Lodi Lake is a great place to run. Several races and fun runs are held there each year, and local cross country teams use the paths around the lake and wilderness area for training.
But running the lake has a darker side, one that can easily defeat the poor souls who are not up to the challenge.
I came over the hill on the west side of the lake at the start of my run the other day. It was tranquil with the trees forming a soothing green canopy above me. The flat cool water beckoned — “Cannonball!” — but I continued along my way.
I passed a former coworker who hangs out on the bench there, somehow justifying his constant presence by insisting he’s a “birder.” The placid scene lulled me into thinking this was going to be like any other run around the lake.
We all have regrets in life.
I made my way through the parking lot near the park entrance, dodging Volkswagen-sized geese as I continued east. I sprinted through a six-goose gauntlet and they squawked at me like I owed them money. They didn’t approach me, but intimidation was in the air. I avoided looking any of them in the eye for fear of retaliation on the return trip. “Warriors. Come out and plaaay!” I think one of them was wearing a bandanna.
My pace quickened and I soon came to the “Gilligan’s Island” lagoon near the entrance to the wilderness area. I half expected to see Skipper whacking his little buddy upside the head after he blew another rescue attempt. I passed the last outpost providing resolve and liquid refreshment (a drinking fountain), and headed down the dusty trail.
I was about a hundred yards in when I spied a turkey, a real live turkey. I’ve seen plenty of deer in the wilderness area, even thought I saw a couple of Miwok ghosts playing “Battleship” near the old teepees one night, but never a turkey.
I left the bright sunlight of the trail and entered the dense forest, the part of the run where they filmed the Schwarzenegger classic, “Predator” — “There’s something out there, Major, and it ain’t no man.”
It grew dark and the temperature dropped quickly. It was quiet — too quiet.
I gingerly jogged through the dry leaves, thinking that the manly art of prancing would somehow help me avoid detection. Something was not right.
“What’s that weird screeching ... ?”
Bam! I ran into what can only be described as a squirrel twister, or the first rodent flash mob. I don’t know if it was feeding time or the lake’s version of Black Friday, but they were flying everywhere. I’d never seen that many on the trail. Squirrel dads, squirrel moms, squirrel in-laws. They were jumping from trees like little, furry ninjas.
Gray ones, brown ones, ones with mohawks and black leather vests. They taunted me, defiantly standing in my path until the last second, causing me to break stride to keep from squashing them. Ever hear a squirrel laugh at you? I did that day.
I made it out of the forest and paused to gather myself near the green-carpeted Pigs Lake. I spotted a coyote or a thin, unhappy gray dog standing in the bushes nearby. I saluted him as I passed, knowing he’d have the courage to hold off the squirrels and allow my escape. “Get to the choppa!” I heard Arnold exclaim.
A couple of cross country team members rocketed past me as I neared the boat dock on the north side of the lake. Suddenly I was that old man clogging the fast lane on Highway 99 with his left blinker on for 10 miles.
“A man’s got to know his limitations,” Dirty Harry once said. I did on that day at the lake.
I stopped for a drink, filled my stomach with cold water and courage, and sprinted past those geese one more time. I hit Turner Road and laughed aloud as I ran for home.
I admit I did look over my shoulder once or twice just to be sure. Those squirrels are fast.
Chris Piombo is a local family man, coach, and marathon runner.