Lost at the Lake

The other day was just one of those days.  You know the kind, where despite your best efforts, everything seems to be a little off.  The kind where the day you’ve envisioned in your head doesn’t quite match up to the one that actually occurs.

I set the alarm for 4AM to get up and meet my friends for our first speedwork session at the SMU track field, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.  Speedwork is my least favorite type of workout, and I was dreading it–especially at 5AM.  When the alarm went off at 4, I hit the snooze button twice and fell back asleep.  When I woke up it was 4:45, still enough time to get up, throw my clothes on, and race over to the SMU track field.  I fell back asleep.  I’ll get up at 6 and run on my own, I thought to myself, and went back to sleep again.  I woke up at 8, feeling grumpy and guilty.

The whole day was blah.  The dogs were tired of being inside because of the high temps and kept whining and looking out the front window.  When I let them outside all they wanted to do was bark. I felt unmotivated and guilty all day for not running, and hoped it might turn cloudy by the evening so I could make up my missed morning run, knowing I was completely deluding myself about it magically turning cloudy.

I decided to punish myself.  Thinking it might get a little cooler by 6PM, and knowing it wouldn’t, I resolved to run a loop at the lake all alone.  When it was still 102 degrees at 6, I knew a loop wasn’t going to happen, so Michael talked me into taking the dogs to the dog park.  He said he’d stay with them and I could go for my run.  I figured I could still get in 5 or 6 miles and let go of my guilt for missing my morning run.

We didn’t leave the house until 7:15PM, and it was “only” 100 degrees.  When we got to the lake, I told Michael I would stay on the hilly path on the east side (remember, I was punishing myself), and if the dogs got bored after awhile he could come meet me on my way back.  As I ran off I yelled out over my shoulder, “Remember, I’ll be on the path.”

Path in the Woods

This is the section where we crossed paths and missed each other.

It was actually a very good run.  Except for the broken up path, which would feel like a cheese grater if you tripped and fell (which I am prone to do), I always enjoy running on the hilly path.  The hills are not extreme, but still steep enough and long enough for a pretty good workout.  Most runners stay on the road on the east side of the lake, so the path never has many people to dodge like on the newly paved section of the west side.  The hilly path also stays mostly in the trees, where it’s cool and shaded.  I pushed myself and kept a 9:18 average pace for the first half.  Not bad with the hills and 100 degree heat.

I decided to run 5 miles instead of 6, mainly because it was getting dark so quickly.  I turned around at Sunset Bay and headed back to the dog park.  The path here is in pretty rough shape, so I knew I had to be extra careful not to trip in the low light.  I trudged on.  It really was getting dark much earlier these days.  I had noticed on the weather website a few weeks ago that the days were getting shorter by a full minute every day.  This was good news considering our ungodly high temperatures this summer. (The days are now getting shorter by almost 2 full minutes.)

I barreled around the Stone Tables and up the hill, through the trees where coyotes are often seen in the evenings.  I hoped I wouldn’t see any tonight.

By the time I got to the Bath House it was pitch dark, and kind of creepy on the path.  There was hardly anyone around, and those who were stayed on the road.  A police car passed me on the road, then parked down the road facing the path.  This particular part of the path goes up the hill into the trees, and I wondered if the police had seen me running and were watching out for me.  I felt better just thinking that.  I also considered going down to the road, but remembered how I had told Michael I would be on the path.  I didn’t want to miss him in the dark.

Just before I got to the top of the hill I heard rustling to my left.  A male runner came running up the hill onto the path, headed in the opposite direction.  It totally spooked me, and I picked up the pace.   I was surprised I hadn’t run into Michael and the dogs yet.  This section of the path is pretty high above the road, tucked in between Big Thicket and some neighborhood homes, and it was full on dark.  By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, just before entering the last segment of the path, the part that goes directly into the trees, I decided it was too dark to stay on the path.  Not only was the path in bad shape, it just didn’t feel safe.  I decided if I hadn’t seen Michael by this time he was probably waiting for me at the dog park.  I ran the last quarter mile in the road, against traffic, and kept an eye on the path just in case Michael and the dogs passed me.  Several cars passed by, none of them Michael, and I was ready to be done with this run.

When I got to the dog park, no Michael, no dogs.  Great.  He must’ve been on the one part of the path I didn’t stay on, the part at the very end that was so dark.  Thinking he might be sitting at the top of the hill with the dogs, waiting for me, I walked back over the bridge and up the hill.  No luck.  By this time there was almost no one walking, running, or biking at the lake, and there was only one woman and her two dogs at the dog park.  I walked back to the dog park to try and figure out what to do.  Not only did I feel unsafe, the dog park is located in a swampy area of the lake and the mosquitoes were ferocious.  I started pacing.

Pedestrian Bridge at White Rock Lake

The dog park is just to the right of the bridge.

I had no phone and no car key.  I didn’t want to get back on the path alone in the dark, and knew I probably wouldn’t catch up with him anyway.  I walked back over the bridge a few times, hoping to see them headed back, then talked to the woman at the dog park who assured me the park was safe after dark.  I thought of a recent rape that had been reported at the lake, and the dead body being hauled out one early morning run.  Maybe I’m a scaredy cat, but I don’t think a female alone after dark is safe anywhere in the city.

I had always told my children if they ever got lost to stop and stay where they were, I would come and find them.  It actually worked, too, several times.  I remembered telling Michael that not long ago, so I knew the best thing would be to stay at the dog park and wait it out.  A few more people brought their dogs to the dog park, so I was less alone.  I must’ve looked odd walking around the empty parking lot.

I waited and waited.  I worried.  What if one of the dogs had chased an animal and got off leash and ran away?  What if someone had attacked him?  What if he got hurt and the dogs couldn’t help?  How far would he walk before turning around?  What if all the people left the dog park and I was all alone in the parking lot?  What if I got eaten alive by the mosquitoes?  Would Michael be mad because I hadn’t stayed on the path?  What if he never came back????

A full hour later, I saw them cross the bridge.  Michael came running up with both dogs, sweaty and smiling.  He was so happy to see I was safe.  I felt so stupid.  He had walked 4 miles total, thinking I might have injured myself in the dark and was hurt on the side of the path, unconscious.  What a man!  He’s always told me he has my back, and he certainly proved it this night.

If I had stayed on that last stretch of path I would have met them.  We still can’t figure out how we didn’t see each other from the street and path, how he didn’t see me when the cars passed and shined their lights on me, why the dogs didn’t act a little excited when I passed, and can only surmise he was in the trees when I passed on the road.  We simply missed seeing each other.

Like I said, it was just one of those days.  I’ve lived in Dallas almost all my life, and run around the lake hundreds of times, but it figures that only I could get lost there.

The small section where we missed each other

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