I know I said my next post would be about my preference in running shoes, but I thought I would share a more detailed recount of our terrifying night in the woods while it was still fresh in my mind. I promise, shoes are up next.
First, let me share a story about just how aware and protective Liberty is. One Friday night, about 2 months ago, we decided to watch a movie. It was around 10:30pm so I knew it would be late when the movie finished and we wouldn’t want to mess around with unmaking the bed.
[Sidebar: I believe in bed decorations! Right now I have limited myself to 7 pillows on our bed, but I would have 100 if Ethan would let me!!]
I carefully unmade the bed, removed my teddy and extra pillow (they didn’t make the decorative cut so they live in a chest) from my chest and pulled the covers up to the bottom of our sleeping pillows to keep the bed warm and cozy. If you were looking at the bed you would see 2 sleeping pillows, my adorbs headboard that I DIY’d, and a fluffy white down comforter with a tiny little bump where my teddy and extra pillow were warm and snug and waiting to cuddle underneath.
Several minutes later, I was getting movies snacks with Ethan at the pantry when all of a sudden Lib started doing her “inside bark” and growl. She was acting shifty and looking in the direction of our bedroom. We immediately thought “someone is hiding in our bathroom closet, they snuck in while we were at dinner.” She eagerly led us to the bedroom. We tried to coax her further into our bathroom, but she started growling at the bed! That’s when I realized, she thought my teddy making a little bump under our covers was someone hiding, waiting to harm us!! I pulled the covers back and let her see that it was nothing. We commended her for being so observant.
Last weekend we decided to take Lib on a sort of test camping trip. We wanted to see if she would be able to handle longer trips to the mountains. We primarily hammock camp and there are several national forests near us that we love to explore.
We loaded up Saturday morning. Liberty knew something was up when we brought in our backpacks, but she was delighted when we pulled out the leash and asked if she wanted to come along. [One time I left a backpack leaning against the wall in my office, it sent her into an “outside barking” rage until I explained that it was only filled with bar prep books and there was no reason to be alarmed.]
We arrived at the trail around 1:30pm, ate a quick backpacker meal, started my fenix 3 in hiking mode, and ventured into a portion of the forest we had yet to explore.
The trail was rough and strenuous, but it really was an amazing hike in. We met two mountain bikers and eight people on horses. We didn’t see any other hikers or campers so we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
We let Libby off her leash for the first time while hiking. We didn’t know what she would do at first. I thought as soon as she heard the “clink” of her leash coming off she’d be gone for good. Quite the opposite. She did awesome. She would run ahead, but just enough that she was almost out of sight. Then she would turn around and run back to us, then turn around and run ahead. Girl had to be exhausted, but I think she earned the trail name “Loyal Liberty.”
We hiked around 4.5 miles until we came to a ridge that someone had clearly used as a primitive site before. It had a fire ring, two reclining “chairs” that someone made by piling flat rocks together, and an incredible view of NWA. I was so excited for a perfect night, going just the way I had planned. That was at 4:30pm.
Around 5:30pm we decided to hang our hammocks and eat another backpacker meal while Libby was exploring the area, having the time of her life.
Oh, I forgot to mention at this point we both had really bad migraine type headaches. Mine had slowly been creeping it’s way to the front of my face all day. I get them sometimes, usually when I haven’t had enough to eat or drink. There is nothing I can do to get rid of them except sleep. Usually, if I can just fall asleep for an hour they’ll go away, but until that point I just want to vomit.
This time of year it gets dark early. The sun set around 6:15pm that night. It delighted me with a spectacular show of amazing and vibrant colors before bidding its adieu for the night.
Then it was dark.
We decided to get in our hammocks and read before going to sleep for the night. We strategically placed a sun visor and fleece blanket on the ground for Libby directly beneath Ethan’s hammock so she would have warmth from above and below. As we were getting these things together we heard a strange sound. Some type of witch/demon hybrid making a cackling noise. It was apparently, and according to Ethan, a pack of coyotes located right below the ridge we were camped on. It sounded like there were hundreds. Thankfully they quieted down after seemingly making their introduction. I was very concerned at this point. But Ethan assured me Liberty (and I) was too big to be their prey and we climbed into our hammocks (she is about 50lbs).
Libby relaxed and stretched out on her visor. I was almost asleep and rid of that horrible headache when Lib started growling. I immediately threw my sleeping bag off, clicked on my headlamp and struggled to move the rain fly out of the way so I could see what she was growling at. I assume Ethan did the same and we both shone our lights into the dark woods. And that was all we saw, dark woods.
I told Libby that everything was fine and to go to sleep, you know like she can understand me or something. Everything seemed fine until about 20 minutes later she started growling again, staring in the same direction. Same routine, sleeping bag off, headlamp on, stupid rain fly get out of my way my baby needs me. Nothing, dark woods.
I was starting to think I wouldn’t get rid of my headache after all. I couldn’t fall asleep with Libby growling every 20 minutes.
Then she started chewing on sticks. I mean dragging sticks from the farthest reaches of her leash, getting bark off of trees, and trying to chew on things still growing in the ground. Gnawing. This was very unlike her. The tastiest of treats usually can’t keep this girl awake.
At this point we were extremely annoyed with her. Looking back we decided the chewing was probably a mechanism she employed to keep herself awake, much like a human with sunflower seeds. Our heads pounded and we realized, nature had won.
At 9:00pm we decided to pack everything up and hike 4 miles through dense forest back to our truck. I had never hiked in the dark before so I was very nervous. We decided to keep Libby on the leash the entire time, mainly because we were annoyed but it turned out to probably save her life.
Everything was going swimmingly. Libby was navigating our way out and we were able to make great time because, thanks to her, we didn’t have to stop at every marker to look for the next. It was truly incredible to watch her just be a dog. It blew my mind that her natural canine instincts actually kept us from getting lost. There were at least two times when we started walking the wrong direction and she pulled us back to the trail. Amazing.
We had hiked a little over an hour and covered 3 miles when the conversation ended and we were trudging along just trying to get the distance over with. We were in a valley when Ethan stopped, dead in his tracks. I was still a little behind him, shorter legs, when I heard him mutter “What the…”
I looked up to scan the woods with my headlamp. I didn’t make it to my 2 o’clock before my headlamp caught two large green eyes illuminating through the darkness. They were big and round and far apart. They were pointed in the corners, like predator eyes. My mind was screaming ‘you are about to come face to face with a mountain lion!’ Suddenly, 4 more eyes illuminated through the darkness. They were standing together, maybe three feet apart. My fear of a mountain lion vanished, but dread intensified with the realization that we were outnumbered.
We started yelling, shouting, screaming trying to scare them away. Nothing. Just intense green eyes seeming to meet our gaze. Looking back we’re not sure why we didn’t pick up one of the countless large rocks riddled along the trail, but in the moment we just didn’t.
My first thought was, embarrassingly, ‘call your mom and dad!’ I don’t even think the thought finished formulating before I realized that was a lost cause. They were 30 miles away, waiting by their phones to hear that we made it ok.
You know when you’re in a nightmare and you have that heavy feeling of dread that seems to physically entrap you? And then you realize “Hey I can get out of this if I just wake up.” You wake up, it’s over. It was that feeling except I couldn’t wake up. I couldn’t turn and run deeper into the woods and the truck was still so far away.
We were still shouting and yelling when we heard a crash from our 10 o’clock. Yes, the other side of the trail. We were surrounded. I was fighting tears so hard, but I didn’t want to show weakness. I’ve noticed through having Libby that she can sense my feelings maybe even better than Ethan can; so I didn’t want these creeps to know I was scared.
Oh yeah, you’re probably wondering “What was Liberty doing?” Once she realized the creatures were lurking she growled and barked and pulled at the leash. I think that’s the moment when they finally retreated (or all simultaneously closed their eyes). If she hadn’t been on a leash, I’m not sure what would’ve happened.
We walked as quickly as we could without actually running. We talked and hollered every couple of seconds. Of course, we checked our 6 about every 20 feet.
When we finally reached the road I decided it was probably safe to cry a little. We got to our truck, climbed in, and locked the door. Libby was asleep in 30 seconds.
Before we came up on the pack and feared for our lives I couldn’t help but feel like a failure. This happens to me a lot as law school does not exactly mold students into the most confident individuals, though they may come across that way on the outside. But when we finally reached the gravel road where our truck was parked, I couldn’t help but cry. Not because I felt like a failure, but because I was so happy that I survived such a crazy experience, when in the moment I really didn’t know if I would.
That’s the idea, it isn’t about “making it” or being a “winner” or things going according to plan and if they don’t then you lose. Nature is not a competition. It’s about the experience. It’s about going into something else’s territory and adapting to survive. Sometimes you survive by putting in earplugs, sometimes you get the heck out of there, sometimes you’re so tired you don’t even care.
Running is the same way. It isn’t always a competition. It isn’t always about setting a precise goal and meeting it. Sometimes, many times, it is about the experience. And through the experience, good or bad, you become a stronger athlete and a better person.