I’m doing a trail half marathon in two months (and if you can believe it, I’m doing the Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half in a month), so for today’s “long run,” I decided to head to the Des Plaines River Trail. On my way, I saw lots of folks heading to the Gay Pride Parade, and in hindsight, I should have gone to that instead.

I digress.

The run started off perfectly fine. I stuck to the clearly-marked gravel trail for 4 miles out, then turned around and headed back.

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The trail is very much through the woods, but you do have to go over the expressway, so you’re not that far from civilization.

On my way out, I saw a footpath that I assume went along the river, and I thought I passed both ends of the footpath. So on the way back, I decided to venture off the trail onto the footpath.

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I crossed a log over a little bit of standing water and thought I was so badass.

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I was still on the footpath, going over and under trees and branches. Still feeling badass.

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It was pretty.

But then the footpath veered away from the river, and it seemed like there was still an offshoot path going along the river. (Spoiler alert: This is where the day’s choices went from good to bad.)

I followed that offshoot along the river. However, it was very muddy. At one point the mud got very slippery and the “path” seemed to go down a decline (toward the river) and I slipped and fell on my ass.

And that’s when things literally went downhill. I think at that point, the “path” I was on disappeared. Probably because the river was higher due to last week’s rain, and probably because it wasn’t really a path in the first place. I should have just turned around and back-tracked. But I kept going forward. I thought I could continue following the river, and either wind up back on the actual trail, or I would eventually connect with another footpath, which would take me back to the trail.

But I never came across another footpath, and certainly didn’t see any sign of the trail. And I assume due to the high water levels, and last weeks rain, there was lots of standing water making it hard to “follow” the river. I figured I should head toward where I thought the trail was. I thought if I headed away from the river, I would be heading east, and I would eventually get back to the trail. (Turns out at this point, the river was heading east/west, not north/south. So I was actually heading north.)

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So I headed away from the river, but  then came across some pretty vast standing water. I got confused. Was this the river? Was I going in circles? I tried consulting Google Maps, but the GPS was kind of going in and out. I needed to go east, I just didn’t know which way was east. I headed in the direction I thought was east.

I could hear airplanes flying overhead, on their way to land at O’Hare, which was not that far away. So I knew I wasn’t that far from civilization. But it didn’t matter if I couldn’t find the trail.

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I also forgot to stop my Garmin when I got in my car, which is why the start and stop aren’t in the same spot. 

Eventually, I downloaded a compass app (this probably should be been my first step) and realized that I was completely turned around. I was in fact heading west, not east. So from that point, I would go back and forth between using the compass to point me in the right direction, then checking Google Maps to see if I was getting closer to the trail. Luckily I was.

However, I still had this vast stretch of standing water in my way. It wasn’t rushing water, so it wasn’t the river, and it seemed calm, so there probably wasn’t an undertoe or anything, I just had no idea how deep it was. I tried going north for a little bit, thinking I could go around it, but eventually I realized I had to just go through it if I wanted to get back to the trail anytime soon.

So I went through it. Luckily it wasn’t that deep … my shorts remained dry, but I think it may have gotten just over my knees at the deepest parts. And it was kind of wide. Plus there were all these branches I had to go around and over or under, and I was either stepping on a lot of submerged branches, or muddy bottom, so the footing was a bit questionable.

As I got to the other side of the standing water … I saw people on bikes!!! I wanted to yell out with relief! Instead I tried to stay cool, as much as I could. I made it up to the gravel trail and wanted to kiss it. (I didn’t.)

At this point, I called my husband. I didn’t want to call him while I was lost because I didn’t want to get him freaked out and worried, and I was pretty sure that if I started talking to him, and admitted I was lost, I would break down and start crying while I was still lost, which would not have been helpful. Anyway, I told him that I was lost for awhile (I think a little over an hour), but I found my way back to the trail and I would be home soon.

So, anyway, some lessons learned:

  • Stay on the trail. Just … stay on the trail.
  • If you lose your sense of direction, consult a compass.
  • NEVER ASSUME. BACK-TRACK.
  • Stay on the trail.
  • Always bring your phone with you.
  • Stay on the trail.

So I think I’ll stick to city running paths or streets (with sidewalks) for the time being. If I venture back onto the trail, I’ll probably wait until I can do it with a group. And I’ll stick to the marked trail.

Have you ever gotten lost in the woods? Please someone say yes so I don’t feel like a major tool.