In which I become lost in the woods

The situation began to look dire as dusk took hold. Julian, Eric and I – the Three Stooges – were deep in the woods and didn’t really have the best grip on our precise location. More worrisome still was the fact that we kept running further down trails without knowing whether they’d lead us out of the lonely forested hills above St. Margaret’s Bay.

Julian kept repeating that he wished he’d brought his phone; he could have pulled up Google maps. None of us had phones. We didn’t have any food, not even gels. We had enough clothing to keep us warm if we kept moving, but not if we had to settle in for the night. We didn’t have flashlights, lighters, nothing. We had dick.

In short, we were classic idiots, the kind who bumble into the woods on a happy-go-lucky jaunt and then die of hypothermia overnight.

“It’s not looking good,” I said.

“Keep your positive vibes together,” Eric replied.

“I’m being very positive,” I said. “But…but, “WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”

“Pull yourself together, man,” Julian sneered.

“Yes,” I said, quietly blubbering. “I will.”

I sobbed a little bit. Not so the others could hear it of course. And then in a very quiet voice said: “Newspapers love this kind of story.”

It began as a typical Thursday night trail run. That’s the night the Tantallon Trail Bugs gather to run in the steep hills lining the Peggy’s Cove and St. Margaret’s Bay Roads. The hills are home to such classic trail Canadian East Coast race courses as the Wascally Wabbit and the Cuddly Coyote.

Thursday morning, Jodi Isenor, founder (with Karine Comeau) of the Trail Bugs, emailed me and mentioned neither he nor Karine would be at the run. I wanted to know who would show and lead the run then, as I’m not overly familiar with the trails.

Well, as it turned out, almost no one appeared. A number of people were tapering for a 24-hour race on the weekend. One of our group was getting knee surgery done. Not certain what happened to everyone else, but at 6:10 only Julian, Eric and I were good to go.

Jodi had emailed me a map. That’s like giving a hammer to a dog. It’s useless. I’m a terrible map-reader. If I set out in one direction, almost assuredly the proper route is in the exact opposite direction.

We got off to a good start – in the first 500 metres. We ran up the road, turned to the left and almost immediately ran into someone’s driveway.

“Okay, this can’t be right,” one of the more astute (which isn’t saying much) among us observed.

We found our way to the logging road and then ran a bit further, at which point I spied a trail in the woods to our left. We quickly cut down that. Too bad no one looked at the map. The turn we should have taken was to the right further along.

We plummeted down a rolling piece of single-track and ended up at the rails to trails, probably about 500 metres down from where we began.

That’s okay, I said. “Follow me.”

We ran up the trail and linked onto the Grouse Grind, which is where we should have finished. No problem. We’d run everything in reverse.

We began to climb. And climb. And climb.

We’d turn a corner and the ascent continued. “Oh, come on,” Eric exclaimed at one point. It was his first time on the trail.

We paused at the top to take in the magnificent view over Halifax and then began running.

At first the trail seemed familiar, but soon it turned into a muddy double-track lined with trees. The endless mud that the ATVs had churned up started getting to us. We’re not talking about a few puddles; but rather shoe-sucking swamps of dark goo across the width of the trail. So when we saw a second double-track veering off, we took it.

By this time we were about four kilometres from the rail to trails and starting to get deeper into the woods. We ran another kilometre along this progressively rougher track of trail before it just vanished.

“Well, it must lead to a logging road,” Julian argued. “It’s been logged and they sure didn’t haul them out on the trail we just ran.”

No-o-o. Maybe not. But at that point it was fairly evident that we had to back-track, which we did. With about 45 minutes of light left, we pondered the map and then plunged deeper into the woods, reaching another trail junction. I argued in favour of one way. We went the other.

Coyotes feasting on my scrawny body; crows pecking my dead, open eyes out; lynx nibbling my extremities: these were the thoughts that crossed my mind as we ran down the woods-lined trails.

I could see Jodi on subsequent trail runs pointing out: “This is where Sub-three is buried. Nice guy, great blogger, but not much of a navigator.”

Ordinarily, such a run would have been extremely blissful. But as the light drained from the sky, it was becoming stressful. Even if we survived the night, we’d never live down the story of the search-and-rescue operation. We had to find our way out.

Finally, we hit the stand of dead pines. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to see a stand of dead trees in my life. The pines are a landmark on the map. I knew how to get us out of the silent, deadly woods.

“Ha ha ha,” I cried. “We’re going to live. Live! Do you hear me? We’re going to live!”

Julian circled his finger around his temple in the universal symbol of “nut-bar,” while Eric silently rolled his eyes.

“No,” I hysterically laughed. “You don’t understand. Coffee! Beer! Bed! Costco!”

I tried to sum up all the reasons for life in my short outburst.

“Er, family and friends,” I lamely added.

“And dogs.”

Julian and Eric looked at me.

“Okay, okay! And my cat, Everest too,” I muttered.

Satisfied, they shook their heads and we continued out to the logging road and then down to our cars.

Julian and Eric kept talking about the “adventure” we’d just had. What “fun” it was.

“OMG!,” I exclaimed (which, really I don’t have to exclaim, because the exclamation mark signifies that, but this particular point is doubly important, so I have both), “Have you not read Into the Wild?

“Buddy goes to Alaska and dies in a trailer. A trailer! And we didn’t even have one of those!”

Next time you see a guy trail running and he’s got a 50 pound backpack with all kinds of survival gear, extra clothing, water filtration system, portable gas stove, tent and more? That’s me.

About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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6 Responses to In which I become lost in the woods

  1. al dimicco says:

    I have enjoyed your blog for a long time. It is a pleasure to read your stuff because you a very talented writer and each blog conveys your love of running. This last post was great. I was laughing out loud reading it. Keep up the good work – Al (from Alabama)

    • subthree says:

      Thanks, Al! I’m glad you get a kick out of it. Honestly, when I first set out to write Sub-three a year ago the idea was just to keep a training diary. It became something else and as it changed, I realized I wanted to entertain people and not just write for myself. So, your comment makes my evening. And, yes, sometimes running drives me mad (doesn’t it for all of us), but I do love it. What could be better than getting lost in the woods or pushing yourself on the roads? Sometimes it’s scary or hurts, but at the end of the day I know for myself that it conveys tremendous benefits and makes me feel alive and appreciate the wonderful world in which we live. Thanks for reading, Al!

  2. Julio says:

    Oh my! Great way to start my Friday morning by reading and laughing loudly at your blog! Thanks! Glad we can all laugh at ourselves after this adventure! You are a joy to read Sub-Three, even more so when I “make” the blog! Seems to me the title to this one was well known long before we arrived back at our cars!

  3. Great post! I would have been crying like a little girl!

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