Squish. “Ah man, not on my new shoes.” Cow patties riddled the marshy meadow that I was running through. “This sucks! Where the hell did the pink flags go!” A little less than a half-marathon into this fifty mile race and I was already lost. “Ok, I remember there being a road somewhere around here on the course map. Could I really be that far off course? Maybe I should turn around.” My mind was racing faster than my legs could react. I was lost and the sooner I slowed down and took a big breath the better.
“Ok, calm down. Where do you need to go?” I quickly glanced at the sun for my heading and darted off in what I hoped was the right direction. “Sweet Jesus! A road! Surely this will take me back to civilization.” And if I had taken two seconds to think about which way I should go it certainly would have. I did not and ended up even further off course.
Honestly, the day could not have started out any better. An early morning thunderstorm had dampened all of the dust and created one of the most breathtaking sunrises I have ever seen. By race start, all of the storms had rolled through and the mercury was steadily climbing. It truly was the beginning of what could have been a perfect day.
After the starting yell was announced, a strong pack of three including myself, broke away from the rest of the pack. All of us knew that this was the easy part and conservatively made our way along the rolling trail. We arrived at the Forest Road 550 aid station within a minute of each other, eagerly consumed Peanut M&Ms, and then began picking up the pace for the mellow downhill back to the start/finish. The smooth dirt road was simply too much for my fresh legs to resist. The race was on!
And then very shortly it wasn’t. One of the people in our lead pack passed an unmanned aid station at a forest road intersection about 30 seconds before me. Looking up the other road, he noticed pink flagging similar to those used to mark the course. Thinking nothing of it, he turned, and I followed. His quicker pace allowed him to get a couple of curves ahead of me. He then took another wrong turn following more pink flags and before I knew it I was lost, alone, and quickly running out of food and water.
Why I didn’t turn around here is still beyond me. Simply put, all I was doing was following pink flags. They had got me here so surely they would bring me home. Rookie mistake. Anybody who has hiked through any forest has seen pink flagging. I should have turned around but instead I plodded onward in the wrong direction.
“That looks like a clearing, maybe the start/finish is that way.” “No, not that way, that looks wrong.” Even writing this now I can’t believe my mind was actually making sense to me at this point. After running past several false hopes I slowly began to think I was never going to get back and now true survival became a real concern. “Dude, you don’t even have a knife. You’re screwed.” In my pack I had a rain jacket and a couple hours worth of nutrition. “Yeah, this is bad.”
Then suddenly a revelation hit me. “Didn’t you run north away from the highway to start? Shouldn’t you be running south to get back?” I had been lost for about a half an hour at this point and had been running the wrong way the entire time. I quickly turned around and took my time on the way back to the highway. Once I hit that hot asphalt I don't think I have ever been happier to see a paved road. Sweet civilization has never smelled so good.
I wanted to run my own race and in a certain way I did. Albeit it wasn’t the bona fide Kaniksu 50. More like the Kaniksu How Lost Can You Get Fun Run. But you know what? It happens. As Emory Corwine famously said, “Roll your damn shoulders up!” Thank you to all the amazing volunteers who were trying to track me down. Sorry for the added headache and confusion. Hope to see you all next year!