Saturday, March 26, 2011

Taking rides from strangers

I sat shivering and scared in the passenger seat of a car driven by a complete stranger.  I didn't know where I was, nor did I know where my husband and children were.  We had just wrapped up a relaxing week in Bend and were heading back to Eugene.  The McKenzie River Trail was near our halfway point.  Why not steal a quick run?  My husband came up with a route on a recently cleared section of the MRT.  He would let me out at Deer Creek.  I would run 3.22 miles along the trail.  He would be waiting there for me.  At that point, I could stop there or log a few more miles.  My four-legged sidekick, Japhy would join me.

Now Japhy was sitting on the floor in front of my legs in some strange car as I scanned the road for my husband and our van.  It was one of those times that I wished life had a rewind button.  I'd go back back an hour and half and I'd be in the car sitting next to Steve heading home.  While I was grateful to be warm again and out of the elements, I was worried about my husband and kids and worried that they were worried about me.  Greg calmly assured me that my family was safe.  They had a car.  Worse case scenario was that if we didn't find them, we would continue to the next town where we could call to the police. The thought of leaving them out there put dread in my heart.  I could see them wandering the trails in search of me.  The sooner I got back to them the safer we'd all be.

As we drove, I  scanned the roads for our white van and tried once again to piece together what had gone wrong.  Prior to meeting up with Greg, at an interpretive kiosk, my Garmin indicated that I had logged eight miles over the course of an hour and twenty minutes.  The scale on the map revealed that I was only two miles from my drop-off at Deer Creek.  How could that be possible?  Even with my back-tracking, this figure just didn't make sense.  I was highly annoyed with myself for getting into this situation.  It's amazing how quickly things can turn from good to bad.  Just minutes prior, I had been enjoying a run in an absolutely breathtaking setting.  Gentle rolling hills, soft flat trails sprinkled with snow, puddles and fallen branches provided a welcome break from a long car ride.  The trees were dusted with snow and while I knew it was raining, or perhaps even snowing, I was protected under the forest's canopy.  The river-side trail proved to be everything I had hoped.  I could've run miles and miles and never tire of the spectacular sights.

How did my first little jaunt along the McKenzie River Trail come to taking a ride with a stranger?  I refrained from crying, tried to keep my cool and prayed that it would all turn out okay as we drove down the highway in search what now would be my concerned family.  A flash of white caught my eye.  Could that be our van parked on the forest service bridge?  At my request, Greg circled the car, turned off the road and crossed the bridge.  There just in front of the van stood my husband peering out into the trail.  I will never forget the look on his concerned face.  It was as if he was asking the trail to tell him what had happened to me and what his next step should be.  Having two young, tired, grumpy children in the van didn't make matters any easier.  His attention quickly turned from the trail to the approaching car.  As we slowed to a stop he saw me through the passenger window and let out a visible sigh of relief.  I profusely thanked my trail angel, Greg, and jumped out of the car more happy than ever to be reunited with my family.

Feeling like a complete idiot, I rambled on and on about what had happened and how scared I was.  I changed into warm, dry clothes, had some food and water continued to try and make sense of all that had happened.  All the while I stole grateful glances at my daughters and husband.  After listening and thinking for a while, Steve, who always seems to have the answers by the way, asked if I had reset the Garmin.  When I started today's run, the Garmin's data fields showed all zeros so I thought I had.  According to Steve, it turns out that today's mileage picked up at the four mile point where my last run had ended.  When my trail led me to a bunch of boulders, I knew something was wrong.  Rather than continue forward in search of my trail, I looked at my watch for the first time.  It read 5.45 miles.  How had I gone so far in such a short amount of time?  I must have missed my turn a couple miles back.  I would have to retrace my footsteps to find where Steve and I were supposed to reconnect.

At this point, I wasn't overly concerned.  It isn't uncommon for me to lose sense of time and distance in my blissed-out trail running state.  I had made good time running this relatively flat section of the trail.  Steve would give me a little time allowance knowing that I like to stop and snap pictures along the way.  Instead of finding my missed turn, I found myself back at my starting point to an empty parking lot.  I was more confused than ever.  From there, rather than continue back on the trail and risk getting lost a second time, I decided to hit the road in search of Steve and my missed turn off.  Either Steve would find me or I would find him.

This short run was going to turn into a long run.  I hoped like heck that each passing car was Steve.  The further I went and the more time that passed, the more worried I became.  I talked to myself.  I talked to Japhy.  I wondered if I should flag down a driver to help me.  I kicked myself for messing up what should have been a simple run.  With a sense of direction like mine, what was I thinking being out there on my own?  I get lost all the time.  Why should today be any different?  Although, it was only four o'clock, the sky from which a mixture of snow and rain fell, was getting darker and darker.  I was getting cold.  The van was no where to be found.

As I told Steve my story, it started to make sense.  He breathed sigh after sigh of relief and then told his side of story.  While waiting for me, he thought I was still on the trail.  That's where I was supposed to be.  He would wait for me there and not take to the road as I had thought he would when I didn't show up.  As he stood and waited at the trail head, he wondered where I was with each passing minute.  Had I fallen and hurt myself on the trail?  Was I lying out there in the cold there waiting for him?  Should he bundle up the girls and hike in to find me?

I gave the both of us quite the scare.  Not only do I have a terrible sense of direction, but I am also a poor judge of miles and minutes.  Add those things to a Garmin that I failed to reset, a suddenly disappearing trail and you've got one of my scariest running experiences.  Even with my bruised ego, I feel like a very lucky woman.  Things turned out okay for me in the end thanks to the kind soul who took me and my wet dog down the highway.  I am thankful that I didn't hurt myself on the trail or on the road.  Most of all, I am thankful for my husband for patiently waiting for me where he had promised, keeping our children warm and safe and believing that I would find my way back to him.  Moreover, Steve chose not to scold me for my Garmin oversight/trail run detour/riding in a car with a stranger.  If anyone was giving a scolding, it was me.  In hindsight, I would have done so many things differently.  Life doesn't work that way.  Fortunately there was a happy ending and many a lesson learned.

Today Steve and I will celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary with a nice long trail run.  We will pack and dress for the elements.  While I know this trail well, I will let Steve be the navigator.  I think we'll leave the Garmin at home this time and enjoy our run solely on feel rather than miles logged and time passed.

Be safe out there, runners!

Japhy after our ordeal

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