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Napa Journal: Jogging in the dark with a stranger

Napa Journal: Jogging in the dark with a stranger

Kevin Courtney masked

While most Napans are still sleeping, I'm out jogging on city streets bereft of human life. 

I set out two hours before the sun comes up for the same reason I do most everything I do: It's my routine.

He who tampers with his routines is opening the door to who knows what chaos lurking on the other side. 

There are obvious advantages to getting up and out before the masses. All is quiet, nothing moves. I can avoid bumpy sidewalks and run on streets where normally gas and electrically powered leviathans rule. 

The night can be welcoming. A surprising number of homes light their yards for me, while simultaneously deterring catalytic converter thieves.

This night-for-day illumination sucks up serious juice. Entryways, garages, olive trees, walkways — they all glow.

How did this become a thing? Is it a reflection of insecure times?

Some yards sit in darkness until I appear, then lights pop on. I feel attacked by paparazzi. 

Inside, most houses remain dark. No one's up yet. 

If there's light, it shines through opaque windows most assuredly belonging to bathrooms. When people are rising, this is their first stop of their day. 

One particular house catches my eye. Through garage door windows I detect a white rectangular glow high up on a wall. 

Somebody's watching TV before 5 a.m.!

Or it's a fish tank?

This uncertainty bedevils me. I want to knock on the door and settle matters. Instead, I keep running, taking the mystery with me. 

A word about critters. How is it that my clop-clop-clop doesn't trigger dog barking. Years ago it often did.

I'll tell you. The dogs are sleeping indoors with their owners. Instead of barks, I get crickets. 

It's a different situation along the fringes of west Napa's human sprawl. A peacock sometimes screams, owls hoot and wild turkeys gobble-gobble. And for a month or two last year I would hear a rooster crowing.

I jog to my own zoo audio tape.

Once or twice a week I encounter a pedestrian or a dog walker or — heaven forbid — another jogger. 

Who are you! How dare you! This is my route.

The stranger and I almost never exchange words. It's too dark for words. We're in separate stream-of-consciousness bubbles.

One of my most disturbing encounters with a jogger happened this spring. As I exited my driveway to begin my route, I heard a scuffing 20 feet away. 

Detecting a slow-walking human, I felt a chill run up my spine. No one has ever come down my dead-end, unlit street at this hour. 

I swung wide to give this shadow figure wide berth and started running. And the moment I did, this person — a woman, as it turned out — began running, too. In the same direction as me.

Total creep-out!

I suspected she was as freaked as I. Maybe more so. Had she interpreted my running as an attack?

The male ego being what it is, I decided I'd zip on by her, while staying a road's width away, and leave her in my dust.

She must have had similar thoughts. She cranked it into high gear.

There we were, two strangers, male and female, running as if for our very lives.

This was unsustainable. I backed off. I didn't want to have my intentions misinterpreted. Not on a pitch-black street.

I considered calling out: "Not to worry. I'm a fellow runner."

Immediately I reconsidered. That might only escalate the creepiness.

She kept running. I kept running. When she began to tire and slow down, I slowed down, while maintaining a 75-yard gap between us.

Surely one of us would peel off, but no. We both stuck to our overlapping routes. We were two strangers unwilling to budge.  

Finally, after more than a mile, she hung a right. 

I was left blissfully alone, but my serenity had been wrecked. I expect she had a tale to tell as well.

Strangers should not jog together in the dark.

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Kevin can be reached at 707- 256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.

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