocked all but the faintest remaining light. The leaves crunched slowly and the hair on my arms stood up. My mind revved with childhood fears of darkness and depraved horror films I never should have watched. But, the sound of leaves crunching slowly remained. The sound was inconsistent with the wind and the likeliness of deer, or any other animal for that matter moving about this close to a storm. Ahead at the trail junction sign, however, there was clearly a deer. But, then IT moved. IT stood up. There was no white tail; there was no bounding movement away from me. Something absolutely not afraid of man stood up and turned to face me…

To be continued in the January edition of Endurance Magazine…