Babywater! Remember that? It’s the phonic rendition of my personal acronym BABWTR. Those who have been reading my blog since the beginning (possibly that’s only my wife, Susan) know all about this. For those of you who weren’t around or can’t remember, I’ve written ten posts about my half-assed attempt to become a Bad Ass Back Woods Trail Runner.
With December slipping into January, the 2016 racing season is over and done, and along with it, my deadline to be a BABWTR. So how did I do? Let’s review the past year…
When I wrote my first BABWTR blogpost back in December 2015, the term Bad Ass was fringe. Only cool trail runners like me used it with application to running. Bad Ass: think bloody shins from running through brambles; bloody knees and shoulders from taking a header over a tricky rock-section; tattoos; cotton t-shirts; shoes topping 600 miles. We were the runners who didn’t follow the rules. Seriously. Bad Ass.
One year later, December 2016, my issue of Runner’s World featured a cheery young woman, a skinny little thing, a road runner, a cellist from New York City, as fresh and clean as a shiny new dime. They stamped the word Bad Ass across the picture (note: the italicized words are supposed to be spit out with disdain). They co-opted my term! They made it ordinary.
In my ground-breaking post BABWATR #1 – The Beginning I inadvertently defined what a BABWTR is:
I want to be… The kind of guy who drives into the mountains, straps on a vest, and heads out alone for a multi-hour jog – unafraid of what nature may throw my way. My goal is to begin running and racing in the “ultra” range – distances of thirty miles or more. Learning about Pennsylvania’s wild areas by foot. A chance to enjoy some solitude, to get lost in the woods.
A pretty bold mission statement… heading into winter… still months away from the spring day when I’ll actually have to try this. What have I achieved?
Multi-hour runs? Check! Susan was way generous with her acceptance of me disappearing for two to four hours every Saturday morning. Typically, I was out of the house just before dawn, and I was always back home before my teenage daughter woke up. I tried to make my runs as unimpactful as I could on my family, but my propensity to nod off on the couch every Saturday evening right after dinner was definitely the topic of a few conversations.
30 mile races? Pfft. My race calendar included a 10K, a ten-mile and a marathon. I planned on running the Green Monster 50K in October, but a bunch of huge expenses (car, car, dryer, awesome vacation to Bryce Canyon) got in the way, so I skipped it. On the day of the Green Monster, I ran my own 50K out my front door—three ten-mile trail loops and a bit of change around my neighborhood. I no longer have a desire to race a 50K. I’ve had Plantar Fasciitis ever since.
Enjoy some solitude? Check! Yes, an abundance of that!
Get lost in the woods? Here’s the thing. When I’m in the woods, lost is my default. My plan was to convince my friend Blair to teach me map and compass skills last winter. He teaches topics like this to our county’s sixth graders each year when they head off for a week of nature camp. I figure if they can grasp the concept, so can I. Unfortunately, I never got around to asking him.
A few weeks before my marathon, my friend Audrey and I went for a trail run together on a hot May afternoon. We plotted a three-mile loop back to my car, and then directly into a seven-mile loop on the other side of the road. Because we had an opportunity to refill our water bottles after three miles, neither of us took much with us—one handheld bottle each. It was my run, training for my race, running at my pace (which is slower than Audrey’s). I said I knew where we were going. I run this route ever year in that ten-miler I mentioned earlier. I know the course like my own phone number… or so I thought.
An hour later, still on the three-mile side of the road, Audrey chastised me for not even being able to point in the direction we came from. Without her navigation skills back to the car, we would have been drinking directly out of puddles.
Today, I took a day off work and went for a hike. I’ve been wanting to get out on the local section of the Appalachian Trail for a run ever since I started this BABWTR nonsense. My Plantar Fasciitis is still healing, but I thought a brisk four-mile hike would be a nice test to see if it’s improved.
I ran into many of my typical problems: The map I brought with me for my hike shows a completely different section of the Appalachian Trail. I couldn’t find the right trail-head and wound up hiking a trail miles away from the AT. And despite my easy out-and-back route, where I carefully placed fallen branches at each intersection pointing the way back to my car, I got lost. Eventually, I found the road but not my car. I had to guess which way to walk to my car. First attempt, I guessed wrong.
Since my description of a BABWTR includes (even encourages) getting lost, I guess I’ve mostly achieved my goal. But lost isn’t the way I prefer to experience nature. I rarely have several extra hours to spend looking for my way out of the woods. I’ve been truly lost before—out mountain biking with a friend’s teenage son, underfed, out of water, and deep into dusk. It can be a scary experience.
So my final evaluation: I don’t feel Bad Ass, I feel incompetent. Around my June marathon I felt as tough as the throngs of heavily tattooed runners fidgeting around me before the gun. But then it all faded away. By the time my October 50K showed up, I was burned out, only half-interested in success. I’m not sure if 2017 will include a second attempt at becoming a BABWTR, but one thing I’m sure of—I’m going to learn how to read a map.