See the picture in my blog post title of the beautiful summer day? It's exactly what I saw when I looked up from the trail one day when I was walking. Who could get mad on a day like that?
It's a Thursday. It's 11am. It's a beautiful, summer day in late August. I'm on one of my favorite urban trails getting miles in for my 1,000 mile challenge. I'm taking it easy and walking. It's been a hard few weeks, but in this particular moment I'm feeling really grateful. I'm grateful to be strong and to have taken this on. I'm grateful to have the time to do it. I'm grateful for the beautiful weather and the sun and the breeze. And I'm grateful for this trail where I feel safe to walk. These are my exact thoughts I'm having when this happened:
A man is coming towards me on the path. He is moving slowly. He locks on to me. He doesn't look me over, he locks on. He is a panther; I am a rabbit. And he locks on. I can feel it. I am in his sights--I am his. A chill runs through my entire body and I can feel my adrenaline kick in. Every single solitary cell is on alert. As we get closer I lock eyes with him. FUCK YOU, I'm saying with my eyes. Don't even fucking think about it. You are not a panther. I am not a rabbit. And if something is about to happen it is not going to go down the way you think it is. We pass one another. I do not change my gait. I do not speed up. Women instinctively know to do this, as to not arouse the chase instinct in him. I keep moving and give it one minute before I carefully glance over my shoulder. He is still moving forward, but slowly. I pick up my pace and see a deer trail up to my left. What do I do? I haven't seen anyone else on the path so I take it. It's a short little trail that leads to a bike path. Another deer trail off that path leads to a private, dead end street leading to some condominiums set back in the woods. The bike path seems safer than the walking path; the barren street a better bet than the bike path. So I take the deer trail up, and I hit the street running. Now I am going in the same direction that he is going down on the walking path, but this dead end street leads out to the main road, where there are houses and more traffic, so it's a sound option. And now I'm running hard. I'm sweating and running and watching for him through the trees. The closer I get to the main road, the angrier I become. It's fair to say that I was furious. I get to the main road but keep running from sheer rage. I am out under the hot sun. He is under the cool canopy of the trees. I had a plan, but I'm not going back in to finish my loops, so I go to my car and make a new plan. Fuck.
Let me set this scene for you again: This is beautiful weekday summer morning. It's not early, it's 11am. I parked in a lot where other people park to walk this trail. You drive through neighborhoods to get there. I can hear a baseball game off in the distance, and the din of a highway a little beyond that. I walk there because it's close to home. I walk there because it is an oasis in the summer heat. The trails are shaded and quiet. You can bike or walk, or go into the woods where there are more trails. It's looped so every two miles you are back at the parking lot to get water or use the bathroom, and there are other paths off the loop if you want to do an out and back to get more distance. I love this place. I could let down my guard there, mostly. I'm always aware, as women are, but less so there. Yes, there are a lot of woods. But you see people. Lots of walkers, lots of dogs, and other runners who likely also like the shade and the 2 mile track. I'm sure other men have made me uncomfortable there, but that's not unusual for women. We deal with that all the time. This was different. I'll say that again: THIS. WAS. DIFFERENT. I am not skittish. I am 54 years old and I am well versed in what it means to be a woman in the world. I love that trail because it's not crowded. I love that trail because of the woods. But in that moment with no one around, the woods became dangerous. Was another walker or runner about to come around the corner? Maybe so. Did I want to take that chance? I take that chance all the time in life when a man makes me uncomfortable. I have a be careful gauge that falls on a range from: almost imperceptible--I'm just going to the grocery store and I don't need to be on alert--to mid range awareness--I'm meeting a friend for dinner but it will be dark when we finish and I'll have to walk to my car--to full on chills through the body--I'm in danger, I have to get out of here. That's what this was. It almost never happens, but it's undeniable when it does.
When my daughter was growing up I use to tell her that you get to believe yourself when something feels off. You don't need to stick around to find out if you were right or not--you don't need to stick around to see if things are going to go south. Just trust your radar. In the end, our world expands and our freedom comes from knowing we have a radar, it's working, and we can trust it.
This incident really kicked me off my game, and do you know why? Because my guard was down. And I put it down. On purpose. I go to that specific place when I don't want to have to think about my surroundings. I go to that place when I want to run with headphones. I go to that place so I don't have to carry my phone. I run and hike on lots of trails, trails way more secluded than this urban trail. But I'm prepared when I go to those trails: no headphones, I carry my phone, I think about the time of day, and someone knows where I am. I have water and I have fuel if it's a longer run or walk. But mostly, I'm mentally prepared. This Thursday morning walk? It was supposed to be like a trip to the grocery store. Did he intend to do me harm? I don't know. Does the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time I pass a man on a trail? NO, IT DOES NOT.
I know it was random. I still go out and walk and run on trails, and I'll continue to do so. In fact, I think that's where most of my next era of running is headed. But I haven't gone back to that trail. It makes no reasonable sense, but tell that to my full body alert system.
I'm not sure what the point of this story is beyond just telling it. And maybe for the reminder that women are resilient, much more than we get credit for. This is part of our daily life. We live with it and deliver good mothering, good friendship, and good citizenry. We go on anyway, in spite of it. We can still be creative, and kind, and brave. And we can be righteously mad about it.