When you spend a lot of time alone, be it biking, hiking, or sitting on the toilet, you tend to think about stuff. What you would do if you suddenly lost your job. Or how you would respond to a terrorist attack. Or why did you have that second bowl of chili?
And most times, I imagine, we imagine ourselves doing all the right things in the face of these dangers and difficulties, calmly stopping, dropping, and rolling our way through the countless catastrophes we conjure up.
But what would we do if something really happened?
I had the chance to see for myself a few years ago, when I walked out of the woods to find someone aiming a gun right at my head.
Did I duck and cover? Turn tail and sprint a zig zag pattern through the trees? Dive behind a boulder and pull out my own weapon?
That would be No to the third power.
No, what I did, when suddenly faced with the very real danger of a loaded pistol pointing at my face, was to casually tap my friend on the shoulder and say, “Dude, I think that guy is pointing a gun at us.”
There was no adrenaline rush. My life did not flash before my eyes. I did not feel scared, worried, angry, or anxious. Mostly I was curious. Like why was this guy pointing a gun at me?
So I waved and gave a loud, “Hello?”
Now, as a society, we like to make fun of the characters in horror movies who investigate the strange sounds coming from the basement and end up getting chain sawed in the chest – but I’m no longer so sure they’re behaving all that bizarrely.
Curiosity does more than kill cats and make life challenging for the Man in the Yellow Hat – it encourages us to open doors that may lead to great opportunities…or homicidal maniacs in hockey masks!
But that’s not my point. My real purpose is to discuss how non-aroused I was by the whole situation. And not that kind of arousal, you pervs, I mean the 'fight or flight' arousal that supposedly helps all living things survive. Either I’m an evolutionary marvel, or I’m missing something, because I really don’t get riled up or excited. About anything.
I could give a bunch of examples - none as dramatic as the gun pointed at my head - but all would share a common trait: basically, I have no pulse. Don’t get me wrong. I do get sad. I have a tough time seeing others in pain. And there are times when I feel stressed. But I just don’t get excited. I don't have high highs or low lows. I have…mediums?
I’m sure I’m missing out on some wonderful feelings, but frankly, I think the trade off is worth it. Think of me as an emotional Goldilocks. Not too hot, not too cold. Everything is just right (so long as you ignore the broken furniture and wasted porridge I leave in my wake!) You might disagree, claiming that breaking even is not a win and a tie is not a victory, and you would be right. But when you think about how much more time is spent practicing than playing the game, then I come out ahead, because on average, I will have more average days than you have good or bad ones.
But back to the day in question. What happened was my friend and I had come out of the woods and into a clearing, where there were several picnic tables, so we sat down for a rest. While we were talking, I noticed a white pick-up coming down the access road, and watched as a uniformed man got out and started pointing his pistol at me.
And while the daydream version of me would have flipped the table over and taken cover behind it, the real me simply waved and hollered “Hello?”
Even from 100 yards away, I could see the look of panic on his face as he quickly holstered his gun upon hearing me call out. We hopped off the table and walked over to him to see what was going on.
It turned out to be (name omitted to protect the not so innocent), a man we were quite familiar with, as he was the only full-time park ranger in the town of (name omitted to protect the not so innocent) for the past 20 years and he often “checked in” on us during our many teenage camping excursions (meaning many of you have by now figured out who he is, but fuck him, he almost shot me!) Anyway, Ranger Doe nervously explained that he was due for his weapon qualification, and that he was simply testing his sights. “I wasn’t really gonna shoot,” he stammered. “I was just aiming…” he trailed off, knowing that the only way to test one’s aim was to pull the trigger and see what you hit.
“And you decided to aim at me?” I asked incredulously.
“No, no! God no! I was pointing at that sign,” he said, indicating a small plaque on a post that identified Campsite 3, “I didn’t even see you there. Where did you come from anyway,” he asked, changing his tone to more of a challenge, looking for a way to blame us for the near tragedy.
“The woods,” I explained helpfully, happy to have the (picnic) tables turned after so many years. “And there are quite a few other hikers out there, you really should be more careful,” I added, more out of revenge for all the beer he took from us, the garbage he made us pick up, and the fires he made us put out, than for the fact that he nearly shot me in the head!
“And you really want to wear bright clothes when hiking, especially during hunting season,” he advised, trying to save face while distancing himself from the thought that he nearly put a bullet through mine.
“We’ll keep that in mind,” I said, shaking his still shaking hand. “And good luck with your qualifications. Try not to shoot the instructor!”
He nodded his head in defeat and got back into his truck, giving a friendly beep as he drove off.
As we walked through the settling dust from his hasty retreat, I found myself hoping he really did pass his test. I knew that being a ranger was his life, and even though he nearly took mine, I wasn’t one to hold a grudge. Plus, like most things in my life, it was nothing to get excited about!