Demon of Bad Decisions
I found an interesting event this weekend. The Allegheny 100 Backpacking Challenge is 100 miles of backpacking on the North Country Trail that has to be done under 50 hours (there is also a 25 and 50 mile option). It goes from Marienville, PA north to the New York border. This is not a race (or so they keep saying).
I am curious about the trail. It sounds flat, but it has been described as very rocky. I am wondering if the entire stretch is rocky, and if anyone has any information about this trail. My search for info has not been all that successful. Has anyone done some of the stretches in Northern PA? Any info? (I am debating whether to bring trekking poles.)
I want to do it because I want to do it. -Amelia Earhart
I did a small stretch too many years ago to remember which. It was very rocky. I recall it being early spring and there were off camber grass patches mixed in that were slick also. That might not be much help...I don't remember the type of steep descents that I typically want trekking poles for though.
I run. Therefore I am.
The A-100 just north (and south) of the NY-PA border is continuously rolling hills...maybe a few flat stretches but mostly rolling hills. Just plain beautiful though...especially autumn.
I used to live in Hornell, NY...I hiked and camped in the Allegheny State Forest every chance I could...it's so beautiful all four seasons. It's so quiet, so peaceful...no one is ever around.
You don't need shoes to run anymore than you need a hat to think.
Did the snickers satisfy?
The snickers (aka the best backpacker food ever because of its high calorie to low weight ratio) was a melty mess. I'm tossing around the idea of writing a race report. It was an interesting 110 miles. Mainly because it was supposed to be 100 miles. My desire to see what it would be like to hike through two nights without sleeping also had some fun visual side effects.
pace sera, sera
A few people expressed interest in my trip report, so I am going to post it here. I'd post it somewhere else, but I am attempting to be the only ultrarunner on earth without a blog. I wouldn't read it if I were you. It is way too long, and is a festival of bad grammar, bad punctuation, and I tend to skip around between tenses. Anything I write looks like it was done by a third-grade dropout of the Chicago Public School system. To save you time: I start, I get lost a lot and do approx 10 extra miles, my mind plays tricks on me, I finish.
There was a snippet about the Allegheny 100 Backpacking Challenge in Backpacker magazine that I saw two weeks before the event. There was not a lot of info about the event online and I couldn't find any good maps or descriptions about the trails. I did see that only one person had finished it the previous year, and none the year before that. That is enough to convince me. It isn't a race, and there may or may not be someone at the finish. It is all on the honor system. I love hiking, and I thought, hell, I've run 100 miles on trails, this would be a much better experience since I don't have to be in a big rush, and unlike trail running, I get to pick my head up and look around. Plus it would give me a chance to fastpack. I don't normally carry a ton of weight when backpacking, but I am comfortable. This time I carried no tent or sleeping bag. I had a tarp and parachute cord for shelter, a lightweight sleeping pad, and a silk bag liner. I have a puffy down sweater, lightweight hat and gloves, arm sleeves, the bottoms to my convertible pants, knife, pills, tp, a few band aids, and snack baggies that have an ounce or so of vasoline, sunscreen, and insect repellent. No food would be cooked, eating would be done on the run. King sized snickers are gold on the trails. I packed a bunch of those, mini peanut butter cups, some snack bags with ritz crackers, two veggie burgers, a few gus, and my gatorade/perpetuem mix. My pack before food and water was eight pounds. After food and water it felt closer to fifty.
A friend and I drove out on Thurs night/Fri morning. He is going to enjoy the area (sit by a hotel pool and drink beer) while I hike, that way I don't have to attempt a nine hour drive after the event. We didn't get there in time for me to take a nap. That was a bad call. It started at 6:00 Friday evening. The people are fun to watch. Some have big packs. There is a 25 and 50 mile option as well. They have the luxury of time. We are given cotton t-shirts. Some people put them on to hike in. "Haha!", I thought. "I will destroy you on the trails!" I have a hard time removing that competitive thing. The race director and his wife chain smoke through the intro stuff. It only cost $30 ($6 for members of the North Country Trail Assoc) which includes a shuttle. They explain that the oil companies were helpful and quick to donate to the event. I'll bet. The cynic in me says that the companies are throwing $100 to the event, then they can say that they support tree-huggy, nature junk. I'm checking out the hikers. Eighty-one hikers and not one is wearing the usual "my race is harder than yours" type shirt that always features an elevation map on the back, that are ubiquitous at trail runs. There is one other solo female with a small pack and wearing inov-8's who is doing the 100. There are packs of young males. That never works well. The packs don't progress well. Someone is always tying a shoelace, peeing, or digging something out of their pack. Lots of these guys are wearing camo. I can still see them. 6:00 hit and they were in the middle of the raffle. We look at the event director, he shrugs, we walk. Somehow I am leading the pack. I'm just hiking. The trails start out on grass. I want to run, I want to run, I want to run. I don't because I don't want to look like a competitive jackass at a non-race. I'll do some running later. I hiked quickly while talking to the guy behind me. After a mile two people go jogging by. Woo-hoo. A bunch of people follow. 15-20 minutes later we notice we haven't seen any blazes. We were just following the leaders who led us right off course. Everyone turns around and runs back, finding the turn-off that we missed. We are now behind the very slow, back of the pack hikers, all of whom made the turn. I hike and jog with two guys that are from the area. We go a bit then I find a long runnable stretch. Pretty soon I noticed that I hadn't seen a blaze in a while. I hike on, looking for one. I turn around and look for the guys. I walk back the way I came. I finally see them walking towards me. They doubled back for the same reason, but never saw a turn off. We go forward looking for a blaze. At some point we stop and try to figure out what to do. More groups of people show up. No one has a map for the area. The trail assoc was selling maps and I had ordered one last week. The first map was 91 miles. The second map includes the first nine miles of the course. I decided not to buy that map. Everyone else had the same idea. Besides, the maps are at a small scale, and later prove not so helpful. Cell phone maps don't do a lot of good, because they never indicate any of the National Scenic Trails. This has bitten me on the ass more than once. A guy pulls up to some drilling equipment and tells us a general idea of how to hook up with the trail. The two guys and I do a bunch of running. Everyone else will have to fend for themselves. After four miles from the point where we talked to the guy in the truck, we hook up with the trail. We've run by many "camps", what the Pennsylvanians call summer homes. We find the trail and see a participant. He started a hour late and is walking slowly. Bad sign. I ask our mileage. It is about 3.5 miles into the hike, and two and a half hours has gone by. No bueno.. We move well for hours. I noticed that these guys are light and fast, but I never see them eat. I have had a melted twix bar, a gu, and a veggie burger. I am so glad I have my trekking poles. It is much hillier than I expected. It is nothing like the Southern Appalachians that are a relentless, steep, unforgiving up and down, but it is definitely rolling, and the footing is uneven. It is almost nice out there. Almost. It sounds like a helicopter is hovering above me. Oil equipment. I love National Forests. Mainly because you can camp almost anywhere you want, and there is none of the front country nonsense of the National Parks. The problem is they may be lined with trails, but they are also filled with logging and drilling. Once the noise starts to fade, it just starts up again in another location. Hours of this noise. The two guys fall off the back. I had told them that I wasn't looking for a hiking partner, so they wouldn't have to wait for me, and I wouldn't wait for them. I don't see them again. Hours of hiking go by. I decide that I wouldn't sleep in order to make up the time that I lost early on. I pass some people who are probably doing the shorter stuff. I come up on someone that had scared me from a mile off. Noise travels very far in this kind of setting. A guy with his personal volume on 11 was in front of me, but I was worried initially that it was the solo female hikers worst nightmare, the drunk locals who get their white trash on at road crossings. I see the remains of it during the day, with garbage, beer cans and fire rings near the road. Male hikers enjoy this along the A. T. because they can grab some moonshine from the guys. Anyways, it is just a very loud hiker, talking to his buddy, doing his thing in jeans. His voice travels so far that I put a solid effort into running in order to put some space between us. A few more hours and I am heading onto a stretch of roadwalk. Roadwalking in my trailrunners always hurts my feet. A couple of miles, over a bridge, then it is a left onto route 666. A bit down, past a street that goes up, but runs parallel to 666. There is supposed to be a trailhead that has a parking lot, campground, and a restaurant near by. It never appears. I see the campground and restaurant. There is nothing. I have been walking up a long hill forever. I spend way too much time staring at my map and walking around in circle where I think the trailhead should be. I have no signal on my phone, so I can't use that map, not that it would have been useful anyways. That doesn't stop me from trying to get a signal every 10 minutes. I walk back down and run into another hiker heading up. He tells me it is up the way I came, on top of the hill. I turn around walk on forever. Finally there is a road crossing that is indicated on my map. I am way, way, way past it. I run into some guys on my way back down. They said the guy told them that the trailhead was up top. That guy is long gone, having realized he went too far. I go back down. While waiting along the side of the road for three cars to pass, I trip on nothing and take a digger on the pavement and lightly skin my knee. I bet the drivers are still laughing at the dork with trekking poles falling over nothing. I head up the street that I had passed, that the map says doesn't connect to the trail. I don't know what else to do. After a few minutes there is a blaze. Sigh. I run into some guys 20 minutes later. They are surprised to see me, since I passed them so long ago. I tell them about how I just spent my last 1.5-2 hours. One of the guys does trail maintenance in the area. I tell him it was on the map which he asks to see. He asks me where I got such an old out-dated map. From the trail association. One week ago. I'm cranky. It is 2:30 am, I'm tired and not having fun. I consider calling my friend to pick me up, but I have no phone service. I haven't gone 20 damn miles.
On paper it is so simple. "I can walk blah, blah miles per hour". It never works out that way in practice. The terrain isn't as rocky as I was scared it would be, but it wasn't easy either. A great deal of it is overgrown and later the next day it is shoe sucking mud for long stretches. I can't help but compare it to my trail running times. Dumb. The next day I think I move well, but I hit 50 miles in 21 hours. So that is a mere 12.5 hours longer than when I ran the same distance on a roller in Montana. On the other hand, I have been places where I can't cover 15 miles in a day. I see the event director at mile 50. He says I am cruising along. I don't know. What I do know is old houses, mills, mining structures, etc that are found in the woods are cool. I was surprised and excited when I saw an old, dilapidated, grayish, wood house further up the trail. Then there was no house there. Just trees. Same stuff that I have seen for 50 miles. Later on I see a coppery colored car. Cool, I must be near a road crossing. I have been measuring my progress in road crossings, and I had been waiting for this one. Not even close. It is a downed tree. I see one or two more imaginary houses and buildings where they wouldn't make sense. Tree trunks become backpacks and turkeys. None of this worries me. I am now happy with my progress, and think I can be done by 10 am the next day. I am going to try to hike through the next night if that is possible. I just had a conversation with a race director of a 48 hour about sleep, and I am thinking that I will be running long-long next spring. Might as well see if I could take it. I keep hiking. Afternoons are the worst because of the small black gnats. They spend time in your ears or nose, but mainly dive-bombing your eyes. Stop and pick one out of one eye, and in the meantime they go in the other eye. They just fly around in front of the eyes until it is time to go in. Bug spray around the eyes doesn't help. I spend a lot of time swatting and puffing at them. I have big plans for 10 pm. I am going to sit down, take off my shoes and rub my feet with vaseline. I'm so excited. It feels great. I brought along one luxury item: A change of socks. I throw on the injinjis. It is the longest I have sat since the start of this thing, although later I will find constant excuses to park my butt for a minute or two. After a few hours of hiking I have to put the old socks back on. The injinjis are liners, and aren't thick enough, so my feet are sliding around in my shoes. It is the toughest terrain now, and my headlamp is dim. I change batteries, but that does nothing. The headlamp is acting strange whenever I try to close it. The light just goes out. And with fresh lithiums it is acting stupid. Crap. This section is 7.5 miles of rocky climbs and descents. When it is over I have a brief roadwalk of .75 mile or so, then onto a forest service road for a while until I find the trailhead. Once over the bridge I see someone else on the road. Not a hiker though. A short, Mexican woman waving a long white scarf as she walks. Why is she on the road? It is 1:00 am. Did she just get off of work and have to walk home? There are no businesses or houses anywhere near here. She gets closer and then disappears, but the white scarf is still moving. I realize it is the white line on the side of the road. Whoa. Just a bit earlier shadows made me think for a second that I was surrounded by three bears. I yelped. I turn down the forest service road and keep walking, waiting to see the trail head. Nothing. Back to this. The headlamp is almost out, and I can't even see if there are blazes on the trees. I sit on the ground for a while and fiddle with the headlamp by light of the service-free cell phone. I got the event directors phone number in case another misdirection happens, but it doesn't matter if I can't call him. I got Verizon solely because they provide the best service in way out of the way places, but I won't have service for 90% of this hike. I hope there isn't an emergency (not that I think anyone can get to me quickly on these adventures if I do have one). And as usual, if there is an emergency, I hope I become bear food, and don't end up getting experimented on by a deranged man in a sound-proof basement in the woods. Things I think of when hiking solo. Back and forth, further down the road I go. I turn around by one of the many large contraptions that I have seen that are used to collect natural gas. They are frequent, (I didn't imagine a single one), and it smells like a gas leak around them. I thought they added stuff to gas to get that smell? I head back to the road and take a chance turning onto a gated forest road, up the road I go and I find a blaze. Another long chunk of time wasted. This is another long continuous climb with frequent stops to hit my headlamp which keeps going out. I'm forced to stop when I see a small downed tree that has an arrow indicating which way I am supposed to turn. There are two arrows, for people coming from both directions, and either could be twisted around on the screw holding them on. I try to use some logic in figuring out which way the tree would have to be in order for people to read the arrows. The brain isn't working. I can't go left, I figure I need to go right but that doesn't work and it is a mess when I go forward. I keep hunting for 30 mins, but nothing is happening, and I keep having to make my way back to where I started. Luckily this while time there have been little reflector dots on the trees on this segment, and my faint beam has guided me, but I can't find the next one, and my light has had enough. I consider bushwacking to a forest service road that I see on my map. Maybe that would be dumb. There is about 1.5-2 hours until sunlight, so I concede that it is time to give up. Maybe a nap won't hurt, or if I get lucky, someone will pass by who is hiking through the night. There is no way I am blowing up my sleeping pad and stringing up the tarp. I roll myself in the tarp and put my head on my pack. It is cold enough that I have to put on my puffy and pants bottoms. I hope there aren't bears near by since I am using a bag of snickers as a pillow. I never sleep. The second I lie down pain shoes through my feet and legs. I flop back and forth, occasionally clapping or shouting when I hear an animal get too close. When dawn breaks I shove my tarp back in my bag and stand up. I can see three houses with cars in their driveways right over the stream that I am next to. I must have been right by the dirt road the whole time. Fuck! I could have been hiking. I cross the stream. The houses are gone. Oh, good. Back to that. I hunt for the trail. Easily found. Crap, I'm dumb. I walk for a minute before I see someone coming towards me. Regular hiker or A-100 participant? I ask them, and it turns out I am going in the wrong direction. There area looks incredibly different by the light of day. I turn around a hike with him for a while. He is from the area. He leads us off trail (only for a few minutes). Eventually he drops me as does two other guys. I can't explain it, but I have noticed that I am not a fast, strong hiker the way many other people are. I know being a city girl, I just don't spend enough time hiking, but it is more than that. It is like I just don't have that strength. I can keep up by running and walking, but that's it. Many miles later I run into the couple that lead us off trail at the very start of the event. I talk to them for a while. They are cool. They ask if I had seen any bears. I had not. They saw two last night, and had talked to a few other hikers that had also. Drats! I like bears. They stop to get water. There is a very real chance that one of us will be the first female to ever finish this event, but she doesn't seem too worried about it. I hit a stretch of nice trail and begin to jog. It feels great to run. I want to put a little space between us. It would be the nice to be the first female to finish it, but there are 13 miles left and she looks stronger. No wonder, too. They managed to stay on the trail after the first tiny mishap, and have been grabbing a little bit of sleep at night. With 10.7 miles left I have a very tiny roadwalk and bridge crossing. This one is straight forward and the map is clearly marked.I keep crossing it back and forth, right to left, spinning the map around. I'm very confused. The couple makes their way onto the bridge and points the way. We hike along the lake. I stop at a stream to refill my hydration bladder and they keep going. There are long uphills and downhills that would be found throughout the rest of hike. The trail comes to a "T". There are no markings which way to go. Right makes sense. Head out come back. Try left and look down into an inlet. Maybe the trail is down there. No. Go back. I see where the trail leaves off. Screw this. I follow the wide paved trail to the right. It hits the water like a boat ramp. I know I have to be along the water, so I do some cross-country/bushwackingstyle walking along the side of a slope for a half mile until I find the trail. From then on it was hours and hours (and hours) of hiking. I am slow. I want this over. Occasionally I will check my map and realize that I am not even close to being done. It took me an eternity to get a cell signal this morning, and I had texted my friend that I should be done at 3. Now it keeps getting later. I can't get a signal to let him know. I don't care. It goes on for hours. I can run 10 miles in... Ugh. More times goes by and I am unbelievably cranky. I see and hear a cars near by. They are real. I know the trail runs along side (but far in from) this road for a while still. I want it over. I run. I don't stop for anything. Not rocks on the trail, not uphills, nothing. I keep running and running. I had more in me than I thought. I get to the road. There are people waving to me down the road. I have to cross a guardrail. I swing my leg over and gouge my knee on one of its supports. It is opened up and bleeding. I don't care. I open them up so often that I don't even feel this stuff any more. I run to them. Done. The wife of the event coordinator patches up my knee. They both smoke. I talk to another finisher and am congratulated. It was nice that there were people at the end. There was no guarantee of this. In previous years they just had the trail register to sign. Congrats, you are done, go home. I don't want a party, but it is nice to shake someone's hand. By the end, six of the eighty-one people will have completed 100 miles. A few last thoughts I had: My feet and legs were in the kind of pain that comes with a run of this distance and sleep didn't come easily, just like after a race. I never doubted that I could do it, but I frequently questioned if I wanted to do it. I am not only a bad runner, but a dumb one. I was in a great block of training, but this and the silly 12 hour race I did the week before it, sent my training to ascreeching halt. With a half-marathon fast approaching, not only could I not get in a good workout 10 days out, I couldn't even run. Maybe I will do this again next year. It would be nice to see what I could do if I know the course. I won't be sleeping next time, either.
OK, I read the last 4 inches of your report ... it was entertaining enough that I'll come back for the rest on my next day off.
"I hope there aren't bears near by since I am using a bag of snickers as a pillow"
HAHA. I read the whole thing, very entertaining. Great report, what an adventure you had!