We are in the middle of a two-day, almost record-setting, warm spell, so I enjoyed jogging yesterday to our local park, where I left the twisty park road to switch into cross-country mode. The ground had been wet from rain and snow and then had been frozen and now is thawed and somewhat mushy. I had to watch out for the really muddy spots.
Pretty soon, some runners from the local college – that's McKendree University – showed up. All six or seven of them were tall, slender and as fast as cheetahs. I am rather short, a little overweight and about as quick as an old, fat housecat. I'm also a retired Marine, and many of us aging jarheads just can't take it when swift, young jocks blast past us, making us eat their dust. Aw, maybe it's just me who thinks like that. "I used to run like that – faster than that," I mumbled to myself yesterday. "Young whippersnappers!" Yeah, it's probably just me.
On my park run, I wore shorts and a cut-off, Marine Corps sweatshirt with Marines across the front, and I carried a pack on my back, with a weighty camera and extra lens inside it, in case I saw a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph along my route. So, I'm thinking – as I'm jogging along there at an eeeeasy jogging pace – that those college speedsters are probably going to see me and think I'm a crazy, ol', former gyrene who just escaped from a mental hospital. Or that I'm a very slow jogger who once served in the Marine Corps and now shuffles along our small-town roads strapped with a dorky backpack that's most likely filled with chocolate bars or cans of beer or both.
I didn't want them to think that, not that, so instead of merging back onto the park road, as I had planned, I headed off in another direction, blazing a new cross-country route, bounding down a hill, jumping across a tiny draw, and sprinting up another hill. Outstanding! I was in the Corps again, except I didn't have a rifle, 20 magazines, six fragmentation grenades, four canteens, flak gear and all that Marine stuff. Maybe that's why I was able to bound, jump and sprint.
I looked back at the road, and saw that the young runners had already reached the other side of the park. I downshifted from Marine Corps high gear to old-fart low gear and jogged leisurely back onto the park road along the lake. As I rounded the bend at the lake's dam, I caught sight of the runners, headed my way already. Holy track shoes, they're fast!
I shifted back into high gear, made it across the dam, veered off the road and headed toward the park's nearby nature trail before the college cheetahs could reach me. Then, I suddenly found myself at a 5-foot sheer drop, followed by a 20-foot slope. Should I stop and look like a sissy? Hell no! Go far it! I leaped off the edge without breaking stride, landed in mud that was camouflaged by leaves, and plowed out a downhill mud trail with my feet, ass and arms. Oh, I was so cool. At the bottom of the slope, I sprang right up in one smooth motion and continued running toward the nature trail, as if I had planned it that way. Still not breaking stride, I looked at my hands and arms, which were covered in cool, wet mud. I reached around and grabbed my butt and felt nothing but more cool, wet mud.
The runners from the college probably witnessed the silly spectacle and thought I was either a wild man running a commando-type obstacle course or a demented fool who loved running on and sliding in the mud.
Fortunately, the nature trail goes into the adjoining forest, so I quickly melted into the thick oaks and hickories. I soon stopped to catch my breath and tried to wipe off some of the mud by rubbing my hands and arms on the bark of tree trunks. And can you imagine if someone had seen me when I was rubbing my butt up against that big pin oak?
After muddying up several innocent trees, I inspected myself. Still pretty messy. I wasn't sure whether I should feel gung-ho or stupid. I thought about what my lovely Aunt Velma used to say: Gettin' old ain't for sissies. She borrowed that thoughtful quip from the grand actress, Bette Davis. I smiled, thinking about it, and decided to walk the nature trail and take a break from jogging.
I meandered along the trail slowly, figuring the McKendree harriers would finish their laps through the park and continue their run back to the university by the time I reached the trail's end and emerged from the hardwood forest. I timed it perfectly. As I left the trail and walked onto the bordering grass, the young speedsters were just hitting the asphalt road back to town and the university. I sat on the grass and scooted along on my butt to wipe off the rest of the muck. Now I had a wet ass, instead of a mostly muddy one. No problem. As we used to say in the Corps: Good training! Gotta love it! OooRAH!
And as both my wise aunt and the insightful Bette Davis used to say: Gettin' old ain't for sissies!