Monday, May. 27, 2024

Lost In the Woods? No Problem!

I’m not going to lie. I was a little apprehensive about covering the Old Dominion 100 this past weekend. The idea of hiking through the woods for hours on end didn’t bother me, but I was nervous about taking pictures! I wanted to find the perfect, most beautiful spot on the trail to showcase the event.

I should have settled for an easy place to find.

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I’m not going to lie. I was a little apprehensive about covering the Old Dominion 100 this past weekend. The idea of hiking through the woods for hours on end didn’t bother me, but I was nervous about taking pictures! I wanted to find the perfect, most beautiful spot on the trail to showcase the event.

I should have settled for an easy place to find.

Before the ride, I emailed back and forth with one of the ride organizers, who provided me with directions and a map on how to get to two different locations for an award-winning-blow-your-socks-off photo. I hit the road at 5 a.m. that morning, drove the 70 miles to base camp, and then began my trek through the woods.

Now, we all know how women are with directions. We give landmarks.

“Turn left across from the gas station, then drive until you see a really pretty oak tree surrounded by a beautiful meadow. When you get to the pretty oak tree, turn left onto a dusty gravel road, and then drive until you hit a sharp right. After the sharp right, you’ll see a waterfall. If you drive off the cliff you went too far.”

Well, those weren’t the exact directions, but you get the idea.

Driving down unmarked gravel logging roads didn’t bother me in the slightest since I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where logging roads are the norm and two-lane highways are a big deal. My poor little car, though, wasn’t entirely sure that I was going in the right direction. I was told to drive until I saw blue and white ribbons tied to the trees. Well, I found them, and as I pulled off the road, carefully setting my parking brake, two horses go whizzing by. Shoot!

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“At least I’m on the right track,” I thought as I headed down into the woods, backpack full of water, almighty Cliff Bars and bug spray on my shoulders and camera in hand. My instructions were to hike in for a half mile to find a “very steep hillside of rocks.”

How hard could it be to find a “very steep hillside of rocks?” The other spot she recommended, about a mile in was a spot, where I could get the horses coming down the pipeline with the mountains in the background. Cool, that sounds pretty!

So, down into the trees I went, following the blue and white ribbons and generally enjoying the walk, aside from the many creeks, puddles and mud that absolutely demolished my beautiful tennis shoes. Oh well, that’s what the laundry machine is for! Soon enough, though, I heard hoof beats. I whirled around to take pictures, only to realize a) I forgot to change my settings, so the pictures were black, and b) I needed to reformat my memory card. Crap.

Now, I don’t know how many steps a mile is, but since I can run a mile in 10 minutes, I assumed that it wouldn’t take long to hike a half-mile. Next time I’ll bring one of those pedometer deals.

Down, down, down into the woods, and I’m not seeing anything that resembles a “steep hillside of rocks.” I wasn’t sure how far I had gone though, so I kept walking.

The horses started to go by my more frequently, so I paused to take photos, and after a while of not seeing the SHORs, I stopped to check the time. And laughed.

I had been hiking for 45 minutes. By all standards, I had easily covered more than a mile. Possibly two or three miles, and not once did I find the elusive SHORs. Nor did I find the pipeline. Resigned, I set up shop by a beautiful creek and snapped some photos.

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Now, something odd happened at this point. I had been following the ribbons all the while, and the horses had always been traveling the same direction as me. However, once I crossed that creek, they all started coming towards me! I don’t know if I somehow missed a loop in the trail or stepped through a time warp, but it was really, really odd.

It took me about an hour to hike back out, and while I was hiking I was having visions of taking a wrong turn and never seeing my car again, or coming out at the trail head and finding my car gone, or discovering that I hadn’t set the parking brake and the car was now half-way down the cliff those directions told me to avoid, or that I had dropped my keys somewhere along the trail or … again, you get the idea.

But no, there was my car, waiting patiently where I’d left it. I think if it could speak it would have laughed at me, considering I was a sweaty, muddy, generally frustrated mess when I pulled myself out of the woods. But then again, I wasn’t too upset; it was a beautiful day for a hike, and I did get some nice photos.

The second spot I was told to find was a pretty spot about a quarter mile from the third vet check. This one was fairly easy to find, and I got there at about 11 a.m. Much to my chagrin, the people at the vet check didn’t expect any horses to arrive until about 12:30. Since I had nothing else to do (I failed to bring a book with me, and there was no cell phone service), I made my way to the bridge. I checked out where I’d shoot, put my backpack on the ground, covered myself in bug spray, laid down and promptly fell asleep. In the woods. It was glorious.

I stayed by the bridge until the first horse finally came through at about 1:30. I left about an hour later and spent some time at the vet check taking photos and asking questions. When I finally left the camp and returned to cell phone range, I had a bajillion emails and missed calls, and for a few minutes I was sad to drive back into reality.

Being on assignment for the Chronicle is often crazy, busy and a little stressful, but I have to say, shooting the Old Dominion 100 was one of the most relaxing assignments I’ve ever been on. The scenery was beautiful, and the horses and people were lovely. I guess getting lost in the woods wasn’t so bad, after all!

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