2011-10-21 / 15:31 / dave
Remember when I talked about that awesome adventure I was going to have “real soon now”? Well that was a few months ago, I guess it’s time to let you know how it went.
It was, like, really really hard.
I left about 2 hours late and started riding down to Ohiopyle. This started out great but I was having some ergonomics issues after about 40 miles. It was my first long ride on the new cross bike and I’d also swapped to platform pedals so I could ride in my hiking shoes.
I was a hot mess when I headed into the Connelsville Sheetz (mile 60) to buy a Gatorade.
The last 15 miles to Ohiopyle really sucked. I had to stop a few times because my calves, quads & hip abductors felt like they were full of battery acid (true, given
s/battery/lactic/). I was unprepared for my longest ride in about 18 months on a new bike. As I’ve also subsequently learned drinking water was dumb. I should have seeded those bottles with salt & glucose.
I rolled into Ohiopyle in the early-mid afternoon-ish and stabled my bike at Wilderness Voyageurs. After smalltalk with the mechanic, I headed towards the start of the LHHT. “Maybe I should get something to eat first?” I wondered. “No, that would be too logical, instead I’ll fuel my muscles with dreams!”
It turns out you also need food to feed your brain which might explain why I forgot to leave my lock with my bike. Instead I left it locked around a tree at mile 0.1.
At mile 2 the storm started.
At mile 6 I hit the trail’s biggest climb and the bottom of my glyocgen reserves. By the time I crested it was clear I wasn’t going to make the PA 653 shelters (mile 18) by nightfall. I set up a tarp at mile 10.
The rain had stopped, the ground was soft and it was dark enough that I thought I had gone blind when I woke up in the middle of the night. It was the best sleep of the trip.
The first hour of hiking was marked by swarms of bugs.
Then next several were unenventful.
Then I got to the bridge. Or rather, the lack of the bridge. The bridge over the turnpike was out, requiring an 8 mile detour. Luckily super-friend Brian had clued me in to a detour. It went a little something like this:
> takeoff pack
You put down your pack and rub your shoulders. You sit on the rocks. The sound of cars and trucks comes from below.
> look at turnpike
It's a four lane divided highway running east to west 25 feet below the end of the trail. Cars and trucks are speeding by... you'd never make it.
> look at fence
It's an old chain-link fence. It is rusty and dilapidated. It runs down the hill to the northeast. There is a faint trail running northeast, parallel to the fence.
You put your pack back on and walk down the faint trail. It is heavily overgrown on both sides. Branches hang down and brush against your face. It continues downward to the northeast.
The trail creeps closer to the fence, which has a medium sized hole cut into it. Beyond the fence the ground drops away. You can hear running water over the edge. The trail continues to the northeast.
> look at fence
It is an aged chain link fence. It is mounted to metal posts sunk into concrete poured along the edge of the drop-off. The bank is rock and dirt, badly eroded in places. Near a badly eroded spot there are several cuts in the chain link and the fence is peeled back, created a medium-sized hole.
> look at hole in fence
It is big enough for a person to fit through, though the edge of the fence is sharp. Through the hole there is a steep, rocky bank. It drops down about 6 feet to a narrow valley, overgrown with ferns. A small stream flows through the middle of the valley.
> climb through hole in fence
You are facing northeast and standing knee deep in ferns in a shallow valley. There is a shallow rocky stream flowing downhill to the northeast.
The stream bed empties onto a shallow concrete drainage ditch. It continues to run northeast. There is a corrugated drainage pipe on your left. You are standing in very shallow water, your feet are wet.
> look at drainage pipe
It is a small dark pipe. It seems dry on the inside. It smells like rust.
> climb in drainage pipe
You'd never fit!
You are at the end of the drainage ditch facing north. To the northeast the drainage ditch empties over an edge into a deeper stream that continues to the northeast. To the north there is another concrete drainage ditch that comes out of the hillside and empties into the deeper stream.
> look down
The other stream is about 6 feet beneath you. It's a sheer concrete drop, there aren't many good hand-holds.
> look north
The northern concrete drainage ditch seems to be coming out of a small tunnel. There is a steep grass embankment between you and the tunnel. There is a faint trail traversing the embankment.
> look at embankment trail
It's a very narrow, slightly muddy line along the hillside. Someone must have walked this way before.
> follow trail
You gingerly walk along the trail, clinging to the embankement. You end up on a concrete lip looking into a tunnel facing north. It is about 6 and a half feet square. You can see light at on the other side.
You are few steps inside a concrete tunnel facing north. You can see light at the end of the tunnel. Water splashes around your feet. There is a roar of vehicles above you. You are underneath the Turnpike!
You are in the middle of the tunnel facing north. You can see a square of light at both the northern and southern end. It is very dark around you. Your feet are wet.
You emerge from the tunnel into bright sunshine. You are standing on smooth stones in a broad flat stream. The bank slopes up gently to the east and west into dense grasses and underbrush. The stream continues north into the woods.
You are on the bank of the stream facing north. You are at the edge of the woods. The stream runs north and south.
> look south
You are facing south looking at back at the tunnel. It emerges from a steep hillside. You can see the guardrail of the turnpike on the top of the hill.
The banks steepen. It is darker here since the trees block the sun. The creek continues north to south.
The creek comes to a tributary flowing into it from the west. The main creek continues north.
> look west
The tributary is a small stream. The bank around it is marshy and it lies in a broad, shallow valley.
The small stream winds nortwest. There is a small wooden bridge crossing the stream.
> look at bridge
It is a split log laid across the stream. It connects a trail from the southwest to the northeast.
You climb onto the bridge and walk northeast. You are on a cleared trail through the woods. It looks like your back on the LHHT!
Actually the real adventure came a few minute after I was back on the trail: I turned the corner and there was a big cat–in the “big cat family” sense not the “large housecat” sense–on the trail. It was 50 feet up the trail facing away from me. It’s shoulders came to the height of the undergrowth, no more than two feet. It had the long swooping tail of a mountain lion, though their existence in Pennsylvania open to debate.
I reached for my camera and it ran into the woods. It crouched behind a log and watched me walk away.
It was a mile more to the Turnpike shelters (mile 38.2)
The northern end of the trail has less trees which means more UV, also more trekking-pole stopping underbrush. Miserable. I was scheduled to be hiking the same ground the next day on the southbound leg of the trip; the thought was not appealing. I stopped on top of a ridge to call Jeanne. She was going to hike from Ohiopyle to the southermost shelters Friday then hike out with me on Saturday and graciously drive me home. “But maybe” I thought “she would rather meet me at the northern end and still graciously drive me home.” But since I just got her voicemail I had no idea.
I made it to my scheduled stop, the northernmost shelters (PA 56, mile 64.9). It darkened while I was gathering firewood and fireflies came out in force. Their sparks created a beautiful parallax between the layers of trees.
Later there was another set of sparks when steam pressure burst a wet log, showering the inside of the shelter with embers. The only casualty was my map bag.
I saw two dogs. Halfway down I turned a corner to find a black lab. She bolted away from me. “That’s Princess” said her accompanying human “he’s my brother’s dog.” I stood well off the trail as he called her. She came back and he held her collar and led her past. She held her head low and gazed up at me nervously.
At mile marker 70, the end of the trail, a German Shepard mix barked loudly. Vince came after her and explained that “[the dog] just liked to talk.” I mentioned I was deciding between hiking back or heading to Johnstown to catch a bus. He offered a drive me to Jonhstown and it was settled.
On the ride he told me about his house in Seward, the floods, his dog–a feral stray they domesticated and the proven existence of mountain lions in Pennsylvania: his dog had chased one into the woods months previous. He dropped me off at Our Sons. I had breakfast steak and eggs and started the walk into Johnstown proper.
Enterprise was out of cars and Amtrak didn’t head westbound until 6, so I settled for the mid-afternoon Greyhound. The delay gave me time to walk to a thrift store for some civilian clothes and then to check out downtown.
Downtown suffered from flight to the surrounding malls and many of the business were closed. One that was still open was Buck’s Hobby, which was having a moving sale. I walked the aisles slowly and then talked to Buck himself. He had owned the store for [an obscenely high number of] years and was finally retiring.
I had lunch at The Fish Boat and then went outside to wait half an hour for the bus.
The bus was mostly empty so I sat my pack on the ground beside me. My trekking poles stuck up awkwardly. “What are those?” the obese woman across the aisle asked. “Trekking poles” I answered. She went back to sleep.
The next weekend
Since I still needed to get my bike from Ohiopyle and Jeanne still wanted to test out equipment for her upcoming PCT hike, we stuck with the original plan. I rode with her from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle the next Friday afternoon. A mile away her car made the soft *whump* *whump* *whump* of a flat tire. We stopped at the Cucumber Falls parking lot to take a look. The tires were inflated but badly worn on the inner shoulders: in some places the wire mesh was protruding.
Deciding to deal with it the next day we hiked the 6 miles to the first shelters, arriving right before the rain. We scavenged wood and made a fire. It was great for me in my minimalist quilt, but Jeanne was a sweaty mess in her down bag.
We hiked back out the next morning.
I retrieved my lock and then my bike. I looked for Montana to give him his ice cream prize but he was somewhere down the mighty river, perched on a rock taking capturing awkward pictures of amateur rafters. We got ice cream for ourselves.
There didn’t seem to be any good nearby mechanics so instead used the scissor jack from Jeanne’s flat kit to swap the front and rear wheels on the driver’s side–the more worn side–of the car. We drove a few miles and checked the tires. The driver’s front, the one just rotated from the back, showed no extra wear. We guessed the problem had been going on for awhile and the tires were’t going to explode on the Turnpike. (Jeanne’s mechanic later confirmed that it was the alignment)
We drove back to Pittsburgh.
I don’t have the patience or mental constitution for out and back hikes. Also I could use a change from Eastern U.S. deciduous forests. And I also need to stop turning every hike into a trail run and instead just enjoy the outdoors. So: find 5-7 day hikes on new terrain and pack a nice camera and a book of local flora and fauna.
My equipment is starting to come together. I think I might move to a larger tarp and ground sheet instead of the tiny tarp & light bivy: much more ground coverage for only a few extra grams. I also need to figure out some good trekking pants and insulated base layers–maybe this is the excuse to finally get down the sewing machine and pay a visit to thru-hiker.
Most importantly I’ve got to figure out a better food system. My attempt at ultra-lightweight cold food–2100 kCal of nuts & berries per day–was a failure. I was hungry and craved both sweets and salt, more salted nuts and chocolate chips would have been a good start. It was also far too few calories. In three days I lost 4 pounds and 4% body fat. I also ordered a Bush Buddy: I’ll enjoy cooking more on found fuel; I can always pack a few Esbit tablets for wet days and emergency fires.