The sky was dreary and gray with warnings of oncoming snowfall. For most, this type of sky coaxes people back inside to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and a book (I am one of those tempted to do such things). But today I found an absolute beauty in the weather. The trailhead was void of cars except one, the silence in the air was deafening, and big full flakes of snow started to fall in slow motion.
I strapped Argos's new pack on him and we started up the mountain, footsteps light and dancing. It didn't take long to realize I needed my Kahtoola spikes. They were amazing, as always, and I felt like I had superpowers as I gripped into the side of trails and hammered my way through the ice and snow. I didn't slip once. I wondered if I could climb a wall with these things! By far the best $60 I've spent in a long time.
I knew I had enough clothes on and food with me, and I knew the mountain well enough that I could get off and into civilization even if I had to hike it; eventually I would get back to my car without physical discomfort. No problema. The "problema" I encountered is the fact that just the day before I started reading a book called "The Beast In the Garden" by David Burton:
This wonderful tale is about those lovely furry creatures we call Mountain Lions that slink stealthily through our Colorado mountains. The book mainly discusses the lions that inhabit the Front Range/Foothills...i.e. where I run.
A quick description from Amazon.com:
The true tale of an edenic Rocky Mountain town and what transpired when a predatory species returned to its ancestral home.
When, in the late 1980s, residents of Boulder, Colorado, suddenly began to see mountain lions in their yards, it became clear that the cats had repopulated the land after decades of persecution. Here, in a riveting environmental fable that recalls Peter Benchley's thriller Jaws, journalist David Baron traces the history of the mountain lion and chronicles Boulder's effort to coexist with its new neighbors. A parable for our times, The Beast in the Garden is a scientific detective story and a real-life drama, a tragic tale of the struggle between two highly evolved predators: man and beast.
The book opens by describing the search for a lost jogger on one of the local trails. They find the jogger, or should I say his remains as his entire torso was gutted and devoured. The "criminal" was spotted just a few yards away quietly watching the search and rescue team discover the body. The criminal was identified by the human heart dug out from the large cat's stomach...
So here I am, running in the the Front Range Mountains, and it's now dusk. Dusk, I have been informed by the book, is prime noshing time for the mountain lions.
As a child, my imagination was legendary. Stick me in my backyard full of trees and suddenly I transformed into Sheena, the Warrior Princess. A swimming pool? Now a mermaid, undiscovered by man but sure to make them swoon if they saw me, transfixed by my magical powers. Sometimes my imaginary world seemed so true that I would talk to my parents about my escapades as if they really happened. "Today I was running through the woods and a handful of really bad guys were chasing me so I flew up into the air and jumped from tree to tree. They tried to fly after me but I was too fast!"
Yeah, not much has changed over the years.
So, running (or do I call it sprinting) around the face of the mountain in desperate attempt to get back to the car before pitch dark hits, I now begin to feel my imagination erupting full force from the depths of my mind. I try really hard to not think of the book and how the cats like to stalk their prey before they pounce, aiming for the neck and spine. That running, to a lion, stimulates their instinct to chase (like a mouse's fleeing movements to a house cat). I stay alert to Argos's body language and feel a flutter of adrenaline tickle my gut every single time he even slightly glances off the trail to bushes beyond. Argos seems entirely too happy to be out in the dark, prancing about in the snow and wilderness, totally oblivious to the dark thoughts I am having.
I finally have to stop, catch my breath, bent over with my hands upon my knees, and take a long second to think things through to calm my overactive cognition. "I'm totally fine," I tell myself.
I have my cell phone for light, if I absolutely need it, and that I am not nearly as far from the car as my imagination would have me believe. I remind myself exactly how frequently I used to do night runs and this entire panic-state I have wound myself into is all due to a book! Ok. I reset my internal thoughts and come to a conclusion. If I haul ass for the next twenty minutes I will make it with just enough light. And haul ass I do.
The light fades every second and soon I am having a hard time seeing the trail's rocks and ruts under the slight shimmer of the snow. I curse my unpreparedness and I turn to Argos for help. I closely watch his body as we run to determine where and how to step. It's amazing how much in tune I am with his body language. As he gracefully lifts his legs a bit higher to avoid a rock, I do the same. He skirts left around a tree root or rock step, so do I. Soon enough I realize we are in synch and I am doing my damnedest to keep up with him. He seems to understand this and doesn't sprint ahead like he enjoys doing, but stays just within a few feet ahead of me, showing me the way.
About 2/3rds of a mile away from the car we pass a young girl coming up the mountain with her dog. For some reason this brings me joy to see another human and lessens my anxiety. After I pass her I think, "what the heck is she doing heading out now, in weather like this, and dressed like that?!" She was dressed very lightly and not what I would consider "outdoor appropriate" attire. Odd. Really really odd.
We continue down the last stretch of trail and cruise into the parking lot. This is exactly how I saw the car...without a single source of light.
and with the help of the camera flash...
On a side note, the book so far is excellent...just not recommended reading right before an evening trail run.