parks shouldn’t be this close to each other

I will never become a pirate. Or a taxi-cab driver. Or any occupation that requires the slightest sense of direction. In fact, I can barely navigate my way to the grocery store sometimes.

My worst navigation catastrophe (aka getting totally and incredibly lost) happened all because I turned into a runner at some point during senior year. My runner status was only accomplished through a combination of panic over the idea that I would soon no longer be a horseback rider and the fact that my roommates unexpectedly agreed to my ridiculous suggestion that we sign up for a 5K together.

At some point after crossing the 5K barrier but before I was used to the idea of running for hours at a time, I decided it would be a cool idea to go running at the park. Mostly, it seemed like a cool idea because it was sunny out, and the weekend, and everybody in the world seemed to have some sort of fun plans for the day that didn’t involve me. Running in the park made it seem like I had plans too. Even though I was still just running and it was still just me. It just seemed more legit. Like now, if somebody did ask me to do anything that day, I would be like, “I’m busy. I’m going to the park to run.”

So I packed up and drove the 10 or so miles over to the only park I knew how to get to. (Notice the navigational challengedness already showing its ugly face? Too bad I didn’t.) And I got there ok. And I parked the car. (So far so good.) And I tied my car key to my shoe laces.

And then I wandered around the parking/boat launching area for about 15 minutes trying to figure out where the hell any of the trails were.

I knew they must be there, because I had spotted one of those big wooden signs with a map of the park’s trails on it. I even had the foresight to study it for a little while, just long enough to register that none of them were longer than 3 miles. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Even I could not possibly get lost on trails this short.

After taking a shortcut behind some park buildings and through some poison ivy, I managed to find my way onto one of these trails. I ran for a half hour; this was easy! 45 minutes; I had gotten a pretty good workout. One hour; ok, that was good, I was ready to be done now.

Two hours later, I was getting desperate. I was tired and thirsty and stranded in the middle of the jungle light years away from civilization. And all I had with me was my freaking car key! Had I thought there were going to be cars in the jungle?! I had brought no cell phone, no water bottle, and had not seen another human being the entire time I was out there. I was going to die, for sure.

Finally I muddled my way to some nature center (civilization, at last!) where, I hoped, there must be at least one other person. After bursting through the doors and guzzling down a half gallon of water at the first water fountain I spotted—which, in hindsight, I suspect was meant for little children, based on its extreme shortness—I made my way over to the friendly lady behind the information desk.

I explained that I was lost.

She patiently informed me that I WAS IN THE WRONG PARK.

Wait. What?

I had somehow worked my way out of the park I started in, with its manageably short trails, and ended up in an adjoining park that I didn’t know was there.

I think the nice information lady sort of realized that I wasn’t grasping the directions she was trying to tell me, because 10 minutes later, I left the nature center with TWO maps (one for each park) that had the exact trails I needed to follow marked in pink highlighter.

By this point, I was completely disoriented, and since it took me about 10 seconds to forget any verbal directions I may have been told, all I had to go on was the highlighter on those maps.

I eventually came to a fork in the path, and consulted my map(s). I should take trail four here. I looked at the signs. To the left: trail four. To the right: trail four. Huh. . . . I took trail four. It brought me back to that exact same fork. on. trail. four.

I had just run an extra loop.

My exhaustion/dehydration-induced confusion had kept me from realizing that I was already on the section of trail four that the map told me to take, and that I was going in the WRONG direction. Armed with my new knowledge gained from running the needless loop, I headed back in the other direction, where I proceeded to become more and more frustrated with the unclear map and/or poor marking of trails.

I may have tossed the maps aside at some point. It was not my most intelligent or proudest moment. (Dear Mother Nature, I am sorry for being a litterbug. It won’t happen again.)

After running for THREE hours, I finally wandered my way out onto a main road. The good news was that I recognized it as a road that I had taken to get to the park. I knew where I was! The bad news was that it was at least three miles from where I had parked my car. But I couldn’t think of any solution other than to drag my dirty, sweaty self down Mainstreet and walk all the way back to my car. (Running was no longer an option at this point.)

This is the most tempted I have ever been to hitchhike, despite my mother’s warnings about stranger danger and getting into unknown cars with potential axe murderers. But I strongly suspected that none of these civilized people wanted a disgusting ragamuffin in their cars anyway. I could feel them staring at me as they drove past, wondering what my story was: “Did you see that disgusting girl stumble out of the woods just now? I wonder if she lives in there?”

At least I managed to walk back to my car without getting lost or passing out.

And that is the story of why I will never run in the park by myself anymore.

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