I saw the man jogging towards me, head down, appearing agitated. His dog was close on the leash. The man, wearing an odd collection of dirty looking running clothes, with a bandana on, appeared homeless. He was talking to himself in his agitation, seeming to curse to himself in outbursts.
He was avoiding eye contact, and I stayed clear to his left on the right side of the trail. He was carrying a plastic bag that was probably dog poop, based on the yuck all over his hand and bag.
Crazy person… Boy was I glad to get past him and his dog.
Things are not always as they appear. People are not always as they appear. Poop is not always as it appears. Or at least the circumstances. On this particular day Murphy and I were running on the Santa Ana River Trail. Billy had a cold and so he was prescribed some quiet time. It was kind of a chilly day (for SoCal), 68 degrees but blustery, might even have been a few dewy rain drops. I was agitated, and figured a run would do me good. ADD kids who become adults learn along the way the good things to do when the pressures of the day scramble the upstairs mechanism, and exercise (outdoors particularly) works best for me. Murphy, of course, is always up for it.
Dogs sense our agitation. Particularly one like Murph, who I took home with me when he was old enough from the City of Oklahoma City’s Animal Welfare Department (Thank you Chris and Shannon Todaro!). We have been pretty tight all his 8-plus years, and this day was no different. He could tell things were on my mind. Life was tough, I was unsure what to do about many things, including work, home, loved ones. Even Billy was sick. I was feeling pretty crazy. Feeling pretty hopeless, if I might be honest.
Normally when I take the dog(s) on a run, I am careful to bring all that’s needed. A mental checklist, hopefully before I get in the car. Cell phone, and maybe headphones (though wires drive me CRAZY when I run). Extra water for all of us, light snacks for them, a little bowl for the boys to drink out of. And plastic poop bags. Yep, I am pretty – wait for it – anal about the poop bags. (Couldn’t resist.) But this day my mind was elsewhere, and I didn’t check my running backpack before we headed out. After all, this trail has a couple of spots where bags are provided along the trail. It runs between the Santa Ana River and the Yorba Linda Regional Park, is soft-paved for people, dogs and horses. But you can’t always count on those little poop bag dispensers. Especially on a week day, near the end of the day, when the weather isn’t great. Today there were none at the start of the trail. Now I never counted before, but was pretty sure there was at least one more bag dispenser on this trail halfway along our run. No worries. Chill and enjoy the run.
And my dogs love to poop when we run. On this particular day, Murph waited it out, but when the time came, I stopped down to take care of the biz in the bushes. Crap. No bags in the pocket. Crap. No bags in the outside pouch. Crap. Only one clear newspaper bag in the inside. You know (or you would if you still had newspapers delivered to your home) that they put newspapers in plastic bags on potentially wet days, and usually on Sundays. I like to recycle, and figure dog poop breaks down any plastic bag quicker than a landfill, so I use them. I usually throw this stuff in my trunk (the empty bags, not the full ones, so i can put them in my backpack for runs…) But these bags are for holding newspapers together and keeping some light rain (or perhaps, in this case, lawn sprinklers) from ruining the LA Times. It turns out, they are not particularly good at holding in poop.
I was zoning, and Murphy was running free and clear while on his leash. Normally, when I run, I am the happy “hello” guy. I want people to know not to fear my running partner(s), since some folks are frightened of dogs while running. But this day i was grumpy, and Murphy was anxious to chase critters, so I wasn’t much in the social frame of mind. I was just trying to keep him on a good pace with me so we both could get some positive exercise. I also was feeling less than social, more than likely, because I was looking pretty rag tag. Two shirts, my hiking shorts were kind of dirty, my socks didn’t match. (Don’t judge; at least they were both white.) But people do judge, and when we’re not feeling good about ourselves, it shows. My happy place wasn’t happy on this day. But with more running, we’d be ok. And then at the halfway point, the turnaround at the bridge overpass, Murph needed to finish his biz. That’s when I realized a couple things. One, the only other poop bag dispenser had been empty. Secondly, I had no more poop bags in stow.
Somewhere between poop one at a half-mile in and his second shit-stoppage, at the mid-way of our run a mile and a half in, the bag began to leak. Holding it in my non-leash hand, it had been swinging in pendulum unison with my jogging steps and sprinkling me with lovely, soiled poop. All over my pants. My shoes, my shirt, my arm. Now that Murph had to poop again, I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t find a trash can. No more poop bags in my backpack. No paper. Nothing to wrap poop in. I should have just kicked it to the bushes, I know, but stress was keeping me from thinking clearly. And since I was wearing two shirts, I did this: used my undershirt to wrap the poop in and shoved it in my backpack. (Note: later, I definitely washed my Camelbak and clothes in hot, hot water.)
So I was covered in poop, wearing a short sleeve shirt on a chilly wet run with my, poor, confused best friend unsure why I was cussing and mumbling to myself. Praying he didn’t poop again on the way back. And of course, it started to drizzle. Normally in SoCal I would love a little drizzle on our run, but today, well, it was too perfect.
Drizzled with doo, wet, grumpy, underdressed, likely even smelling horrible (I could smell it, even if passersby couldn’t), and I was determined to make no eye contact, sing along to no songs on the iPhone, and get back to the car as fast as possible. Thus, the passage above, the well-dressed, clean-looking, ordinary runners, walkers and stroller-pushers we passed on the return 1.5 miles, might have been thinking the passage at the start of this story.
Crazy person… Boy was I glad to get past him and his dog.
I laughed later. I got it together. I am even more diligent about making sure all of what I need is with me when we hike or run, and if not, I don’t panic or take it out on myself. Never take it out on the dogs, of course. But when I see someone else running or walking, maybe talking and mumbling to themselves, with or without a dog, with or without clean-looking clothes. I try to say hi. I try to think, “I hope they’re not having a bad day.” And if so, maybe if I just smile and say “hi” they will smile and say “hi” back. Maybe Murphy and/or Billy will be with me and will wag and make them smile, too. And maybe, just maybe, I will remember that life’s poop, some times, makes us all a little crazy.
Below is the day of this run back in February of 2016 on Strava… I waited a while to share the story…