Thursday, January 23, 2014

Story 18: Those in Peril on the Trail

            The best temperature to go on a walk in the park is 30°F.  It’s not so cold that you shiver and shake as you shimmy and shuffle, and it’s not so hot that you sweat out your bodily fluids and collapse.  Head’s up: don’t forget to bring tissues, even if you have no pockets.
            This particular mid-winter day was perfect – no pesky leaves on the trees to block the view; hard ground that discouraged ankle-twisting; no recent rain or snow to leave behind muddy footprints; and the occasional between-hibernation squirrel to keep up the appearance that wildlife still lived there.
           The hiker prepared supplies for her journey: sneakers, cell phone for emergencies, hat, trail map (snicker), water bottle, gloves.  She set out on her trek with a spring in her step and a song in her heart, confident that she would conquer the most difficult trail in the park: the Grandiose Circuit.  If she did nothing else in her life, she was determined to die knowing that she could walk 5 km (3.1 miles) of rocky pre-cleared terrain.
            The parking lot was a bit crowded, so she knew it wouldn’t be as peaceful a stroll as she had hoped.  No matter: as long as the walkers behind her kept up their speed and passed her, and those coming from the opposite direction kept on going, that would do.  She could offer up a smile and a “Morning”, then escape back to her internal world of pondering.
            On the first leg, there were the ominous sounds of voices and whistles shooting back and forth to each other across the woods.  They seemed as if they were coming from all directions, and she began to feel hunted.  She slowly turned in a circle as the trees spun around her, the sweat broke out on her forehead, and the noises approached closer and closer.  Then, the swarm hit: six bicycle riders crested the hill behind her and swooped past her crouching form with “Sorry” “Sorry” “Sorry” “Sorry” “Sorry” “Sorry”.  Etiquette dictated that she should have scurried off the trail in advance, but panic freezes us all.
            Recovering, she soldiered on through the branches that partially covered the trail, regretting that she had left behind her machete.  Onward, upward, downward, sideward: the map was not exaggerating in marking this path “Difficult”.  It even disappeared at one point, only to turn up again at the top of a steep hill; that called for another water sip and re-tying of shoelaces.
            Through some trees to her right, she thought she could see a house.  Some roads cut into the park grounds, and it matched that point in her map.  She parted branches to reveal HOWARD’S RESORT AND CASINO: the pool party was in full swing and people on the balconies were shooting confetti into the air.  She gently put the branches back, patting them in place before returning to her life from a minute earlier.  The woods resumed their silence.
            As she entered the home stretch, some leashless dogs accosted her with love taps and licks to the face.  The owner caught up and abashedly re-attached the leashes, running for his life.  She continued, grateful they were friendly and not feisty. 
            The last section of the trail was uneventful and unceremoniously dumped her into the parking lot, shaking the dust of her off its feet.  Feeling a bit of “That’s it?”, she got into her car and drove back home.  Nonetheless, the faux sense of accomplishment was akin to having reached the summit of Mount Everest, with a fraction of the danger and none of the expense.