Cell Phone Search and Rescue

This past weekend I had a chance to go running by Binghamton University, in their Nature Preserve. I’ve gone before, and have had some really nice trail runs there. Well, this run was no different, for the most part. I didn’t run for long, just over an hour, but I rediscovered a spot I found once on another run there.

It’s a beautiful spot, and it takes a few minutes of uphill running to get there, so I feel like I’ve earned it when I get there. “There” is a solitary bench on the top of a hill overlooking a field and the surrounding hills, with just a house or two nestled unobtrusively among the snow-covered hilltops. It’s dead quiet except for the wind, which was blowing quite hard that day, unobstructed by trees at the top of this fallow field. When I reached it this past weekend, I just sat in the bench for minutes and looked around, forgetting that I was on a run. The lack of footsteps in the snow before mine made me feel even more isolated and at peace.

Not the spot I described, but part of the Binghamton University Nature Preserve. It's just as beautiful, in a different way, in the snow. (Photo: Aclan C. Okur)

After my zen moment, I continued my run and eventually approached the very end, where I got off the trail. As I was running along a road on the last stretch of my run, I noticed a trail-head that I’d never seen before, and decided to investigate. I got on the new trail for a couple of minutes, but it headed up a hill and away from where I wanted to go, so I doubled back. Nearly back at the trail-head, I decided to instead navigate for a few minutes off-trail.

This turned out to be the wrong decision. I realized quickly that with the snow and lack of trail, I was not going to have an easy time of running, so I made my way back toward the road. After a few near falls I finally made it to within jumping distance of the road, when I slipped badly and slid all the way down to the road. I managed to stay upright, and continued to run for a moment when I realized my hand felt oddly light. Looking down, I saw with dismay that the pocket in my running water bottle where I keep my cell phone was was now empty.

I returned to the spot of my bad slip, knowing I had grasped a branch for support, and possibly could have flung the cell phone out while doing so. Not seeing my silver phone in the snow, I backtracked through my entire off road adventure, searching in vain for my phone. I knew the odds of finding it in the snow were low, and the fact that it was on vibrate would make it harder to locate. Nevertheless, I wasn’t giving up hope, and got a friend to call it repeatedly while I repeated my search. Finally, with a huge sense of relief, I heard the faint buzzing at the spot of my bad slip near the road and I quickly located the phone sitting a couple of feet away in the snow. So there was a happy ending. It was a great run, but if it was at the cost of losing my phone, I would probably have remembered it differently.


Trail Falling

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging break, so I apologize to my dedicated follower(s?). I’ve still been running, but I haven’t trained for anything nor raced in quite a while, so not much went on while I was busy not blogging anything.

Though I haven’t raced recently, I’ve still had some interesting runs. One that comes readily to mind is a trail run at Bear Mountain with my brother. Well, trail “run” might be a bit of an exaggeration. It was during one of the snows in NY this winter (so that limits it to what, two days?), and my brother and I drove up to Bear Mountain planning a three hour trail run.

By the time we got there there was about half a foot of snow on the ground, but we headed up the mountain anyway. The first part of the trail isn’t too technical, but we eventually saw that running would be utterly impossible. Roots and rocks were invisible under the snow, and we were slipping everywhere. We made it to the top of Bear Mountain, somewhat disheartened that our run was obviously going to have to be cut short.

However, instead of taking the hike of shame back down the way we came, we decided to take a fairly technical way down, one with lots of bare rock faces. We had no illusion of running anymore, and figured we might as well have some fun, having driven all the way out there. Well, fun we had. I am not exaggerating when I say we essentially slid on our butts more than half the way down the mountain (more accurately, we were doing a sort of backward crab walk to control the sliding). We got in maybe 20 minutes of actual running that day, as opposed to the planned three hours, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun on a run. I think we should dub what we did “trail falling;” it definitely wasn’t running and calling it hiking is a stretch too.

Anyway, I do have a couple of races coming up. I’m racing the Cherry Tree Ten Miler in Prospect Park this Sunday, which I’ve done before and is a fun race. I just hope the water at the water stops stays liquid this year. I suppose it’s a sort of twisted incentive to run fast- reach the water stops before the water all freezes.

More excitingly (in my opinion), I’ve signed up for the Bear Mountain Half Marathon (part of the Northface Endurance Challenge). Granted, it’s the race for us wimps who don’t want to train for a 50k or 50 miler, but it should be pretty tough regardless. I run there a fair bit, but I’ve never raced there, so it should be an interesting experience.


Trail Running Fiasco: The Lost Car Keys

Perhaps it was a bad sign when we got lost about 6 minutes into our run. Maybe we should have turned back then and avoided the entire situation. But, unfortunately, we had no way of knowing what was to come.

My brother and I set out for a trail run up in Bear Mountain State Park (in New York) early this past Sunday morning. The run itself was great. Besides getting terribly lost every 15 minutes or so (we had to sit over a map for 10 minutes after the run just to figure out where the heck we went), it was a nice route. We climbed ‘The Timp,’ a very steep ascent which provided a rewarding view of the Hudson River and Manhattan in the distance.

And then, while we were about 10 minutes from where my car was parked, I checked my water bottle for the keys.

As you may have guessed already, they were not there.

We were, to put it bluntly, screwed.

We ran past the car until we found someone who worked for the park, and he called the police. They broke us into the car and we decided to call a locksmith instead of towing the car back to Long Island (over an hour away). While this was happening, the police officer who was helping us got a call from a hiker who actually found our keys. Incredibly lucky as that was, nothing came of it; the hiker must have walked out of cell phone range and we couldn’t get through to him again.

I won’t put you through the same agony my brother and I went through, so I’ll summarize briefly.

Four hours, $500, and quite a bit of frustration after the end of our run, a locksmith managed to create a new key and start the car.

An hour and a half later I was home. And already planning our next trail run.

Collapse on the Trails

Complete. Utter. Exhaustion.

I’ve had my fair share of bad runs, but last Sunday had to have been one of the hardest of my life. Of course, I say the same after every difficult run, but usually I reconsider once my breath comes back. Not for this run, though.

A few weeks ago my brother (a much better runner than myself) and I conquered Bear Mountain (upstate New York) for the first time (see the post The (Epic) Trail Running Adventure for more on that). Last Sunday, emboldened by our previous success, we decided to start with the rather hard climb before continuing on the rest of our run.

Well, I read afterward in a running magazine (probably Runner’s World) how starting a run with a tough hill can make the rest of your run more difficult due to lactic acid buildup in your legs. I laughed out loud. Difficult does not even begin to describe that run.

My brother and I started by running up and over Bear Mountain, and I was feeling great. I didn’t have to walk at all (only a few steps in the extremely technical areas), and I was full of energy. I even impressed my brother with the energy I had even half an hour from the climb. Bear Mountain still had my adrenaline pumping.

But then my adrenaline seemed to abruptly run out. It may have been related to the sight of a climb that to my eyes looked at least as large as Bear Mountain. And at that point, I was so mentally and physically fatigued from Bear Mountain that there was absolutely no way I could do a climb like it again.

Afterward, my brother maintained that the climb was much shorter than Bear Mountain. I’m still not so sure.

All I know is that it was hard. And it knocked the wind out of me. Not just physically, but mentally as well. And when we reached the top and my brother pointed into the distance and said, “look, there’s Bear Mountain,” I knew the run was going to be considerably more difficult than I had anticipated.

But I managed to survive the second climb, albeit with some walking breaks, and was beginning to regain some energy. We ran by a sign for Timp Mountain, which I knew my brother had run by in the area, so I pointed it out to him. Then he started musing if we had to run over it to get back, and my mental strength gave out.

Every turn in the trail I was filled with dread that I would come face to face with the dreaded Timp Pass, as it’s known. After a few nerve-racking minutes (it felt like half an hour but was probably no more than ten or fifteen minutes), I ventured to ask my brother if he thought we were going to have to climb it. To my great relief, he confidently assured me that we would not.

Things were looking up.

And then we got lost.

We were supposed to take the yellow trail all the way back to where our car was parked, but suddenly I heard my brother casually remark, “Hmm, how did we get onto red?”

The next half hour of running was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Physically, I was shot. But the knowledge that we had absolutely no idea where we were, in the middle of a forested, extremely hilly area, was mentally excruciating. For all we knew, we could have been running in circles as I drank up the last of my water and started on my brother’s.

Finally, though, my brother managed to find the right trail again. He claimed he knew where we were going, but I was entirely disoriented. I started walking up some of the hills, I noticed an odd pain in my toe (which I later discovered was probably a popped blood blister that bled through my sock), and my brother was not sure how far we were from the car. I was close to crying.

The trail crossed a road, and we stopped to discuss our options. I looked at the trail; it went uphill. I looked at the road; it sloped down.

It will not surprise you that I strongly advocated that we take the road, wherever it may lead. Hesitantly, my brother acquiesced. The downhill was nice, and I was feeling better. We saw a biker heading toward us and asked him where the Bear Mountain Inn was, where the car was parked. He gestured over his shoulder and said it was “down at the bottom.”

I could have kissed him.

I limped back to the car a little while later, completely drained. My brother informed me that the run had been a little over two hours. My body, on the other hand, was convinced it was at least five. My brain would have calculated a similar estimate, had it been functioning at that point. I gave my brother a hearty thanks for pushing me through the run. If he hadn’t been there it probably would have been closer to five hours. Assuming I would have finished it at all.

The (Epic) Trail Running Adventure

My latest trail running adventure was one of the more interesting I have ever had. It took me from the peak of Bear Mountain to the banks of the Hudson, and left me exhausted, exhilarated, and at points hysterically laughing everywhere in between.

I went, as usual, with my brother. On this warm Friday we decided that we would summit Bear Mountain for the first time, and then maybe tackle the Bear Mountain Bridge. Just a quick note- I keep referring to Bear Mountain as a mountain, which I understand is its official title, but I would like to be clear on this point: It is a formidable run, but at 1,284 feet is not much more than a rocky hill.

Well, we did it. I actually had to walk part of it (where we lost the trail and were pushing through waist-high weeds), but we climbed it. At the top there was a tower (the Perkins Watchtower, I believe it is called), where our efforts were rewarded with a stunning view. We could actually see all the way to Manhattan (and it may have been my imagination, but I’m fairly certain I saw a visible smog hanging over the island), which was pretty cool.

The way up was hard, especially the end where the trail got fairly steep, but it was nothing compared to the way down. We went down a different trail than we went up, and at first it was a relief to be going down. And then came the cliffs. Well, maybe not cliffs, but large, very steep rock faces which were not exactly runner-friendly. Naturally, we ran most of it anyway. And it was ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a combination of fear, exhilaration, concentration, and pure joy before. When we made it down, I looked at my brother, smiled a broad grin through my sweaty face, and burst out laughing.

Now that we’d conquered Bear Mountain, we decided to head over to Bear Mountain Bridge. This we did, and upon crossing it we came on to a section of the Appalachian Trail. We started up, and though my brother could have continued, I was dead tired, and couldn’t handle the climb. So we headed back, and upon our return trip on Bear Mountain Bridge (which has a sign warning about aggressive falcons), my brother noticed a few more intriguing bridges crossing an inlet of the Hudson River. One was for trains, but the other two looked cross-able, so we decided to go for it.

Bear Mountain Bridge spanning the mighty Hudson. In the top right you can see the three bridges I am referring to. (Photo courtesy of tennisdarren.com)

After a wrong turn into someone’s expansive backyard (who has their own foot-trail, for God’s sake?), we made it over one bridge. We had really wanted to go over a curiously low bridge, so we tried to head down to it, and after getting directions and another wrong turn, made it. It was a foot-bridge that continued on a trail toward some fort and the Bear Mountain Zoo. And, we hoped, the car, because we were getting tired. I was, at least.

After dipping our hands in the Hudson, we crossed the bridge and found ourselves in the lovely Bear Mountain Zoo. Little did we know how hard it would be to find our way out of the lovely Bear Mountain Zoo. We passed some falcons (or another large bird), owls, and a huge bald eagle on our first tour of the facility. And then we passed them again. And again. We were quite lost. Somehow, we found ourselves in the back of the zoo with a main street frustratingly just beyond our reach- there was always either a ravine or a fence in our way. Then we came onto a patch of open field surrounded by fence, with signs in the fence- facing away from us. As though we were an exhibit or something. That’s when it hit me: we might actually be in a zoo exhibit. I mentioned this to my brother, with the suggestion that we get on out. We did. As I looked back, I skimmed the signs which said something about a fort, so we may have only been trespassing on some historical remains, but it sure got my adrenaline pumping regardless.

The tale has come to an end. We made it back to the car, drenched, exhausted, and talking about the most ridiculous run we’d ever been on.

The Town in the Middle of Nowhere: My Latest Trail Running Adventure

Thousands of feet of climb, technical and unmaintained trail, temperatures in the high 80’s, humid: such was about two hours of my life this morning. And they were an awesome two hours.

Yes, as I said I would before the weekend, I did indeed go trail running today. And man, was it hot. I went with my brother, as always, and we hit some trails right in the vicinity of Bear Mountain (other times we’ve gone elsewhere, closer to Harriman State Park).

At the end of the run, after nearly two hours of tough running, we found a trail that leads up Bear Mountain itself. My brother looked at me and suggested we climb it. I looked at him and tell him there’s no way. Well, we started up, but didn’t make it to the top. Physically we probably could have, but after two hours of running, if we added on a mountain we would not have been able to walk for the next few days.

Besides for that failed endeavor at the end, the run was amazing. Thousands of feet of climb; one continuous climb for about a half an hour with practically no relief. We encountered some serious inclines, some of which were so steep and technical that we had to walk them. And even walking, I was panting and my calves were screaming at me in fatigue.

We also saw some wildlife for the first time (our other runs have been during the winter; no wildlife around): A couple of deer and a snake I very nearly stepped on.

But by far the biggest surprise of the run happened about an hour in. Running along the trail, we noticed a house below, in the direction of the Hudson River. We remarked on the oddity of this, but kept running. And then the trail turned into pavement. We looked around, and in amazement, saw that we had entered a town. Civilization. In the middle of nowhere.

It felt like that scene in Big Fish, where the main character hikes for days and ends up in that beautiful little town in the middle of nowhere.

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, my brother and I decided to explore this town. We run down toward the Hudson River (a nice decline), passing kids playing basketball, adults watching their dogs. As though this were a regular place; no-one seemed to realize that civilization just didn’t fit in their surroundings.

We eventually turned around and set back up the trail (but not after an encounter with an interesting pair of dogs: a big, ferocious, growling one that the owner told us was harmless, and an annoying little dog that the owner told us to be careful about).

We reentered the woods, but couldn’t stop laughing about the town in the middle of nowhere.

Part of the beauty of running, trail running in particular, is seeing the unexpected. And that is most definitely what I saw today.

Trail Running: The Runner’s Escape

For many people, running is an escape. An escape from the busy workday, the family; in other words, an escape from real life. And it’s part of the reason running is so popular. But sometimes I feel like I need an escape from this escape. When I start thinking too much about times, worrying about tempo runs and speedworks, concerned with PR’ing at my next big race- that’s when I know I need an escape from running. And I find this escape in trail running.

On a bitter February morning, my brother and I, gasping for breath, reach the top of a several hundred foot climb. We look up from the trail and see a beautiful panorama; just mountains and forest as far as the eye can see. And we stop to enjoy it. This repeats itself; at lakes, at a cave, at the highest peaks of the hills we run on. We stop and appreciate where we are.

Unfortunately, this is something we don’t do often enough during our regular runs. Generally, you know your neighborhood well as a runner, which makes it considerably less interesting to look at. But trail runs take you away from the mundane. My brother and I meet and take an hour drive up to Bear Mountain, which is, as my brother always notes, an hour away, but infinitely different from New York City, where we drive up from.

When we get there we choose a trail arbitrarily, and just start running. We have watches, but only to know when to turn back. The terrain is extremely technical and hilly, but that only makes it more fun, not annoying. And snow on the ground makes it all the more enjoyable. And, best of all, we appreciate it. We allow ourselves to stop and look around, appreciate the beauty of the natural world. We have no problem with stopping and walking up insanely steep hills, or with not knowing how far we run. On a regular run I’d feel guilty if I walked, and even worse if I didn’t validate my run by mapping out to the hundredth of a mile how far it was. But with trail running, all of these concerns melt away. It’s just you and nature; and in my case, it’s nature, someone I love, and me, which makes it that much better.

Trail running reminds me why I love running. Not for the PR’s, the age-group medals (not that I get too many of them), or the times.

For the run.