Several runners competing in the Wilder Foot Races last weekend in Spring Valley took a wrong turn about midway into their 22-mile run on gravel roads in Fillmore County. The most interesting observation about the mistake is it didn't seem to faze any of them.

I was one of the runners, and my decision was to turn around and backtrack to get on the 22-mile course, rather than the 50k course, because I had plans to meet my wife at a certain location on the course.

The first car I met was the wife of another runner. She said her partner decided to do the longer 50k race after he made the wrong turn. The second car I met, a sister of a woman from Winona that I finished with in last year's race, said she was going to continue on the 50k route until she felt it was time to quit.

They had the advantage of carrying cell phones so they could inform their support people, although most people ran unsupported, carrying their own water and replenishment. I did that last year, but this year had my wife to help out, or I might have continued on the 50k course as well.

Out on the gravel roads, we soon formed a network to guide us through the journey that turned into a different one than we expected, just as many bicyclists formed a rolling community in their longer journeys.

Bicyclists in the races of 100, 162 and 380 miles also ran into some surprises, including a water obstacle at about mile 40 due to a bridge being out.

None of them seemed to care about having to carry their bikes over their head across waist-high water in the middle of their ride. When the water got too deep at 60 miles on the second water crossing, which was planned, the course was rerouted.

Now, if these were competitive races in which racers worried about their times, their places and winning, the complaints would have bombarded the race directors.

Instead, the racers took delight in these obstacles, whether they were self-inflicted misdirection or came as a result of Mother Nature.

As one bicyclist who blogged about the race noted, "It seemed as if everyone was actually excited, rather than worried, about the new water 'feature' on the course."

That's because the races are more about the journey than the result.

The 8,000 feet of elevation gain for the bicyclists, which felt the same for the runners even if they didn't encounter as many hills, the gravel roads that aren't easy surfaces to compete on, along with the exposure to the elements, make for a tough journey.

But as one bicyclist blogged, "Events like this make us wiser and stronger mentally, not just physically."

Another bicyclist on his blog - yes, there are a lot of blogs by these competitors - noted, "It was the spirit of the Oregon Trail alive and well in Minnesota."

He was referring to the computer game, as there were no deaths and people knew, to a degree, what to expect. Still, it does invoke that pioneer spirit.

He also wrote that after finishing the grueling ride, he sat down and waited as birds chirped, the winds that had fought him on his bike died down and the sun was starting to set.

He said, "It was in this moment that I realized I had everything I ever wanted. It was in this moment, I found my contentment."

Not all riders and runners are so philosophical, but the blogs and other comments all hint at the meaning of undertaking a self-supported endurance event, pushing yourself to your limit while finding satisfaction in the experience regardless of the finish time or place.

As thoughts turn from the races to graduation, which is now in full swing in schools in the area, that isn't bad advice for our graduates.

Sure, they should have goals and plans for their lives, but sometimes they need to take the road less traveled. When you take a wrong turn or meet a path with no bridge, it's important to smile and keep pushing on.

You define your obstacles. They can make you worry or they can get you excited about a new experience.

You can find community in the most isolated places, if you're open to people. Self-reliant doesn't mean anti-social.

You can find rewards in just doing. Sometimes, medals and plaques are an artificial goal.

You can find contentment in pushing yourself as hard as you can.

Even if you end up in the same location you started after hours of exertion, with no visible reward, you can find a lot of inner satisfaction in the accomplishment.