Bike Trail or Rabbit Trail?

Yesterday, in a divinely coordinated circumstance, my brand spanking new trail shoes came in the mail yesterday (Montrail Rogue Racers – review to come after a few more trips). Today, I was planning on running trails! So, this morning, I ran at Lime Creek Nature Preserve just north of Mason City. It was hot and humid (think dog breath humid) but my training plan said 55 minutes of hills today. So I did it.

I’ve had some good runs on those trails before and this was no exception. It’s a beautiful combination of hills and  some flats, dirt, gravel and grass, and trees and open spaces. There is an active mountain biking community that carves single-track trails all through the nature center, and I love running on those. The switchbacks, hills, roots, and rocks make for an exhilarating run while not being too dangerous or crazy. 

One of many single-track trails at Lime Creek.

Getting onto these trails can be tricky. Often, the only clue is a slight break in the brush on the side of the trail. The trouble is that, being a nature center, these breaks in the brush aren’t caused exclusively by bikes, but by animals as well. I can’t even begin to count the number of deer, rabbits, and other animals I’ve seen there. They also carve nice trails throughout the preserve, but there is one major drawback to their serpentine trails: they don’t loop back to a main trail! They run the same, feel the same, and often look the same…until they don’t. Suddenly, you’re nowhere near a trail and you realize that the deer that cut this path between the trees don’t depend on the trail as much and you do. I have followed what I thought to a be a bike trail only to find myself knee high in weeds and plants that I could only pray were not going to make me itch for the rest of the week. What started as a path of adventure and fun quickly turned into a hike of shame, silently retreating back to better ground.

On the way back, I’ve always noticed signs that should have stood out to me. Sometimes it’s a log in the path that no bike could easily jump. Other times, they get extremely narrow, so much that a bike’s handle bars would catch the branches on the sides. Every time, I wish I would have paid more attention.

I wonder if that’s happens to a lot of us. We set out for an adventure, we see a small trail head off the path, and take it with all the gusto we can muster. Of course, we assume we’ll be able to get back to the path pretty easily should anything go wrong. We won’t turn back, because we’re sure that we’ll end up back on sure footing. But sometimes the bike trail is a rabbit trail. Sometimes we’re fortunate and we don’t make it too far before we realize the signs and turn around before we invest too much time and energy into something that wouldn’t get us anywhere. Other times, we end up taking it to the end and then back tracking or trying to find our way back to the trail. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the run and miss the signs. But that doesn’t mean we are excused from them. As you go throughout your life, pay attention to those signs. They make the difference between a timid, embarrassed retreat and a leg full of poison ivy you’ll have to keep from itching the whole way back the car. 

Happy running and happy trails!

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