I made a return trip to Loyalsock State Forest this past weekend and hope it won't be long until I go back again.  The stated reason for the getaway was it being Labor Day weekend, but I really didn't need a specific excuse.

Because of Lindsay having to work on Sunday and Monday (what must this woman have done in her past life?), Lily and Piper were my only companions on the trip.  Three hour drives with a 3-year old and a 1-year old in tow are adventures unto themselves, but on this day both girls were riding the contented high of heading to "pop-pop's".

Using my stepfather's cabin as homebase, I looked forward to venturing back to the swimming hole two friends had introduced me to just a few weeks prior and getting in one or two good long solitary runs.  Two venerable Pennsylvania trails, the Old Loggers Path and the Loyalsock Trail, stood somberly nearby but a step in just about any direction delivered forested adventure that is hard to come by back home.  I decided to wait until I got the lay of the land before deciding on a route.

We arrived midday on Saturday and overcast skies brought on by hurricane so-and-so found many of my weekend companions wanting to enjoy the quiet (and dry) sanctity of the cabin.  My stepbrother seems to possess a nervous energy similiar to my own and together we clambered in his truck and began roaming the meandering roads that once supported logging and mining operations but now mostly await curious weekend warriors.  Adam has been traipsing these roads for as long as he can remember and jumped at the chance to chauffer me back to my desired swimming hole and introduced me to an even more dramatic pool several hundred yards upstream.

We spent another couple of hours leaping in and out of the vehicle exploring the endless natural beauty that lurked around every corner.  Over the course of the day, I realized that any of these unpaved, lightly traveled roads would provide sufficient challenge and a lovely backdrop for the a run the next morning.  I could save the actual trails for backpacking trips with friends later in the season (with any luck).

Back at the cabin, we all spent the rest of the evening eating, laughing and soaking in the blessing of not HAVING to do anything.  Once the sun crept behind the ridgeline, Piper couldn't tell her new bed from her old bed and blissfully slumbered.  I thought Lily might giggle her cheeks into a permanent crease but she eventually surrendered to exhaustion and fell asleep up in the loft, proudly accepted as one of the big girls.  I finally retired to my hammock, breathed in the autumnal air and hoped the bears that had visited the cabin the night before saw no reason to give me close inspection.

I adore nights spent in the open air beneath the stars.  The temperatures were ideal, having dipped into the lower 40's but no further.  A quick check revealed that I had not been eaten by bears, but was instead refreshed and ready for the day ahead.  After a bite of breakfast and having grabbed my gear, I fired up the car and headed to my selected starting point.

Here's the map I worked up of the route, though I have to own up to it slightly exaggerating the mileage.  I misjudged where my car was parked when I first charted this and so the tame beginning and ending are overstated by .2 miles, respectively.

The road slowly but steadily climbed up and out of the tiny streamside town of Ralston and followed Yellow Dog Run, the deceivingly powerful source of the aforementioned swimming holes.  The utter lack of humidity was glorious and though I failed to confirm the temperature, I doubt it warmed up to 70 degrees at any point during the run.  Perfect.

With the Blues Cruise 50K coming up in early October, I'm trying to sneak in sustained runs (2 hours or more) as frequently as possible. That said, I'm feeling that time is starting to slip away and I've been making a concerted effort to include hillwork whenever possible.  The road I'd picked included a healthy 2-mile climb with a corresponding quad-testing downhill to follow.

Probably more important than the track itself, I wanted to use the run to further improve my ability to stay hydrated and refuel during the effort.  I consumed an energy gel about 15 minutes prior to starting and held to my plan to take another at each 45 minute interval.  I remembered (for once) to drink roughly every 20 minutes and each time that I took another gel.  This focus resulted in cooperation from my normally cranky stomach and I finished the run feeling strong and pleased with the effort.  I didn't push too hard at any point in the run, concentrating instead on maintaining a steady pace throughout and returning back to the car in under 2 hours.  I'd checked my pace periodically along the way and was pretty psyched to actually feel as though I was finding some of the discipline that I so frequently lack.  It's about time.

One of the other elements I included in the day's run was the use of trekking poles.  I've been reading a lot lately about the use of poles and am intrigued by the concept.  The climbs at the Laurel Highlands Ultra earlier in the season definitely took it out of me and I would love to employ anything that'll help me tackle long uphills with something left in the tank at the end.  The creative minds and all-around good guys at Exped, USA were kind enough to let me borrow a pair of their lightweight 4-section aluminum poles that weigh next to nothing, collapse down ridiculously small and do so easily while still delivering strength and durability.

To be honest, I just couldn't find the rhythm that I'd hoped for with the poles but despite the overall elevation profile, I also failed to find a hill that I couldn't run start to finish without the poles.  I have a sneaky suspicion that I would've been thrilled to have them if it were June instead of August and I was back in the Laurel Highlands.  And, even though I didn't fully dig in with the poles, I did find an unexpected payoff in carrying them.  When not in use, the collapsed poles were carried as counterweights which resulted in my arms remaining at a lower than normal height, saving some of the fatigue I often bring on by foolishly holding my arms high like the sprinter I am not.  For any runner, hiker or backpacker looking for lightweight, high-quality poles, I strongly encourage giving Exped a look.  Here's a link to the poles (check out all of the other cool Exped gear while you're there!):

Sadly, news of the failing health of my grandmother did cast some shadow on the weekend and found many of us heading home early.  The run alone would've made the trip worthwile, but, thankfully, the weekend didn't need the run to be one worth remembering.  My girls had the (yet another?) time of their young lives and we got to spend time with family old and new, a luxury that seemed especially valuable in light of the word from home.  

Lil and Pipe were so wiped out from cavorting with their cousins and grandparents that they barely uttered a word on the ride home.

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