Friday, 7 November 2014

Real and imagined dangers

While the rest of the country were stuck in the Friday evening traffic jam on their way home and some fredagsmys, I was driving in the opposite direction on my way to Vitberget. J and I had made plans to run 10 km in the dark. It sounded like the perfect way to relax after a long work week and kickstart the weekend. The moon was just one day past full, the air was crispy and our legs were willing. Now that's what I call fredagsmys. I also call it spending quality time with my husband, but I'm kinda weird. 

Like it happens with all great plans, there was immediately a hitch. J called me on his way home from work to let me know that his bike had gotten a flat tire and that he had to walk all the way back. I would have to run alone.

Run alone? In the dark? In the forest? But...moose! Bears! Sabertooth tigers! EFFIN' BIGFOOT! I felt my courage crumble like a stale cookie. I had run in the dark with only my head-torch for company before, but never in such remote woods. I hesitated. Maybe I should go for a run in my neighbourhood instead?

NO! boomed a voice inside of me. What was I, some kind of coward? How dangerous could it really be to run on Vitberget on a late autumn night? It's not like deranged psychopaths stand in the middle of nowhere, in the dark and cold, for hours, waiting for an arguably-just-as-deranged runner to come by.

So I took the car up to Vitberget, driving in the opposite direction from all the sane people going home to their families to drink wine, eat cheez doodles and watch reality shows.

There was only one car parked at the trail head. A fellow runner? Or...a PSYCHOPATH?
Nonsense, I thought as I waited for my Suunto to pick up some satellites.
But what about the moose? I thought.
They're more scared of me than I am of them, I thought.
That is not quite accurate, I thought, recalling endless laughter at countless youtube videos of irate, possibly drunk moose attacking people.
I braced myself and got out of the car, shoved the pessimistic noise to the back of my head and started running.

Let me tell you some things about the 10 km track on Vitberget. 3 of those kilometres are on a gravel path, lit at night by street lamps. A couple more are a slipway from a neighbouring path. The rest are unlit. The ground quality varies greatly: some of it is just as good as a park path and some of it is as gnarly and root-littered as a rarely-visited single track.

When I left the lit part of the track, my doubts returned. My head-torch is unbelievably crappy. I stumbled almost immediately, partly because the light it casts is very poor and partly because, like all head-torches, it flattens all shadows making it impossible to judge, for instance, how high or steep an ascend is. What you think is just a gentle mound might actually be a vertical wall.

I persevered. As my eyes got used to the poor light and my speed sank to match my lowered expectations, new dangers materialised in my brain. What if I got lost? I was running the otherwise very familiar track in the ”wrong” direction, ie clockwise, which I had done exactly once before in my life. I might as well have been running a completely new track. There are trails and paths leading away from the main track at almost every corner, and with my only source of light illuminating no more than a one-metre wide circle just a couple of steps in front of me, it would be easy to take a wrong turn.

Then, the light fell on strange shapes. Some dark, like, say, bears. Some lighter, like, say, deranged psychopaths. Standing completely still in the middle of the forest, yielding an axe or a chainsaw or a hand mixer or something, waiting for a just-as-deranged runner to come by. Although, had I been a psychopath, I would not have chosen light-coloured, visible clothes. I would have chosen camouflage-coloured clothes. I mean, what's a psychopath if he doesn't blend in with the environment? You'd completely lose the element of surprise, your prey would see you in time, run away and then you'd have to wait another four hours in the freezing cold for the next deranged runner to come by. Anyhow, the light was not strong enough for me to be sure, but I think that the dark shapes were uprooted trees and the lighter ones trail signs.

As I put kilometre after kilometre behind me, my mind started focusing on more real dangers. The icy patches that could easily be mistaken for rocks. The roots sticking out of the ground, eager to take hold of my feet and make me trip. My head-torch batteries dying in the middle of the run. And, yes, animals of all shapes and sizes, lurking in the woods. Were they really more afraid of me than I was of them?

At the top of Nöppelberget, Vitbergets next door neighbour, I could see the city lights below. So close, yet so far away. The almost-full moon was making a valiant effort to break through the clouds and light my way, but all it succeeded in doing was to briefly turn some thinner clouds a Halloween-pumpkin shade of orange before it disappeared again.

The mind is a thing of wonder. As I left the most technical part of the track behind me, I found myself relaxing. I didn't have long to go before I was at the well-lit slipway. The thought was comforting. I was proud of having faced my fears, of daring to go for this run. But as soon as the first lights of the slipway appeared (a sight that should have been pleasant), I almost recoiled with unease. Still hidden in the shadows, I moved towards it because I had to, but it had an inexplicably sinister quality. There was something not quite right about street lamps in the woods, something that I have found nice and cozy in the past. They were out of place among the fir trees. And then I knew what it was. If there was a part of the track that was dangerous, it was most likely not in the woods. No. It was here, close to civilisation. I was way more likely to find true danger here, among humans. The contrast between wilderness and humankind was striking at that moment.

I made my way back to the car, thankfully without meeting a soul. That is, until I was actually back at the trail head, where I met a friendly couple, dressed in vivid sportswear, out for a power walk. They greeted me with a big smile, which made all possible dangers, both real and imagined, seem ridiculous and dissolve.

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