Just one of those damn ideas I get.
How about I take my girl and her 3 boys out for a long hot trail run in Landahl Park outside Blue Springs, Missouri, to see what kind of shape they are in? Sure, they will love it for the first half, as they did, and whine, bitch and moan the second half, which they did. But that’s the beauty of a there and back, you have to get there and then, well, come back. Now don’t get all ‘this guys a child abuser’ with me. I knew their basic fitness. I just wanted to push them a little, see what they are capable of. After all, in a couple months two of them will be in cross country, to their dismay I’m sure. Hey, it’s called that’s what happens when you have no interests and just want to play video games all day and night WHILE making crap grades.
Anyways, it was about 95 degrees and humid as hell. Each boy had his own naive understanding of pace that Christy and I had to deal with. Trenton was the best, being a tall 10 year old that listens well; he maintained pace that we were going, only being sidetracked by Davon, 13 year old, and his need to try and pout walk half the run due to exerting too much energy by speeding up ahead all too often. Then there was Xavier, 14 and a half years old, near my height of over 6 feet tall. As we were driving to this very mountain bike oriented trail, I discussed the rules with all of them. Knowing Xavier, and how he wants to go run ahead always like he has something to prove, the rules were to always stick together but if one runs ahead they should not go past the next crossroads aka take other trail path options. I repeated this importantly and emphasized to not leave the trail ever, ever, ever. We were not going to bring water to run with. It would remain in the car. I knew we would do 4 to 5 miles, less if needed, expecting a pace of near an hour to hit all that based on how everyone was feeling, which I would be observing unbeknownst to them. If anything, we could always walk back or take a shortcut.
The run went as expected and was fun. Xavier always ran ahead and waited, Davon would speed up then get to tired and end up walking as we caught up, especially after the midpoint. Trenton would copy him once we caught up to him and walk too, but Trenton is easily encouraged when it comes to overtaking his older brothers in anything. We got to the turnaround point about 2.5 miles in. When catching up to Xavier, he was not in great shape, though laughing embarrassingly. He said he was feeling not too good and stomach is cramping. I told him it’s the old tortoise and hare story in my face. Looks like he was gonna need to hang back with the often walking mom and Davon because Trenton and I were going to keep pace and beat all their asses. Of course Trenton didn’t exactly agree but he ran ahead with me. I knew he could do it. We were going pretty easy and he’s a natural runner like all of them. The difference is he has the determination. My mistake here, though, was assuming the other 3 would stick together. The trail only had 2 potential turnoffs and the first was obviously not where we came from, it being a service road. The main intersection was close to trail head and I knew Xavier would know which to take. Either way I was planning on running with Trenton to the end, giving him his kudos for whooping both his older brothers and getting to the water first, and me running right on back to the intersection with the other water bottle to wait for them. What actually happened was a different tale and the most stressful running event I have ever been a part of since running and even camping, more stressful than The Alligator That Smiled At Me.
Tune in next week for the rest.
To what happened: Yes as stated Trenton and I went on to the end. The lil dude did awesome. How many kids can run 5 miles in that heat like that? We got to the car, he got one of the water jugs. I took the other, leaving him at the shaded car, and went to that trail intersection.
To what didn’t happen: Christy and Davon did not show up at the trail intersection because they were at the trail head when Trenton and I got there. How you might ask? Earlier, Xavier left Christy and Davon and later when she heard an ambulance close by and people talking, she freaked. Apparently, a biker got heat stroke and an ambulance was called. What she heard was right off the trail back where I mentioned the service road and she went to it. It cut a good mile off their route. Cheaters. This explained why it was pretty confusing on how her and Davon beat us without passing us. Like magic. What it didn’t explain was where Xavier was.
German Shepherds in the Forest
Christy and Davon joined Trenton at the car. Apparently Xavier ran ahead way earlier and did not wait at the first intersection he got to. The thing is, if he did run ahead he would hit the final trail intersection 15 minutes, at the latest, later than when I got back to it after leaving the car, by my estimation. Unless he made a wrong turn, or worse, seeing a trail through the trees up the hill ahead to the right and, thinking it a shortcut, leaving the trail and cutting through those trees. The only problem with that would be if it was not the same trail.
I headed to the 1st intersection to wait. It was starting to get darker at this point, due to the lush amount of trees, and the time of 7:30. I was running and saw through the trees a light colored German Shepherd. But wait, why would there be a dog walking like that and right then and there? It was going in the opposite direction of the trail head and I just came from there after waiting for a while. No one had entered the trail, and especially no big dog. Split second thinking was happening. I run pretty silently in my sandals, but slowed down and gazed intently at the large cat walking not 50 feet in front of me. The paw size, the bowed tail I first thought a Shepherds in the corner of my eye, the shoulder blades, the shifting. I stopped breathing. I thought to the cat “Look at me and bring me out of this dream.” Through my mind flashed all of the trail running warnings pertaining Mountain Lions and supporting stories. How could one be here and now and this close to the start? Did they even exist here? Is Xavier coming towards me on the other side of it? Holy moly.
I slowed to a craw, tip toeing as I rounded the corner, peaking silently, leaving no trees and brush between me and the cat. Or was it the cat and I? And like that, it was gone. No trace. No noise. I had to slow down didn’t I? What was I thinking? Was I gonna sneak up on it or what? Did I even see what I thought I saw? I was in such disbelief I started doubting myself, but it was still silent and scary; the cat could be anywhere, ready for a Jarod meal. But I knew what I saw. And I grabbed a weirdly shaped rock with a hard point almost like an arrowhead only my hand size. I wasn’t here for that cat, I was here for Xavier, and it wasn’t far where I had to go, maybe 300 more yards. If he got there, and forgot which direction to go, who knows when we’d find him. And it was now as quiet as can be. No noise to be heard. Except my heart beat.
I arrived at the 5 way trail intersection. I waited for about 15 minutes. He should have been there by then. I thought about all possibilities that could have happened only now I had horror stories attached to the later ones. Cat stories. But that served no purpose. Man, why did he have to say he was not feeling well and then shortly after, run off? What if he got hurt or lost? And now I saw this damn beast in the forest!? There had been so few Mountain Lion attack stories I had read, actually looking them up at one point, that I knew I was being silly. But I did know that if Xavier didn’t arrive soon that I would need a plan.
Stressed at what was to come, I headed back. When I passed a couple mountain bikers I told them if they saw a kid about yay tall with long dark hair to tell him he is being looked for and point him back to trail head. And also that I’m pretty sure I just saw a big cat, so they knew. The last part was almost laughed at by them and I would probably have done the same. When I reached Christy, I walked with her to the map bin of the trail and told her what was going to happen. I also told her there wasn’t enough time right then to share but that I saw something potentially really neat just a bit ago. I smiled, trying to ease the stress I was feeling everywhere. That didn’t last.
Onto the directions.
She was going to take the other 2 boys home, 15 minutes away. She would need to get my cell phone, in case it worked in the forest, fill up the water jugs, grab my head lamps and flashlights, knife, dates (the fruit for energy), and come back. That should take her approximately 40 minutes. In the meantime, as it was now after 8 and getting darker and darker, I would walk and run down the main service road trail, straight up the middle of the entire trail system. It was about 2 miles to the end. The way I figured, I’d be passing other people maybe, but also I would be passing about 8 trail entry points. I could yell for him the entire way, though I know the sound wouldn’t carry far into the trees. Either way, if he shows up, I’ll either pass him on the way to the last point, or see him on the way back. That was if he turns the wrong way I will run into him. If he managed to get back on the path he was on earlier, he would end up being near the parking lot and at least know where he was until she returned. 4 miles while yelling for a kid, 40 minutes max for me. If he does not show by the time she returns and I get back, phase 2 happens. I then showed her the other possibilities on the map.
If he did jump the trail, I told her, and at this point I am almost yelling, he could be on any one of the trails past the estimated point. He does not know directions, he does not know which way to go and we have over 13 miles of trails in any combination with the dark arriving in an hour, already shading entire paths. Any combination means if he turns left in the opposite direction at the next trail he crosses, we have to add the potential mileage to the already total. The more potential this can happen, the more impossibly hard it could be to find him. He has had no water and was feeling bad last I saw him, but not bad enough to cause a mental breakdown in me. Add that I am not in long distance shape and cannot run this entire thing to help much past a walk anyways. “Why would he be so damn stupid?!” I yelled. Ending our conversation I told her that when I see her again if Xavier isn’t here that we would be calling the police. She would wait at the trail head and parking lot for them to arrive while I ran the route we had run earlier looking for him with flash lights. And that the unbelievable fact was that a search party would have to happen. She left.
The Longest Walk of Life
I started on the path. 4 miles. I yelled Xavier in pitches and decibels I did not know I could reach. I passed no body on the way. I heard little noises and each one felt Mountain Lion eyes on me. All possibilities this kid could be in I repeatedly thought of. Was this my fault? Was it stupid to run ahead with Trenton? I mean come on it was less than 2 miles! What about that damn cat? Was if he was hurt somewhere or missing because of the cat. Oh man, I yelled. And yelled and yelled. It was getting dark. Once a certain dimming happened he wouldn’t be able to see the trail signs adding even more potential confusion. Who could I call to help the search? I had a few old trail buddies of mine that may help. But then that adds another big amount of time and theres a damn nocturnal master of hunting CAT out there! I was totally freaking out. I was freaking out so bad that I imagined if he showed up that I would choke slam him down on the ground and become the Mountain LION screaming in his face that because he was such a moron he deserved to be eaten by me, thanks! I was losing it. It was all playing in my head, the tragedy, the triumph of him fighting off a mountain lion in the forest and living to tell the tale, the police and search parties flashlight out combing through each trail path til we find Xavier, hunched and scared near a stream, needing his stomach pumped due to not knowing of bacterias that exist in modern natural waters but worth not thirsting to death without, the scolding I’d receive from my family for causing such a fiasco for Christy and her kids and Xavier all because I was an irresponsible adventure junkie they warned me about years ago! I was already past the turnaround heading back to the parking lot. No people. Nowhere. No Xavier. And Christy, oh my pour Christy, what was she thinking right now? What was she feeling? Did she have any idea how much danger Xavier could be in? I sent her off with a list of steps and only didn’t mention the monster I saw minutes prior when I caught myself in excitement at the potential stress it could cause her mind during this longest wait of all time for the damn kid to get out of this awesome turned horrible night in the forest! SHIT!!!!!! Why did he get off the trail! “God Damnit!” I yelled. No echo…
Suddenly, I heard a small sound like a voice. It was distant and unrecognizable but I was pretty sure it said my name. I waited. Nothing. I shook my head and continued on back, I knew I was getting close to the end. Or the beginning. Whatever. I yelled again for Xavier. The echo back was not his name but my name again only louder. I knew it was someone but not Xavier. It sounded like Davon. It was Christy. Oh Christy save me from this awful night! I started running, imagining that Xavier was out and fine and this night was over and just a funny story to tell or even write about one day. But then I thought about that he might not be back and the night would continue, that I needed to eat my dates and drink up for a long journey ahead. The worry was killing me. I tried to stay focused. Man, I haven’t meditated in too long, this mind of mine was relentless on worrisome possibility. I imagined that when I rounded the bend I’d see her and Xavier standing there smiling like oops. And there she was. But alone.
I asked if she saw Xavier. Yes, she said. He was waiting on the bench in the parking lot when she arrived. He had eventually realized he was on the wrong trail when he arrived at a different crossroads and turned around and luckily made his way back to the original trail. The bikers I had cat warned also saw him, giving him the message. I gasped out and sighed. YES! I tried to let out all the stress build up but didn’t know how. I couldn’t believe it. Was she sure? I told her about the Mountain Lion. She replied innocently “well I bet that was neat!”. Yeah, well, I guess so, if it wasn’t out to eat a missing boy. I told her she didn’t understand, I saw a friggin MOUNTAIN LION. The animal I had written about in an unfinished screenplay story that ends with the main character getting attacked and killed by one! Hello? I’m not crazy here! Will someone else understand how dangerous all this is? Right?
I had promised all the boys we would get them frozen custard on the way back from the run originally. As we drove back to pick up Trenton and Davon from the house, Xavier said nothing. We went up the street to the place. Custard is made with egg. Christy argued it wasn’t. I asked the lady in the window. I was right, but had known that. At least I was right about something that night. Each of the boys thanked us for the frozen custard except Xavier. He hadn’t apologized for this hell he put us through either. He sat there, silently, like he knew something. Maybe he saw the mountain lion after all? Or maybe he was the mountain lion, trying to teach me something. Or maybe it was simple shame silence. Breaking the silence, I turned to the back seat where all three boys were packed in, looked at Xavier and asked how it felt to get his ass kicked by a ten year old? He smiled.