In the traditional Passover story, Moses spent 40 years wandering around in the desert, trying to lead the Jews to the Promised Land.
In hindsight, maybe I should have known that this wasn’t the best weekend for an orienteering race.
Brent and I left the house early this morning to head down to northern Maryland for an o-meet on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. He takes these races far more seriously than I do; for me, they’re a nice change of pace and a good way to practice map reading and off-trail running. In January, I moved from the intermediate courses to the advanced, with mixed results. My first attempt went great – I found all the checkpoints with relative ease and ran comfortably up and down the hills and valleys of The Schulkill Valley Nature Center in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. A few weeks ago, en route to a research trip in DC, Brent and I stopped at White Clay State Park in southern Delaware for another meet, my second advanced course. I was feeling groovy until I made the rookie mistake of following the people around me. I got so wrapped up in what they were doing that I lost my place on the map and couldn’t figure out where I was.
Today was a sloppy, soggy day, and the rain poured down as I made my way to the start line and looked at the map. Ten checkpoints. 4.3 kilometers as the crow flies. Not too bad, I thought. I was planning on taking it pretty easy, just jogging and hiking in preparation for tomorrow’s 20 mile run. This was meant to be more of a confidence booster after the White Clay debacle, to get ready for the tackling Brandywine at next weekend’s Savage Adventure Race.
I found the first orange flag with ease, and felt good as I ran down the trail to #2. I made it to the junction and veered off into the woods, embracing the tangle of trees and thorns that lay ahead. There were three creek beds marked on the map, and my point was supposed to be in the middle one, down about 30 meters at the base of a ravine. I could make out the vegetation lines, the boulders, and even the big trees that were supposed to mark my path.
And yet I couldn’t find it. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I bounced back and forth from one re-entrant to the next, I just didn’t see the flag. I spent more than 45 minutes looking for the damn thing. I knew exactly where I was on the map, and exactly where I was in the woods, but something just wasn’t adding up.
I should have just let it go, finished the course unofficially and gotten in the navigation practice for next weekend as intended. I should have taken a cue from Moses, and continued running around blindly (even if it took 40 years) until I reached my destination.
But I didn’t. I had been in the woods for an hour. My rain coat was soaked through and my pants were falling down with the weight of the water. It was time to cry ‘uncle.’
At least I got in a nice hike/jog to loosen up my legs for tomorrow, right?
I found some comfort in the fact that in an uncharacteristic move, Brent, too, missed a checkpoint and finished unofficially. We dried off as much as we could and headed back up to Philly, looking forward to a relaxing afternoon. We stopped for a quick lunch at a rest stop on the Maryland-Delaware border (who knew you could get rice and vegetables and tomato sauce at Sbarro?), and picked up speed as we hit the PA border.
And then we felt it. Nothing acute. No bump or thump. Just a low rumbling as we went over the elevated stretch of I-95 near Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. We drove along for another mile, but when the rumbling turned into a groaning, we pulled off onto the shoulder to inspect the damage.
And oh, what damage it was.
The rear passenger tire was shredded. No, shredded might be too much of an understatement.
We saw a dollar bill-sized hole on one side of the tire that was spewing smoke and ash. On the other side were gashes and cracks, and when we finally got it off the axle, we found several golfball-sized chunks missing from the inner sidewall as well.
What in the world? Neither Brent nor I had even seen a tire look like that.
We (Brent) secured the spare in place and we drove carefully home, shuddering at every bump and sound along the way.
“Not the best day ever,” I said once we got inside the house.
“No,” Brent agreed. “But not every day can be the best day ever.”
Words of wisdom from my ever-philosophizing husband.