Two Claws: A Trail Encounter

by Clint Keels

Our last night of 2021 ended quiet at the house. No shouting at the sky or guzzling up here to greet January. We were in bed before 9:00 that evening and it felt good.

However, the last morning of the year was a bit more eventful and gave me something good to chew on right here in Travelers Rest. 

Running is something I tax myself with. Layering up the mental and the physical is pretty important to me. That energized feeling of getting broke off and that sense of accomplishment allows me to function.

For the final day of the year, I’d planned on pushing hard. I woke up hunting another wall of brain to scale.

 

Swamp Rabbit Trail 2

 

At 8:30 that morning, I got in the truck and headed to the gravel lot beside TR’s Oriental. The convenient trail access and mixed elevations on the roads through town can offer runners an opportunity to challenge their endurance while taking in the sights and growth. I’ve taken advantage of that and used this site for several years now as a launch point for various local loops. (Glad to share those with anyone interested.)

After a few minutes of stretching by the Crepe Myrtles, I cranked my hips left, then right and pushed off. 

Some kind of switch gets thrown in us during activity; especially outside (I say this a lot). Visual acuity, a heightened sense of smell, hearing; all of those get cranked up and I do my best to pay attention to them. However, that intersection of harmony and awareness is a narrow path spanning a high pit. Those familiar with the incredibly gripping trance of raging endorphins channeled by intense activity can attest to that comet-may-bother attitude while under their drip. When I pushed out that last half mile of the morning, I was certainly there. 

Within 50 yards of the crossing, the light turned yellow and I pushed. Time was clawing along with a tunnel vision to get across 276 near the Swamp Rabbit Inn then, finish where I started.

In a moment of pure selfishness, I pushed my stride and went in front of a vehicle when it was not my turn. I extended him a presumptuous thumb’s up only to notice a rightful irritation. In return, I was met with a deserving blown horn and a pretty serious middle finger. Further reducing to my lowest and common denominator, I flipped up both of mine along with a nice smile when he became parallel. There was nothing else to think of; gestures got exchanged and I was putting a bow on the last loop for the year, no biggie.

Wrong. 

After about one minute of leaning against the bed of my truck, here he came. His gray Jeep pulled in, parking just opposite of me. “Great,” I thought to myself. Situations like this rarely end well for either party. I was spent from the run and I wasn’t looking for conflict, but sense would say it had just found me. In the brief fifteen or so seconds I had to asses, my initial instinct was to scan for palm sized rocks to help secure the future. 

Time was up though. He exited the vehicle with purpose and I kept my eyes on him, abandoning the search for rocks and began to consider my posture.

Physically, he had me by several inches and at least forty pounds.

“Was that you shooting me those birds back there at the light?” he asked rhetorically and direct, approaching the rear of his vehicle. 

“It sure was, sir. I gave you a thumbs up first then just followed your lead – thought you were letting me cross, man,” I said, waiting to see where this was going.

He stopped short of my vehicle and just sort of stared at me, then at the ground for a moment, shaking his head. Maybe thirty or forty seconds of silence lapsed until he endearingly told me I was “crazy”. I apologized for shooting him birds back and crossing when it was not my turn. The exchange was odd and surreal.

 

Swamp Rabbit Trail 4

 

Whatever delivered us from a morning of continued lunacy, I am sure I do not know, but I am glad that it did. 

Once our smiles cracked, I walked over, stuck out a sweaty palm and said, “Hey man, I’m Clint.”. He shook my hand with one that would have lumped me up had it come to that.

Instead of beating up on or killing one other, we talked like men.

The conversation continued several more minutes and we were chatting like old friends by the end of it. He was off to get biscuits and lived in the area. I told him I was getting in a run then heading home to build a fire.

There was a sense of resolve we needed not celebrate further and both of us seemed pleased by our notions of restraint and the blessing of forgiveness. Nothing else was needed. We mutually understood the opportunity to check ourselves and did. While tempers pitted us in the parking lot, we had enough gaul as men to measure quickly the gains and losses of ill behavior. 

There are enough arrows taking flight and I’d like to think for the most part, I am done sending mine.

I sure want to be anyway.

This trivial situation turned bizarre made me realize there is virtue in the big stick, but there is power in the olive branch. 

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