By Christopher Cudworth
With all the ways to get lost in this world you probably aren’t looking for one more suggestion on how to escape the confines of GPS and your commuter route. But here goes.
You need to find a two-track. Go get partly lost in good way.
If you don’t know what a two-track is, now is the time you learn.
That’s a two-track. Some are made with gravel, others just dirt or sand. A two-track can even be a temporary indentation in the grass, or a mark in the morning dew on a golf course or an athletic field where the workers have driven a cart or a tractor.
The point isn’t how good or bad a two-track looks or feels. The point is that you follow it where it goes.
Two Track Mind
The best two-tracks are semi-permanent at least. They take you somewhere interesting even if it ain’t that pretty. But often it is. A two-track usually takes you someplace a little bit wilder. A little bit less regimented. You could run or ride through a quarry or a public landfill, around the perimeter of a jail or the outside of a golf course. Sometimes you have to sneak around and even trespass a little to enjoy a good two-track. But that’s part of the thrill. If it makes your ears red and your legs go a little faster, all the better. It doesn’t even hurt to get chased by a dog now and then, feel what it’s like to be the hunted rather than the hunter. Fight or flight. That’s what two-tracks are for.
There is serenity to be sought on the right kind of two-track. When you know a good locations you can pull off the road and silence surrounds you. Sparrows flit ahead from bush to bush, or you cut through the tall grass of a prairie or meadow on foot or by bike. A two-track works for you in all seasons.
Every two track has its reason, and its season.
Two Track Seasons
Fall is the season for color.
Winter the season for solitude.
Spring the season of renewal
Summer the season of exploration.
If you’re running it may take a little more balance and concentration to run on a two track rather than your suburban streets. But that’s the point. Even if a two-track only loops around a local lot you’ll be pleased to find how engagingly relaxed it is to run on a gravelly or grassy surface rather than a road. It forces you to concentrate when you have to place your feet in a straight line and pay attention to your balance and your ankles.
Same goes for riding your mountain bike on a two-track. You follow a rut to get out of one.
Two Track Geography
Two tracks can take you lots of interesting places. I’ve run on two-tracks through the jagged hills of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan following the wild corridor of a power line cut through the woods. The two-track led me a couple miles up and down to a hidden stream, deep and cold, with purple chunks of feldspar sticking out of the banks. It felt like stumbling on a little miracle. Later that day I hiked my family out to the same spot so we could collect some of the shiny purple rock that would never have been found had I not taken that crazy two-track away from the roads. We sat in the sun and had a picnic with our feet dangling in the cold water. That’s where two-tracks can take you.
I’ve also followed two-tracks deep into the dry woods of a Wyoming mountainside, running smart to avoid the bigger rocks while listening to the calls of black-headed grosbeaks and western tanagers in the trees. I honestly believe you can’t know an area until you’ve ventured out on a two-track away from town. You may find private property and badass people with guns. But you just apologize and hightail it out of there. At least you’ll remember the experience.
Two-tracks have led me through rugged farmland in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. I’ve run naked on two-tracks in remote areas where no one else was around. You hang your clothes on a fence, keep your shoes and hat on and sprint for half a mile with you everything flapping around and it’s truly liberating. Everyone needs to get naked and run once in a while. Two tracks are the perfect compromise between the wilds and civilization. I’ve never been caught and don’t intend to be. The point isn’t showing yourself off. It’s showing yourself you’re alive.
Two Track Fitness
Riding a two-track with your mountain or cyclocross bike is one of the greatest ways to get in good shape and get good and lost if you see fit. A two-track is essentially your highway to nowhere on a bike
Riding the woods in Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, I have beat myself up bouncing along like a maniac on sandy, muddy and rocky two-tracks laid down by recreational ATVs and the small outfit loggers who use those woods the most. The habitat shifts from wet tamarack bogs to high upland maple woods pocked with stands of white pines. You can stop there listening to the lonesome hiss of wind in the pine needles and whip it out to take a quick piss against the trunk of a tree leaving only a wet spot and some tire tracks to recall your presence. No doubt the pine martens and deer take deep interest where you marked your scent, but by then you’re long gone and they have the woods to themselves. As it should be.
In spots on those Wisconsin two-tracks the sand is so deep you have to pedal like a sonofabitch just to keep going. But that is why you go. Two-tracks often aren’t “designed” to be easy. They’re created by a combination of need and recreation and what you find out there while running and riding is what you get. I’ve hurdled fallen logs like a rural steeplechaser and also made tragic decisions trying to hop a fallen sapling on the mountain bike. My skills rank somewhere below decent at that stuff and thus I have learned how to fall when necessary. You just pull your arms in and roll with the flow when you go down. It doesn’t hurt. Usually. When it does you shake it off, check out the burns and scrapes, maybe shake some water on it till it stings and then ride on. Then you know you’re alive.
Two Track Lost and Found
Yes, I’ve truly gotten lost on some two-tracks, most notably on a three mile run that turned into thirteen before finding my way back to the 7-Mile Pinecrest Resort where we were staying. Word got around camp of my adventures and a fair amount of teasing transpired, as people would ask if I needed directions every time I got up to get a beer. And I got lots of them that day, because deep down I was really tired and just a little scared that had I not lucked out and found the trail home it could have gotten really ugly. Cell phones don’t work out there, and I didn’t have one anyway.
There’s more risk of running out of juice on a two-track when you’re running as opposed to riding. The self-propulsion of a runner requires feet to the ground effort, while the bike is a bit of a cushion until you find your way out of the woods. Of course you can also get farther out into the woods on a bike and get really good and lost if you try off road running or off road cycling. It’s a bit of a conundrum which is worse
As far as I’m concerned, it’s all-good.
Two Track City
For you city-dwellers, it may be hard to find a two-track you can use to get away from it all, so you have to improvise. Two-tracks can crop up in the strangest places if you know how to look for them. Even in the heart of a big city, there are places off the beaten path where you can find a two-track to follow. It might be an alley or a trip across an urban beach where the service truck has crossed the sand to empty the garbage cans, but it can make it easier to cross any bit of terrain with a two-track to follow.
Two Track Etiquette
That includes the wintertime. Many’s the time I’ve run in the tracks of snowmobiles on our local running trails. That’s far better than wading through snow 6” deep.
But there’s one thing I won’t do. I refuse to run in the cleanly laid two-track of a cross-country skier. I know how hard it can be to cut your own trail on skis. So it’s better to go out in snow on skis and make your own two-track than it is to crunch through the efforts of someone else.
Some people maintain the only thing better than a two-track is a single track. But that’s a subject for another day. Hopefully you have found enough inspiration to go find a two-track of your own, and soon. See you out there. Or maybe not.
Editors note: Recently I got a little sloppy in the proofing department, and for that I apologize to my valued readers. I’ve been writing “live” into WordPress and that’s not a good system. Thanks for your patience and readership.