Lost in the Woods

Before I realized I didn't know where I was.

Leah had a conference at Sunriver this weekend and I tagged along.  Since I have a half marathon coming up, I went for a long run yesterday.  Southern Oregon is beautiful and Sunriver itself has lots of winding paths.  I was going to run for two to two-and-a-half hours, definitely long enough to cover my half marathon distance.

So I set out at a little past 2:00 pm yesterday afternoon.  I ran along the pathways for a while until I noticed a marker for a trail; “Something Falls Loop Trail” it read and it included a distance on it.  It is always nice to get off the concrete, so I made my way onto the trail.  Since it is called a loop, I reasoned, it would end somewhere near where it started.

Turned out this trail was a mountain bike trail.  It’s rough and narrow.  That was okay with me, I’m a fan of trail running.  It started getting muddy and there were sections that were still covered in snow.  I was feeling kind of bad-ass because I’m running this rough trail in my FiveFingers, so basically barefoot, jumping over logs and traipsing around rocks.   The trail made its way to the Deschutes river and followed along its bank, sometimes way above it, other times  right there beside it.  It really was a fantastic trail.

Near the beginning of my trail run.

I was running, so I didn’t really notice the cold or the wet.  And I thought that when the trail ended I’d be in Sunriver again.  I stopped to take these few pictures with my cell phone because I was really enjoying myself.  As I ran farther, the snow got a little heavier, but that didn’t matter because I should have been near the end.  After all, I’d been running for more than an hour and the trail sign said this loop was 7.4 miles.  When I found myself in a little picnic area with some scenic signs and an old boat launch I was still pretty confident that I knew where I was.  There was a bridge that went over the river, and I ran that way a little ways, but I felt like I should head back because I’d been running about as long as I wanted to and I didn’t know exactly how far it was back to our house.

A rough paved road led out of the small park area, so I head back that way, assuming the road must lead back to Sunriver.  When I got to railroad tracks though, I began to doubt my sense of direction.  I didn’t cross railroad tracks on my way out, so why should I be crossing them to go back?  I followed the road a ways further until it straightened out and I could look down it.  There were no signs and no turn offs.  This rough road just kept going on into the woods.

I hesitated.

I didn’t know for sure where this road led.  It would suck to follow it just to have to turn around.  I could always head back along the trail I came in on, I thought.  But that would be something like 7 miles back and I was already sore and ready to stop running.

I turned around and headed back along the road.  I noticed a dirt road that runs parallel to the train tracks.  It was going the direction I needed to go and I remembered crossing a couple of dirt roads on the run out.  This was probably one of them.  Besides, these railroad tracks have to go somewhere.  I headed down the road, but I was still wary.  You see, I was on the wrong side of the train tracks.  That meant the dirt road would have to cross them at some point.

When my hips began to ache too severely and I didn’t see any sign of this road actually going any place useful I stopped again.  I could always head back along the trail I came in on, I reminded myself.  But that would be something like 9 miles now and I can’t run anymore so I’d have to walk the whole way, through mud and snow.  That would be such a waste if I was only a mile or so away.  I needed to know where I was.

Then end of the trail.

Since I didn’t have access to a map, I needed to talk to someone who did.  Man I was glad I brought my phone.  Leah was at her conference, so I called my mom.  I tried to explain to her where I was and about the train tracks, the river, and the road all relative to where I started in Sunriver.  I was walking back the way I came, along the dirt road beside the train tracks, trying to get back to the paved road.  Since I had slowed down though, the cold was starting to set in.  The realization came that it was four in the afternoon and really overcast.  It was going to get colder and dark.  Soon.  I didn’t want any of that to come across to my mom, so I stayed jovial.  But I was walking slow; my feet were tender, my knees were sore, and my hips were stiff.  Even if I decided to just suck it up and go back the way I came, could I do it before it got dark in the woods?  I was not confident.

I made it back to the main road and was heading back to the trail when my phone beeped at me.  “Shit, my battery is dying.”  My mom still hadn’t located my position on the map.  I was really regretting taking the pictures and wasting my battery.

I heard the crunch of gravel and noticed a flash of red to my left.  “Mom, there’s a car coming up a road, I’m going to ask them, I’ll call you back.” Then I remembered my situation.  “I love you.”  I closed my phone and booked up the road as fast as my spent body would go.  I waved my arms and hoped they would see me and that they would stop.  It was my good fortune that they did stop.  They were lost too, though.  They were also trying to get back to Sunriver.  They said they’d drive up the paved road and see where it went and come back and let me know.

Turned out the paved road went to Bend, OR.  That’s twenty miles from where I wanted to go.  The passengers in the car all had their smartphones out, trying to figure out where they were and where they were going.  They told me the road beside the train tracks should take me back to Sunriver, but they weren’t sure how far away it was.  I didn’t want to tell them I’d already backtracked that road about two miles.

When I explained that I’d already run more than 10 miles and I was not eager to walk the trail back, they offered me a ride.  They had a car and smartphones, regardless of the risks, I figured it would be worth it to join their team.  They also had two really friendly dogs in the back.

I rode with them for twenty minutes before we figured out where we were and it took another ten to get back into Sunriver.  They are so awesome for helping me out.  I never got their names, but I hope they know that I am grateful.

Here is the map of my adventure.  I marked where I started, at the house we are staying in, where the trail started, and where the train tracks intersected the paved road.  I could have followed the train tracks back, it turns out.

My two hour run turned into a four-and-a-half hour adventure.  And I learned quite a bit.  Mostly, just because a trail is called a loop does not mean it ends anywhere near its beginning.

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2 thoughts on “Lost in the Woods

  1. Ry Ry, I feel like that final sentence is a really intense metaphor for life. As people, we all start and end at the same place (start with birth, end with death), but never in the same literal place mentally, emotionally, intellectually, or often even geographically as when we were born. And yet, they still call it the circle (read: loop) of life. Misleading jerks! And they don’t even give us a map!

  2. Actually, this whole post is a metaphor for life after college graduation ;)

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