Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The fine line between an epic adventure and being stupid

Due to a whirlwind of activity this weekend, I was forced to do my long run on Thursday, my only day off. Thursday morning was characterized with big clouds and ominous rumblings in the sky. I was not going to be deterred because I needed to do my last 24-miler before the dirty 30. I had picked out this great route that used some familiar trails and some new trails. I would run up Mt. Falcon, descend a little into the town of Indian Hills, and then wind back up through O'Fallon and Corwina Park until I hit Lair o the Bear, and then turn around.

As I gathered my stuff together that morning, Cory suggested that I bring more clothes. I stubbornly told him that I would be fine in short sleeves and that I had my lightweight shell just in case. I would much rather be too cold than too warm. And off I went, into what would be my near doom... exaggeration will be a theme throughout this entry.

Things started off cloudy, but as I continued up Mt. Falcon, the temperature dropped. While I was running through Indian Hills, I got pelted with my first dose of hail. It was painful, but at least I dried off pretty quickly once it stopped. I heard thunder nearby, and I considered turning back, but I was finally exploring new territory. Finally after a few miles of road I found the trail I was looking for.

Running these new trails was everything I had hoped for! Rolling hills with meadows and rocky sections, tree cover for most of the way, and beautiful views of even higher peaks! My problem is that I always feel really good between miles 8-12 of my runs and want to keep pushing forward when I really should be turning around. After another bout of hail and some alarmingly close thunder, I started to think about how if I got struck by lightning it would be very unlikely that someone would find me. So I finally headed back.

This is when my stomach decided to revolt and get rid of everything inside of my body. I need to figure out a nutrition system that works for me, but nothing seems to do the trick. That's another story for another day, but suffice it to say that my energy levels were very low and I was nervous about putting anything else in my system.

Heading back up the roads to Mt. Falcon I embarrassingly had to walk. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, it started to pour and I had to get running again to keep my core temperature up. Darn it, Cory is always right. On the way back down Mt. Falcon hail came back into the mix for the third time but the rain didn't stop pouring. For the last 4 miles, there was no hope of getting dry. I tried to wait things out in a shelter for a little bit, but then my hands just turned into frozen claws.

When I get stuck in this kind of scenario, I get flashbacks to a trip that Cory and I were trip leader apprentices for. We were taking a group of new backpackers out on a Spring Break trip in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. It was rainy and 40 degrees every single day and when our weather radio reported a chance of snow on day 4, we decided to "evacuate."

In order to hike out we had to take unfamiliar trails with stream crossings. When we saw these stream crossings on the map, we assumed there would be some sort of makeshift bridge to cross them. As we descended to the first stream crossing we heard water roaring nearby and we all got excited. But there was no bridge and the "stream" was more like a swollen river with Class 4 rapids. Girls started crying, guys got quiet and we discussed how there was no other way out. Little did we know that there would be 3 more stream crossings, each more progressively difficult because they were lower and the water volume is higher the more you descend in elevation.

Cory and I were sent, along with another speedy guy, to go ahead and hike the extra 3 miles of road to get the van and bring it to the trail-head  When we finally got to the road,  we found that there was construction while we were gone and the road was closed to vehicles. This meant that Cory had to drive the van 45 minutes around town and up the other side of the road. After changing into dry socks, I was sent to run back to the trail-head and tell the group to stay put. When I got there I realized I had dropped my phone on the road somewhere and I had to run back to find it. And that was the longest day of my life.

So back to Mt. Falcon. Every time I am pre-hypothermic, my mind starts racing and thinking back to that day when I wasn't sure that we were going to make it. I start to get nervous, contemplating the difference between being adventurous and being stupid. I thought I had things under control, but if I had slipped and injured myself, I would have rapidly lost all the body heat I had left. No one would have found me, and I would have been in big trouble.

I don't know what the solution is, though. Bringing extra gear brings on new difficulties and is a waste of energy. Something unforeseen could happen at any time and it's impossible to plan for all scenarios. Furthermore, experiences that are "near misses" just reinforce bad behavior... thoughts like 'If I survived it once, I can survive it again.' As it was, by the time I got to the car my hands were so frozen that I couldn't unclip my key from my hydration vest. I had to jam the whole vest up next to car and even then my hand could barely turn the key enough to open the door and turn on the ignition.

I thought it was an epic adventure, but as I retold the story to others throughout the weekend, they didn't think it was so cool. Cory was mad at me and others thought I was crazy. I guess the moral of the story is when you have people that care about you, that line between epic and stupid needs to be readjusted.

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