I’m in San Antonio, killing eight hours while Mo hangs out at an artist event. I am torn between going for a run or visiting the Alamo to report her “tiny cannon” tirade to the Texas Rangers on duty there. The downtown crowd overwhelms my sense of state patriotism, so I mosey over to Government Canyon Park.
It’s a usual Saturday crowd as I head up the main trail. Folks come by in twos and fours and eights. The usual granolas, a few trail runners, family types, college students. They all wear pretty much the same uniform — hiking shoes, hat, khaki shorts, water bottle.
Except for one guy.
He’s walking alone, coming the opposite direction from me, almost at the finish of the trail as I begin. He’s wearing a brown T-shirt, dress pants and loafers. No hat, no bottle, no nothing. It strikes me that he looks totally out of place here, and he’s obviously not a hiking enthusiast, but whatever. Always room on the trail for one more, I think as I start out.
As I head the opposite direction of the pack, I bask in the solitude. I’ve been having a bad traffic day — Mo has the car garmin set on practical joke mode, so it’s been leading me in circles all over the city. And my search for Altras ended badly, leaving me in a backup pair of 1210s as I mosey down the main trail.
Coming up on the intersection of a smaller trail I’ve never been on, I figure what the heck. I veer right and take off down the narrow single-track. It’s glorious. Lots of smooth dirt and some rocks as it parallels an imaginary creek.
I’ve got the trail to myself. A quiet, cloudy day perfect for daydreaming. I go about a mile before turning back. I’m a few minutes into the return trip, watching the storm clouds and making plans for a slush monkey.
And there he is.
The guy in the loafers, who had been headed the other direction off of the trail, is walking toward me. He has come back the other direction on the main trail and come down this obscure side trail. I react instinctively, doing what any manly man would.
I pee my shorts.
But then I try to act casual, as if I run into potential killers on the trail all the time, and so take a number if you please and I’ll get back to you as soon as I have an opening. As I come up on him (it’s a tight single-track, so there’s no room to maneuver), I say hey and give a little hiker wave. He says nothing and ignores me as he stares downward. I’m freaking.
As soon as I pass him, I go into Prefontaine mode, at least as much as an old guy with a creaky knee and itb can muster. I pretend I’m Mo with a batch of angry bees bringing up the rear. I don’t look back.
After a few minutes, I finally peek over my shoulder. Nothing. I never see him again. The rest of the run is alone. There’s never another soul on the trail. Although I didn’t check the underbrush for bodies.
What the hell? I conjure endless scenarios in an attempt to explain what just happened. I come up empty. Why would he have come back? Why would he come wandering up an obscure secondary trail in civilian clothes? What was he doing there? There’s no way he could have known I took that trail. It all has to be some spooky coincidence. But still.
I am struck by the feeling of total vulnerability I had for that second. Just me and a guy who seemed weird from the first time I saw him, standing alone on a tiny trail 2 miles from the nearest human.
I guess it goes down as another life lesson: The same things that make trail running so glorious can make it so terrifying. I considerer alerting the rangers, but realize how stupid it would sound. “Pardon me, you should know there’s a man hiking on the trail. AND HE’S WEARING LOAFERS!” I make the 3,000th mental note to buy pepper spray, and assure myself this never would have happened if I had those Altras. Damn store.
On the way home, the car garmin sends me 30 miles out of town on a little county road rather than the short drive back to the highway leading to the city. I find myself totally lost, dead-ending at a lake and a bar parking lot full of Hell’s Angels. Oh, that Mo and her funny garmin.
They give me the “who the hell are you and why have you driven 30 miles on our secret road to annoy us?” look. I feel like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, the Live Show. Normally I would be scared. Not today. I’ve used up all my scared. I decline to dance on the bar counter with “Tequila” playing in the background. I just give them a wave, check to make sure they’re not wearing loafers, and head back to town. I have lived to run again.
The moral: You can never stop being careful. Never. Ever. And always bring Mo along for protection just in case. Or at least some angry bees.
Maybe Altras aren’t the answer. I need me some big white Pee-Wee shoes …