“Oh my god. What about snakes?” I blurted out, breaking the car’s silence.
“Um… what about them?”
“Does South Carolina have poisonous snakes?”
David kindly held back a laugh and said, eyebrows raised, “Most southern states do.”
I tried to pretend like I wasn’t panicking at the thought of slithering things that could kill me hanging out in my running path. I knew I was being ridiculous, but I’ve inherited some of my father’s paralyzing fear of serpents. I should also note that Maine, where I grew up, is the only state in the USA that isn’t home to any species of poisonous snakes. We were headed to Sumter National Forest in South Carolina on our way to Florida to visit his parents. The plan was to reach Sumter, trail run a bunch, then head south the next day.
“I mean we probably won’t see any, right? We shouldn’t be worried.” I asked, trying to sound cool.
“I don’t know if I would say ‘don’t worry about it’,” David said bracingly, “Just keep your eyes open, but there’s no need to be anxious about it.” Yeah, right.
A few hours later we pulled into our small Sumter campground. Immediately I noted two campers seemingly abandoned at the moment and one, inhabited, tent-site, with two older, redneck looking guys who stared at our camper uncomfortably as we drove slowly past them. They were the only people in the campground.
As we prepared for our run I felt myself increasingly more anxious. The plan was to both run in the same direction. I would turn around at mile 4 and David would turn around at mile 10. This was a standard set up of ours, only this time I would be returning to the campsite for at least an hour without him. Alone. With these two guys. I should have bought pepper spray.
“Can I take your knife?” I asked casually, “Not like I’d ever have the heart to use it…” I smiled meekly, inserting the jack-knife in my water bottle pocket.
The run was amazing. The soft path was perfect for my knees and hips, like running on a pillow. I lost David at mile 2, traipsing through a woods so isolated and quiet I noticed my every breath. The sun was low on the horizon deepening all the green colors.
Crappy phone pics from my run at Sumter National Park.
(Because I don’t run with my SD…)
I was mostly through my run before I remembered I should be worried about snakes. I didn’t forget the men though. As I approached the end of my run I took the knife out and held it in my hand, pretending it made me feel better. When the small campground came into view I took the trail around to the side opposite their site. I tried to look confident. My pace pretty much doubled.
When I got to the car I grabbed the yoga mat, knife, and my phone and marched to the furthest empty site from them. I set up to stretch on top of a picnic table. During the thirty minutes I sat there two more men entered the campground, each set up for a night alone under the stars.
Eventually I headed back to the car, changed in the camper, and started making dinner.
Every one of them minded their own business.
I finally put the knife down.
Instagrams from making dinner.
Stirring up polenta and rice I became frustrated with myself. I looked around at the men sitting by their fires, drinking Budweiser, and looking at the stars. We were all together, but they were really alone. I don’t know why they were there, maybe fishing, maybe needed a weekend away. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t fair of me to assume that they had any reason or desire to touch me. More than likely, they just wished I wasn’t there making noise.
Note: I also never saw a snake.
That evening I resolved to redefine my fears. I’ve always had a habit of overfearing: a word I just made up that means having fear that is beyond what is rational (because phobia and anxiety just weren’t cutting it). Now of course, there are many stupid people in this world. People who think they’re invincible, that they can do whatever they want without consequence. On the other hand, however, there are too many people who fear the unknown and who, as a result, miss out on the things that make life exciting. I’m prone to falling into this group.
A huge part of this trip is to break my fear of this trip. I want to prove to myself that I can do something like this and be fine – because I’m smart. Additionally, I want to break my fears of things like snakes and rapists. Of course snakes and rapists are real things. They are things I need to be cautious about and aware of. But there’s a difference between caution and fear. Living in fear would have meant avoiding the trail, missing out on the beautiful run, and preventing David from enjoying his run because I didn’t want to be alone. Taking sufficient caution, on the other hand, by keeping my eyes and ears open, meant we both got to run. Although I’m definitely investing in pepper spray.