It was cold in Alabama this morning for the first time in a long while. The area I live in typically known for its humid unpleasantness, I took the opportunity handed to me by the breathable air and went jogging. What I didn’t know was that the venture would prove a tad bit more exciting than I had intended.
Note the time: 6: 55 AM.
As I made it out to the street, I spotted children picking their noses next to the nearby stop sign, waiting for the morning bus to arrive. Parents anxious to get to work were standing next to their cars, ready to hop in and drive away once the kids were safely away. I saw one particular mother, her hair matted to the side of her face, with an appropriate amount of luggage under her eyes. I figured she probably intended to go back to sleep. As much as I would have loved to do the same, I was not going to waste my morning. I was going to jog to my heart’s content.
The road just outside my apartment was a loop. My place was on one end and a hill leading up to the main office was on the other. I told myself I was going to complete that loop twice before I returned home to prepare for work (I had to be there by 8 AM). Now, I’ve lost a fair bit of weight in the last five months, but I’m nowhere close to being in shape enough to complete this quest without slowing down to a walk. That wasn’t going to stop me. I was going to push myself.
As I jogged down the street, I felt like Jesse Owens, but, if I am being perfectly honest, I probably looked more like a frightened wookie.
Be that as it may, I made it to the end of the first half of the loop in no time at all. I stopped to celebrate as you do in those types of situations and found myself standing in front of a sign. It read: “NATURE TRAIL.” To a lot of people, that is all it says. To me, it said “IF YOU DON’T GO THIS WAY, YOU ARE NOT A MAN. ALSO, PICK UP BASKET WEAVING, NANCY BOY.” How else am I supposed to react when I’ve had little nourishment and I’m making myself do physical exercise at 7 in the morning? I obviously had to take that trail. Also, basket weaving sounded really hard to learn.
I went up the trail, which I noticed was also behind the mail boxes. My logic was that the trail couldn’t be any longer than the loop back to my apartment. There was no way it wrapped around the entire complex (the Six Flags equivalent of apartment neighborhoods), right?
I made it to the end of the first part of the trail, dodging intricately woven spider webs, fallen leaves, and other things I prefer to observe from the comfort of the inside of walls. It turned out the nature trail was just a strip of land that led to the apartment office. I said to myself, “What else you got, nature trail? I’m clearly too much man for you.”
Just when I am about to take a left and jog back home, a gust of wind blows dust into one of my eyes. I reach up to rub it away with my hand, but as I start to look up I catch the post of another sign across the street. The sign once again read, “NATURE TRAIL.”
My heart froze. I have lived here for going on nine months and I’d never seen that sign. But, once again I could hear the taunting of the nature trail. This time it said, “Hope you enjoyed the tough ‘fun day trail’ I laid out for you. Now, are you going to prove what kind of man you are or are you going to cry on the way home? Also, I bought you a gift card to Hobby Lobby. It should satisfy your basket weaving needs.” I didn’t know how much time I had left before I needed to get ready for work, but I had a date with nature. I had to win.
I started at a light jog (I wasn’t going to walk this). There was a gate covered in barbed wire to my right, separated from me by the distance of a few bushes. On the other side of it was a busy highway, which did nothing but shred the dignity I had gained from pretending I was Bear Grylls only moments before. To my left, trees stood trunk to trunk like soldiers keeping the trail secure. They were too close together for me to escape through. If I was going to get out, I would either be expected to finish the path or run back the way I came.
It was mostly bland. The path would transition from concrete based to mud and to rocks. No snakes fell on me and I didn’t have to fight nearly as many ninjas as I expected (I fought no ninjas). The most heart racing moment was the notion that I may have been late for work, but as I started to worry about that, I spotted a bridge up ahead. I crossed it with no problem and then it led to an opening. The trail was giving me an out. I figured I had been running enough and I’d proven myself. Why else would I have been provided an exit?
Sadly, my spidey senses kicked in (for no reason whatsoever because this is real life) and told me it was a trap. Somehow, the nature trail wanted me to take an early leave so it could claim victory. I was not going to let the beast win. I did my best Dr. Evil laugh and ran back into the woods. My other rationality was that if this exit popped up so quickly, there would obviously be more just like it.
Lord, I was wrong. Bridge after bridge came and went. The view of the highway had long since disappeared. All I had were the backs of the apartment buildings but even getting to them was improbable. I knew I’d never make it out in time on my current path, but if I had turned around I worried I’d be giving up a quicker way out that was just around the corner. In desperation, I took off on a full sprint. I was beginning to ache everywhere. I was no longer concerned about work. I wanted to LIVE.
Finally, after all hope had diminished from my being, I found one last bridge. Just as I was about to cross it, I turned. Low and behold, someone before me had ripped a way through the plants. “Another survivor,” I said to myself. I sprinted through the opening. I was out of the trail. I was home (by home, I mean I was behind a building that was a mile and a half or more from mine).
I walked up the stairs of that building, feeling thankful for my survival. I hoped civilization as a whole had not crumbled in my absence. My mental state had me feeling like two years had passed since I walked into the labyrinth known as “The Nature Trail.”
As I began reflecting on how great life was, I heard a sound. No, it was not the trail again. Even I believe the trail called truce (I had won its respect). What I heard was something far worse: Nicki Minaj’s “Bees in the Trap.”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. After I struggled with my run in with certain death, a teenager was twerking at the stop sign. It was enough for me to return to the trail, but I had other things to tend to. I sprinted home.
When I arrived, I picked up my phone to return any calls I may have received from my boss for being late. Remember when I asked you to note the time? Well, when I got home it was only 7:25 AM. I had only been gone 30 minutes.
Well, played Nature Trail, well played.
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.