The Unintended Competition

It started out like any other walk although a little later than usual. The early morning golden light had brightened now that the sun was higher in the sky. Beate and I met at the guard house, gave each other perfunctory air kisses, swish, swish: First the left side, then the right. Then we set off up the first hill. Half way up, I started to hit my stride. 

Usually, once each one finds her pace, she just keeps going. But, this morning, at the top of the first hill where the path joins the loop, I waited. I wanted more time and more conversation with Beate.  She soon reached me and we headed off counter-clockwise chatting about the weather, the presidential campaign, the cadence of each other’s week, and plans for a swim in the late afternoon.

 

After a while, the conversation died down. It was time to hit my stride again. I pulled away. Turning my head and waving, I called back, “I’ll see you on the other side.”

 

This morning my too tight leg muscles and wandering alignment pulled on my left knee. With each step I felt a sharp jab. Jab, jab, jab. I thought I’ve got to focus on how I’m walking. If I don’t I am going to hurt this afternoon. “Light, align, fast, supple,” I mumbled to myself. “Light, align, fast, supple.  Light align, fast supple.” My little mantra worked. My pace quickened and the jab, jab, jab disappeared.

 

The Dish is busy at this time of the morning with runners passing walkers and faster walkers passing those going at a slower pace.  About half way up one of the short hills, I came upon another walker.  As I approached her I could see her blond hair, white wind breaker and blue and gray accented running shoes, but nothing more.  Then as I was just about to overtake her on the left, she glanced back at me and quickened her pace, leaving three or four steps between us. We stayed like that for awhile. And, then it started to bother me. I decided to move faster.

 

On the long winding ascent just as I was about to overtake her, she sped up again, always keeping those three steps between us. When I moved to the left, so did she. When I moved to the right, she did too. I accelerated my pace and so did she. We passed the radiotelescope, the shady hollow, and the California buckeye.

 

I felt closed in and didn’t like it. I walk the Dish because, even though it is a busy trail, there is always plenty of space. As I climb the whole expanse of the San Francisco Bay opens up below giving me a rush.  Then there’s that big inner space to fill with thoughts and ideas. Some of my best writing I do up here in my head. And, then, every once in awhile I scan the fields for deer and the sky for hawks.  But today I couldn’t. The presence of this too close-for-comfort walker was in the way; right there between me and myself.

 

A terse little quarrel broke out in my head. Just slow down and put more space between you. No, I don’t want to slow down. I have a good stride and my knee is not hurting. Why would I slow down? Well, just pull ahead of her then. I tried. No, you didn’t. But, no, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hear her breath and steps right behind me. Fine. Then just stay as you are and concentrate. Back and forth I argued.

 

Then it dawned on me. She’s competing with me. My irritation grew. I didn’t want to race, but I couldn’t stop myself either. As we rounded the last curve and into the long descent to the end, I my stride felt choppy. I knew I had to either slow down or speed up.  Just run I thought. But watch the knee. I broke into a run concentrating with everything I had and mumbling, “Light align, fast, supple.” As I sped down the hill I could hear her steps in pursuit. She was running, too, and trying to overtake me.

 

No way. I am free and ran faster. Towards the bottom, a crowd of women and baby carriages were on their way up the hill. This could be a disaster. I slowed to weave in and out of the group without crashing into someone. I could still hear the steps behind me. I picked up speed again. At the end, I slowed to a walk and veered off the path to stretch on the fence and wait for Beate, as I always do. As I stood there, she ran past me and out the gate. When she came to a stop to wait for the light to change to cross the street she turned her head and smiled wryly at me.

 

All original content copyright 2008 Mary E. Slocum

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