No one wants to die in shorts. if you die in shorts, it’s at least partly your fault. You were somewhere you shouldn’t have been, doing something you shouldn’t have. You were too casual.
That’s what popped into my head when I almost stepped on the snake, a big, fat sucker the same brown-gray color as the Trinity River. And it was still echoing in my mind when the feral hogs showed up.
I should have known better. It was a Saturday, and I was hiking on the Texas Buckeye Trail, on a secluded path through the Great Trinity Forest, to the bank of the river. There is a concrete walkway, too, but I’m more of an au naturel guy. Normally, I take precautions. Long pants, a pocketknife, a sawed-off length of a tree branch I keep in my trunk. Not this time. I was about 10 minutes down the trail when I began to see fresh tracks made by feral hogs—wild boars, if it helps with your sympathy—and a lot of them.
But I pressed on. I have a self-confidence that occasionally curdles into hubris. It didn’t feel out of the ordinary when I kept walking, even as the trail became harder to find and the forest narrowed into a barely manageable tunnel.
When I finally got to the bank of the river, I almost stepped on the aforementioned snake. For whatever reason, that made me relax. “Okay,” I thought. “That is today’s scare. Everything is fine now.” Guys, I really and truly thought that. Little fluffy kittens have a more hardened view of this world than I do sometimes.
After I duck-walked away from the river, back through a tunnel of limbs and vines, I took a moment to rest. That was the only smart thing I did that day, because had I kept walking, I would have been directly in the path of the four feral hogs that came tramping through the grass. Four ugly-as-hell boars, hunting in a pack, looking for the source of the recent sound made by an idiot in shorts and Walmart hiking boots. (I appreciate a good deal.) Have you seen The Princess Bride? The Rodents of Unusual Size? Very much like that. Reader, let me re-create my reaction:
“Oh, Chuck. Oh, Chuck. Oh, Chuck. Chuck. Chuck. Chuuuuuuuuck. Oh, Chuck. Oh, Chuck. Chuck. Chuck. Chucking Chuck. Chuck. Chuck. Chuck. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, Chuck. Chuck.” (I may not have been saying “Chuck.”)
I froze. The hogs circled, lifting their hairy, disgusting snouts above the grass, snorting at each other. They might as well have been wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. I thought about how long it would take someone to discover my shorts-clad corpse.
After a few minutes, they took off through the thicket, and I cautiously emerged from my catatonic state. Then, suddenly, one of them was back, now only maybe 10 feet away. I thought about what you’re supposed to do when confronted by a grizzly bear: get big, be scary. Own your territory.
I can’t relate to you exactly how pathetic my attempt at doing that was. Picture a toddler imitating Chewbacca, and you are in the ballpark but not quite on the field.
Somehow, though, it worked. He (let’s make an assumption) turned hell-born tail and galloped away, and I did the same. Unfortunately, in my panic, I lost the trail. The only path I could see through the forest had clearly been made by hogs and not man. I plowed through brush, slicing up my bare legs until I looked like I had applied Ric Flair’s signature figure-four leg lock on a coil of razor wire. Finally, after some wrong turns and more pleas to my imaginary friend Chuck, I emerged from the forest not unscathed but at least alive.
Did I learn any lessons? Long term, probably not. I’ll make this mistake again, or one very nearly like it. Short term, yeah. The next time I go for a hike, I’ll stick to the Katy Trail. Shorts are okay, and the only enemy I have there is Troy Aikman.