Sunrise is just peaking over the edge of the trees in front of my house when I wake up in the morning to squeeze in that necessary morning workout. I sleepily lace on my sneakers, slip on a comfortable, old sports bra, and wrangle my hair into submission with a headband before heading out the door.

Traffic is still pretty minimal as I make the drive to my favorite park, and I sigh with relief when I see that there’s only a half dozen or so cars in the parking lot. I strap my trusty fanny pack on and get my Apple podcasts queued up so that I have plenty of interesting facts to keep my mind busy while I walk the 3 miles I’ve planned for this particular morning. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with listening to a two-part podcast about squirrels and how gruesome and predatory they can actually be.

(I told you I was weird when I started this blog, so don’t leave me now.)

The air is crisp and still cool enough this early in the morning, even in the summertime. The lake is beautiful and calm, and the path is damp from the previous night’s rain but not muddy and gross thankfully. I manage to make it a quarter of a mile into the trail when I encounter my first hurdle.

A person.

You see, I’m an introvert, and I can be incredibly awkward in person. This seems to be magnified around strangers, particularly when I have eye crusties still and my bedhead hair looks more like a banshee’s rather than a human woman’s. I can never figure out what to do when I encounter people on the path. Do I smile or do I pretend I didn’t see them? Do I say “Good morning,” or do I simply nod a greeting? And when I actually try to be friendly and say something, my creaky morning voice only verbalizes a third of the words, and the person has no idea what I’m saying. All they can see is that my mouth is moving and perhaps hear a series of grunts and unintelligible rasping, and I look like a weirdo.

I also get incredibly distracted by people’s dogs and completely forget to acknowledge them at all. People are always bringing their dogs for a morning walk at the park. There are large, excited-looking German shepherds, fuzzy, adorable Labradoodles, and friendly, little dachshunds trotting next to their owners, and I am bound by an inner law inside my members to “awww” at them and tell them that they are a good boy in the highest pitch I can possibly attain. Usually, I manage a small smile for their owners out of courtesy if I’m not too distracted, but seeing cute dogs is about 45% of the reason I go to the park rather than walk in my neighborhood.

People also like to destroy the sanctity of my favorite park. They mar the crisp, clean air I’ve been inhaling by smoking cigarettes or interrupt the relaxing sounds of insects and gentle water lapping with their loud argument on their phone that they have on speaker phone. And of course, there is always someone running full tilt around the path that comes inches away from knocking me clear off the path and into the water because I’m a slowpoke who walks leisurely, enjoying the scenery rather than trying to reach a PR.

But I still keep going back, two or three times a week if I can squeeze it in before work or on my day off. Because I like not having to worry about my sweet, kind neighbors mowing me down in the street because they drive too fast through our neighborhood. Because I know that I’ll spend most of the day holed up in the library helping people learn how to attach computer files to their email or remember the name of the book that has a red cover and an author who is from North Carolina. And because of the hope that someone, someday will have a Jack Russell puppy that I can steal – I mean, fawn over excitedly.