Life of Karen

Susquehannock Trail System, Pennsylvania

Susquehannock Trail System

Day One:  June 19

Rookie Mistakes

Rookie mistakes happen.  It is hard to plan for a trail that you have never been on before.  It is hard to understand how your body is going to react to a heavy pack when you don’t routinely use one.  But there are things you can do to avoid making rookie mistakes.

  1. Don’t plan an eleven mile hike on the first day, after working 10 days straight (over 100 hours in those ten days), especially when you have to drive 6 hours to get to the trail!

“I woke up this morning at 6 AM to drive six hours up to Pennsylvania to the Susquehanna Trail system. I had hoped to get to the trail by 1230 but the trip just a tiny bit longer than I expected and I pulled into the state park Olee Bull State Park around 1230.  By the time I checked in (which really wasn’t much of a check in because neither of the Rangers in the office had any idea what I should be doing with my car, if they needed information about it, or anything like that), I didn’t get onto the trail until after 1PM.”

2)  Know your trail.

“The trail itself is a little bit unexpected. I am so used to walking on the Appalachian Trail and the trails around Shenandoah, which are very well-kept up.  This trail is quite a bit different and you can definitely see that not many people hike this trail. The STS, in many many areas, is very overgrown.  There are clear markings (blazes on the trees) all the way through however, I think I had to backtrack three times today.  I didn’t have to backtrack very far as I would quickly realize that I was following an animal trail and no longer on the STS.   My biggest problem was when I was coming off of roads and going back into the woods those were a little bit difficult to find sometimes.

For this stretch of the trail, I would love to give you a play-by-play, step-by-step idea – but there is a wonderful trail guide  (Hiking the Susquehannock Trail by Ben Cramer) which is the one that I’m using that gives you that. This is what I remember about the trail:

Spooky Hollow:  there was a really neat the new shelter at spooky Hollow. I would’ve loved to have stayed there overnight, however I hadn’t gotten enough miles in for the day. If I had known that that was there I might have rearranged my hike just a little bit.  I can see how Spooky Hollow could be kind of spooky especially if you’re going through there at dusk or during the wintertime.

Throughout the day today, many of the hills were quite steep. Most of the grades are not too difficult, and most of the hills are very short.   The longest grade today was the 1.5 miles up, then another 1.5 miles down at the beginning of my day. “

3)  Don’t leave an especially challenging section for the end of the day.

“At the end of the day, coming down into Marshall Hollow when I was pushing to get done with 11 miles before it got too dark, was probably another mistake that I made. It was a very, very steep section of the trail and it was very rocky.  My feet slid out from under me numerous times.  My legs were just shaking as I came down that trail.  The other thing, to add insult to injury, was the stinging nettles.  The stinging nettles were literally thigh high.  I did stop and change out of my skirt and put on pants and knee-high socks, but don’t let anyone tell you that stinging nettles can’t sting through clothing because they can.   So, I made it to the bottom of Marshall Hollow and followed the railroad grade just a little ways and did a scramble down the hill to the creek that was at the bottom to where I would set up my hammock for the night.

4)  Don’t wait until it is almost dark to set up camp.

“Setting up camp was a small challenge.  I knew that sunset was a 2045, and I stopped just after 1900.  I didn’t count on the fact that I was in a hollow (a ravine) and that it would get dark faster as the sun set behind the mountain.  I very quickly chose a couple of trees and set up my hammock.  I had some water boiling for dinner and was eating before it was too dark.  But, I didn’t have the time to repack my bag, hang my food, or pick a “potty spot” before it got too dark.”

Final thoughts for the day:

Many times today I thought about why am I doing this. I mean, am I really enjoying this?  There were a couple of times on the trail where I was actually in tears, especially trying to go uphill through stinging nettles. I think about the Appalachian Trail quite a lot; is it something that I really really want to do? I do know that a lot of what I’m feeling is just tiredness of the muscles because I’m really out of shape. I know I’ve been working way too much, I don’t exercise and then I come out and expect my body to hold up to 10 to 15 miles a day with a 38 pound pack on my back.  I have to admit that my hips really do hurt from the weight of the pack and somehow I’ve got to figure out how to get it back down a couple more pounds maybe it’s just too much food eight days of food is just too much and it’s not the hot foods that are causing the weight it’s the snacks for the trail the bars the trail mix things like that.

However there are also really good things about this trail one of which is that I haven’t seen a single soul since I left the state park. There really is no one on this trail with me.  When I found my camping spot, I was able to get them dressed and get ready for bed without anybody around.  I can do what I want; I can slow down if I want to, I can speed up if I want to, I can cry if I want to, and there’s no one here. I know for many people that that would be very, very difficult but for me, solitude is where I get my energy back.

So I have 15 miles planned for tomorrow. If I wake up with the sun like I usually do around 530 6 o’clock in the morning, I’m going to take my time have some breakfast, and get my stuff all sorted back out (because I just kind of threw everything back in my bag as I was trying to put the hammock up).  I plan on doing maybe about 8 miles in the morning and then stopping for an hour or so maybe even put the hammock up and take a little nap and then continue on. I don’t know if I’m gonna make the entire start 15 to 16 miles tomorrow but if I don’t that’s OK I do have a couple of days that are only 10 mile days that I’ll be able to catch back up with.  Right now it’s about 8 o’clock which really is my usual bedtime and I’m feeling it, so I am going to turn in and hopefully have a much better day tomorrow!”

Day Two:  June 20

A Change in Plans

As my day rolled out, I began to realize that this just isn’t my style of hiking….  so my plans changed.  This is how it happened.

“So it has taken me 4 1/2 hours to hike 5 miles.  I’m not exactly sure why am dragging so badly.  My hips hurt.  The weight of the pack is definitely slowing me down going up the hills.   However I also think a lot of it has to do with the trail. There are many times that I’ve had to backtrack and look around and find out where the trail is.  There a lot of areas where the trail is just the orange markings on the trees and you have to bushwhack your way through. Both of the hollows that I have been through this today are filled with stinging nettles (waist high) and then there’s other areas where the ferns are also thigh high and very, very thick across the trail.  It stops you from being able to see the level of the terrain, and many times I’ve stepped into a hole or fallen over a tree that has fallen and is covered with the ferns just because I can’t see them. The hills are very steep and like I said the weight of my backpack is slowing me down a little bit on the hills.  But overall, I just have some muscle weakness which I know that that’s just from not being able to work out as much as I should’ve been doing.

Right now, I am sitting at Scovil Hollow shelter and is almost 1 o’clock in the afternoon I’ve hiked 5 miles. I have 10 miles to go to stay on my itinerary.  I know that there is no way I’m gonna make that.  I decided a couple of hours ago that I would probably just hike to Cross Fork and try to find a way to get back to my car from there – whether it be a taxi, or a shuttle, or just somehow I need to get back to my car. I really under-estimated how tough this hike was and my ability to do it.  I didn’t realize how much more difficult this trail would be then the ones that I’m used to.  Currently I am 7 miles away from Cross Fork. I know I won’t make it there by this evening so I am going to camp at some point tonight. Part of me wants to stay here at the shelter even though it’s so early and just hang my hammock,  but then I’m not looking forward to 7 miles tomorrow.  I think I might just hike on a couple of more miles at least before the next climb, and then try to find a place to pitch my hammock. Then, tomorrow I only have about 5 miles to get into Cross Fork, and then figure out how to get my car.

1530:  Well I did make it another couple of miles, so now I only have to do 5 miles tomorrow.   I continued bushwhacking through Meadows, climbing over trees, and having to go into the woods some distance through briars and overgrowth to be able to get around trees that have fallen on the trail trail. I did make it to mile 44.8 (in the guidebook) just passed a pipeline then up into the woods where I found a couple of trees that could handle my hammock. I decided to stop for the day.  It’s only 3 o’clock in the afternoon but I just don’t know that I could go a whole lot more from this point.

Day 3

Going Home

“I was up early this morning (about 530) but just lay around reading.  I finally got up and moving about 7.  I was packed up and on the trail by 725 (much better than yesterdays 45 minute pack up).  Again today, there were areas where the trail was almost non-existent.  Loads of stinging nettles, but maybe not quite as tall.  However, there was (finally) a couple of miles that I really enjoyed.  A path through the woods.  A path that I didn’t have to fight, to worry about losing.  A path I could walk on and let my mind wander.  Then the stinging nettles appeared again….

As I got into town, I found a couple of gentlemen from the forestry office.  I explained my dilemma (trying to get back to my car) and one of them volunteer to take me to Ole Bull Park.  I was so thankful.  As we talked, they asked lots of question: who was with me (appalled that I was hiking alone), what animals I saw (couldn’t believe I never saw a rattlesnake), and where I was from.  Looking back, as much as I didn’t enjoy this trail, I did see more animals than ever before.  Chipmunks and deer were all over the place.  Squirrel’s although around, were shier.  I followed a porcupine a very short distance before I walked away (I didn’t think it was wise to approach a porcupine from behind).  I did see several garter snakes, and heard a couple different owls.  (Once you hear a Bard owl, you will always remember it!).  I never saw an elk, but follow the tracks of one along the path for almost a half of a mile.  At the time, I thought it was a huge deer – but once I realized there are elk there, I realized that’s what it had to be.  I enjoyed the solitude (didn’t see a single person for three days), but at the same time, it was a little bit disconcerting to know that if I did get hurt, no-one would be on that trail for a very long time (at least I do have my SPOT for emergencies).”

The day after:  Final thoughts

Overall, I am glad that I came home.  Maybe one day I will go back to this trail (perhaps in the winter – but not when there is snow – just when the undergrowth hasn’t grown up) and finish it.  This trail was supposed to be a shake-down hike for the AT.  I now know that I have a lot of preparation to do for the AT – mostly physical.  I do need to work out my shoes also.  I was wearing my Keen sandals – which have been perfect for other hikes – which were not the best shoes for this hike.  Once wet, they started causing blisters (which I have never had before).  However, I am sure that wet boots could cause the same problem.  Food is going to have to be worked out as well.  I cannot carry 8 days of food with me.  The breakfast and dinner options of dehydrated food were great – but bars, trail mix, snacks, etc for during the day are heavy.  Water is the other thing.  I made sure that I was drinking 2L of water each day.  Although this trail was know for having “plenty of water”, I found that it was hard to keep up.  I was finding myself conserving water because I would need some for dinner (to make it edible) and not knowing if I would make it to the next water source before stopping.  A couple of places marked in the book were such a steep scramble to the water that it wasn’t worth trying.  One day three, I drank a L of water on my hike out.  I bought another 1.5 L for my drive home and had another L at home.  I only peed twice with all that water.  I weighed myself this morning, and had lost 4.2 pounds.  That is too much in 3 days – and I am sure it is mostly water.  Carrying 2L of water at a time (one L clean and the second L as a back up) is 4.4 pounds that I am carrying.  I cannot just guzzle down a L of water when I come to a water-source so that I can refill.  I am not sure what my answer to this dilemma is, but will continue to think on it.

So, I am counting this hike as a great experience, even though I didn’t finish it.  It has given me lots to think about, and many areas to tweak for successful long distance hike.   Hopefully the next time I go out, there will be less mistakes and more fun!

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