The point where I got off track came early in the day in previous years, so I was probably playing follow-the-leader and not paying close attention. Someone asked me if things looked familiar, and I didn't remember seeing so many yellow daisies at the side of the trail, but said I didn't know. You can see a lot of stuff in a day; it's hard to know what you didn't see!
The four points Laz makes are sound, but fairly basic. #2 might have helped me, if it made me appreciate the risk of getting lost so I did more planning
1) Look at the map and familiarize yourself with the route of the course.
Obviously good advice. I used my map more the first year. Being "familiar" isn't enough, though, I should have made an expectation of when I would get to the next waypoint, so I would know when I should start worrying about being off course.
2) Know where you are going, and do not just blindly follow the runner in front of you.
Yeah, yeah, this is pretty basic. But the runners in front of me all stopped at the wrong turn, and I also made an effort to figure out where we were on the map. I was actually more confident than the group seemed to be about going the wrong way, and I am glad I didn't vocalize my thoughts. The "spur" Laz describes does not sound quite like the way we went, which I remember as being nearly straight ahead and similar jeep road. Though we did descend, and the correct left turn went up an incline.
3) When in doubt, stop and think.
Some advice is only good in retrospect. If you stopped to think every time five minutes passed without a course marker, you would never get anywhere. This course is known for providing limited guidance and promoting self-reliance. Laz describes an "excited" runner who went off course "in a big hurry," and so didn't have the doubt trigger. Better to prepare by thinking ahead of where things are likely to go wrong. I was feeling good and thought that injury, bees, or exhaustion would be my most likely failure modes. Navigation wasn't on my mind as a risk factor, despite knowing that people always get lost.
Michael Wardian, the seven marathons on seven continents in seven days guy, basically got lost right away at the real Barkley.
4) When you find yourself off course, return to the last place you knew you were on course.
We could have done better here. If we had gone back to the first wrong turn immediately after encountering the guy coming back from the lake, we wouldn't have lost more than an hour. But again, we were not sure that was the first wrong turn until we explored several other wrong turns.