Or How Relying on the Kindness of Strangers When I Got Lost in the Woods During a Thunderstorm Nearly Killed Me
The rain and hail pelted me, getting stronger and stronger as I pushed through. I had to stop to take a large hail stone out of my shoe. My shoe! It was getting hard to even see; was I on the trail anymore or was I just running up a waterfall? Ignoring any advice dished out by TLC would be bad mojo. Next thing I know, my girl would be creeping and I’d be hanging out the passenger side of my best friend’s ride trying to holla at girls. It’s a downward spiral.
So let’s take a look at what led to this, and how I found my way out of it.
It was Thursday and I hadn’t run since Sunday. Tropical Storm Arthur was working it’s way up the coast and a whole lot of nasty weather was on the way. It was so hot outside and severe thunderstorms were said to be on the way but the last time I ran was when I did the worm on the track for 12.5 laps at the USATF-NE Open & Masters Track Championships. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I needed to finally get the shoes on and work through it.
The extreme weather that we had been told would be pounding us all day was nowhere to be seen. Instead there were bright skies and crippling heat and humidity. Not wanting to pass up a run due to a faulty forecast, I got in the car and drove the ten minutes over to Harold Parker State Forest.
I had only tried running on those trails once before, but made the mistake of entering the park on the Rt 114 side. That got me nowhere. This time I arrived via Rt 125, just down the road from the State Police barracks. The map I found online appeared to be relatively useless but I had managed on trails before without knowing them so thought I’d be fine.
Once I was out in the woods it appeared that if there were any trail marking at all they were quite shitty. The horseflies (or deer flies) harassed me as I navigated the trails and started to get my bearings. The first two miles were spent doing a couple of small loops just to get a feel for things. I really did think I had it figured out and pushed on to do some deeper exploring.
A couple of years ago I saw a tremendous photo in the Runner’s World Rave Run section. It was taken by Josh Campbell and it featured Melissa Donais running somewhere in this very forest. I wanted to find that spot because it just looked so damn cool. Looking at the Garmin map of my run you can see that there’s a couple of spots where I looped away from the main trail for a bit. I saw some swampy water and figured it might be the spot. It wasn’t.
The skies began to threaten and I started to think about turning around. It had been decided that I would start heading back once I reached 4 miles. At first I did a pretty good job of it. I continued the loop I was on and found my way back to the main trail.
This was when the real fun started. The skies grew very dark fairly quickly. The thunder clapped directly overhead, so loud and so close that it felt like it was in my head. Exposed is one way to describe how it felt. It seemed that the skies would open up at any moment but it held off. It almost seemed as if Death was telling me “nah, this is too easy. Even I like a challenge. Look, I’ll give you a head start. I’ll even pretend to fumble around with my sickle. After that, I gotta get ya. I have a reputation to uphold.”
Needless to say, at some point a wrong turn was taken. Actually, two big ones were made. The first one took me out to a swampy bridge (a different one) and I realized I went the wrong way. I recovered and made it back onto the right path as the rain started to fall. The second one was the big one. I should’ve went left, but went right instead. Just after making that turn the rain and wind picked up, so much so that it was hard to keep my eyes open at times. Incredibley I saw things bouncing on the soaked forest floor and knew I was in trouble: hail. The thunder boomed, the lightning flashed, the rain pounded and the hail only got bigger. Tropical Storm Holyshitthatsalotofwater was here and I realized now that I was basically lost.
I came to a dead end and wasn’t sure where I went wrong. In front of me was a cul-de-sac with so many warm, dry homes on it. Determined to not give up, I turned around and venture back into the fray. I pushed onwards, sloshing through the foreign trail. I figured I was headed in the right general direction (and I can see now that I was), but nothing looked familiar and the conditions were deteriorating. This was where it looked like I was just running up waterfalls. After a couple of start/stops, failed out-and-backs, and stopping and looking around in general, I decided to head back in the direction of the houses. With the way the wind was howling, taking a large branch to the noggin was a real possibility. Shit got real.
I was able to spot a house through the trees and I made my way to it. Just my luck, the storm was letting up as I approached. The sun glistened through the trees and reflected off the moisture in the air and the steam rising off the ground, creating a very surreal looking scene. Upon approaching the from door I noticed a man was standing behind the closed storm door, just staring out. I stood there waving, trying to get his attention. Oddly it took a few waves to get it.
The Gentleman opened the door and said “come on in”. Right away something seemed off. Not to nitpick or anything but it seemed real odd that he didn’t open with “hi”, “can I help you?” or “what’s going on?”, just a “come on in” without any hint of curiosity or urgency in his voice.