03 August 2012

Trail Running and Oh, I Hate Snakes

For a long time now, I've wanted to try trail running. I've seen many pictures and write-ups on trail running in various running magazines and it always held a certain appeal to me. Lithe runners bounding through the woods, leaping over rocks and stumps and splashing through streams like happy, CoolMax-wearing deer. Maybe it's because it reminds me of playing in the woods as a child, when my biggest worry was finding string to make a bow and arrow set out of the perfect sticks I found in the woods.

Regardless, it's something I've been pining (get it? pine-ing? HAHAHA!) to do.  So when I found myself with little to do on a perfectly sunny day last week, I decided to go for it. I headed to the  Uniacke Estate in Mount Uniacke.

Uniacke Estate Museum Park is a Provincial museum that was the home of Richard John Uniacke, Nova Scotia’s first Attorney General. You can tour the beautiful old home, which is full of artifacts and period furnishings. The house sits on a 930-hectare estate, where there are walking trails that wind through the forest and along Lake Martha. 

I have walked some of these trails before, and recalled that they were pretty easy. The surface was either crusher dust or wood chips.  Not a problem for a first timer, right? Before I left, I reviewed the trail map and plotted out a 5k route. I started at the Hothouse Loop, running to the Post Road Trail, cutting across Wetlands Trail, and then back via the Barrens Trail. I hadn't done this particular route before so it was going to be interesting to see what it would be like.

So far, so good!

I headed out and was instantly happy with my experience. The sun was warm and filtered through the tall trees and the air was filled with the smell of warm pine. Cicadas buzzed around me. The trail was natural, packed earth with various roots and rocks peaking through the dirt.  Within about 10 minutes I knew that it would be a challenging run. I was huffing and puffing as I lifted my feet to navigate the various obstacles of nature.

Gradually, the scene started to change. The path began to narrow and the packed earth became almost entirely roots and rocks. The grass and ferns reached my knees. My paced slowed as I had to navigate the tangle underneath my feet. Well, that and my heart was about to explode from the intensity of the cardio activity.

Awww Bambi!

I came across some fresh deep prints in the mud and stopped to snap a pic. I continued to run and watched for more deer prints, but saw much foot prints that were, uh, much larger. I did not stop to take a picture of these. 

I was bounding along, happily snapping pics of the beauty of nature with my iPhone when suddenly it crashed hard. I couldn't get it to power up at all. At that point I realised that I had done something very, very stupid. I had gone out for this run in the middle of nowhere with no sign of life (with the exception of the footprints of some fairly large wildlife) and the only person who knew where I was happened to be in Ottawa.  

Yep, I had neglected to tell anyone where I was going with the exception of my pal in O-Town, who I had been messaging before I left the house. Now, here I was with no phone and possibly bears on my tail. Can you say stupid? Not to mention what would happen had I fallen and injured myself. Not smart at all. I started thinking about some similar episodes I'd seen of Criminal Minds, and wondered if my heart rate monitor was catching all of this.  I tried to pick up the pace. However, the trail continued to get smaller and more rough, to the point I was climbing instead of running. And then there were the snakes.

Where the hell am I?

I cannot stress enough how much I hate snakes. I've always hated snakes. Seriously, they freak me out. As I tumbled along through the dense trail, not once but TWICE a snake slithered out from under my feet. Yeah, I don't care that it was a little tiny brown garter snake no bigger than a pencil. I HATE SNAKES. I screamed and tried to run a little faster. Funny what a sudden surge of adrenaline will do for you. Maybe someone should throw some snakes at me at the 30k mark of my next marathon?

Snakes? What Snakes?
Man, I thought that trail would never end. At one point, the only way I knew that I was actually still on the trail was the fact that there was a little green triangle nailed to a tree every few feet ahead. And a nice sign posted in the middle of nowhere that said "You Are Here".  Eventually, I emerged from the woods. Exhilarated. Relieved. Seriously out of breath. 

I hiked back to where I had parked my car, thoroughly proud of my accomplishment (and somewhat ashamed that I hadn't told someone local where I was going). Once my heart stopped racing I decided that I would totally do that run again, only next time I would take someone with me to lead the way and scare off the snakes.

The end! Hallelujah!

If you're hanging out in the Nova Scotia and want a good challenge in a beautiful setting, I highly recommend you run the trails at Uniacke Estate. Just be sure to go prepared. Lots of water, a snack in your pocket and make sure you let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back!

A snake statue on the estate grounds.
A warning, perhaps?