2008-08-23 - Lost in the Woods

~11 miles @ ~17 min/mi

Mary Ewell spies a slanting white-trunked tree and claims that we've passed it before. "There could be two of them," I speculate—which makes her chuckle. She really laughs when we pass the same tree again! A pile of leaves across the trail annoys me when we wade through it the first time. When we reach it once more I finally have to admit that we're running in circles.

My best decision today? Sprinting a quarter mile back to Mary's car to grab a second water bottle as we start our run. My worst mistake? Leaving my GPS at home. Today's random-walk through the woods is a splendid 3-hour adventure, a preview of the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon Trail Run coming up in three weeks. Mary wants to test her current state-of-training against the rugged terrain of Fountainhead Regional Park. I want to enjoy some trail miles and see the infamous "DO Loop", a segment of the Bull Run Run 50 mile course that I've only visited during the race itself.

As the sun rises I arrive at Mary's home, from which we carpool almost an hour south to the start/finish area of the WHM. Deer stand by the road and threaten to cross, but kindly refrain. We set out on the trail shortly after 7am and, once I've finished my little out-and-back to retrieve a bottle forgotten on the roof of Mary's red Prius, cross the park access road and enter the woods. Immediately we're lost.

The trails in Fountainhead are well-blazed but fork, intersect, and diverge like a labyrinth that would challenge Theseus's best abilities. We stand befuddled at the first intersection, turn right, go half a mile up and around a hill, then decide we're off course. So we retrace our path, eliminate the other choices, and once more follow our first route ... only this time we persevere and find that it was correct after all—maybe. Trees and hills and stream crossings that seem strangely familiar to Mary look bizarrely different to me. At one point we find an intersection of paths and take one, only to discover that it's a mountain-bike trail. Oops! Back we go. I pick up a plastic bag and begin to accumulate detritus: dropped candy wrappers, an empty Gatorade bottle, used energy gel packets, etc.

After half an hour or so we abruptly emerge into known territory. We've found the orange-blazed DO Loop! Or have we? There are two junctions between the blue horse trail and the orange one. We pick, as usual today, incorrectly and trek along for twenty minutes. Suddenly we see the Occoquan, then the old rusted-out Nash Rambler that are our well-remembered landmarks ... but they're on the wrong side of the trail. We're doing the DO Loop backwards! OK, no problem, we'll just continue on.

When Mary and I finish the DO Loop and return to the blue horse trail we see yellow and red streamers hanging from the trees. Someone has been marking the course, thank goodness. But the landmarks for our return trip that we thought we would recognize are not there. We debate which direction to head. Mary thinks we should go one way; I recommend another. We jog for several minutes, turn back, cast about, and try another route, then another.

The song "Charley on the MTA" starts to run through Mary's mind. It's the story of a man trapped on the Boston subway:

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

We've been sharing our water and now are almost out. Yes, we're concerned—but not seriously worried. At worst, we can follow the tire tracks on one of the jeep access roads to a street someplace, then hitch-hike back to Mary's car. Or we can call someone with my cellphone and beg for help. But we're nowhere near that desperate yet. Back we go to the last cluster of yellow streamers—and to our delight we see runners passing through!

"Are you outbound, or going to Fountainhead?" I ask a young lady passing by. "Returning," she says. "Then we're following you!" Mary and I exclaim. Our guide turns out to be April, recently moved to this area from Florida, training for some upcoming non-trail half marathons, rather surprised by the steepness of the hills here. Within half an hour she and the other runners, who are only doing half a dozen miles or so today, have led us back to the Fountainhead parking lot.

We run along the road for the final segment and are delighted to see a picnic table newly set up for runners. It features water, fruit, and assorted munchies. Both Mary and I are getting a bit light-headed, probably from dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. I stop my watch at 3 hours 3 minutes and drink at least a pint of water. WHM Race Director Mary Campbell is there and I thank her for organizing this training run.

Back at Mary Ewell's car we blot off some of the sweat that has drenched our clothes. Mary chats with a fellow triathlete/adventure racer. Then we pack up and head for home. Quite enough adventure for one day!

(cf. Jog Log for the last 10 entries in the running logbook) - ^z - 2008-09-03

(correlates: 2008-08-23 - Lost in the Woods GPS Trackfile, RuddyGore, 2008-08-30 - CJT - Mary's WHM Warm-Up, ...)