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Lost on Trails at Starkey Wilderness Park

Starkey Wilderness Park

Arriving at Starkey Wilderness Park, I park at the Corral parking lot. I exit my car with 1.5 liters of Liquid IV and 3 Cliff energy gels with caffeine. Walking to the trail, I see a lady with a couple of horses in a corral. The posted trail map shows orange is the trailblaze for hiking.

I run past the corraled horsed and see orange trailblazes. Unfortunately, the trail is deep with sand, and my shoes sink into the sand with every stride. I find grooves in the sand made by a wheeled vehicle and run on this compacted sand for better traction.

After running 1.5 miles, I see an orange trailblaze and arrow to return on a 3-mile loop. I plan to run for 1 hour and 40 minutes, so I continue running on the hiking trail. Just past mile 2, I run under high-power electric lines.

Starkey Wilderness Park loop by the horse corral
Trailhead by the horse corrals

Starkey Wilderness Park

The sandy trails feel soft on my feet. I look around and see an expanse of green vegetation for miles. I am the only person for as far as I can see.

Then I see a small group of five backpackers hiking. I run past them and smile. Around mile 3, looking to my left, I spot a person in the distance traveling in the opposite direction.

Following the orange trailblazes, I come upon a fork in the trail. Do I turn left or right? I don’t know.

I backtrack a few feet and read a sign that shows TH 22. So, I go right to Primitive Camp 2.

Starkey Wilderness Park Trail Markers
Trail Markers in the middle of the loop

Lost on Starkey Trail

I keep running until I see a white trailblaze and a sign that reads “Authorized Personel Only.” I turn around and head back.

Then I see another sign about a campsite with an arrow. I follow that trail.

Around mile 4, I come to a flooded section. I attempt to walk around the side of the trail. However, my right shoe gets submerged in water.

At mile 5, I arrive at another crossroad. It’s a wide path of high grass. Again I turn right. I feel concerned about snakes in the tall grass (about two feet high). Focusing on where I step, I see the tallest ant hills I’ve ever seen. They are at least a foot high.

I feel an itch on the back of my leg. Something bit me. Then I see a paved path and exit the high grass.

Starkey Bike Trail

Having run on off-road trails for 5.5 miles, I now turn right on a paved path. Within minutes, rain starts to fall, and I feel good about running on solid ground.

As I run on the paved road, mileage numbers increase (4.5, 5, 5.5). Then, for the next two miles, the rain pours down. The heavy rain soaks me from head to toe, and I feel pleasantly refreshed.

Seeing a structure to my left, I follow the paved path and find a locked building, not for the public. Then I turn around and continue running on the bike trail.

Finally, I arrive at a t-intersection and a map. I could go left to Route 52 or right to Route 54. Then I realize I have run to the end of Starkey Wilderness Park.

Having run 8.2 miles, I turn around and return to the start. The bike trail sign reads 8 miles to park.

Hydration Conservation

The planned run was for 1:40:00 at about 10:00 pace. Thus, I planned to run about 10 miles. Fortunately, I realized this run would be much longer, and I conserved my hydration.

I took my next drink at 1:30:00. Planning ahead; I would only take another drink at 2 hours. So at mile 12, I took my next sip.

After another 30 minutes, I reached the end of the bike trail and took more hydration. The time was 5:40 PM, and the park would close at 6 PM.

In Search of My Parked Car

Leaving the bike trail, I run on the street, searching for my parked car. It’s dark, and the headlights of cars pass me. I run along the road and pass by empty parking lots.

Entering a parking lot, I find a trail map. In the dim twilight, I study it. Then I turn around and head back the way I came. As I take a final sip, my hydration is gone.

I check the time and only have twelve minutes to find my car and exit the park before they close the gates.

At 16.2 miles, I see the headlight of a parked truck. The park closes in ten minutes! I need help.

Park Ranger to the Rescue

I run towards the parked pickup truck. Approaching the driver and I say, “I’m lost.”

“Do you know where you parked?” asks the driver.

“I could show you on a map,” I say, walking to the passenger door and opening it.

“I only have trail maps,” says the driver.

Describing the parking lot, “I parked in a sandy lot, and there were horses,” I say.

Quickly, the Park Ranger says, “I know where you parked.”

“Can you drive me there?” I ask.

I get inside, and a short drive later, I see my parked car – it’s the only one in the lot. Thrilled to finally return to my car, I tell the park ranger, “Thank you! I really appreciate it.”

Inside my car, the GPS calculates the route back home. Finally, I turn on my headlights and drive through the darkness, following the GPS. At precisely 6 PM, I exit Starkey Wilderness Park and wave goodbye to the same park ranger as he closes the gates.

Trail Running

Running off-road through non-paved hiking trails helps prepare me for my upcoming Spartan Beast race. This 13.1-mile OCR with 30 obstacles will be my second Spartan race.

2 Comments

  1. Tatjana

    Phew, I was afraid it was much worst. At least you had day light left and was able to find the bike trail. Few extra miles never killed anybody lol
    I track my runs(usually) if I ever get lost I reference the map and follow it back. Sometimes it just gets you. Glad you were okay. Another day of running:)

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