A run in the woods

I keep looking through my drafts and finding stories that I had forgotten. This was written last June.

Sounds wonderfully whimsical, doesn’t it? I thought so, too. After a semester of half-hearted running on the treadmills at school, I was more than ready to get outside. And with a looming physical therapy appointment, I figured it was time to get into shape (kind of like the compulsion to clean before the maid comes. Totally backward, totally irresistible).

So this morning I hopped into my car and drove to Harbison State Forest, where my orthopedist trains for his marathon running.

After studying the trails, I had chosen to try the “Eagle Trail,” which is roughly synonymous with “The Big Fat Wussy Trail.” It’s 0.5 miles if you take the short loop, 0.8 if you take the long loop. I figured that I would try it out, see how I felt, and loop it twice if I felt up for it. I was tempted to try some of the longer ones (the 3 mile Stewardship Trail was particularly enticing), but after several years of on-again off-again running, I knew better than to kid myself: turning “on-again” is always a lot more difficult than I project. But I knew I could easily do .8 miles, since I’ve been running a couple on the treadmill at the gym.

I found the state forest entrance and discovered that because the Eagle Trail is for weenies, it is situated far in the back of the forest, presumably to create a “drive of shame” experience to help combat obesity. Or something. I got to drive past trail entrance after trail entrance, envying the sleek running personages I was sure inhabited them. I finally found the Eagle Trail, parked, and took off.

The first few minutes were wonderful. The air smelled deliciously of Pinesol and the ground was soft enough on my knees to prevent any of the stabbing pains that caused me to have to give up running in the first place. To top it all off, I was able to keep up a decent pace, despite the fact that South Carolina humidity gives a runner the distinct feeling that she is sprinting along with a grown sheep on her back. I noticed that the Big Person trails appeared to be intersecting with my itty bitty trail, which made me feel a little better about life. Guess the big people wanted a breather every once in awhile, or something.

I suddenly emerged at a parking lot, which threw me for a pause. There had been no parking lot on the map of Eagle Trail. I headed for a posted map on which to get my bearings, and had just reached it when I discovered that I was not alone. A man dressed in a hiking outfit, complete with walking stick, was headed toward me from another trail.

I have nothing against the kind of hiking that involves thick boots and Nalgene bottles and backpacks. I’ve actually been known to (*gasp*) enjoy it.

But when hiking consists of putting on funny outfits and meandering around the countryside with the speed of a snail with the flu, count me out.

I used my awesome super powers and the fact that the man was carrying a walking stick and moving slowly to distinguish that he was one of the latter variety. Determined not to look completely lost and foolish in front of pseudo-hiking man, I redoubled my efforts to study the map.

Just as he stepped into the clearing and I tipped my head to the side and pursued my lips, the better to look like I knew exactly what I was doing, an Unidentified Flying Object landed on my finger, and with the nonchalant carnivorousness that comes only from the truly heartless, bit/stung/otherwise rendered useless the index finger of my left hand.

I yelped and did an “I shimmy to keep from swearing” dance right into the path of Pseudo-Hiker man. He had the gall to laugh as he hiked slowly by, without so much as a “Excuse me, miss, but is there anything I can do to make your last moments on this earth less painful?”

It hurt. Badly. I was reluctant to suck the wound for fear the sting would spread to my tongue. . .I also wasn’t sure I could fit my rapidly swelling finger in my mouth. I scrutinized it closely. My hand was doing an incredible impression of Jolly Old Saint Nick’s evil cousin Tim; it was fat, red, and ugly.

As soon as I had ascertained that I was probably going to live through this situation, despite the fact that my finger was stiff and doubled in size, I turned back to the map and realized that I was out of my way. . .by approximately 2.5 miles.

2.5 miles!?!?! How did my knee handle 2.5 miles?!?!

Had I not been debilitated, I would have been thrilled with the news, but my puffy hand put me in a predicament vaguely reminiscent of a person who planned a girlie-themed baby shower for her best friend, who just went into early labor and delivered a boy by mistake. That’s great! Now how do I get out of this?

I could feel my pulse in my finger, and each time I moved at a speed faster than “particularly lazy sloth after Thanksgiving dinner,” the pain intensified. Slowpoke hiker dude would have been embarrassed to be seen hiking with such a slug as I. But there was nothing to be done for it; slog I must, if I had any hopes of making it out of the terrifying-flying-creature-infested woods alive.

Slog I accordingly did. It was miserable. I trudged up a hill that seemed to have grown by about 300 feet since I had sprinted merrily down it a few moments before. The delicious Pinesol scent in the woods had become cloying and was starting to remind me of that fact that my house had not made the acquaintance of any cleaning supplies in. . .er. . .months? I was also increasingly concerned lest my hand should fall off before I get to my car. I had heard that upon losing a limb, one is to pack said limb in ice and travel quickly to the nearest hospital in order to reattach it. . .but as the consummate engager-in-dangerous-living (or dangerous liver, if you will), I had ventured forth that morning under the brazen conviction that my limbs would stay attached to my body, and I had neither ice nor hospital directions readily available. The folly of my assumption was now clear to me; I vowed never to leave home again with the smug certainty that I would return with limbs.

The final problem, however, came in the form of the hard-bodied runners/bikers upon whose trail I had stumbled. They were fast. And lean. And smelled deliciously of Hugo Boss (even the girls). Next to them, I was sluggish and not-so-lean; I smelled of sweaty pine trees and lost limbs. I felt as though I had been thrust into a Twilight-zone-esque game of “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.”

Here, unfortunately, is where I quit writing. So I’m really not sure how that story turned out, or if the climax was supposed to be a confrontation with a Hugo Boss-smelling Thing That WAS Like the Others. Who knows? The suspense is killing me, but I’m afraid this will have to serve as a “write your own ending” sort of story. . .and, go.


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