Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lost in Ft. Benning

It was still dark when I went out to run, but I wanted to be finished before the sun came up and the heat of the day began. As I was driving in town last night the local bank thermometer read 101 degrees F. So, I quickly studied the map of the complex, had a general plan (how hard could it be?) and headed out. My Garmin eventually synched, and I was off, feeling good to be running somewhere new (always a treat).

After about a quarter of a mile I got to my first planned turn, only to look at the street signs in utter confusion (remember, it's dark). This was not the intersection I wanted, but the signs had one of the streets onto which I wanted to turn at some point in the run. Hm. I must have been 90 degrees off at the start. No worries, though, this looks like a bit of a stretch ahead, I am just turning onto a street that I don’t recognize.

As I reached .74 miles, my Garmin lost GPS signal and I could not re-acquire. It occurs to me that since I am on a military compound with all kinds of radio towers, perhaps there is some kind of interference with the signal to my watch and it won’t work again. This should have been my first warning to go back, because it is now clear (a) I am off course at least 90 degrees and on a part of the map I did not study, (b) my Garmin is going to be of no help, (c) it’s dark and I don’t have a plan and, of course most importantly, for those of you who know me, (d) I have absolutely no sense of direction.

But I’m an independent spirit with a bit of a sense of adventure, so I press on. I figure that I’m running just below 9 minute per mile pace, so I would just run for 36 minutes to complete about 4 miles, and then begin a walk back to find my way. No use running and searching, because I’ll ruin the run. A nice cool down walk at sunrise will be nice, and I can read the signs and see better then anyway.

At about the 15-minute mark, a large group of military runners is going down the street, and this looks like a good idea. I think, maybe I could follow them about 200-300 yards back (with great discretion, not with them or disturbing them in any way). Surely they are out for a few miles and I’ll just retrace my steps. But, it’s immediately evident my pace is much quicker, and it would be bad form to catch up and pass them. I turn around and head the other direction.

I finish 36 minutes, and I realize I am hopelessly lost. Nothing looks familiar, and I’m not even exactly sure which direction to go to start looking. I take a swag at it, and head down a large street. But nothing looks familiar. After about 10 minutes, I sit down to think, reminding myself what an idiot I am. The sun is coming up, and I can now point due east, but that means nothing to me except it’s getting warm. And of course I didn’t carry anything with me (water or phone). I know there is a tracking mechanism on my Garmin, and I decide to give that another shot. I power-cycle it, and it eventually acquires, and I stumble through the menu to try to figure it out. It does have a “start” point recorded, but of course, I’ve been unchartered for well over 3 miles and since I’ve turned it off, so I’m not sure it’s correct. I try the hot / cold method walking towards the point that is shown, and eventually make it back—quite a bit later.

Lessons learned:

  1. Know your intended direction: North, South, East or West. At some point, you can get a bearing. The sunrise was useless for me, but could have helped.
  2. Once you acquire your GPS location start, go ahead and mark it as a saved location just in case something happens (like you lose signal, or reset your device).
  3. If you really don’t know the area, don’t just study the map, BRING IT (D’oh!).
  4. If you study the map, don’t just study the path you intend, but study a few other key roads and intersections that might come in handy should things not work out as planned.
  5. If you are completely unprepared (no water, no money, no phone, no Garmin AND you are lost), and figure that out pretty early in your run, retrace your steps until you are on familiar ground and try again.

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