Not even a quarter mile ahead lies camp -- and at it our car's tires bulge under the weight of tortillas and salsa, bratwurst, soft bedrolls and shiny cold crowlers of Mole Temptress. But, I'm here, knee-deep in dank water at dusk, wading gingerly enough to keep my footing. It's not a creek; it's a park trail completely, unexpectedly submerged in runoff from recent rains, and I can't see my feet. But I can feel them, the slick mud beneath them, and phantom creepers swirling through my soaked socks. There's only one way out of this, and it ain't backwards. Forwards, however, means dropping the elated clip of a woman hammering down a Hill Country bluff to slog through Mother Nature's stagnant clogged toilet.
I'm here at Capt'n Karl's -- that's a summer, nighttime trail race series -- because I am bored or have something to prove to myself or, most simply, am easily led by friends' carrot of copious craft beer over our lightning-fast break from Dallas.
I'm here because -- Man, who am I kidding? This is how you "do a Texas." You run 6 or 18 or 36 sweat-drenched, mosquito-laden miles through pitch darkness in the heat of the summer because dumping your body full of adrenaline and serotonin, sweating out bad juju on a voyage of private discovery is a cubical-dweller's sweat lodge and drum circle, a poor woman's Kilimanjaro. It's bigger than you. You're stranded in the Texas Hill Country, spread a half a mile from the nearest runner, part of 400 strangers also in search of an epic attitude adjustment. Your pain, frustration, excitement and adventure is theirs, too. You're alone together.
That's pretty philosophy and all, but, I can't see my feet in this here mud-pit, and the sun is setting at Pedernales Falls State Park outside Johnson City. The Hill Country's an easy drive from D-FW and pitching a tent makes for an inexpensive getaway most can swing in a whirlwind 24 hours. The park itself harbors an urbanite's paradise, miles upon miles of rocky trails winding, flanked by spiny cacti and broken stairways of limestone, through the heart of gently rolling Central Texas. But, I'm knee-deep in muck and snakes love opaque water and so do leeches and boogeymen and sharks and serial killers and suddenly I'm thinking about that fish that swims up your urethra and latches onto your bladder -- but that's only on men, right? -- and amoebas that eat your brains and that Toadies video with the lake that terrorized my middle school nightmares.
Not even a quarter mile ahead lies camp, plus the excitement of a finish line with live country music -- the good kind -- and butt-slaps and hugs from the Dallas friends who talked me into this. Not half an hour for now will be darkness, with its lovely cool breeze and glowing gibbous moon, giving way to starlight that emerges from behind cloud coverage sometime around 3 a.m.
So, I wade one foot in front of the other like a young Sasquatch on the down-low, headlamp catching the iridescent reflection of an intricately-woven spiderweb just ahead, and laugh because I'm here with friends and guitar players and Karbach brews and not stuck behind a red stalled sea of brake lights on LBJ wishing I were somewhere, anywhere else than a jammed up highway.