The trails near our home are open to everyone. The backcountry beckons. I run while others mountain bike, hike or walk their dogs. Some ride their dirt bikes or quads. Sometimes when I run, I hear their engines roaring in the distance. When we cross paths, I breathe exhaust fumes instead of fresh air.
But the forest and trails are vast and my encounters with motorized vehicles are always fleeting. I wave or nod to the riders as we pass one another. We have different interests but a shared love of the outdoors. We mean one another no harm.
I love to run hills. There is nothing better for the legs and lungs. And I’m lucky. I can walk out the front door, and minutes later be doing a grueling uphill workout. Long and steep it holds the false promise of reaching a peak. But there’s no summit for a long time, just short breaks, and then more inclines – steep dirt tracks with scattered rocks and boulders. They’re ideal for trail running. And motorbikes. Sometimes I see the bikes themselves. Usually tire tracks are the only evidence of their presence. They are loud but my encounters with them while running are rare. And we can not hear them from our home. But others must, because this isn’t the backwoods yet. More like the shared backyard of a subdivision where hundreds of people live.
A few weeks back I was running up one of these short, steep trails when I saw a nail laying on the ground. And then two nails, and a third and a fourth, seemingly buried in the dirt intentionally, all over the trail. Each one placed carefully and with malice, guaranteed to puncture the tires of a dirt bike, or a quad. Equally guaranteed to pierce a dog’s paws or a child’s flesh.
I picked up eleven nails and filed a police report. I returned a few days later and found at least ten more. Maybe I’d missed them the first time, buried underneath the dirt and rocks. Maybe whoever put them there had returned.
It is in our nature as human beings to hurt one another. We hurt those we love. We hurt people we hate. We hurt people we don’t know. So, I was not surprised to find those nails on the trail. Not surprised. But saddened and angered. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
I still run that trail. I was there yesterday. I found six more nails. One was visible, churned up after I ascended, I spotted it on the descent. I excavated the area and found five more. I picked them up and added them to the now harmless pile of nails I’ve created inside a nearby concrete barrier. There are thirty nails in that pile now.
Thirty. Someone carried thirty nails to that trail, got down on their hands and knees, placed them individually along both sides of the trail and right down the middle, and then covered them with dirt and rocks. That’s cold. That’s premeditated. That’s malicious. That’s humanity.
The dark side of humanity.
We’ve had illness in our family recently. Metaphorically one of us stepped on a nail on the trail. That nail was Covid. It hit hard. Its effects are still being felt. Things are improving but not back to normal. In the toughest days we saw the best of humanity. A sibling and parents who dropped everything to care for the one they love. Friends and neighbours coming to the house and offering their medical expertise, bringing soup, dropping off cookies. Flowers and well wishes arrived from across the country. We saw the best side of humanity.
The absolute opposite of nails on the trail.