Having just returned from China a week ago, I was thinking back to the first time I returned from China; it’s a spooky tale, just in time for Halloween.
It was May 14th, 2014, midweek. I had returned from a competition in China exactly a week ago and was still struggling to adjust back to East Coast time. Stuck halfway between China time and Rochester time, I was unable to sleep for much of the night. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to work until noon. Unfortunately, that meant my workouts wouldn’t start until 10 PM or later. Training into the night was something I had become accustomed to, and with the weather finally being more tolerable, I had no reason not to go out and get my miles in.
As I wrapped up work in the lab, I began to think about where to do my 12km session. I glanced at the calendar: Full Moon. At least I’ll be able to see. I elected right away not to train in the cemetery; that would be tempting fate too much.
Time flew by as I distracted myself feeling out scenarios of different courses I had mapped around the city. Then, finally finishing the last slide reads of the night, I concluded that a change of pace was due; tonight: the Erie Canal.
Closing alone tonight I packed my things in the deadened quiet. The last light to be shut off was the stairway near the front. I leaned over the edge to make sure the basement lights were already off as I readied to flick the switch. I paused for a moment, listening to the whirring and tossing of the constantly running machines from down below. When greeted by a wall of darkness I quickly spun around, set the alarm code and locked up the front door.
The sudden darkness from the basement nearly always gave me the chills. One moment everything is clear and defined, the next: a black abyss into eternity. It’s not entirely logical, but anything could be in those depths, waiting to pop ou—“PLEASE TAKE—“ Agh! What was that?!
A burst of noise had startled my train of thought before I could reach my car. It came from inside one of the apartments that bordered my work’s parking lot. Once I regained my composure, I realized that I recognized the tune; it was the start of Owl City’s album Ocean Eyes, “Cave In”. Hmm, I think I’ll listen to that tonight.
By the time I had gotten ready and driven over to see my dog Sammy it was already 11. My dog sitter’s house was right next to my planned training path, so I headed out promising to return in less than an hour and a half.
The full moon reflected brightly off my pony tail as I bounced down to the river path. Coming down closer to the river, the fog was starting to accumulate. I stretched briefly in the dense, humid air. Time to get going.
I made my way up to the first bridge. Of the two ways to get to the canal, this one was better lit and more frequented, yet there was not a soul to be seen this Wednesday night. After about a kilometer, I paused to adjust my laces. The Genesee River flowed nearby. On the surface calm, but the countless eddies popping up told of its swirling undertow. The river is so heavy with silt that you can’t see passed the surface; a terrifying scenario should anyone fall in. The mist thickened over the water. It seemed the river was expelling some of its terrors lurking below.
I continued on through the overarching oaks, gliding along the path, the streetlights vanishing until the asphalt was illuminated once again by the moon. I reached the canal path just as the last remnants of light from above vanished and the fog completely enshrouded me.
The world had changed. Everything felt suddenly so close. The warm moist air clung heavy to my skin. I pushed on up the first big hill. At my emergence a couple startled deer took flight into the brush.
The darkest corridor of my route lay before me. It had been some months since I had trained here. Now there were bare poles sticking out of the ground, freshly planted. Someday they would be fit with lights, but for the time being the skeletons stood dark and lifeless, budding trees keeping out any other light.
A raccoon scurried away toward the canal as I approached. Everything seemed spooked tonight. My music was on the lowest volume, playing in my right ear, when I heard movement in my left ear. Something was approaching.
I turn my torso mid-stride to see someone on a bike with no light. I switch to a jog to pick up my pace. “Passing on the left.” A guy with a backpack pedals by without incident, probably on his way home from the nearby university or hospital. I return to my race walk.
The change in movement unfortunately had me needing to use a bathroom. I remembered from the autumn that there was a port-a-potty not too far ahead from construction next to the path. I was in luck; it was still there.
I enter and brush my frizzy hair down…and feel strands of something other than hair. A spider web. Oh no. Momentary panic sets in as I swipe my hair for spiders.
I unclipped my iPod to shine its screen around until I locate the web’s owner. It sat back in a high corner near the door. Brown, dime-sized with a full, round body. “Okay, you stay there and I’ll leave you alone.” I thought my negotiation skills with the spider had gone over well until I exited and saw the spider now clinging to the door in my hand. I let it slam shut.
I shiver and continued in a frenzy brushing off any webs and the things that may be attached to them. Only a couple more kilometers left before I planned on turning back. Can’t stop now.
I press on through the night. I feel absolutely drenched. I take solace in the fact that it’s only 60F, but with the relative humidity at nearly 100% it’s like I’m slowly being suffocated. My stray hairs spring wildly atop my head. Each time I recheck for more spider webs I feel my hair getting more out of control.
At last I come upon more lights as I pass under the expressway. The fog rises and falls from the heavens above, mingling with the mist over the canal. It blows and swirls but there’s no wind. As though just out of sight a great giant breathed into the opaque air. The streetlights his eyes, refracting off the moist particles in a crazed orange glow.
Beyond the expressway I see two distant lights. Bright, like from a vehicle. Confused, I keep on walking and the lights extend back, hugging the curves of the path out of sight. I’m on the last track of the album now. The lyrics distract me, “there’s a bright light up ahead and help is on the way…” Buzz—WHACK!
A large bug strikes me on the side of my face and brings me back. Bugs?! At midnight? I swat my hand at my ear. Nothing there, thank goodness.
I enter the light tunnel in its eerie glow. Completely unlike the orange and yellows of the street lamps, instead a ghostly white. Spirits dancing in the mist, still pulsing down.
I blew air out of my nose and the sound causes a creature to stir…in the water. A stark splash breaks the night’s silence. I tense for a moment, and in the next my watch rings for the 6th kilometer. It is most definitely time to turn back.
Leaving the spooks of the light, I notice a sizable figure on the ground. It’s a large, orange beetle…a June bug! So that’s what hit me. But then I noticed something else, and this something was on me. Another of those large beetles had snuck its way onto shirt. Why do these things keep attacking me?! I try to give it a gentle brush of my hand but it’s latched on tight, so I pull the creature off with my hand and let it go as it takes flight back to the light.
I remove my other earbud now that the album is over. The rib-bets and trills of the frogs and toads are deafening. If it were even possible, the fog has thickened further. As the remaining kilometers tick by, it only becomes more dense, but I pick up my pace all the same.
I’m now back to the dark tunnel of trees. Their skeletons fitted with tiny leaves that shake gently in the giant’s breath. I pass the construction site with its sleeping dinosaurs. I keep my feet light so as not to wake them.
These last bits of trail go by faster, perhaps all the spirits are pushing me along. Is the presence I feel the humidity, or something more?
In my final push home I meet up with my deer friends. They have increased in numbers, but are trapped next to the river. I snuck up on them and there is no where for them to go. They hunker down and follow me with their eyes, unable to flee. I get through the final hazy underpass and hit the finish. Glad that’s over.
I head into the house and chat a moment before taking Sammy out for a walk. But now the air has changed. The fog is lifting and I can see the moon once more. How very strange it seems. Five minutes pass and the stars were once again visible. All the monsters, the creepy crawlies gone, it would seem.
The last remnants of fog lift and I stand at the edge of a field in the trees, hair wild, dripping with sweat, eyes dilated in the dark. Here I was afraid of all the things in the dark, but really I shouldn’t have been afraid at all. I was the most feared creature out and about. I was the unknown, the peculiarity roaming through the night. The strangest, most terrifying thing around: a race walker.
Here is my Garmin activity from that night: