Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gravel Surfing

It was bound to happen and it was way past time.  Last month marked the two year anniversary of me becoming a runner.  I’m a bit uncoordinated.  It was really a miracle I hadn’t yet experienced a face-plant.  Today was my first.  Yes, I’ve flown backwards off the treadmill a few times, and I even fell down in the locker room, more than once, back in those early days.  I’ve also had my fair share of run-ins with wild animals and I’ve had a few close calls with automobiles, but today was the first time blood has been drawn. 
A Facebook friend has several times mentioned a local park with excellent trails.  I decided to check it out.  I was expecting the type of trail where mothers can easily push a stroller.  Not necessarily a paved path, but a solid, flat, easy to run on path.  What I found was a true nature trail. Or trails I should say. 
When I realized the type of trail I was facing, I started to get back in the car and drive to a nice neighborhood to run around in.  But no, hadn’t I just read Runner’s World’s special issue dedicated to trail running?  Hadn’t the magazine made trail running sound fun and exciting?   So off I went.
Ok, this was not exactly what I had in mind.  I wanted to start running, and run for the designated 60 minutes.  This was more of a run a few paces, sort of skip/hop/slide/run down a hill, jump over a big muddy spot, run a few more paces, crawl over a pile of downed trees, slip and slide up a hill and run a little farther all while dodging low hanging branches and inchworms.  Good grief!  The inchworms were everywhere!  There was at least one every ten feet hanging in the center of the very narrow path from it’s webby thread thing.  
I kept going, over fallen trees, through dried up mud pits and up & down the hills.  It was sort of fun, but sort of not.  The scenery was pretty, but it wasn’t the kind of running I’d planned.  And the trails were a little too numerous.  It seemed that it branched off every 20 feet or so.  There didn’t seem to be a main trail, just lots of them.  Sometimes the trail would branch off at right angles, sometimes it barely forked.  Sometimes you could look off in the distance and see another trail.  There were many, many options.  
Have I mentioned my lack of a sense of direction?  I could get lost in a phone booth!  I decided to stick to the straightest path.  When it veered off, I tried to follow the one most closely going straight ahead.  If the straight ahead path looked a little too ominous, as in WAY too muddy or WAY too steep, I kept to the left.  My car was somewhere over there to the left.  I was sticking to the left.  And so I went.  Running up and down and jumping over massive tree roots, crawling over the downed trees and running around as much of the mud as possible.  
Eventually, I came to a stretch of trail that had creepy little plants along it.  I don’t know what those plants are, but they creep me out.  Totally creep me out.  We have them in the woods behind our house.  No amount of explaining or even maturity will ever convince me that evil little elf-like gnomes don’t live in those plants.  I really, really, really hate those plants.  I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s the way it is.  I am NOT hanging out in these woods, alone, with those plants.  I am turning my butt around and getting the heck out of here!
So I did.  I turned around and started running back.  Except where the heck is “back”?  No matter which trail I took, it didn’t look right.  Ok, yes, I crawled over lots of downed trees, but this is not one of them.  I’m on the wrong path.  I’d back track to the previous split and try again.  I’d run a little ways and see a painted rock in the center of the path.  Nope.  This isn’t right either.  I did pass a painted rock at one point, but it was white, not red.  This is not the right path either.  
Holy Cow!  I’m lost in the woods with the creepy gnome plants.  Aack!  Ok, don’t panic.  I have a full bottle of water, it’s not that hot out, the woods are shaded and I’m not even sweating.  I’m fine water-wise.  I even have a Chocolate Outrage GU with me so I’m ok food-wise, at least for a while.  It’s only 10:00 a.m. so I have plenty of daylight left.  And don’t forget - my car is over there, somewhere to the left.  Well, ok, I’m returning now, it’s on the right.  Just keep angling to the right and I should at least find civilization if not my car.  
But my car never showed up.  Holy Cow!  I really am lost in the freaking creepy woods.  I am a city girl at heart.  I have absolutely NO business being in these woods alone.  I did tell the kids where I was going at least.  And oh, doh!  I do have a cell phone.  I could call the hubby and admit that I’m lost in the woods.  His response would go one of two ways.  Either he’d be so mad that I’d be able to hear him cussing from the other side of the county and I could follow his voice out of the creepy woods, or, he’d be so mad that he’d hang up on me and I’d be permanently stuck in the creepy woods.  Not to mention afraid to ever actually find my way out because Hubby would probably kill me.  Have I mentioned that he’s not exactly thrilled with my running?  And for me to take off into unknown woods, alone, without a map.....  Ok, so maybe I deserve to be lost in these stinking creepy woods.  I think I’ll wait a while before I call dear Hubby.
I kept going, trying to find my way back out.  Absolutely nothing looked familiar.  At all.  But I did eventually come across a gravel road.  Or at least a wider, gravel path.  I thought the park service people might use this path as a road to access the interior parts of the trails and park.  I decided to follow the gravel.  After all, it has to come out somewhere, right?  They wouldn’t have just built a gravel road that didn’t lead anywhere, right?  Well, with my luck....  But let’s find out.
So off down the gravel road I went.  Actually, up the road I went.  My car should be to the right.  The gravel leading to the right went up-hill.  Up a pretty steep hill, actually.  I started off running it, but quickly slowed to a walk.  It was big gravel, hard to run in.  Plus, did I mention is was a steep hill?  Finally made it to the top, and started running again.  Hey - that looks like it might be a clearing up ahead.  
Woo-hoo!  I see my car!  I think.  It’s so far away it’s hard to tell, but there is definitely a dark colored car over that way and that looks like the playground off in the distance that I’d parked near.   Phew!  I’ve rescued myself from being lost in the creepy woods!  Boy, do I feel like a first class Girl Scout!   I also have another 20 minutes or so to run.  I decided to turn around and run on the gravel.  The gravel road/path did not branch at all.  As long as I stuck to that, I could easily find my way back.  So back down the gravel I went.
Well, let me tell you.  If you are ever lost in the creepy woods and are able to find your way out, do not go back in.  Just don’t.  Don’t do it.  Never Ever return to the creepy woods!
I’d gone about a half mile or so back into the woods when something sort of large, larger than a squirrel at least, moved in the brush beside the path.  I immediately glanced over, felt my foot come down on an extra-large chunk of gravel, felt my ankle bend awkwardly, and saw the ground quickly coming at my face.  I’m not really sure what happened next, all I know is there was the distinct sound of the “F” word echoing through the forest.  I picked myself up and inspected the damage.  Oh, yeah!  Two bloody knees and one very bloody elbow.  The ankle seems fine though.  I turned around and started trudging back up the gravel path towards the car.  Now, I know I’d only gone a half mile or so back into those woods, but I’d also swear on my life that it was a good six miles to hike back out before I reached the car again.  

I finally reached the car and cleaned myself up as best I could with what I had on hand - a hand full of paper napkins and my extra bottle of water.  After doing what I could for myself there, I hopped in the car and drove to the fire station I’d passed on the way to the park.  I figured they might be willing to clean me up and give me a Band-aide or two.  Of course, they were closed up tight, not a soul in sight.  I decided to go ahead and go to a nearby drug store.  As I pulled into the parking lot, I stared getting a little shaky.  Perhaps a touch of shock setting in?   I was pretty embarrassed, but I hobbled into the drug store with blood running down my legs and arm, found the band aides, Neosporin and some Bactine.  Oh, and a Snickers bar for the shock.  At least that’s my excuse for buying the extra-large Snickers.  

Back out to the parking lot, cleaned and bandaged myself up, ate the Snickers, downed a handful of Ibuprofen and went on my merry way.  

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