I know, I know: I need to get my Anchorage Runfest 49K race report up while the race is still fresh in my mind.
But first, this.
On Sunday, my sister (who was up visiting from Philly), my partner, the dog and I headed out for a short hike on the Trail of Blue Ice. It’s a fairly new trail and we wanted to check out its running potential. Plus, it’s flat, and after climbing Flattop and Rendezvous Peak, my sister and her city legs were ready for an easy day. You know, an afternoon of walking, not hiking.
The weather was cloudy and cool, the way it’s been for most of the summer, and the drive out along Turnagain Arm was lovely but uneventful.
We parked in the Portage Glacier Visitor Center’s lot and hopped on the trail, which was green and lush. With the mountains looming so close in the background, it reminded me of the two years I spent living down in Seward. It was a good feeling and we walked and talked, walked and took in the silence of the landscape, the sound of Williwaw Creek in the background.
During the over four miles we walked, we passed no one. It was as if we were in our own world and I savored this feeling, walking through the rain with so much green, and surrounded by some of the people I love the most in this world.
Because no one else was around, we had Seriously (the dog), off-leash. Less than a mile from the trailhead on the way back, we saw a man approaching. He was shabbily dressed, which is pretty much the standard for Alaska. As he drew closer, the dog kept walking right on past him. She didn’t go up to him, sniff at him or bother him in any way.
I was ready to say hello to the shabbily-dressed man when he stopped in front of me.
“Dog needs to be on a leash,” he said. “Some people don’t like dogs.”
“Well,” I started to say. Then he drew a sharp knife out of his pocket and pointed it right at us. He kept it pointed at us, too.
We were all stunned. We stood there in front of that man and his knife and it was as if time stood still. Finally, the man started walking again and he and his knife disappeared around a bend.
None of us moved. It had been so sudden, so unexpected. The knife had been sharp, too, and aimed mere inches from my chest.
Yet, the worst part wasn’t that the man had acted threatening or might have been some type of Lower 48 fugitive hiding out in semi-remote Alaska campgrounds. It’s that he and his knife ruined the mood, the wonderful lull, that we had all been in. That, I think, was the most unforgivable part of it all.
On the drive back to Anchorage, I thought about this. I thought about how danger is always there, riding right on our shoulders and how we ignore this fact, how we cloak ourselves in illusions of safety, how we think we are okay if we travel in groups or on familiar trails or if we stay near the trailhead or carry a cell phone or bear spray or ….
But we never are. Danger can find us anywhere. We can be walking along, lost in our own thoughts, and encounter a crazy man with a knife, or a bear, or we can slip, or a tree can fall on our heads. I remember years ago reading about a man who was killed while driving to his father’s funeral. Who would ever expect to die while driving to a funeral? Yet, such things happen.
But forget risk and chance and safety for now. Here is some more of the Trail of Blue Ice to enjoy.