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Friday, November 14, 2008


"The manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured." ~Dean Gooderham Acheson

Welcome to God's Country! GC is also known as north central Pennsylvania for those who haven't ventured to this 'remote' part of the country. Remote in the sense that it doesn't have towering monoliths of glass and steel clogging the skyline, but rather towering mountains (or, hills?) stuffed with greenery and trees, even at this time of year. The ground is covered in a layer of golden leaves freshly fallen and the air smells funny. Of course, 'funny' means 'not polluted' to the city girl in me :) PA is the location, the goal: to hike the 42-mile Black Forest Trail (BFT...I have some choice ideas for what "BFT" stands for now!) in the Tiadaghton State Forest; the reason: because it's really freakin' hard and the group we were joining wanted to defeat the trail once and for all. An attempt was made earlier in the summer by Mike and some of the other guys, but extreme heat, serious elevation, and some other factors played into an incomplete. Honestly, I hadn't the foggiest idea what I was getting into, even more so than normal :) Mike made sure it sounded as awful as possible to prepare me, and thank goodness he did!

I flew into D.C. Thursday evening, where Mike picked me up with Jackson in tow. Jack almost jumped out of the car window in excitement when he realized there was going to be another human to pet and pamper him on the car ride home. So, Jack's got his front paws on the center console, leaning against Mike and we head back to Camp Atayne to squeeze in some sleep before our road trip up to PA...well, not before getting a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream on the way (hey, it was carbo-loading!).

Getting up early, we set to getting everything ready and put into the car. This included making LOTS of coffee. A stop at the REI to get some camp chairs and a few other small items for the trip, and we're off! An aside: I say that a lot in these blogs, "and we're off!" My mom asked me, "do you guys ever not have plans for grand adventures?" Sometimes...but I guess not really :) We kind of suck at sitting still. So, we're off! I have the (tiny) directions in my lap, and Mike's behind the wheel. Seriously, these were the smallest directions I have ever seen...I had to have the paper inches from my face to see them, hehehe.

Driving up to PA was gorgeous, it definitely beats out the grim scenery through Indiana or Ohio. Lots of small towns, and "Americana" as Mike put it. We even drove past the Little League Hall of Fame in Williamsport, PA. A lot of the drive, once in PA, was along the Susquehanna River...that was my favorite part, very picturesque. Around 4:00ish we make it to the campground with just enough time to set up the tent in daylight.

As soon as we arrive, Tonya and RamblinRev greet us. What a character, that Rev! PARidgerunner, Cowanesque, Spikehiker, Blackjackhiker and Trail Goat are also joining us. Six of us were going to attempt the 42-mile BFT: Tonya, Mike, PAR, Cowan, Trail Goat, and myself. We all sat around the campfire and talked shop, ate some chili, roasted marshmallows, and then PAR commenced with the briefing. Wow, talk about some serious organization. The maps and trail description were in color, and they made sense! After the brief, I felt much better about the whole thing. Cowan was going to be our sweeper on the trail...the sweeper follows behind the last hiker/runner until the end...I was very grateful for this, knowing that I wouldn't be alone at any point if the others shot ahead.

At some point, I walked back to the car to get everything organized for the morning so that I wouldn't have to deal with it at 5a.m. in the rain. It was a bit of a walk from the site to the car and I'd be lying if I said I was totally excited to make that walk alone, twice. It was pitch black out, but I had my headlamp. My creative imagination came out of hiding and put all sorts of ideas in my head...a serial killer was lurking in the bushes, a bear was waiting to pounce, rabid wolves, zombies, the kids from the movie "Children of the Corn", snakes, Mike Meyers from the "Halloween" series was stalking me, etc. I made it to the car, though, unscathed, and got to prepping my drop bag with a change of clothes and getting my clothes together for the start of the madness. Mike's car has an alarm that actually works, and silly me locked it with the key fob from the inside of the car, so every time I moved the car alarm went off. I didn't know I was supposed to lock the car from the door locks. Woops! I think the alarm went off every 10 seconds for the 10 or so minutes I was in the car. The guys loooooved that one. The way I look at it, I scared off any predators lurking outside waiting to have me for dinner :) When I got back, Mike went to the car and got all his stuff ready, and packed a massive amount of food in our dropbags...even made peanut butter wraps, my favorite.

Around 9:30, we all decide to hit the hay. Rev is using one of those tent hammocks, and the rest of us are in tents. It was cold, but I somehow managed to sleep really well. Around 3:30a.m. the rain began. At 4:00 Mike got up to go get the coffee ready and warm the car. I slept a few more minutes, then worked up the guts to walk to the outhouse a couple hundred yards away, in the dark...alone. I'm pretty sure a bear was following me, or at least Freddy Cougar. After I changed in the tent, I walked towards the car, passing Tonya who says we're going to wait out the rain a bit, and leave at 6:00 instead. Sweet mother of love, thank you! So, Mike and I sat in his car and ate some breakfast, made some more coffee (the first batch boiled over, oops!), and listened to Bob Dylan to kill some time. Trail Goat was asleep in his car and would be joining us later on, he got in really late that night. The rain kept going, and going, and going... At one point I suggested Mike start his car and let the engine run for a few minutes since we had the lights and radio on for awhile. But noooooo, we'd be fine :) Mike played around with his gear and did his best 'creepy dude in the woods' look...

Now that's pretty creepy!

I think it was 6:15a.m. when we all squeezed into Tonya's SUV and drove to the trail head. Yes, it was still raining. Tonya, Mike, Cowan, PAR and I hopped out, adjusted poncho's and headlamps, took some pic's (hey, PAR, where are those pics?) and then took to the trail. It was dark, cold and wet and would stay this way for another 30 minutes or so. The first climb was a beast, but well worth the view we had. By now we were able to ditch the headlamps/flashlights, and the poncho's, but it was still drizzly and the ground was very well saturated.

Top of the first of three big climbs...

I already look completely exhausted, and this was barely four miles in, oy!

Super troopers...

PAR...he was kicking all our butts with those hikin' legs of his (or as Mike put it, he's like the murderer in the movies, no matter how fast you're running, he is walking and he always catches you)...

The first aid station (AS) was around 4.5 miles and Rev met us there with water and our drop bags. It was so wet out that there was really no point in changing shoes and socks as they'd be soaked within minutes. Fill'er up and we're off. PAR was a few minutes ahead of us, and Steve was hanging with Tonya behind us a ways. We had a nice straightaway after leaving Rev, so we were able to kick it up and run this portion until the trail spit us back into the woods. We had another big climb between AS 1 and AS 2, but that wasn't the worst of it. Between AS 2 and AS 3 was Naval Run and I would soon meet the Naval and curse it. The last portion before AS 2 was along a stream (or 'crick' as the others liked to call it, hilarious!). Mike hopped across the stream very well, then slipped on something along a log...first one to fall buys the first round of beers!! Woohoo, I couldn't believe he beat me to it :) Blackjackhiker and Spikehiker met us at AS 2, at the base of Naval Run, and refilled our water bottles, convinced me to leave my pack and poncho as it stopped raining and the climb was already hard enough without added weight. As we were about to leave, we spotted Cowan coming down the trail...alone. Tonya called it quits at AS1 due to being sick and for safety reasons.

Naval Run is the devil, the devil I tell you and my stomach gets all churny even thinking about it! We had 1,000 feet of elevation to climb in .70 miles (yes, less than a mile!). You can't really imagine that kind of climb until you do it, especially when you're from flat-as-a-pancake Chicago. My lungs and quads were on FIRE. I was tripping and stumbling, but keeping my balance miraculously (I guess PT has paid off!). Just when you think you've made it, think again! more climbing. Talk about unrelenting. Whoever blazed this trail was sick and twisted. Those were the slowest miles the entire day, due to the climb and unrunable terrain. Mike and I stopped and made our own AS 2.5, relishing some GU and Clif bars as if they were steak and potatoes. By now, Steve caught up to us. Once we got to the top of Naval Run, Mike took off and made a run for it. No worries, we had discussed this at length prior to this and I knew he'd take off to make up some time. I had Cowan to keep me company now.

Cowan's a great trail mate and was made sure I knew not to feel like I had to push the pace because he was there, that we'd get there when we get there. I had to stop many times to catch my breath and adjust my hat and neck gaiter, but we also got to run a lot of the last portion of this stretch. We talked about Lasik surgery, foot care, strength training, our jobs, Cowan's 100-milers, nutrition while running, and how much this stretch sucked (well, that was more me complaining aloud). I took an almost spill while running along a stream, but caught myself with my water bottles and was up in a flash...butt didn't touch the ground, so it wasn't a complete 'fall' :)

I could see the trail opening up ahead and Cowan announced we were getting really close, so we kept running. Once on the access road, we got a tad turned around and followed a red blaze accidentally, but figured it out pretty quickly. Cowan stopped for a moment, but I kept going and knowing we were almost there! I was cold, and my feet were still soaked, but I felt great and I ran all the way into AS 3 to find Mike, Rev and PAR. Food! Warmth! Food! Mike was surprised to see me run in, he said he thought that last climb would be it for me (and I'm surprised it wasn't!). Everyone was really cold and I hadn't anticipated this kind of chill so I didn't have another long-sleeve shirt to change into. Luckily, Rev had a super-warm fleece that he let me throw on for the next stretch. There was talk of ending it at this point, 19 miles, but once everyone had dry clothing on, energy was renewed! From AS 3-AS 4 it was going to be the most runable, so Mike and I took off behind PAR. This was the best part! We had 10.39 miles until AS 4. The terrain was slightly rolling, but good for running. The fallen leaves covered a lot of rocks and roots on the trail, but we managed very well. Mike stuck with me for this part, and eventually Cowan caught us so we had some lively conversation. It took a bit, but we finally caught up to PAR as well and the four of us stuck together for awhile before Mike and I finally kicked it up again and took off. The downhills became my friend on this trip. My new shoes were doing really well, and I was very happy I decided to stick with my knee-high wool ski socks for this adventure. They created an extra layer under my running tights to keep me warm, and to guard my legs against the brush and sharp shrubbery. And, I was still blister free.

Finally, we get to the section where there were going to be, "20 crick crossings, no joke." hehehe They were right! It was back and forth, back and forth crossing the same stream over and over again for a long while. During a respite from the water (which we were easily able to rockhop across without getting wet...except for one slip where my left foot got wetter), we were gliding along a ridge at a good clip when my foot caught on something covered by the leaves. I landed like a ton of bricks on my right side. My knee slammed into the ground. I was so shocked I started laughing so hard I had tears. It hurt really, really bad, but it was also pretty funny. So there you go, I fell in an ultra, again :)

I decided that while I was really enjoying myself, I knew that going beyond AS 4 was going to put us in darkness and a really long night, so AS 4 was going to be my stopping point. I'll have gotten in just about 30 miles by then, and I was going to be very happy with that. So, I enjoyed this last stretch immensely. It was really pretty, and the sound of the stream was relaxing. We passed a group of people camping along the ridge, with a fire blazing. Mike passed first and said hello, they all responded but didn't realize until I passed and said hello that we were running. I could hear them say, "holy s@$%! Those people are running!" Love it. AS 4 came at the best time. I was spent, but felt great all things considered. Mike decided this was going to be it for him, too. We could have gone on, but we just didn't feel like it, as he put it. So true! 29.5 miles was just peachy for us on this day.

Finish line gloriousness...looks like a turban on my head, hehehe
Rev announced that Trail Goat had come through 5 minutes before us...speedster! We couldn't believe we were that close to him. TG had started an hour and a half after the rest of us, and then continued to pass us towards the end of Naval Run, he was trucking it (not to mention, he had a 20lb. pack on, too!). TG went on to AS 5 and called it a day there (at 35 miles). Mike and I waited for Cowan and PAR to get in and we all hung around for a bit. Cowan and PAR decided they wanted to try and finish it so we wished them well, then got into the warm car!! Spike and Blackjack drove us back to the campground where we were going to change and then head over to the Manor Hotel to eat and wait for the others to show up. We got in the car, only to find that the battery was completely dead... :) hmmmm While considering changing then just walking the mile or so up to the Manor, a truck pulled into the otherwise deserted lot and Mike asked for a jump. Thank goodness!!! What lifesavers.

Happily nestled inside the Manor, we proceeded to order the following, and ate it all: huge bowl of clam chowder, endless coffee, salad, steak, mashed potatoes, mozzarella sticks, and wine. Divine. Trail Goat showed up soon after us and ordered a sampling of the entire appetizer menu, with beer and coffee. We were all a sight for sore eyes! TG made it to AS 5 as planned, then came straight to the Manor. Eventually the others started trickling in. Mike ordered that round of beer as promised. After a few hours eating, Mike and I headed back to camp and then decided to just pack up and start driving back to D.C. So, we stopped at the Manor to say goodbye, and just then Cowan and PAR arrived. They finished!!! And I think it was an hour ahead of when they planned to be done. Nicely done, guys! We said our goodbyes, and then hit the road. It was late, we were in a food coma, and totally spent. A stop in a teeny town for some Dunkin' Donuts held us over for a little bit, but as soon as we spotted the Holiday Inn Express along the highway, we were sold! That is the best hotel-bed sleep I have ever had, hands down. Slept like a baby. After some continental breakfast we finally set out around 9a.m. on Sunday.

Wow, what a trip! It was a lot of fun, incredibly challenging, tiring, cold, wet beyond description, and totally exhilarating. It took us 9h:40m to complete what Mike and I did. It was tough. As soon as I get over Naval Run ticking me off, I'll be ready to try it again, and finish the whole thing. I highly recommend this trail to anyone looking for an all out butt-kicking and really good time.

I made it out with zero blisters (miraculous!), and barely any aches (doubly miraculous). However, my shin has come back to haunt me. I'll be getting that checked out next week. Meantime, I'm still basking in the glory of a fantastic day in the woods with some truly remarkable people.

Paige, out.

1 comment:

Josh said...

sounds like a great day out on the trails, nice job to you both!

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