Lessons from Adventuring in a Foreign Forest – Run Report

This summer has been an exhausting whirlwind of move preparation, international visitors, and selling our home. My last days in the U.S. ended with a car crash due to exhaustion (I did not hit anyone, thankfully, and I was fine too), sending my dogs off on their week-long journey to get to our new home, a wedding, and finally, a few days at the beach. I barely had time to process the fact that I was moving to a new country, a new culture and a new language. It didn’t really hit me until I was on the plane and there was no turning back.

One thing I did continue to think about, however, was the area we were moving to. It is in a region outside Moscow, near a national forest named after the provincial town, Krasnogorsk. With all the work I was doing, I had little time to run far, and so I spent a good deal of time looking forward and visualizing what the forest would be like. We were to be living in a gated community and I would have limited access to a car, so I was envisioning and holding the image of the forest as my key to freedom while living in our new compound – uh – home.    

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Then, the other day, the shoe dropped. I was told by a Muscovite that this particular forest was dangerous. There are encampments of homeless people and packs of wild dogs. He himself had been attacked there once. He suggested that I run in those woods only if I have a partner, for safety.

As I know very few runners who run the way or do or who even like trails, I figured I was screwed. Fat chance I’d be able to get anyone to come with me, I thought. The guards already thought I was crazy when I went for a short run there last week, just after arriving. Now I knew why.

I can’t tell you how sad and disappointed I was. I have been trying to visualize my training for an 80-100k race next year (narrowed the choices but have not completely decided on which one), and images of running each morning from my home through Krasnogorsky were quite vivid. Moreover, it is the only forest area easily accessible without a car. Moscow has many beautiful parks, but they are not wild, and they require a bus, metro, and additional running to get to. How was I going to make this work?

I was pretty deflated for about a day, but deep inside, I knew I was not going to let the threat of dogs or people keep me from the run. Moreover, the forest is huge, and it was likely that the safer area was on the eastern side, where my neighborhood lay. I shouldn’t allow fear to keep me from exploring just a little. I woke this moning with the intention of running just a half hour within the woods, then continuing in the neighborhood. I would stick to main trails, stay as straight as possible, bring my gps watch, and take pictures at any juncture I came across.

Things went well the first 15-20 minutes. The woods were pretty and the terrain a little hillier and more technical on the south part than on the north part, which I had explored last week. I was on high alert for dogs, but did not come across anything except a pig. At least, it looked a bit like a pig and squealed like a pig, but I’m not sure if wild pigs are supposed to be up there. Perhaps it was something else.

When my time was up, I turned back to head home. Despite my attention, I must have missed a turn and found myself quite lost.   A myriad of pathways criss-crossed each other in all directions, and even with the photos, there were too many that looked alike.   I doubled back but could not find the path I needed to take. It was then that I discovered that my awesome (sarcasm intended) gps watch had stopped tracking for some reason, and did not know where I was. So much for European quality – ha!

I had to be back by 10 am.

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Fortunately, I had my new phone with me. The iPhone map feature is not all that great, but after a little creative work on the address, I got a general sense of where I wanted to be and began to head towards it. I was wrong at first and so found myself heading in the direction of a different town than mine, but eventually, I realized my mistake and set my steps in a direction to a place on the map that looked more like where I wanted to be. It worked, and 1.5 hours later, I made it back. The guard was worried, he said (or at least, I think that’s what he said), and was happy to see me. I even got home on time.

When I think about it, it wasn’t all that far out or dangerous. I did see encampments – empty ones. I did hear dogs, but not near me. I did see the pig, but he wasn’t the large boar I’ve seen in pictures. He was about half the size. And I’ve encountered them before. I did have pepper spray, and I did have my phone.

Being lost in the forest of a foreign country, however, where one does not yet know the language with the potential for attack by dogs or (worse) people – wow! Were my senses every on high alert! Finding home felt like a major triumph.

I will most definitely go back there, but next time, I will rely on lessons learned and, instead of just technology, I will use a compass and mark my coordinates. I will bring something to mark my turns (there are large “Vs” painted in red, but they mean to point out any number of exits from the woods, not just my particular location), and always, always, always, carry a weapon of some kind. If I can find a partner, that would be even better.

Here’s to adventure and freedom. Despite the risks, these things are so worth it. 

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