Today I started a course in Mountaineering. The very first event of this course was a timed four mile ruckmarch with a 45 pound ruck, dryweight. (Dryweight means the ruck is weighed before you add water, snacks etc.)
The stepoff time was at 6:00 A.M. and the altitude is about 6400 feet above sea level. The instructor pointed out the course for us, "You're just going to start off down this hill, and follow this dirt trail until you come to a 'T' intersection. There you are going to take a left and follow the fenceline until you hit a hardball road. That will take you up the first of those two hills over there. You will go across that first ridgeline, down the saddle and back up the other ridge. Follow that hill down the spurr until you come to another hardball road. That will take you back to this dirt trail, which will bring you back around here and you'll finish up over there. There will be vans at all the intersections to point out which way to go. The course is 4 miles, you have an hour and fifteen minutes. We are giving you that extra fifteen minutes because we know some of you come from sea level, and you'll be surprised how bad the elevation will hit you. Ready? Begin."
So I started. Straight out of the gate I had a Forrest Gump moment. I just felt like running. So I took off down the first hill, planning on using the downhill to warm up and make up some time. I hit a semi 'T' shaped intersection (it really looked more like a "Y") and I took the left, and ran around a couple of small hills until I came to a wide open spot with a fence right in front of me. There was no van in sight, but the trail went to the right and followed the fenceline, so I headed that way at a pretty blistering trot.
It was a pleasent running trail, and I followed it for about a mile, walking up a pretty decent hill before I decided to turn and look to see how far behind everyone was.
There was no one in sight. I ran back around the bend and still there was no one in sight. I could see almost a mile along the trail, and there was no way I was that far ahead. Must have missed a turn somewhere, so I turned and ran back down that hill as fast as I could. When I got to the place where the trail turned right along the fence, sure enough, there was a van out in the distance along the left hand side. I found out later that the van hadn't even arrived until after a couple of guys had already passed that spot. It wasn't really a running trail to the left, just some old tire tracks, and now a whole bunch of boot prints. And way off in the distance, about a mile and a half away, I could see the main group of guys just cresting the top of the second hill.
Nothing to do but run for it.
So I ran. I followed the tire tracks until I found a road (a dirt road, not a hardball.) I passed the van with the cadre member sitting silent and stoic in the driver's seat. I walked the up slope, which was pretty stiff, ran the ridge and tried to control the fall down the other side. Walked up one more hill, and then after that it was just straight running. No road, no trail, not even bootprints any more, just me running for all I am worth along the top of this ridgeline and down the spur on the otherside of the hill. I could see the next van off in the distance with one tiny figure just barely arriving. I pushed it out and caught up with him, and hit a hardball road (a real hardball road this time.) A bunch of regular army guys was running up behind me in shorts and t-shirts and I raced them for about a quarter of a mile (stupid move. Burned too much energy.)
I hit the trail again and ran until I hit the last little uphill stretch into the compound. The latter half of the main group was barely 200 meters ahead of me now. When I broke over the hill they were just walking away from the finish line. I stretched out into a nice, easy lope, down the last hill to the finish, with a final time of one hour and two minutes.
The moral of this story is, you don't need to know where you are going, you just need to RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN. You're bound to end up somewhere eventually.