Monday, September 7, 2015

What I discovered on a mountain trail

Start and looking up!
This weekend I did a trail run on a mountain in Vermont. This was not like the little 4-miler I did a few weeks ago, but a mountain run in the woods on various types of trails, rock, grass, dirt, creek crossings, etc.

The first thing I learned was holy moly but that mountain is tall and steep. But I made it up it! Overall, this was actually the easy part of the event. And by easy I mean, I was exhausted when I reached the summit. I’m talking bone weary, muscles burning, but I still had energy.

When the race director tells you repeatedly look for the flags and that there are flags everywhere, you believe him and your think, “Yea! I can handle this.”
Then reality sets in. Where were all the flags? Okay, there were flags in the overly tall and sometimes flattened down grass. Check!
Where were the flags in the woods? First wood trail there were flags. They guided me through, no problem. Made it over the creek crossing, my first, and was happy with myself.

The second set of woods, where were the flags? I’m all by myself at this point and I’m doing good, loving the weather and the scenery and then I enter the trees. I’m going along, following a trail and realize I see no flags. The race director instructed, "If you don’t see flags turn around because you probably missed them." So I get about a half mile in and turn around. Found the flags and said yeah, okay, this must be right. I turn back around and do it again. I see no evidence of people having been there before me except the occasional hiking boot print.
Then I start to climb. By climb, I mean traverse over rocks, which I had not expected. Pull myself up and over.  Oh, yeah, did I mention at this point that I believe I am lost. You recall when you were a kid how when you got scared your heart would race and your palms would sweat. Well, the same thing holds true when you are lost in the woods. Every few yards I would yell out to see if anyone was around. Nope. Just me and the bears.

Did I forget to mention the bears? Yes, it’s bear hunting season in Vermont. So now every noise that wasn’t a buzzing sound of a gigantic fly or bee was a bear. Talk about panic attack!
The only savior for me was the fact that I had my phone with me, thank goodness, and could post a message to Facebook or call someone if I really lost it. It was a close call.

Then I looked up....instead of down where the pink and orange flags were supposed to be located. I noticed a white marker on a tree. Thank goodness! That white paint indicated it was a marked mountain trail. Of course I couldn't tell you which marked trail. I just kept climbing and watching for those markers. Then I saw sunlight streaming in. Oh, hallelujah. A short hike later and I was out! Sunshine beat down on me and oh, look there’s the first place runner running past me.
Flags! I saw flags again! The bad part about the flags is that you didn’t know which way to go. In many spots you could have gone left or right and never know which way. Occasionally there were arrows but they were few and far between.

Cinderella Man
The next couple miles were good. For the record, a great downhill song to listen to is Cinderella Man by Eminem. That song on repeat made the downhill trek fun and rhythmic. All was good until I hit another wooded trail. At first I was smiling and happy. I saw other runners and hikers headed in the opposite direction but at least there were people. All was good until I reached the next aid station and had to head back up. No people. No flags. And yes, the mind went in the direction it should not have. It went with, “I’m lost and is that a bear?”
Can I just say, while I have a great imagination, you sorta have to in order to be a writer; I do not normally let my mind play tricks on me. But I SWEAR I was being tracked in the woods by a bear. At one point I was so freaked out that I yelled at the invisible bear, “Go find your dinner elsewhere!” Nope, not kidding.

I finally made it out of the woods only to find more flags and me wondering, “Which way do I go?” All I can say is this. Whichever direction got me off the mountain. Down! Go down the mountain.
Portion of downhill
Oh, and that was another trip in itself. Traveling over tall grass that was occasionally smushed down because the mountain’s million dollar lawnmower had broken down so they could not mow the path was not an easy feat. Discovering that while the sun was high and bright, the ground was far from dry made the trek all the more eventful. Do not ask me how many times I slipped and fell. Suffice it to say more than a half dozen and I have the grass stains and dirt stains to prove it.

And yeah, my feet kept sloshing around in my new trail shoes. No matter how tight I pulled the laces my feet kept moving around and going downhill my big toes kept hitting the front of the shoe. Thank goodness my toenails are painted hot pink right now; otherwise I’d probably see the nails are black and blue.
Did I mention while I was at one of the aid stations I heard about a guy who fell and broke his leg on the trail?

Get me off this mountain! At this point while the body was willing, plenty of energy and strength in the legs, the mind had gone haywire. The mind had shutdown. I was no longer enjoying the beautiful scenery, the mountain views, and the fresh air. I couldn’t even put in my headphones and tune out the world. As my ex would say, “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.” It was no longer fun.
When I reached the bottom of the mountain I was grateful that I was in one piece and vowed that I would never do that again.

It’s a day later and you know what that means? It means I’ve had an opportunity to reflect. 
I’ve learned a couple of things. I learned I’m a lot tougher than I look or tougher than I think I am. I may have been lost, but I found my way out…twice. I may have been scared but I told that invisible bear I was not dinner. And I made it out in one piece. I’m stronger both mentally and physically for the experience.

Would I do it again? Yes.
Did you see that? No hesitation.

But before I take on another mountain trail I need to do more hiking so I can go up a little faster and be comfortable with following a trail without markers. I need to get better fitting shoes so I don’t get black toes or bruised arches. I need to take bear spray in case it is bear season. Cuz there is no way this girl would be outrunning a bear. I need to embrace the trail, no matter it cinder, dirt, grass, single track, technical, marked or unmarked, flat or not so flat (in this case 17% grade).
Side note: Although I did get lost and was a tad, okay, a lot freaked, there were moments where this peacefulness came over me and I would pause to soak it in, tilt my head back, take a deep breath and let go. I also had to laugh at myself. Climbing over those rocks in search of sunlight and the aid station I felt like a kid…when I wasn’t biting my nails. When I fell and slid down the mountain I had to laugh or cry. I chose to laugh. I mean how many adults slide down grassy hills on their butts like they did when they were kids. Did I mention going pee in the woods? That was a first. No port-a-potties on this run.

Life is an adventure. Live it. Embrace it. All of it.

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