Every hike in the woods is an adventure and unique experiences await even if the path has been traveled many times. I have trained at Caesar Creek many times and yet this past Saturday I added three encounters to my list of “Never Seen That Before” hiking experiences. I would label them as The Race, The Advice, and The Hunt.
First, The Race. After hiking an hour or so I came to the Day Lodge. This was not a surprise, but in front of the lodge, I saw a folding table filled with paper cups – this was a surprise. Two gentlemen were standing behind the table. Somehow I knew they were not trail magic waiting for me to come along to offer a cup of hot chocolate or coffee. I knew it was a water station for a trail run. I stopped and chatted with the men at the table and they shared that this was the Frosty 14 – a 14 mile trail race and the runners will be coming toward me any moment now. On cue having taken two steps away from the table, I saw the first runner emerge from the trees ahead. The runners were spread out (which was good) so for the next 30 minutes I was able to take a dozen steps and then had to step aside to let the runners have the single lane path (which was not so good). By the time 40-50 runners had jogged passed me, the parts of the path that had been wet had turned into a rather sloppy race track (which was not good at all). On the other hand it was good to see all of the participants outside enjoying the run. They were muddy, most were breathing hard, lots acknowledged my efforts to stay out of their way with a wave of the hand, and a few said verbal “thanks” as they scurried past.
Second, The Advice. At my turn-around point, I stopped to get a drink of water and some M3 (my wife’s incredible recipe for trail mix). As I packed up and started on my way I was hiking along a service road that leads to a picnic area. A car stopped and rolled down the window. I looked into the car thinking that someone was wanting directions. A middle-aged woman was driving with a dog in the back seat. She asked what I was doing with such a heavy load – I told her I was conditioning for a long hike. She then began to criticize the way I was walking – how I was making it more difficult on myself by hunching forward so much and how I needed to stand more erect. I remember being deep in thought when her car pulled up and I was looking down at my muddy boots, but I thought it unusual that she would actually stop to provide advice on my hiking posture. Either she was an eccentric or a long-distance hiking expert – but either way I found myself trying to hike with head up and back straight.
Third, The Hunt. Periodically the barking of dogs could be heard along the path. This is nothing new …I heard dogs all the time and even ran into a few from time to time (usually unleashed but with master close behind). During my M3 break, I heard some dogs and then I saw two deer crossing the path in front of me. I watched as they walked quickly into the forest on the other side of the clearing (they did not run or bound away in fear… they just seemed to be out for a stroll). A few minutes later the barking got louder and then two older hound dogs crossed the trail where the deer had been. Their noses were on the ground, their tails were wagging, the lead dog was singing his song, but they were not running either…they appeared to be walking quickly while totally concentrating on the scent in the leaves and snow. I wondered if this was a daily routine among friends and the deer were taking their time so the older dogs could keep up, or if the deer were “torturing” the dogs, laughing at them, as they teased them along the way. Either way I had to smile at the sight of the dogs thinking they were the brave hunters of the forest.