- Seriously, - I tell myself, - it's time. There are things you can't do on a treadmill.
It's a lovely June afternoon in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I haven't been out of the house in two days, which is making me seriously loopy. I also desperately need cardio – not just for general exercise purposes, but because my 60-mile 3-Day For the Cure walk is coming up in October, and July is already upon us. Not much time left for training.
I get into my workout duds and drive over to the Fletcher Community Park, which I've been eyeing as a potential exercise venue for two months. It's not that I don't like YMCA. I love YMCA. YMCA is great for weight training. But there is only so much serious walking training one can do on a treadmill, regardless of how many functions the machine has built into it. It's just not the same.
So, I get on my walking duds and head off to the park. And once I get there I feel like Hellboy in the middle of the troll market – there are people walking, kids and dogs, dogs, dogs! Yeah, I definitely belong.
The Cane Creek trail has varying surfaces: gravel, mulch and cement. Right off the bat, I can feel the difference from the usual treadmill fare. As I walk the mulch stretch along the edge of the football field I feel the clumps of mulch working the little muscles in the soles of my feet. It doesn't matter how thick the soles of one's walking shoes are – the difference is still, for lack of a better word, palpable.
A young mom is walking with her little girl and a dog. Or rather, the dog – an extremely happy cocker spaniel – is dragging the mom by the leash, while the daughter is running in an attempt to keep up.
They pass me and run off into the corn field adjacent to the community park. There is a “no trespassing” sign, but apparently the owners have an agreement with the park – the visitors can walk through using the utility path, as long as they don't steal the corn. I pause at the corn field entrance and am passed by quite a few runners and walkers. I don't know the park very well yet, and might not be ready to add what looks like a substantial loop to my walk. Maybe next time. The utility path must have another connection to the Cane Creek trail, because I don't see any of the people who passed me going back. That is, unless there is a corn field monster that devours them all.
I take another branch of the trail. It's gravel followed by a long stretch of cement. Oh dear... Are these people walking a bear? No, seriously. A very good-looking athletic couple is walking a furry creature that looks like a ginger-colored bear. The creature appears to be fairly good-natured and docile, except it keeps drifting to the middle of the path, at which point it obstructs two thirds of the path with its girth. Its mom keeps trying to herd it back to the side only to be defeated over and over again.
- Hello, - I say, - I don't think your bear wants to walk on the side.
They laugh and explain to me that it is not a bear but a chow lab mix. This alleged dog is the size of a full-grown lab – just over a hundred pounds – with all the explosive furriness of a chow. All the while the animal in question stands very calmly nearby, submitting itself most agreeably to an ear scratch from me.
I walk the rest of the cement portion of the trail, during which I discover where the corn field path comes out and actually see some of the runners who passed me earlier. It's definitely a relief that the corn field monster apparently has no taste for people who exercise. Survival of the fittest at its best!
What on Earth is this commotion?! On the way back to my car I hear a series of piercing barks and squeals and look frantically around to determine whether maybe a dog has been trapped by a land shark or some such. No. Nobody has been trapped. It is only a miniature chihuahua who is extremely anxious to say hello to an enormous brown lab walking his person and her baby in a jogging stroller.
Incidentally, what is the purpose of miniature chihuahuas? I mean, chihuahuas are small. So, why make them even smaller? Sure, they are more convenient to carry around in one's pocket, but are also at higher risk of being sat or stepped on simply because they don't look like much more than a really dense dust bunny.
The owners of this particular micro-monster take too long getting their stuff out of the car, and the big brown lab drifts by utterly unaware of the possible dangers of making acquaintance with such a persistent little beast. I, however, am not so lucky. We cross paths, just as the chihuahua's parents get onto the trail. I humor the tiny dog, because if I don't, it would clearly give itself a heart attack or jump out of its skin.
- She has never been here before, - the dog's mommy explains, - so, she's just really excited.
Clearly. “Excited” doesn't do it justice. I think it manages to cover a mile's worth of distance while running in circles and jumping around us during the 30 seconds, in which we exchange pleasantries. Finally, the chihuahua's mom manages to unwrap the leash around me, and off they go on their merry way – the dog continuing to put on some serious distance by zigzag running and jumping like Tigger. I bet it will have covered the equivalent of the circumference of the Earth by the time they are finished.
I still think that thing was a bear.