Yesterday, I decided to run someplace new. I get predictably weary of my same old country roads, so on my way home from work, I stopped off at Georgetown-Rowley State Forest for a five mile trot along the trails. It was raining, standard issue for November, but quite warm at 60 degrees, so I set off in my shorts and t-shirt. Part of what I love about hiking, trail running, or otherwise venturing off the asphalt is the sensation, however mild, of taking one’s life in one’s hands. The risk was minot this particular day; the state forest is hemmed in by roads on all sides, so I would never be more than a mile or so from aid, and even if I got lost and night fell, the weather would make for an unpleasant but very likely survivable period until morning. Still, I had the faintly giddy feeling of wondering whether I were making the right turns, and assessing the various boulders and root overhangs as possible bivouacs.
When I was about halfway through my run, looping past the parking lot, I saw a pickup truck pull in. Pickup trucks always make me somewhat uneasy, and anyone pulling into a state forest in waning light and increasing rain also raises my alert level. I made a second loop of the trail, circling up behind so I can keep track of where the pickup truck’s occupants were. They were a pair of grimy looking men and they walked off into the woods, no packs or anything else with them, apparently out for a stroll in the woods on a damp, cool evening. Feeling comforted that I knew where they were, I headed off for a loop in the other direction.
I was somewhere fairly deep into the woods on a single track mountain bike trail when I came upon a pop-up, camouflage-print hunting blind tucked against a rock outcrop. The hair on the back of my neck rose as two things occurred to me: 1) There might be someone silently crouching inside that blind watching me, but I can’t tell and I’m not stopping; 2) It’s hunting season.
I’m usually fairly good about checking what hunting activities are permitted on various public lands before I venture onto them. But this time, I didn’t think of it. I did a quick inventory of my clothes as I flailed and pinwheeled down the trail, driven by a panicky desire to get away from the blind. I was wearing bright orange shorts and fluorescent orange and pink running shoes (good) and a white t-shirt and white cap (no good). Pleased that I at least had one main article of clothing in blaze orange, I nonetheless considered the fact that my torso and head, both portions of my body toward which I feel a good deal of affection, were the color of a deer’s hindquarters, and that I was, at that moment, crashing through the woods in a troublingly deer-like manner. I considered my options. Perhaps I could take off my shorts and wear them on my head, and fashion my white t-shirt into a crude sort of bloomers? That way, if I got shot, it might merely be in the rump and not the brain or chest.
I considered further that I was unsure which portion of hunting season it might be. I work in Massachusetts but live in New Hampshire. At home, it’s muzzleloader season. But in Massachusetts? What was I about to be struck by? An arrow? Shotgun blast? I began to imagine myself lying facedown in a pool of blood. Would I be found? Would the hunter panic and just leave me there? Most definitely, he would. There could be no question; I was about to be shot and left for dead.
The light was getting dimmer, and when I stopped to get my bearings at each trail junction, my glasses fogged up hopelessly. “So this is how it ends,” I thought, which I think at least once on every outdoor adventure, and it’s never yet ended. After seemingly endless turnings, I suddenly popped out at the gate by the parking lot. I stopped to read the notices at the info kiosk and found a wealth of information it would have been good to know at the outset of the adventure.
Catching my breath, I thought how I had just narrowly avoided being struck in the head by an arrow. As I walked back to the car, the conviction became less clear, and I began to think that the hunter would probably have come to my aid after shooting me after all. As I was putting away my things in the trunk, I remembered that I had, of course, been wearing orange, and so had really been quite safe. By the time I slipped into the driver’s seat and switched on my book on CD, the whole thing was patently ridiculous, and I drove away.