I left the military base my husband and I had just moved to in a state of high excitement. This was Germany and the trails were calling! I loaded up my daughter in her stroller, laced my shoes up, and got my feet out the door.
I ended up completely lost, puzzled and sweaty in front of a BMW dealership. I’d had the run planned out. I was looking for a local trail. Strava promised me it was an easy loop, out and back, with the trail easy to find… but somehow, I thought, feeling the sweat drip down my back, hands knotted around my jogging stroller, my baby girl looking up at me, Strava had done me wrong. Cars whizzed by, and there was not a trailhead in sight. I stared at the BMWs on display. Part of my brain was admiring the shiny motorcycles, carefully positioned on the asphalt. Part of me was panicking.
My daughter, though, was ready to be entertained – and getting lost in Germany was apparently entertainment enough for an eight-month-old. She let out a high-pitched squeal of excitement and waved chubby hands in the air. “That’s right,” I said, a little weakly. “We are on an adventure!” I checked my cell phone, and bit back the words I wanted to say. Of course, there was no cell service. My daughter stared at me, eyes round, smiling as she stared at the shiny bikes. She didn’t know we were lost. I had to figure this out.
When we got the word we were moving to Germany, I did what any good runner would do, I looked up trails on Strava and AllTrails. I poured over websites praising the Black Forest, the waterfalls, the trails, and felt my excitement steadily grow. I daydreamed about pounding my way along German trails, accompanied by my daughter. She was only eight months old, and what a good time to travel! I’d show her how to be adventurous, I promised myself. I’ll show her how to explore. Now, though, I was actually in Germany… and my exploration led to a BMW dealer. The waterfalls of the Black Forest seemed very far away, and as the sweat poured down my back, I felt very small and very alone. My cell phone was useless. I had myself, a stroller, a baby, and half a bottle of water. Better pound the pavement, I thought. There was nothing for it. I had to find my way home.
I turned around, ignoring the frissons of sweat and terror trickling down my back, and trudged my way back. I frequently paused at intersections to puzzle out the German names – but slowly, the roads became more familiar. I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the main gate come into view.
I’ve always believed there’s one fundamental rule that makes you a runner: you get up out and run whenever you can. As I ran on that hot asphalt in Germany, far from the trails I thought I was headed to, my mind drifted back. Long ago, when I was training to commission as an officer in the US Army, I was required to pass land navigation. I wasn’t very good at it, and never did get better. But one thing land navigation did teach me was: keep moving forwards. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Runners run, and when they’re lost, they pause, regroup, and continue on… especially when they don’t have cell service or actually speak any German.
I managed to retrace my steps, and even avoided teaching my daughter any new swear words. I did learn the German word for ‘Saturday’ from a bus schedule I passed. That’s a good one to know, I thought. I had to laugh. Here I was, tracing my way home through a strange urban wilderness, eight month old baby in tow… but I was doing it. I even managed to interpret the different ‘yield’ signs on the road, and avoided getting run over by a car.
My jog onto the post was slightly defeated, but also strangely triumphant. I hadn’t found any trails, but I had a funny story. I’d gotten up, and out, in a foreign land. When the guard at the gate complimented my daughter’s eyes and asked how my jog was, I smiled weakly and made a joke. At least I know that if I ever need a BMW here in Germany, I can find one. The trails are out there, somewhere. I’ll find them eventually: today, though, I learned I can be afraid, get lost, and find my way again.
That said… I’m also making certain that I have the international plan on my phone, a paper copy of the map, and Euros in my pocket for the bus. Land navigation is a lot more fun when you’re prepared for it.