Friday, September 23, 2011

The Best Run I Never Did


All activites detailed in the following blog post are, as far as you know, and as far as any physical evidence that you have access to suggests, entirely fictional. Any cuts, bruises, scrapes, or torn clothing of anybody's bearing a striking resemblance to anything described in this blog post are, to the extent that you can prove, entirely coincidental.


Before I begin this little story, I'd like to briefly explain (but not justify) why on earth I would do something so downright stupid. Let's chalk it up to things being "weird" lately, being unsure of what to do with myself, part of me not really wanting to go home, part of me looking for a challenge as a distraction, part of me wanting to accomodate others at my own expense, and a whole lot of "let's worry about that later." And there might be some other stuff. But for the moment, that's not really the point, and in any case, what may have happened may have happened, and its only use now is as a teaching point going forward. With that . . .

A week ago today, I left my car parked at the Park and Ride at the I-95/I-495 intersection, en route to North Coast via carpool. I had originally planned to long-term park at Greenbelt, only to find that all of those spots were taken. So, in the interest of not holding up the trip, I drove to the next available place for leaving a car, parked in what may have been a somewhat questionable manner, and continued on my merry way to my race, and then Israel, all the while, in the back of my mind, I couldn't help thinking occasionally that I wasn't sure how I was going to get BACK to the car.

You see, it turns out that there is no service (other than private taxi, maybe) to that Park and Ride. And nobody was going to be around to pick me up and take me there. So, I decided to walk. From above, on Google Maps, the route seemed walkable. I arrived at the College Park Metro Station at around 1100, after a 12-hour flight, a 2.5 hour layover, and another hour flight.

Not to spoil the surprise too much, but to illustrate what happened, here was my actual route (sorry, HTML, like most basic features on Blogger, is "borken"; you have to copy and paste):

The squiggle on the screen is pretty much meaningless, especially without the topographic view, so allow me to explain what happened. But first, let me mention that I was carrying all of my stuff from the trip (about 40 pounds of whatever), some in a backpack (about 10 pounds), but most (about 30 pounds) in an awkward shoulder-slung duffle bag, thereby increasing the baseline agony by about 30%.

The first thing I did, predictably, was to go the wrong way from the metro station. At this point, it wasn't raining very hard, so the consequences, other than the time it took to walk a little over a mile all the way down to the anything-but Good Luck Road before I realized my mistake, were minimal. Of course, right around the time that I realized what I did wrong, the rain started coming down harder. I took cover under a bus shelter, hoping that it would pass. Half an hour later, it did not. I decided that I was going to have to move, and move quickly, if I was ever going to get back to my car. I put as much stuff as I could inside as many plastic bags as I had at my disposal, and, when the rain let up slightly, I made sort of a break for it, as fast as one can break with that much extra weight.

Keep in mind, that if you're in the rain long enough, there is no such thing as a "light rain." It's either raining or it's not. Eventually, you get soaked all the way through. This eventually happened somewhere between the Metro Station, where I started, and the University of Maryland College Park campus. This was about when the rain temporarily stopped, although not long enough for any of the standing water to dry, so I was getting sprayed by passing vehicles about every five minutes or so, ensuring that my clothes (a button-down plaid shirt, and "destroyed" skinny jeans - this will become relevant in a bit) never got any dryer.

In retrospect, the walk through the UMD campus was the best part of this misguided journey. Although at this point, a little over halfway through the trek distance-wise, I was getting tired, and shifting the duffle bag from shoulder to shoulder more frequently, the terrain (other than the blasted climbs from one side of campus to the other) was pavement or concrete, a luxury that would soon pass . . .

. . . when I reached the first questionable part of this route. On the map, it appeared that there was a road cutting behind one of the agricultural buildings. In reality, there was . . . behind a fence that separates UMD's agricultrual utopia from the rest of crappy old regular nature. Seeing as to how I was right near the entrance, and getting caught here would cause far greater problems, I instead chose to bushwhack along the fence into a neighborhood bordering ag-world. There was a semblance of a trail that somebody may have once used for this purpose, but it was long-since overgrown, and there were plenty of opportunities to cross mini-streams and get thorns in my sandal-shod, ill-protected feet (and, for good measure, one branch-poke in my right eye that dislodged my contact lens). I snuck around the side of somebody's house (I don't think they were home anyway), then dashed through the yard into the public street before anybody but the mailman across the street (who, like everybody else in the world, clearly didn't care that I was walking along soaking wet with huge heavy bags) was the wiser.

Now it looked like smooth sailing - up the road in the neighborhood, cut through the wooded area behind these houses, Park and Ride, profit. Except that as I began to climb yet another stupid hill, the realization that this wooded area was probably part of ag-world hit me. Which meant more fences, probably. As I cut down to the pool (also marked off-limits, but guarded only by a gate to stop vehicular traffic), the fences came into view, and I just about cried and gave up hope. I dropped my bags on the front step of the pool house and sat for about fifteen minutes, being wet and sad and thinking about admitting defeat. As if the universe knew it had me on the ropes, it started raining even harder. Then I decided that I had come too far, and victory was so close on the map, that I needed to at least try to find a way through. I left my bags and scouted the area. To the right of the pool house was a lower section of fence, thanks to the buildup of sand and other silt-like material in front of it. Conveniently, the barbed wire on the top was down.

I thought a few times before I did this. I double and triple-checked the map. I lowered my backpack to the other side of the fence, hesitated, brought it back over to the legal side, and did a test-climb of the fence. I knew that once I dropped my bag on the other side, there would be no going back, and I had no idea what was coming next. But knowing that I could climb over the fence gave me at least some confidence that I might really be able to get back if I needed to.

I dropped my bags over the side, then my sandals, and then I straddled the fence. Mistake. While I was busy being preoccupied with the downed barbed wire, my pants caught in the barbs on the top of the fence. Perhaps I could have been more graceful about this, but as this was a major turning point, and nothing was going to stop me from gaining the other side of the fence, I pushed over, and ripped through my jeans and my boxers, about three inches down from the crotch along the inseam. There may be a few other catches in the seat of the jeans, too. Good thing they were "destroyed" to begin with - now I can wear them a bit more legitimately.

Smelling victory at last, I crested a small berm, and slid down the other side, cursing the awkward bags as I struggled to stay upright. Back on a road - hooray! A gravel road, of course, but one that was on the map, with recognizable landmarks on either side. I could even see where I was going to cut across . . .

And just to taunt me a bit more, I cut across right in front of the bee keeping zone of ag-world. Yes, somehow, even though it was raining, a bee stung my foot. Hooray. I pressed on towards - yep, you guessed it, another fence. This one was taller, and I was going to have to toss my bags over. Except not really, because, having learned that pretty much anything will stick on the barbs at the top of one of those fences, I just lifted them up and over, let them hang, and then rolled over the "safe" zone that I created with the bags, thereby not ripping my jeans any further. I had to damage the fence a bit to get my bags down, since I wasn't tall enough to lift the duffle bag high enough to get it off of the barb. So now one of them is bent down. And, for good measure, I decided to relieve myself on that fence, since I thought it would be the last one.

But wait - one more. The seemingly easy road from the area where all of the road construction equipment was hanging out to the Park-and-Ride was gated, and the gate was shut. Fortunately, this was a padlock on a chain, chained loosely enough that I could slide my bags through the opening, then climb up and over the chain myself (of course, not without the requisite cuts and scratches on the hands that come from this). Miraculously, my car was still there, albeit with a warning and a ticket on it for (allegedly) parking outside of a designated space. That's all for later, though - for now, my prize was braving 3:20 p.m. DC-area traffic in pouring rain (that means two hours to go 30 miles . . .)

So, to recap, that was an incredibly stupid 6+ mile venture that left me muddy, bruised, scratched, and stuck with thorns that I'm still picking out of my feet with tweezers. And probably it would have made a lot more sense to cab, or call a friend desperately for help. But then again, there are some situations in which you get in too far, and there's no turning back, and you're the only person you can rely on to pull yourself through. And really, in a situation that's this stupid, where you're the only one at fault, you really shouldn't drag anybody else into it. (Which in this case created this bizarre side effect of being, at a glance, part of civilized society, and yet actually drifting through the world as some sort of ghost, everybody looking right through you, having absolutely no idea what kind of trouble you're in. Although, in a less immediate way, that's not all that strange.) This was one of those situations. And while the overarching lesson is to keep yourself out of this kind of trouble in the first place, the secondary lesson here is that if you do find yourself in too deep, you've got to find a way to slog through that mud, and climb those fences, because sometimes, you're the only person that can (or should be expected to) help you. (Plus, in a strange way, that was all kinda fun . . . emphasis on "kinda" . . .)


  1. Sounds like a good training run for the Barkleys ;)

  2. Ha ha . . . Can't say that the thought didn't cross my mind. ;)