When you look at the photo of me pedaling along my favorite trail, a 10-mile trail that encompasses more nature than populated areas – fear is likely the last thought to come to mind. Why would anyone think of panic when you become one with nature, which is what we see happening in the photo? Fear. I’ll get to that in time, but in the meantime, I want to tell you more about this trail and all the beautiful and wonderful moments it has to offer. Thoreau would have fallen in love with this area, as I try so hard to do. This is a nature lover’s geographic locale dream.
There is a paved trail and an unpaved trail. The unpaved trail is used by runners. The two pathways are separated by a creek and both trails run along heavily wooded areas for most of the 10 miles. The creek is full of soft-shelled turtles that burrow under the sand; yellow-bellied river turtles, and several species of small fish. Occasionally, there will be people down in the creeks attempting to catch the little fish, which I can only presume will be used as bait to catch larger fish in another area, perhaps the Edisto River, which is the closest river.
When Cindy and I ride this trail, it always feels as if we are entering a wildlife sanctuary, as the wildlife is so abundant. We have been privy to seeing deer drinking from the creek, but fleeing upon seeing us pedaling toward them. We have seen deer standing just behind the trees, so statuesque with only their eyes moving as they watched us approach and pass them by. We have seen rabbits, but what we see more than anything else are birds. We see cardinals, hawks, ducks, egrets, mallards and an assortment of other birds. On one ride we saw five barred owls in flight as they flew from one tree to another before flying to another tree across the creek. On our next ride, we saw a lone barred owl that sat on its tree limb not moving but returning our curious looks. While most wildlife either runs off, hops off, burrows, or flies away before we can capture the moment of their existence in a photo, this barred owl sat for Cindy while she dismounted from her bicycle and took several pictures before the owl flew up to a higher limb in the tree.
The beauty of the trail is breathtaking; however, I have yet been able to fully enjoy its beauty. I get on my bike, and from the moment we drive onto the trail, away from the safety of the Jeep, to the moment we return from our ride, my heart beats faster, and I am jumpy. I don’t want to get off my bike and look at anything. I just want to get the ride over with.
I used to be a shower thinker, but since I’ve been riding my bike, I have become a bicycle thinker. What else is there to do but pedal? So I pedal, and I think while keeping my eyes moving, sweeping from left to right as if I were out on point looking for something that does not feel right, or does not fit in – scrutinizing the notches made in the trees with a hatchet or machete, or any sudden movements in the brush.
Every time we ride this trail, we always encounter women walking the path alone. I envy them, but I also think they are not being very smart to be out walking alone in this isolated area. After a while, as I’m thinking, and before I talk to Cindy about it, I think back to how I used to do the same things alone. I would ride the trails and walk alone, and I did so without a second thought, fearless. And there it is! There was a time in my life when I was bold, but that was before my last back-to-back deployments before I retired from active duty.
The two deployments changed me, and they changed the way I live my life. I am not just now discovering this. I came home from my last deployment in September 2006, and by October I wouldn’t leave my house. I had come face-to-face with fear, and while over the years I have slowly gotten better, it is still with trepidation that I leave my home; although, I can now do so without having to take Klonopin or Xanax. It has not yet been a year that I stopped taking a pill to be able to leave my home. And I carry an emergency pill pack in case I feel a panic attack coming on, which has not happened in six months or more, but just as I look forward to the end of our bike rides, I still look forward to returning to the safety of my home after being out.
I am different, I will always be different from who I was before those last two deployments. I have been told that I have a new normal, and while there is a large part of me that feels less of a person than I was – inferior, I refuse to give in to the fear that has shut me off from so many parts of living my life, namely my writing. That is what has hurt me the most because my writing was what has always defined me. My military career was supposed to be my means of writing, but I was silenced. Guess what? I’m back! I am writing again, and I will continue to venture out for my bike rides. I want to believe that the more I ride, the more times I return to the beautiful trail we found to ride, the easier it will become for me to enjoy the beauty that engulfs me when I ride.