The first time I got lost I had decided to start with the pack to try and position my horse nearer the front of the pack to try and get an alone bubble to ride in "somewhere in the middle" as the ride progressed. This was on Phebes, and we had managed to finish 7th on our previous ride with good vet scores, so I figured if I could position myself in the middle we'd have some sort of a shot at 10th-? depending on how the day went. Well----it didn't go too well. Putting her near the front at the start got her all worked up, and me focusing on control, and soon finding ourselves IN FRONT within a quarter mile of starting and me still trying to get some kind of reasonable control of her rate...so at a canter we blew right past the blue ribbon (at first light of the morning I can't seem to see blue) and we were off...following ribbons, blue ribbons, in THE WRONG DIRECTION. At this point in our education I was not aware the ribbons should always be on my right (except at a turn) and I wasn't the only one...another rider was hot on my heels and we trucked right on seven miles THE WRONG DIRECTION until we met up with the pack head on coming THE RIGHT DIRECTION. That was embarrassing, humiliating, and a big old learning lesson right there. Phebes by that point had herself so worked up that I was worried she'd have a metabolic issue, so I rode back to camp and took a rider option as I could not see her finishing the ride with a do over as torqued up and sweated out as she was. It was kind of a hard lesson, but I learned it. Phebes wasn't ready for middle pack, especially not be starting in the front group. Race brain took over and the day ended badly with getting lost, which was probably in our favor...chasing the front all day would have been bad.
Now how could I have avoided all that? I could have let all the front runners leave, wait for some of the mid-pack riders to leave, looked at my watch and let about four minutes pass and walk on out to the trail and start. Things would not have been so excitable and my chances of missing the first turn would have been low. I'd still most likely have finished back of the pack, but I WOULD HAVE FINISHED.
My next time getting lost was a more difficult scenerio. We were doing alright for a turtle finish (this time on Journey) for our very first LD. A couple of things went wrong. The first loop that was supposed to be 15 miles...per my Garmin measured 20. That threw our timing out the window for the first loop as the course was longer than it was supposed to be. This left us extremely time pressured to complete the second loop and this trail was one I'd never been on before with many turns, road crossings, twists and turns. I ride out of the woods onto a gravel road, the trail straight ahead on the other side has no ribbon, the gravel road goes right or left, nothing on the road to point my way...so I pick a direction based on the verbal directions on the backside of the map, and ride about a mile and see the gravel has turned paved...and there is a house, and it just does not feel right AT ALL. I back track. Going into the woods no ribbons. A 50 mile rider comes blazing through and I plead help from her as at this point I just want to find my way back to camp. My horse is tired and I don't want to add another ten or fifteen miles on her at this point as we are already at 27 miles on the Garmin. She yells follow me! Which I did, and I find the next turn with deep gratitude. We end up riding about 30 miles +, and it puts us overtime as the ride is deemed to be a 25. There was a no win situation. The turn I missed? The ribbons had been torn down by a trail rider. A large percentage of the LD riders that day failed to complete. The ones who did had ridden the trail many times and knew their way around the course. I've thought many times about this ride and how I could have avoided getting lost...I've been told that my map should have saved the day. But since I was riding off the ribbons, the map was in my pocket and by the time I pulled it out, I was in no way oriented as to where I was at. My map also had a serious mistake in the written directions of the turn. Someone with great directional skills, a compass, more working brain cells than I may have made it. Over a third of us did not. My feelings were that everyone should have gotten mileage completions that day. God knows we all rode a thirty...or more... But such is life. I cannot think of anything that would have saved the day except to have been riding with a person who knew that trail by heart.
What those experiences did teach me (the silver lining) is that I need to stay cognizant as much as possible to where I am on my map (assuming the map has all the turns and cross roads on it). I need to mentally mark what my next turn will be. Will it be left or right? Is it a fork or a hard right or left? Will I be moving towards camp or away from camp? If it is a road turn, how many other roads do I cross before I find it? If the loop is ten miles and the turn is in the middle how long should I be riding before I find that turn? If I'm riding five miles an hour, then about an hour? If I'm riding 10 mph that turn should come up in about a half hour? This is where that map can be helpful, but you have to be very engaged in your map from before the start. I had an experienced rider suggest to me that I study my map the night before...and try to count the turns, and make notes. "Like a few miles out of camp the trail swings to the left." So you want to be cognizant of your shift in direction/ coupled with the trail ribbons. Look at your map and count how many roads you will cross. Note on your map " Cross two paved roads, when you come to the third...you will turn left and ride a couple miles, then pick up the trail on the right side." Those kind of thought processes help keep you oriented.
The easy way to avoid getting lost is to ride with someone who knows the trail. But that doesn't teach us independent endurance riding skills (though if two of you get lost the feeling isn't quite so dire, at least you aren't alone and can pick each others brains to figure out where you need to go). This can save the day or get you even more lost.
What to do if you are irrevocably lost?
- Hold still. Pull out your map...somewhere on it there should be a phone # (I hope) for your ride manager. Dig out your cell phone (you did bring it right?) pray for a signal and dial. If your signal is low...try text.
- If it is getting dark you might want to tie your horse up securely, and hunker down and wait. It is much harder for a search party to find a moving target than one that is sitting still.
- If it is daylight and you have oriented yourself to East West North and South find a trail that is leading in the general direction you should be going.
- If you are only a "little lost" like a single turn, back track to where you came into the turn and reassess. You may need to back track a little farther to find the missed turn, you may have to ride a little farther on to find it.
- I so often hear follow the hoof tracks...and I think REALLY? We are riding on public horse trails there are horse tracks EVERYWHERE! Unless of course you've taken a deer trail, then back out and get off that thing.
The last LD I rode was in the Clark State Forest on a part of the trail I had not ridden before. Clark is about a 100 miles of trail and I've only done about 50 of it. The Daniel Boone Distance riders put on the Summer Breeze ride last summer, and for a somewhat yet "green" around the gills rider in terms of completion miles, that trail marking was SPECTACULAR. Directional arrows where you needed them, X markings to alert you when there was fork where not to go, confidence ribbons to let you know you were still on track. chalk arrows on paved roads indicating you take this road THAT WAY. You want to keep riders? Mark that trail! Not all of us have a thousand miles, or three thousand miles, or thirteen thousand miles. Some of our horses just placed their feet into the exciting environment as we ourselves have. Keep us coming back, with reliable trail markings.
The perfectly perfected map.
If I could wave a magic wand over my map it would have the following on it.
- A drawing of the map with all intersecting trails including service roads. So often I get a map that does not show these things...how do you orient yourself if it does not show these intersecting landmarks?
- All roads marked with the road # and directional arrow of the turn if you are to take the road. (Chalk mark arrows on the actual road itself), and confidence ribbons in multiples where you make the turn on or off of the road.
- A cell phone # for the ride manager, and assistant ride manager.
- Distance markers on your map. Little *'s that indicate you are 5 miles into the course, 15 miles into the course, 20 miles into the course. These would all help to orient you to where you are "likely" at on your map if you do still somehow get turned around.
- If a ride has a long history of sabotage of the ribbons, and turn markers you may need volunteers that monitor those turns (and I realize that would be very difficult) or choose a more friendly trail venue to hold the ride for the sake of the people who only get to spend their dollars on a few rides each year, let it be a good ride!