an abbreviated (but still super) hike.

My September running got off to a strong start with a number of hour+ long runs strung together over the Labor Day weekend.  My legs held up throughout and I wondered if that would make me feel that much more restless while volunteering at the 3rd annual KTA Susquehanna Super Hike on Saturday morning.

Even some wicked pain in my toe that required a doctor's attention (lancing proved even more painful than the injury itself) on Wednesday night didn't keep me from feeling like I had a long run in me.  If you're curious, Google the term paronychia and hope you never hear a doctor say it to you...I have never had such a seemingly insignificant source of discomfort make me question my pain threshold more critically.

It was with some guilt, then, that I learned of the Keystone Trails Association's decision to cancel the Super Hike after tropical storm Lee swept in and buried Lancaster County in many, many inches of rain that led to subsequent flooding in area creeks, rivers and towns.

Certainly I'd never hoped that the Super Hike would be shelved entirely, freeing me up for a long weekend run.  The event really is a treasure as is the Conestoga Trail and surrounding ridges, streams and hollows that host the race.

The KTA puts in an incalculable amount of work in putting together the race and participants train for weeks and months beforehand in preparation.  Obviously, all involved were sorely disappointed while still being respectful of the fact that safety comes first and the attention of emergency responders was best focused elsewhere in the aftermath of cresting flood waters.

A like-minded bunch of adventurous runners, however, decided to gather at the high point of Holtwood Park on Saturday morning, head down into Kelly's Run and north toward Pequea to see how far we could get before passage proved impossible.  I knew a couple of individuals firsthand, but most of the assembly consisted of new faces or faces that I knew only through the sneak peek that is Facebook or from fragmented memories of past area races.  Regardless, as I find with trail running in general, we all mingled and mixed like old pals and instantly felt like a team.

There was a ton of standing and running water up high on the trail that made me suspect we were in for a short trip.  Thankfully, that water must have been filtering into the ground or heading off in varied enough directions because the trail was actually in better shape the further we ventured into Kelly's Run.

When things bottomed out (still high above the Susquehanna), there was clearer evidence of receded waters, downed trees and choked debris.  The trail was certainly still passable, but required a little bit of clambering which led to slightly deeper than usual creek crossings at the lowest elevations before the start of the climb up towards the Pinnacle.

The Pinnacle stood unharmed, standing as it does a few hundred feet above the river, but the dense fog offered up only an impenetrable curtain of white and gray that refused any glimpse of the Susquehanna.

We pushed onward, heading down again, this time toward Tucquan Glen and the first landmark that had true potential to be completely underwater.

Before we reached the bottom, we caught site of the railroad tracks and knew that the river had dropped at least below that point.  Though the tracks were clear, there was a broad island of debris on the inland portion of the bridge that cluttered the clear pool that usually sits at the foot of Tucquan.

On the other side of the rails, there was a 4 to 5 foot wide ribbon of deep mud that had trapped numerous small fish, fingerlings and crayfish. We shuttled as many as were immediately visible into the river, but I'd imagine the story remained the same all the way north and south from that point.

A preliminary determination had us doubting that the Conestoga Trail was above water in Tucquan and we leaned toward taking the "high" trail on the other side of the creek to reconnect with the trail above the glen.  Someone, I'm not sure who, scouted ahead enough to say that the low trail was doable so we stayed the course and braved on.

The first portion of the trail was pretty waterlogged and, except for the few hearty souls that waded over-the-waist-high along the shoreline, most of the group did a bit of rhododendron bush-whacking to stay above the trail.

After the initial 50-100 yards, the trail reemerged and led to the always wondrous beauty that is Tucquan Glen.  As the elevation increased by even just a few feet, the glen looked not unlike it does after any significant rainfall.  At the sight of runners strung out around the bend on the ridge-hugging trail, I fell behind to try and snap photos, none of which turned out to do the spectacle any real justice.

Another creek crossing welcomed us to the start of another climb.  We passed a United Way group doing trail clean-up and offered our thanks and good luck.  A short while later we got our first from-up-high look at the chocolate-milk-like waters of the Susquehanna.

A short descent led across Reed's Run and then into the ups-and-downs over House Rock, past the limestone caves and down into the village of Pequea.  Clean-up was in full swing with pumps emptying water out of basements and first floors.  Small numbers of onlookers milled about, scoping the Susquehanna and viewing the swath of debris that filled the marina.  Something (everything?) didn't smell quite right.

We hung a right on the path toward Pequea Creek Campground and immediately hit standing water and deeper mud.  Most startlingly (and I can't believe I didn't manage to get a photo), deep cracks in the soft soil of the unpaved road seemed to offer strong support to the landslide warnings that had been issued the day prior.  I cringed at the idea of 500 hikers and runners attempting to cross through here on their way to the Super Hike finish line just a half mile ahead.

Before long we transitioned from the road into the campground and collectively gasped at what we found there.  Everything that wasn't under water, clearly had been not long ago and where the water had retreated, thick mud was left in its place.

The pavilion that a year ago had been the gathering place of volunteers, race finishers and their family and friends stood bathed in mud, its picnic tables pushed this way and that.  A slick of mud along the top of the seats of the picnic tables made it clear that the entire pavilion had been beneath at least 2 feet of water.

Downed outhouses had washed up against the pavilion and were now resting on their sides a few feet away.

The grassy plot that had served as the tent camping/parking area for the Super Hike looked fine until you stepped on it and discovered that beneath the top layer of grass was several inches of soupy mud.  My first footfall caused the next several feet of grass to ripple and roll like water displaced in the bathtub.

Even the herons looked perplexed, standing on banks that normally provided a high vantage point above the creek but were now flush with the dark brown waters of the creek.

Being beyond the end of the summer season, the campground had already seen many of its usual resident RVs and campers leave for the year, but those vehicles that had stayed behind were likely not going to be put to use again.  At the western end of the campground, there was still a foot or more of water and the line of mud caked along one camper's windows proved that water had been at least another 3-4 feet higher within the last 24 hours.

Before the four of us who remained together for the return trip left the campground, I snapped a quick photo of my GPS, concerned that the battery was going to run out of juice before we topped out at Holtwood (it didn't).  I'd forgotten to turn the Garmin back on when we'd first left the Pinnacle earlier in the day but had received confirmation from another runner's GPS that I'd shorted us exactly 4 tenths of a mile.

Off we went.

The journey back found Cassie, Steve, Gary and I together throughout, basking (sometimes gasping) in the sun that now shone brightly in the sky, enjoying each other's company, pushing through growing fatigue and using each creek crossing to calm swelling, cool down and clown around.

It was a blast.

At Pinnacle we dug into the cooler that Cassie and Steve had hid there earlier in the day and fueled up for the final push.  The section from the Pinnacle to Kelly's Run provided a breathtaking viewpoint of the trail, river, dam and bridge way down below.

Earlier in the day, knowing that I'd slow to a snail's pace if I pulled out my camera and started shooting pics, I had passed through Kelly's Run without taking a single photograph.  Coming back the second time, I lingered a bit behind the group to get a couple of shots. 

Fueled by the want to try and run the last leg (especially with the Conestoga Trail Run just a couple of weeks away) AND, maybe more importantly, to stay ahead of what felt like a growing threat of cramping, I was able to crank out a pretty good pace on the run up to Holtwood Park.  I'm not sure, though, that I had anything more left in the tank once I got there.

Steve, Cassie and Gary appeared just a few minutes later and together we enjoyed the cookies and beer that the others had kindly left behind for us.

In the end, it may not have been THE Super Hike but any full day spent on the trail with good friends (and making new friends) while gaining perspective well beyond running itself is pretty damn super.


  1. Great blog Leon.... I'll attache the link on PA Trails Challenge :)

  2. Thanks for the pics. Sad to have it canceled but that looks devastating at the campground. See you next year.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like we're going to have our own adventure together very soon. I'm looking forward to seeing you out on the trail again!

  4. I'm pysched too, Kelly! Based on Jo's report of your run this weekend, it sounds like you've still got fresh legs. I'll do my best to keep up!

  5. Hey Leon,
    Good talking to you today. Dig the blog as well. What were those races you told me to check out? I am totally blanking. Good day today...
    Talk to you soon.