It takes me a couple weeks each year to get used to being out in the woods in the dark, with just a headlamp lighting my path and the eyes of whatever is staring at me from a few feet away.
I don’t remember where exactly it came from (or how true it is 100 percent of the time), but there’s a saying that took hold with my family after moving into a new house that was originally used to calm concerns raised after hearing unfamiliar noises in a new place.
For a time, it seemed, every creak would elicit a, “What was that?” followed by what was supposed to be a soothing, “There are no bears in the house.”
That, however, is not a phrase I can calm my nerves with when I hear something crashing through the woods at 5 in the morning.
Daylight isn’t coming as early as it was two months ago. For me, that means runs that start in the dark and stay in the dark most of the time I’m in the woods. I get used to running with a headlamp, but it takes some effort. And the effort isn’t necessarily directed toward running but more toward even getting started when it’s still dark out.
Once I’m out the door, it tends to get more enjoyable. I like being the only person in the woods, which I am, more often than not, at 5:15 at Lowes Creek County Park south of Eau Claire. But I don’t think deer realize just how creepy they can be.
As familiar as I am with the trails at Lowes Creek, running in the dark with a headlamp necessitates staring at the trail directly in front of me to make sure I’m not going to kick a root or roll an ankle on a rock. Most of the run is spent focusing on staying upright.
Until a twig snaps somewhere near me.
It’s not uncommon to look up and point the beam from the headlamp in the direction I think the noise came from only to see five sets of eyes reflecting back at me, bodies still unseen in the dark — floating eyes in a park that, it has been claimed, is haunted (http://www.volumeone.org/news/1/posts/2014/10/31/7932_strange_happenings_on_lowes_creek_hill-1).
It can be enough to elevate the heart rate.
Last week, I had another experience that caused the heart rate to spike.
Relaxed and nearing the end of a run, I hit the old wooden bridge over the creek. My first footfall on the bridge was enough to send a bit of a start through whatever creature was under the bridge crashing through the creek.
I’ve spent enough time in the woods to become familiar with the sounds of the forest. This didn’t sound like a deer. Possibly a super-surprised beaver. But my first thought was ... BEAR.
I took a look backwards to try to get a look at it, but didn’t see anything. I took a second look back a few steps later to make sure there was nothing on my heels and tried to remember if I should play dead or act big.
Then I comforted myself with, while I can, with reasonable confidence, say there are no bears in my house, bears aren’t as lucky as to be able to say I’m not out in the woods with them.
And, eventually, I’ll again be used to running alone in the dark. That’ll be comfort enough.
Nate Jackson is a regional editor and production coordinator for The Country Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.