Lost is a state of mind

When I told a friend of mine I’d seen two barred owls on my last trail run, he declared it was an omen, and a good one. But then I admitted that it had been the same owl twice because I was “lost” and had run in a big loop. He was puzzled, as I’m sure the owl was, too. Nobody understands my definition of lost. I’ve been honing it on bike rides and trail runs for years, and hope to continue getting lost a lot more in the future.

Lost is exactly where I love to be.

whoooo knows where the hell I was?

It was a chilly, damp afternoon when I started off. Quiet. Perfect mid-week trail running conditions. And best of all, I didn’t have a schedule to keep. Nobody was going to be waiting for me, I had a good two hours of daylight, and I didn’t see another soul in F. Gilbert Hills state forest.

Loose rocks on the main fire road prompted me to divert to a path I’d mountain biked recently: up a steep hill, around a tree, rock hopped a bit, then, oops, a trail sign?

I was carrying a map but had only a vague sense of where I was going. The radio tower was somewhere up that way and I could sort of hear Route 1 in the distance. The signs prompted me to take a bearing on the map just for the heck of it. That’s when I saw the owl, swooping away from me. If the path had been less narrow or rocky I might have had time to grab a photo on my phone. Missed it, damn. So I  sort of memorized the next couple turns in my vague, meandering route, and set off again.

Of course there were more side-trails (unmarked) than expected, or I wasn’t paying attention, or something — but I ended up on what looks like the top of a cool granite quarry. Hmm, I thought I’d been all over these woods in the last few years and hadn’t run across it before. That’s one of the things I like most about being lost: you never know what you’ll find.

tripping over something like a quarry is a benefit of being lost

Back to the trail and around and about and — wow, another owl! Again, I grabbed my phone and turned on the camera. But again I was thwarted when it swooped further away. How lucky could I be, I thought, seeing two owls in an afternoon? Cool.

Then I turned around and saw the same trail signs again. Oh, okay. It dawned on me that I’d done a nice unintentional loop, so that wasn’t the first owl’s twin. I didn’t care, I just wanted to keep running. I love the trails for the variety of terrain that challenge my ADD and my muscles: mincing steps for loose rocks, then carefully planning and planting my feet on granite heads, dancing around the edge a mudhole or turning on the power for steep stuff. Road running just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

Everyone has to get unlost eventually, and this is where I always get in a little bit of a bind. It was well after 5, darkness approaching, and I was … well, I really have no idea where I was. I hadn’t tried to follow the map, especially after the owl fiasco, so that wasn’t much help.  There were no trail signs nearby. You’d think I’d recognize a few features (like, say, the numbered water holes?) after all of the times I’ve been in those woods, but I’m usually there for good reason, lost in thought and just not paying attention to anything but not tripping.

a landmark I should recognize but .. don't.

There’s a process to getting unlost too: I start to watch for trail signs more, and make an effort to head in the general direction of the ranger station. That doesn’t mean I move in a straight line, or hurry. In fact, it’s a part of my trail running that I enjoy most because I start to consciously appreciate the scenery, knowing I only have a little while more to enjoy it before my exit.

That afternoon I followed an arrow that pointed toward the ranger station, but soon saw another sign that said I was on Loop A. Perfect, I thought, maybe that means I’m  stuck out here a little longer.


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