lost in the woods

I decided to drive out to a nice park this afternoon to get some good trailrunning in rather than chugging along the same old dirt roads. They’re nice, don’t get me wrong, but the trails were calling to me. I headed out later than I’d planned but didn’t think much of it. It was a perfect fall day – blue sky, leaves all crisp reds and rich golds, cornfields turning to amber waves of grain… all that. I got to the park around 5:15 and immediately hopped onto the trail I was planning to do, a 13 mile loop that I do fairly frequently. No big deal.

I spent about half of the first forty minutes of my run thinking that I knew where I was, while the other half was spent more along the lines of, “I feel like I’ve run here before… maybe… but where am I?” The trail I was on eventually did hook back up with the main trail, and from there on out, it was smooth sailing. I was feeling good and rested from my two days off of running, even powering up hills I’d usually half-ass. Just a good run.

Then it started getting dark. I felt confident that I’d get back to the parking lot in time – the sky would be a little dusky, yes, and the trails would be darker from tree coverage – but nothing unduly troubling. Just a pleasant evening run through the woods, still flying along the trail decently well.

But then it was dark. Actually dark. And I still had at least three miles to go – maybe more, I wasn’t entirely sure. It was getting fairly difficult to make out rocks and roots on the trail; somehow, I managed not to trip and faceplant into a puddle. But I was still moving along, albeit a little slower since I couldn’t really see, and finally I reached an intersection I recognized… to my dismay. I was farther from the trailhead than I’d thought… or so I thought. I had no idea how much longer it was. Using the dim blue light from my watch, I squinted at the map and picked the route that looked the shortest. I was pretty sure I’d run it just a few days ago, and by that point, I just wanted to get back to the parking lot. I turned away from the map and headed back on the trail.

As you may have guessed, the trail I thought I was taking was not, in fact, the trail I was thinking of. I’d never set foot on this trail before; I had no idea what turns to expect, how hilly it was, or where it came out. As it turned out, it was pretty hilly, with lots of steep descents into mini-valleys where there was even less light than atop the hills. It seemed like an endless trail of blind twists and turns, hills and switchbacks, and I didn’t have the sun to tell which direction I was headed. I was still running – fear is a great motivator – just hoping that eventually, soon, I’d see a clearing in the trees ahead, hear a motor roar, catch a glimpse of (non-murderer) people… but no. It seemed that with every turn, the trail just led me down yet another valley. It was steadily getting darker and darker and I was getting steadily more worried (I won’t say scared, just… very aware of now Not Great my situation was). I started singing to myself: The Kinks’ Sunday Afternoon, fun’s Some Nights, and a song of my own creation that went something along the (tuneless) lines of, “I’m just runnin’ through the woods on a Thursday night, la la la, just runnin’ along this trail, hoping I’m not lost…”

Then… a map! Finally! I looked at it – I was on the right track after all! I wasn’t going to curl up in a ball and slowly freeze to death or get eaten by rabid coyotes or wandering zombies*! The parking lot was close! I double- and triple-checked the map, then took off, making tracks for the parking lot, my car, and civilization.

That trail also seemed endless. I kept hoping the parking lot would be over the next hill, but it wasn’t. I started singing again – ZZ Top’s Just Got Paid riff, over and over. I rounded another turn, feeling less worried but still not great, when I realized… I knew where I was! And it was close to the parking lot!

I made another song at this point, a little more tuneful than the last: “I know where I aaa-am! I know where I aaa-am! I’m not lost in the woods anymore! Huzzah!” (Yes, I did shout “huzzah.” It’s a great word for jubilant moments, you should try it sometime.) I bounded up the last hill and there it was, the Promised Land – the parking lot! And there were people! “CIVILIZATION AT LAST!” I cried as I sprinted down the grassy hill, past some confused and amused mountain bikers, and to my lovely, lovely car with its lovely, lovely lights and water and music and my cell phone. I, of course, blasted Alice in Chains on the way back (awesome post-run music, especially Check My Brain on Black Gives Way To Blue). A hot shower, some chili and pumpkin corn bread, and some cuddling with my cat made everything right again.

So! Lessons learned:

1. Always check what time the sun is setting and plan accordingly. This means…
2. ALWAYS bring a flashlight/headlamp if you’re not sure! Better to be running with at least a dim bobbing circle of light than alone in the dark, tripping over things and stumble-falling down surprisingly steep hills.
3. Alice in Chains for post-run music.

*I often find myself worrying about zombies when I’m out running in a desolated, woodsy area. You should too.

peace love and maps and flashlights,

PS. I’m applying for an internship with the Pikes Peak Marathon – how sweet is that? They posted it on Twitter, so glad I decided to check my feed when I did! It’d be exactly what I want to do for a company: the PR/social media/marketing side of things. So… don’t apply, because I want it  🙂

PPS. It’s 10/11/12, guys! Hee hee.


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