The Running Itch
I like running. No doubt about it, though, at times it eludes any rational explanation. Circumstances like the cold, heat, crowds, running partners, etc. initiate different emotions and responses, but the ritual does have a way of raising my life to a more satisfying level.
That sense of well-being, nonetheless, doesn’t come easily. The obvious benefits are balanced by sprinklings of injuries, stomach cramps, heat exhaustion and periodic bouts of mental anguish. Even contemplative moments, mid-run, oscillate between creative thoughts and the huge punishing question of why. But provided I pound the pavement for enough miles, exercise euphoria eventually sets in. I feel a natural high which is healthier than the stuff some people get high on. This past summer, though, I had an experience stifling my commitment for quite a few weeks.
It was on Hilton Head Island, SC and I was approximately a mile and a half into an eight mile route from South Forest Beach
to Folly Field and back. The morning was warm with an ocean breeze under a cloudless blue ceiling when I spied a path through the woods. I had noticed the opening off the bike path the day before and contemplated exploration. With the sun bearing down and a cool breath at the mouth of the heavily wooded entrance, I succumbed to temptation, rationalizing that no matter how deep I ventured, the path undoubtedly would lead out to a recognizable place.
The quiet, primordial calmness of the forest immediately captivated me. Civilization lurked only feet away, but the sensation of being transported to a different time, a different place overwhelmed me. As peacefulness and serenity embraced me, the off road experience exhilarated me. The deeper I traveled, the more pleasantly remote and detached I felt. My soul eased into tranquility while I became part of the scene. Except for the occasional stump or rock, I believed I found the ultimate running trail.
Time stood still. The air reverberated with nature’s music: rustling leaves, chatting squirrels, chirping birds, and barking dogs. Barking dogs! What the hell with barking dogs! I panicked. Instinctively I picked up my pace, running to elude their detection. Perhaps they missed my scent. As luck would have it, though, the faster I ran, the louder and closer the barks sounded. I envisioned a couple of hungry, foaming Dobermans in pursuit. Running faster than any marathon contender, trees, shrubs, and bogs whizzed by. Branches and needles were pricking, cutting the skin on my thighs. I ran wildly, no longer following the path. Like a man possessed, I scrambled further into the thickets, deeper into the darkness. The dogs were getting closer, the barks louder. What if they caught me in here?
With their thrashing nearly upon me, my fear increased. I didn't know what to do for they would soon certainly catch me. Suddenly, a whistle! A man made, piercing whistle. I sensed doggy departure, but my heart was thumping so loudly I couldn't distinguish retreat from pursuit. I dove into a patch of undergrowth, hiding in case the dogs were still around, sweating profusely. I dared not even blink , frozen motionless like a terrified deer blinded by car lights. Incredibly, though, the dogs were gone. As quickly as they approached, they had disappeared.
I lay in the thicket for what seemed to be an eternity, allowing myself security by the cover of the forest. My body pulsated the entire time. Ten minutes went by before I regained my composure and arose to my feet. I vaguely smiled , surviving a runner's worst nightmare. The magic of the forest began to return while I nuzzled under its shelter. With the horror of the dogs fading though, a new terror lurched into my vision. My nuzzling took place in a bog of poison ivy.
I bolted out of the woodland, heading voraciously back to Cordillo Parkway never feeling happier to sense the hot asphalt under my feet. Still tanked on adrenaline, I dashed back to my room, hoping the shower would wash away the experience.
Too late. Less than a week later, I endured an extremely severe reaction to the ivy. It took four weeks to clear up the irritation and erosion on my skin, including doctor's visits and antibiotics. Not only did the disfigurement cause embarrassment, the incessant scratching tortured me daily. I’ve long since corralled my itch for woodland runs.
Michael Keshigian is the author of five poetry chapbooks, including Warm Summer Memories, recently published by Maverick Duck Press. His poetry has appeared in numerous national and international journals as well as many online publications, including Ascent Aspirations, Oyez Review, The Sierra Nevada College Review, Bellowing Ark, and Ibbetson Street Press. He has been the feature poet in The Aurorean, Pegasus Review, Chantarelle's Notebook and Reader's Choice in the Fairfield Review. He is a multiple Pushcart Prize and Best Of The Net nominee.