I’m alone, and congratulating myself (out loud) for excellent navigating, after nearly getting lost in the gathering dusk. I set out for this run at 3 pm, trying to squeeze the best bit out of the daylight that was left, trying to prove to myself that I am courageous enough to run in the Dandenongs alone. I’d already wimped out once this week, deciding that 7:30 am on a Friday morning alone wasn’t smart. There would be no one on the trail but me, and some woman had just gotten attacked (a long way from here, at 2 am, but that didn’t matter – I was still scared).
Today, on this blue-sky afternoon just two weeks before the Roller Coaster Run race I expected lots of runners to be out practicing the course. But I’d seen none. Just a couple walking, a scary man all alone, and two really scary men who I waited to pass until a downhill came along, in case they were after lone female runners. Oh, and a huge Goanna Lizard. And lots of skinks who look just like tiny snakes when they scurry across leaf-strewn trails at dusk.
In any case, I’m nearly done, having completed 19km out of my planned 21. I’ve just come off School Track, seen Bradley Track to my right as I was expecting, and have heaved a great sigh of relief. The last few trails have been tricky, with signs missing trail names (“Horse Trail” does not count – that seems to be ubiquitous up here and I think it just means that horses are allowed). Someone wrote “School Trail” on that sign in black permanent marker but I am reluctant to trust it. Then, where I expected a clear Roller Coaster Race sign to be at the start of a steep downhill, there was none. Just a sign with a little u-turn like arrow that could have meant anything. I took it to mean, not turn back, but kind of loop around and run down the hill. And I’ve got down the hill, have seen the trail I was looking for, and am very proud of myself (around 8 on the map below).
I stop, glance quickly at my map, which suggests I turn left on the road I am facing. I’m expecting for the next track to appear on the right (Banksia Track) in a very short while.
Except it doesn’t. I keep jogging, squinting into the bush to the right, seeing driveways, houses, but no track, and no people. I’ve gone further than I should and the trail is not here. My heart is beating rapidly, and the dusk is thickening. I stop. Move to the edge of the road. Pull out my iPhone, open up the Map App. I try to locate myself relative to wrinkled, sweat-stained map I carry in my hand. But the road I’m on loops in funny ways and I could turn my phone map a variety of directions and still make it line up with the trail map. Not good. The “terrain option” doesn’t help, and neither does the fact that I’ve only seen five people in three hours and none anywhere near here.
I take a deep breath, recall my adventure race training in 2003 on a small island off of Hong Kong. “If you get lost, return back to the last place you knew for certain. Running fast in the wrong direction is not going to help.” That’s what the terrifyingly competent instructor had said. I force myself to take a deep breath. Then I turn around, and as I do, I start building up scary pictures in my head. What if it gets really dark? I don’t have a head torch. What if I can’t find my car? I was too bold coming up here all alone, starting out on this course at 3 pm, knowing it would take me about three hours. Stupid. Not enough room for error. I keep jogging. I hadn’t realised I’d gone this far. Out of nowhere a peloton of cyclists comes whizzing around the corner. I think to stop them and ask where I am but before I can formulate the thought into words, they have gone. I want to cry.
But, thank the Lord, two minutes later I come to the gate where I entered the road. I dart back though it, praying. In my panic, it takes a moment for me to notice the Roller Coaster Run sign with the arrow on the gate, to register that it is pointing to the right, not the left.
Hugely relieved, I study the map, jog up the road to the right, and moments later, I have found a good, sturdy sign that reads Banksia Track. From here, it is a short but painful 15 minutes back. I’ve done 23 instead of 21km.
When I see my car, I want to kiss the fender, I am so relieved.
Lost and found.
What have I learned? That I can save myself. That I can go wrong, and still find my way back. A far more valuable lesson than going right all the time. And that I can run in the Dandenongs alone.
- Back to health after injury (patriciaabowmer.wordpress.com)
- After the Fear: Two Bays 28Km Race (patriciaabowmer.wordpress.com)