I don't always err on the side of caution.
I've gotten in cars with strangers. I've met men through the interwebs. Quite a few. I've walked through the park, by myself, late at night. Why? Just because I could. Because the park at night is peaceful, and quiet, and you can hear crickets chirp. Of you can hum dirges to yourself and scare the bejesus out of yourself.
Get the heart rate going. Feel that adrenaline.
One day, mid-afternoon on a brisk, sunny fall day, I find myself walking through the bushes. The main foot and bike trail veers off and a small dirt path runs along the water, behind some overgrown fields and into a deeper brush. The sun beats overhead, and I walk along the retaining wall which plunges deep into the dark blue Georgian Bay. I have my iPod buds in my ears and I walk briskly along the dirt path, enjoying the music, enjoying the day, enjoying the solitude and sunshine.
Where the retaining wall comes to an end in a twist of broken concrete and corrugated iron, the dirt path veers into the bushes. I've walked this trail a thousand times before. It's low-traffic, and isolated.
Voices. Over the music I can hear them. Slipping my hand into my coat pocket, I turn the volume way down. There's about four of them. Male voices. Laughing boisterously.
From this vantage point, I know I'm not visible from the road. Out here, they wouldn't find my body for days. I slow my pace and consider my position. Keeping to the trail will bring me right into their line of vision.
I could cut through the brush.
No good. I risk drawing more attention to myself by snapping twigs. Besides, I have a better chance on the trail if I have to make a run for it.
My heartbeat echoes in my ears as blood pumps faster and faster. I'm getting closer to where they sit on the half-broken picnic table, moved to the water months previous.
Walking by, I pretend like my iPod is still on. I sense them gazing in my direction, and I make eye contact for the briefest moment.
"Hello!" I nod my head slightly, in the slightest gesture of assent. My feet want to break into a run, but I force them to maintain their steady pace.
"I said 'hello!"
Look again. "uh.... hi." Keep walking, keep moving. My stomach is clenching, and flashes of grotesque images start to flash in my brain. The trail has curved, I've passed them now. My back is to the group. I can hear muttering and chuckles. My ears, half-functioning at the best of times, are now acutely aware of the sounds around me. I listen for footsteps approaching behind me. I don't dare look back.
The trail takes another turn, and I know, from having walked this dirt path numerous times before never having met a soul along the way, that I'm out of their line of sight. It's now that I allow myself to break into a full-run, feet slamming the dirt path, dodging rocks and roots, slipping on leaves, until I find myself back on the paved bicycle trail, the one that follows along the main road, safely visible to the cars that whizz by.
Bent double, I struggle to catch my breath. Did I over-react or did I just escape a potentially life-threatening situation? I'll never know.
That was last fall.