Leah and I had rolled into town at 1:30 AM and got a dreamy 3 and a half hours of sleep before the 5 AM wake up call. We were joining Leah's Dad Peter and his girlfriend Lois for the Susquehanna Super Hike. A 28.4 mile point to point race on the Keystone Trails in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, Peter and Lois had left a car at the end of the point to point race so we got to sleep an extra 30 minutes.
The rain had let up before we arrived at the starting campground but we were still treated with a foggy and humid start. It was equally refreshing as it was odd leaving my New England Ultra running community It was the first start in a long time that i didn't recognize a single face.
(I snap a photo of hawks circling above...omen?)
(Crazy tarp house in the woods that had amazing chimneys)
Before too long on the road we ducked back into the woods and dropped down along a green winding single track hugged the edge of a stream. It was amazingly refreshing. If only it wasn't so dark and misty i might have been able to get a few photos worth a dang.
After we switch backed our way out of the stream bed we were treated to our first overlook of the day. The volunteer here stated that on a clear day you could see all of the way to the bridge that we'd cross 10 miles from here. Sadly today we were only able to see to the river.
After another steep decent through some really old growth we were back at the starting line having completed our first 5 mile lolly pop loop and would head south on the Mason Dixon Trail. The damage from Hurricane Irene and the other storms that rolled through Pennsylvania was still noticeable a year later. It became very obvious why they had to postpone the 2011 running.
The trail follows the river very closely at times (within 3-4 feet) which is very cool and refreshing. That is of course until you run right next to a sign that says this.
Thankfully we again are climbing and getting higher along the ridge that borders the river. The sun even decides to show itself for the next couple of miles so i'm suddenly in very good spirits. The thought of us having come down to a wonderfully scenic course and being denied the scenery wasn't sitting well with me.
The climb is short and sweet, and after another stream crossing we drop back down towards the river and pass the remains of an old mill. I stand in it for a bit waiting for the Bouncing Belanger's to catch up to me.
(I couldn't resist getting a shot from the inside. The bridge at the back of this shot is where we cross over)
We restock again at the aid station. The heat is getting to some of the runners/hikers. I overhear a race volunteer saying that the big storms that are coming in should be here in the next few hours and that people that wanted to avoid them need to get going. That was all i needed to hear and we took off across the bridge. The longest, most paved, WORST part of the course. Thankfully it had a decent sized shoulder, but the trucks and cars going by at 40-50mph didn't really put us that at ease. The horse a buggy was a nice touch though.
The trails are just starting to get fun Peter says. He does a race that goes from the Finish line south to the park where we take our next break in a field. The trails ahead are going to get very rocky and challenging. Leah groans, I beam with excitement.
Some of the rocks here are amazing in size. The trail builders/maintainers have put together a great winding trail between, under, above, and along amazing outcrops and over streams. I snap as many photos as possible in the next stretch driving other runners crazy as i zip past them, and then stop and soak my bandanna in the cool water and snap more photos while they pass me.
(of course i found a feather and stuck it in my visor)
I ask Peter how much longer do we boulder like this? I'm having a blast but Leah's feet were all sorts of beat up and she seemed to have stopped having fun a time ago. He says at least 5 or 6 more miles. I'm not sure if Leah heard him or saw the dark storm clouds moving in, or maybe even the constant rumble of thunder that seemed to be reaching defining levels. Either way she made sad face and continued to plod along. At the next stream crossing I shrug and just splash thru it vs trying to avoid the water. I figure we're going to get soaked anyways.
(I didn't take this, but it gives you a good idea)
Boy was I under estimating that statement. It got as dark as dusk, and then the skies opened up like nothing i had seen since along the ridge with Rik back at the 2009 MMT. The wind howled, trying to blow us off the ridge. The rain coming down sideways and the trail slowly turned from single track trail to flooded stream bed. I laughed and proclaimed "is that the best you got?!?" Leah and Peter slowed a bit and cautiously trotted along as to not slip and fall. I splashed ahead like a little kid laughing and jumping in every deep puddle i can find. Sliding down the muddy slopes grabbing onto trees like a lunatic.
The rain lets up a bit as we catch up onto an older runner that's in trouble. He's staggering all over the place and isn't really with it. We catch him around the same time as two other runners. The military build guy grabs the runner before he falls over. We sit him down on a log and talk to him a bit. I give him two fruit cups and a GU and he wolfs down the food. He hadn't eaten anything in some time he said. Poor guy. He looked like he weighed all of 80lbs soaking wet. We try to walk with him and the other two for a bit before Peter heads off ahead to see if he can find a road crossing. Other runners come roaring past and don't even look up or offer any help. After what feels like forever Kim? I think her name was, a young runner i had spoke with earlier in the day who was a EMT and Nurse showed up on the scene. She seamlessly went from racer to EMT and had him answer a slue of questions. In the meantime a few of the other runners that had stopped had got in contact with the race officials and help was on the way. There was nothing left that Leah or I could do so we left the remaining runners and headed off to finish our own race.
After climbing up the "soul crushing climb" the trail followed the contours to a cool cave that we had to half drop into and then walk along. Thankfully it was short so i didn't freak out too bad.
(Thru the caves)
Before too long we popped out on a brandy new paved road which appeared to lead to no where. We followed it for 50 feet or so before ducking back into the woods on a super slippery muddy single track trail that ran along some residences that appeared to be good with woodwork.
At the last turn the course follows another tributary away from the Susquehanna which has some wonderful homes (and scary ones) built on the hillside. A local resident has dixie cups and beer out for races. Well, to be fair, he had Gatorade and water, but was drinking beer and offered. At 27 miles into a 28 mile race, soaked to the bone, who could turn that down?
(Wait...you have Yuengling?)
(A brief visit of Pappa Smurf)
(This is what happens when you use too much Miracle Grow)
Leah and I splashed over the finish line a shade under 10 hours. Peter about 20 minutes ahead of us. Lois another 10 ahead of him. It was one hell of a wild ride. The course was amazing. The first half so run-able with almost unbearable humidity and scorching sun in the soy bean fields. The second half so rocky and filled with boulders, stream crossings, cold caverns, and thunderstorms. (Footnote here for reference. These storms ended up being the same band of storms that caused all of the local Tornado-watches/power outages) The volunteers were great. The food supplies at the aid stations and the finish line were one of the best I've EVER. I certainly won't make the drive an annual event, but this is certainly one i'd really like to do again.