LOST IN THE GLEN
Here is my story…. I hope it helps somebody.
It was Wednesday, September 25, 2013. I had worked in Williamsport all day and raced home to take Collin running. Every Wednesday night, for many months, Collin has joined me on our beginner group trail run in the Waverly Glen. The beginner’s group usually starts at 5:30pm and the more experienced group returns with the beginners to the parking lot to drop off the beginners and head back out between 6-6:15pm. Collin would run with us for both loops. He is only 11 years old but he is a very good athlete and trail runner. This was our typical routine and we enjoy this time together and with our friends. What was atypical on this day was that I was in Williamsport working. There was no way I was going to make it before 6p. Then I hit traffic and construction so by the time I got home to pick up Collin it was 6:20p. We rushed around and headed down to the Glen. When we arrived it was 6:30p and we were so excited to see so many of our friends cars there. There were about 10 vehicles in the parking lot. Without a moment’s thought, Collin and I lept out of our car and hit the trail.
My Garmin started at 6:38pm. It was a beautiful evening. It was still light out and the sun made the trees just glisten. Collin even made comments about the gorgeous trees.
This is where the first of a series of mistakes occurred. About 90% of the time, I carry my cell phone. I rarely (unless I’m on the track or something) run without it because I want my kids to be able to reach me and it provides running apps and music. On this night, I did not take it. It was not a conscious decision to leave it. I just didn’t think about it. I probably figured since Collin was with me and the other kids were with Tom, they would not need to reach us. Besides, we were only going to be running for a very short time. And, I didn’t need the running apps since I wore my Garmin. And, I wouldn’t use the music on the trails with friends (that would be rude). So, I left it in my car. Furthermore, Collin and I usually carry handheld water bottles which were also in the car but we both drank on the way down and figured we’d only be running such a short time, we left those too.
My thought, as we darted into the woods was that we would catch up with the group. Surely a group that size would be easy to find. I have gone in and met up with them a few other times without incident. Note, I have run in the Glen for nearly two years (3-4x a week). I even mentored some newbies to trail running.
So, we ran along our typical entry point until we hit the creek bed where Collin likes to take a breather. This was about .75mile. We didn’t see anybody yet but it was still well lit and seemed early. I figured we would follow the trail up the other side of the Glen and would certainly find them there. But after about another ten minutes, still no one. At this point, my mother’s instinct sent me an eery gut-check that it was starting to get darker. So, I debated in my head. Should we continue along this trail and head up towards the road (other side of the mountain) or turn back the way we came towards the car? I calculated in my head that it would take us about 25-35 mins to return the way we came so I felt we had a better chance of continuing on towards the road. Then we could easily follow the road back to our car safely. This, too, is something I have done with Collin several times before. So we ran. Here was another mistake. I had time predicted based on my running time and not on Collin’s. So it took us a little longer. Somehow we were off course. We ended up on a trail that was zig-zag parallel to the road. In my head, I was feeling the sense of urgency. I would not describe it as panic but it was getting dark fast and I knew we were not getting any closer to the road. Within minutes, it was dark. This was when I grabbed Collin’s hand and said we have to shoot for the road! There wasn’t a trail. It was thick with trees, down logs, brush, and briars. I felt like I was running through barbed wire. Then, I started to fall (a lot). Collin sensed the crisis and asked me several times to stop and pray. This is a reflection on what his dad would do. We have a saying between Tom and I, “worry or pray. don’t do both.” I don’t really worry but I do tend to believe I can problem solve myself out of any crisis situation (false confidence, obviously). I told Collin we did not have time to stop so if he needed to pray, just do it while we were fumbling along. As Collin prayed aloud, it occurred to me that my primary responsibility was protecting my precious child. It was no longer about me getting us out and no one finding out how stupid I was. After my last fall, I realized I could get impaled on branches or sticks or get stuck in the eye and then Collin would have to be lost in the woods overnight with me being seriously wounded. At this point, we were both safe, just lost in the dark. Collin told me to call dad. I reached up and touched my sports bra where I normally carried my cell phone and was confronted with my lack of preparation… no phone! Then, Collin said, we need to stop. I want to rest. We had run quite a bit and he knew we were lost. He said, “let’s just stay here tonight”. I knew he was right. During this internal dialogue, I touched my garmin to see what time it was. It was 7:40pm and my watch lit up. Collin told me to use that light to help us find a good place to rest. I found some downed trees and created a lean. Collin thought it was a pretty cool shelter. I used branches and gathered the leaves from the ground so the ground he laid on was clear. We were completely covered. This concerned me a little because I knew that no one would be able to see us if they came looking but it provided a nice shelter. The protection from the elements seemed to concern me more so. Collin laid on the ground and I wrapped myself around him like a pretzel making sure my skin covered his skin to keep him warm. We both were wearing shorts and tank tops. He never panicked. He asked if we would be okay. I told him, “yes”. I had checked the weather (as all runners do) so I knew it would get down to maybe 40 overnight. I informed him that it was going to be cold but I would keep him warm. Then, when sun came up, we would easily get out. We snuggled and prayed together. He asked me to talk to him so we did. We discussed how he wants to be a doctor and what types of doctors there are. We talked about our vacations, where we’ve been and where he wants to go someday. Neither of us ever really panicked or felt unsafe. I had peace that I would keep my son safe. For whatever reason, I never analyzed how this situation could get worse. Collin eventually fell asleep at about 8:30pm. Then my Garmin died. I no longer had any light or time. This was the darkest I have ever experienced outside of closing your eyes in a dark room. It was pitch black. In my mind, I was hoping that my fellow trail runners would put on their headlamps and come get us out with much ado. I knew that if they knew I was lost in the Glen, they would save me for sure!
Every now and again, Collin would move and wake up for a second. One time, he told me that he was going to have 7 bowls of cereal in the morning (we hadn’t eaten dinner). I told him he could eat a whole box if he wanted to. Then, he woke up and said he was worried about dad. I told him I was too so we prayed. We both felt worse for the turmoil that Tom was going through than our own situation. This was almost unbearable for me. I know my husband. I knew he would be scared to death. Collin woke again and told me he wasn’t mad at me but he would be if he had to miss school tomorrow. He had perfect attendance since first grade. I told him that the sun would rise around 6:30 and I would walk him to the front door of school if I had to.
Every now and again, I would hear something so I would scream “help” as loud as I could. Collin did not like this and begged for me to not do it again. I can only imagine that it was my screaming that indicated to him that we were in a predicament. I had to ration my screams because it really scared him and I was trying to keep him calm.
In my head, I knew there would be a search and rescue. There was no way Tom would not call the police. Eventually, I’m thinking it was about 11pm, I heard what I thought was a fire truck sounding its horn intermittently. I also thought I heard a four-wheeler at one time. Each time the horn sounded, I would step outside of the shelter and scream “help”. In my mind, I thought that we were responding to each other and they were coming. Time went by and still no one. Collin continued to beg me to stop screaming and said he just wanted to go back to sleep. Soon, I started to hear a car and some of the rescuers. I screamed louder than I ever had before. Collin begged me to stop but I knew this was our only chance out. I continued to scream and the flashlights (people but I could see the people, only moving lights towards us) came close enough for us to get out and go to them. The first rescuer I ran to was my husband’s boss, a family friend. I hugged him and asked for him to call Tom and tell him we were okay. With the help and many lights from the rescuers, we walked out. I was overwhelmed by the number of volunteers and police who helped find us. I will forever be grateful for the friends, police, and volunteers who came out that night and rescued us. I was so embarrassed. Many friends and fellow trail runners came out to help find us. All I can say is thank you. We were both physically fine. Collin even joked that he thought it would be cool to sleep in the woods. I was physically okay but felt sick emotionally for putting Tom and our friends through that ordeal. I felt like the town idiot. I threw up several times from stress. While I knew I should just be thankful that we were safe and I was so thankful for all the help, I had such guilt and shame about putting us in that situation.
The following day I went to work. Afterwards, I set out to personally thank some of those who assisted. I also checked facebook a lot seeing that the story of the rescue was public. I was hoping that no one would ever know but that was not the lesson I got.
Here are a few of my takeaways (lessons learned) from that night….
1. I will always carry my phone. ALWAYS.
2. I will carry a flashlight if I run after 5pm.
3. I will let the group know if I intend to meet up with them.
4. I will check sunset like I do the weather.
5. This is probably the biggest lesson for me… I thought I was a bad-ass trail runner. I thought this kind of thing only happened to novices. After all, I run 50+mpw. I run trail races in both NY and PA. I place decently at those races. I run with some pretty awesome trail runners who only reinforce my “Tracy is a bad ass” mindset. I am not suggesting that I thought of myself as a Kenyan or Olympian, but for around here, I am, at least “good.” This ridiculous mindset was the barrier to logical thinking that night. Not that I cognizantly thought I am too cool to carry gadgets but if I thought of myself as more fallible, I would have planned a lot better for what could have happened, not what never happens. I hope that makes sense to the people who need to hear it. I was one of them. I thought of myself as “bad ass” and God proved I was just a “dumb ass”.
6. God gives us what we need when we need it, now what we want when we want it. I know this to be true but it stinks when a crisis reinforces it. I have no doubt that God used this opportunity, in my “backyard” (aka, the Glen) with the support of my husband and friends, to teach me this valuable lesson safely. On any other given day, this situation could have been WAY worse. Imagine if I was running in an ultra trail race, in state gamelands 10X the size of the Glen, unfamiliar terrain to me, with 500-2000 other runners whom I do not know. Would they notice I was lost? Hopefully, but probably not as quickly. Would I have been as calm? Would they have found me as quickly? Having Collin with me actually kept me grounded and calm because I did not want to panic him. Without Collin, would I have panicked and ended up gravely injured? What if this happened next month, when the temps dip into the 20’s? I am thankful that God used this opportunity to teach me a valuable lesson safely. And I hope that my story helps others realize that this could happen to anyone.
7. Shame and Guilt… I don’t know what to say about this. On Thursday, I was praying with all my might that no one would know it was me. The stories so far protected my name. But, the messages kept rolling in from concerned folks so I knew it would not be long until the whole world knew (I was an idiot!). Friday morning, its on the news, radio, and in the paper! Now, cognitively, I realize that the story is really about the heroic efforts made by the rescuers to save this mother and child. And I am so thankful to the folks, please understand that. They deserve all the accolades and attention this rescue can muster. They were true heroes. On the flipside, I internalized the story to be about a stupid trail running mother who risked her life and her sons after running into the park after dark! Guilt and Shame are toxic. They make my stomach ill and just reinforce every negative voice I have ever heard. While so many people were showing me love and were happy we were safe, I could not turn off the broken record messages of, “you’re an idiot. You’re a bad mother. You’re unworthy of the rescue and love people have shown.” This is where I am a work in progress… so I have no guidance to anyone on this one!
8. At this moment, I realize that I am human. I made mistakes. I did not intend to put Collin and I in harm’s way. I had no context to understand what the forest would look like in the dark. I just didn’t think. I was excited to go running with my son as I had for months. I regret the ordeal but am trying to accept the realization that God was in control the whole time. He knew that this was going to happen. He knew it needed to happen. He kept us safe. I am blessed.
Finally, I want you all to know that I now have purchased a very expensive, high-power flashlight, battery life extender for my cell phone, mace (so I don’t need to be bitten by a dog or raped to get the next lesson!), and running belt to carry it all in.
Thank you again to everyone who helped us that night, prayed for us, or has since extended concern. The words thank you don’t seem like enough but I am trying to “pay it forward” by coming out and sharing this story so others may benefit. At the very least, when you think, “I wonder what she was thinking?” Now, you know. I wasn’t.