In the face of fear we cannot give up, for that means we have succumb to that fear and fear is the root of evil.
My girlfriend, her friend Jessie and I cruise to Elk Lake late Friday afternoon where we plan on a relaxing afternoon with her co workers, followed by an evening of camping at Wikiup Reservoir. I save my marathon training run for this afternoon so we can leave town a little sooner. My intention is to run an 8 mile loop through some beautiful forests and past Horse Lake (a place I had visited last summer).
Prior to departing on my run I meet Nicole's coworkers whom are kind, welcoming and eager to convince me against running in a thunderstorm. Unlike most people I love the rain. It refreshes my life, washes away some of my craziness and reminds me to be grateful. Today's, storm had my name all over it. I share some last words with everyone, they think I am crazy and i'm off with no more than 16oz of water, my GPS and the clothes on my back.
My run starts in a thunder, lightening and rain storm at the Horse Lake Trailhead across from Elk Lake Resort in Central Oregon. My feet carry me down the trail to a trail junction. One of the trainers told me I should turn left here. This left turn would have welcomed me with an enjoyable 5 mile loop and beauty. However, I followed the voice in my head that wanted something more. I continue down the trail to Horse Lake. The feeling of rain, thunder and lightening is all around me. At times the thunder is so fierce that I feel it pounding inside me like a second heartbeat. Miles of the trail soon turn into a creek that is 1-6 inches deep at times. The longest creek section I ran must have been a continuous 1/2 mile. I remind myself of a backpacking trip through the Olympic National Forest years ago in which it rained for three days straight. Although, I am soaked this current experience does not compare to the prior.
By the time I arrive at the lake my body has experienced natures bath. I had been running for just over 40 minutes and was eager to get back to the company of others, warm food and a relaxing couch. I recalled the loop that Nicole and I had ran the summer prior being just over 8 miles. Perfect, I thought! What I failed to recall was us running back to the trail T and taking a right. I continue running around Horse Lake and down the Horse Creek Trail, unknowingly towards HWY 126.
I feel a growing sense of being lost and lonely that I cannot seem to escape. The miles tick by and the forest environment changes. The trail slowly disappears for longer and longer sections and it is vaguely defined in the thickening, moist forest floor. During a 1/2 mile section I feel totally lost. The trail looks like nothing more than an Elk herd had recently walked it. As the trail fades back into one that is well defined and highly traveled my mind returns to a state of sanity. Any normal person would have turned around when they realized they were not on the same trail they recall. At this point I am 10 miles down the trail, my mind begins to fill with thoughts of others and how worried they must be. Turning around is not an option. That means I will have to run 20 miles which is not on the agenda. Or is it?
My feet continue to carry my body downhill towards an un known destination. At mile 11 I see a sign pointing towards the Horse Creek Trailhead. This sign is a motivator for me that soon drives me insane. Often times seeing trailhead signs means you are within a few miles of your destination. Today, this is not the case.
My GPS ticks 12 miles and I make a joke to myself that I just might run a trail half marathon today for the first time in my life. I hit 13.1 miles and a trailhead is nowhere in site. 14 miles, I scream vulgar words of anger. I can't help but think of the others that are stressed and worried for my safety. The resentment towards myself builds as my mind fills with the poor decisions that brought me to where I am now. Mile 15 , I continue telling myself that despite being in a beautiful place I have the right to be just plain pissed off. I YELL! I WANT OUT OF THIS DAMN FOREST. Mile 16, finally a state of relaxation. This is the mind state that I am usually in during adventures when myself and others are not worried about my safety. Mile 17, I cross the Horse Creek foot bridge and feel that the forest is controlling my mind. I am going crazy.
Finally, mile 17.09! I reach the trailhead only to be met with an unfamiliar gravel road. Where the hell am I? I quickly decide to start running down the gravel road. I approach a T in the road after a 1/2 mile and a sign that says "HWY 126 - 9 Miles". I SCREAM! At this point my emotions are out of control. I know Nicole and her coworkers are worried sick and likely soon to be calling Search and Rescue. After all, I was only going on an 8 mile run. My mind wants me to sit down and cry. My body and strength continue dragging me down the road. I cannot expect anyone to travel up this random road at 7:00PM this evening.
I must come to terms with the fact that I will be running a full marathon today, in wet sneakers. All of my prior marathons included plenty of water, fuel and support from others. Today, I have 16oz of water, no food and no cheers from others to power me along. My body is tired and depleted of vital nutrients, but I find the strength to keep moving forward.
Mile 18, my water is empty and the sound of Horse Creek makes me want to just run down and fill up. I envision myself puke sick as a result and start telling myself that I am not thirsty and I am not hungry. It works, at least for a little while.
Mile 19, my stomach begins to cramp reminding me that I have not eaten anything for more than four hours. During runs of this length I start fueling after the first 45 minutes. Not today! I reaffirm the thought that I am not hungry.
Mile 20, I approach a bridge where the gravel road turns to pavement. I still have 6 miles before reaching the highway. I can't even begin thinking about what I am going to have to do to get home to Bend.
Mile 20.08, I see a Jeep heading towards me. A rush of happiness and gratitude fills my body. The driver stops and I tell him I have been running in an unknown direction for over 15 miles. I ask the driver for a ride. He replies yes I am willing to drive you back to the McKinsey Bridge. I hop in! He introduces himself as Herb. He was heading up the road to a fire lookout for the evening. You are far from where you started. You know? Yeah! Roughly 25 miles as the crow flies Herb says. Wow! I really got myself in a pickle. Herb asks what my plan is for getting home. I am going to call Nicole and try my luck at a hitchhike. He laughs, still amazed at my recent adventure.
Herb drops me off at the town store in Mckinsey Bridge, I thank him and he drives off. Again, I am alone. I ask a lady for 10 cents to use the pay phone, which by my luck does not work. Great! What is next? There are no cars coming and I need to make contact with Nicole to let her know I am ok.
I start walking across the highway towards the Inn. There is sure to be a phone there. As I start crossing the highway I see a car traveling in the direction I need to go. I throw up my thumb and by faith they stop. A car full of three girls returning from Eugene ask me where I am headed. I tell them my short story and they welcome me in. There names are Tammy, Faith and I do not recall the third. Faith lets me use her phone. I call Nicole and she is in tears. As I tell her I am ok, I can't help but choke up a bit myself. She tells me Search and Rescue is on there way to the trailhead and she has been talking with the Sheriff for some time. I ask her to please call off the rescue. I am safe and found! We tell each other we love one another and and hang up the phone.
Words can hardly express my gratitude for this ride all the way to Bend. I was provided with a sandwich, soda, tea and fruit snacks. I begin to feel alive again. Tammy and I share a spiritual conversation and she helps calm my mind and forgive myself for my mistake. The girls read some poetry and sing music as we travel into Sisters. Tammy offers to drive me back to Bend and I happily accept. Nicole and I agree to meet at her sisters house.
I arrive at Elena's home around 9:15PM where I am welcomed with dinner and a warm shower. These girls are amazing and I thank them for all there help and acceptance.
I can honestly say that I learned some things about myself and life in general during this awesome adventure.
A huge thanks to - Nicole for her patience, care and action, all the trainers from the Athletic Club of Bend for their patience, help and acceptance of the situation, the Search and Rescue team that did not have to rescue me, Herb for saving my legs an additional 6 miles, Tammy and her daughters for driving me back to Bend and Elena for hospitality at the end of the road.
At the end of the road we are faced with a choice to learn from our experience or hold a resentment which will prevent our growth. I choose to learn!
Thanks for reading!
"Summit as Friends"
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