Friday, May 11, 2007

at least there weren't tigers and bears

“I should have brought a knife.”

He said no more, but I knew without asking what he was thinking, and it unsettled me. The threat had seemed a little more manageable when I was the only one who had thought of it. I mean, I could have been exaggerating, right? But Chris is far more logical than I, and now he was admitting that the possibility had entered his mind, too.

“Do you think mountain lions hang out in dark places during the day?”

“I don’t know, maybe. They’re nocturnal, right?”

“I don’t know.”

I didn’t like that we didn’t know. Yes, he should have brought a knife. We picked up rocks instead.

Since leaving the car an hour or so earlier, Chris and I had been making our way down an abandoned railroad bed, which passes through a series of six tunnels as it meanders across the mountain face beside highway 24. The first four tunnels aren’t anything daunting. They’re short and well lit, so they have a sort of open feeling. The only risk in those tunnels is getting wet from the water seeping through the cracks high above, or perhaps being startled by an equally startled bird.

Earlier in the hike, we had talked about rattlesnakes, and Chris mentioned that he likes to mess with them. I had told him that he is the reason people get bitten by snakes. I found myself wondering if the rock in his hand was to fight off an angry cat, or to mess with it.

The fifth tunnel is sort of a transition. It is long, and though we could see the end from not too far in, there were still moments where we had been blind, walking carefully through stifling darkness. Our flashlight was fairly useless, save for illuminating the next few steps to help avoid tripping. Our reentry into daylight was one of both relief and exhilaration.

Now we were headed into the longest and darkest of the tunnels, which I remembered being blocked off about halfway in (I had done the hike once before). Rocks of defense in hand, we entered the darkness slowly to allow our eyes to adjust. This tunnel was full of junk—an old box spring, a scrap of carpet, a dead bird. We picked our way through it until we reached the barrier to the rest of the tunnel, just some chain link fencing. Getting closer, we saw that someone had cut an opening through it since I was last in the tunnel. A quick scan with the flashlight revealed even more junk covering the ground on the other side of it.

“We probably shouldn’t go back there.”

“Do you just not want to walk around all that junk?” (Believe it or not, the idiot suggesting we continue on is me).

“You want to see what's back there? I guess we could try it.”

Chris stepped through the opening and into the second half of the tunnel. After reminding him to shed some light on my own steps, I followed behind. Just inside, I heard sound and figured it was the traffic from the highway. We took another couple steps. The sound came again, and I slowed a little. It was a strange sound for traffic. I listened more closely.

When the noise came a third time, we froze in our tracks.

From somewhere in the darkness, not far ahead, came a distinctly feline growl. We had our answer: yes, mountain lions do hang out in dark tunnels. No, they do not like being awakened from afternoon naps. Yes, we were leaving. We walked back through the barrier slowly and began to pick up the pace. Someone suggested running, but we remembered after only a few quickened steps that running is supposed to be the worst thing to do. In fact, we were supposed to be backing away while maintaining eye contact, but we decided walking quickly would do. Thankfully, a nervous glance over my shoulder revealed that we didn’t seem to have a stalker.

Stepping back out into the light, I breathed a sigh of relief, glad to be putting distance between us and the angry cat.

“Oh yeah, that’s going on the blog,” I said, expecting us to continue away from the tunnel.

Chris was less focused on relief, or on retreat for that matter.

“That was…..AWESOME!!! I wonder if we can get up above and see it from the other side”

I thought back to the rattlesnakes, and to the rock in my hand. Any doubt that had been there before was now removed: Chris and I do not have the same instinct when it comes to avoiding deadly animals.

Maybe I’m the one that should have brought a knife.


Carrie said...

Oh my gosh, friend. I'm so glad you're alive and well to tell this frightful tale.

konecny said...

or maybe a machete

Anonymous said...

I don't want to see you coming into my ER anytime soon (or anytime in my lifetime for that matter). I'm glad that you are safe!
-Your (Almost-11 days and counting) Doctor Friend.

randsomed journeyer said...

Woah girl! You're one brave chick! :)