The surprising joy of getting lost

I have been fortunate enough to find myself in France, and today in the Parc naturel regional des Grand Causses for the first time. I rose this morning at the leisurely hour that has become my usual whilst being unemployed, which still managed to be before anyone else. The original plan had been to go for an exploration run on a local trail, however at first I was completely unable to strike up any enthusiasm for the idea. After a couple of cups of coffee and messaging one of my friends (who is one of those stalwart any time, any location, no excuses runner types), I pulled on my trusty runners and headed out into the glorious sunny morning.

I was armed with a photo of a hand drawn map made by the owner of the accommodation, a couple of mapping apps – neither of which actually had the alleged trail marked on them, and a phone without any signal or internet connection.

It started off well, a grassy, dew covered trail alongside a tributary of Le Tarn River. I even glimpsed a view of the wide, sluggish Tarn itself, filling the bottom of the valley and framed by rolling densely forested hills. I slowed to a ‘power hike’ (IYKYK) as the track became steeper, crunching autumn leaves and acorns into the soft earth. Before long, I crested the hill and reached a road, initially ignoring a sign which was indicating Roc de Cavalier, which is what I was supposed to be heading for. I doubled back when I realised my error – I had fallen prey to a delicious looking gentle downhill trail that helped me feel this outing was still a ‘run’, despite ‘power hiking’ being the majority of activity so far. After double checking my paper map photo, I was sure the trail that snaked past a couple of old stone villas was the correct one. I was still rewarded with a descent and some running which helped me mentally justify having selecting ‘Trail Run’ as opposed to ‘Hike’ on my watch.

Le Tarn

Before long, the road forked and both routes were blocked by a rope and a red sign reading ‘Privée’. Consulting my hand drawn map again, I noted the trail appeared to climb directly north from this point, which seemed as if it was heading straight up a very steep, thickly forested slope. I walked back a few metres, and spied an unmarked, very faint trail that appeared to go in approximately the right direction.

I considered my options. The sensible thing to do would be to go back the way I came, along a trail I knew was clear. I wasn’t exactly well prepared for bush bashing, I didn’t know if where I was going was encroaching on the ‘Privée’ land, I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to get through at all. I didn’t have a phone that worked and my emergency beacon was sitting helpfully in my bedroom back at the accommodation. Yes going back seems the most sensible approach. I looked again at the faint trail leading up the side of the hill into the forest. There was something so alluring about it. A sense of borderline irresponsible adventure that was irresistible.

Sometimes you just have to choose the less sensible option.

I re-evaluated the uphill slope. To be fair, the vegetation wasn’t even that dense. I couldn’t see any walls or large impassable tree trunks. I had a paper map with the trail on it didn’t I? I knew roughly what direction I was supposed to be going in. I had been hoping for some element of adventure for the last few weeks and just such an opportunity now lay before me. Plus, the option of turning back was always there.

I started up the ‘trail’, scrambling through scraggly overgrown bushes, my legs becoming increasingly scratched as I went. I lost my way a couple of times, having to wander in a circle until I could relocate the trail. When that failed that I started off in approximately the right direction in the hope I would meet it again. While following what I thought was the trail, I encountered multiple dead ends. The route seemed to lead me to impassable clusters of trees, or up into large rocks I thought better of attempting to scale. Several times I doubled back, spying a slightly more defined trail below me or to my right, and giving that a try for a few hundred metres before it seemed to meet the same fate. At one point I found myself on hands and knees, crawling through a thicket of thorny bushes, the branches catching on the back of my shirt. As my hands pressed into the cool damp earth, the thorns scratching across my hat as I lowered my head to push my way through the thicket, I realised I was having the best time. Sure my average km pace had completely blown out, it took me almost 40 minutes to cover 1km scrambling through the bush. My gps track looked like a drunk, wandering in circles each time I lost the trail. I would end up covering only 3.5km in an hour, something that Strava assured me was only a ‘low relative effort’.

The correct trail

I eventually found the correct trail, but only after a slow motion slip down a leaf strewn slope into the trunk of a tree. This reminded me that taking borderline irresponsible adventures without a working phone in a sparsely populated region where I didn’t speak the language would definitely be a good time to carry a PLB. Fortunately I was unharmed, and rose to be guided out of the dense vegetation along a sunny trail hugging the east side of the patch of forest I had scraped my way through. I could hear the tributary bubbling below me, getting closer and closer as the trail snaked along the hillside. Eventually I crossed it, picking my way carefully across the slippery stones, only to accidentally poke my left toes in the water and emerge with a damp foot, consistent with my usual creek crossing experience. A small homemade sign indicated the direction of my accommodation, and I cruised the last gentle climb as the beautiful stone building came into view.

I stood at the threshold of the house, my adventure cup as full as if I had just covered a 20km alpine loop in the Southern Alps. I didn’t care that the stats looked terrible, the distance not long enough or that I was probably the slowest person to ever cover that loop. The disconnection from nature I had felt over the last few weeks lifted, leaving me feeling light and uniquely happy in a way nothing else can replicate. It seems finding adventure anywhere is possible, you just have to ignore the slow pace, the ‘bad’ stats and give in to that alluring, rarely trodden, borderline irresponsible temptation. But maybe at least make sure your phone works.

2 responses to “The surprising joy of getting lost”

  1. Enjoyed your account of your irresponsible adventure!! Full of interesting detail and could feel the buzz you had. Tried not to have my Aunty hat on as I read it though- seeing danger at every turn🫣.


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