Dark Clouds

Spring in Alberta.

Mother Nature releases her frigid grasp of winter. The combination of rain and rising temperatures allow the earth to thrive once again, creating this lush ambiance of harmonized life. You wake from a deep sleep, open the blinds, hear the birds chirping, and truly observe the first morning of spring. To celebrate, you plan on trail running since your schedule is empty. It’s only you and the world around you.

Make some oatmeal, brew coffee, check the forecast, pack your bag, and you’re ready to go. The forecast calls for sunshine and warmth, so you pack a couple snacks and a light windbreaker. You have full trust in the forecast, and from what you can see there’s not a cloud in sight. Lets trail run. You’re brave, young, wild, fearless – nothing to worry about.

Cruising down the highway on your way to West Bragg Creek, blaring classic rock, you contemplate which route to run until you decide on Telephone/Long Distance Loop. It’s a 16km/1.5 hour runnable loop and you’re pretty familiar with it. Being so familiar with the loop, you decide to pack light, only a small backpack with a wind blocker, a couple snacks, and a cell phone.

The trail head is busy, the parking lot is full. Considering the weather conditions and how popular the area is, you ditch the bag and head out with a small snack; wearing only shorts, a t-shirt, and a light long sleeve shirt. 200m in and you’re isolated from the world, using the nature as your music, purely euphoric in nature. Snow remains on the side of the trail as the sun’s exposure barely breaks through the trees. A quarter way through you decide to eat the snack you packed, feeling oddly fatigued at this point. You’re still on Telephone, down below in the trees.

The sun goes away as a couple light clouds block its exposure. Doesn’t look too serious, so you continue onwards, just about to turn on the Long Distance Trail. As the climbing starts, a drizzle comes down and the wind picks up. The snow pack increases and becomes an obstacle as you continue. Being in the trees, you’re completely blocked out from the foothills, unable to see what’s to come. The forecast said it’s supposed to be sunny, so you trust that and continue trekking through the snow upwards.

Ascending on Long Distance now, the temperature drops. The weather conditions worsen as the snow pack increases, now mid-shin deep. You’re getting a little chill now and hope the sun returns.

The climb continues. As you gain elevation, the trees spread out to reveal the foothills. To the east, blue sky. To the west, a thunderstorm, moving your way. You can hear thunder in the distance and predict you have 5 minutes until conditions become serious. You’re halfway done the loop and have three choices to make. 1) Head back down through the snow to the parking lot. 2) Continue moving forward, an equal amount of distance and snow to move through. 3) Stay put and continue after the storm passes.

You’re fatigued, chilled, confused, and scared. You decide to find refuge under a cluster of trees, staying put.

The storm rolls in. The cloud looms overhead as the rain intensifies. The trees provide very little relief as your physical and mental state deteriorate. The whistling of the wind between the trees combined with the rainfall is deafening, you can’t escape it. Then comes the hail.

The noise and physical pain pound away at your exhausted, hopeless body. It continues for what seems like weeks. Over and over, the wind and hail take turns at beating you. The pounding, internally and externally, is overwhelming. For a moment, it pushes you to the brink of defeat, but then, it stops. As powerful as the storm is, it doesn’t last forever and moves on.

You lay for a moment, completely exhausted and thankful for the storm to be over. You regain your senses as the cloud moves off to the east, allowing you to focus on the trail ahead. For the next hour, all you can think of is how that situation could have been avoided. The light clouds, drizzle, winds, temperature drop, they were all warning signs for the incoming storm. Instead of heading back to the car and playing it safe, you continued forward and paid the consequences.

The day has left you beaten, but not defeated. Every day is a new day to get better, to learn from your past experiences. Success in sport doesn’t transpire overnight, rather success develops over time through hard work and calculated patience.

The storm will return again, just make sure to read the warning signs and make the smart decision. After all, it is Spring in Alberta.