I like to run on tracks, rather than roads, and outside the winter season that’s mainly cross country ski runs that climb up into the hills into areas I can’t normally reach (not being a very good skier).
There’s a slight problem with these though. When not in use as ski tracks they aren’t very well signed, so I have to do some orienteering. I only need some high points in the landscape to orient myself by, and a watch to measure distance in time. If I lose the track I can still get back, but in any case I find I like the excitement of not knowing exactly where I am.
Getting lost is a luxury many people never experience, living in more populated areas. When I first came to Sweden – to the relatively high-populated south – Rolf told me his family in western Sweden had friends who disappeared in the forest. They went out one day and were never found – at least not for many years, by which time it was too late. I marvelled at this possibility, and it frightened me. Even around the capital city I could see it was possible to lose one’s way in the forests on the edge of the suburbs.
Years later I am less frightened even though in the summer I rarely encounter anyone out on the tracks. It’s silent – no roads anywhere near – and the low birch scrub often hides the route and conceals landmarks. If I broke an ankle I wouldn’t be found for a long time. I should, I know, carry a phone. I will, I promise myself, each time I’m out there, lost. And yet I’m not unhappy being lost, at least temporarily.
This week I was exploring a new track and at some point lost contact with it and didn’t know where I was. I’d run quite a long way. I made several false turnings, ending up in bogs, at wire fences, or on tracks that meandered far away into the forest in a direction which felt like the wrong one. At some point I have to rely on my common sense to tell me that now is the time to turn back. I’d reached that point but I couldn’t find the way back either.
I stood still for a moment to make sure I was making rational decisions. I bent to pick some blueberries as a distraction. Then I looked out at the green, silent landscape around me, and thought: so here I am, alone and quite lost, and it felt really good. Then I found my way back.